Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Brief Review: Cutting the Bible down to (big) bite size

The Bible is a big book. Picking it up for the first time can be intimidating.

After all, it’s a book that contains 66 books! And each of those books often contain dozens of chapters. Plus the whole thing is broken out broadly into two “testaments” and broken down on a more granular level into “verses.”


And these are just the structural challenges. When you toss in the grand themes, the various literary styles, all the characters, and more, well, it can be a little overwhelming.

Still, for any true believer, becoming familiar with God’s Word is essential to a godly life and overall spiritual well-being.

Fortunately there are a variety of helps available that can make accessing the Bible and grasping key themes a little bit easier.

A good one is Believe: Living the story of the Bible to become like Jesus which has just been released by Zondervan.

The back cover copy describes the book, stating,
“Grounded in carefully selected Scripture, Believe, NIV is a unique spiritual growth experience that takes you on a journey to think, act, and be more like Jesus. General editor and pastor Randy Frazee walks you through the ten key Beliefs of the Christian faith, the ten key Practices of a Jesus-follower, and the ten key Virtues that characterize someone who is becoming more like Jesus.”

A big book breaking down a bigger book

The book is divided into three broad categories of ten chapters per category. These are:
  • Beliefs: What do I believe?
  • Practices: What should I do?
  • Virtues: Who am I becoming?
The bulk of the book consists of extensive excerpts from the NIV arranged around 30 topics in as many chapters. If you already own one or more Bibles, the inclusion of these excerpts is not particularly advantageous. In fact, if they were stripped out, you’d be left with a much smaller “study guide” rather than a full “book.”

However, for those who don’t own a Bible, own a Bible but not the NIV, or don’t like carrying around multiple books, the included scripture excerpts will be a plus.

Each chapter focuses on a single of aspect of Christian living such as church, prayer, spiritual gifts, self-control, and faithfulness.

Frazee offers clarifying commentary that introduces and ties together the excerpts.

Included at the end of the book are discussion questions for each chapter.

A good reference for new believers & others

Believe: Living the story of the Bible to become like Jesus is designed as a follow-up to The Story  that was a resource and program several churches have taken advantage of in recent years. A website for Believe -- -- points to additional related tools being released throughout 2015.

This is a good resource for an extended small group study or for use by an individual. It is especially valuable for newer believers, or any believer wishing to better understand and live out their faith.

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.

Have you read “The Story”? If so, what was your experience like? Are there other resources similar to “Believe” that you would recommend for gaining a better understanding of the Bible and faith? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Clap On! Clap Off!

 I wrote this meditation a few years ago. It's included in Words for Winter.

It’s that time of year again when the TV is filled with visions of sugar plums, Chia Pets®, rosy-snouted reindeer, and those ever-popular commercials for The Clapper®—that favorite Christmas gift perfect for everyone in the family!

What a cleverly wonderful little gadget. Plug it in and then clap your hands all ye people and shout with a voice of triumph when your stuff goes on and off from way across the room.

The Clapper turns things on and off. The apostle Paul exhorts us to put things off and put things on. In Ephesians 4:22-24, he says “to put off your old self…and to put on the new self.” Or, un-deck yourself of the old and don ye now your new apparel.

But unlike with The Clapper, what Paul says to put off is supposed to stay off. What is put on is totally different and to be kept on. Often, though, we allow circumstances to clap us on or clap us off spiritually!

Life is good…clap on…shout “Glory!” Life hurts…clap off…woe is us, take us back to Egypt!

Wouldn’t it be better to be like the amazing Ginsu Knife! It cuts nails, saws lumber, and still slices tomatoes—tough, yet gentle. It has a lifetime warranty—an eternal benefit. But wait, there’s more! It comes with several handy gadgets—equipped to deal with a wide variety of circumstances. No matter what it comes up against, the Ginsu can always cut it.

As we move into yet another new year, may we clap off the old, clap on the new, grow in the Spirit like well-watered Chia Pets, and live on the Ginsu-cutting edge of God’s amazing promises. Don’t delay! Act now! And have a wonderful year.

What are some of the Christmas memories you treasure? Share them in the comments! Read more like this in Words For Winter: A small collections of writings for the season, available for Kindle or in Paperback.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Madrigals, Leonard Cohen, perfection, Della Mae Tronchuk, target practice, Paul (no, not the Beatle) & process

I like to sing. Always have. Especially at Christmas.

I’ve got an okay voice, although it’s not as good as it used to be. Still, I’ve not gone the way Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan have over the years. I can carry a tune in a bucket without sounding like I’m gargling a bucket of gravel at the bottom of a well. Usually.

And I'm a fan of both Dylan and Cohen, by the way.

In junior high I was in the choir. In high school I was in Madrigals and, yes, had to dress in those silly costumes of green tights and big hats with floppy feathers. Not one of my more proud memories.

In college I was in chorale and even tapped by the director to help fill in the tenor section of his church choir, and got paid for it! So I guess that means for a time I was a professional singer.

As a kid, my sister and I did duets in church. She played the piano and I hid behind her while we sang. Even if I was soloing, I’d still hide behind her. I love to sing, but not as much when I’m doing it by myself in front of people.

But I do love the “song service” portion of Sunday morning church. Well, except when it’s Christmas and carols are avoided. Or the worship leader has chosen a song better sung by pre-pubescent boys with ridiculously high voices. Or when a traditional hymn is re-cast with a “modern” or “fresh” tune that is foreign to the ear leading everyone in the congregation to hit false instead of familiar notes.

These are the times I miss hymnals.

Still, I will struggle to follow along and even occasionally manage to find a harmony to fall into.

I’m not a perfectly good singer but I do my best.

The impossible command

I think Matthew 5:48 is one of the most dreaded verses in the Bible. In it Jesus states somewhat bluntly, “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Seriously? Be as perfect as God is perfect? In this lifetime?

From my flailing experience, living a perfect life just isn’t possible. And this one verse has always given me a touch of angst.

I’m not a fan of “positive thinking” or “motivational” literature, seminars, or those who are often obnoxiously proponents of them.

Their posters shout such inanities as “Think it! Be it!” Or, “A high mountain is a molehill to the positivity minded!” Or, “Only believe your way to success!”

You know the shtick.

So, for a long time, Matthew 5:48 felt a lot like one of those absurd positivisms. But it’s not. It’s a command straight from the mouth of Jesus so it carries far more weight than a positive thinking truism on a bumper sticker.

A couple of things helped me get a better handle on how to live out this command, albeit not flawlessly.

Being perfect isn’t about being flawless

First, since context is critical, another biblical passage helped shed some light. James 1:4-5 explains, “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Here, “perfect” is used again in a more clarifying context that points to the word’s true meaning. This is coupled with the advice about going to God for the wisdom which is another clue.

In Greek, the word “perfect” is teleios which carries the connotations of completeness, maturity, and being full grown. This is unlike how we tend to think of “perfection” in terms of, say, a flawless diamond or unblemished skin. In scripture the meaning tends more toward “having all you need to do what’s required of you.”

People who are “perfect” for their jobs are equipped with knowledge, training, tools, and the like so that they are “completely” ready to do their work well. The same is true for Christians when it comes to living a godly life.

As James puts it, we are “complete, lacking in nothing,” because God fully equips us through his Holy Spirit with all we need to live out Jesus’ commands. We can also ask for what we feel we lack.

Thinking high to avoid falling flat

Second, what I learned in choir about staying on pitch was helpful.

To be the only one off-key in a choir can be devastatingly embarrassing. To be soloing and come in flat sounds way worse than being a little sharp. It was my high school choir teacher, Della Mae Tronchuk, who taught me how to hit a note perfectly.

“Think high,” she always told us. Or, rather, semi-screamed at us during rehearsals as she bounced around looking half-crazed waving her hands in perfect time.

“Think above the note,” she shouted. “You’ll be more likely to hit it!”

She was right.

The same advice -- aiming a little high -- also came on the rifle range, one of my favorite Boy Scout summer camp activities. Aiming right at the bull’s-eye on a target always put you below it. But aiming just slightly above increased your chances of being dead on.

Funny how this all works.

Resistance is not’s a process

The Apostle Paul provides even more clarification about this “being perfect” stuff when he instructs us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV).

Many in society eschew conformity as a bad and restrictive thing. So their response is to be non-conformist (aka “different”) by emulating those viewed as culturally hip, in, with-it, chic, trendy. Basically they trade one line of conformity for another, all of it away from godliness.

Paul says that to be “perfect” in the eyes of the One Who Matters requires going a completely different direction, being truly counter-cultural -- aiming higher -- not just being different.
You won’t hit the bull’s eye by aiming directly at it. You won’t sing on key by trying to hit the note dead on. You can’t be perfect by going with the flow.

And perfection is not a “once and done” effort. It’s a process.

Paul again notes, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1, ESV). Other translations replace “bringing holiness to completion” by stating simply, “perfecting.”

Cleansing, or washing ourselves off, whether it’s a shower or daily devotions in the morning, is an ongoing process to be repeated as often as necessary.

We don’t need to settle for trying to live a good life or even a best life now. By aiming a little higher, leaning on God for all we need to be complete, we can live a godly life and stay in tune.

If we do go “off key”? Fortunately, his mercies are new every morning and he allows all the do-overs we need (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Looking toward the New Year, let us all resolve to aim higher, resist, renew, be transformed daily.

After all, it’s not about being flawless, but rather, about being faithful.

Is being good good enough? How do you deal with trying to live a perfect life? Do you always feel equipped to live in a godly manner? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Four Christmas Poems

Christmas poems from “The Godtouch”*

The Shepherds

The night began as any other
night begins with darkness,
starred sky, and imploding
But the slow rising moon
was followed by a brighter star
that settled strangely low
over the glowing town beyond the rise.
This bright beaming newcomer
became the topic
of their quiet evening murmuring
as they sat glowing
around the warming fire.

Then the night dissolved in sudden terror
as the star seemed to fall
right on them, flashing huge
and hovering over their frightened
bowed and befuddled forms.
As they cowered, awestruck
and trembling against the frosted ground,
they heard voices.
Above their disbelieving heads,
the star was talking to them,
                     singing to them,
inviting them to look up to see faces,
briefly, angels with a message.
Then nothing but silence blowing
over the low Christmas christened hills.

They rose, still trembling, stunned, awed,
and curious. They made their way,
wondering, sensing hope,
toward the soft glow of Bethlehem,
just below the beckoning star. 

* * * * * * *

The Angels

The presses of heaven
were stopped.
The rumored event had happened,
and cherubim had the scoop.
It was Christmas for the first time.
And as if they couldn't wait
for the morning's first edition,
the angels burst brilliantly
over the front page of the sky
with a joyous banner headline
and a miraculous news story.
And the shepherds, like excited paperboys,
delivered the heralded word
from street corner to stable
as they made their way
to the scene of this sensational event.
And as they gazed at the child,
they kept one ear tuned toward the sky
just in case
late breaking additional information
were to come over the wire
from the choiring heavenly press room.

* * * * * * *

The Nativity

AS helpless as he was,
he deserved more privacy.
Yet they gathered and stared,
not completely understanding what they saw,
just that they had to see ...

Mary was tired and sore and a little sick.
But she had heard the heralding angels
and knew they would come, that they had to come.
To see this new small life
that had been holy conceived inside her.
She did what she could to tidy the dusty stall,
putting fresh hay in the manger
and carefully wrapping the child
in her only spare clean skirt. There was no more,
for the time, to be done. She smiled bravely, trying
to look her best, trying to collect her thoughts
and slow her racing heart ...

Joseph stood by,
beside his beloved young wife,
uncertain how to act, how to stand.
He was a father, yet not a father.
He was proud of his brave Mary, and awed
by this birth. Just moments before
she had been wracked by the shrieking pains of labor.
And above her screams and sobs, he could have sworn
he heard singing. Voices, sweet like only voices
of angels could be. Then
the child's first gasping cries
crashing against the impinging darkness.
He wasn't sure he would ever understand
what was taking place, and not sure he wanted to.
Shifting his weight, he stood silent,
his brow creased in thought, watching
the gathering people ...

The shepherds, gesturing from stall to sky,
began talking in quick, excited words
about what they had seen and heard in the hills.
How night turned to noon,
and of angel choirs singing tidings of joy
and birth, and the child, found just as was promised,
small, red, and wrinkled, sleeping next
to cattle and chickens ...

It was all too amazing. Yet,
he lay quietly dozing, having just been fed,
not totally unaware of the world,
but not more so than any other newborn.
He deserved more privacy.
Yet they would never leave him alone.
But always come to him, time after time,
to adore and obey, or to mock and kill,
as the paradox of Christmas
began burning in their hearts.

* * * * * * *

The Wisemen

Miniature magi march majestically
down the middle aisle of the church
mistakenly placed in the annual Christmas pageant.
They really came two years later
to give their gifts and long considered
adoration to the patient child.
But in our modern reenactment
of this eternal event,
the kings come to the stable
along with the sheep and the shepherds.
God doesn't mind
this once-every-year-error,
because the message is still clear.
Magic is vanquished by the intense reality
of this fragile fatal incarnation
worshipped in remembrance
at every church that is our Bethlehem.
Bathrobe wrapped wisemen
bearing gifts of gold painted cardboard
and mom's empty perfume bottles
make up an inexact scene.
But draw us just as strongly just the same,
to that holy point beneath the star
that burns His perfection into our hearts,
daily becoming His wisemen.

* * * * * * *

Merry Christmas to all!

 These are from my only collection of poetry, “The Godtouchwhich you can get using these links:

• Kindle version.



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Calls Us Home

 I wrote this meditation a few years ago. It's included in Words for Winter.

Christmas calls us back and calls us home, swelling our world with promise, hope, and great expectations. We become children again, leaving footprints in the snow, tracking the way to where the heart draws.

Cold and snow drive us to the warmth of being together. Lights blinking in windows and bright stars in the darkening sky lead and guide us.

Oak, hickory, and pine smoke scents the crisp air. A thick blanket of snow wraps us in intimate quietness. The white earth glows in the brimming moonlight and crunches beneath our booted feet.

Opening the door, fresh baked cookie steam sheens our pinked-cheek faces. We are home and safe. It’s Christmas again.

It is the season of redemption that we carol. New life is His gift, green and fresh as a Christmas tree trimmed brightly with love, joy, and peace.

A candle glows, the star of Bethlehem, above a tiny nativity where frozen figures stand their roles as they do faithfully year after year. And just as faithfully, the Christ whose birth we celebrate stands guard over our hearts, a stable, immutable presence.

The child-man, Jesus, who is the Star of Bethlehem, the Dayspring, the Candle of Love lighting our hearts, heralds us back to Him, to a life evergreen and bright, to shine forever against the night.

What are some of the Christmas memories you treasure? Share them in the comments! Read more like this in Words For Winter: A small collections of writings for the season, available for Kindle or in Paperback.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What exactly did you meme by that? Things Jesus didn’t (& wouldn't) say...

I love a good quote. Especially quotes about writing. One of my favorites is from Peter De Vries who said, “I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.”

So true.

Another good one comes from Gene Fowler: “Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Yes, writing can be sweet torture!

Witty, humorous, and inspirational quotes from well-known or barely-known people can be fun to share and hang on our cubicle walls.

A lot of people like to share favorite scripture passages.

Standing on the paper promises of God

When I was a kid, Promise Boxes were a big deal and the source of good quotes. Just about everyone I knew had at least one in their house.

Basically, a promise box was some sort of attractive container made of wood or plastic that held a few dozen slips of heavy paper about 1 inch by 3 inches. Some boxes were cleverly crafted in the shape of loaves of bread with the mini-cards in the top, offering “daily bread.”

Nicely printed on each mini-card would be a “promise” verse from the Bible. For example, verses such as these:
  • “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” - Romans 8:1, ESV
  • “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” - 2 Corinthians 5:7, ESV
  • “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” - Jeremiah 29:11, ESV
  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” - Romans 8:28, ESV
Promise box verses tend always to be positive, upbeat, and generally what would be called faith-affirming.

Don’t harsh my promise box

What you probably won’t find in a promise box are verses like these:
  • “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.” - Matthew 24:9, ESV
  • “And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” - Mark 13:13, ESV
  • “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake.” - Luke 21:16-17, ESV
  • “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” - 2 Timothy 3:2, ESV
Ouch! Sometimes the truth hurts.

It’s this imbalance of scripture presented that cause some to look askance at promise boxes.  “Promise box faith” is not seen as particularly well-rounded or mature.

Depending on a promise box for your scripture in-take is like nibbling on snacks instead of eating full, well-rounded meals.

Promise boxing your way through life is as bad as trying to be healthy while eating only junk food.

In fact, the way some use their promise boxes can be akin to seeking wisdom from daily horoscopes or finding more than entertainment in a fortune cookie. If you’re wondering, these are not good things.

Meme me up, Scotty!

With the advent of social media, something new has come along that fills the same function of promise boxes. Today, we have memes!

Positive and happy sounding memes with backgrounds of kittens, flowers, and sunsets abound on Facebook, Instagram, Imgur, Twitter, and all over the Interwebs espousing meme faith.

The positive, inspirational, and uplifting quotations come from people with very diverse worldviews.

On the surface, they seem harmless. But, for people of faith who pledge allegiance to the inspired Word of God, many are far more troublesome than proof-texted verses from a promise box.

Why? Because many meme quotes, besides not being scripture, aren’t even scripturally defensible. They are empty words that can deceive (Ephesians 5:6).

For example, a popular meme passed around recently bore this quote: “Whatever makes you feel bad, leave it. Whatever makes you smile, keep it.”

Can you imagine Jesus saying something like this? Just look back up a few sentences to those examples of not-so-happy Bible verses. All of them contradict this meme quote.

What makes this even more egregious is the meme with this quote was passed around and applauded by a lot of believers.

Let’s look at a few more meme quotes up against scripture:
  • Meme says: “Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.”
    Bible says:
    “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” - Mark 16:15, ESV
  • Meme says: “All I want is for my children to be happy.”
    Bible says:
    “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” - 3 John 1:4, ESV
  • Meme says: “You cannot hang out with negative people and expect to live a positive life.”
    Bible says:
    “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” - Matthew 11:19, ESV (Or, how about Jesus “hanging out” on the cross between two criminals and one being influenced positively into heaven described in Luke 23?)
You get the idea.

Eschewing memes for the solid food of truth

Just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it is good, or right. A critical aspect of the mature Christian life is the development of discernment. 

When it comes to memes and inspirational quotes:
  • We need to discern the truth and value of what’s shared with us: Allowing nice-sounding truisms that really aren’t truth to seep into our thinking can quietly undermine our faith like a growing cavity on an unbrushed tooth. In other words, it’s bad leaven. (Matthew 16:12)
  • We need to discern the impact of what we share with others: Sharing truisms that promote philosophies and worldviews counter to scripture calls our own faith into question, creates confusion, and casts doubt on the validity of the Gospel. In other words, we become the bad leaven. (1 Timothy 5:5-7)
Before buying into or sharing a meme quote, here are a couple of simple tests to help clarify its value:
  • Can you imagine Jesus saying it? If you can’t then you probably shouldn’t share it or dwell on it. (John 14:6)
  • Does it jibe with scriptural truth? If not, then sharing it could mean sharing a lie and we’re called to share truth! (Philippians 4:8)
Dr. John White wrote, “For the Christian the essence of honesty lies in not only being faithful to the truth but to the Truth.”

While memes can be fun and provide a quick hit of inspiration, anything that inspires us away from solid truth -- or the Truth (Jesus) -- is dangerous. There’s nothing trivial about flippantly sharing a cute meme that conveys something askew.

Eugene H. Peterson stated, “Good poetry survives not when it is pretty or beautiful or nice but when it is true: accurate and honest.”

The same could be said for good memes. And you can quote me on this.

Do you agree or disagree? What memes have you encountered that seemed a tad off? Is the content of a meme really all that important? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Just for fun:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Message

 I wrote this meditation a few years ago. It's included in Words for Winter.

The season speaks to us, a secret signaled incessantly in blinking lights and garland flags of pine and tinsel. Green with hope and red with joy, the message turns our thoughts outside our own needs, desires, and wants.

Trees suddenly grow indoors, decorated with memories, bearing the fruits of love and time. Gilded and ribboned packages magically appear under these incongruous evergreens – expectations and dreams captured in cardboard boxes.

At night, the air aglow with star shine on the snow, wisps of angel songs drift white and pure straight into our hearts. We gather inside our homes around hearths ablaze, warmed by goodwill and God’s grace. On the mantel, the story of Christ’s birth is played out in a motionless menagerie, objects of simplicity and awe.

Through eyes of innocence, we look past the nascent Nativity, just beyond the horizon of the season, where the new year waits poised with promise. The Message of the season fells fear of the future as the immanence of Christ’s presence is again heralded by the world.

Childlike, we are reborn, our voices and souls caroling the Gift of the Ages, in whom we live, and move, and have our being. It’s Christmas. Emmanuel is come. Maranatha!

What are some of the Christmas memories you treasure? Share them in the comments! Read more like this in Words For Winter: A small collections of writings for the season, available for Kindle or in Paperback.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Telling the truth in love & paying the price

(Originally posted August 24, 2012;
posted here with minor edits)

Just about any time a heated discussion crops up and Christians are involved, someone will invoke the “Tell the truth in love!”rule.

The implication is that someone is saying something that is uncomfortable for another to hear. Perhaps there’s the feeling someone’s being a tad harsh or judgmental. At the least, the concern is that someone is being told something they don’t want to hear or don’t agree with.

So, we exhort one another to “Tell the truth in love!” as if that will unsquirm the situation. This falls into the “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!” wisdom lore. The added sugar is not particularly healthy for you.

To soften the blow of a harsh but necessary truth, we’ll mince our words, shuffle our feet, preface our remarks with qualification, and seek permission:
“Uh, do you mind if I’m honest with you…?”

“You know, to be perfectly truthful…..”

“Well, I don’t mean to harsh your mellow, but it is, you know, the truth after all….”

Often, when the one being truthed is resistant they will respond with something like, “Well, that’s your truth, but it’s not my truth!”

Who says the truth isn’t supposed to hurt?

Somehow we’ve fallen under the delusion that telling one another the truth isn’t supposed to ever be painful, especially when it’s done with “love.”

This leads to the false conclusion that if the truth hurts, what’s being said or done is hateful or mean.

The reality?

Well, to be perfectly honest and truthful – the truth, when it’s really the truth, will probably sting a little.

Truth calls out wrong and says there needs to be a change. Truth separates the good from the bad, righteousness from sinfulness, light from dark, the truth from lies.

Truth is absolute and firmly grounded in God’s word which is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).

For Christians all truth is God’s truth, and Jesus is the Truth.

Applying truth to a situation is going to sting and that’s a good thing. Like when you put iodine on a cut.

Everything hangs on the hinge of love

The phrase “telling (or speaking) the truth in love” comes smack dab in the middle of chapter 4 from Ephesians (scroll down to see the full text at the end of this post). This is one of the Apostle Paul’s great letters where he is taking the church of Ephesus to task on several items. In other words, using the Gospel truth, he’s intent on whipping them into shape.

In the first half of the chapter, Paul is telling the Christians of Ephesus (and us) how they are supposed to behave, reminding them of their calling in Christ. He points them to unity in Christ through being true to the gifts (specific callings, talents, aptitudes, etc.) that they have been blessed with.

In the second half of the chapter, he goes on to tell them how not to behave. He contrasts the Christ-redeemed mindset against the mindset of the world around them (the Gentile world, meaning the unredeemed, unchristian world).

The goal is to grow up in spiritual maturity by serving one another and through thinking and behaving differently; providing a contrast to the lost, sinful world swirling around them.

One of the evidences of spiritual maturity and a key component to differentiating the faithful from the faithless is the act of “speaking the truth in love.”

In fact, love is the hinge upon which the Christian life hangs and the mark that sets us apart.

Just before Jesus was crucified, he declared to his followers, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35, NIV).

A great exposition on this is The Mark of the Christian by Francis Schaeffer which you can read (abridged) online for free at

Sharing hard, inconvenient truths

As Christians doing our imperfect best to live godly, biblical lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are both called out and set apart from the world, as well as called to be salt and light into the world.

When it comes to our culture, our society, our community – however you wish to define your world – we are to be in but not of.

To be perfectly honest, this often puts us at odds with those around us when certain topics arise and we take our responsible and rightful stand on the truth.

For example, when it comes to homosexuality, the Bible is very clear that engaging in a same-gender sexual relationship is wrong in any context (Romans 1:24-32).

It’s just as wrong to engage in a heterosexual sexual relationship with someone you are not married to, whether fornication or adultery (Galatians 5:14-24, Ephesians 5:1-8).

The Bible is also clear that marriage is a different-gendered union involving one man and one woman (Genesis 1, Matthew 19:6, Ephesians5:21-33, 1 Corinthians 11:1-3).

There are many more issues like these where the Bible is clear on what is right and what is wrong in God’s eyes.

Christians have no problem with these truths.

Those who are not Christians do.


Because as Paul writes,
“[Christians] have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the [Holy] Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:12-4, NIV).

When, as followers of Christ, we stand on our convictions which are aligned with the Word of God and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we are generally not going to be well-received by others who do not have a biblical perspective.

They didn’t like Him, so they’re not going to like us

Being a Christian in the 21st century means the same thing it did in the 1st century: We will be walking out our faith in a hostile world.

  • There will be haters: Jesus said bluntly, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22, NIV).
  • There will be betrayals: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:12-13, NIV).
  •  There will be false friends pretending to be Christians: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, NIV).
  • There will be lies preferred over truth: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (1 Timothy 4:3-4, NIV).
  • There will be wolves among sheep: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-16, NIV).
  • There will be scoffers: “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.' But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water” (2 Peter 3:3-5, NIV).
  • There will be persecution: “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them” (Luke 21:11-13, NIV).

So now what are we supposed to do?

It can be hard being a Christian knowing that merely living out our beliefs will mean we are viewed and labeled (wrongly) as bigots, homophobes, haters, prudes, unintellectual, backwards, stupid, and many more much worse things.

In fact, being open about our faith could cost us jobs, relationships, clients, promotions, and more. It can draw abuse to ourselves and our families.

But living out our beliefs, our calling, our commitment to Christ does entail from time to time speaking truth to others and into our culture, our society, and our communities. It’s what Jesus did and commands us to do as salt and light.

A few years ago, atheist comedian Penn Jillette received a gift of a New Testament from a business man who had attended his show. He posted a video about the experience. He described the man as a sane, nice, kind, and a good man who looked him in the eye.

Note: This is a revised, shorter version of the original,
better video that Sony Pictures has removed from YouTub

Jillette stated, “If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you believe it’s not really worth telling them this because it would be socially much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that.”

The bottomline is that telling the truth (the Gospel) about the Truth (Jesus) is about as loving as one can be, even when it’s not what others want to hear.

To do otherwise, to withhold the truth, is to truly be a hater.

Yes, there are fools in the world & God loves us

Not too long ago someone posted on a social media site a statement to the effect that “God has an opinion about atheists.” They then quoted Psalm 14:1 that states, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

Another person, an atheist, took offense and posted, “So, are you saying God is calling me a fool?”

This was followed by a well-meaning Christian who was trying to tell the truth in love who posted, “Oh, no! God doesn’t mean that you’re a fool. God loves you!”

The truth of the matter is that, yes, God does love atheists! But that’s not the whole truth. Yes, God loves atheists…

When it comes to “speaking the truth in love” it’s not about being nice, sweet, and conciliatory.

It’s about saying things, intensely, sincerely, in our best Jack Bauer demeanor, but non-threateningly, such as, “You and I are going to die and spend an eternity in hell if we don’t make some serious changes. Now!”

We say it because it’s the truth. If they walk away, we don’t shoot them in the knees, but we also don’t pat them on the head and say “It’s okay,” as if we’re validating their sinful choice.

Instead, we love them, care about them, stand with them when they’re in pain, pray for them, give them a cup of water when they’re thirsty, be a friend to them, and continue to remind them from time to time of their need of salvation.

Truth applied lovingly pulls no punches, stands firm in its God-endorsed validity, and is spoken with humility and tears, knowing those who reject God’s truth and who reject God are facing an eternity in hell.

And hell is no party. And that’s the truth.


Ephesians 4, New King James Version (NKJV):
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says: "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men." Now this, "He ascended"--what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ -- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another. Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

Have you ever struggled to tell the truth in love? Have you been hurt when someone told you the truth in love? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I never got to be a wiseman, until now

(Originally posted December 25, 2012;
posted here with minor edits)

Christmas growing up always centered on church with the big event being the Christmas pageant.

In those days, we just called it the Christmas “program.” We were simple folk and “pageant” sounded a tad too uptown.

I always wanted to be a wiseman, but never made the cut. It was very disappointing and I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten completely over it.

By the time I was grown enough to fit the part, our little church had moved into the “modern day” by discarding the traditional reenactment of the Nativity.

Instead of the brilliant simplicity of the Christmas story read from the Bible and enacted by kids and teens costumed in bathrobes, towels, ingeniously pinned sheets, and a silent toy baby in a manger playing the part of Jesus, we moved to “skits” and “cantatas” that were supposed to make the Bible story more relevant.

These were miniaturized dramas and musicals cast in some contemporary setting that modernized the story of Jesus’ birth. It wasn’t so much about Him any longer as about the season and good feelings. Or so it seemed.

My attitude toward this was not progressive. I preferred the traditional retelling of the events. Still do.

Getting to the big day

On Christmas Sunday, which was whatever Sunday fell just prior to December 25th, that’s when it all happened.

In the morning service, it was always the little kids reciting lines from pieces of paper the size of fortune cookie fortunes.

All ages from the little to the small to the tiny participated. But no big kids, adults, or teens; they were on in the evening service.

Always there were a couple of little ones who couldn’t remember the four or seven words they were tasked to memorize, and so had to be coached by their teacher or parents mouthing the words, s-l-o-w-l-y, one at a time, exaggeratedly.

And, of course, there were the precocious kids that recited perfectly every word with the diction of an experienced Thespian.

Show offs.

But it was all adorable. And touching.

Parents ran to the front and jockeyed for position to capture the precious moment featuring their child sharing some tidbit about the coming of the Child.

In between the shuttling off stage and on stage the various age groups, we all sang Christmas carols.

Silent Night. O Come All Ye Faithful. Joy To The World. All the traditional greats.

We knew the tunes. We knew the words. And we sang our hearts out.

In fact, the carols during worship service (or what we called “the song service”) began on the first Sunday of December. The typical hymns, songs, and choruses were all sidelined. The month of December was all about singing the Christmas carols – the songs of the season sung only this one time of the year – and nothing else. Period.
Sidebar: Editorial comment 
I find it infinitely ironic that, today, there are worship leaders who refuse to sing more than a smattering of carols, claiming that people are tired of the them because they hear them over and over again in stores and on the radio throughout the month. Yet, these same worship leaders will put up the same choruses and songs week after week all year every year! Their arguments are baseless and they are nothing more than Christmas carol Scrooges and Grinches.
Back to the pageant prep

We began preparations right after Thanksgiving for the pageant. The casting calls went out, adult assistants were recruited, and the rehearsals began.

But really, we all knew the different parts by heart. The only questions were who would be cast as whom based on age and growth spurts. Whoever had the better looking bathrobes also factored in.

I moved up dutifully through the ranks.

I did the morning service several times as a small child, saying my part, and, later, participating in the song flute choir.

Everyone knew that every fourth grader was given a song flute at school so there was no dodging this duty.

And now the big show!

After my years of morning service appearances, it was onto the big stage of the evening service, our stage being nothing more than the raised front of the sanctuary. A wire was strung across the front and hung with sheets that acted as curtains. We kept it simple.

Over my years of Sunday performances I was an angel and a shepherd.

For boys, the progression went more or less like this: angel, shepherd, wiseman, and then, if you were lucky, Joseph, or maybe the innkeeper.

Every once in awhile a Roman soldier or miscellaneous bystander was tossed into the mix.

Do you see the problem here?

The same number of kids moved through the ranks, but while there was always a need for a “host” of angels and any number of shepherds, there were only three wisemen, one Joseph, and one innkeeper.

The competition for these roles heated up as we aged. It was all a matter of numbers. Although I’m guessing some backroom politicking went on among the mothers.

For girls, it was worse since they had to jump directly from angels to Mary and that was pretty much it.

Again, on occasion there would be a need for a female bystander or the innkeeper would get a wife. Sometimes girls even got to play shepherds. But these were all hit and miss.

Don’t forget the candy!

The pageant wasn’t the only thing we looked forward to on Christmas Sunday. Besides dreaming of the sweet part in the pageant we also longed for the special bag of candy.

Every year on Christmas Sunday every person in attendance got a small white paper bag of candy. There was also an orange or an apple included, but the candy was the real prize.

We all prayed that the bag we got would have one or two extra of those little caramel candies with the white sugary filling. Those were gold.

The handing out of the candy happened after the morning service and was executed decently and in order. No one took more than one bag unless a family member was home sick. After all, it was the season of colds and flus.

But the men who handed out the bags knew who was there and who wasn’t and we didn’t even have to ask for the extra bag; they knew.

As times changed and inflation grew as steadily as we did, the bags held less and less and the selection of candies became more limited.

Finally, before they were abandoned altogether, the fruit was eliminated and all that remained were a few pieces of the cheaper hard candies. The anti-sugar movement was the final stake. Bah! Humbug!

Being a real-life wise guy

I miss the bags of candy and the pageants. And I’ll most likely never get the chance to take on the role of one of the three wisemen in one.

But, for all of us, there are opportunities to be wise men and wise women every day. The Bible offers a lot of guidance on how to be wise. Here are four key tips:
  • Shun Evil: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7, NIV).
  • Embrace God: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise” (Psalm 111:10, NIV)
  • Seek Wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NIV).
  • Bank Knowledge: “Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin” (Proverbs 10:14, NIV).
Being wise in life is a lot tougher than donning a bathrobe and a cardboard crown and standing silently next to a makeshift manger as the narrator intones the Christmas story from the Word.

Real-life wisdom requires doing the Word.

There have been days that wisdom ruled. Others where, well, I played the fool way too well. Fortunately, God’s grace can redeem even the dumbest episodes.

His grace was made flesh in a manger in a cave a couple thousand years ago. About two years later, the original wisemen, the Magi, found him, were overjoyed, and worshipped him.

Those wise men had to travel from afar to find the Child, the King of kings. Today, we only have to travel to our knees and this King will take up residence in our hearts and be near to us day in and day out.

How to be a wise man or wise woman today? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).

So, I guess I made it after all!

But I still miss those bags of candy.

What are some of your Christmas memories? Does your church still hold simple pageants or conduct a larger “event” for Christmas? Feel free to share in the comments!