Monday, April 27, 2009


I got to see something pretty cool while I was at work today. Some of my fellow Twitter-ers are in India right now for Compassion International and are doing some really cool work with a lot of children there. If you don't know what Compassion is, check it out here. It's only $32 per month to sponsor a child, and if you can't do that but want to do something still they have an unsponsored children's fund that you can donate whatever amount to.

If you would like to know what this group particularly is up to, check them out at There are many folks over there, but I am only familiar enough with two to recommend where to find their own personal blogs, which have a lot of stuff about this project too. They are:
Anne Jackson
Pete Wilson

They are posting videos and all kinds of other links this whole week and next. Here's a video from Anne Jackson:

There are SO many people in this world that need help. If you're able to, help more. There are millions of people trapped in sex trade, millions who need clean water, millions who need food, millions who need warmer clothes. And many of those people live in your area too. I don't have a strategy for how to figure out who to help - I just go by what I'm able to do when I hear about it or see it. The main point is - DO SOMETHING. As citizens of a wealthy country, we have more than enough resources to route these problems, if we only will.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Natural Selection

We all know that the theory is that evolution occurs via the process of natural selection. The stronger, more healthy animals survive, and the weaker, sickly ones die. Hence animals continually evolve into better, stronger animals. Now, I'm no scientist, and I don't have a textbook in front of me, so excuse the lack of exact correctness, but I think I at least captured the gist. You want the good genes to be passed on, and the bad ones to die with the weak. This is called natural selection.

So here's a question - why do we as a society spend literally billions of dollars trying to cure cancer, or AIDS, or tons of other things that humans contract? Doesn't it stand to reason that nature is selecting these folks so they can be taken out of the equation and humans can continue with the passing on of good genes and evolve? For all the people out there who BATTLE to find cures and who spend their lives donating to and researching for these causes - how do you reconcile the fact that we as humans have an extremely strong urge to fix people when something goes wrong - although natural selection would say that's just how it is, so let it be.

There's something wrong with this system, and we all know it - we feel it and recognize it every time we see it. When someone we know gets sick, we just know it isn't right. When we hear of someone getting cancer that makes us uneasy. When we see on the news people in Africa suffering it bothers us. It feels at times as if humanity is being attacked and we have to defend ourselves from these things. We don't like the idea that the weak and sick should just be picked off - as a society, we resist the natural selection process.

Why do we resist? Because we love people. We feel compassion and empathy. Sure, it's fine to stand up for natural selection when it's out there in the world, but when your mom or your son, or your spouse gets cancer or has a heart attack - it's a lot hard to say, 'well, looks like it's just your time.' We love those people and we find natural selection severely lacking as a sufficient worldview in these instances. Nature selects to be sure. But there's more going on here than just biology.

When you seek your answers simply within the realm of biology, it leaves you short - there are times when it doesn't make sense and we fight against it. That's because biology isn't the only thing going on, so seeking answers within biology will always leave you short. God created this world and everything/everyone in it. It is only when we go to God for answers does it start to make sense. God is where love and compassion come from. And it is only through a relationship with God that we will begin to understand more fully what is going on in the world around us. Biology is present and active to be sure, but there's more to it - and the proof is in these instances above. If nature gets her way, that's not a satisfactory answer to us. But when God gets His way, the answer is always good. When the question involves influence that supercedes science, you have to look to the One who supercedes all else for the answer - God.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Failing Again

I was talking with someone recently who has been struggling to get back into a relationship with God. They said they were going to try to start setting aside 10 minutes a day to just stop doing everything else and pray. I encouraged them in this but provided a caveat - don't worry about it if you can't make a full 10 minutes, or if you don't have much to say, or if you miss a day here and there. It's ok - God sees progress, and is happy to have it.

After about 5-6 days, I talked with this person again and said, how's it going? OK was the response. They had done well the first two days and then hadn't prayed at all for the last 3. This person was very bummed out about that and feelings of failure were evident just below the surface. I encouraged again - "God is not disappointed in you." "He's not?" was the answer through sniffles. This person, who was trying to do things for God, felt like a failure because they weren't able to be perfect in it and felt like they never would be able to. They thought God thought less of them for not being a "strong" Christian and not being able to do even this one task.

I explained it like this - God knows our hearts. He knows what your desire is - and it's to get closer to Him. How could that make Him upset? Wanting to do a prayer time and not making it happen isn't a sin. God doesn't look at us and focus on our failures, letting out a big sigh and saying "well, I guess you failed again didn't you?" NO! God's love and grace is boundless, and you trying to get in touch with Him but not doing it perfectly yet makes Him overjoyed that one of His children is trying to draw near to Him. We feel like such a failure sometimes, but God doesn't see us that way. Satan is the accuser. He's the one who says "you can't do it" "you're worthless" "you'll never get it right" "well, you screwed up again." These are not the words of God. The words of God are encouraging and loving - "keep it up" "try again" "I love your efforts" "I love you just the way you are and nothing you do or don't do will change that."

I am reading a book by Jud Wilhite right now called "Eyes Wide Open." This book addresses a lot of the same issues - living a life in full acceptance and realization of God's love and grace. So many people are living with this heavy weight on them, when they don't have to. If this is you, keep in perspective where negative influences come from - they don't come from God. He's happy with progress - He knows the motives of your heart. And NOTHING you do can change the way He feels about you. You are His child.

When I finish "Eyes Wide Open" I'll be publishing a review of it on my blog, so stay tuned for that. I encourage you to purchase this book and read it if this is an area you are struggling in. You're NOT a failure.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Homeless

We had a guest speaker at our church yesterday named Roy Marshall and he runs a local ministry providing food, money, and other needs as he's able to the homeless and needy. Our church has supported him, even as recently as the high school class I teach donating 250 food items to his stock. To give a little backstory about Roy, he also owns a place called The Gym and he splits his time between running the Gym and helping others. He's a great Christian man and he's had a big influence on my life. Almost 5 years ago he spoke at my church and God used his message to change the course of my life. It was a defining moment in my history and that message set me on the path I am on currently. Yesterday was a repeat performance in that God once again used him in a mighty way to affect me and many other people.

Roy's main point is this - why are there millions of dollars worth of buildings and resources in this county (also known as churches) that are not being used but a few hours a week and that the homeless are continually turned away from? Why won't we let them stay in our churches? Why do we send them elsewhere? And no, we do not need to build a homeless shelter - that's just shoving it off on someone else. That's what we're so good at. We send money to organizations, we fund missionaries, we donate food - but we do all this while constantly avoiding ever talking to, or looking at, or touching those around us who are poor and needy. WE never really do anything, but ignore and hope someone else deals with it.

To insert a real story into this - I was a deacon in my church for 3 years recently. We have a fund that people donate money to and it is our job to hear requests for help and give out money and do things to help people. When the year started, the chairman asked who would hold on to the checkbook? Silence. Long silence. NO ONE volunteered. Everyone had excuses. We all donate money to the fund, we all accepted positions as deacons, but no one actually wanted to hold the checkbook and deal with the situations. This went on for MONTHS. It was ridiculous. And I was one of them. I had my own excuses but I can't honestly say I had any right to say no, I just did, and so did everyone else. Pathetic.

Back to Roy's sermon - he reminded us that the poor will always be among us. Why? Because that is the path God has chosen for them to walk, in order to continually give Christians opportunities to live out what they say they believe. So that we can begin to see Jesus in those people. Jesus himself said, whatever you did to the least of these, you have done to Me. Throughout Jesus' life He was despised and rejected - and He still is today - because the least of these in our society represent Jesus to us and we despise, reject and ignore them. Why are we even going to church? If we refuse week after week, month after month to see these people (they're all around us but we don't see them) and reach out to them - why are we wasting our time in church? How could we hear the Gospel over and over and do nothing? James 2 reminds us that those who hear the Word and do nothing are deceiving themselves.

In closing, he said, so what are you going to do? Don't let this message slip away like so many others and the memory fades and old habits set back in. DO SOMETHING - NOW. So, what is my church going to do? I don't know yet, but I have talked to some folks and this has gripped us. I am planning to send out an all-church e-mail with my ideas for short and long-term planning and action to get the ball rolling. Ultimately, I do not hold a position in the church so it will need to be picked up by those who do, but we're going to get things going.

What are you doing to help the homeless and needy who surround you? Are you going to keep refusing to see them and offer them anything other than directions to somewhere else they can get help? If your church doesn't have this one figured out, there needs to be an immediate change in your priorities. If you wonder if there's any validity to this, just examine everything Jesus ever said and see if it lines up.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Quality Time

My relationship with my wife has been missing something for a long time now, but I didn't know what it was - nor did I realize we were missing it. Neither did she. But we both felt something - something wrong. I began sensing an estrangement between us several months ago.
Let me set the landscape for you. I work a full-time job (requires me being away from home roughly 50 hours a week including travel time), I am working on an MDIV part-time (occupies most evenings and some weekend time), and I have other things to do each week too that take up time (paying the bills, mowing the yard) and the hours stack up. My wife works 2-3 days a week, attended a Saturday morning Bible study for a while, and does some things with friends and family even though I can't always go. We have a 9 month old son, whom we both love dearly. I usually get home around 6pm, and I spend a good hour entertaining him until his bedtime while Sarah gets a little breather from watching him all day. Then I study, she busies herself around the house, and sometime later we go to bed around the same time. That's pretty much every week.
We were irritated with each other often - not arguing or getting mad, just irritated. We hardly ever go out on "dates" anymore. The time we have spent together has been in front of the TV. I USED TO think this was good quality time together. It's not. It's time spent with the TV, at the same time as your spouse. It all adds up to the fact that we have slowly grown apart due to lack of real quality time spent together and we never even realized it. We were roommates raising a son.
I had been feeling this for a while, and I tried little things here and there to get closer to her or spend more time together in pieces, but nothing really worked and it didn't catch on as I had hoped. I still hadn't realized what the real problem was. And she wasn't ready yet. I began to pray about it - God, I don't know what needs to happen, but we both need to realize it before things can change - and they NEED TO.
I left my house yesterday morning for work, once again feeling like my wife was disgusted with me and not knowing why. I hate leaving the house like that. I prayed on the way to work again - something needs to change. My wife called me early in the afternoon to say she wanted to talk when I got home this evening. Uh oh. Usually means I've done something wrong.
Once Ross was asleep, we sat down to talk. She told me all about how she doesn't feel close to me anymore and that after a lot of thought she thinks it's because we don't spend any real quality time together anymore. She said she'd always heard about people who get divorced who say, 'we just grew apart' and thinking that was crap, but now she felt like that's where we were, and she didn't want it to lead any further down that path. I agreed. We finally had come to the same conclusion and both felt compelled to do something about it. We spent a lot more time talking and working out our weekly schedules so that at least for now, we are scheduling time together regularly throughout each week. I suggested (since I had just realized the fallacy of this) that our time together never involve TV. She agreed that this was a good idea. We are also going to start going out on dates every other weekend.
I can't tell you what a weight was lifted from both of our hearts last night as we talked and cried and worked it out together. I also realized that I needed to do a better job providing spiritual direction to my wife (and eventually my son), not only as the head of the family, but as someone who is in seminary and is gaining all this info. and not connecting it to her life. I am going to help her in her walk with God going forward too.
This is a very personal matter, but I felt compelled to share it because I fear many young couples, especially who have busy schedules or who are just starting to have kids may be in a similar situation and not yet know it. Last night we recommitted ourselves to this relationship and to actively working on it. It takes work and effort, and it takes QUALITY time - just any old time may not get the job done. It has to be quality, special, the two of you only, time. Don't be one of those couples who "just grew apart."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hell and the Resurrection

Today after the second service, someone actually told me "You just preached one Hell of a sermon." He meant that, but he was partially joking too since my sermon was on Hell. An Easter sermon, on Hell?? Yes, indeed. Here's the abstract from today's sermon. (it will be hard to condense this, but I'll try)

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important thing for every single person on the planet to not only know about, but to see as absolutely necessary and important. Why? Because the resurrection is the only thing standing between us, and an eternity in Hell. A lot of people don't take Hell seriously, but it's a reality, and it's no joke. People are on a path right now in their lives, and it's either a path of turning towards God and asking forgiveness for their sins - this path leads to Heaven; or they're on a path of turning down God and wanting nothing to do with Him, and that path leads to Hell.

What is Hell? Hell is a place of eternal torment for the impenitent (those who choose to be without God). Going by Scriptural descriptions, it is a place of fire, destruction, and is referred to as the outer darkness. A lot of people joke around and say they might be going to Hell but it will be okay since they'll be with their buddies - it will be a party! There is no together in Hell. It's a place of isolation, disintegration, and absolute darkness. You are 100% alone. You can't see or hear anyone or anything, and you are removed from God's presence and thus your soul is ruined and rots for eternity, without any connection to God. The use of fire in the Bible is largely metaphor - but only because they couldn't put into human terms the horrors of Hell, so fire and burning was the closest they could come to describing the eternal torment that's there.

But wait, if Hell is all that, then what about the concept of a loving God? A "loving" God wouldn't create a place that horrible would He? Why would He play favorites and send some people to be punished and not others? Is He really as loving as we think He is?

Well, the Bible says God didn't create Hell for people, but for Satan and his demons. See, they decided they wanted nothing to do with God, so He created a place where He was not - where they would spend eternity. But people have free will and are able to choose what they want to do with their lives too. And for the people who choose to be without God, He has created a place to honor that decision. Hell is simply a place where God is not. The gates of Hell close from the inside. You have shut God out, and in eternity, when He finally separates your soul from all influence from Him, you will just continually rot away in torment - being away from His presence. God doesn't send people to Hell, they choose to go.

Romans 3:10-12 says, "There is no one righteous, not even one...there is no one who seeks God." See, Hell is the place where God's wrath is poured out for all the sins committed throughout time. We all deserve to go to Hell and suffer that wrath. But John 3:17 says that Jesus didn't come to the world to condemn it, but to save it through Him. And 2 Peter 3:9 says that the Lord doesn't wish any should perish but that all would come to repentance and be saved. God has created this place, but He doesn't want you to end up there. That's why He sent Jesus to earth, to die on the cross and be resurrected. Jesus was without sin, innocent. He took all the wrath that God had for us and our sins and He bore it Himself, through extreme suffering and even death. Why? So we wouldn't have to go to Hell. So we could instead spend eternity with Him.

Understanding Hell is necessary for us to understand and know the love of God. Until you know how much He paid, you don't know whether to shake His hand, or fall down at His feet. Jesus spoke more than anyone else about Hell - that's because He knew how big this is.

God didn't create you for Hell. He created you to be with Him forever. But it's your choice, and although it kills Him when you reject Him, whatever your choice is - God will honor it. For eternity.

We have to remember how horrible Hell is, in order to remember how wonderful the Resurrection is.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Your World is Framed by Your Words

I heard Steven Furtick say this in his most recent sermon from the book of James (on iTunes). I don't know about other people, but my voice and my words are VERY impressionable. And I am realizing that is something I need to guard against and watch out for. I'm so impressionable that even hanging around someone with a different accent than me for a couple hours and I start unconsciously beginning to use their accent. I watched a Sunday of Ice Road Truckers on the history channel and I was speaking perfect Canadian English to my wife that evening (without the expletives!). That isn't the real problem, although it points to just how impressionable I am with what I hear and then what I say.

I worked a job a while back with someone who got very angry all the time. Within a month or so, I began to become that way too - getting angry at little things, and angrier than I normally would. But I didn't notice it at first. Eventually after another month or so, it hit me - whoa, what am I doing? Why am I so mad? This isn't me. Or is it? No, it's not. I had picked up on the attitude and the way of reacting to things from hearing it over and over and being around it. It rubbed off on me.

In my current job, the trend is that as soon as there is a hint of something that could be problematic, people rush into worst case scenarios, and we CAN'T do this, we WON'T do that. Also, we get very argumentative in debates and go and go at each other trying to be proven more right. I don't know HOW many days I have been driving home from work, rethinking conversations I partook in during the day, and thinking - why did I say that? Why did I get swept up in that? Why can't I just keep my mouth shut and not participate? Something else I have found myself doing at work is participating in "joking around" about people. Translation - insulting behind their back. I don't like that I do it, just calling it what it is though. All these things are normal in my office. I shouldn't say normal - maybe frequently occurring is better.

And I regret my participation in these things often, but I am so impressionable that when those things are actually happening I rarely recognize it in the moment and pull myself back. I really want to work on this area of my life. Your life is framed by your words, like Pastor Furtick said. You either bring life with your words, or you bring destruction. You either lift up, or tear down. You either spread lies, or truth. You either respect, or disrespect. And very often what is heard in your voice is an outward expression of what's going on in your life. James reminds us how important it is to tame the tongue. In 3:5-6 he says, "Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell."

Master Po said, "The greatest warrior is the one who has conquered himself." I want to be a great warrior, so to speak. I want to be a great influence on those around me. In order to do that, I HAVE to get control over myself and what I say, or don't say. I want to choose to only speak when my words will bring life and wisdom into a situation, not destruction and lies and rash, desperate thoughts.

I have tried having my headphones on more often, but I think this is the wrong tactic. It only avoids the conversational realm. I must be in it in order to master it. How well are you in control of your tongue? If your world is framed by your words, what type of world are you building around you?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Making Faith Complete

Here's the abstract for my sermon tomorrow. There are two types of Christians in the world: those who are living out amazing and abundant lives, and those who aren't. Why the difference? It is a matter of faith - but not in the amount. Jesus said even the smallest amount would be sufficient to move a mountain with. So, what's the deal? First, James 1:22 says, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceives yourselves. Do what it says."
If you hear the Word preached or read the Bible and you don't do what it says - you're fooling yourself thinking that that's a great way to get through life. It's not. Matthew 6:33 says "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness." First and foremost, put God in charge of your life. Then, submit to that Lordship and do what He says (that's the stuff in the Bible). If you don't do this, you can be a saved Christian, but your life won't be that amazing and abundant one Christ intended that you have.
WHY? James 2:14-22, "What good is it...if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them?....You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did."
The idea here is that there was a kind of completion that Abraham's faith had similar to something being fully developed, or matured. So, YOUR FAITH IS MADE COMPLETE BY WHAT YOU DO. This is the main point. Many Christians are living lives of incomplete, or not fully developed faith. Why? Because they are deceiving themselves and not doing what the Word says they ought to be doing.
Mark Batterson wrote a great book called "Wild Goose Chase." I highly recommend it. Here are a couple quotes from that book that apply to this situation. "Jesus didn't die on the cross to keep us safe - He died to make us dangerous." "It's time we started playing offense with our lives." "The world doesn't need more people playing it safe all the way through life to death. It needs daring people with daring plans, in pursuit of the passions God has placed in their hearts." "Getting where God wants me to go isn't nearly as important as becoming who God wants me to be."
When people find out they're terminally ill, they immediately change disposition and begin spending time with family, donating money, traveling - they live as if they don't have much time left. They realize how much they've squandered the previous part of their lives. Do yourself a favor - let me give you a diagnosis that will change your perspective. Here it is: You don't have long to live. No one knows when they will die - so you really might not have that much time. Regardless, isn't it time you began pouring your time and energy into the things you are passionate about instead of wasting most of your life on things you "have" to do that don't inspire you or impact anyone else?
My paraphrase of James 3:13 - "You want to know who has it figured out? It's the people living our their faith through their deeds." What you do with your life will show whether or not your faith has been made complete.

Final thought from Curry Blake - "If your gospel isn't touching others, it hasn't touched you."