Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The foolishness of the message

I read a lot of books, web pages, news articles, other views of the world....secular writers, atheists, angry people, thoughtful people...but one thing I'm noticing is a rising hostility to the message of the cross. Those of us who embrace the gospel find salvation, grace, forgiveness, love and God, but those who reject the cross consider it foolish, ignorant or worse.
What a message this is- God providing a way to a relationship with him that requires only my faith in his solution. I can't work for it, I can't earn it, I don't have to understand it, I may not think it makes sense, but in the wisdom of God it's the perfect solution for the sin problem each of us face.
God's solution is HIS power demonstrated through ultimate weakness on a cross. Through that horrible cross God provided the only solution to my problem of sin. I believe that message. I believe I'm forgiven because of what Jesus did for me, but as I read....as I see how others view this amazing gift of God...I'm really amazed at how vile this message is to the world. It's irrational, foolish for sure and ridiculed by those who will not accept God's gift. They sneer at God's plan, God's love and they curse God's judgment on them for not receiving his free gift. The world, sadly, is missing God's amazing love because they consider his solution foolish.
But what other solution would satisfy them? What would they want God to do? If his perfect solution to our problem is thought to be foolish to the world they have raised their fists to the heavens and declared, "We will not trust you! We want to be forgiven on our own terms!" But God will not be negotiated with. It's his solution to our problem...take it or leave it. And, honestly, it's God's single, simple solution of a crucified savior that drives the world crazy. But for those who will trust, those who will believe, they find forgiveness, love and the wisdom of God.
I'm rambling a little, I'm writing as I think about many of the harsh and hostile words and articles I have read in recent days. It does seem that the anger of the world is rising and I wonder why....why won't they simply trust, simply receive, simply come to God for his free gift, but I know why they don't, I know why they won't and that does grieve me. I can't imagine how it grieves the heart of God to provide all we need for life and godliness and watch as many around us simply say "no!" to his amazing love.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Thank you

Melissa, our director of children's ministries, is leaving us to move to Chicago with her husband. Melissa has been a wonderful blessing and joy to work with for these 10 years. She is such an amazing person and has a great heart. I will miss her dearly. Thank you, Melissa, for all you have done and more importantly HOW you have done it. You have been a wonderful servant, a Godly woman and a good friend. Personally, I will miss you. Thank you.

Praying for each other

This morning I've been thinking about and praying for friends, family and people in our church who are hurting, struggling financially, dealing with health issues, worried about the future, in pain over losses and so many other things. I've been very much occupied this morning with these people on my mind and in prayer for them. There is so much to pray for!
A friend dealing with cancer, another hurting from a broken heart, others in need of a job, some concerned about having enough money to pay the mortgage....fears here....worries there....all around us things are being shaken and lives are being affected. I think of the words of Jesus, who told us of these days, but when the days come and the concerns for those I love and care about overwhelm me it brings me to the only place I know...it brings me to prayer. I don't have answers for all of these problems. I don't have words enough to salve the worries and hurts. I do have God's word to be sure and it is true and trustworthy and promises God care, provision, love and protection, but I also find myself going to God in prayer....appealing to the only one who can help for those in need. My list is long. There are so many things to pray for. So many hurting. So many tears. I'm not immune to the pain, in fact I think it intensifies my prayers. In these times I'm most comforted by the presence of a sovereign, loving God watching over his children. And yet he invites us to come to him and be part of his work through prayer, so today I'm praying.....There's a lot of us here before the throne appealing for God's help. He hears us all. He knows our needs. He smiles and comforts us. In a fallen world full of hurts and needs I'm so grateful I have a place I can go to find help. I'm so glad we are not on our own. So today I'm praying.....if you have a need add it to my list, it looks like I will be here for a while....


Last night we shared with our church family some details of our trip to Africa. It's very hard to put the details of such an amazing week into a few photos and 6 minutes of sharing, but as I am thinking about the week of ministry in Africa this morning I find myself thinking about one person- my amazing wife, Joye. She was a great part of our team in Africa and a wonderful blessing to me.
When I try to talk about her it's hard, because I am thinking about more than 35 years of life with this wonderful woman and the results of God's work in her life. God's work in her life was evident on our Africa trip. She did a great job ministering to pastors, their wives and to our team. Her input in the small group times was a real blessing and I know many of the wives and pastors were greatly helped by her words.
What can God do in a life? Find someone who wants to follow God and watch them. It takes time, but you will see them molded into the image of Christ and they will begin to look like him in how they live and care for others. It's the molding process Paul talks about in Romans 12....it takes a lifetime, but if you watch a person over time, you will see the molding taking place. You will see Jesus begin to shine through a life given to him. You will see God glorified in that life.
I'm very blessed to be able to see that in the life of my sweet wife. I'm grateful to see what God can do with someone who is available for his use, because I must tell you that even 10 years ago a mission trip to Africa would not have been on Joye's list of things to do. So, I'm watching as God works in the life of my sweet wife. It's exciting to see what he's doing. And I'm watching other lives too. I'm watching many who are walking with God and the transformation is obvious, but I also see others who are missing a wonderful transformation because they want to do it their way. They want to set the guidelines for how God will work in their lives. And so they miss God's plan because they have their own. This morning I'm most grateful to be able to watch God work in the life of another person and see them become like Christ. What an exciting adventure!
Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's more than jet lag...

After a great week in Africa and a safe trip back I find myself with a cold! I have done what I need to, but I am sick! I hate being sick....and I feel worse than this guy looks. I'm very grateful for NyQuil!
Who invented this amazing stuff? I hope to be back at full speed by the first of the week. I don't "do sick" well, so this is really hard for me. Ok, nothing spiritual or inspiring to share here....there's no room in my stuffed up head for inspiring thoughts. I'll share more when I'm over this cold.

Saturday's cartoon

Friday, June 26, 2009

God's work in another life

I got this note today from Winston, one of the pastors who attended the Marriage conference we were part of in Kenya. I thought you would like to hear from someone God is using in a place you may never visit-

Dear brother Mike,

Believing you reached home safely, I thank you with the whole team for coming to Kilifi and being a great blessing to us. I do not know how to express myself concerning the great change that God used you to bring in our marriage. The way God touched me personally. He spoke to me but I could not believe that he was the one speaking which made me cry for some hours before I said yes to what was said to me after the advice of my wife Eunice.

I started as a pastor on the third Sunday of June 1994. I have a certificate in theology and a certificate of primary Education. Eunice has a certificate of primary Education. I went to high school for only one and a half years because of school fees that my father could not pay.

We have six children. 4 boys and 2 girls.

Our church has 80 children, 40 youth, 30 women and 10 men.

Whenever, I think about the growth of the church, mostly the children and the youth, I have tears coming from my eyes. Please pray for me that God will show me how I can help these children and youth to become good servants of the Lord.

Winston, Kilifi, Kenya


Last night the news media was in a frenzy over the deaths of two celebrities on the same day, Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. Another celebrity who died in the last few days was Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson's sidekick for many years. Life passes and so do those we know.

I do wish that we would remember those of less worldly importance and celebrate the great lives of the unknown. It would be an amazing thing to see the obituary of someone no one knew highlighted simply because of their godly life. Imagine this on the evening news:

Mary Wilson, 84, died last night after a long battle with cancer. She was a wonderful Christian woman who serve God and other people her whole life. She was married to her husband, Harold, for more than 60 years until he died three years ago. Mary was loved by all who knew her, but she spent most of her life in rural Kansas and rarely traveled. Her goal in life was to imitate and serve her Lord. Everyone who knew her loved her dearly and she influenced hundreds of children over the decades as a Sunday school teacher and public school teacher. She will be greatly missed by those who knew her.

Of course this kind of life is rarely celebrated. For the tastes of the world it's too bland, too boring, but to live a godly life and leave this kind of commentary behind would be exciting to me. Imagine, living for the Lord and serving him....what more could you do to influence and impact eternity?

So, as the media outlets spend the next few days on the lives of celebrities I wait for the day when all of heaven will celebrate great lives never mentioned in the news. I wait for the day when God will highlight lives that REALLY made a difference.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Amazing people

You never know who you will meet and what lies beneath the skin. It takes time to find out who a person is and what they are like. Often, in our busy lives, we miss amazing people because we are too busy or they are simply different. One of our amazing people from our week in Africa is Erick. He's on staff with ALARM Ministries and served us all week as we met with the pastors in Kilifi, Kenya. Erick sounds like Sidney Poitier. We all worked hard to say "church" the way Erick did....he has a wonderful accent. Erick is a brilliant guy. He has his masters degree and is looking into schools in America to get his doctorate. Erick is a funny guy. Before he even knew me he was taking jabs at me about my extra weight. Thanks a lot, Erick! We had a great time with Erick and I look forward to seeing what God does in his life. It always amazes me to see what God is doing in the lives of people, amazing people, you might simply pass by if you don't take time to know them. I hope I get to spend more time with this man. I see God working in his life and I look forward to seeing what God does with Erick, one of the amazing people on our trip to Kenya.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Some blessings you bring home with you

On of the guys on our team that I really enjoyed getting to know better was Dave. I knew him casually before our trip. Honestly, I think I knew his wife, Cheri, better because we have worked together in ministry, but getting to know Dave was a real blessing for me on this trip. It always takes men longer to get to know each other and a trip like this will really build relationships. Dave is a great guy and I am blessed to know him better. And, as a side note...he's an amazing photographer! I'm very rusty from years of focus on other things, but Dave helped me with some shots and made all the photos from our trip even better. Because of Dave we have a great photo journal of our mission to Africa. I'm glad that some blessings you bring home with you....Dave is one of them.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Great people, a great week

..........(click on photo to enlarge)

We just got home a few hours ago from a wonderful week on the east coast of Africa. We met with a number of pastors and their wives for a marriage conference. They had a great time. This photo is part of the group just before our marriage renewal service. All the couples who attended the conference participated in the renewal ceremony and one couple was really excited because, for them, this was their wedding....I'll tell you more later. What was funny for us was their response to my closing words, "husbands, you may kiss your wives." They all did it, but the giggles and laughs that followed were really funny. They are not used to any public display of affection, so this was not "Kenyan", but they did it and had fun. It's great to be home, but I come back with new friends and relationships that have changed my life and I hope I have changed their lives in some little way.

Home at last

Finally, we are home. We left Kenya at 4pm yesterday and got home at 3pm today. Needless to say we are tired. I just wanted to let you know we made it back. The trip was great and I have a lot of stories. I'll tell you more after a nap.....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday in Mombasa

It's Friday, late afternoon, and we are at the Mombasa airport waiting to return to Nairobi. It's been a long week, but it was wonderful! We met with a group of amazing pastors and their wives. It was a great week, and I think the pastors here were encouraged by our time with them. We all found some new friends in this part of the world that we have fallen in love with. When I am able to do so we will post some photos of the great people serving God here and tell you their stories. They all expressed their thanks to our church for sending us to them. Our ministry work is done for the week and now we have a couple days of rest before we head back home. Thank you all for your prayers and encouragement. It's been a great week!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Africa update

Finally, a computer, Internet and a moment to update you. It may be a surprise, but the Internet is not alive and well in East Africa. Dial-up speeds are most common if you can find a place to get online at all. So, I am sorry for taking so long to update you, but this is literally the soonest I have been able to write. We arrived Saturday night, were in church first thing Sunday morning and teaching every moment since. It’s been wonderful to meet and interact with the believers here in Africa. We have made many new friends and have some wonderful discussions with the pastors here. They are not shy about debating with us….I’m enjoying the fellowship and interaction immensely! Keep praying for us and I will give you a more detailed report as soon as I can.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tornados, trees, travel and thankfulness

It started last night...heavy winds, rain, and a tornado near our area. I was out getting dinner and quickly abandoned my quest to retreat to the shelter of home. This morning, at 5am the rains started...2 to 3 inches in less than an hour. I decide my fate and head for the back yard with my shovel. We have some landscaping problems we are planning to fix, but here's what happens- heavy rain=flooded house. This morning, at 5am, I'm determined to stop it this time. I am quickly soaked, digging a trench to get the water to run off to a harmless destination. Finally success, then to the garage where I turn on the sump pump and then to the front yard to haul huge broken limbs from the yard to the back...with only hours before we leave I had to get the yard cleaned up. As I'm pulling limbs around to the back my neighbor is leaving for work. My neighbor, Kevin, and I talk about how blessed we are to have so little damage. I agreed, but told him I had to get it all picked up because we were leaving for Kenya at noon. As you know, there are no coincidences, and Kevin, leaving for work said, "Just dump it all there, I'll clean it up on Friday. Have a great trip." I am so thankful that we were well protected and only had a few problems. I hope you survived our storms in the night. What an exciting way to kick off a mission trip! I'll check in when we get to a computer. Thank you all for your prayers for us as we travel. Do also pray for the pastors who will be attending this conference.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hotel Titanic!

It sounds funny, but we are staying at Hotel Titanic in Kilifi. Thanks for your prayers, and as we can, we will keep you updated here and at our travel site, Crossroads to Africa '09. More when I can.....

Heading East!

Tomorrow morning we are off to Africa! We will leave Dallas and fly to Amsterdam. From there we fly to Nairobi, Kenya and then to the coast. It will be a long trip! I would ask for your prayers and for our time there with the pastors and their wives in Kenya.
I will update you as often as possible, but I'm told that they don't have Internet in some of the places we will be traveling. We do have the great thrill of staying at Hotel Titanic. Just the name alone generates smiles from everyone who hears it.
Thank you for all your support and for all your prayers as we serve the churches of Kenya.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What Does a Belief in God Give You?

The article below was written by an atheist with some probing questions. I have printed his article as written, but would like to add my answers to his questions. I welcome your thoughts and comments as well. Here is Mark's article-

Posted on June 7, 2009 by Mark

Mark- What does your belief in God give that you couldn’t accomplish yourself?

Mike- Life, hope, a relationship with God, salvation, a future, forgiveness, peace, direction, purpose, promise....I'll stop with these few for now.

Mark- Does this belief give you a sense of personal security? Then why must you hide behind guns and locked doors?

Mike- Yes, I have an amazing sense of personal security because a sovereign God is watching out for me and is in charge of my life. I trust him and have found him trustworthy.

I don't own a gun. A belief in God has little to do with gun ownership, but I understand your point. I do lock my doors. Why? I'm not foolish. We live in a world with people who do not love and serve God. My trust in God does not mean I abandon common sense.

Mark- Does this belief give you an everlasting life or afterlife? Every physical being dies and no one has proven there is an afterlife. Religion is full of promises, but only if you obey it’s doctrine.

Mike- Yes, I believe that my belief (my faith in God's promises) does give me everlasting life. And, yes, we all die, but what I know that you may not believe is that one man came back from death as the resurrected God-man and proved that God is able to raise the dead, that death is not the end. Being God in flesh Jesus reveals the afterlife to us as no other can.

You said, "Religion is full of promises, but only if you obey it’s doctrine." Many religions are built on performance, I agree. But, Christianity is based on faith alone. There is no performance, no obeying doctrine to have eternal life. This life God has promised is completely free based on faith in Christ alone. I do understand your comment, but you have included all faiths in your statement and I believe the Christian faith promises something much different than you describe. Yes, there is a life to live after I trust Christ as savior, but salvation is completely free from works and gained by faith alone.

Mark-Does this belief give you food or shelter? Most people I know work to earn wages that provide them with food and/or shelter. Food doesn’t fall out of sky, does it? In other words, we provide food and shelter for ourselves. Many homeless folks believe in God. Where is their shelter?

Mike- No, my belief does not give me food or shelter alone. It is not a meal ticket, but what God promises is that he will care for me, provide for me and watch over my life and he always has. As King David said, "I have never seen the righteous hungry or their seed begging bread." No, food does not fall from heaven. Yes, we are to work and trust God. It may sound strange, but those two do work together in my life, both my work and my faith. Yes, there are homeless. It is sad. Many do believe in God. My question back to you, Mark, is are you helping them? Christians have, throughout our history, helped those in need. It is part of what God has called us to do...we are called to love and care for those in need. It's part of our faith and God's way of helping those in need. Now, I know you are talking about what God gives us, but faith in God is not a guarantee of a free ride in this life.

Mark-Does this belief protect you from disease and illnesses? There are millions of sick people in the world regardless of religion or belief in God.

Mike- No, my belief does not protect me from disease or illness. Yes, there are millions who are ill, sick and dying who believe in God. We are in a fallen world where sin and its results have affected everything. That does not prove that God doesn't exist, it only proves that the devil does exist. The Christian faith is the only faith that gives an answer to your questions of why there is sin, sickness and death and yet an all powerful God who is good exists at the same time. Christians look forward to the promised day when God will do away with sin and death. Then the world will be as God meant it to be.

Mark-Does this belief protect you from natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes? Millions of people every year are killed or injured due to natural disasters…regardless of their belief in God.

Mike- No, it doesn't protect me from natural disasters, but I wonder how much God has protected me from that I don't even know about. I won't know that in this life. Yes, millions have died in disasters even though they believe in God. I do not believe in God for what I might get out of it. I did not come to him for salvation to get food, shelter or protection. I came to him because I needed one thing- salvation. I'm not in this for what I can get. I'm a Christian because I really do believe there is a good God who loves me. All of your questions and the ones yet before us look at God as if it were his job to do everything for me and protect me from all harm and woe. Is that what you really expect a god to do for you before you believe in him? Sadly, I think you are looking for the wrong things from God.

Mark-Does this belief protect your places of worship? Churches and temples are destroyed by fire, flood, tornadoes and other disasters just like other man made structures. In fact, most churches are financially protected through insurance companies. Your God doesn’t protect his churches from his created weather disturbances or quakes.

Mike- Again, no, my belief does not protect our place of worship. Your point? What do you expect him to do? Does my belief require that I'm exempt from all harm, all that the world brings? Clearly you don't understand God, the world or our place in it.

Mark-Does this belief protect its masses from starvation? Everyday, thousands die from food deprivation whether they believe in God or not.

Mike- No, it doesn't keep millions from starving. I agree, but what does that have to do with my belief in God? Way too many are dying because of starvation. Many Christian organizations are shipping food to these places and helping meet these needs. That, too, is part of what God has asked us to do, to care for one another. We literally get to be part of his work in the lives of those in need. This is not a selfish, self-serving faith. It is a faith in a sovereign God who calls us to be part of the solution.

Mark-So, what are the rewards in believing in God? You have accomplished or can accomplish most any goal with a faith in yourself.

Mike- What are the rewards for my belief in God? My, where do I start? I have given you a partial list above, but the list here will include, as you asked, things that I CANNOT accomplish by myself, this list is a list of things that come only from a faith in the God who is, and here are the rewards- eternal life, salvation, hope, peace, promises given and fulfilled, direction, a joy apart from my circumstances, guidance, someone to talk to who can help, I'm no longer alone, purpose, a mission for my life, answers to my questions (many of them are the ones you ask now, and God has given me answers to my questions), security, a family- the family of God, grace, mercy, kindness, someone who listens when I cry (I'm no longer crying into an empty night, but I have a living God who listens), and, Mark, there is so much more. I wish you knew the God I know. You would love him as I do. I know your questions are sincere, but even if they aren't I KNOW there is a God who cares for us, who loves us, who is seeking you. I pray you will trust the God who is for the salvation and peace you need. I'm praying for you Mark.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Braggin' time

I got a few minutes to run up and see the kids this afternoon, or should I say the grandkids.  Our little girls are all beautiful and wonderful, but today may I feature the boys?  Here's our two handsome grandsons, Vaughn and George.  George is on the motorcycle and was mad that I wanted it back to come home.  I like him already.  I know, one day, the bike will be his....whether I want him to have it or not.  So, indulge me for a moment as I enjoy some braggin' time....


Well, they have done it. I know of this happening in other places, Portland to be specific, but this article was a very interesting read for me. It's a combination of church and "Cheers" rolled into one. I'm all for this "out of the box" way to meet people's needs. Your thoughts?


Billings brew pub hosts church

By LAURA TODE - Billings Gazette - 06/07/09

Billilngs Gazette photo by Paul Ruhter
- This May 24 photo shows a woman drinking a beer while attending a Theology on Tap gathering at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company in Billings. BILLINGS (AP)
— For all Christians who have done time on hard wooden pews in scratchy suits and ties, who have searched through musty hymnals and used church programs as fans while listening to sermons on the horrors of hell — relief has come. At The Well, shorts and flip-flop sandals are accepted attire, barstools provide ample seating and hymnals are not required. A cold beer can provide relief from the heat — fire, brimstone and otherwise. It doesn’t look like church, but that’s because The Well is a church for people who don’t believe in church. “Don’t read this the wrong way,” said Minister Ryan Tucker before the start of Sunday’s Theology on Tap gathering at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company. “There’s nothing wrong with church. I just sensed that there was more room at the table for people who aren’t into the conventional, traditional church.” Tucker and fellow minister Jon Hall started The Well last summer, and a core group of followers began meeting at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company taproom earlier this month. The church’s name is a nod to the water well where the people of a village would gather to discuss events of the day. Local bars and taverns have come to be known as watering holes for the same reason. They are also gathering places. Church attendance ranges between 20 and 40 people, and everyone agrees that a church that meets at a brewery is unusual. However, for most of the people who attend, the location isn’t as important as the acceptance they feel when they gather together. “For me, it’s incidental,” said Shawna Hawkins. “The location really has nothing to do with the message of community and living like Jesus did.” Shawna and her husband Tim Hawkins have been coming to Theology on Tap since it started. “I’ve been searching for what The Well offers us,” Tim Hawkins said. “I always struggled to understand denominational churches. I just couldn’t fathom how there were so many godly churches that were so quick to point to other churches and say, ‘We’re right and you’re wrong.’ ” The decision to hold church services at the brewery was not made to attract a beer-drinking crowd or to repel Christians with a strict churchgoing background. “We want to be there for people who wouldn’t ordinarily come to church — for whatever their reason,” Tucker said. From the start, Tucker and Hall decided they wanted worshippers at The Well to meet in common or public spaces. They believe that by not having a building more resources can be returned to the community. At least half of all the money collected during the service is given to support local charities, including the Montana Rescue Mission and Habitat for Humanity. Members also volunteer together for local causes. “For the old model of church, a building was certainly needed, but our culture is shifting, so it’s not as necessary anymore,” Tucker said. That The Well doesn’t have a building appealed to 21-year-old Libby Samson, who came to Sunday’s Theology on Tap for the first time with her father Mike Samson. She met Tucker and Hall on the campus of Montana State University-Billings when they invited her to “come to church and have a beer.” Sunday, most of the people in attendance drank a beer during the service, but bottled water and root beer were also available. Tucker sipped a beer while he delivered his sermon. George Moncure, of the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company, said he was open to the idea of having church services at the Garage Pub because of The Well’s focus on community. The tap room at the brewery isn’t typically busy on Sundays, he said, and customers who are not interested in the sermon can drink their beer at the bar. Tucker, a graduate of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, was a student minister for 11 years in churches in the Southeast U.S. before moving west to Billings. Hall previously worked as a student minister for five years before joining Tucker to start The Well. The Well is not affiliated with any denomination. The term Hall uses to describe The Well is “post-denominational,” meaning that it has moved beyond division based on doctrinal differences. Discussion and questions are welcomed during the sermon, and Tucker solicits interaction. His message is designed so that if discussion leads in a new direction, he is ready. Tucker strives for what he calls “profound simplicity” in both an understanding of God and in fulfilling the church’s mission, “to live community and serve others.” Although it’s not a part of the practice now, Theology on Tap will eventually include communion and occasional baptism services, Hall said. “And if we find a group of musicians that jive with our beliefs and they want to play, then that would be great too.”

Seeing clearly

Like many in our world I need help to see. I need glasses. I wasn't always in need of help. Early in my life, even into my early 20's, I had 20-20 vision, but as I aged my eyes weakened and I needed help. Gradually, over time, my eyes have weakened a little more each time I visit my eye doctor, Bruce. Just a few weeks ago I got a new pair of glasses and now I see clearly again. It's great to be able to see.
One of the things I see as I read Jesus' words in the gospels is that he is constantly bringing things into focus. He is the ultimate eye doctor for those who thought they could see, but were really living with blurry vision. Today I was reading Luke 6 and it struck me that he's literally helping the blind religious leaders see what's important. He's bringing important things into focus. It's this clarity of vision that often got Jesus in trouble. Here's a few of his words that struck me and clarified my vision, as I'm sure they did for those who heard him,
Luke 6:31-38- "Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that's charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. "I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You'll never--I promise--regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we're at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults--unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don't condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you'll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back--given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity."
Jesus often uses questions to help us see more clearly. He does that in this passage. But he does more. Jesus raises the bar for what we should do in relationship with others. He describes in words what it really looks like to imitate God, to live as God planned for us to live. His words bring our actions into focus and show us how blind we have really been. Often, for those who thought they could see, these words make them angry. But for those who really want to see they are wonderful words of clarity and focus.
For me to see clearly I need glasses. For me to see clearly in my spiritual life I need Jesus' words to help me see as God wants me to see. I read his words daily to make sure I'm seeing things through his eyes because I know that my vision is blurry without his help.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

I'm reading...

I just started a new book I'm already enjoying. Tim Keller's book is an apologetic in a time when both believers and skeptics are struggling with what they believe and why.
As my fellow pastor, Brent, says, "we have to outlive the world." Our lives are our first testimony. Our lives will win an audience with a world seeking God and truth.
I'll keep you updated on what I find. There's nothing like a great book to challenge your beliefs and make you look at your life. I look forward to the challenge!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Remembering D-Day

I'm always humbled by those who have sacrificed their lives for our country. 65 years ago today thousands jumped into the water of the English Channel to storm the beaches of Normandy. To give your life for a cause is the greatest sacrifice any of us have to offer. Many have willingly sacrificed everything to secure and keep our freedom. Thank you all who have and even now are risking everything for us. There are not enough words to honor these men for all they have sacrificed.

Impossible things

Only a few days left before we and other teams from our church leave for Africa, Haiti and Mississippi. I have so much to do and very little time to get it all done. At moments it feels like I'm in the middle of an impossible balancing act....teaching to prepare, things to get before the trip, things to do here before we go, Joye's mom here to visit, but now in the hospital. It seems that the weight of it all will be too much at times, but I can only do the next thing and do what I can. I'm glad that God is involved in all of this- the trips, our lives, mom in hospital, messages to teach, people to care about.....I'm glad he's able to help me with all of this....because there are days when I feel like the elephant, trying to balance a heavy weight of things to do and care about, and there are days when I feel like the ball, about to pop from all the pressure. In either situation I have God's wonderful help and for that I'm most blessed and grateful.

Saturday's cartoon

Friday, June 05, 2009

Playing the same old keys

Like this old piano, with worn keys in the middle of the 88 key register, I find that I often come back to play the same notes I have played over and over again. They are the basic notes of the Christian life that create the sweet music of a life lived for God. Here are a few of the keys I play often, both in counseling and in my own walk with God,
Ephesians 4:29-32- Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
These are the basics of Christian living and relationship with others. These are the basics I play over and over in my life. These are the basics I share with others in counseling. They are keys to living well and pleasing God. The basics from this passage are simple to do. And when you play these notes what everyone hears is the sweet music of God working in your life. So, here's the music of this passage I try to play often,
1. Watch your mouth. What you say makes a difference. Intentionally use words of grace with the intention of building up others. Literally, in the Greek, it says "don't let a rotten word come out of your mouth."
2. Deal with the sin in your heart so it doesn't come out of your mouth and hurt others. As Paul says, "put it away from you." What are we to put away? bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and slander. In other words put away anything that might hurt another person.
3. Be kind. As Solomon said, don't let truth and kindness leave you. Wrap yourself in them.
4. Treat others tenderly. They belong to God, be careful how you treat God's property.
5. Forgive one another. Imitate God's forgiveness of you and extend the same to others.
Truthfully, if we simply lived by these verses, simply played this music over and over again, it would change our lives and our churches. It's simple music, but it's the kind of tunes that God loves to hear. So, today, for me...I'm just replaying this amazing music over in my head again and allowing it to remind me that what I do, what I say, how I treat people is important to God and it's music he loves to hear.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Fools and foolishness

"Are you a fool? Take the Quiz now"
That's the title of a web page I came across this afternoon. I thought as I read the text, "No way am I taking that test! If I am a fool why would I want to know and if I'm not I sure know enough not to take their test." Although I am curious....what would the test be like? It would be fun to come up with the questions for this test, but why? Proverbs talks a lot about fools and their foolishness. In fact Solomon wrote that if you ground a fool to powder you couldn't separate him from his foolishness. Clearly, in proper culture, it's not at all polite to call anyone a fool. Even if they don't know what it means everyone does know it's a most humiliating insult. A fool is a person lacking in judgment or prudence. It's clear from the bible that fools are plentiful and are really frustrating to be around. Here's a few examples from Proverbs,
A quiet rebuke to a person of good sense does more than a whack on the head of a fool.
Better to meet a grizzly robbed of her cubs than a fool hellbent on folly.
Having a fool for a child is misery; it's no fun being the parent of a dolt.
The words of a fool start fights; do him a favor and gag him.
Don't respond to the stupidity of a fool; you'll only look foolish yourself.
Answer a fool in simple terms so he doesn't get a swelled head.
Putting a fool in a place of honor is like setting a mud brick on a marble column.
Hire a fool or a drunk and you shoot yourself in the foot.
See that man who thinks he's so smart? You can expect far more from a fool than from him.
If you think you know it all, you're a fool for sure; real survivors learn wisdom from others.
A sage trying to work things out with a fool gets only scorn and sarcasm for his trouble.
So, in a politically correct culture, where no one is a fool and everyone is a sage in their own minds, today I'm reflecting on the reality that the foolish man is still alive and well on planet earth....you just can't call him that....but there is a Quiz if you're not sure.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Paula the Buddhist

Today I had lunch with a good friend who is the president of Amazon Outreach. It's a mission organization that leads mission trips up and down the Amazon river on two river boats they have purchased and staffed. My friend, Jed, is a great guy, but we haven't spent a lot of time together in a few years.
My last trip with them to the Amazon, sadly, was almost 10 years ago. On that trip we flew into Manaus, Brazil and went up river from there to work in a number of villages along the Amazon river. Because of the language difference we needed translators. There is a large Presbyterian church in Manaus that provides the translators for our trips. On our trip they ran short, so one of the girls asked a friend of hers to come along and translate. Her name is Paula. Paula was a Buddhist. There was some concern over this, but I told Jed to give her to me as translator. She may not be a believer, but she will translate the gospel for me 50 times or more in a week and the Lord will have to do the rest. We had a great week and Paula did a great job for me. We also had several very good visits about faith. Since that day I have prayed consistently for Paula's salvation, but never knew of her fate.
So, we come back to present day over lunch and as we talk about the good old days I asked Jed, "So, what about Paula? I've been praying for her all these years. What do you know about her." Jed smiled and responded, "She a Christian now." My heart leapt! I had shared my faith with her, prayed for her all these years, and now find that God had indeed sought her and saved her. I was and am most excited. I'm most excited that Paula the Buddhist is now a child of the King of heaven!

Monday, June 01, 2009

A must see....

Ok, I know this may sound strange, but Joye and I had a chance to go to a movie today and with all the choices available we went to a kid's movie.  We went to see UP.  It was great!  Kids and adults would love it.  We had a great time and really enjoyed the movie.  If you're looking for a movie choice I highly recommend UP.  What was funny to me was that there were a number of people in the theatre and all of them were adults.  You don't have to take a little one with you to enjoy this great movie.

Would Jesus oppose gays and be silent on porn?

There are some great thoughts running around loose on planet earth and often our culture is our enemy in looking at things in a more objective way.  Here is an article by Shmuley, a Jewish rabbi and author I really like, who puts a different spin on the issues of our day.  I've copied his entire article because I think it's worth reading.

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition
Jun. 1, 2009,  Shmuley Boteach , THE JERUSALEM POST

"Here's a glimpse of religion in America. All gays all the time. It seems that nothing else can capture the spiritual imagination of this nation. Jesus came to the world to stop the damned gays. He had precious little else to say.

Forget the fact that we Americans desperately need to be liberated from our materialism and narcissism. Or that our youth are clamoring for anything other than American Idolto inspire them. America's clerics will get around to it just as soon as we stop them gays.

The latest installment in the American obsession with gay marriage comes from Miss California, Carrie Prejean, who said in the Miss Universe competition that she opposes gay marriage and was immediately championed as a Christian heroine throughout America. But it seems that her Christianity could not prevent her from posing topless for men or from having the Miss Universe pageant pay for her breast implants.

Now I ask you, what is a bigger threat to heterosexual marriage today? Gay marriage or porn? When a wife waits alone in bed for her husband who is downloading pictures of naked women on his laptop, do you really believe she consoles herself by thinking, "Well at least those gays can't marry"?

For all my Christian brothers and sisters who scapegoat gays for undermining the institution of marriage, I would remind them that we straight people have done a mighty fine job of destroying it ourselves. The gay population in the US is estimated at somewhere around 5 percent, while the heterosexual divorce rate is more than 50% and was so well before gay rights ever became a national issue.

THE FOREMOST DANGER to marriage in our time is the wholesale degradation of women in the popular culture. In magazines, on TV and especially on Internet porn, women are portrayed as the libidinous man's plaything, not an equal to be respected but a subordinate to be used. On college campuses male womanizing is an expected right of passage. Women like Miss California who participate in porn become complicit in their own degradation and further the male view that a woman's principle purpose is to satiate male erotic needs.

Beauty pageants don't help much either, and it's surprising that my Christian clerical brothers haven't spoken out against them as they have against gay marriage. Can you believe that 60 years after feminism rightly pointed out that a woman's mind is even more important than her legs, we still have televised contests of women parading around in their underwear for Donald Trump to rate their bodies? And what would Jesus say about Miss California's implants?

HOW ANY of this is congruent with Christian values is beyond me. It seems that we've entered some weird Twilight Zone where opposition to gay marriage alone makes one a Christian in good standing.

Look. I'm not here to condemn Carrie Prejean, and I can of course be just as religiously inconsistent. But my point is that America has real problems and can really use an authentic spiritual voice to lead us out of the shallowness, greed, divorce and teen sex that are plaguing our country. So long as we make gay marriage the only issue of importance, we abdicate our moral responsibility to provide spiritual leadership to a starving generation. Most of all, we shift our focus away from combating the misogyny that has become such a staple of American culture.

Patti Stanger of Bravo's The Millionaire Matchmaker and I recently debated her belief that women ought to marry rich husbands. I argued that this just fuels the stereotype of women as greedy gold-diggers prepared to sell themselves as a commodity to a guy with cash. When men come to believe these stereotypes, it affects their respect for women. Soon they believe they can neglect their wives as long as they give them credit cards. But three quarters of all divorces today are initiated by wives who are making their own money and would rather be alone than remain with a distant husband in an empty marriage.

Approximately 30 percent of married women in America are on an anti-depressant, and Maureen Dowd of The New York Times scored big by publishing a book suggesting that perhaps women are better off without men.

As for the guys - well, it seems the only ones who still want to get married are gay. While the gay men are out petitioning the Supreme Court for the right to get hitched, the straight guys are inventing brilliant excuses not to wed girlfriends with whom they have lived for years and even have children.

We can save marriage in America and get men to become gentlemen who treat women like ladies. But that must be accompanied by women not only demanding male respect, but by respecting themselves as well."

The writer's new book is The Blessing of Enough: Becoming Materially Content and Spiritually Hungry. He is the founder of ThisWorld: The Values Network. www.shmuley.com


I am blessed!  This morning I find myself in the garage roasting some new coffee beans, a bean from El Salvador, and I got a call on cell from Brandon Scott.  He is one of our missionaries and was calling me from Guatemala after listening to yesterday's sermon online.  He called to encourage me and tell me he's praying for us.  I dearly love Brandon and Jenny and consider myself extremely blessed to have him call me to encourage me.  Thank you, Brandon.  Thank you.
On another note,  one of our dear friends, Jules, a Haitian team member with R.M.I., is ill with bone cancer and is in Boston being treated for this illness.  Jules is a wonderful man and a dear friend.  Would you put Jules on your prayer list?  

Monday morning

A little sleep and a new day is ready to start, even if I'm not.  We had a great day yesterday. Morning services, Parker Smith becoming an eagle scout, evening services, baptisms (they are always fun), and then a couple hours before I crash into bed.  Our worship at church yesterday was great! Hal and the team did a wonderful job.   And, as Brent said, he even hit a big time mark I asked him to hit...we were all surprised! (Hal is "Haitian" in his view of time...it's not important.)  

This morning I'm going to get some early time to read, trim bushes before it gets too hot (Monday is my day off) and rest a little from a busy day yesterday.  Our next project is to get ready for Africa, we are leaving in 11 days and I still have a lot to do on that.  Joye and I have to work on our messages that we will be doing together.  So much to do, so little time.

I would be grateful for your prayers as we try to fit everything into these few days.  It's a lot to do.  I would also ask that you continue to pray for our church family.  There are a lot of great things happening, but there are a lot of hurting people as well.  It's ultimately God's church and so I would ask that you join me in seeking his help for our church family.

Well, the sun is up and I must run. Have a great day.

Monday's cartoon