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.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Favorite Earthly possession


A couple of years ago I read the "Green Hills of Africa" by E.H.. I had never heard the term "musette bag" until then; yet that's what Hemingway carried his books in while on safari.  So, afterward I became obsessed with finding a musette bag.  Last year for Father's day my oldest son & his wife wanted to get one for me, and so we all looked online.  I saw this and liked it, and simultaneously my son Drew texted me a picture of this same bag, so I knew it was perfect.  

I didn't want an all canvas bag, and I didn't want an expensive leather one, I wanted a bag that had both.  Mine (pictured above) is an Otium 21108CF, the leather is "crazy horse" leather, and the canvas is high density cotton.  I love the look and feel of this bag.

Normally, in addition to whatever books I'm reading on the go, I carry a flashlight, pack of Via coffee, a Buck/Tops CSAR knife & a firestarter/sharpener, a Buxton genuine leather folio with a legal pad, a Kokuyo pencil case filled Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, a Mylar blanket, an assortment of composition books, and an engraved business card case with my initial on it.  Even though my Dell 1500 laptop fits in it, I rarely ever use it for my laptop.  

I know it sounds weird, but this is my favorite earthly possession.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The secret to making Valentine's day sizzle!

“6 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. 7 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)

I want to let you in on a little secret.  People unconsciously communicate their love in a very specific way, but, most people on the receiving end don’t hear the message.  Why?  Because we communicate our love for others, through a style that we ourselves believe displays what the true essence of love really is.  In other words, you will show your love for others in the way you yourself enjoy being loved, and that doesn’t always translate.

It’s amazing how married people, grown adults, can both work hard at their marriage and yet neither spouse feels like their mate is reciprocating their love.  What’s going on?  We might not hear the message of love our spouse is sending.

Many couples struggle to connect, and to make matters worse, individually spouses can feel like they are the only one in the relationship making an effort.  It’s no newsflash to you, but sadly about half of all marriages end up like a sad Country & Western song.  Why?  Many times, people feel unloved.  Those feelings of being unloved or underappreciated or neglected, lead to further problems.  How will people “know” when they are being loved?

Some people feel loved when their spouses holds them closely, are physically affectionate, and they maintain a lot of close contact.  Then again, there are people who feel loved when they are told so by messages reinforced with notes, cards, texts, calls, and a lot of time talking.  For others, the proof of love is in the pudding, it is when you do the laundry, make a special meal, sweep the floor, or change the oil in their car.  Which of these three styles (touch, talk or deeds) describes you?  Chances are, your spouse has a different preference of being loved than you do, and if you are both sending a varied message of love, it might be falling on deaf ears.

How do you fix this miscommunication problem?  Coach each other.  Take turns with each other, asking your spouse how they best feel loved and appreciated (through touch, talk or deeds) and then ask how you can send the message home in their prefered way.  This exercise can be eye opening, heart warming, and lifegiving in any marriage.  If you don’t want to try this, there’s almost always someone else who will...

But, you may think, I didn’t have to jump through any hoops when we first met!  This isn’t about jumping through hoops, it’s about investing energy and effort into the most significant relationship you will ever have with another human!  Why do you need to pour more effort in now?  Over time, infatuation might dim in comparison to the fireworks your new relationship once enjoyed.  Every day responsibilities might be casting a shadow over the dazzling sunshine of love.  Love needs renewing because “life” is draining.  

If your marriage isn’t as fulfilling as you’d hoped for, let me encourage you to check out a great resource that can spark vitality into your lovelife.  One of the best books on relationships I frequently recommend to others and I require all couples to read when I do their premarital counseling, has an eyebrow raising title.  “Sex begins in the kitchen” by Christian author Kevin Leman is filled with humor and wisdom.  If you are interested in connecting at a deeper level with your spouse, this book is excellent.  Leman’s main premise is, men can’t be selfish and self-centered all day and then expect their wives to respond to their advances when the lights go off.  For Leman, foreplay begins when men take out the garbage in the morning.  

Our own marriage is strong because we actually like each other, we really enjoy each other’s company.  My wife and I laugh a lot together; loudly at times.  We eat our meals together, we even like to cook together.  We go to the gym together.  We take trips with each other.  We spend time together; we don’t act like we’re roommates.  And, we keep our finger on the pulse of things and we know how the other likes to be loved.  In fact, my lovely wife nudged me to cover what I wrote about today.  I hope you were blessed, because of her encouragement to address this timely topic.  Thanks babycakes!

Flowers wilt, cards end up in a drawer, jewellery dulls, and chocolate goes stale -- the best gift you can give your Valentine is to show them daily you love them in their own unique way.   And men, spice up your lovelife -- wash the dishes this weekend.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Liberation from the shackles of being God.

Just like a boat taking on water, we all begin to sink when we take on the consequences that belong to another person.  People make their own choices.  Your children, your coworkers, your friends, the people you are closest to or furthest from -- everyone makes decisions they are responsible for.  You are not God, and you can't rescue everyone.  Why do we feel so responsible for the actions of others?

From the time of infancy, we as humans have a hard time separating ourselves from the world around us.  Until a child is several months old, they can't distinguish between themselves and the people around them; it's as if there is only one SELF.   Part of maturity is learning where you end, and another begins...

Into adolescence, what child didn't feel homesick when they went off to camp?  Flying the coop is hard on everyone, even those who are left in the empty nest.  What parent of a newborn hasn't felt the euphoria of watching your child experiencing something new daily, and feeling like you are reliving life at a new depth unknown before?   We are so interconnected in healthy ways, when an unhealthy bond appears, we are blind to it.

Over the years I have struggled with a sense of guilt when people I am helping falter or fail.  As I invested time in ministering to people, or even time in parenting, I've felt overly responsible at times.  If the other person fails, I have taken on a sense that I didn't do enough or this was my fault.  I'm sure I'm not alone in this.  Why do we take on feelings of guilt or regret for other people, when we are not supposed to?

One reason it is easy to focus on the shortcomings of others, it simply takes the focus off of our weaknesses.  If I can see your faults and try to help you, I must be healthier than you.  That's simply not true, but it seems true at the time.

Sadly, sometimes we feel responsible for others, because we contributed to the problem.  We weren't on our best behavior, we didn't do "all" we could do.  Still, that is no excuse for people making bad choices that bring on worse consequences.  Simply put, you didn't force them to make a bad choice, they still had to make their choice.

Some of us are hopelessly in love with strays, like the child that brings home every lone dog they see on the side of the road.  We feel a tug at our heartstrings and we rush in the save the sufferer, simply because we cannot tolerate the pain of the other.

There certainly is nothing wrong in wanting to help people, and actually stepping to help.  In fact, to remain neutral and to withhold help would be cruel.  But there's a big difference between helping people and doing what others need to do for themselves.  And, at the end of the day, people face the consequences for their choices.  Consequences, good or bad, are the results they brought about, not you.  There's an old saying, you reap what you sow.

About five years ago, maybe a bit longer than that, I finally realized I couldn't fix people.  That realization might seem like old news to you, too common sense to mention, or just plain crazy.  I can't change people for the better, but I'm in the business (so to speak) of improving people, as a minister.  You can see how this might become complicated...

Perhaps the most liberating truth in life clicked for me when I realized I can't make people better, all I can do is cultivate a nurturing environment where emotional and spiritual health can thrive.  I can be present, but still be separate; I can be myself without having to be enmeshed in you, but stay connected in a healthy way where I'm me & you are you.

True freedom in relationships is knowing that as individuals, we carry our own responsibility to make the right choice, and we are not responsible for the consequences of others.  There was only one Messiah and He already died on a Cross for the World; I don't have to die myself to make sure other people live, I just need to let the Messiah use me as best as He sees fit.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Clarity as the dust settles

I am ready for a break from the rambling comments of the Nye-Ham debate.  After reading several comments from atheists on my blog and on Facebook, I was tempted to tweet a snarky little jab.  I was going to make a smug statement that most, the vast majority of atheists who rely on Darwinistic evolution for their proof against the existence of God, have never been in a science lab, have never dug up fossils, and have never really observed the billions of years of adaptation for the survival of the fittest -- basically they have never personally examined the evidence they claim as their own.  As soon as this sarcastic pearl entered my mind, it stopped me dead in my tracks.

I realized, as I reflected on my experience with most Christians, many believers haven't taken the time to study out their faith very well either.  It saddens me when I think of so many Christians who have never even read their Bible or who just base their beliefs on the opinions of others.  When asked to explain the basic tenets of the Christian faith, or explain why God makes the most sense, many believers stammer.   Could be our fault, we who are in ministry, perhaps we haven't equipped the flock.  Still.

I wanted to take a stab that most atheists are rejecting God on the basis they want to be free from moral restraints.  Then I realized, most Christians don't like to be moral... and when they are, many are morally obedient out of fear, not out of loving devotion...

I wanted to critique the atheistic perspective as if they alone were guilty of neglecting their personal responsibility to carefully weigh out the evidence, who couldn't really defend their worldview based on personal investigation, but the very thought slapped me in the face because so many of my own tribe who are careless.  

Until more believers take I Pet 3:15 more seriously, we need to apologize for our arrogance and judgmental attitude toward unbelievers. “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

One Christian's view on the creation debate: How we can salvage the day even after Bill Nye dominated Ken Ham

Part way through the Creation Debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, I found myself praying for Ken Ham.  I prayed to God for Ham to give up his argument on the age of the earth.  The age of the earth will be Ken Ham's Achilles ankle.  Bill Nye did in fact make short work of Ham, holding his own while pointing out Ken Ham gave no compelling evidence for his views, specifically of proving a young earth.  My Christian faith wasn't shaken, and I still believe in the supernatural creator of the Bible, creating all of the universe.  Even so, the debate left me frustrated.  

Here are eight areas where Ken Ham missed the boat in tonight's debate:
#1. Ken repeatedly appealed to several PhDs who hold his belief in a young earth, but then Ham finished his debate by saying that a majority rule doesn't mean their view is right, in response to Nye saying how the vast majority of scientists reject Ham's view.  It is irrelevant on how many scientists think the earth is young.  That point proves nothing about anything other than their view.  That information about the views of creationist PhDs did nothing to reveal evidence from nature to explain the actual age of the earth.  

#2. Ken Ham should've used Pangaea to his advantage.  Instead, Ham made a miserable attempt to say the movement of the Tectonic plates today might not be the rate of movement they've always been.  Pangaea is Biblical, and it would've explained why there are kangaroos in Australia.  

#3. Ken Ham is mistaken to say that lions were herbivores before the Fall of Adam and Eve.  The Bible never says such nonsense.  And, the death that the Bible talks about entering the world after the Fall was spiritual.  Adam ate the fruit of the tree in Gen 3 and physically he lived over 100 more years, yet one chapter earlier God said, "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17, ESV) So either God meant a spiritual death, or God didn't follow through on His word and kill Adam on that very day. The idea that no animals died before the Fall is not supported anywhere in Scripture. There is no evidence to say that the animals would have lived forever if sin didn't enter the world.  

#4. Ken Ham should've made a better clarification that micro and macro evolution are two different ideas. He blew a great opportunity there, instead, he elaborated on "kinds" of animals.  Ham could've gone into irreducible complexity or spent his time on unpacking the fact that there are no transitional fossils, that all animals in the fossil record are fully formed.  Instead Ham let Nye use fossils to Nye's advantage from a debate perspective.

#5. Ken Ham gained nothing and proved nothing to Bill Nye by arguing for a young earth.  Nowhere does the Bible give us a date, nor does the Bible command we argue for an age of the earth.  Ham should've said, "For the sake of argument, who cares about the age of the earth." And moved on to "why" there even is anything at all.  Nye was excited to talk about that.  Instead, all Ham did was cite the genealogy of the Bible, added up every one's ages, and gave a rough age of a young earth.  What good did that do to prove a Creator created the earth?  None.

#6. Bill Nye repeatedly asked for one predictive insight Ken Ham's Biblically based model could provide.  Nye said science can make predictions and test those and that verifies the scientific model.  For one, Ham could've pointed out one can't test or repeat a test for the Big Bang.  All we can do is read the evidence.  More to the point, when Nye asked -- begged for one thing Ham could predict, Ham missed his Golden opportunity. "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! (2 Peter 3:10-12, ESV) Ken Ham could've shown where science and Scripture agree on the end of the universe.  For example: Click here for Science and Scripture on the End of Time

#7 When Bill Nye mentioned "survival of the fittest" and how evolution brought us to this point, and how intelligent we are as humans, Ham should've asked why do we have an over abundance of intelligence?  Quantum physics, nuclear medicine, and sending people to the moon are overkill.  We could hunt and gather and evade saber-tooth tigers with a fraction of our intelligence.  How does evolution account for all of the unnecessary added intelligence we have as humans?  It can't.

#8.  Instead of simply asking why life arouse from mere matter, or how does Nye account for the laws of logic, Ham should've driven the point home that the laws of physics do not require nor make life necessary.  None of the Laws of Physics dictate the necessity of life existing.

Bottom line:  If I needed a consult for heart surgery, I wouldn't go to two people who simply held Bachelor's degrees, yet those are the only credentials for both Bill Nye and Ken Ham.  The Origins of the universe is far more significant than heart surgery.  I believe in the Biblical account of creation per a Creator, but I could care less about the age of the earth; the Bible doesn't mention the age nor does the Bible command we argue over the age of the earth.  Ken Ham argued over the age of rocks, but that won't point people to the Rock of Ages.  Bill Nye used an analogy repeatedly about CSI to show we can look at evidence to draw conclusions from the past, and Nye mentioned his acceptance of the scientific method.  Nye begged Ham to just show him one testable model that creationists could offer to show a predictable outcome.  Ham should've used that opportunity to hone in on the actual topic of the debate and point out that Nye was himself appealing to a "cause and effect" universe, which is proof positive for a creator of our universe.  Since the universe had a beginning, that requires a personal choice, so Who made that choice? would've been the proper response to win the debate.  

I wish I could debate Ken Ham from a Christian perspective.... The Nye/Ham debate will be online for a few days at and I recommend watching it for yourself.

Click here for Nye's thoughts a few months after the debate

And for comedic relief, even Pat Robertson has a few words to add: