Thursday, September 11, 2014

What I Will "Never Forget"

Fifteen years old, sitting at a ceramic desk with 15 of my classmates, I sat watching smoke billow out of the side of one building.

A nation lost their innocence that day.  My nation.  My people.  Me.

I grew up in a sleepy farm community, comfortably insulated from the pressing matters of poverty, inner-city violence, religious prejudice, and international affairs.  I lived in a "Leave It To Beaver" sort of world.

Safe.  Happy.

Some couldn't speak; I couldn't shut up as I watched a second passenger plane make a permanent mark on the New York City.  Words spoken out of nerves and disbelief...

We were at war.

In the following days, I watched as several friends a year or two my senior signed recruitment papers for the Army, Navy, and Marines.  Fueled by a mix of patriotism and rage, many decided that the only thing to do was to join the fight.  I was still too young, or else I would have certainly joined them.  I longed to join the chorus of voices letting the world know that you don't mess with the USA

And we would never forget.


As time has passed, some thirteen years, and I still remember vividly the emotions of that day.  I still remember where I was, and those around me.  I remember my parents letting me stay up late to continue watching the news unfold through the overnight hours.

In the years since, I have watched as many have fought and died as we have taken the fight to the terrorists.  I have watched dictators and regimes fall, leaders of terrorist groups killed and imprisoned, and democracy spread across the globe.

And I see terror still.

Brutality.  Beheadings.

The evil that killed thousands and stole my innocence marches on in the world, unaffected by the return volley of bullets and bombs.

And I will never forget that no amount of military might will ever break the back of evil.

I will never forget Osama died but evil still lives on.

I will never forget that no amount of revenge will ever change the human heart.


I still remember, as I sit next to my wife and hold my youngest baby during the church service.  The church grows quiet and men move among the people of God handing out the smallest of tokens--of emblems.

A remembrance meal.

I still remember that He chose to repay evil with good; he took the violence and gave peace.  He took a cross, so that his enemies could become his friends.

And I will never forget.

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."  Luke 6:27-28

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Question Worth Exploring

The gospel of Jesus Christ was once a story that I heard so much that I almost couldn't hear it anymore.

You know what I'm talking about, that feeling you get when you have over-listened to a song or over-watched a movie.  It is still something you love, but everything in it has just become...assumed.

The movie has lost its ability to awe you...

The music has lost its ability to move you...

The gospel had lost its ability to change me.

Somewhere along the line the gospel message had become so common, so rote, that it had more to do with my past than it had to do with my present.

A few years ago, that all drastically changed when I read a book all about the resurrection.

THE Resurrection.  The first fruit that promised a future for me.  The powerful event that empowered a cowardly, doubtful group of people into the most powerful grass roots movement in the history of the cosmos.

You see, for most of the life the gospel had been all about the cross.  The wonderful cross.  The old rugged cross.  The cross was the gospel, and the resurrection was the afterword.

The resurrection was almost an afterthought.

I don't blame this on my church, my teachers, my parents, or anyone else.  My church was orthodox.  They taught the whole gospel.  They met weekly on the Lord's Day (Resurrection Day!) and celebrated Easter with the best of them.  But for most of my formative years, the cross and Jesus shed blood spoke more important to my soul.

And it is crucial.  The problem is that only half the gospel is not the gospel.  The cross without the resurrection or the resurrection without the cross is incomplete.  insufficient.  lacking.

I needed the whole gospel in my life.

When the resurrection finally became a reality, the gospel itself started to take on powerful meaning again in my life.  It started to excite me again.  I no longer heard the story by rote, but anew!

And recently something crucial has struck me.  A key point of theology has moved beyond knowledge to conviction in my inmost being and has changed some things.  The gospel is not only the offering of grace for the unredeemed.  The gospel is also the power of God to live as Christians everyday.

In other words, the gospel sustains my presently, it doesn't just redeem me historically or resurrect me eternally.

The gospel is my present, my current, my now.

And so the question.  The question that I intend to explore is that if the gospel is my daily power to live as God ordains: what does it mean to live "gospel powered?"

In what ways does the gospel empower us to live?

What ways of life does the gospel lead us toward?

What power for the present is in the gospel?

What avenues does God ordain for living gospel-powered in the present?

Note:  I intend to explore this and share my thoughts as I search.  I don't have a set series or anything like that.  But I intend to write about the power of the gospel once a week or so. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Tell Them A Story

I'm not a parenting expert.  In fact, I already feel like I don't have a clue what I'm doing as a parent.  I may have only been a parent for a couple years, but I already know that being a parent is tough work.  Joyous, wonderful, difficult work.

I am not writing as a parenting expert--that would be naive and presumptious.  I am no expert.  Many of my own theories have been proven wrong over the past couple years, and many more will be proven false in the years to come.  Far from an expert, I feel more like a shipwrecked man, trying to grab on to a lifeboat, calling his fellow shipwreckees to find the lifeboat too!

I write today about a secret weapon that I believe is ordained by God as a parenting tool.  It is a tool that is important for toddlers to teenagers to adult children.  It is a tool that a parent yields even after the tool of discipline has outgrown its usefulness.  It is a tool that can still be used long after a child has moved out, but is still useful to mold a young child.  This tool is one we see in the very fabric of Scripture itself.  Do you want the secret weapon?  Here it is?

Tell your kids a story!

Think about this.  In the earliest section of the Bible (Torah), we see a command that says this:

"These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them upon your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."  Deut. 6:6-7

Now, this command isn't all that unique to our faith.  Most faith documents encourage parents to teach the law (the way of pleasing God) to their children.  What is unique, is the method which they used to impress this faith on their children.  Notice that Deutoronomy is framed as a story.  It isn't a legal document just listing all the rules, it is a story showing how the laws came to be, and how they played out in the lives of faithful men and women in the past.

Most of the Bible is written in story form.  That is not an accident.  That is a God-ordained (and even God-breathed) lesson in how to grow in the faith and how to pass on the faith.  Tell a story.

Our kids need more than the rules.  They need the story.  They need to know the story of God, and they need to know how God's story intersects and changes your story.  Can I encourage you to share a few stories?

Share stories straight from the Bible.  They need to hear the God-given stories.  Root their life and faith in the stories that have shaped faithful men and women for thousands of years.

Share stories of faithful people from your lifetime.  Share stories of those who inspire you.  Visit with missionaries, or invite them to stay with you when they visit the church, and invite them to tell some stories.  Stories of faithful people today help connect the Bible story with our modern life.

Share stories of failure and faith.  The Bible doesn't show God's people to be perfect.  Don't be afraid to talk about your failures.  Don't be afraid to use your life to help your children and teens learn.  If we are honest with our mistakes, and with the results of those mistakes, we help keep them from choosing the same mistakes.

Share fictional stories.  One of my mentors would tell stories that always ended with a talking dog sharing a moral.  Yeah, it happened.  And it helped.  Not every important story needs to be a true story.  Tell you kids stories that inspire you--whether true or not.

Stories shape our thoughts, and our thoughts shape our life.

Tell your kids a story!

Monday, March 17, 2014

What You Need To Know About Hookah Pens

As many of you know, and many of you probably do not know, there is a new craze sweeping through teen and young adult life.  This new item, the Hookah Pen (also known as the e-cigarette or vaps), has become highly popular among teens.  I think it is important that you are informed about Hookah Pens, you need to know what they are, their purpose, and their risks.  Whether a teen or a parent I want you to be informed to make the best decisions about them for yourself and your family.

So What Is a Hookah Pen?

A Hookah Pen is an alternative form of smoking.  It contains zero tobacco, but instead heats flavored glycol (found in chewing gum) until it vaporizes for inhalation.  While tobacco is absent, most Hookah Pen cartridges do contain the same amount of nicotine as a regular cigarette.

What Is a Hookah Pen Used For?

Because there is no tobacco, a hookah pen is currently a legal way for teenagers to smoke.  It is being marketed by tobacco companies (who produce these products) as a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes because of the absence of the tobacco.  They are often brightly colored and intentionally designed and marketed toward youth and young adults.  The reality is that the tobacco companies are using these to circumvent the laws and reach a younger dynamic--hooking you on nicotine from a young age.

Many people use hookah pens when  trying to stop smoking.  While this use may be legitimate, it is not the reason they were created.  They were not created to help people quit smoking, but to turn a larger population into "safe" smokers.  It's all about revenue, and the tobacco companies want more of it.

Are They Safe?

Here is the truth:  We don't really know.  There has been extremely limited scientific or health studies on the affects of using hookah pens.  The only current research done thus far was published through the cigarette companies, which is not the best  source of reliable information.

Here is what we do know.  They contain nicotine, and nicotine is extremely addictive.  Using these will create a dependency for the "nicotine high." just like a cigarette.

We do not know if the inhalation of this water vapor causes any damage (short or long term) to the lungs.  We do not know if this inhalation would cause similar problems of cancer.

Some Things To Consider:

1. The Bible makes clear that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  Our body is the dwelling place of God.  It is to be controlled and empowered by God alone.  By using addictive substances, are we allowing ourselves to come under the influence of something other than God?

2. Is it possible that the companies creating these products are simply using these as "gateways" to more traditional types of smoking?  Have I considered why the companies are marketing these with bright colors and disguising them to look like pens?  Should I trust these companies?

3. Another question to consider is that of our finances.  Are you being a good steward of what God has given to you by spending your money on these substances?  Do you think God would be proud of the way you are spending this money?  What are some other options for spending money that may be more beneficial to your community, your church, or the world?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A reading plan for 2014

I have been working on a very structured reading plan for this year.  I have read a lot of books each of the past 2 years (50 and 75) but I hadn't specifically planned out which books I wanted to read.  I hadn't taken much time to consider what I was spending most of my time reading.

This year I wanted something more concrete.  I wanted something more planned and intentional.  I wanted to be stretched spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and stylistically.  I wanted a reading list that would help create biblical change in my life, would deepen my wisdom when looking at the world, would make me a better reader, and would make me a better writer.

With these goals, I set a goal of 35 books--less than the past two years, but more challenging and intentional.  I also started writing down some specific criteria that would help me reach my goals as a reader this year.  That meant that, of the 35 books I would read this year, I wanted:

  • 1 classic novel
  • 1 YA novel
  • 1 re-read of an all-time favorite
  • 1 book on a science related topic
  • 1 ancient history book
  • 1 modern history book
  • 1 Patristic Christian book
  • 1 youth ministry book
  • 1 children's ministry book
  • 1 missions book
  • 1 scholarly biblical book
  • 1 book on a subject I have never studied before
  • 2 books on the same subject from differing perspectives
  • 1 book recommended by my pastor (Chuck)
  • More Christian than non-Christian books
  • Avoid primarily popular and new books (trendy isn't always best)
There were a few other criteria along the way (did it sound remotely interesting?), but those were some of the big ones.  And so I have started reading, but have also been slowly working on forming a 35 book reading list for this year.  It is finally ready, and I am ready to share it with you.

My 2014 reading list:
  1. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  2. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  4. Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe
  5. Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies
  6. Ostkrieg by Stephen Fritz
  7. On Social Justice by St. Basil the Great
  8. Hurt by Chap Clark
  9. Children's Ministry Volunteers That Stick by Jim Wideman
  10. The Insanity of God by Nip Ripkin
  11. Jesus & The Victory of God by N.T. Wright
  12. How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler
  13. Life on the Vine by Philip Kenneson
  14. The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson (recommended by Chuck)
  15. Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose
  16. The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder
  17. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  18. Radical by David Platt
  19. Sex Is Not The Problem (Lust Is) by Joshua Harris
  20. Praying God's Word by Beth Moore
  21. Dragon's, John, and Every Grain of Sand by Shane Wood
  22. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
  23. Worldliness by C.J. Mahoney
  24. When I Don't Desire God by John Piper
  25. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi
  26. God, Marriage, and Family by Andreas Kostenberger
  27. How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership by Allen F. Johnson
  28. Selected Poems by Walt Whitman
  29. Prodigy by Marie Lu
  30. Multiply by Francis Chan
  31. A Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer
  32. A Grace Disguised by Gerald Sittser
  33. New Testament Exegesis by Gordon Fee
  34. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible by Karel Toorn
  35. New Proofs for the Existence of God by Robert Spitzer
So that is my list.  Have you read any of these books?  Which ones are you interested in reading?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Opening My Eyes

We gathered last night as a rag-tag group of followers.  We were imperfect, and are imperfect, yet we gathered in Your name and for Your glory.  We who are imperfect at work and school and home, gathered to here a word from You.

And the word was Vision.

Sight.  See.  Notice.  Watch.

We learned that revelation--seeing You and Your world--is key to being transformed.  We are not molded until we begin to see. We are not shaped until we see Your shape.  We cannot love until we witness Your love.  Our hearts cannot beat for You until our eyes are unveiled to Your glory; until we are in awe of Your beauty.


I am sitting in my office this morning.  There is music playing from the computer I am using to type this.  There is a small space heater hidden under my desk warming my feet and legs.  I have a to-do list sitting to the left of me, my water sitting right next to the screen, and a stack of books over to the right.  I have things to accomplish, lessons to work on, people to email...


But I cannot escape the need for Vision.  To see You, and to see You with Your eyes.  And I wonder, am I alone?  I wonder if there are others needing to be reminded of you, to see You with fresh eyes this morning?
What Vision of You do I need to remember today?

Is it the Incarnation?

In this moment do I need to remember that You went from perfection to human?  Do I need to remember that You crawled into my messy world and walked with me?  Do I need to remember that I am not above other people's messy lives, but that I, like You, can jump into the mess of their lives to help them see a better way?

Is it the Crucifixion?

In this moment do I need to remember that You--all powerful and everything in Your control--willingly gave up life itself (and You are life itself!).  That You sacrificed Yourself for me, taking on my sin.  Do I need to remember that true love is sacrificial.  It is not self-serving.  True love dies for its beloved.

Is it the Resurrection?

In this moment do I need to remember that You are more powerful than death, darkness, and sin.  That You are already victorious and reigning and that Your kingdom is already here and is still on the way!  Do I need to remember that the old system, the way the world does things, is not powerful against You and Your army of light.  That in the end I will be justified for choosing You and for living according to Your word.  Do I need to remember the power of Your victory?

Or is it the daily moments that you walked this earth?

You fed the poor.  You cast out demons.  You showed love to the prostitutes, the traitors, the violent, and the timid.  You cared for Your enemies, and you fed those without food.  You accepted homelessness to show people God.  You taught us that we are to do likewise.  That it is not Christian to pray for the destitute but do nothing to help.  You taught that we are not to look the other way when we see injustice and poverty and violence.  We are to step up and be like you.  Caring for both the victim and the guilty.


Lord, help us to see You today.  Let my little world in office and home grow bigger as I seek to act like You.  Let me be a picture of You today, so others may see You through me.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

He Doesn't Need Me

"God doesn't need you."

The words spoken were so different than they feel here.  Here, dry and flat the words sound condemning; like little daggers that would pierce the heart and destroy the purpose found deep within.  These words, written down seem like anything but what they truly were:  life, joy, and a breath from God himself.

God doesn't need you.

It was a week of sickness and guilt.  A week without the office hours, the hours of study, the careful exegesis of a single text.  There was no time to parse verbs when I was too sick to hold my son.  Yet the guilt stuck in my mind and wouldn't let go.  You are not doing what you are called to do--not this week.  You may come back fine next week, but not this one.  This week, you are failing God.

And the words may be lies, but they express the feeling that was present deep in the pit of my stomach as I wrote out an under-prepared sermon.  The sinking feeling in my pit as I knew that this message was a bare bones message.  It didn't have all the careful study, and it lacked all the fancy maneuvers that we minister's have been trained to use.  There were no fancy transitions, no clear object lesson.  There was no overriding story that would weave throughout.  There was the text, some obvious statements from the text, and a time of prayer.


Not good enough.

The message wore on in my soul as I practiced before church.  The message nagged my through worship, through the special time of prayer set aside to dedicate our church's little ones, all the way to standing at the pulpit.  This one is gonna fall flat.

God doesn't need you.

I finished the sermon, as uneventful as I expected.  I shook hands after the service and said kind words when people said kind words to me.  We seemed comfortable pretending that things went better than they did, and I was thankful for it.  I already know it was bad, I didn't need beat up over it.

A woman who serves faithfully and thinks deeply approaches me with the look of seriousness that defines her countenance.  She comes up and thanks me for the message, and earnestly declares that God was working in the sermon this morning.  Kind words, but from her I know they are sincere.  I decide to be sincere too.  I failed in prep this week, I explain.  This week of sickness held me back from using my training or doing all the things that are sure to fire up a congregation.  My continued sickness meant that my delivery was a bit monotone and it certainly lacked energy.  She smiled, and she spoke words of life:

"God doesn't need you."

She spoke, a prophetess in that moment, reminding me that it is not in my training, my verbal capabilities, or an anything about me, that success is defined.  God doesn't need me to convict hearts, to transform families, to reach the lost, or to convict the sinner.  God doesn't need me.  He doesn't need my thoughts on his word, he just needs himself.  God needs God to do God things.

And the fact that he chooses to work within me, through me, and in spite of me is grace undeserved.  God doesn't need me, but he chooses to use me.  God doesn't have to have me, but he finds joy in using my brokenness for his glory.

And perhaps you are weighed down by what you must do, what can't be accomplished unless you go, go, go.  Perhaps you feel the weight of a community on your shoulders, and you are told the lie that they depend upon you.  Can I share something life giving:

God doesn't need you.  He is not dependant upon you.  He loves you.  He chooses you.  He works in you.

But God. Does. Not. Need. You.