Friday, September 30, 2016

Bob Dylan, pho & God: Seeing the timeless on a second look - or - You gotta serve somebody

I’m sure there are foods you are convinced you don’t like.Me? Beets, cilantro, Brussels sprouts, squash, and horseradish are a few on my list. But I am committed to try new things at least once. Sometimes, more than once.

For example, my first encounter with pho (pronounced like “fun” with no “n”) was not a good one. While still living in Ohio we were visiting relatives here in Pennsylvania. One evening, deciding to go out to eat, the majority voted for a favorite pho restaurant. I had no idea what pho was and did not like the sound of it.

Okay, okay, okay, I'll try it

When I travel, it’s not unusual for me to get out of sorts. Rhythms are off, beds are uncomfortable, and my curmudgeon amps up. It was cold, my sinuses were blocked, and my intestines were unhappy. To be honest, nothing really sounded good, but something new and strange was certainly unappealing.

But, I love my family and, like I said, am willing to try new things. Plus, I was significantly outnumbered. So pho it was.

I wasn’t impressed. I was already annoyed so nothing about the restaurant was appealing and the pho was far less than phenomenal. Based on that experience, I decided pho was not for me.

Then we moved to Pennsylvania where we are around these folks called family a lot. Who like to go out. And who all like pho. Eventually all my efforts to deflect the inevitable failed and back to pho we went.

The upside was that this time I felt good, was hungry, and put myself in a receptive frame of mind, willing to give this strange pho dish a second try.

Now? When it comes to pho, leave out the tendon but load in other meats and it’s all good. Very good.

I like pho. I like pho a lot. I would even go so far to say that I love pho. If it weren’t for the high sodium content, I’d consider having pho every day. Pho is good. Yay pho!

If at first you don’t like pho, try religion again

For many, my initial pho experience is how they have experienced religion, more specifically Christianity. After a bad experience, often when they were young, they decided it’s bad and walk away. Then, through life, they warn others away, casting religion in the image of their own limited past bad experience without a second glance.

The thing is, life is full of hard knocks. Not everything goes well the first time. Or the second time. Or the third time.

Let me ask you a question: How many things in your life that you enjoy would be in your life had you pushed them away the first time they weren’t good or pleasant or instantly gratifying? In other words, how many people, places, or things did you at first not like but now do like?

How many friends? How many foods? How many books or TV shows or ideas or musicians or whatever -- fill-in-the-blank -- would be dead to you had you not given them a another go?

And yet, when it comes to faith, the church, the Gospel of Christ, Christians -- well, it’s often once and done baby! One strike, you’re out.

Encountering the timeless sometimes takes time

What’s ironic and intensely sad is that for the vast majority who walk away from God after one bad bump, they’re left empty and searching for “something” or “someone” to fill a perceived gaping hole in their hearts and souls. They keep searching for some timeless thing.

They turn to career, marriage, music, drugs, sex, food, travel, school, sports, tattoos, politics, hobbies, activities, cults, ideologies -- anything else hoping to find “the” answer to their pestering need.

A few settle into one of these things to the point they can sort of drown out and kind of tamp down the sense of “something’s missing.” Others shift and search from one experience to another, one idea to another, one group of friends to another. Just one more kiss. Just one more tat. Endlessly restless. Always longing.

The one thing they refuse to turn to for one more try is faith, religion, Christianity, the church, Jesus, God. Nope. No way. No how. But why?

Flying can be a hassle. They first time I flew I was 29 years old and I was a little afraid. But all went well. Since then, until recently, I’ve flown on average at least once a year. My longest flight was from New Jersey to Hong Kong and back.

Most times the experiences were fine. But not always. There were boarding delays, sitting in hot planes on the tarmac for hours, and even being stranded overnight in airports. But I knew these bad experiences were not the sum total of flying. The good usually outweighed the bad. So I kept getting on planes.

The same is true when it comes to church and God and religion. There will be bumps.

Still haven’t found what you’re misinformation misled you to expect

One reason I was turned off to pho initially is that I really didn’t know what it was. I didn’t have good information. In other words, even if I’d not been out of sorts that first time I had pho, I’d still have been uncertain.

Often, those who had bad experiences in a church were young and not really aware of what being a Christian really meant. They weren’t fully familiar with the Bible or its basic tenets or what a proper biblical Christian worldview entails.

It’s very possible that the first church encounter was a bad one because that first church encountered was not a good church. It happens. Not all churches are equal, not all pastors are qualified, not all congregations are friendly, not all encounters are worth repeating.

Here’s where a little fair and honest assessment can go a long way toward correcting misconceptions. In others, you may need to re-open your prejudiced mind to take a second and third look. Claiming to be tolerant with an open mind yet refusing to re-look at faith is a contradiction.

If at first you don’t connect, try another outlet


Don’t be a quitter. How you believe isn’t the same as picking your favorite flavor of milkshake or deciding you don’t like cilantro. Rather, when it comes to faith, you’re talking about your life’s purpose, your eternal destiny, you’re whole reason for being and doing. These are big ticket issues that deserve to be carefully considered. And reconsidered.

And here’s a little insight: If you were “burned” by religion and now (1) you are nagged by a relentless longing for “something” and (2) you get quickly “turned off” or “angry” when someone starts talking about God or faith or religion, then God and faith and religion are the very areas you need to give a second chance to.

That nagging is the Holy Spirit trying to get your attention. The anger is Satan working to keep you his and headed to hell. God loves you and will be relentless in His pursuit of you. One writer referred to it as being pursued by “the hound of heaven.” Satan tends to be persistent as well, but a lot more subtle, because if you’re not God’s, you’re Satan’s.

The bottom-line is, as Bob Dylan once sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” And there’s only one Somebody who can satisfy that timeless itch for deep true meaning in life. Even pho won’t fill that eternal need.



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Did you have a bad church experience? Did you get over it or not? If so, how long did it take? If not, what would it take to give God another try? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On the brink

 

The job I’d had for two years suddenly evaporated. I was out of work, several states away from family, and totally on my own.

Despite sending out dozens of resumes and going on several job interviews, nothing was jelling. What little money I had was dwindling fast and my fridge was pretty empty. I felt like I was teetering on the brink of homelessness!

I was on the train heading into New York City for yet another interview. At one of the stops along the way, Jack, the singles pastor from the church I attended, got on. He worked in the city and was taking one of his daughters in for the day as well.

We sat together and chatted. At the last station as we parted, Jack grabbed my hand, said “God bless you, brother!” and took off. Slowly I realized that I was holding something. I looked at my hand and there was money! Near tears, I unfolded three twenty dollar bills.

“I could eat this week!” I thought as tears welled up in my eyes and Jack’s blessing warmed my heart.

His word declares, “It is the LORD who provides the sun to light the day and the moon and stars to light the night. It is he who stirs the sea into roaring waves. His name is the LORD Almighty....” (Jeremiah 31:35, New Living Translation).

God will provide for your needs just in time. And then He will use you to provide for someone else!


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How has God prodided for you just when you needed it? Have you "paid it forward" and helped someone else? Share your experiences in the comments!

NOTE: For the past few and for the next several weeks, Tuesday’s post will be a brief two-minute devotional. Think, “Tuesday Two-Minute Devotional” or “Two-Minute Tuesdays or something  along those lines. ;-)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What was going on before the beginning? A lot! (Review)

The Bible opens with these verses, “(1) In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (2) The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (3) And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (4) And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. (5) God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Genesis 1:1-5, ESV).

But what was going on before the beginning, before 24-hour days were established? According to Hugh Ross, quite a bit for quite a long time.

Time is a relatively new concept (an aside)

John 1:1-3 declares boldly and clearly that, “(1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was in the beginning with God. (3) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (ESV).

Without a doubt, God, through Christ, created everything. Including time.

Whether or not you believe that the earth and all it contains was created during six literal 24-hour days followed by a one day break, or that the “days” are figurative periods of varying time, time did not exist previously.

Time is a God-given construct for the benefit of His creation. God always was, always is, and always will be -- a sort of eternal now -- all above or outside of time, however you wish to think about it.

When someone refers to billions or millions of years, in a sense they are trying to quantify timelessness and interpret it in a manner we finite humans can comprehend.

We are not an accident


Which brings us back to Dr. Hugh Ross and his new book, Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home (Baker Books).

In a nutshell, Ross explains how over billions and billions of years the entire universe was put in place, layer by layer, specifically to create the possibility of life on earth. He goes on to explain that right now we are in a “window” of 10,000 years where everything’s just right for life. For now.

Variations of the phrase “just right” occur frequently through the book as Ross carefully lays out the scientific evidence for the perfect balance of all that is that allows all that is to be.

He says, “Earth’s preserved record of  past and physical biological events reveals an unanticipated synergy. While scientists expected the Earth’s physical history would play a role in determining life’s history, it was a surprise for them to recently discover that for the physical history of Earth to be the way it is, certain kinds and quantities of life must exist in just-right locations at just-right times.”

He states further that “Spirit-possessing life cannot survive without all the other different kinds of life simultaneously thriving on Earth, and it demands an extremely fine-tuned physical environment.”

But not only must conditions be  just-right on earth, but also all around the earth in space, throughout our galaxy and even the entire universe. Kind of like a really big Jenga puzzle where every block is needed and must be exactly where it is or everything comes crashing down. However, unlike assembling a Jenga puzzle, in creation while some elements came into place sequentially, many others came into being simultaneously.

In other words, Ross reveals how every planet, every meteor, every star, and more is part of a finely tuned, intentional creation that contributes to us living, moving, and having our being here and now.

He explains, “The panoply of advanced life on Earth also requires a universe with an extraordinary history for there to be any possibility for the kind of spiral galaxy in which such an exceptional planet can exist. Furthermore, that planet must reside in a planetary system that experiences a highly specified birth and journey within its extraordinary galaxy.”

Building our just-right home with just-right stuff & just-right timing

Using the analogy of building construction, Ross lays out the necessary astronomical, physical, geological, chemical, and biologic pre-Genesis 1:3 history of our universe and planet, all based on known scientific evidence.

Just as with a complex building project, the viability of our earthly home is dependent upon a rich history as well as crucial balance in the universe.

For example, Ross says “If the universe contained a slightly lower mass density of protons and neutrons, then nuclear fusion in stellar furnaces would have yielded no elements as heavy as carbon or heavier; if slightly greater mass density, then star burning would have yielded only elements as heavy as iron or heavier. Either way, the universe would have lacked the elements most critical for our planet and its life -- carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and more. For life to be possible, the universe must be no more or less massive than it is.”

Timing is important in the success of any large, complex building project. The land must be acquired and assessed, plans drawn up, materials ordered, models created, designs tested, all before any construction can begin. Each step requires proper timing. Rushing any phase can lead to eventual problems, even disaster.

The same is true for the building of our earthly home. Before we could be, Ross explains how nine billion years of preparation was needed. “This lengthy wait,” explains Ross, “would be better characterized as an active preparation period....” that produced the just-right materials needed to ensure viable life in the beginning and now.

Why we’re here

Ross seeks to show how everything about our amazing existence is laced with intention and purpose. The how and why of us being here cannot be explained by coincidence, happenstance, or random events. Even our technology is dependent upon the universe evolving exactly as it did to provide us with the raw materials.

Ross concludes stating, “Even with so much still to discover and learn about the way the world is and how it came to be this way, an abundance of evidence suggests an answer to the why question: we are here to seek and to find God and then to use the resources he has so painstakingly and generously provided, within the amazingly stable and optimal climate epoch he established, to receive God’s redemptive offer. God’s desire to bring redemption to a vast and variegated population explains why the history of the Milky Way Galaxy, the solar system, Earth, and life looks as it does. In other words, the world is the way it is so that we can be here, and we are here so we can be agents of blessing to every tribe on the planet for as long as his divine power holds this Earth and its life together. Then at the just-right moment, Jesus Christ will whisk us into a new residence...the home beyond the space-time confines of this universe, the place he is preparing for us -- and preparing us for -- at this very moment.”

A very big idea of a book

This is not light reading. While the information presented is accessible, getting to it does require wide-wake engagement (Have the coffee handy!). The book could have benefited by having more graphics and timelines to visually break-up the book and illustrate the concepts presented a little more clearly.

But it is a worthwhile read that should bolster the confidence and faith of every believer. Ross uses science to underscore how big, creative, loving, and amazing our God is.

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NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


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Do you believe in a literal six 24-hour days creation? Why or why not? Does it matter to you what science reveals about our earth and the universe? Why or why not? What are other books you’ve read that explain science from a biblical perspective? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

BONUS: In these three videos Dr. Hugh Ross talks about his book, what he believe UFOs to be, and goes head-to-head with Ken Ham.










Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Banners, flags & freedom



After defeating Amelek, “Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner” (Exodus 17:15, ESV).

In biblical times, a banner or flag was used as a rallying point. As they wandered in the desert, each family of the Children of Israel had a unique banner. These banners helped keep them organized and focused.

In battle, the flag was used to rally the troops and lead them into battle, as well as to mark won territory.

As school children we pledged our allegiance to a flag. Politicians campaign in front of large banners bearing slogans and promises. We adorn our homes with seasonal flags and banners as entertaining decorations. We declare support for our favorite sports teams with flags bearing their colors.

Throughout our lives, banners and flags declare our interests, intentions, concerns, promises, loyalties, and more. While some to whom we offer our loyalties come and go, one remains above all others.

Unlike the failed slogans and programs of politicians, God’s promises and love remains steadfast. In the Song of Songs 2:4 it states about God, “...his banner over me is love” (NASB). He is both rallying point and covering.

Flags, banners, and more declare our allegiances. They can also serve as sources of inspiration and encouragement as we move through the challenges of life.

Under whose banner are you rallying?


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Where do your loyalties lie? To whom or what are you pledging your allegiance? Are you placing your faith in something or someone transitory or eternal? Share your thoughts in the comments.

NOTE: For the past few and for the next several weeks, Tuesday’s post will be a brief two-minute devotional. Think, “Tuesday Two-Minute Devotional” or “Two-Minute Tuesdays or something  along those lines. ;-)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Global warming (aka climate change) or no, we must be nice to the earth

It’s fun to watch survivalist shows on TV, like “Running Wild with Bear Grylls”. A couple of people get dropped into a remote wilderness-like environment and are expected to survive over a few days.

They have no groceries. Maybe a limited amount of water. No tent. No sleeping bag. No nearby mall to go to where they can buy what they need.

Abandoned in nature, they must find food, water, and shelter right there where they are in the wilderness.

And they do!

God’s creation, for those with discernment, is an abundant resource providing everything we need to sustain ourselves physically.

But do we really appreciate what we’ve got?

Hugh Ross writing in his new book Improbable Planet, says: “Of all the things in life we tend to take for granted, our terrestrial residence and our resources might be one of the biggest. We don’t seem to be amazed and astonished by Earth’s beauty and treasures, it’s capacity to support more than 7 billion people and even more billions of other creatures.”

Our big blue superstore

God spoke and by His word all of life sprang forth into being and filled the earth. Lakes, seas, rivers, trees, plants, and on and on (see Genesis 1 & 2).

Nearly all of it renewable, with care, for generations. Why is this important?
  1. First, it’s important because it all came into being by God. There was no random matter colliding in a happenstance moment sparking life. (see John 1:1-4).
     
  2. Second, it’s important because it speaks to God’s love for humankind. God chose to create the heavens and the earth and you and me! He wanted to. He did not create out of need or boredom.
     
  3. Third, it’s important because it expresses the logic and intentionality of God. He had a plan and He executed on it. His creation acts were orderly, logical, intentional -- and creative! All of creation was planned, made with intention, and infused with purpose. We are not space/time accidents.

Just as God created the heavens, the earth, and us with a clear plan in mind, even today we can rest assured that He actively cares for us. We are here for a reason and all we need to complete our purpose has been provided to us.

Part of our reason for being is to be good stewards of the earth. Genesis 2:15 explains, “The Lord God took the man [and later the woman] and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (ESV).

Note those two little words “keep it.” That’s the opposite of “trash it” or “exploit it” or “waste it.”

Even though we’re no longer enjoying the delights of Eden, we are still called, commissioned, designed to be good stewards of the earth. Instead, sometimes I think we act like spoiled children trying to get even for being kicked out of Eden.

“Oh yeah! Fine! Keep us out of the Garden!” we wail, wagging our weak fists in the air. “In that case, we're going to really make a mess of things. We'll show You! You...God, You!”

Pretty pathetic, but pretty accurate. The problem is we have nowhere to stomp off to to pout.

A little care can go a long way

In 1962, the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published. The book raised concerns and awareness regarding man’s impact on the environment, especially as related to the damage caused by excessive use of pesticides. Prior to the publication of Carson’s book, pollution was given little thought.

Eight years later, the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970. The day brought focus to the need for people to respect the vast resources of creation with care.  Awareness was raised about such things as the damage being caused through litter, poor waste-water treatment, destruction of animal habitats, and lack of emission standards for factories and cars.

As a result of raised awareness, the problems of air and water pollution began to be seriously addressed. Recycling came into vogue. Endangered animal species became protected.

Caring for the earth and all it contains is an essential piece of who God created mankind to be. We are caretakers of His amazing Creation. The earth is designed to sustain us and reveal to us God’s grandeur. Creation is tangible evidence of how valuable we are in God’s sight. Namely because we’re part of it!

Battling over semantics & wasting God’s treasure


The big fight today is whether or not global warming, aka climate change, is a real thing or not. Battle lines are drawn. Harsh words are exchanged. And in the meantime the earth is ignored and abused. Imagine a mom and dad fighting and insulting each other over some trivial issue while their kids huddle in fear at the side of the room. It’s a little like that.

The “scientific community” says global warming is a reality. But I can also understand those who mistrust science. Science isn’t always right. Just recently there was the claim that aliens were talking to us. It turned out we were only talking to ourselves.   

Science can also be skewed to support the bias of whoever is presenting the information. I think that’s what happened with a viral cartoon depicting global warming. It’s generally accurate but has a couple of flaws. Statistics can be bent, information can be condensed, key data points can be obscured all to present skewed “facts” to support whatever our point is that we want to make. This happens on both sides of an issue.

Obeying God doesn’t need scientific support

It doesn’t take a scientist, rocket or otherwise, to recognize that we, the human race, God’s appointed caretakers of His amazing earth, aren’t doing the best we could be.

Global warming or no, there are actions we can and should take that are positive, earth-friendly, and God-honoring.

Whether we accept or reject the idea of global warming, we can and must find ways to fulfill or duty as caretakers of the earth. Here are just a few examples:

  • Love the bees. A big issue that’s been circulating through the news for years is the ongoing problem of bees dying off. Several problems have been cited. And now, because of Zika fears, hasty spraying to kill off mosquitoes has resulted in millions of bees being lost. As concerned citizens, we need to make it clear to our government agencies that, yes, we want action on problems such as Zika, but the solutions need to be earth-friendly solutions. No bees means no food.
     
  • Keep your pets indoors. This is a pet peeve of mine. I have cats. They never go outdoors. They don’t need to go outdoors. And when cats are allowed to go outdoors, they needlessly destroy wildlife creating a negative impact on ecosystems. If you care about the earth, want to honor God’s command to be a caretaker of His creation, keep your cats indoors.
     
  • Plastic may be better than paper. A big deal today is choosing paper bags over plastic bags at the checkout line. Or, better, so it’s believed, is to bring your own “permanent” bag. But are paper or reusable cloth bags really better? Always better? I had a friend who worked in the plastics industry. He frequently lectured whoever would listen that plastic bags were actually more eco-friendly in toto than paper bags. A recent article in The Atlantic backs up his claim. While a supposed “earth friendly” option may be popular, it isn’t always what’s really best for the environment.
     
  • Produce less exhaust. Smog is real. Pollutants are real. We’ve all seen the images of cities choking on man-made air pollution. This is a serious health issue, especially for children. So if you care about your kids, or just yourself, look for ways to reduce the amount of exhaust you produce. Riding bikes or walking more is a good thing. When driving is necessary, keeping your car in good repair and driving responsibly helps.
     
  • Stop littering. The world is not our trashcan or ashcan. Litter can harm widlife. Tossed from a moving car, it can cause accidents. Tossed into a river or lake, it can kill fish and create other problems. Throwing cigarette butts around can cause fires and other harm. Cleaning up litter costs billions of taxpayer dollars annually. A neighborhood covered in litter pulls down property values. Everyone can stop littering, encourage others to stop, and engage in recycling.

Simple ideas, sure. But they are examples of how everyone can find a way to engage in godly caretaking of the earth rather than merely being takers from the earth.

Are you a Christian who’s an ardent believer in global warming? Great. Or are you a Christian who thinks climate change is hokum? No worries.

The bottomline for believers is this: Anything that harms the earth or wastefully exploits its God-created resources should alarm and offend us. And as long as this earth is inhabited by sinful men and women (and we are all sinful) then the earth is at risk because sinful people do sinful and damaging things.

Damaging the earth is wrong. Wasting earth’s resources is sinful. When confronted with earth-damaging evil, we should be roused to do whatever we can to stop it, to correct it, to heal it. Just as we seek God’s grace to do in us.

Fighting over the semantics and politics of global warming is a zero sum game. Clearly, there are evidences that the earth is being damaged and much of the damage is our fault.

Henri Nouwen wrote in The Wounded Healer, “Contemporary people realize that our creative powers hold the potential for self-destruction. We understand that vast new industrial complexes enable us to produce in one hour that which we labored over for years in the past, but we also realize that these same industries have disturbed the ecological balance and, through air, water, and noise pollution, have contaminated our planet.”

Allowing the earth -- our home -- to be damaged is to fuel our own self-destruction. It’s to dishonor God by ignoring the role of caretaker He has assigned to all of us. It is to deny the very faith we claim to hold. It is to deny grace to the world.



Additional reading:




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Do you believe in global warming/climate change? Why or why not? Should how you think about this issue change how you care for or exploit the earth? What are you doing to care for the earth? Anything? Nothing? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Eternity-phobic?



Apeirophobia is the technical term meaning the fear of eternity. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, many people suffer from this fear. I don’t know, but I’m assuming most who suffer with apeirophobia don’t have a Christian worldview or a clear understanding of eternal life with God.

On the topic of eternity, the Apostle John quoted Jesus who said, “And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” ( John 12:50, ESV).

I, for one, am looking forward to the eternal future. Most people I hang with are as well. And I believe it’s nothing to be afraid of. Eternal life is a good thing. Where you spend it may not be.

But how can you know that you are going to heaven or not? That you have eternal life as opposed to eternal death?

A few years ago I heard about a pastor who, in his Sunday sermon, said something to the effect, “Wouldn’t it be nice if God would tell us exactly what we need to do to make it to heaven? But He doesn't so we just have to do the best we can.”

What an amazingly sad sentiment for a pastor to express! It isn’t accurate.

The Bible offers very clear insight, instruction, and guidance on what we have to do to ensure our spiritual destiny.

Early in the New Testament, Christ states in Matthew 4:17, “Turn from sin and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ provides more insight into what it takes to get to heaven. But in the simplest sense, those who willfully turn away from sin and actively turn to God are headed in a heavenly direction.

That most famous of verses, John 3:16, is even more straightforward: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned....”

Paul declares in Romans 10:9-11 (ESV) “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”’

These are only a few of the dozens of scripture verses to which we can turn to be assured, without any doubt, that we are saved and on a heavenly trajectory.

Certainly, there may be some ambiguities about exactly how to live out the Christian faith in our lifetimes, and even some disagreements on the finer points. But overall, anyone who (1) sincerely confesses Jesus to be Lord, (2) acknowledges and turns away from their sin, (3) accepts Christ and His gift of grace into their life, and (4) intentionally seeks to live a Holy Spirit empowered life of purity and holiness in Christ, can rest assured that heaven is in their future.

If you have any doubts, just start reading through the New Testament and you will encounter passage after passage that will reassure your heart and your soul.

Here are a few verses for you to look at now: Acts 3:19; Romans 3:21-26; 1 John 1:9; Hebrews 3:1.

You don’t have to be afraid of eternity. But you do have to make a choice now where you will spend it.

I choose heaven. And you?




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Do you believe there is life after death? Why or why not? Do you believe you can know for sure where you’re headed after death, as I’ve indicated above? Why or why not? What do you believe heaven or hell will be like? Or do you believe neither exists? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Snow flowers (a story)



A warm, pre-storm summer breeze exploded the dandelions, heavy with seeds, painting the air white. "Stephanie! Look! Snow flowers!" cried the amazed little boy, drawing the attention of his sister, as he zigzagged chasing this way and that.

He ran through the yard, dancing, giggling, mindlessly pursuing the dandelion snow, a butterfly that had floated into the mix, and nothing in particular, all at the same time. He was four and she was his teenage baby-sitter, 14, on this beautiful summer day laced with his gleeful laughing.

Both were blonde and fair. His eyes were blue like the clear summer sky above them. They seemed to smile all the time. Hers were a haunting emerald green, perfect for looking meditative or bored, as the occasion suited. This was a bored, or at least semi-bored moment.

It was hot. July. 1981. The small radio by her side was oozing "Ebony and Ivory" in accompaniment to her little brother’s pirouetting. Clouds were just beginning to edge the incredible blue sky. A sky that was like a huge smooth ocean over their heads.

She would sometimes lay in the middle of the back yard and stare up into the sky for an hour or two at a time. Soaking up sun and letting her mind reel out, up into the big blue expanse. Her imagination like a helium balloon on an endless string, climbing higher and higher into the possibilities and wide wonder. Her dreams sailed on the sea of the sky.

But not today. Today was the day to baby-sit the kid. Today of all days....





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I wrote this several years ago. Let me know what you think. And please feel free to share your 9/11 memories in the comments.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The keys to the kingdom, or rather to its field book (Brief review)

The Bible can be intimidating. It’s big, full of challenging ideas, foreign customs, and, when unlocked and engaged well, serves up priceless gems of wisdom.

For those turning to the Bible for the first time, or those who have had close encounters of the random kind and finally want to take a deeper dive, getting a firm grasp on the scope of scripture can be literally overwhelming.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an easy-to-decipher road map of sorts to help make it easier to navigate?

That’s exactly what Unlocking the Bible: What It Is, How We Got It, and Why We Can Trust It (Baker Books) by Jeff Lasseigne is.

Written in a light-hearted casual conversational style, the book does exactly what its full title promises in two broad sections: “The Big Picture” and “The Books of the Bible.”

Demystifying God’s Word

Part I starts off with the first chapter sharing important highlights of how the Bible came into being. Chapter two offers insights on why the Bible is trustworthy. Chapters three and five are basic overviews of the Old and New Testaments.

Lasseigne offers nice synopsis-level discussions of such things as the Dead Sea scrolls, how the original biblical manuscripts were created and handled, and how early copies were carefully transcribed by hand. For example, he shares that:
“The New Testament was written well over 1,900 years ago, and yet we have over 24,000 pieces of manuscript to support it, which is substantial. In fact, the New Testament has far more manuscript evidence than any other ancient work. By comparison, the thirty-seven plays of William Shakespeare have no surviving original copies and there are missing sections in every one of his works.... Shakespeare’s writings are only about four hundred years old, and were all written after the invention of the printing press....”

Probably the more interesting section of the book is chapter four where Lasseigne discusses what happened during the 400 year “silent” period between the Testaments. He gives a quick scan of the history, politics, and culture of the times, and touches on why the Apocrypha is not considered part of the inspired canon.

Providing practical application, chapter six covers how to study the Bible and chapter seven explains how to teach the Bible. Both chapters consist mostly of simple straightforward tips Lasseigne has used successfully over the years.

Part II offers nutshell glimpses of each of the 66 books of the Bible, pointing out significant facts, giving quotes from others related to the book, and additional useful tidbits. While brief, each is pithy and a good place to start a more focused study of a specific Bible book.

A reference for the rest of us

The book is folksy and not the least intimidating. It’s not aimed at theologians and thankfully free of academic jargon. Rather, this is a perfect reference to put in the hands of new Christians just getting acquainted with the Bible, or more seasoned believers who are just getting involved in teaching a Sunday school class or leading a small group. For the rest of us, it can serve as a useful refresher reference.

In fact, the book really is a reference, designed to be dipped into as needed and where needed. To that end, it would have been helpful if the book had included more headings and graphic features (in the vein of a “For Dummies” or “Complete Idiot’s Guide), as well as a more detailed table of contents and/or index, that would facilitate easier browsing. Fortunately, Part II is much more accessible in this way than is Part I.

And then there’s the odd humor. Each chapter opens with a humorous anecdote, and odd little quips and out-takes pop up at random throughout the book. While adding to the folksy charm of the book, they can also be a little off-putting and distracting. Clearly Lasseigne uses this type of humor when he’s teaching in his church -- and they probably work well in a live setting -- but are just a tad annoying when inserted without clear relevance into the book.

Overall, the book is a great tool as a reference for Sunday school teachers, new Christians, or as a tool in a class on Bible basics or leader training. It’s very accessible and full of great tidbits and tips, delivering on the promise of its title to unlock the Bible.

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NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Does this sound like a reference for you? Are there other books you are aware of that would serve the same purpose as this one? What are a few of the best books you have read that really help unlock God’s Word? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Let’s edit the "out-dated" annoying stuff out of Bible!

A few years ago, I was chatting with a friend at work I knew was a Christian. Or at least I suspected she was. Okay, she had mentioned going to church at least once or twice in her life.

As we talked, the topic rolled around to religion in a generic kind of way. God was mentioned. The state of the world was commented on. And the Bible was brought up. As we talked a little about the Bible, she suddenly blurted out, “I wish someone would edit that thing. So much in there is out-dated!”

I don’t remember much after that but I somehow ended up back in my office,  a little dazed, her words echoing in my head the rest of the afternoon.

People such as my friend visit churches every Sunday. Maybe even your church. Sometimes their visits turn into regular attendance. When this happens, how will they be engaged with God’s Word in a way that will redeem their errant ideas about the Bible, faith, and Christianity in general?

Dunking gets you wet but doesn’t quench thirst

I grew up going to church. It was what we -- my cousins and my friends -- did. Every Sunday morning and evening, and every Wednesday night. It made no difference what was on TV, we were in church. So was just about everyone else in our little Midwestern town.

Every couple of years, the Sunday school lessons cycled through the Bible’s biggest hits such as Creation, Cain and Abel, the Tower of Babel, Daniel in the lion’s den, and the like. As we all advanced through the grades, the stories grew in complexity. At least a little.

Then there was Vacation Bible School, youth group, summer church camps, youth rallies, and more, all expanding my knowledge of Scripture. Add in the regular Sunday and Wednesday sermons plus the weeks of revivals and special services, my exposure to God’s Word was massive. Or you would think.

Still, it wasn’t until I was in college and subjected to a truly structured course of solid Bible study that I realized how wrong a lot of my understanding of the Bible was. And how shallow.

So much of what I had been exposed to was nothing short of pabulum, milk and not meat, and a lot of evangelistic sloganism. Not all, but a lot.

At least I knew that if there were to be changes made, it needed to be in me and not in the Bible!

Immersion needs structure & purpose

So, again, when people like my friend start attending your church regularly, how will they be engaged with God’s Word in a way that will redeem their errant ideas about the Bible, faith, and Christianity in general?

Does your adult Sunday school class offer more than a Reader’s Digest version of the better known Bible stories? Does your preaching model good biblical exposition? Do visitors get more than merely an inspiring devotional and a Bible verse on the topic of the moment?

Is there a Christianity 101 course being offered at least once a year? A course that assumes those attending know nothing about the Bible, the creeds, or orthodox Christian faith and exposes them to the great truths of the Gospel? A course that’s more than merely a primer on your church’s  distinctives, simply a form of denominational indoctrination?

Toss the snacks & feed the hungry a planned plated meal

Every Sunday, people visit churches seeking substance and tools for discerning truth. They come in with worldviews developed from watching sitcoms, reading entertainment magazines, and seeing cute but empty memes on Facebook.

In other words, they are lost, confused, and floundering and may not even know it.

They don’t need uplifting inspirational messages. They probably already feel too good about themselves or not good at all.

They don’t need cute entertaining Sunday school classes. They get enough entertainment outside of church.

They don’t need to be pandered to. They get that from their local politicians and Presidential candidates.

They don’t need to be indoctrinated. They get too much of that from every marketer trying to sell them something.

They need to be treated as adults and shown how to study the Bible. They need to be introduced to the dramatic sweep of Christian history. They need to be exposed to the solid meaty truths of the plain Gospel. They need to be taken seriously and cared for thoughtfully. They need to be biblically educated, spiritually mentored, and lovingly discipled into a firm, intelligent faith that can make sense of and withstand the world around them. They need to be grounded in God’s Word.

They need to come away understanding the Bible doesn’t need to be edited, but to be lived.

How’s your church doing?




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Does your church experience synch with mine? How was/is yours different? Do you believe the Bible needs to be edited or updated? Why or why not? How is your church doing when it comes to helping people develop a sound Christian worldview? Sound off in the comments!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Peace, rest & holy tension


Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

The Bible contains passages that present seemingly conflicting ideas. For example, on one hand, Christians are promised rest and peace while also being assured of a troubled life.

Jesus stated in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NIV).

Yet, in an earlier verse, He said: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34, NIV). And in Matthew 11:12 (NIV), He says, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”

This doesn’t sound very peaceful or restful! Nor does it jibe with certain popular teachings and books promising peace, comfort, prosperity, and smooth sailing on the quiet river of the happy Christian life. Here's where the first-rate intelligence of a Christian comes into play: We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), and we have the Holy Spirit to open the Word of God to us (John 14:26, NIV).

What’s being presented is not an either/or proposition: to have peace or to not have peace. Rather, it's both/and; we will BOTH experience the peace of God, AND we will experience the lack of peace in our lives. This creates a spiritual tension, to be sure. But it is not a contradiction.

We may have trouble in this world, but we serve the risen King who has overcome the world (John 16:33). Along with all creation, we may groan in our spirits under the burden of life, but it is because our spirits long for the greater glory of heaven (2 Cor. 5:4). And, we may struggle daily with a variety of issues, situations, and people, but we understand that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12, NIV).

But the more significant piece is this: Our ultimate goal is not a rested life now, but rather a glorified life later.

In this life, we’ll have good days and bad days. But, we give thanks no matter what (1 Thess.5:18), knowing that Jesus is with us “always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, NIV).
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV).
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How do you manage to endure the tension inherent in the Christian life? Or do you believe there is no tension? Please share your thoughts, experiences, and insights in the comments.

Monday, September 5, 2016

False start (#Poetry Monday*)

September falls with a flip of the calendar
and promises to leave behind
the crisp august summer days
lived bright beneath the glaring,
sweat-inducing sun.

Soon, says September 1,
the cooler days will come
with the softer skies,
the trees more fashionable,
bearing new colors.

Then, just before the leaves tumble,
shed gold and red all a-rustle,
and the cicada’s buzz fades,
and pumpkins sprout on porches and steps,
the days of labor will be easier
in the cooler dark, teases September.

Yet, the near-Autumn sun rises
to the loud cry of defiant cicadas
singing it up, a hot burning chorus
raspy and piercing,
refusing to let the summer die
without a fight as the thermometer
shrieks out 95!

This isn’t what we had in mind.
No, not what we had in mind at all,
we think as we sip our pumpkin
spice latte, tall.





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* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. What mood does the changing of the seasons evoke in you? Is Fall a favorite? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Permanent markers

We use permanent markers to tag those things that are important to us and that we want to keep, such as our kid's clothes, Tupperware, CDs, and the like. Throughout the Bible are scattered dozens of permanent markers of a different type, and, as a nation, we even observe many permanent markers.

Throughout the Bible there are exhortations to recall and celebrate all the things that God has done, and to tell others about His acts.

Following the second time water was parted for  people of Israel to cross (Joshua 4:1-9), God instructed Joshua to pile stones in the middle of the river Jordan and in the middle of their camp: “Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.”

Why the stones?

They served as a physical, permanent marker of God’s specific, caring, personal, miraculous intervention in their lives.

Monday is Labor Day. It’s a day that honors the contributions workers have made to the strength and prosperity of our country. It is a permanent marker of a special, meaningful event.

We are on the cusp of the “holiday season” when a string of such public markers will be observed from now through the christening of a new year.

Why do we put so much stead on these special days? Because they mean so much to us. Each of us have special memories and  fond emotions attached to most public holidays. The same is especially true for private holidays such as births, weddings, and first days of school.

When, on Thanksgiving, we recall the strength and suffering of the Pilgrims in their quest for religious freedom or are simply thankful for God’s life-giving blessings, we are inspired and humbled.

When, on Christmas, we recall what it must have been like for God to become man, we are filled with awe.

When, on our child's birthday, we recall what it was like to watch them be born, we are humbled in our roles as parents and proud of their growth and accomplishments.

When things are tough, we recall how God has brought us through previous tough times, or provided for needs, or brought healing, or sent someone to stand with us, we are encouraged, lifted up, and driven to worship Him all at the same time.

Spiritual permanent markers, such as Joshua’s stones, are evidences God has given us His love and care and involvement in our lives. They are opportunities to acknowledge our dependence on Him as well as to be thankful for His unfailing love and provision.

Daily, we should recount and recall all that the Lord has done for us and look with expectation and awe for what He is about to do!

“And these [permanent markers] that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes”  (Deuteronomy 6:6-8, ESV).


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What are some permanent marker events in your life? Or how has God permanently marked you so that it is clear that you are His? Please share your experiences, insights, and thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Traveling mercies


“Don’t make me come back there!”

When we heard these words from the front seat of our car, especially when on a family vacation, my sister and I froze. Suddenly, we were the perfect little lady and gentleman, sitting up straight, our hands folded in our laps, and our faces looking as angelic as possible.

Only moments before we had been thoroughly engaged in mutual torment. This usually culminated with me putting my back to the door and, having long legs, pushing my sister onto “her side” by pressing her firmly against her door. She would then loudly complain, “Dad! Make him stop squishing me!” And that would be the last straw.

Fortunately, being relatively smart children, we never pushed things to the point of finding out what would happen if dad actually did “come back there.” By stopping our shenanigans instantly we received his grace, time after time.

Our heavenly Father extends even greater grace toward us and our sinfulness. And our sinfulness is far more egregious than childish shenanigans.

God’s grace is always available to you when you seek Him.

“For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11, NLT).
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Do you have interesting memories from family vacations? How have you experienced grace at different times in your life? Please share your experiences and insights in the comments. (BTW: That is not me or my sister in the graphic above.) ;-)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Swap (#Poetry Monday*)

The sun falls
without saying a word,
but the night knows
and comes quickly
before the moon rises.






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* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. What mood does the changing of the day evoke in you? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Aromatherapy bulletins cause visceral allergic reaction *

FALLS CREEK, IN — “I’m sorry,” lamented First Assembly of God of Falls Creek church secretary, Elaine Jones, “I just wanted them to pay attention for once.”

Frustrated that few church members seemed to read the weekly bulletin, Jones decided to employ aromatherapy. “I thought if it smelled good,” she explained, “they’d want to read it.”

What “it” was was the Sunday bulletin printed on a heavily scent-infused paper stock. Many said it smelled like a blend of skunk and nectarines with a hint of cherries. Very ripe cherries.

Jones took the drastic step because she was tired of the same people asking her the same questions about times and dates week after week.

“If they’re not stopping me outside the bathroom at church they’re calling me all week in the office,” she said. “I tell them over and over, ‘It’s all in the bulletin!’ but they won’t read it!”

Unfortunately, this first Sunday the scented paper was implemented, a couple of people had violent allergic reactions causing them to vomit almost as soon as ushers handed them their bulletins.

Usher Jack Henchar recounted, “Me and Harry [Borling] were standing on either side of the entrance to the sanctuary as we do every Sunday. That’s where you’ll find us every Sunday, for both services. We make sure everybody gets a bulletin, except for the kids who can’t read, of course. They just draw on ‘em or turn ‘em into paper planes and stuff.”

“Anyway,” Henchar continued, “Maggie [Josteen] and Sally [Abbot], who always come in together, came in the same time. Harry and I handed them bulletins like we always do. The smell didn’t bother us, we smelled worse in the Army, you know. So he gets one to Maggie and I get one to Sally and, Boom! Puke went flying everywhere! It was hilarious and disgusting all at once. I got out of the way just in the nick of time, but Harry was not as fortunate. Nope. Not at all.”

Making things worse, this spontaneous outburst then caused others in the sanctuary to also lose their breakfasts as the scents of vomit mixing with the heady aroma of the bulletins spread over the early arrivers.

Francis Abernathy, one of those who had arrived early, said, “I was barely tolerating the rotting cherry smell and it was just too much when the odor of puke filled the air. I tried to run to the bathroom but there were others with the same idea and none of us made it. I was mortified.”

Jolene Bradshaw, the head of the nursery who is also an Aroma Oils Goddess associate and member of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), promptly surmised what was happening and intervened, trying to bring the situation under control.

Bradshaw took charge of the remaining copies of the bulletin, ordered the ushers to collect those that had been handed out, and bagged them all inside of three plastic trash bags which were placed in the dumpster out behind the fellowship hall.

Explained Bradshaw, “Handling aromas is not for novices. It’s a science and an art. And it’s certainly not appropriate for the church bulletins! I don’t know what Elaine was thinking! She should have consulted with me. What a mess!”

Another man, who offered his unsolicited comments insisting on anonymity (others refer to him as, “Oh, yeah, him...” or “You know, him...”) claimed, “It was the Holy Spirit trying to cast out the hidden evil spirits people were a-harboring in themselves. I been a-prayin’ for lots of these folks for a long time. They just reek of bad spiritual fruit and stuff. Me? I always keep myself perfect with the Man Upstairs. And I wear three crosses just in case. Plus I work around hogs all day so I really didn’t smell anything to tell the truth.”

The following Monday, Pastor Paul Millicent asked Jones to take a short leave of absence from her secretarial duties and instructed those taking over for her that no bulletins be distributed for the next six months. Instead, all announcements will only be available projected on the screen in the service just prior to the first hymn and posted on the church Facebook Page.

When this news was relayed to Jones, she shook her head despondently and mumbled, “No one reads those either!”

It was later reported that the church janitor, Arthur Woolverd, insisted on bringing in specially trained hazmat cleaners to restore normal odor to the sanctuary. Said Woolverd, “It was like something from The Exorcist in there. And after talking to, you know, him, I weren’t about to touch any of, you know, that spewed out stuff. I shudder to think about it....”

While an ambulance was called, no one was taken to the hospital. Services and activities for the day and following week were all canceled.




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*This is humor and fictional. But if you have had to manage communications for a church or any organization, you can probably relate to the frustration of people not reading your newsletters and other printed pieces. Does this story strike a chord? Please share your experiences and insights in the comments!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How to lead introverts into Bible engagement: Five ways to connect with the Quiet Ones (American Bible Society)



“Hi. My name is Stephen. I’m an introvert. It’s been three days since I’ve spoken to anyone, and that makes me happy. Please go away now.”

Is this how you think of introverts? If so, you’re wrong. Well, wrong-ish.

I am an introvert. I was born this way. While I now understand that this is a normal personality style, I once felt as if God had played some cruel joke on me. Especially since we went to a Pentecostal church.

“Can I get an AMEN!?!” Not from me, no.

Being in what was often a rowdy environment, where it was assumed, wrongly, that the louder you hollered the holier you were, was actually painful for me. As well as confusing and crushing to my self-esteem.

I’m not knocking any particular religious tradition. Nowadays lots of churches have lively worship, and that’s great. But those who are too quiet in services like that are sometimes viewed as spiritually challenged.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hospitality & Angels


I was in a new state, and working a new job, knew practically no one locally, and I didn’t have a car. My transportation was an old 10-speed bike. Going shopping was an adventure and juggling bags on the way home a challenge.

One cold, windy fall day, a tire blew. Though still several blocks away, the store was closer than my apartment, so I started walking the bike there with the intent to call for help. Another man on a bike appeared beside me. He was Hispanic and didn’t speak English.

After exchanged gestures, I realized he wanted to fix my tire. He motioned me to stand back and then went to work applying a patch and using a hand pump to fill the tire.

When he finished I said “Gracias!” and offered him money. He refused, hopped on his bike, and was gone. Was he an angel? On that cold, windy fall day, he was mine!

Look for opportunities to be someone’s angel today.

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” (Hebrews 13:2, NLT).


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Have you ever been visited by an earthly angel? Have you been an earthly angel? What was it like? Do you believe heavenly angels intervene with in our lives on earth? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Checklist for disciples (#Poetry Monday*)

Disciples
marvel
question
fail
deny
compete
avoid
believe
wonder
betray
abide
remember
quit
rebuke
sleep
wake
fear
withdraw
witness
encourage
strengthen
teach
suffer
feed
clothe
welcome
stay
leave
return
rejoice
follow
trust
repeat






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* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here.  Being a disciple of Jesus has its challenges, but all who are His are called to be one. Stumbling, fumbling, wondering are all part of the gig. How have you experienced being a disciple? What successes and failures stand outPlease share your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Suffering, grace & overcoming

I’m not sure I really know what true suffering is. Especially in light of what Christ endured. But we all do, suffer that is.

For some it’s a nagging, persistent pain in the body or in the heart that just won’t go away. Could be a touch of arthritis or the slap of ongoing rejection. Both hurt and make us a bit gimpy in different ways.

Aging brings its myriad afflictions. The aches are new every morning! Is it suffering to endure these injustices of time? These cruel remnants of the Fall?

I have tinnitus. Both ears house a non-stop high-pitched whine. It started in the early 90s on the heels of a particularly bad sinus infection. The doctor said I suffered from a high frequency hearing loss that could have been brought on by exposure to loud or persistent noise. There’s no cure, so I endure it day in and day out. Is this suffering?

A little more than a year ago, my wife and I moved in with her Dad. He’s 86 and was widowed the year before we moved in, which was the motivation to do so. I watch him, bent, hobble around the house as age does its inexorable work in his body. But, if he’s suffering, he doesn’t say. At least not in so many words.

An older, King James sense of the word “suffer” means to “permit.” So, we “suffer” the little children to approach. It’s an interesting twist. Do I permit the ringing in my ears?

Paul claims that suffering builds character. In other words, eventually, it’s all good. As we endure suffering we are made better, more Christ-like. In that case, permitting those things that bring suffering may be the right attitude.

Then there is “suffering” that really isn’t. Having to wait in a long queue is inconvenient but not suffering. Wanting to go to a concert and discovering the tickets are sold out is disappointing but not suffering. Being a fan of a consistently losing sports team is frustrating but not suffering. Discernment and wisdom is called for in this process.

The news is full of sufferable situations. Losing a loved one in a mass shooting. Having a child kidnapped and murdered. Enduring your country being overtaken by violent enemies. Being beaten and robbed on the street. Surviving near-death amidst an extreme natural disaster. Facing decapitation because you refused to deny your faith. These are examples of suffering.

And yet, in these and similar situations, as those affected are interviewed by the Press, so often, while they are clearly grief-stricken, they don’t embrace the descriptor of “one who is suffering.” Rather, they view themselves as overcomers.

So it all comes back to, compared against what Christ endured, what is suffering? In this precious, mostly cushy life we live, we really haven’t suffered much at all even when times were hard. But perhaps we have overcome much as we lose ourselves in Him and the grace gained because of His suffering.

After all, grace wins.


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Have you suffered? Are you suffering? How did or do you deal with it? How do you minister grace to others you know who are suffering? How important is the grace of God in your life? Please feel free to share your insights in the comments!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Church e-communication travails: 6 rules to help you keep your e-sanity

A few weeks ago I posted this fake, humorous news story: Church Communication Director Under FBI Scrutiny After Hiring Russian Hacker.

The sad reality is that it’s all based on true experiences. Except the hiring a hacker part and the FBI intervention. At least so far.

Given that my career has revolved around communications, it’s not unusual when I’ve settled into a new church, that I volunteer or am asked to do communications-related stuff, especially in a smaller church.

Typically, the first request is to help with the bulletin or newsletter. Usually not a big deal. Print is pretty straightforward.

But then, if they have a website, I’ll be asked to help out there. This is when things get hairy.

Often, in an effort to take advantage of “free” services, any number of accounts were opened and things weirdly configured so that ultimately, it’s a Gordian knot of a mess.

It’s even worse when the person or persons first involved believe they have some technical expertise (and maybe they do) and do things in the most obscure manner possible. It’s all clear to them, but not to anyone else.

While they are well-intentioned (meaning aiming for all things “free”) this approach tends to create the most chaos down the line. Especially when one or all of these tech experts move away and leave the church for any number of reasons.

Inevitably it seems, when it comes to anything a church needs a computer to accomplish -- email, social media, websites, etc. -- problems surface almost from the start.

Why?

Because there is always -- and I mean always -- a lack of documentation regarding logins, passwords, vendors, and how to manage whatever “someone” has set them up with “sometime” ago. Everything known was in “someone’s” head and nowhere else and now they are gone.

Rules for a happier electronic church life


Rather than rant about current travails serving as the impetus for this post, let me offer some suggestions to help you avoid these and other pitfalls:

1. Maintain hardcopy records!

Document everything, especially for anything related to electronics (computers, email, social media, websites, hosting, network services, etc.). Keep one file folder in a file cabinet that contains complete information on every vendor and their complete contact information, every URL, every login, every password, everything and anything that is related to each account or service. Keep this information organized and up-to-date. Every time a change is made, put the new information on paper and into the file. Having documentation will also help you avoid billing scams (see E-gads! The slings & arrows of managing your Internet presence & domain name).

2. Spend money.

Don’t be cheap. Free is never truly free, and often these services are unreliable. When something goes wrong (and something will go wrong), free services seldom provide good or any support. The “costs” for those free services skyrocket once one or more people have to invest their time to research, troubleshoot, get on the phone, etc. trying to resolve a problem. Plus, toss in downtime, lowered productivity, loss of emails, etc., and it’s easy to see how expensive “free” can truly be. It’s far better to spend a little money for an easily accessible service than spend countless hours trying to fix what was supposed to be “free.”

3. Keep it simple.

When setting up a website, creating email aliases, etc., keep everything as simple and straightforward as possible. Avoid creating some complex unique interplay among a variety of services. Understand that most people who will be responsible for managing the services when you’re not around are people who barely know how to turn a computer on. In other words, they are not technical savants so you need to keep everything as simple as possible.

4. Process your documents.

Once upon a time when you bought a computer or software, a nice hefty manual was included. No more. Now you are more likely to find a postcard-sized note pointing you to a PDF online. Don’t assume you’ll always be able to find a manual online later. Download and organize those manuals immediately onto a CD, DVD, or thumb drive (not your computer) and keep them all together in one place. If an actual paper manual came with your software, hardware, or service, keep these in the same place you are keeping the electronic files.

5. Document your processes.

This point is hugely important. Any job I’ve ever held, I’ve always made it a point to organize my files and document what I did so that if, heaven forbid, I died in a car accident or from choking on a chicken bone, whoever took my place would be able to hit the ground running. Anyone helping with their church’s technology needs should approach it like a job, not a casual hobby or afterthought.

Countless hours are lost and heads de-haired trying to recover logins and passwords, hunt down vendors and services, and recreate non-existent processes and procedures. Point #1 covers the vendors, passwords, and logins. This point relates to documenting how you do what you’re doing when you’re not there to do it.

What does this entail? Here are some examples:
  • If you manage a website, write out instructions on how to access the website, how to make changes, how to upload pages, how to size images, and so forth.
     
  • If you’ve created email aliases, write out instructions on how to access the service you used, a list of aliases and the emails they are associated with, and how to change existing aliases and add new ones.
     
  • If your domain name is registered in one place and you’ve pointed the URL to a different service while redirecting your email to yet another service, write out instructions on where these services exist, how to access them (logins and passwords) -- in other words everything someone needs to know to make changes.
     
  • If you move away leaving the church, make sure everyone who needs to know has contact information for you and what you were responsible for. Always be available to help if called upon, even years later.

Basically, any time someone asks you, “How do I....?” write out the answer and add it to your documentation (think FAQs). All of these items should be created in both electronic and hardcopies, with the hardcopies placed with or near all the account information (see #1).

By the way, anyone hired by a church (or any organization) and paid to provide a technology service should always leave behind adequate documentation. It’s part of what you’re being paid for.

6. Never assume. 

If you, like me, have some communications and tech savviness and are tapped to help your church with a website or something related, never assume things are setup in any “normal” sense. Just recently in trying to help fix something, I assumed just that (meaning I expected things to be set up in a logical way like I would do it) and ended up breaking what was working before discovering that how it was configured was a little wacky. If I’d taken the time to check the domain’s DNS settings, I would have seen things were unusual and that what I wanted to do wouldn’t work. And I should have done a screen grab of the “before” settings so I’d know how to put everything back if, as it did, things went awry.

Lesson learned. Notes taken. Apologies issued. And fortunately things were restored fairly quickly with no loss of life and only a few pulled hairs.

Order in the church! Order in the church!


Paul’s well known exhortation in 1 Corinthians 14:40 -- “Let everything be done decently and in order” -- addressed how Christian gatherings should be managed. The goal was to avoid chaos and keep the focus on glorifying God. This is good advice for all aspects of church worship and management, including all things electronic and online.

The Message version has Paul saying, “Be courteous and considerate in everything.” Documenting everything well so those who come behind you will be able to easily continue what you’ve started is exactly that: courteous and considerate.

So, to sum up, here are your takeaways simplified:
  • Document everything.
  • Understand free can be costly.
  • Keep things straightforward.
  • Retain product and service manuals.
  • Create process and instruction documentation.
  • Never assume.

To put it biblically, “Keep [these rules] and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples....” (Deuteronomy 4:6, ESV).



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Have you encountered problems similar to those I’ve described? How did you resolve them? What tips and tricks have you developed to manage your communication products and services? Please share your experiences and ideas in the comments!

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