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).
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.

* 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!

This poem is included in this collection:

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.

*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).

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*)


* 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 out? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

This poem is included in this collection:

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.

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.


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).

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!


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Hearing voices

I hear voices, now and then.

I grew up in church in a time when you sang out of hymnals and not from projection screens. I still have one of the old, worn hymnals from my childhood church, rescued from the trash bin.

When do I hear voices?

On those rare occasions when the words of one of those old hymns illuminates the screen on Sunday morning. Amidst the strains of “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Just Over in the Glory Land,” or “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” I hear the tremulous voice of my mother.

Her name was Grace. While not perfect, she was a godly woman, and, man, could she sing! She instilled in me both the joy of singing and the power of God’s Word that was laced through the lyrics of those hymns.

When I sing an old hymn, I feel both the love of God and the love of a godly mother. Her faithfulness throughout her life is her legacy to me, my sister, and others who knew her.

Live to leave a legacy of faith for those around you.

“I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.” (2 Timothy 1:5, NLT).

Do you hear voices when you sing hymns? Are there other ways you hear the voices of those who have influenced you? Who has had the most positive spiritual impact in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Legion (#Poetry Monday*)

He had no name of his own,
but that which possessed him
called itself (themselves?) Legion.

When others weren’t trying
to chain him, something they
could never do,
he lived in caves, out in the
wilderness. Naked & crowded.

What filled his mind
was too horrible to bear.
He screamed, howled,
& cut himself with sharp rocks.

“Get out!” was the
only coherent thought
that broke through
the all-encompassing

Then He came.
Something about Him
was irresistible.

A new word, a name, like a
pinprick of hope & pain,
formed in his
awareness: Jesus!

Like a tongue
drawn tortuously
to a mouth sore,
Legion was compelled
to go see Him. To
(foolishly? arrogantly?)
confront Him.

Words were exchanged
& that which was Legion
was vomited out of the
man. Gone.

He sat, his mind clearing.
Someone gave him a garment.
He was clothed & coherent.
There stood Jesus, his Redeemer!

“Take me with you!”
he begged, grateful beyond words.
But, gently, Jesus said, “No.”

“Go!” He said. “Tell your family.
Tell your friends. Tell all what has
happened here. Tell them about Me.”

So he went. Unschooled. Untrained.
No credentials but his story.
To the Ten Cities he went & shared,

telling about Legion, about pain,
about how he met Jesus, received mercy,
& how everything changed.

All who heard the story
of this unnamed disciple
were amazed,
an eventual harvest
of redeemed legion seeded.

* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here.  An encounter with Christ is thoroughly transforming. All who are His are disciples and all disciples are called to take His message to others. No special training is required. How are you doing? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

This poem is included in this collection:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Necessary losses

So much of life is spent focused on accumulation.

From the moment of our birth we work to draw attention to ourselves, our needs, our wants. As we grow we turn to acquiring stuff and people, tallying everything up like Linkedin connections.

We gather into metaphorical baskets all the life-prizes we can, whether intangible praises or the material things that clutter our closets, attics, and garages. We hold on to everything we can. The more the better!

Instead of nurturing inquiring minds, our life’s motto is “Acquiring what’s mine!”

But even Solomon, who possessed about as much as it was possible to possess, concluded that an acquiring life was vanity. In the end acquisition leads to emptiness.

When Christ broke into the world, He proclaimed a radically different message.

“You want to be my disciple? Then you must let go of father, mother, spouse, children, siblings, and even your own life! You must give up everything and everyone else! Take up your cross! Follow me, even though I have no place to lay my head!”

This does not make for a good marketing message, and our first response to such an extreme demand is, “What’s in it for me?”

With a wry grin, Jesus looks us in the heart and says simply, “How about eternal life. Does that sound good?”

Yes! Of course it does. But is it really necessary to let go of everything? This is the struggle.

Like the well-intentioned rich young ruler, we want to know the minimum we need to do to gain eternal life.

We are happy to abide by rules and regulations, more or less. Being good is our daily bread.

We even give away some of what we have to those who are less fortunate. Especially when it makes a good tax write-off.

But, this giving up of everything. Well, that just seems a bit much. Certainly, we hope and pray, this is Jesus using hyperbole. Employing figures of speech for effect. Exaggerating to make a point.

But here’s the rub: in laying out these qualifications of what it takes to be His disciple, Jesus is being very literal and serious.

Ironically, it’s only through trust and commitment that we learn how necessary these losses are and that we gain the clarity to see the real value of all we let go of.

Paul got it and proclaims, “Everything else is rubbish compared to gaining Christ!”

Jesus made it clear reminding us that only the treasures we store in heaven are safe from entropy. The way to gain He Who is essential and truly important is through the loss of all else we foolishly hold as necessary.

By His hand and will all things hold together, and in Him we live and move and have our being.

Which leads us to the one true thing. The only good choice, the only reasonable way of life is as His disciple. Letting go, giving up, and gaining what really matters.

And that is not a loss at all.

How hard is it for you to let go of things, stuff, habits, ideas, beliefs, people, places, hopes, dreams, plans, and more you know God wants you to let go of? After finally letting go, what was your experience? Were you able to mourn the loss and move on? Please feel free to share your insights in the comments!

This book is a good resource addressing the need for losses in our life:

Monday, August 8, 2016

Treasured by Grace (#Poetry Monday*)

Shamed beyond shame,
she was dragged into the public square,
accursed, accused,
awaiting the law-endorsed abuse
to be heaped on heavy,
all hope siphoned,
she was the least of the least
in this single defining

But they paused,
turned to him with
cunning grins,
and asked,
“What do You say?”

He looked at her,
then at them,
and the crowd held its
breath as He stooped,
scribbled in the dust.

“What say You?”
they hissed their demand.

He stood, calmly,
and spoke. “Is any here
sinless? If so, go first.”
Then sat again and
resumed doodling
in the sand.

Shamed beyond shame,
they were stunned,
dropped their stones,
and turned away to their homes,
leaving her standing
alone to be treasured
by Grace.

* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. Our emotions and self-righteousness can lead us to make devastating choices, especially as it relates to the fates of others we deem unworthy, something less than ourselves. Jesus looks at the heart and sees what is there in both accuser and accused. Are there stones you are holding you need to let go of? No? What if you think about it in the context of politics? Maybe? How about in the context of those who have wounded you in the past? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments!

This poem is included in this collection:

Thursday, August 4, 2016

We are what we treasure: Following your heart into darkness or light?

Common pop “wisdom” found in romantic comedies and song lyrics is, “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

Often it’s employed to excuse impulsive behavior. While this could be as mundane as indulging in too much chocolate, it’s often related to questionable relationship choices.

The implication being that our desires erupt within us unbidden, uncontrollable, and must be answered. In other words, we have no choice but to act on these desires. Not following these random passions is considered unthinkable because, you know, “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

What’s truly unthinkable is believing our desires are not based on our choices. Otherwise, why would scripture warn us in Proverbs 4:23 to “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (NLT)?

In fact, Jesus cautioned that “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19, ESV).

How do all these things get into our hearts? We put them there.

Desires grow based on what our heart and mind is fed. If we treasure greed, lust, sex, darkness, and avarice in our hearts, from these treasures our desires will grow.

Another bit of pop wisdom is to just follow or listen to your heart. But Scripture counters with the caution, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 18:9, ESV).

What are we to do? Like Paul we want to cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, ESV)!

It comes down to what we treasure in our hearts. Or, as Paul examples, “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being...” (Romans 7:22, ESV).

Going back to Jeremiah and adding context, the solution becomes clear: “’But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’”(Jeremiah 17:7-8, ESV).

To ensure our hearts want the right things, we need to place our trust solidly in the Lord. We need to feed our hearts on the deep truths of God’s word.  It is through treasuring and immersing ourselves in the words God has spoken -- the Bible -- that our hearts can become healthy.

When computer programs go awry it’s often due to bad code. The programmer’s mantra is, “garbage in, garbage out,” meaning that if someone botched the code to begin with, then the program will deliver untrustworthy results.

The same is true with how we program our hearts and minds. If we put garbage in, we will get faulty results.

Instead, if we treasure in our hearts love, peace, generosity, selflessness, compassion, grace, and the like, the results will be more of the same.

What are you putting into you?

Do you believe love just happens or do you believe it’s a choice? Do you think it’s a good idea to just “follow your heart”? Why or why not? How do you guard your heart? Please feel free to share your insights in the comments!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Idols, fiery furnaces, invisible armies & elections: Ignoring two evils to choose a greater good

In 2 Kings 6, the servant of Elisha awakens, steps outside their abode, only to discover they are surrounded by the army of the king of Syria, who is not happy with Elisha.

You know that scene in “The Blues Brothers” where Jake and Elwood are finally cornered by the police in the Chicago county assessor’s office?

Picture that but with spears and swords instead of guns.

What the servant sees is an impossible situation with no way out. None. Kind of like the proverbial rock and a hard place scenario.

But Elisha knows better. Elisha knows there is more to the situation than meets the natural eye. And, by the way, I’m also pretty sure 2 Kings 6:19 is the inspiration for the great Star Wars line, “These aren’t the droids you are looking for.”

In Daniel 3, another dire situation builds up. King Nebuchadnezzar has a grand golden image of himself made. It’s a big, tall, shiny statue to which he then commands everyone in his kingdom to bow down and worship, or else. The penalty for refusing is death by fire. you probably know the story.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of God, said no. They knew God’s command against worshipping idols, nature, or men. They also knew the consequence of defying Nebuchadnezzar.

For choosing against what they could see and choosing for what was not visible, they were tossed into the fiery furnace. There they were joined by the Invisible Who became visible in that moment, and the three came out of the furnace unharmed and without even the smell of smoke on them.

What Elisha, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego understood is that when confronted with evil, there is always a better (not necessarily easier) way. Always.

Urging godly people to vote for evil

On July 7, 2016 I Tweeted, “Faith leaders bending reason like a pretzel to justify support for either candidate casts deep shade on their biblical exegesis skills.”

Right around the time of my Tweet, dozens of alleged evangelical leaders threw their support behind Donald Trump. Since then, other “notable” Christian leaders have issued further passionate arguments urging Christian followers to vote for Trump or Clinton.

All of these are making the fatal error of believing there are only two evil choices. That their preferred candidate is the “lesser” of those evils. And that choosing “wrongly” will doom America, and by some accounts, throw the whole world into chaos.

I fear for the souls of the men and women making these arguments. They seem to have lost touch with the God they claim to serve and are falling into a form of idolatry. They’re also doing damage to the reputations of every believer and to the Christian faith.

Neither Clinton nor Trump are saviors of anything.

God’s ways are not our ways, or the naturally seen ways

This summer our church has been looking at the attributes of God. Our pastor is covering them in his sermons and we’re diving a bit deeper in our adult Sunday school class. This past Sunday we looked at God’s wisdom.

The simple truth is that God is all-wise and that all true wisdom comes only from God. We as His children can tap into the vast expanse of His wisdom (James 1:5).

The practical application for us when seeking to act in wisdom is to aim for what most glorifies God. If a choice we makes does not glorify God, then it simply is not a wise or good choice.*

Based on all I’ve observed and read, the arguments being made by evangelical leaders for supporting either Trump or Clinton have nothing to do with glorifying God. Rather, they have everything to do with addressing personal biases, selfish motives, agenda-laden assumptions, dire forecasts, and a lot of fear.

For example, probably the single most cited issue is related to Supreme Court Judge nominations. The simple argument is that we can probably survive four (or God help us, eight) years of a “lesser evil” but will suffer for decades if they leave behind the wrong people on the big bench.

So, therefore, we must “help” God get the right “lesser evil” into the White House to ensure we get the “right” people in the Court.

What this entire argument neglects is, at minimum, a couple of really important points:
  1. Christians should not endorse, support, or validate people who are clearly “evil” regardless of whether that evil is “lesser” or not. Evil is evil. (Romans 1:32)
  2. God is sovereign. He doesn’t need our “help” to accomplish His goals. But He does require our obedience. Part of that obedience revolves around calling out and avoiding evil. (Psalm 47:2)

One more point to consider is that no one (other than God) can predict what any elected candidate will do once in office. It is a fact that every President has reneged on campaign promises. The promise to close Guantanamo which hasn’t happened is a recent example.

Why the post-election shift? Once in office, the perspective changes. Reality takes over. Minds rethink. Real motives emerge. New pressures come to bear. And, too often, the promises were nothing but lies to begin with.

There is zero guarantee that either candidate will make “better” Supreme Court appointments than the other will. Frankly, I don’t trust either of them. But that’s just me.

Eschewing the mark of every beastly evil

Revelation 13 reveals there will be those at the end of time who sellout to a “lesser” evil and align themselves with a beast of a leader. They gain food and lose their souls. I’ve always wondered how they would be so easily convinced to be marked. Given what’s happening today, I’m beginning to understand.

So what are we to do? How do we make a wise decision as to who to vote for?

Well, first, we should all be doing what we all should always be doing, and that’s steeping ourselves in God’s Word.

If you call yourself a Christian but aren’t reading the Bible daily, then you need to just shut up about who to vote for. Seriously. You have nothing of value to say. At least not to or on behalf of Christians.

As for the Christian “leaders” trying to sway people to pick from one of two evils, they need to examine their motives, lay aside agendas, and take a fresh look at God’s word.

As I stated above, the best decision will center on “what will most glorify God.” This is especially true when there is no specific Bible verse to lean on for the decision.*

And the way to determine what will most glorify God is to immerse and wrap ourselves in His Word so that it permeates our thinking, bending our thoughts and desires to His thoughts and desires.

If we are not always being conformed to God and His word, then we are being conformed to the world, and that’s a very dangerous place to be.

At the very least when you’re looking for godly advice and solutions, you need to turn to godly resources and people.

To help, here’s a little mnemonic I shared with the Sunday school class using the word “wisdom” to help lead to better solutions and decisions:
W - Whoa! Take a breath. Stop. Slow down. Look. Listen. Take time to think and pray.

I - Information. Gather data from reliable sources. Get the real facts and cull out the spin.

S - Study. Review the information you’ve gathered. Fill in gaps. Verify and validate your sources. Again, cull out the spin.

D - Discern. Lay down personal biases, wants, desires, fears, hopes, preconceived notions, and seek to truly discern God’s will. This is a critical step that requires familiarity with the Bible and a relationship with Jesus.

O - Observe. Look at the situation in light of your information to see if it fits, if it still makes sense. Be willing to have your mind changed in light of newly encountered facts.

M - Move. Make a decision and move forward in faith, listening to God as you go, seeking to always bring Him glory.

Attempting to achieve godly wisdom without an ongoing relationship with Jesus activated by the Holy Spirit and seeking the mind of God in prayer is futile.

Here’s where I’ve come out on this

I cannot predict what a person will or won’t do in the future. As I’ve mentioned, once in office, the perspective changes and intentions shift. But I do know the revealed character that both major party candidates, and others, have presented up to now. Like the Bible makes clear, by their fruits we can glimpse their hearts. I can only act on what I can see right now.

Because of what I’ve seen and discerned, I cannot support either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for President. These are not the candidates I’m looking for.

But I will vote.

For me, the best argument I’ve come across has been presented by Russell Moore (Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils? Even at the ballot box, morality is not relative).

Moore dispels the myth that our only choice is between the two major party candidates, affirms our responsibility to vote, and points to the options of writing in a viable candidate or voting for one of the third party candidates. He also reminds us that there will be other people and issues on the ballot needing our attention.

He explains, “When Christians face two clearly immoral options, we cannot rationalize a vote for immorality or injustice just because we deem the alternative to be worse. The Bible tells us we will be held accountable not only for the evil deeds we do but also when we ‘give approval to those who practice them’” (Rom. 1:32).

As Christians, our ultimate accountability is not to our country, our party, our state or city; not even to our family, friends, or children; or even the future. Our ultimate accountability is to God. He calls on us not for our help, but for our obedience.

Supporting clearly deficient candidates does not glorify God. Urging others to support clearly deficient candidates does not glorify God. Contorting one’s faith and theology to justify supporting clearly deficient candidates does not glorify God, but rather does great harm to the Christian church.

As did Elisha, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, I know God is not limited, especially by a two-party system that’s badly broken. The choices may not be readily visible to the natural eye, but they’re there.

As the three Hebrews explained to Nebuchadnezzar, things may get hot and uncomfortable, but “we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Insisting that our only choice is a lesser of two evils is a false idol of an idea we don’t need to bow down to.There is always a better way. With Elisha I pray, “O Lord, please open our eyes that we may see.”

Additonal Resources:

I know that I probably won’t change anyone’s mind, which is disheartening. But I thought I’d give it a shot. Another of my Tweets stated, “So it’s a "roaring lion” vs. an angel of light.” I’d rather be between a Rock and a hard place. (1 Pet 5:8; 2 Cor 11:14; Ps 18:2; Ps 40:2).

I wonder if God is actually trying to get our attention and pull us away from our dependency on our two-party system. Perhaps He wants us to consider the “invisible way and that by choosing differently He will reveal His glory more amazingly than we could imagine. What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Are you unsure of what to do, who to vote for? Please feel free to weigh in -- civilly -- in the comments.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Just a thought (#Poetry Monday*)

It seems there’s always something to
angrily protest
angrily get belligerent over
angrily burn in anger at
angrily chant about.

“Hell no, we won’t go!”

“We are the 99%!”

“No justice, no peace!”

“Take it down! Take it down!”

It gets to a point where
it seems nothing but
a lot of empty noise,
a lot of pointless chaos in the streets
a lot of ratings bait on the TV news
a lot of dismal profanity.

Yet those shouting claim to be
starting a dialogue
starting a conversation
trying to raising consciousness about
trying to bringing awareness to.

if we lay down the bullhorns,
if we lower our voices,
if we take a breath
if we become calm,
and then turn to the person beside us
and then talk about what’s on our mind
and then listen to what’s on their mind,
and then repeat this process
tolerantly, over and over,
over a cup of warm coffee
or a cool glass of sweet tea,
it would be a better beginning
to the fair change
we all seem to want.

* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. Yelling, lighting things on fire, chanting, cursing at people -- why do we think these are effective ways to make our points? Why is it always so hard for us to sit down, have a cup of coffee, and engage in real conversation? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

This poem is included in this collection: