Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ready for the New Year


Sadly, it looks like 2014 might be remembered mostly for its combination of painful events: Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson MO and Eric Garner’s death in NY, plus the ensuing riots/peaceful protests that followed their Grand Jury decisions.  We won’t easily forget the multiple beheadings of innocent people by ISIS, or the continued unrest in the Middle East.  The full repercussions from the recently released “Torture report” remain yet to be seen.  And, who will ever forget the frightful Ebola epidemic?  As we wrap up 2014, the New Year couldn’t come any sooner; we are all ready for a fresh start.  

As we contemplate the bleakness of this past year, we shouldn’t be too surprised.  Scripture teaches the world is presently in the clutches of satan, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19 ESV).  But, we also know the end of the story as well.  God will one day, in His timing, bring all evil to an end and, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  (Revelation 21:4 ESV).  We have good reason to be hopeful -- even in the midst of despair.  But, in the meanwhile, we need to do more than just hope for better days.

This year we’ve experienced a lot of darkness, yet we also saw many people collaborating to fight against the darkness.  This was a year of ice water bucket ALS challenges and we made great strides in fundraising for medical research.  Yes we lost the brilliant and talented Robin Williams to suicide, but think of how many lives have been saved since, by lowering the stigma and raising the of awareness of depression and mental illness.  And, this year ushered in the new “Tennessee Promise.” This amazing program gives high school graduates two years of free tuition to a community college or technical school.

If you want to make the world a better place in 2015, it starts at home.  Taking good care of yourself by finding time for plenty of rest, eating right, getting plenty of exercise, and caring for your family too is a good place to begin.  Being active in your church and your neighborhood is vital too.  Give blood if you are eligible, and regularly volunteer your time by serving in a Food bank or with some other worthwhile community need.   This month we volunteered for a second year for the Salvation Army, ringing bells.  Sadly, they had to hire about 80 bell ringers -- I think we as a community can do better than that, please consider calling them and pitch in too.  

Also, learning to see the good in people who are different than you makes a big difference; much of the turmoil we witness or experience in the world is based in prejudice and racism.  We need to really embrace the Biblical truth we are all created equally in God’s image.  The events that cast a shadow over 2014 were basically ones involving people.  People count.  People matter.  It’s time for us globally and as a culture to honestly assess how well we are doing when it comes to the way we are treating each other.  We do not always treat all people as well as we could and then we all suffer the consequences when people are mistreated.  There are ripple effects in this life that go far beyond just the people in the center of any conflict.  

Certainly, with the many tragedies of this year, we all have a better appreciation of life.  
Thankfully, ebola seems containable and it will not be front page news for a while.  While I disagree theologically with the religion of Islam, I know not all Muslims are bloodthirsty killers.  Similarly, not all protesters stoop to looting, there were many more respectful people who peacefully expressed their views over the deaths of Brown & Garner, don’t let that fact escape your notice.  And remember, not all police officers make poor judgments either.  I happen to know a few outstanding officers here in Kingsport who regularly take risks to ensure the safety and peace in our town; they deserve our respect and appreciation.  

We have a lot to be thankful for, and with the blessings of a New Year to look forward to we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic.  Finish this year as strongly as possible and pray for God’s blessings on 2015 like you’ve never prayed before!   


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Waiting for the next big controversial topic...


When I was a student at Harding in the late 90's, our Bible professors were certain "women's roles" would usher in the next big split in the churches of Christ -- before the turn of the century they predicted.  It would be like 1906, and the census report by David Lipscomb.  Only now, they said, there's going to be another branch, one that allowed women to be active in the worship service.

It seems like there's always something doctrinal people are upset about.  Hand clapping.  Instrumental music.  Women's roles.  Too much ecumenical participation.  Really, there are probably more issues Christians have belabored and grieved over, but those cyclical hot button issues seem to be pretty popular.

I think Facebook and other social media sites help spread the fury faster than ever now.  This isn't a critique of social media, just an observation that these squabbles travel faster thanks to Youtube and other ways we share our vastly different opinions.

We are blessed to be part of a church that has studied through the "hot topics," and has moved forward.  The things that people are celebrating or lamenting are non-issues for us these days, and it surprises me often how people still fight some of the old battles.  I guess as long as legalism and hard core traditionalism hold sway, people will want to be champions of the truth regardless of the cost.  The reality is, you might win the battle, and then lose the war.

We don't have "Church of Christ" anywhere on our website or in any of our bylaws.  The major reason?  We didn't want the people we were reaching to say, "Church of Christ?  You are the ones who think you are the only ones going to heaven."  Or, the other reaction, "Church of Christ? Which one, you guys fight all the time, don't ya?" So, we at New Song dropped the name, but celebrate the rich Biblical heritage of the churches of Christ.

The infighting that happens over the grey areas kills the church.  Young people, rightly so, become disenchanted with the church when they see their adults fighting over non-essential doctrines.  If they stay in the church through their teen years, they won't in college.  And, how about the message that non-believers hear?  As everyone spreads these in house fights all over Facebook, their unchurched friends only comprehend one thing, not who is right in church, but that all of us in church are wrong.

For Christians, one of the most liberating things people can do is to get past the fighting and draw your own conclusions, and then move on.  And, to not worry about what other churches or groups are doing.  That is true freedom, to not worry about others are up to and to celebrate what Jesus is doing in your congregation.  I hope that whatever the next big topic is to fight over, it's really worth arguing over, because the collateral damage we have suffered tells me our priorities have been in the wrong place.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Are we alone in the Cosmos...?

Religion column for Timesnews 11/21/14
Have you seen the recent youtube video featuring Boyd Bushman?  Bushman supposedly was a retired Lockheed Martin research engineer with insider access to the infamous Area 51.  His “deathbed” confession exposes intimate details of aliens from the planet Quintonia.  According to Bushman, a handful of these intergalactic travelers (who live for about 200 years) are among us, helping us learn about UFOs, anti-gravity, and space travel.  Sadly, the pictured aliens Bushman holds up as evidence can be purchased at Walmart.  Shucks.  

I don’t know when we started asking about aliens from outer space.  For thousands of years, people thought the earth was flat and it was the center of the universe.  The brilliant Renaissance thinkers Copernicus and Galileo enlightened humanity, teaching us the universe does not revolve around our planet.  Through Galileo’s telescope, we would learn other planets in our solar system have moons too, and the sun has spots.  Less than 100 years ago, Hubble would peer into the night’s sky and discover our Milky Way wasn’t the only galaxy.  

It’s an awfully big universe after all, and it’s hard to imagine we are all alone.  Our galaxy has 300 billion stars, and there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe.  Suddenly, asking, “Are we alone in this extremely vast Cosmos?” seems more legitimate.  What’s at stake if we aren’t alone?  

On the one hand, it seems like God should create other life forms on other planets, since it would be a big waste of space otherwise.  Then again, if we are alone in such an enormous ever-expanding universe, wouldn’t that make us extremely special?  We’d be like God’s crowning achievement in creation then.  And of course, some evolutionists think extraterrestrial life would instantly disprove God’s existence.  But, life on other planets would not disprove God, you still need a Creator for a creation.

I don’t see any Biblical evidence claiming there is or isn’t life elsewhere.  In other words, I think the Bible is silent on this subject.  The Bible isn’t a science textbook and it would be hard to prove the existence or the absence of extraterrestrial life from the Bible -- though some people try to force space alien allusions on Ezekiel chapter one’s wheels of fire and strange looking humanoid creatures.

So, is God wasteful with His universe or does He highlight His love for us, reserving us as His sole created creatures in the Cosmos?  Let’s just say for the sake of this discussion that God has created life elsewhere.  I’m not promoting this as reality, I’m just saying let’s momentarily allow the possibility of extraterrestrial life.  After suspending doubt and imagining there are other intelligent life forms “out there,” I wonder, why on earth would God introduce us to each other?  

What am I talking about? There’s Isis in Syria/Iraq, Russia bullying the Ukraine, even here in America we have residual resentments from our Civil War, plus think about all the bombastic/divisive ads going into this month’s Midterm elections, there are inter/intradenominational squabbles, people have neighbors they can’t tolerate, and too many families languish in dysfunction.  

Thanksgiving is next week and while the pictures of the Pilgrims eating with Squanto are dreamy, decades later how did the story eventually end?  It’s shameful the way Native Americans suffer to this day.  So..., why would God introduce us to other planetary beings when we can’t even get along with ourselves?

Of all the many disappointments we carry as mankind, I can’t believe in this day & age ignorant people still judge others based on the color of their skin.  We are all equally created in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27) and we need to respect everyone,  “With it [our tongues] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”  (James 3:9-10 ESV)  I doubt any racist will be able to stand justified before a Holy God.

So, if you grew up like me with a wild imagination, dreaming of meeting ET and hoping for a Close Encounter of the Third Kind, let’s start in our own backyard.  Maybe when we get these two passages down, we just might...   “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9 ESV)  “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10 ESV)


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Getting up to speed on the book "Slow Church"


"Slow Church" IVP publishing, 2014


I had never heard of either C. Christopher Smith or John Pattison, the coauthors of "Slow Church," and I'm guessing you haven't either.  They aren't Seminary professors or famous church growth gurus. Yet, they are insightful writers with a timely message.  As the title suggests, this isn't a book with a recipe for microwaving your church on the fast track to becoming a mega-church... and that's quite okay, because Slow Church is not licence for mediocrity either. 

The book would certainly be useful in a seminary classroom, but I think it's written by "laymen" so well, every member of the body would be blessed by it.  You can look up the table of contents on Amazon or browse through a copy in your local bookstore to see for yourself the breakdown of the book; I'm more interested in sharing with you my impression of the book from my perspective as a Restoration Movement minister.  But, I will add here, each chapter stays on track, most of the book is filled with ample quotes from dozens of helpful books, and they conclude their chapters with "Conversation starters" that you could use in a small group study.

We are in our 3rd year of a church plant, and most weeks I feel tremendous pressure to be growing our church faster and bigger.  I've tried to read half a dozen church growth books with titles you'd more than likely recognize, and frankly I couldn't get through them.  I tried to read a few of the "organic" and "simple" church books from the last decade, and I had a hard time plowing through them as well.  With Slow Church, I had to pace myself, I wanted to savor each morsel.  It was so good, I didn't want to rush through it like a storm that washes away the topsoil, I wanted to let it soak in.  

As I read Slow Church, I thought of the people I personally minister to, and I wondered how they would respond to the material I was reading.  Instead of hawking the book, I mentioned I was reading it, and I did use some of its topics as I preached.  I wove in some of Slow Church over a couple of months (in my sermons as I preached & in several tweets on Twitter), and so far I haven't had to nail the back door shut.

Slow Church helped me relax my anxieties and it helped me to refocus my priorities.  Slow church isn't about giving you permission to forget about growth, it helps you to understand what real growth entails.  Slow Church defuses the toxic idea that has infiltrated many congregations, namely Slow Church refutes the accepted ideas that efficiency, consumerism, and control are what works best.  

We are disconnected from our neighbors, our communities, and mostly from the people we worship with Sunday mornings.  Slow Church reflects on the need to say no to the hyperactivity and slick ways of the world, and to slow down long enough to experience Christianity the way God intended us to, in community, in peace, and unrushed.  Slow Church calls us to reconnect with each other, and to reject the materialistic methodology that drives the fast food industry and most of today's culture. 

Slow Church challenges our craving for quantity over quality, and it gives us fresh ways to envision the Kingdom of God -- to not just measure success, but to aim for significance.  God wants us to partner with Him in His creation, and to expand His Kingdom, and for Slow Church this means we give up our narrow view of staking claim to the pitiful little empires we cling to.  And, Slow Church calls us to share life together.  We are not in competition with the world around us, and you can't stockpile manna, so be compassionate and connect with what counts most, people.

The heart of Slow Church is about having the right rhythm which brings true Shalom peace, and Slow church reveals our need to be intentional -- to realize our identities as disciples of Christ.  The industrialized culture of speed that we are immersed in has fragmented and warped us; it's caused tremendous relationship deficits.  Slow Church is a worthwhile read to help us reconnect with the heart of Jesus' message, to value people, and to see that nickels and noses are not the only or the best marks for faithfulness.  



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Take a stand

My own standing desk
After reading a few good posts on the health benefits of using a standing desk, and the dangers of sitting for several hours at a desk, I build my own standing desk.  It took me less than a 1/2 hour to put together.  I found a piece of shelving board out in the garage we hadn't used, it was nothing more than a one by ten inch pine board, about 8 feet long, one that might've cost us $6.00 or $8.00 at Lowes.

I measured the board and divided the length up roughly into equal dimensions so I knew how much I had to work with, and after measuring the height from my desk up to where my hands rested comfortably, I had my starting point for the vertical sides.  With a little dab of carpenter's glue and a handful of drywall screws, I build my own standing desk and I've been using it for almost a year now.  I will add, after a few days of using it, I felt the need to buy an antifatigue mat to stand on... 

I like the space in between the sides of my standing desk, because this has given me a place to store my composition books.  Most of my 1st drafts for all I write, columns, sermons, articles, etc., I initially write out by hand.

I'm sharing this because for one, I hope you'll consider using a standing desk for health reasons.  Someone online said, "sitting is the smoking of our day."  Second, I'm sharing this to help people see that you don't have to spend an arm & a leg to have your own standing desk.   

Friday, November 7, 2014

Was the movie Interstellar "Out of this world"? or did it rest on solid ground?


(No plot spoilers planned here)
Few trailers get me choked up, but the trailer for Interstellar did; that's why I had to see Interstellar.  I'm not really a huge Matthew McConaughey fan, but that might be changing.   Last night Tammy and I arrived at the theater about 30 minutes early so we could get good seats, and as Tammy said afterward, the movie kept us on the edge of our seats.  It was long, nearly 3 hours.   

From the previews you already know that planet earth is turning into a dust bowl.  Our days on earth are limited, and so farmer, former engineer "Cooper" (McConaughey) will trade in his tractor for a spaceship to find a habitable planet to save mankind.  How do you get a good plot line out of that?  You add in he's leaving his family behind, the theory of relativity that indicates time passes differently for space-travelers and earth dwellers (so if he ever returns his family could all be long dead) and, you add the uncertainly the crew could end up like the 80's song "Major Tom."  Will they succeed, what's driving them, and can they cooperate, all make for a great plot.  

The movie is filled with popular level Newtonian and Quantum physics.  Several terms and concepts hold the plot together, but don't worry, you don't have to be a nerd to keep up with the science of the plot.  Still, I think at some level we all find space travel, wormholes connecting galaxies, and black holes interesting.  

Most movies along these plot lines have love stories built in, in the case of Interstellar love is the story.  Not romance or cheesy nostalgia, but a love that transcends space and time, and can't be explained away by the scientific method.  The strength of love is teased out from start to finish, and by one of the astronauts love is attributed to "evolutionary" instincts.  Though the movie doesn't try to pit love, humanity, evolution and faith against themselves, these topics certainly come center stage.  There are great subplot themes of loyalty, sacrifice,  and dedication that truly brings value to the story.

The plot is great, and the movie well worth seeing.  Without the typical Hollywood shallow use of sex & violence or extreme foul language to carry a plot, Interstellar puts together great acting and a very good story, it's so clean you could take an adolescent or grandparent to it and not be embarrassed, unless a shedding a few tears embarrass you. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Why kids leave church: our dirty little secret



It's hard to estimate how many articles, books, and blog posts I've read concerning the topic of "why" children abandon church as they transition into adulthood.  People blame culture/peer-pressure, lack of quality youth programs, and the irrelevance of the modern consumer-driven church.  I have a sneaking suspicion the real reason is closer to home.

Each person is unique, and everyone has their own set of circumstances that shapes them.  This brief post cannot be exhaustive, nor can it claim to pinpoint everyone.  My opinions here are shaped by what I've observed in 20 + years of ministry, and may not coincide with your views.  My hope is, we can turn things around and make changes that will nurture the faith of future generations.

The first observation I will make has to do with Attitude.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to adults when their children have a bad taste in their mouths over church, when these same adults complain & criticize their local church.  I've seen second and third generation Christians nitpick every aspect of their church family, and then act frustrated when their children walk out the back door of the church.  Regardless of how nostalgic you are about your youth rallies and the glory days of church camp, you can't send mixed messages and expect your children to escape from your negativity.

My next observation has to do with Activity.
It's immature to expect our young people to be more involved or engaged than the adults.  I've taught Wednesday night classes, Sunday morning classes and everything in between at church.  Watching adults chit-chat and skip class or the worship service, while they expected their children to attend, used to irritate me.  Now it concerns me.  I see now the damage from the adults who "loved" their church, but felt too mature or important to attend the events they forced on their children.

Then, somewhere between Attitude and Activity, there are the adults who "take their toys" and go home when they don't get their way.  What message does this send home...?

But what about the mature believers who had great attitudes, were healthy, and were very active but still their children leave church?  Again, everyone has unique circumstances, so this post can't possibly explain what happens to everyone.  I will say, there are people whom I love and respect, but their children didn't embrace their parent's faith.  What went wrong?  Sadly, even when we do all we can as parents, there are always church squabbles and unhealthy leaders our children are exposed to, situations beyond our control that can do more harm than good.    

My guess is, more children become disillusioned with church because of what they see at home... if they overhear unhealthy conversations lambasting their church, if they witness hypocrisy in their parents, and if they see a disconnect in their parent's behaviors and the message.

We don't live in a perfect world, and we aren't perfect.  So what can we do?

For starters, show some grace to those you worship with.  Be more tolerant, and extend ample forgiveness to those you disagree with.  Guard your tongue and be careful in what you say about others.

Next, be honest about your inconsistencies.  Be vulnerable with your children.  Share your struggles, and take responsibility for your shortcomings without blaming others.

Finally, focus more on Jesus & imitating Him.  Sounds too simplistic, I'm sure.  I'm open to hearing your suggestions.





Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A topic I've never preached on...

(Last Friday's column, 8/29/14)


I have a confession, in over 20 years of ministry, I’ve never preached on gluttony.  It’s not that I’m opposed to being fit, nor am I ignorant on the dangers of gluttony.  By the way, how many sermons have you heard about gluttony...?

For most of my adult life I’ve been exercising in one gym or another.  When I was in my 20’s I competed in powerlifting; even though I’ve scaled back on the intensity of my regimen, exercising is still a big priority. In all my years of lifting, I’ve never really worried about slimming down. I know I need to shed a few pounds, but my friends reassure me by simply saying I “carry my weight well...”  For example, I have a friend who jokingly calls me “BB” which is short for “big boned.”   I’ve enjoyed weight training, but I’ve never had the discipline to diet.  To me, the key word to dieting was always, “Tomorrow.”  Well, tomorrow has crash landed.

Why is gluttony suddenly on my radar?  For two reasons.  

First, this past June I attended a Pastor’s breakfast hosted by Eastman.  Most of the speakers at the Eastman breakfast emphasized how Tennessee has a poor national ranking in our overall health status, especially our high rate of obesity.  As they were recruiting the help of the local church to encourage our community to eat healthier, Eastman’s Perry Stuckey delivered a passionate plea, seeking our help in guiding families to be more conscious of the choices we make in selecting meals and how we eat and exercise.  Eastman even had a representative from the Governor’s office to talk about the Governor's new initiative “Heather Tennessee” which is online at http://healthiertn.com and next month they will add a tab for churches called “Small Starts @ Worship” too.

Secondly, I recently ended up in the ER -- I thought my ears were rupturing, my eyes felt like they were bulging out, and the top of my head felt like it was exploding.  My blood pressure was 196/113; that was high enough to make feel like I was about to die.  I’m no medical professional and I know hypertension can be from genetics, but I also know what I eat and how much I eat contributes as well.

I’ve lost 20 pounds within the last month simply by adding cardio to my regimen and by practicing (for the first time in my life) portion control.  I’d like to shed another 20 pounds -- I’m working hard to be prescription free if at all possible.  It is possible for us all to be healthier, but it won’t happen with magical thinking.  The effort is worth it though -- heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic health issues are scientifically tied to inactivity and overeating.

Though I’ve never preached on gluttony, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you my reading friends.  Gluttony is a sin, and like most every sin, it is misusing a good blessing.  Think of it like this, is money evil?  No.  When we hoard money and crave it, we call that greed.  Greed, stealing money, or the “love of money” is the sin, not money itself.  Is sex a sin?  No, sex is a wonderful blessing, it’s a gift.  When sex is disrespected through pornograhy or when we betray our spouse’s trust through an affair, that’s a sin.  Is talking a sin?  No.  When we lie or slander people, we misuse the gift of language by corrupting Truth.  

Ample and delicious food testifies to God’s love and care for us, “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17 ESV)  Also consider, “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 ESV)  The best way to show we appreciate a gift is to treat it respectfully and cherish it, not abuse it.  Gluttony is abusing one of God’s greatest gifts, food.  

Please consider exercising daily and the dietary choices you make; take control of your appetites -- don’t let your appetites control you, us, me.  Of all the people, we as believers should exhibit self-control since self-control is listed with the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:23.  I also want to be a better ambassador for Jesus; when people meet me and learn I’m a believer and a preacher, I have an obligation to represent Jesus well.  Fellow ministers who may be reading this & need to get healthier too, please consider: How well are we representing our congregations or reflecting Jesus’ influence by the shape we are in?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Why the wet-blanket on the ALS Ice Bucket challenge?


Several social media sites have similar images, as the one above.  What's up with the hashtag: #NoIceBucketChallenge?

My wife accepted the #ALS ice bucket challenge, and "called out" a few of her friends.  I've been called out a few times, and though you are supposed to do the challenge in 24 hours, I'm sure I will, but I have twist I want to add.

BTW, I don't feel any responsibility to defend or critique the ALS challenge, but I find it interesting that people are upset about it (what do you think is the reason behind the naysaying?).  I think people dislike the ALS challenge because THEY THINK it's too easy or a bandwagon thing and it's a distraction from some of the other world problems we have going on, like the recent riots in Ferguson MO, Putin's activity in the Ukraine, the war in the Gaza strip, or journalists being beheaded.

If my assumptions are accurate, then the people who are upset about the ALS challenge are narrow minded -- in the sense that they forget the world will always have problems and it's hard to focus on them all or highlight them all at once.  I like the saying, "Do for one where you can, what you wish you could do for the many."  If we only focused on patching up "all or none" then nothing would ever be better...

As for my twist, I think I'll wait till the middle of this winter to do the ice bucket challenge.  I think this for two reasons.  By this winter I think a lot of people will be on to something else and it will be a good reminder.  Secondly, it will remind me of the polar bear plunge.



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Releasing a painful past



Mosaic art is interesting, because it's an art that utilizes brokenness.  Instead of discarding shattered pieces of pottery or glass, the artist makes a new creation out of the "worthless" broken material.  

Probably the most painful damage we suffer in this life is self-inflicted.  When we re-hash our mistakes or the mistakes of others against us, and we replay those old scenes over & over again in our minds, we will never find freedom from the past that's haunting us.

You can't hope to punish others or yourself and hope for fulfilment simultaneously; you must choose one or the other.  You can either continue to re-live your past, or you can build a new future, but you can't have both.

You may think I'm talking about forgiveness, and in a sense you're right.  But I expect you've read enough about forgiveness to know you can't expect an instant miracle.  You expect to feel free and renewed but you aren't yet.  What's wrong with you, or God, you might ask.  Maybe you can't overcome the past because you still see all the pain and the destructiveness of that horrible chapter in your life, and your imagination and attention is still glued to the mistakes which were played out in your past.  Until we go through the stages of forgiveness, like admitting we hate the offender (for awhile) and getting past the hate to see the humanness in all off ourselves, and then forming a desire to move on, we are going to stay "stuck" somewhere along the way.  

How do I get over "it" and move on?  There are several answers, most you've already heard.  Let me throw out one maybe you haven't thought of.  God is referred to as a potter in the Scripture, you know, "He is the potter and we are the clay."  I want you to think of an analogy, that of a mosaic.  Pick up the broken pieces of your life and make them into something more beautiful than you had before the trainwreck happened.  

How can we do that?  One piece at a time.  Patiently.  And by God's hand.  If your hand is jealously clinging tightly to broken pieces of the past, so tight your blood is oozing between your fingers, how can God or anyone help you transform your tragedy?  Use those bloody shards as a palate of colors to create a piece so glorious, it casts a brighter light than your darkest past ever could have.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Finding Freedom's fulfilment

These days, we visit our doctors to avoid illnesses.  In other words, we see our doctors to stay healthy, not just to get healthy.  But not so when I was a child.  Usually at home, a pack of Bandaids, a dab of mercurochrome, a couple of aspirin, or a heating pad did the trick.  Doctors were only to be seen when you were “really” sick -- when mom was left stymied by an unsuccessful home remedy.  

Back in the day, Preventive medicine resembled, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Health & wellness visits were not part of our vocabulary.  I can’t recall a single instance of either of my parents seeing our family doctor.  My only memories of our doctor are of her setting a few broken bones for me, and over the years administering vaccinations from her single glass syringe -- reusing needles that were stored in a glass jar of antiseptic... And yes, we drank out of the garden hose and survived that too.  

With it being the 4th, Freedom is on all of our minds today.  A nation’s scale of freedom is relative, but I feel we are blessed as the freest of the free.  How long will we enjoy our unique freedom and how far will America’s freedom reach?  There’s no telling.  Is there a freedom that isn’t bound by borders, that can’t be defended by military might, a freedom that truly liberates, and overshadows the American ideal of freedom?  Yes, and it’s found only in Jesus.  

My eyes get misty and I get choked up singing our National Anthem.  Often, if I’m at an event where the Pledge is recited I let out an “amen” at the conclusion.  I love our country. I also recognize the only residents who will enjoy ultimate freedom, are the ones Paul wrote of in Phil 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

So, why don’t we experience more of the freedom Jesus promised?  In JN 8:36 Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  Why do so many Christians find themselves entangled in infidelity or ensnared by habitual deception?  Why do some practice manipulation or feed their own narcissism?   Maybe, too many believers treat their relationship with Jesus the same way we treated medical professionals when I was a child.  In other words, there’s no freedom from sin if I only go to Jesus when I finally feel the symptoms of sin.  

Certainly we need to go to God when we stumble, especially if we’ve neglected our relationship with God for way too long.  Sin & shame will crush our spirits to the point we suffer psychosomatic symptoms.  Ps 31:10, “For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.”  My point isn’t to avoid God when we feel remorse because we’ve slacked off in our walk with Jesus; my point is if we long for freedom, then we need more of God in our lives consistently to experience His freedom fully.

Sin is the sickness of the soul that leads to death, and Jesus has the cure, but for a more fulfilling sense of freedom in Christ, we need to seek Him out daily.  We need to be fed spiritually daily if we want to have the most freedom Jesus offers.  We don’t water our gardens once in the spring and then expect a thriving harvest in the fall.  Neither can we sip on the Living Water occasionally and expect to escape the wicked bondage of sin.  

If we only crack open our Bibles Sundays at 10:00 a.m., or pray only in troubled times, spiritually we are as malnutritioned as ancient mariners suffering from scurvy.  Freedom to live out what God created us for happens when we are near the Lord, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (II Cor 3:17)  Prayer, Scripture, sharing communion with fellow believers, and a life of faith draws us closer to the sources of spiritual freedom.  The good news is, Jesus wants to liberate us; He invites us to find rest in His presence, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)

So tonight, as fireworks light the night’s sky, while we shout “God bless America!” holding our hands over our hearts, filled with gratitude because brave young men and women in uniform are defending our country’s freedom with their lives, may we remember to celebrate our eternal freedom everyday of the year.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

How to have a lifelong, spicy, fulfilling sex life


A few years ago I saw a movie where two grandparents were at the dinner table talking with a confused grandchild.  Their grandchild shocked them by saying it's impossible and unreasonable to think that you could have sex with the same person all your life, to just have one lover, to just be happy with only person all your life.

As I think about that movie scene, I want to scream "That is bunk!"  It's not only possible to be monogamous for life, it's what brings the most satisfaction!

I'm blessed.  No doubt about it, I'm a lucky guy.  My wife Tammy and I have been married for over 26 years now, and for some reason, I'm drawn to her more now than ever.  It's hard to explain, and I'll try to unpack this, but I find Tammy more attractive and more desirable sexually as the years go by.  It's as if I'm seeing her for the first time as the years pass.  She keeps getting more beautiful and more desirable to me, and I think it's because of the keys I'll share here.

And, in case you are nervous, I'll keep this post G rated.

You would think getting married as teenagers, that our sexual peak would've come and gone by now.  Or, you might think that as the years transform our appearance, with my young bride now in her mid-40's she would no longer "do it" for me, and I would not find her as attractive as when we met.  You'd be dead wrong to think so.  She is drop dead gorgeous to me.

I find myself continually daydreaming about Tammy, and when we are together I can't keep my eyes off of her.  She is hotter than ever in my eyes.  I can't keep my hands off her if we walk past each other in the kitchen.  If I leave the living room, I want to go past her and kiss her, or squeeze her...  I simply can't get enough of her.

Before I go much further, let me clarify an important point.  You might wonder, does this mean we never have arguments or get angry with each other?  Are we in some Utopian parallel universe?  No, we live in the real world, and we have arguments.  We disagree like every other couple.  We frustrate each other from time to time too.

So, what's the key to finding a fulfilling sex life?
How do you continually fall in love with the same person over a lifetime?  Certainly relationship studies show that infatuation fades over time, usually within the 1st 2 years of a relationship.  You might think by now that I'm crazy; after all, most marriages end in divorce and many marriages suffer frustration.  Being satisfied and fulfilled by your spouse is a series of choices you make.

For starters, don't complain about your spouse to your friends.  I have never complained about Tammy to any of my friends.  Again, we do have normal and healthy arguments.  We are not always happy with each other every second of the day.  But I do not critique and talk trash about Tammy when I'm upset.  Don't dwell on the negative, or soon that's all you'll see.  Once you start talking negatively about your spouse to others, you begin to reinforce within your psyche your spouse is inferior, and you deserve better...  Deal with your conflicts, handle your problems, and work things out with your spouse without smearing their reputation amongst your friends.

It's not hard to find your spouse irresistible, when you think about it, it's fairly simple.  Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?" (Job 31:1)  This means you purposely don't stare at the opposite sex.  If you allow yourself to lust over someone other than your spouse, you sabotage your own satisfaction in your bedroom.  Don't look at porn.  Men, don't pick up the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.  Once you go down the path of looking at someone other than your spouse to arouse yourself, you forfeit the satisfaction the God intended for you by blessing you with your spouse.  

This isn't a post on porn, but I will say if you are into porn, you only hurt yourself and hurt the chances of being satisfied with your spouse.  Take this to heart too, "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love." (Proverbs 5:18-19 ESV) I like that, be "drunk" with your wife's body.

Another key ingredient to having a great sex life is having a mutual desire to please each other, in and out of the bedroom.  If you can't be courteous and do nice things, or offer compliments to your spouse throughout the day, you shouldn't be surprised if your sex life is mediocre.  I try everyday to tell Tammy she looks good or tell her how what she is wearing looks good, and I try everyday to thank her for even the small things.  We also share life's responsibilities together.  If I grill dinner, and she prepares the sides, I try to thank her.  This spills over into the bedroom too.  We actually like to please each other, neither of us are "selfish lovers" as the saying goes.  If you want a great sex life, it starts with wanting to please your spouse, over fulfilling your own needs.

Once you aim for pleasing your spouse, like magic, you find deeper satisfaction than ever.  And, you need to be behind closed doors as often as possible with your spouse.  Consider what Paul wrote, "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.  For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:1-5 ESV)

Another important key to a great sex life is having fun, yes in and out of the bedroom.  Laugh together.  Tammy and I laugh together so hard at times we cry.  When I say have fun in the bedroom, I'm not simply talking about the mechanics of the act itself, I mean actually learn to laugh when something comical happens.
And realize sex is a gift.  It is meant to be enjoyed.  I couldn't narrow down the Song of Solomon to just one quote here, though I'll share a quote in the end. God has a plan for marriage, and if you've ever read the Song of Solomon, you know that a steamy bedroom is part of the magic... There are so many verses in the Song of Solomon illuminating the pleasures of sex, I will just recommend you read it in its entirety to gain a better understanding that sex is meant to be enjoyed.

A great sex life requires a lot of communication.  It requires a little coaching too.  You'd be amazed the doors you can open when you mutually express what you enjoy.  Don't be shy with your spouse, you are married after all :-)  I'd add to this too, text messages throughout the day about how you miss each other and how you are looking forward to reconnecting that night can really fan the flames!

A great sex life is built on a balance of spending time together and time apart.  Growing up, our next door neighbors were postal workers.  They had the same shift at the post office.  They were together all day, every day.  They divorced after about 10 years because they got sick of each other.  We need to be together with our spouses as often as possible, but we also need time apart.  Too much time apart opens you up for temptations (look back up at the I Cor 7 passage), but the proper amount of time apart builds anticipation and you can't wait to be back in each other's arms.  When I miss Tammy, because one of us are out of town, I go crazy thinking about her.

A spicy sex life really begins when we follow God's plan, and that might sound strange to some reading this.  God gave us the gift of sex to be enjoyed.  It bonds us to our spouses, and brings unlimited pleasures to life.  Pursue your spouse with a deep passion, and crowd out of your mind any thoughts that don't have anything to do with your spouse's satisfaction.  We are living proof that two people can be together (going on three decades now) and stay madly in love, in and out of the bedroom.  I want to encourage you, if your marriage is stagnant or stale, or you've slipped up, God is a God of 2nd chances.  Maybe try reading the Song Of Solomon to your spouse, pray for God's blessings, and purposely reignite that spark that first set your heart on fire.

“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.   Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.”  (Song of Solomon 8:6-7 ESV)



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A word to the wise...


In the movie "Sands of Iwo Jima" John Wayne's character Sgt Stryker said, "Life is tough, but it's tougher if you're stupid."  This illustrates the benefits of being smarter, because supposedly the smarter we are the less often we make poor choices.  I don't know anyone that wants to make life harder, do you?  We all want life to be easier, that's not to say we are lazy, it's to say we want to avoid needless problems.  Being wiser, therefore, simply makes sense.

In our information overloaded, data saturated culture, we face one of the greatest challenges in history.  We have the illusion of intelligence because of all the easily accessible and available knowledge.  We think we are educated and smarter because we can google any question.  I love the Internet and search engines, but more information isn't enough when it comes to acting on what we know.  In other words, information is necessary but information alone is insufficient to living life well.   

"How" I use the information I have to make better choices is where wisdom comes into play.  You knew right from wrong from an early age, but that knowledge doesn't always help prevent us from making terrible choices.  

I'm starting a new sermon series titled "Ears to Hear" this coming Sunday.  This new series is on wisdom, where to find it, what wisdom is, how to apply it, and benefiting from wisdom.  If you are interested in gaining Biblical wisdom and would like to grow with us, plan to visit us Sunday at 10:00 a.m.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Who made made the waves in the Big Bang?




There's a lot of talk this week about the exciting discovery of the initial waves of gravity as the Big Bang expanded, verifying what's known as inflation.  It appears that the universe expanded faster than the speed of the light in the first split-second of the existence of the universe, and then began to expand at a steady rate for quite a while.

Click here to read about the new discovery, which is probably going to earn a Nobel prize

This is important, not least of all, because it shows the universe didn't always exist.  So why would it start, that's a question that involves a choice making entity. An intelligent being exercising willpower.

The amazing part about the whole discussion is not how divided we are on the questions of the Big Bang between believers and nonbelievers, but that people will study the universe looking for a "cause & effect" that can be measured, tested and analyzed, but not think that there was an ultimate cause.

Science isn't the enemy of faith, and in fact discoveries like we read about this week need to be celebrated.  I see nothing whatsoever in Big Bang cosmology that comes close to contradicting Genesis 1:1.  Science can help us understand "what" we see, but the job of science isn't to give a "why."  The big question remains, since we see these ancient waves of gravity from the early moments of the Big Bang, like ripples in a pond, who made the big "splash" in the pond?

Monday, March 17, 2014

The longest hour is the last one: Has Putin triggered Armageddon?



"And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon" (Revelation 16:16, ESV).
Has Vladimir Putin triggered Armageddon? Is Putin fulfilling the end times prophecies? Is he initiating some great battle that will annihilate mankind? Are we now on the brink of the end? Should we even expect to make it through the year 2014 without a catastrophic end?
Maybe, as you observe the recent events in the Ukraine, you've wondered if we have a glimpse of what's to come — wondering if the movement of Russian troops into Crimea is signaling the beginning of the end. Will Russia finally team up with China (as some have speculated, these two superpowers surely are in the book of Revelation) and fulfill the "Gog-Magog" alliance of Revelation 20:8? Will Russia and China surround Jerusalem and destroy the Holy City?
I doubt it.
We haven't had a decade of consistent world peace before or since Jesus walked the dusty roads of Galilee. I would guess during the Black Plague people began looking for the end of times, or the perhaps during any of the major revolutions in Europe during the last 1,500 years. Does anyone remember Y2K? Besides, Jesus Himself said, "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet" (Matthew 24:6, ESV).
But what about all these social uprising, riots, overpopulation, problems in the Ukraine, Egypt, Syria, tension in the Middle East, threats from North Korea, Iran building their bomb, all the tsunamis, earthquakes and bad weather we are having?
"For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains" (Mark 13:8, ESV).
John, the beloved Apostle who was Jesus' closest friend wrote to the seven churches of Asia — convinced he was in the "tribulation," and the "Kingdom" of God was already in existence: "I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 1:9, ESV). So, we don't have to await the beginning of the Kingdom, it's already here, and the tribulation has already happened — according to John.
No more tribulation? But what about Putin being the antichrist? Sorry. That's a term not even mentioned in the book of Revelation. But, the Apostle John did have a few things to say about the antichrist in his epistles. No. 1: The antichrist already came to earth. No. 2: There were multiple antichrists and the "end times" already began. And No. 3: The antichrist wasn't a world ruler. An antichrist is anyone who denies the Incarnation. For example: "Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour" (1 John 2:18, ESV).
"Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son" (1 John 2:22, ESV).
"And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already" (1 John 4:3, ESV).
But my preacher, father, teacher (you fill in the blank) said they know when the end of time will happen. Really? Jesus said, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:36-37, ESV).
Looking for the tribulation or a future Kingdom in each and every current event makes for great literature in the Christian Fiction Department, but it is terrible theology. These things have plainly already transpired. Plus, Jesus doesn't start an earthly Kingdom with a capital in Jerusalem anywhere in the Bible. Instead, at the end He relinquishes His already established Kingdom: "Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power" (1 Corinthians 15:24, ESV).
I believe Jesus is coming back and when He does, we will be with Him forever in heaven. I believe He could come before you drop this newspaper in your recycle bin or He might not return for another 10,000 years. It's true, the Eschaton is a fascinating topic, but to sensationalize it falls short of our calling to be faithful. There's a temptation to obsess about the "End" that leans towards escapism — it's easier to speculate about a spectacular end than it is to humbly/simply bear our crosses daily, today.
Click here for the Timesnews version

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why are we so restless?



Am I the only one, or does it seem like we are becoming a restless people?  Why are we so restless these
days?

Only a few generations back, our ancestors usually lived and died within 10 to 20 miles of their birth.  Today it's nothing to jump in the car and drive several hundred miles for an event with our favorite hobby or to visit family.  We do this without much thought.  We move a lot too, but that's old news and not really at the heart of the issue.

It's not just that we are unsettled, when we are settled, it seems we are fidgety, distracted even.  We are like school children gazing out the window the last week before summer break.  What's up?

I love Bear Grylls and other survival shows.  Admittedly, none of these are filmed in our backyard -- part of the allure is the exotic locations.  Within 10 miles of our home they are building one new Bass Pro shop and two Cabela's.  The outdoors await, easier to conquer than ever!

I think part of our problem which keeps us fidgety and easily distracted is our craving for adventure.  The adventurous spirit of exploration and testing our mettle dies hard.  Ah, maybe not.  Probably not.  Why go in search of a challenge when you haven't beat Angry Birds or Candy Crush yet?  I guess it's just easier to live vicariously through a favorite athlete or to settle for reruns.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Blinded by the slight:

(Kingsport Times news, 11/23/13)

I was starting the grill tonight (I use what's called a "chimney coal starter") and I almost burned this clipping (yes, I have old newspapers in a bin for this).  I'm not sure how I missed this little gem.  Preachers live for sermon illustrations like this clipping.  We open newspapers, scouring them for such pieces as this!  

Look again at the clipping.  When Kennedy was assassinated, the "big" news of the morning here in Kingsport was a new leader at Eastman.  Is a transition in leadership important?  Having been close friends for several years with the recently retired CEO of Eastman and living in this town whose economy is tied closely to Eastman's successes, I can tell you it is a big deal in this town.  But, it's not that big enough of a deal to overshadow the real news of the day.

This clip reminds we can let the insignificant overshadow what's really important when we lose our focus.  This newspaper clip illustrates how an inward-narrow focus can blind us to bigger things outside our immediate realm.  

Are you going through a painful separation of sorts, losing your job, grieving the loss of a loved one?  God has a way of using painful times to shape us -- it's not that He caused the pain, but He sure can use it to mould us (Think Joseph, Gen 50:15-21

I'm not saying your pain isn't real, or isn't valid, I am saying, typically there's more to the picture than meets the eye.  It's hard, nearly impossible, to see past the pain, but that's where faith & hope come in.

I Cor 13:12-13, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

II Cor 4:16-18, "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

II Cor 5:7, "for we walk by faith, not by sight."  

Pray for eyes to see eternal/consequential realities and for guidance to walk life's path when the lines get blurred.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Taking the morning train


If I didn't know the folks who manage Winterfest, I would have been tempted to think this year's theme was manipulated: Like, they caved to the pressure of the ultra-conservatives.  Like, Winterfest was hijacked.  
Over the years, I've spent hours and hours with Dudley and the Winterfest group.  In years gone bye, I've helped unload the moving truck with the stage gear, I've packed literally tens of thousands of Winterfest tee shirts into the "potato-sacks" for youth groups, I've stuffed the materials into the youth leaders' packets till the midnight hour... and I've eaten many meals with Dudley and his crew after unpacking and setting up.  I had the full access backstage passes, I've been in the "green room" eating with Jeff Walling up in the mezzanine!  

I've been around the block with the Winterfest inner circle.  Okay, as a volunteer, I doubt these guys could pick me out in a crowd.  But hey, I felt special :-)

I say all this to say, I know that this year's thematic content was genuine and not something that anyone was pressured into -- but the theme and presentations all seemed so unlike what you'd expect in a "youth rally" of Winterfest proportions.   Why?  This year was definitely "old school." 

How so? Instead of the praise groups like Acapella or Watershed, with mouth-percussionists and several parts being sung, we had one single song leader.... and he had gray hair (gasp)!  For crying out loud, Jeff Walling gave a history lesson on the Cane Ridge Revival! And, Patrick Mead didn't use a single video or PowerPoint in his presentation.  It was as if this Winterfest was dialed into a different frequency, an Oldies station to be exact.   

The 2014 theme of Winterfest was titled "Weave" and it was well done.  Basically, "Weave" was the metaphor of a tapestry being woven together with the application the church is made up of all ages... and kids, don't give up on church when it's not as cool as the youth group.

I love Winterfest, and I think it was a great experience this year.  I hope the youth (and chaperones too) appreciated the subtle message that was sprinkled throughout the weekend: Church isn't all about you.  It's not about you, or your preference.  Church is about God, and we need to lead people to Him, and aim for unity along the way.  If that seed takes root in our youth, and the next generation can overcome the turmoil this generation has had over "worship wars" then the evening train might not be too late.  


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus" the true story of a devout Muslim with eyes to see!


"Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A devout Muslim Encounters Christianity" by Nabeel Qureshi
Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids Michigan, Copyright 2014

Aided by an impressive cohort of mentors and legendary Christian Apologists, Qureshi brings to print a very valuable book, showing step by long step his transition from being an active Muslim to accepting Christ.  Rarely do I put all other reading materials on hold to focus on one book at a time.  Normally I'm reading at least six books simultaneously, but when I began reading Nabeel's narrative, I devoted myself to reading his story straight through.  Written like a memoir, "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus" illustrates the Biblical truth that those who have eyes to see, will see.  This book is nearly 300 pages long, but I read through it in just three or four sittings -- it was that captivating.

Written with the utmost respect for his Islamic heritage, Qureshi sets out his journey of faith from being fully immersed in the Muslim world of his youth, through his long emotional trek to embracing the Christian faith.  The grandchild of Muslim missionaries, Qureshi was brought up in a loving home where the Quran was revered and his parents professed their undying allegiance to Allah and his prophet, Muhammad.

Nabeel's story is engaging for several reasons.  For starters, we read about his admirable upbringing in a very devout Islamic setting; he is raised in an idyllic loving home where he gives insight into the mysterious world of Islam.  Most Westerners have no idea what happens within the subculture of transplanted Muslims (Qureshi's family moved to the US from Pakistan) and this glimpse into Nabeel's world is captivating.  I found myself more than once infatuated with his homelife as a youth; their devotion to prayer and congregational life was seriously impressive.  Secondly, this book is so mesmerizing, because Nabeel is transparent about his wrestling match seeking the truth of Who God is.  It's not easy to ask God, "Who are you?" and then to go through the process of analyzing all that you've been taught to believe.

This book is fitting for several audience: For Muslims seeking to know the truth about the Identity of the True God, for those interested in reaching Muslims, for people who are simply interested in learning more about Islam, for those in the pulpit who would like to address this topic more intelligently in a post 9/11 world, and though it is not a textbook, it would serve well in a Seminary classroom too.  I add this last part based on my Seminary experience; I learned more about Islamic culture and the Muslim faith in Qureshi's book than in an entire semester of Communicating Cross-Culturally with Muslims.

One of the real gems in this book is the masterful way Qureshi weaves in Islamic terms into the narrative, and then in the margins, with shaded text-boxes he unpacks these unfamiliar terms.  The terms are all categorized in a helpful Glossary at the end of the book, for further study.  Without employing a dry lecture or boring you with factoids, Qureshi teaches you several key terms throughout the story.  It is a very clever and interesting way to impart the knowledge of the intricacies of the Muslim world without making the reader feel like they are working hard to learn new words.

Towards the end of the book, once God breaks down all the barriers in his heart and mind, Qureshi experiences one vision and a few dreams from God.  I wish Qureshi had elaborated more on the dreams that helped confirm God was guiding him to become a Christian.  He goes into detail recording the content of the dreams, but I felt since these dreams were the capstone to his years of researching both faiths, and his impassioned debates along the way, more coverage of this supernatural intervention on God's part would've helped enrich this wonderful book.

It's hard not to conclude after reading this book that Christianity has too much fragmentation and petty infighting, and see how this book inadvertently highlights the fact we have bigger issues to address than our personal preferences.  We need to look past our denominational squabbles and see there is a field white for the harvest.  A major lesson I took away from reading this book is that no one is too far gone or beyond the reach of the Gospel.  We can never look at a person who is indoctrinated in another religion (even a Muslim) and think, they won't respond to the message of Jesus.  Also, this book reminds us, key relationships are essential in leading someone to Christ.  Qureshi had seeds that were planted and watered by some incredible people who were close to him, who loved him, and who were willing to invest in a long-term commitment.

I wouldn't be surprised to see this story one day picked up and adapted for the Big Screen.  Filled with anticipation, it is a moving narrative with an incredible character arc that has all of the tension, conflict and suspense that makes all stories great.  We are indebted  to Qureshi for sharing his path from the Crescent to the Cross.  May we all be sensitive to the great cost he and other Muslims make, who by turning to Jesus leave loved-ones feeling betrayed and abandoned.