Saturday, December 24, 2011

Entering the unfamiliar with the Unfailing God:

In less than 24 hours we'll have our first Christmas Eve service as the New Song church.  I'm excited at several levels.  It's amazing to me as we talked about plans for our candle light service the amount of Christians who have never been to a candle light service!

It will be an unfamiliar time, but it will be unforgettable.  Even though I'm impressed with what I've written down, and I'd like to say the brief thoughts I've put together for when we light our candles in unison are so radical and earth shattering people's jaws will drop in awe, the truth is how many different ways can we announce the the Christmas story?  Yet, we as families all have shared stories that never get old: How a favorite set of grandparents met, how our ancestors came to America, how we overcame a struggle, etc.  Our time together reflecting on the Birth of Jesus and sharing communion will speak louder than  my feeble voice.

God will be the focus as we gather in a circle for our candle light service.  We'll reflect as a community on the crazy method God used to reclaim us -- sending a helpless baby to overcome the evils of the universe... I hope you'll join us for a night of mediation and reflection, and to refocus on the true light.  
"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”" (John 8:12 ESV)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Leaving Legalism requires an open mind...

One of the big blessings that comes with launching a new church with close friends is we don't have to worry about the shackles of legalism.  We can explore the Scriptures with an open mind; without fear of having to tow party-lines, or the maintenance of a status quo...  Our heritage within the Restoration Movement has one of the best catchphrases: We are Christians only, but not the only Christians.  To honor our heritage, being open minded and sincere enough in our personal study to see the Scriptures in new and fresh ways and to have an ownership of our beliefs, is liberating and exhilarating!  

For me there are three main reasons why we should avoid legalism like the plague.  BTW, here's my definition of "legalism": A nasty religious addiction to rules and laws which implies God owes you for your strict outward obedience, even if you're a hardhearted jerk.

Again, here's why I say ditch legalism: 
#1. Jesus' view of legalistic people in Matt 15.  
#2. Judgmentalism itself is a salvation issue.
# The roadblock to people in need of God's grace.

Let me break these three down:
1.  Jesus cracks down hard on the people in Matt 15:1-9 who "honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him."  When we replace God's principles with our own rules, or even put our rules on a higher plane than God's will, we might feel great about our abilities to make laws and keep them, but God isn't impressed.  

2. Jesus makes it clear in Matt 7:1-6 that whatever standard of perfection we hold people to, God will hold us to.  For example, if I think I'm doing everything right, and therefore "I'm" going to heaven because I did everything the right way, but I think you missed one point in the Bible and your soul is in jeopardy, I've just jeopardized my soul.  This is the scariest passage in the Bible to me.  In other words, when I sentence people to hell for their lack of compete perfection, then Jesus will hold me to absolute perfection...  In our devastating splintering in Christendom over matters of opinions, we better learn how to agree to disagree and embrace tolerance more.

3. I wonder how people outside God's kingdom reign will ever accept a message of Love from people who have a hard time loving the very people they are supposedly going to spend eternity with?   Jesus is expressly clear that our method of convincing people we are "authentic" is our mutual love, i.e., in Jn 13:34-35 Jesus says people will know we are His followers by our love for each other.  

If you are stuck asking yourself "Craig, are you saying anything goes?" you've missed the point.  God is clear enough in His Word to spell out what we need to know to follow Him, and to let Him be God... 
"Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?" (James 4:11-12 ESV)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Finding new Bibles when you annually read through the Bible, in a different translation can be tough

IT's that time of year again, where I narrow down the English translation of the Bible I'll read through for the upcoming year.  I like to read through a different translation each year, though I have read a couple of them through more than once, because I really liked them.  For at least 10 years, maybe 12, I've dedicated the time to be a daily Bible reader, and from the get-go I've sought out different translations each year.

How do I select a new translation?  
Remember how your elementary school librarian told you, never pick a book by its cover?  Bibles usually don't have catchy covers, so that's not a big help...  So, in no particular order, here are several of the criteria I use when selecting the next Bible to read:

1. I like Bibles that have a varied translation committee.  Even though I really enjoyed Eugene Peterson's solo translation, "The Message" that's an outlier for me.  Well, there's one more solo effort I really like, and that's J B Philip's New Testament.  So, when I say "varied," what I'm referencing are the Bibles that have different scholars/ministers from different denominations represented.  In other words, I like to read the translation that has an ecumenical influence.  If 20 or 25 people from very different backgrounds can agree to an interpretative perspective, there's a good chance their debate has led the way to a nonpartisan truth.

2. I'm attracted to Bibles that have generated a lot of buzz.  For whatever reason, maybe Scot McKnight has blogged about it, a Bible prof mentioned it back in college, or the translation was recently mentioned in Leadership Journal, somehow I've heard about this new translation, it was plugged by someone I respect and now I'm interested in it.  Of course I'll look it up on Amazon and read through a few pages of it 1st.  Actually, this particular criteria is how I've chosen the translation I'll read through in 2012, The Common English Bible.

3. I like to read through translations that I hope to use in ministry.  If it's a translation that is being advertised as a good study Bible, or an easy to read version, or has some other nuance, I want to read it first before I endorse it or recommend it.

4. I look for translations that have a novel approach.  I like Bibles that help me see God's Word differently than I saw it before, Bibles that can catch my attention and make me wonder why I never "saw it" like that before...?  I appreciate translations that help me see God's Word in fresh ways, and help me see His Word in a way that enable me to gain a deeper ownership of my faith because I see His truth for myself.

Reading different translations isn't for everyone, I know.  But, I hope you'll read through your Bible completely, at least once in your lifetime, and perhaps try to read through your Bible more than once.  If we are trusting our eternity to the truths in the Bible, it only makes sense we read it for ourselves.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A leap of faith...

I'm excited, anxious, and at peace all at once.  Why? Lord willing we will launch a new church this weekend.  Check out our website, above, for more info.

For some, you'll ask why do we need another church in the South; there's a church on every corner...  Others will wonder if this the best time.  Certainly people will ask other questions.  My response: What if God guided us to this point, and, what if souls will be saved that otherwise might not have?

What do we hope to accomplish?
Spreading God's Kingdom influence, period.

Who do we hope to reach?
While everyone is welcome, we have a special heart for people who have drifted away from their faith or have never entered into faith in the 1st place....

What makes us distinct?
We are Christians only, but we aren't the only Christians.  Our focus is on the core of Christianity, i.e. unity of the essentials, while leaving a lot of open areas for us to not worry about; we do not have to agree on every point to have fellowship.  Another distinction, we'll partner with other groups in our community serving local needs; we want to bring glory to God and we don't have to reinvent the wheel.  Finally, what sets us apart, we'll strive to incorporate people of all backgrounds and genders in serving and worshiping God.  

If you are looking for a breath of fresh air with something new and different and you'd like to experience freedom in Christ, we'd love to see you Sunday at 10 am, room 239 in the Kingsport Renaissance center.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What Ministry couldn't provide Concrete can:

(Picture above: Jacob is brooming & I'm on my knees troweling cement)

I love ministry immensely, I enjoy devoting my life to it and feel it's my calling.  Yet, there's something that I get out of working in concrete that ministry can't provide.  I just finished up a driveway, one I've been fitting in on weekends and evenings.  As I looked over the final pour last night, I thought about a particular reward concrete offers that I never captured in ministry.

Working concrete, daily I enjoy the outdoors -- smelling grass, fresh fields and the earthy aroma of the broken ground.  I see the stars (I leave before the sunrises and get home after dark most of the time).  Working concrete has helped me to shed a few pounds too....  There's a great feeling of comradery when a crew is on the same page.  My awareness of the weather increases, and I'm taught to appreciate the days it doesn't rain so we can work, and the rain-days so my body can rest.  My body feels fatigue, a good fatigue, and so I hit the pillow drained but the endorphins flowing from a hard day's work trick me into thinking the physical stress is good.

All of these are nice, but these aren't what I'm talking about.

In ministry one never really has a sense of accomplishment, not in the sense of completion that is.  Concrete gives this type of peace of mind.  Ah, there's the start, middle, and end of the job.  We break ground, and in a certain time, we wrap up our tools and sweep up and we're gone.  Looking back, you can see the challenges, and see the project through.  You form up the pour, dump the concrete, finish it, strip off the boards, clean up and go.  In ministry, Sunday morning always comes around; sermons don't write themselves...  There's always another meeting to attend, a bulletin article to write, a visit to make.  A new believer needs more discipleship.  Building projects need to be paid off or maintained.  On and on... Again, I love ministry, but there's that element of the ministry where there's no end in sight.  One could literally work 24/7 and never finish all there is to do in congregational ministry.

I doubt I've really explained it well.  Think of this like you were on KP duty, forever.  You're in front of a five foot high pile of potatoes that no matter how hard or how fast you peel them, there will never be a day when you are done peeling...  BTW: I actually like peeling potatoes and making homemade mashed-potatoes too.

In ministry, which is a great way of life, people need nourishment from the Word, because we are all growing in our faith we have cycles of ups and downs, people are coming into the faith, others are struggling in their faith.  Faith is a living, breathing reality that is dynamic and, and, and, well you get the picture, serving in the realm of faith doesn't have a finish-line, there's no final culmination where everything is summed up.  Let's face it, everyone enjoys the satisfaction of either finishing a homework project or remolding job around the house some time in their life.

I think God enjoys a sense of completion.  He created the creation, then rested on the 7th day.  He commands a Sabbath rest for His people.  He has a day when He will bring time to an end.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the aspect of ministry that seems more like a treadmill than a marathon most of the time; it's part of the territory.  Still, I am human, and I really enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Own your faith because your forefathers deserve your best:

I'm amazed at the efforts we as Christians put forth to not offend.  Our faith is offensive; Jesus offend the defensive Pharisaical machine of His day.  Jesus says His followers with be on the ropes from friend, family and foe because of His message.  

That doesn't mean we try to be purposely offensive, immature, or obnoxious, it's simply true that the radical changes our faith calls for offends people.  If the Bible hasn't ruffled your feathers, maybe you need to re-read it.  If Jesus' message hasn't challenged you, maybe you aren't ready to challenge others to find their faith, yet.  

Our sinful hearts are prideful and stuck in a rut until God liberates us, and no one who thinks they are free appreciates being told they are a foolish slave to sin.  Therefore, our message is offensive, but not in a punitive way.  Think of it like an intervention with an addict; how many addicts start out immediately thanking the group?  No, there's the denial then defensiveness, and then the attacks they aim at the group and their refusal to accept personal responsibly.  Sharing the Gospel can sometimes have that same affect...

Oh, and for "religious people" or "intellectual superpowers" I Cor 1:23 clarifies most people are flat-out offended by our message, "but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles..."  We either risk angering people or appear looking foolish, unless we are merely snake-oil salesmen...

More to the dangerous point I really want to make, in our efforts to not offend we sometimes try to not offend the memory of those who went before us in the faith.  It's not that I'm opposed to the proper respect due to those whose shoulders we stand on; I'm against misplaced respect that nurtures nostalgia over personal growth.  "We've never done it that way before" or a host of synonymous phrases become nothing more than the sandpaper we smooth our collective coffin with.   

A personal faith that truly honors our heritage will be a vibrant faith that goes deeper, gains more individual ownership, and reaches out with more influence on unbelievers than ever before.  If we want to authentically honor our heritage and respect our heroes in the faith, we won't memorialize the past to the extent that is handicaps our creativity or mobility to learn and grow.  Or, as Solomon put it in Eccl 7:10, "Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”  For it is not from wisdom that you ask this."

Paul wrote in I Cor 11:1-2, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you."  Paul advocated a tradition that reproduced imitators of Christ, not a cookie-cutter program that simply defended it's own self-perpetuation.  May we learn to follow Christ through those who went before us, with a consistent fresh vitality not with stale cliches that only make sense to those within our country club.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

The hardest part of change:

One lesson I'm learning well in our wilderness wandering is that looking back is pointless.  I want to look forward, perhaps more than at any time in my life.

Let me quickly circle back for one moment and say "yes" I said wilderness wandering, it's a great metaphor for where I feel we are.  Why? Having left the security of the enslavement of institutionalism, I feel like we are on the verge of the Promised land.  I can't go back to the golden-chains of the mainline, institutional structure that I was once deeply enmeshed in.  What the future is holding, only God knows for sure.  

I mean no disrespect for people who can thrive in an institutional-mainline church setting; simply put, personally I can't.  some of the people I love & respect the most are in that type of setting.  I'm not saying I'm out of full-time ministry for life, but I am saying I can't ever go back the same-ol-same-ol structure I've been in.  I love doing ministry because I want to, not because I have to. I'm thankful for being sidetracked in the desert, it's rather liberating.

Okay, back to the point I was trying to make about looking forward...
Recently we were having a great discussion with a few friends, discussing Bible things, and someone asked a question.  We had looked at a passage in I Timothy 2 at length, and we saw it in a different light than our heritage typically has.  Someone asked, "How would you help someone see this particular point?" (my loose paraphrase of their question)    

At that point something clicked in my brain, and I said, there is a certain powerful phenomena we experience when we weave/braid together: Nostalgia over our golden-years, our Comfort-zone, and our hesitation to rock the boat/upset, or make people uncomfortable.  That emotional rope can hold us back from seeing Scriptures in a fresh way.   At that point, the person who asked the question about helping others see I Tim 2 more clearly, mimicked wrapping a rope around their neck and said, if we aren't careful that rope we weave is the noose we hang ourselves with...  

So, as I work concrete these days and feel like we are being led by a pillar of Cloud by day & a pillar of Fire by night, I've thought about change quite a bit.  I know I can never go back to the garlic, cucumber or pots overflowing with meat (Check out Numbers 11:5) and I'm looking forward to where God is leading us.  Change, even when we can clearly see it is a change for the best is still hard for most of us. The hardest part of change just might be the willingness of letting go of the one so you can grab onto the other...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

In God's hands:

After a 15 or 16 year break from it, I've been back into concrete full-time for a few weeks now.  My hands are past the stage in this picture, blistered; my hands are callousing up rather well..., well accept for the tips of my fingers and creases in my thumbs that have cracked open. But this post isn't about blisters or tough skin.

I want to write about how God works out awesome circumstance in my life:

For starters, one of our former neighbors had a new concrete driveway poured just days before we moved.  Tammy saw the concrete crew doing the driveway and mentioned to me that I should check-out the company.  The company had stuck a sign in the yard, kind of like a Realtor sign.  I didn't talk to the crew, but did look up the company online.  Turns out, on their website they were looking for a finisher.  Since I really only know two areas of work, ministry and concrete, I called.  I met with the owner, at Starbucks :-) and we spent the entire morning talking.  We really hit it off, and he hired me.

It gets better.  My new boss is a Christian, and, he's interested in developing his people...  He has in the past (several years in a row) taken his employees to Catalyst in Atlanta.  If you aren't in Church leadership, you may not have heard of Catalyst.  Catalyst is a conference I'd love to go to, haven't had the opportunity yet though.  

Think about this for a minute, a concrete company taking its crew to Catalyst.  To really appreciate this, picture your stereotypical construction worker in a setting like a Bible lectureship, but instead of a general audience in mind, the speakers are bent on equipping leaders.  Picture yourself at this high-powered leadership conference with speakers like Jim Collins ("Good to great"), and instead of "just" seeing preachers and youth minsters in khakis and Polos, you see a group of guys in flannels and jeans... and scruffy work boots.  Think Acts 4:13....

It is interesting to me that a concrete crew would end up at a high profile leadership seminar, one that is mostly directed to ministry leaders.  My boss paid for everyone's ticket, meals, lodging, etc.  The economy, being what it is the last couple of years hasn't been helpful, so my boss didn't take the crew last year or this year.  Oh, By the way, my boss doesn't know I blog, so this is for your benefit, no kissing-up here!  Bottom line, my respect for my new boss went way-up when I heard about the trips to Catalyst.  

I guess what I'm really trying to say tonight is that I'm feeling so very blessed right now.  I have a boss that not only is a Christian, he's truly interested in developing his people.  It blows my mind how God works.  When things went down last Spring the way they did, our friends said time and again (as they supported us spiritually and emotionally), "God has something great in store for you."  I know what they meant was, there was some awesome church "out there" waiting for us.  There was no "out there" in the end.  God had plans for us I didn't see.  We're still here, much to the surprise of most everyone.  

Don't get me wrong, concrete is tough work.  I come home exhausted, sore, and starved most nights.  But, I love where God has brought me though.  I thank God just about everyday for my job.  As much as I miss the rhythms and cycles of full-time ministry and look forward to being back in full-time ministry, God has led me to a place I never would've found on my own -- into a place where He is growing me in new and exciting ways.

One more tidbit: My blood pressure has dropped from 149/95 to 122/84, coincidence, I think not.   

Eccl 9:10, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going."

Monday, October 24, 2011


Drew (our oldest) and I hiked about 12 or 14 miles on the Appalachian trail this summer.  I can't wait till we can hit the trail again!  Was it easy, no.  It was humbling.  I thought we could go 30 +  miles in three days & two nights.  Drew thought it though before we left for the trail-head & mentioned we should try out two days & one night our first go-around, he was right.

It's amazing how heavy your backpack gets when you pack for one overnight camping trip...  My pack felt like it was about 70 pounds.  Still, as heavy as that pack was, it was a liberating experience knowing you could carry everything you needed for your survival.  

In our family's recent move across the subdivision, I joked that a house fire wouldn't have hurt my feelings.  Obviously not the kind of house fire where anyone was hurt; just the type of house fire that would've removed the responsibility of packing, loading, moving, unloading & unpacking... 

Before you misunderstand me, we aren't hoarders or pack-rats.  Nor are we people who have a lot-of-lot stuff.  Also, let me add, Tammy impressed me with what she was able to pare down &  pack away for an upcoming yardsale.   

I have a new philosophy on possessions.  My new view is that I'd like to pare my possessions down to what would fit into my backpack.  No joke.  

I recently shared my new stance with a longtime mentor of mine, a dear friend Ted Matthews.  Ted pointed out how that might seem nice, but with having a family comes the responsibility of caring for them, and that requires stuff/things.  I guess Ted is right, but I still would like to be able to only own what I can carry on my back.

This is not one of those emotional rants where you are challenged to "prioritize" your possessions and share what you'd put into your backpack, like at some Summer camp devo, or Youth retreat.  I've seen those talks, I'm not going down that path.  

This also is not a guilt trip, i.e., sermonizing post, where I tell you how the Bible is full of passages (which you could read them) which lay out the truth we brought nothing into the world & we'll take nothing out of it either.  You know the old cliche about how there are no U-hauls heading into the cemetery...  Keyword, cliche. 

Finally, this post isn't some "spiritual" superiority complex where I say I want to be more like Jesus than you are.  After all, He had nowhere "to lay His head..."  This is self-centered talk here!  This is what I really want for me, I'm not pushing this off on anyone.

No, this feeling I have about wishing I could pare my junk down to what I can fit into my backpack is something that I can't shake.  Since we spent a few weeks packing, then a solid week/week and a half, trudging our stuff to our new place, and then all the getting settled in..., I really think having a bunch of stuff is overrated.  

Tonight while I was reading a historical account about one of the most successful inter-generational families, I thought to myself -- what in my life would change if I were independently wealthy, or were a millionaire?  How would I live or act differently?  I may be naive, but I can't think of much changing.  I'd still want to be with and eat dinner with my family every single day.  I'd still want to read voraciously....  I'd still want to invest my life in helping people know God.  Sure having wealth would ease some stress, and maybe make it possible to do some traveling.  But I'm guessing 99% of my existence would be about the same.  

I don't sit around wishing I could accumulate more stuff. Instead, lately I think to myself daily, maybe hobos aren't as dumb as we think they are?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's been about 6 months since I've blogged.  A lot has gone on in our lives since I've transitioned out of the NE church.  The Lord blessed our family with a great summer together.  If you've followed any of our FB or Twitter posts, you know we hit the beach, went to D.C. for a couple of days, relaxed, Klay and I drove to AR and visited Drew & Laura once, and every week we've grilled a lot, a lot.  Want to hear something funny?  About two years ago I asked the church for a Sabbatical, at the time I didn't get it, so I'm thanking God for the sabbatical I did get this year...

Life has felt disoriented over the last several months, as you might expect.  Not working, moving, trying to find our way, wondering what God is teaching us in all of this, you name it.  Many good friends, from near & far, have come along side us in our pain and have offered much needed encouragement.  I've had a lot of heartfelt phone calls from friends out of state, and several meals with good friends in town.  I'm looking at life differently than I did one year ago, even six months ago.  Many blessings have given us glimmers of hope, and we've seen God's hand in weird ways we wouldn't have normally thought about, too.  Some people have distanced themselves, while other people have drawn closer.  I don't really expect anyone to understand how we feel, but it's true, you do find out who your real friends are.

I'm back to working concrete for the time being.  With the economy still limping along and the weather turning, well you can figure that one out.  I'm thankful for a job and hope for the best.  Nervous?  Somewhat.  It's a little bit surreal, working construction after about a 17 year break from it...

In many ways, after the experiences of the last few years, my adrenal glands and my sanity needed a breather.  So I'm thankful for the past few months.  Now, I'm looking around and I feel kind of like Mel Gibson's character in the Road Warrior after his wreak, mixed with Tom Hank's character in Cast Away.  I'm not sure where I am in the plot of Cast Away right now, I'm certainly past the plane crash, but I don't know if I'm past the scene where he knocks out his tooth with the ice-skate, or if he's back in civilization already?  I think I'm learning about myself, that's always a good thing.  I know my prayers have changed, and I appreciate the small things more.  I don't take a lot for granted these days.  I miss my old life, sometimes, but I don't want to go back, not one little bit.

Why haven't I blogged?  Honestly, my mind pretty much shut down over the last few months.  I lost a lot of creativity.  Well, let me rephrase that, I haven't felt creative.  My mind, emotionally & intellectually kind of went into hibernation.  This year, the rhythmic centering I usually experience preparing lessons, sermons, articles, etc. has all been shifted.   I'm just now lately feeling like I have a voice, or have something worthwhile to say, or an interest to write.    My mind has felt starved.  My spirit felt flat.  Now, I'm feeling the tingling sensation bears certainly must feel when it's time to wake up and feed themselves.  It's almost midnight here, my alarm clock is set for 5:55 a.m., and I probably should be in bed now.   

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Time to ride

Earlier this month I took my old Trek to the bike shop for repairs, $140 later I was good to go... I forgot how much I enjoy the greenbelt, a trail here in Kingsport - the trailhead pictured above. I throughly enjoy the pleasing smells of honeysuckles, fresh cut grass and nature this time of year. The occasional sighting of a turkey or a deer crossing the trail, and the rare appearance of a red-tailed hawk along Reedy creek catching a little lunch, keeps the trail interesting.

I gave up riding a couple of years ago when we stated back at the gym. I didn't feel like I had time to ride & workout. This week I have to choose between the gym or the trail, but next week I'll have a little more time on my hands to do both.

I admit, looking around my 1/2 packed office, it's a little strange knowing & not knowing what our future holds. For those of our friends who haven't heard, we are making a transition in ministries. This Sunday concludes my responsibilities at NE, what's next is still unknown.

What will I do with my summer? As I prayerfully send out resumes and hang out my fleece, I will get caught up on some much needed rest. I admit, I feel like I've run a marathon and then jumped on a treadmill. So, I look at a little time off as a gift from God.

Drew is coming in for a visit, he and I will hike the Appalachian trail for a few days; I'm super excited about that. Tammy & I plan to take the little guys to DC sometime this summer. Maybe Zach & I can play chess more often too.

I have a couple of writing projects I've neglected that I hope to revive; in fact I plan to dedicate however much time to writing as I'd normally would preparing sermons and classes. I have a few books to catch up on in my free-reading time as well.

Time to sleep, write, pray, exercise/ride, be with family... oh yeah, and wait.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Is it really the end of the world...?

I have been inspired to address an issue by friends who are believers, and by some friends who aren’t. Thank you to all of my friends who have generated discussions based on the destructive crackpot Harold Camping, whether in person, or on FB.

In case you still haven’t heard, Camping has predicted the “Rapture” will happen on May 21st 2011, and the end of the world is then to follow in October 2011. Harold Camping obviously is a false prophet and has ignored Jesus Himself: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32 ESV)

Quickly let me address two problems in Harold’s predictions (I don’t have a lot of time if he’s right. Just kidding) 1st of all, the Rapture is a misnomer. There is no “rapture” in the Bible as Camping and others have described. The Latin word for “caught up” in I Thess 4, “rapio” is where we get the English word Rapture; rapio is from the Greek, “harpazo.” There is no Biblical notion of believers being caught up, while the rest of the world suffers in a temporary probation awaiting the final destruction. When we are “caught up” in I Thess 4, that is the end of time.

2ndly, Harold is exactly the type of problem that critics of Christianity need to make their point: We have problems. We are a jumbled mess. We get things wrong. I personally have no problem admitting we need help. But, why would I want to give people ammunition to find fault, unnecessarily, by making claims that are obviously false? Jesus died for imperfect people, which I openly admit to being. Harold Camping, a laughingstock & rightly so, has just made our task of sharing the Gospel harder.

Christians backbite-in-fight, ect-ect, judge each other, gossip, in general embarrass each other, and probably disappoint God too. A vast majority of the New Testament was written addressing the dysfunction Christians get embroiled in... period. When Church leaders today molest children, and when believers act hateful to other believers over political party affiliations, is it any wonder why there are so many people skeptical of our faith? Before you panic as a believer, the list of our failings go on-and-on, and non-believers are intelligent -- they know all-too-well about the skeletons in our closet, even if we turn a blind-eye to them... As Paul once wrote, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called...” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV)

My answer to this debacle is that people need to look to Jesus, not at His followers. But there’s the rub; the way the world sees Jesus is through those of us who call on His name. This paradox is humbling: Jesus is perfect and I’m clearly not, yet the only way people see Jesus is through His Body of Believers... I want to scream at the top of my lungs “Don’t judge Jesus by us, His followers!” but I know it doesn’t work that way. As true as it is that we need to point people to Jesus, until we in the Church “convert” people to Jesus and quit trying to convert them to our version of Jesus, this problem isn’t going away.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Led by the Truth

A challenging question that we sometimes would rather shy away from is How do we form our own convictions? The root of the question stems from the notion that we either find evidence to support what we already believe is true, or we allow truth to transform our opinions.

I can think of three areas in life where this true:
  • Origins
  • Ethics
  • Relationships

Where do we come from answers where we are going. If we came from cosmic dust, then to dust shall we return. Why you believe what you do believe about the two alternatives (Natural or Supernatural origins) might simply be based on accepting what you were told.

Ethics, that idea of fairness of treating others appropriately, of doing what is right or ethical is also based on what we were taught. I doubt too many Germans in the 1930’s were for genocide all on their own, but there’s the prime example of “tell people the lie long enough” and it becomes acceptable and the conscience of many becomes seared.

Relationships, as in the family, are deeply imprinted on us from an early age. Think of the TV show on TLC, “Sister wives” where there’s a polygamist family trying weekly (weakly?) to let the rest of the world see how great that choice works for them. Where did they come up with the idea that a husband could have multiple wives, while the rest of the country deems that act illegal? The family on the show was taught that, while the rest of America was taught something different. IS marriage simply situational, or relativistic?

These three examples are interesting to me, but not nearly as important to me as how our people approach the Bible. Do we as believers turn to a passage to support what we’ve always been taught? Or, are we willing to go where the facts within the Text lead us?

One way we can safeguard against “proof texting” is to not randomly pick and choose what we’ll keep and what we’ll disregard from a particular verse. Sounds fairly elementary, I know. An important first step here is to ask yourself, How many of my beliefs have I personally thought through?

While it is helpful to let Scripture interpret Scripture and refuse to build a doctrine out of one verse, it’s also helpful to let the entirety of Scripture build a cumulative case for our beliefs. Having said this, this doesn’t happen at the cost of turning a blind eye to what the passage clearly says, even when it’s unsettling. This comes home when you ask: Where would the Restoration Movement be if the people of the day, back in the 1800’s, simply acquiesced to the common held beliefs, ones that were held for centuries?

Without giving an example, lest anyone misunderstand my goal here of promoting any certain doctrinal slant, I’m simply going offer the suggestion: Read through a book of the Bible. As you see certain views you’ve held surfacing, compare the consistency of your belief with the content of the passage. Are there parts of, say, one verse you say “amen” to, while overlooking what the author says in the very same breath, i.e., same sentence?

IF you think about it, within most of the doctrinal squabbles Christians have, there’s a verse or a passage that has been championed, but that very set of Scriptures has parts some folks will choose to ignore while others will highlight a certain phrase to the neglect of another segment. There are no easy answers to some of the challenging passages you’ll come across. If, on the other hand, you see never see any passages that challenge you, then this post probably isn’t for you...

Where am I going with all of this? When you hold up a Bible verse for examination, and you compare what is written with what you’ve accepted or applied, if and when these two aren’t always seamless, that’s when it’s healthy to confess to yourself, and perhaps others, there’s an inconsistency. Don’t worry, the whole tapestry won’t come unwoven. It’s not heretical to think you have room for growth in your understading; it’s healthier to submit to the Written Word than it is to suppress It.

To have ownership of your faith, sometimes you’ll need to form your own conclusions and not simply accept the Emperor’s new Clothes.... Therefore, as the inconsistencies arise, verbalize, I’m not practicing part of this verse, but I endorse part of it... I say we need to become comfortable acknowledging our inconsistencies, because until we admit them, we can’t work though them to correct them, or better yet, be corrected by them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why Changing your keyboard takes over 100 years...

“But now, O LORD, you are our Father;

we are the clay, and you are our potter;

we are all the work of your hand.” (Isa 64:8)

Have you ever wondered why your keyboard is in the order of: QWERTYUIOP?
Urban legend has it, when typewriters were first invented, typists could type faster than the machines could function. As people typed, the linkage connecting letters to keys would jam-up something terrible. So, the manufactures figured out a way to slow down, purposefully slow down the typist. How? They mixed up the order of the letters in such a way that people would be forced to slow down as they typed. I don’t know if that was true or not, I wasn’t around in the 1870’s. So, with all of the technical-advances in the last 100 + years, why hasn’t someone changed the layout on the keyboard? Good question, since it would be beneficial. Look at your Blackberry or touch screen keyboard on your I-pad and then ask that again... I guess change is harder than we think?

There are plenty more stories like QWERTY that are traceable, like the Ferguson Breach rifle that could’ve changed the outcome of the Revolutionary war. Thankfully, the British decided not to transition from their slower musket-loaders to the Ferguson; they had access to the more efficient weapon but were unwilling to retrain their troops. Or, remember how the Swiss hesitated to switch over to Quartz movement in their watches, but the Japanese jumped on the use of Quartz movement and quickly cornered the market, a market previously dominated by the Swiss for centuries.

How we travel has changed too. After all, who wants to travel by boat anymore now that we have the Jet airplane? I don’t know, ask the Cruise ship industry. A flight might be convenient, but people still enjoy a Cruise ship, or even a train ride today. Once, boat and train travel were slow and dangerous, and today they are considered luxurious. Remember what Solomon wrote: “What has been is what will be,and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

While we all struggle with personal changes, we need to remember that change might feel like a loss at the time, but it does not create a void; change creates a choice. Sure, you may write an email to a friend across the country, but I promise a handwritten note will carry more weight, have more meaning or significance. Really? Yes. Ever wonder why your Grandmother doesn’t just text you a Christmas greeting, or your aunt send you a birthday text? We still value the handwritten note over any other correspondence, even in an electronic age. I guess we could say there’s room for multiple forms of communication...?

Jesus wants to transform us, not replace us with robots or pet dogs; He wants us to become what we are not. He wants us to replace hypocrisy with empathy so we can have authentic relationships, that’s why He says get the log out of your eye. He wants us to bear fruit and reject apathy, that’s why He says if we love Him we’ll obey Him. He wants us to have hearts that love unconditionally, that’s why He says “By this” all men will know you are my disciples.... if you have love one for another. HE wants us to change who’s will we submit to... That’s why He says, “when you fed the least of these” because He wants us to change our view on who the universe revolves around... This type of change is daily: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (II Cor 4:16)

Jesus wants to change you, doubtful? Just wait till the Resurrection when in the blink of an eye we are all... Well here’s how Paul puts it in I Cor 15:52, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

BTW: Pictured here, above, are several books from my personal library, notice what they are stacked on...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Do you see...?

I read a story that Italian folklorists share, a story on how we see reality. It goes something like this: There were three stonecutters working in the heat of the day. When the first one was asked what it was he was doing he answered: I am chipping these stones to make them fit just right. The second stonecutter responded: I am earning my wages. And the third stonecutter replied: I am building a cathedral.

Amazingly, those three stonecutters in the story were working side-by-side, yet saw something different. I guess people could compare this to the parable of the six blind men who all explain an elephant in six different ways, i.e., "It's a rope." "No, it's a tree-trunk..." ect.

Sometimes, it would seem, we need to take a second look, or even a third look.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Daily schedule's appearance: Too Hideous or ready to harness?

I love the smell of leather. I know it might sound weird, but I have a German-made knife that sometimes I remove from its sheath, and I sniff the sheath.
The smell of leather is one I'm very familiar with. Some of my earliest memories are of handling my dad's saddle that he kept in our livingroom. His saddle was for horsemanship in the "Western Pleasure" style. My dad also had an old set of horse-harness he kept out in the barn. Both the saddle and the harness-set had a rich aroma that deeply appealed to my young senses. I rode in my dad's saddle along with him in the days before I was even walking. But, we never used the harness, though I heard many stories from my dad about the days when his people depended on the horses's harnesses.

Today we have a huge challenge in our churches. Our congregations seemingly have to compete with the barrage of activities that our families are entrenched in. Grandparents have an endless supply of sporting events they can watch their grandchildren participate in. Children have several different extracurricular actives at school they can sign up for. Parents have their own activities to consider as well.

If you've ever tried to recruit Sunday school teachers for just one quarter, I don't have to tell you how busy our people are. If you've been asked to serve in any capacity in a church activity, I don't have to tell you how hard it is to fit these requests into your overbooked schedule. So what can we do, and, what does this have to do with the smell of leather?

We, as believers, can either fight against the overwhelming madness of the endless stream of dance classes, orchestra concerts, practices for (you fill in the blank)__________, or scouting activities that rob our children of any free time... or we can harness them.

Moses, nor Jesus as far as this goes, commands us to escape the world. We are, on the other hand given this command, to uses every opportunity throughout our day to develop our faith... and to pass on our faith to the next generation. We are commanded by Moses to use the daily events as springboards to instruct our young people about how we walk with our God. We examine the day's activities through the lens of God's Word, not through the blinders of monasticism.

In other words, The Scriptures reveal our faith takes place in the chaos of the day, not in spite of it, nor apart from the daily grind. Re-read Deut 6:4-9 with a closer look at the word "when": "[4] “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [5] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [6] And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. [7] You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. [8] You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. [9] You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

Moses didn't expect the Israelites to postpone their instructional or formational duties to their children in light of the demands of their daily life. He clearly instructs his people to use those everyday-experiences for teaching their children.

So, consider how our people could adapt this. Instead of forbidding or prohibiting our children from playing football, we go to their games, and we pray with them before the game. Or consider a volleyball game with your child, what an opportunity to talk about how good sportsmanship sends a clearer message of the gentleness believers practice than any message we could proclaim. Or, what about simply seeking an opportunity to invite a fellow parent from any of these events to a worship service? We complain about not having enough opportunities to evangelize, yet we come in contact with hundreds of people through our children's activities we otherwise would've never been able to meet.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm fed up with the craziness of our demanding culture. I've often thought how great it would be to escape this hyperactive culture and join the Amish... no, really, I have. And, I have the utmost respect for the people who bemoan this tug-of-war plight we are in, but mistakenly think we can get our young people to scale back their activities. I simply think we can either fight the stream till we are all drowning, or we can channel these activities for the glory of God. I covet your feedback on this, when you can find the time...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Let's talk it out:

I recently read this story that’s attributed to Reagan; it’s about having good intentions:
"There's a story about a young fellow riding a motorcycle. He had good intentions too. The wind was kind of chilly and coming through the buttonholes on his jacket, and so he got this idea. He stopped and put his jacket on backward and that eliminated the chill factor through the buttonholes, but it kind of restricted his arm movement. And down the road, his motorcycle hit a patch of ice. He skidded into a tree. When the police got there, a crowd had gathered. And they elbowed their way through and they said, 'What happened?' And one of them said, 'Well, we don't know. When we got here he seemed to be all right, but by the time we got his head turned around straight, he was dead.'

That story reminds me of the old joke about the two doctors taking comfort in the success of a surgery, though the procedure ended the patient’s life. Sometimes, when we see another person we think we have them figured out, and, we think we can fix them...

I learned a valuable lesson this week about the dangers of stereotyping. I learned that perceptions which feel “so accurate” can be wrong, even my own... I learned this week that I had someone all wrong, my way of seeing this person was skewed. Though I didn’t jump to conclusions, or pass judgments, I was nevertheless mistaken.

After a wonderful conversation of give-and-take and genuine dialogue, I came away with a renewed-deeper-respect, and more importantly, a more accurate understanding of this person. I’m thankful I didn’t let my fear of offending, interfere with a relationship building opportunity.

If we rarely take the much needed step of asking another person for clarification, we could draw the wrong conclusions without having all the facts. Sadly, our relationships suffer.

I understand the fear that paralyzes us though. If I open my mouth and I’m wrong, then what? But, ask which is worse to you: holding on to a mistaken opinion, or risking the embarrassment by asking for clarification? One shows my self-protection means much more to me than maybe it should; the other shows respect for the other person.

Jesus sagely said: Get the log out... And Paul said: Speak the truth in love. May I grow into the type of person who does both, well.

Monday, February 21, 2011


I don't think I've reblogged anyone's blog before.
But, the blog post I'm sharing here is one I simply have to pass on.
So, if you are a communicator, then you'll be interested in what White says below...
Great Communicators

There has been a fair amount of reflection on the life and legacy of Ronald Reagan of late, generated by the centennial celebration of his birth on February 6, not to mention Presidents Day on February 21.

Reagan was the 40th President of the United States (1980-1989). From “Reagonomics” to “Morning in America,” Reagan was known for many things, but perhaps chiefly as the Great Communicator.

And it was because of his abilities as a communicator that he is so widely heralded as a leader and an agent of cultural change.

The truth is that anyone wishing to influence culture should aspire to become a master communicator, for it has marked most of our world’s shaping personalities – for better or worse. From Martin Luther King, Jr. to Abraham Lincoln, Hitler to Hussein, communicators affect culture more than non-communicators.

It’s true for those who wish to impact the culture for Christ as well. C.S. Lewis was arguably the greatest apologist for the twentieth century. He had this to say about his efforts to communicate:

“People praise me as a ‘translator,’ but what I want is to be the founder of a school of ‘translation.’ I am nearly forty-seven. Where are my successors? Anyone can learn to do it if they wish...I feel I’m talking rather like a tutor – forgive me. But it is just a technique and I’m desperately anxious to see it widely learned.”

Lewis is right. Effective communication is not difficult. So what does it entail? Let’s assume that what you wish to say is biblically based. Let’s also assume you have something prophetic to say to the culture in which we live. What’s next on the agenda?

I would argue for the following:

First, that you are relevant. I know the word is tired, and is often a whipping boy for those who feel that contemporary communicators are swapping relevance for orthodoxy. But in truth, relevance has nothing to do with watering things down. It simply means that you avoid giving a 19th or 20th century message to a 21st century audience, particularly in regard to application, vocabulary and illustrations.

A good communicator is also practical. For a talk to be practical simply means that the listener can apply it, and is not left wondering how. Credibilityalso looms large for communication. You have to be believed to be heard. Credibility will include such things as accuracy and personal integrity.

Good communicators also use stories, pictures, images, analogies, props or media to help convey their points. People think visually, and they craft their thought in terms of images.

Another mark of effective communication is engaging in a way that feels dialogical, and builds bridges of identification. A good communicator will pause every now and then and say, “Now right about now, you’re probably thinking...”, or “If you’re like most people, this instantly raises the question of...”, or “Ever felt like that?” I believe it was Arthur Miller, who wrote such plays as The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, who said that success for him is when someone could sit in the audience, watch one of his plays, and say, “That’s me up there.”

Good communicators are also simple. Not shallow, mind you, but simple. They put truth on the bottom shelf. C.S. Lewis was brilliant, and could have spent his career writing for fellow academics. Instead, he wanted to write for the average person. As a result, his influence was ten-fold.

Few communicators have captured the attention of an audience as dramatically as Winston C. Churchill, and one of his defining marks was simplicity. He believed that a speech should sound the way you talk, simple and conversational. His entire philosophy of public communication was to have a strong beginning, express one theme, use simple language, have lots of illustrations, and end emotionally.

Once after he spoke, an individual confronted him and self-righteously stated, "Prime Minister, I was very shocked that in your speech you actually terminated a sentence with a preposition." Churchill replied, "That is pedantic nonsense...up...with which...I shall not put."

Mark Twain made a similar point by telling of a Missouri farmer who ran five times for the state legislature without a single victory. In his speeches he referred to himself as "your humble aspirant," his audiences as "my enlightened constituents," and his vision as "obtaining a mandate" for his "legislative mission." Then one day his cow kicked him in the teeth, knocking his front teeth out, forcing the farmer to speak words of only one syllable. As a result, he won his next election and continued getting reelected.

A final mark of effective communication is that you are authentic. Authenticity is no more - and no less - than being a person who can be believed, accepted, trusted, and relied upon to be that which is as presented. I recently talked with a woman who had been unchurched for seventeen years before coming to Meck. I asked her what it was about our team of communicators that had impacted her. I was surprised that she did not even have to pause. She said, "I never felt 'preached to.' Instead I felt 'talked to.' I could identify with you as people. You shared your struggles, your life experiences, in a way that I could relate to. You didn't come pretending to have your act together, talking down to everybody."

So if you want to improve as a communicator, be relevant, practical and credible; tell stories, be dialogical, simple and authentic.

Then, listen to great communicators who do this. Get five or six speakers who you sense know what they’re doing, and go to school on them. Listen to how they manage material, how they open and close their talks, the manner in which they admonish and confess, illustrate and inspire.

Because while we celebrate great translators like Lewis, he was right; the more pressing issue is where are his successors?

James Emery White


Peggy Noonan, When Character was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan.

Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis.

James C. Humes, The Sir Winston Method: The Five Secrets of Speaking the Language of Leadership.

Editor’s Note

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