Sunday, December 31, 2006

What Will We Experience in 2007?

I’m not in to New Year’s resolutions. Nor do I pay much attention to New Year’s predictions. However, I do like to consider how prepared my life may or may not be to face the unknown of the coming 12 months.

An Associated Press/AOL poll revealed that 60% of Americans believe that the U.S. will be the victim of a terrorist attack in 2007. The same percentage believes that a nuclear or biological weapon will be unleashed somewhere in the world. Forty percent believe the U.S. will enter a war with Iran. Twenty-five percent believe that Jesus Christ will return and usher in the end of the world.

What if?

What if one of the above predictions did take place? What if a loved one died? What if you were diagnosed with cancer or some incurable disease? What if you were disabled and no longer able to work?

What if you got involved with a group of some of the greatest people you’ve ever met? What if you suddenly and unexpectedly came into a significant amount of money? What if a spiritual awakening broke out all around you?

I don’t know the future but I do know who holds the future. I assure you that is not a cliché to me. I’m not suggesting that we turn to God like a crystal ball and try to get a peek into the future. I’m suggesting that we walk closely with God.

As children we learn to watch our parents and take cues from them. If they were agitated or unhappy about something then we learned to be invisible around them. If they were happy or seemed to be having fun then we would want to draw near and share in the joy.

Literally I have had God prepare my heart for someone’s death, for a crisis that was about to befall me or for blessings that were about to come my way. I don’t mean that I suddenly knew the future. I simply had a sense in my “heart” (thinking/feelings) that something was about to happen.

And, even in those times where I didn’t have a clue that something was about to take place, I found great comfort and strength in the fact that God knew what was happening in or around my life. God is never surprised by what happens and He is always pleased to give us wisdom, courage and grace in such times because He likes blessing us. But God is also pleased to give us things we need in times of challenge or prosperity because His working in us brings glory to Him.

There is so much more to say about the importance of walking with God through all the highs and lows of life but allow me to simply present this invitation. Make a commitment and establish a plan to do life with God better in 2007 than ever before. A good church and pastor can help you with that. If you don’t have one I’d be glad to help.

God bless you as you launch into the next chapter of your life.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

President Gerald Ford & The Glory of Jesus

Former President Gerald Ford died Tuesday, December 26 at age 93. Ford was the nation’s 38th president and the only person not elected to the office of president or vice president.

As you know, he was appointed by President Richard Nixon to be vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned. Later Nixon also resigned in the midst of the Watergate scandal and Ford ascended to the presidency.

We will hear and read many words of praise and affirmation for Ford over these next few days. I think Ford was an honorable man and served the country well during his brief time in office.

Many have commented through the years that the person who holds the office of president is arguably the most “powerful man in the world.” Yet, most Americans born after 1980 know little if anything of Ford. His glory and power have come and gone and is mostly forgotten.

In contrast, we have just celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. Secularized, commercialized Christmas misses the point that hundreds of millions of people around the world still follow, serve, worship and extol Jesus Christ. His glory is no less today than it was at the time of His birth.

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as the teachers of the law.” Matthew 7:28-29 Many of us are still amazed at His teachings.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Philippians 2:9-11 And of course many of us have already bowed the knee and confessed that Jesus is Lord and someday all will.

When our world loses a fine man like Gerald Ford, at one point the most powerful man in the world, and the faded glory is so apparent, I’m freshly reminded that there is not one person living whose glory will ever come close to that of Jesus Christ. All praise and glory are due Jesus, now and forevermore.

Friday, December 22, 2006

How Do You Spell "Christmas"?

According to a BBC poll published on Tuesday just 44% of British children between the ages of seven and eleven are aware that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Apparently the name of “Christ” was not connected in their thinking to the significance of Christmas.

To what extent is Christ connected to your thinking and observing of Christmas?

No “guilt trip” intended here so don’t even get on that road. Allow me to give a couple of friendly suggestions about keeping Christ in Christmas.

1. Either alone or with your family, this weekend take ten minutes and read the biblical story of the birth of Christ. See Luke 1:26-38 and 2:1-20 and also Matthew 2:1-12.

2. Attend a church service and worship Christ. For those of you that live in the Seattle area, if you need help in finding a place of worship post a comment and I’ll be glad to make a suggestion of a church near your home. For those outside of Puget Sound, just Google “churches, your city” and you’ll have dozens of web sites pop up that you can check out. You can find a church in ten minutes.

Yesterday I spoke with someone who had seen the movie, “The Nativity”. Though he had been involved in church for many years he commented, “Seeing the story of Christ’s birth on the big screen really impressed me that this was the most remarkable and miraculous event ever.” Sometimes we need a little help in breaking free from the familiar to see the extraordinary.

Blessings on you and your connection with Christ this Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Windstorms & Life Perspective

I haven’t been able to post in a few days because of the windstorm that struck the Puget Sound last Thursday. If you didn’t hear, after several days of rain a windstorm with gusts over 70 mph hit our area, blew over thousands of trees and disrupted electric service to over 1.5 million households. I just got my electricity back yesterday after about 3 days in the dark and cold. Many of my friends still don’t have power.

The sudden loss of electricity meant that there was no heat in the house, no grocery stores open, no gas stations operating, no restaurants available for a quick hot meal and no church open for worship. The first 24 hours were kind of refreshing as my wife and I enjoyed being at home together in front of a crackling fireplace and having an unexpected day off. The novelty wore off quickly.

All we lost was one tree and suffered damage to a fence gate. However, when we took a walk around the block and saw large trees that had crashed through the homes of neighbors and crushed their cars we began to feel grief over the losses others were experiencing. At this writing over 100 people have been hospitalized from carbon monoxide poisoning from using charcoal grills and gas generators inside their homes in the attempt to stay warm or to cook. Over a dozen people have died in storm related incidents.

Of course it has only been since 1880 that we have lived with the capabilities and subsequent dependencies related to electricity. For the centuries before 1880, a windstorm like we just experienced in the Northwest would have meant virtually nothing. Our use and enjoyment of electricity made its absence stark and difficult.

And so it is for many of us with respect to our relationship with God. Like electric current in our homes, the Presence of God’s Spirit in our lives brings light and power and capabilities that are unimaginable without His Presence. Because many of us have so embraced our relationship with God, His absence would be our greatest loss and would bring on a far-reaching personal crisis.

Our forefathers would have a hard time comprehending why a relatively brief windstorm would prove to be so disruptive to every day life precisely because they would never have experienced the power associated with having electricity. According to recent polls over 90% of those living in Puget Sound would also have a hard time comprehending why living without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is such a “big deal” because they have yet to experience His power associated with having a relationship with the “electrifying” God of the universe.
This is what Christmas is all about. A loving Creator personally came into a dark, cold and powerless world to bring light, love and redemption to all. I’m praying that you receive the Christmas “Presence” you most need this season.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

World's Oldest Living Person Dies

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bolden, recognized by the Guinness World Records as the oldest living person at age 116 years, died December 11. She was born in Somerville, Tennessee in 1890 to freed slaves. The picture is of Lizzie at 114, being visited by her grandson, 74-year-old Jack Bolden.

Lizzie had 40 grandchildren, 75 great-grandchildren, 150 great-great-grandchildren, 220 3rd-great-grandchildren, and 75 4th-great-grandchildren. That’s hard to imagine.

How old are you? How old do you want to be before you die? Most people that I’ve spoken with through the years say that they don’t want to live to be 100. They fear broken health, nursing homes and being a burden to loved ones. I understand.

But, what if you could live well and continue to make a difference in this world at 100 years of age? I can remember when I was 21 reading in the Bible about the death of Moses at age 120. I remember thinking, “Wow, there’s a man that lived significantly and greatly impacted three generations (if you think about 40 years as a generation).” While reflecting on that scripture I felt impressed to pray, “God, would you give me 120 years like Moses. I’d like to serve you and make a difference in this world through three generations.”

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t think that I have a promise from God that I’ll live to 120 and have good heath and mental capacities, etc. In fact, I have such a peace in my relationship with God I would be very happy if I died tomorrow. But, I did feel impressed to pray that God give me a long life of serving Him and others.

That prayer and that vision have everything to do with how I pace my life and plan for my future. In my mind, reaching the age of 60 is not the time to “get serious” about retirement but rather it is mid-life!
For years I’ve prayed Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” That prayer is not about knowing how to count your days, but how to make your days count.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Baby Jesus Stolen, Replaced With Beer Can

Nearly 30 years ago Bob Chooljain engaged in a special project with his small children. They made a Nativity scene with their own hands. Through all of these years the Chooljain family has placed their Nativity scene in their front yard during the month of December as a lighted Christmas display in the hopes of spreading some inspiration and cheer.

Yesterday someone came to the Plaistow, NH home and stole the baby Jesus. We’ve heard that story dozens of times through the years. In fact, eight years ago the Chooljains had one of the three wise men stolen. Pranks like that have been around for a long time. What was so disturbing to this family was that an empty beer can was placed in the manger where the baby Jesus lay. Bob’s comment was, “You just wonder, what was in the person’s mind that actually did that? Why leave the beer can?”

The small town story struck me at a deeper level. The Bible teaches that God creates us with a hole in our heart that can only be legitimately filled with a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s like we are each a “Nativity scene” with an empty manger at the center of our being. The question then is, “Will I exercise faith and place Jesus at the center of my being or will I place a ‘beer can’ there?”

The picture of a beer can perfectly depicts the inadequate, empty and even profane nature of anything else we would place at the center of our lives. A stellar career or stunning achievements or an intoxicating relationship are all “beer cans”. Good deeds, morality and even orthodoxy are “beer cans” when they are replacements for Christ.

The Christmas story is about God loving us so much that He came to us for relationship. Your story is either about responding to God’s pursuit with life engagement, or your story is the oft repeated sad “beer can” tale of godless existence.

I pray that Jesus is found and that Jesus is at the center of your “Nativity scene” this season.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Child Arrested For Unwrapping Christmas Gift Early

“A mother convinced the police to arrest her 12-year-old son after he unwrapped a Christmas present early.” This opening sentence grabbed my attention.

The boy’s great-grandmother bought, wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree a Nintendo Game Boy Advance with the strict instruction that he was not to open it until Christmas. But, on Sunday morning the great-grandmother found the box opened and emptied. She called the 27-year-old mother and reported what her son had done.

The mother and great-grandmother then confronted the boy and asked where the Game Boy was. He said he didn’t know. When the mother threatened to call the police the boy went into his room and brought out the Game Boy. The mother called the police anyway.

When two police officers arrived the mother insisted that they arrest her 12-year-old son so they did and booked him for petty larceny.

The mother later explained that when she confronted her son about his behavior he showed no remorse. Though only 12, the boy already has a history of bad behavior including shoplifting, stealing money, school expulsion and punching a police officer during a prior incident.

I don’t know what will become of this child. What I do know is that he possesses the most dangerous kind of heart disease: a hard heart. A hard heart is a condition where a person no longer cares about right and wrong, good and bad, God or evil. He or she just lives for self and loses the capacity for compassion, generosity, love and most of all, experiencing God.

The reason the ancient Pharaoh suffered the 10 plagues in Egypt is because of a hard heart. The reason the entire nation of Israel was not allowed to enter the promised land was hard heartedness. Charles Dickens tale about Ebenezer Scrooge was illustrative of the plight of a hard heart and how miraculous it is if one recovers from it.

Hard heartedness generally comes on subtly and gradually. Usually there are significant life disappointments that nurse the hardening. Scrooge was aided by ghosts from the past to snap him out of the deadly state. Truly only the Holy Ghost, God’s Spirit can touch, soften, heal and enliven the heart.

THAT is what Christmas is about.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Microsoft Vista: Who Needs a New Operating System?

Today Microsoft, located here in my hometown of Redmond, is making a lot of noise over the release of their new and long awaited operating system, Vista. To highlight the release CEO Steve Ballmer rang the bell this morning at the New York Stock Exchange.

Many of you are no doubt reading this post on a computer that is using the Microsoft XP operating system. Will you upgrade to Vista? Why should you? That is the question that is worth millions of dollars to Microsoft.

One analyst commented, “[Microsoft’s] biggest competition is getting customers to upgrade, when many of them are comfortable with what they have.”

Microsoft is counting on turning heads with splashy graphics, such as 3-D icons and folders with transparent “glass effects”. The other enhanced features being touted are ease of use and security. With today’s mobility and the increased use of laptops companies are needing dependable encryption so that industry secrets remain secret, and they need powerful deterrents to worms, viruses, spam and phishing.

Microsoft’s challenge to get current XP users to upgrade to Vista is similar to the challenge many churches face. One of the greatest hindrances to seekers or believers more completely connecting their lives to God is a general satisfaction with where their life is now.

In America we have so much who needs more of God? Got stress? Take a pill. Got questions? Hire a consultant. Got problems? Find a counselor. In the thinking of many God is a nice option if you want religion.

No, God is not a nice option nor is He something that you can add on to your life to enhance it. God IS the operating system! You install God into your life by placing your faith in Jesus Christ and it changes how all of your life works. Yes you’ll experience God as grace for trouble and guidance when you need direction and comfort when you experience loss. But these “functions” of God are not God.

The Bible compares God to a hidden treasure that a man finds in a field. The man is so taken with the treasure that he hides it back where he found it, and then he goes and liquidates all of his assets so that he can purchase the field where the buried treasure lies. Until you begin to get a glimpse of God’s greatness and magnificence, you’ll be satisfied with occasionally going to church on Sundays or saying a prayer in time of need. There will be no motivation to “upgrade” to a deeper, more penetrating and profound relationship with the Almighty Creator of the universe and Lover of your soul.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Yoko Ono Proposes Forgiveness Day

Yoko Ono, widow of the late John Lennon, is declaring December 8, the anniversary of Lennon’s death, as a global day of forgiveness. “Every year let’s make December 8 the day to ask forgiveness from those who suffered the unsufferable,” wrote Ono in a full-page ad in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times. Ono asked for forgiveness from “people who lost loved ones without cause” and from “soldiers of all countries.”

Ono also wrote that she didn’t know if she could forgive Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon.

Truly forgiveness is one of the most powerful things that people can do. I’m an advocate for forgiving those who have wronged us and I recommend that we seek forgiveness of those we have wronged. Withholding forgiveness is one of the worst things that people can do. “Unforgiveness” is a prison. We are the only people hurt when we choose not to forgive others. Giving forgiveness is liberating.

However well intentioned Yoko Ono is I don’t think that her call for forgiveness will be very far reaching. I am a fan of the Beatles and I was deeply saddened when Lennon was killed. But John Lennon’s death is not the inspiration that can bring widespread forgiveness. Lennon’s death can’t even inspire his widow to forgive her husband’s killer.

There is a Person and there is a power that can inspire forgiveness and that is the life and death of Jesus Christ. In fact, one of the ways that you know that someone really is a Christian is that they have received power from Christ in order to forgive others.

Jesus told His followers, “I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.” (Matthew 5:44,46, NLT)

I know Christians who have received grace from Christ to forgive those who have raped them, betrayed and stole from them or killed their loved one. This is not excusing some annoyance but gut wrenching forgiveness for deeply painful losses and wounds.
Receiving the power to forgive others is reason enough to follow Jesus Christ. The act of forgiveness is enough to change your life. The Good News is that there is infinitely more blessing in knowing and living with Christ.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Brett Favre: A Picture of Following Christ

Brett Favre is the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. Being a NFL starting quarterback is pretty rare. Out of all the athletes in the world there are only 32 men this week that can make that claim. What’s even more rare is that Favre has been a starting NFL quarterback since September 27, 1992. He has started a record 231 games across 14 years. He has to be THE most durable NFL player ever!

Don’t forget, every time he puts on a helmet and begins a game, 300 pound men on the other team make their living by hitting, tackling and burying Favre. They take their work very seriously and they are very good at what they do.

Favre was hit so hard in a game in 1992 that he suffered a separated shoulder. Yet he came back the next week and threw two touchdowns and won the game. In 1995 he sprained his ankle so badly that he was on crutches for a week. However, when the game started on Sunday he not only suited up but he passed for five touchdowns! In 1999 Favre’s right hand was so swollen he kept holding a football while on the sidelines of a game so that he wouldn’t lose the capacity to hold and throw the football when the offense took the field.

Last Sunday Favre was knocked out of a game against New England when his right elbow was hit while being tackled. He would have played through the pain but he didn’t have any. He didn’t have any feeling at all. His hand and fingers went so numb he couldn’t hold the ball.

This Monday the Packers are scheduled to play the Seattle Seahawks. Officially Favre is listed as “questionable” as to whether he will start or play in the game. Seahawk coach Mike Holmgren, who used to coach Favre in Green Bay, is betting that Favre will be on the field competing.

I don’t know if Brett Favre is a Christian or not so don’t misunderstand me when I say he is a picture of following Christ. I’m not speaking about his faith or even his behavior. I’m referring to his capacity to persevere.

Maybe the words “perseverance” and “Christian” seem odd to you. After all many who claim to be Christian don’t seem to have much staying power when it comes to loving “hard to love” people or forgiving those who hurt them or sacrificially giving to meet the needs of others. Many that I know can’t even make themselves get out of bed on Sunday morning to worship who they say they believe to be the Ruler of the Universe!

But don’t let those examples fool you. The most dedicated, tenacious, gutsy people I’ve ever known are Christians. They follow Christ through life’s hardest scenarios and count it a privilege to suffer pain or losses if it honors Christ and helps others. Many around the world have endured horrific treatment and torture and some have witnessed loved ones killed before their eyes, as their tormentors demanded that they renounce their faith in Christ or else.

Jesus said, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne…” (Revelation 3:21, NIV).

Brett Favre can claim credit for persevering in football. However, Christians can’t claim credit for their perseverance. The only way they do persevere is because of God’s power and grace at work in their lives. In fact, perseverance is a sign that they in fact do have a saving faith.

If you think that you’ve never seen the kind of “faith-full”, courageous and generous Christ follower that I’m describing then it just may be that you live in America. They are becoming a bit more rare in the United States. Still, I know and do life with hundreds of them.
Before you make a final decision on whether you would give your one and only life in following Christ, I would encourage you to get to know an authentic, persevering Christian. Their lives will inspire you, but what’s more, their lives will give you a powerful reflection of the Person of Christ.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

AWOL & the Condition of the Heart

Tuesday's edition of the Wall Street Journal published a story about AWOL (alcohol without liquid). A company has developed the technology to vaporize liquor, allowing it to be inhaled rather than drunk.

One web site advertised the product this way, “Get drunk—but without actually drinking! And you don’t even have to worry about a hangover in the morning…You can take in ridiculous amounts of alcohol and still be able to bound out of bed the next day…With only a few milliliters you can create enough vapor to get yourself properly hammered.”

The company spent a good bit of money on the research and development and didn’t really have any money for marketing their product. It probably would have gone away because of a lack of awareness by the public and therefore no market.

However, a Kentucky legislator’s effort to ban the device used to inhale AWOL broke into the media. Suddenly, newspapers around the country carried warnings that the device might induce extraordinary mind-altering effects. NBC’s “Today Show” broadcast a segment on AWOL and more publicity was created by the news than could ever been purchased by the fledgling company.

Very quickly over 1,000 units were sold at about $299 each!

Why? Why would media stories about the dangers of AWOL and a legislator’s efforts to prevent broken lives, broken homes and broken communities have a reverse effect and create a market that didn’t exist? Because, our hearts are desperately depraved.

Psalm 51:5 informs us, “I have been evil from the day I was born; from the time I was conceived, I have been sinful.” (Today’s English Version)

What this means it that every person that has been born into this world has a nature inclined toward broken ways. That precious baby that looks so innocent has a nature that will someday lie or cheat or hurt someone without being taught to do so. Thus, when reporters, legislators, government or religious leaders say, “We shouldn’t” about anything, that very thing can become enticing to us. It is the “forbidden fruit” syndrome.

Reflect with me for a moment about why God would ever say to humanity, “Thou shall not.” Is God a control freak? Is God anxious when humans won’t obey and follow orders? Is God some kind of fatigued parent that is being annoyed by our behavior so that He creates rules to get us “out of His hair?”

God is the perfect embodiment of peace and serenity. If God commands us not to be drunk or promiscuous or greedy or jealous, it is because He loves us and wants to protect us from the pain that comes from wounding ourselves with foolish behaviors.

Let’s give thanks to God that He cares about us more than we care about ourselves. Thank God that in His wisdom He guides us into ways that bless, enhance and enrich our life experience.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Power of Making Amends

In 1984 William Beebe was a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia. On October 6 he attended a Grateful Dead concert and then returned to his fraternity house where a party was winding down. There had been a lot of drinking in the frat house and a 17-year-old freshman, Liz Schimpf, drank some of the spiked green punch and passed out. Beebe discovered Schimpf passed out and had sex with her.

Twenty-two years later Beebe is a real estate agent in Las Vegas and an alcoholic. He entered Alcoholics Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program with the hope of living a sober and free life. The 9th step in the program calls for a person to make amends for their past deeds that have hurt and wounded others. Beebe recalled the night in question at his frat house and decided to contact Schimpf to seek her forgiveness.

Schimpf is now Liz Seccuro, a wife and mother who lives in Connecticut. Liz had reported the rape in 1984 both to the Charlottesville police and to school officials. At the time Beebe claimed it was consensual sex and both authorities said that nothing could be done. After several email exchanges in recent months between Seccuro and Beebe, Liz contacted the Charlottesville police to see if anything could be done now that she had Beebe’s confession in writing. There is no statute of limitations in Virginia and a warrant for Beebe’s arrest was issued.

As the case has had further investigation it seems that more than one man assaulted Seccuro on the night in question. Tuesday Beebe pleaded guilty to sexual assault and offered his assistance in prosecuting others that were involved.

The casual reader of this story may conclude, “Wow, it doesn’t pay to confess your sins and try to make things right.” One may be tempted to think it is better to live a life of secrecy and pretense. After all, the world now knows what Beebe did and he’s likely to go to jail for it even though it was 22 years ago and he was trying to make it right.

I don’t know if William Beebe is a Christian and I don’t know how he feels about how his effort to make amends has turned out. I do know that he was right to make amends.

The 12 Steps of AA are actually based on biblical principles. Making amends is something that Christ calls for all of His followers to do. Several years ago I was having a time of prayer and I sensed that God was calling me to make amends. In high school I had done some shoplifting, stealing to be more accurate. And in my prayers I was sensing God leading me to make amends, including making restitution for everything I had stolen.

In my prayer I asked God how to go about this. Over the next few minutes God brought to my memory everything I had ever stolen, how much it cost and from what store it had been taken. I literally wrote it all down. I spent most of an entire week going to each retailer, confessing my sin (which had been a few years prior), detailing what I took and how much it was, and offering to do whatever they wanted in order to make it right.

I didn’t know how that was going to turn out. I didn’t know if some would want to arrest and prosecute me. The short of the story is that I didn’t have any legal ramifications but I did pay most of them some amount of money.

There have been many powerful benefits to my making amends. I’ll just mention two:
1. I’m a free man. When I seek to be in God’s presence I am never tyrannized by the accusations of the evil one or of my own conscience. I’ve been forgiven and freed.
2. I’m a clean man. Because I am committed to make right any wrong I commit, there are a lot of wrongs I never commit because I don’t want to go through the pain of making them right. Amends is a great deterrent to wrong behaviors.

Finally, back to Liz Seccuro, she has established a non-profit organization called Stars Survivors to offer assistance to other women who have suffered from sexual assault and rape. I pray God’s blessings on both Seccuro (her healing and wholeness) and Beebe (his freedom from alcohol and his past) as they live promising lives for the future.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Elton John: Religion Encourages Hatred

Elton John recently said, “I think religion has always tried to turn hatred toward gay people. Religion promotes hatred toward gay people.”

John, a music superstar for decades is openly gay and has been for years. He continued, “From my point of view I would ban religion completely. It turns people into really hateful lemmings and it’s not really compassionate.” John also criticized religious leaders for failing to do anything about conflicts around the world.

As a Christian who is committed to doing all within my power to follow all the teachings of Christ, Elton John’s words sting and they grieve my heart.

First, John uses a broad brush when condemning religion for hatred. Yes, there is a verbal and demonstrative segment of Christianity that is very harsh about homosexuality and is fairly characterized as hateful. However, there are also significant numbers of Christians that have led the way in embracing gays, declaring their value and worth as human beings, standing for justice and many times on the front lines serving those who have suffered from STD’s and AIDS that have resulted from a gay lifestyle.

Let me be clear, I believe the Bible when it says that homosexuality is sin. I do not condone homosexuality as a legitimate alternate lifestyle. But I do care about gay men and women and I’m committed to love and serve homosexuals (and every other kind of person) in such a way that they also might know God’s love.

Second, John continues to use the broad brush in declaring that religious leaders don’t do anything about conflicts around the world. There is some truth in his claim and it also ignores courageous and sacrificial Christians through the centuries who have poured out their lives for the oppressed. Recent weeks have carried remarkable stories about Christian efforts in Rwanda and the Sudan for example.

Third, any failure among Christians to love and to be active in fighting for the welfare of others is TOO much. However, the answer is not to “ban religion completely”.

I’ll remind Mr. John with a broad brush of my own that music is not the answer to change broken or wicked hearts. Government can’t change our hearts so that we’re more accepting and act more justly. The business community and capitalism isn’t the answer either.
I contend that unless we invite God individually and collectively to change our hearts and transform our lives to be like Christ, we are without hope.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day & Life Change

Today is Veteran’s Day and I join the chorus of American voices that say a heart felt “thank you” to those who have served our country, risked and/or lost life, in order to protect our freedom.

A fascinating story by Lisa Hoffman appeared this past week that focused on the remaining veterans of WWI. There appears to be only about a dozen surviving veterans with an average age of 108!

Hoffman invites us to reflect. Many of these vets were born under an American flag with only 45 stars and have witnessed three centuries. They have seen 19 presidents and 7 wars. Their lives began before airplanes, radio, talking movies and antibiotics. Animals were a more common mode of transportation than tin lizzies.

One person commented, “They’re the only generation that has gone from outhouses to outer space.”

Again, I honor and admire the sacrifice and commitment of these “Doughboys” and all the vets that have fought for our country.

I don’t want to take anything away from a Veteran’s Day focus. However, I would like to take it a step farther. Hoffman’s observation of all the lifestyle change WWI vets have seen made my mind spin.

I have also been privileged to see a tremendous amount of life change. Not because I’m so old (grin) but because I’m involved in a dynamic Christian church. Through the years I’ve seen people walk into the community of faith with brokenness, confusion, fear and despair. I’ve seen them touched by God and embraced by people, inspired by scripture and forgiven of many sins. I’ve seen healing, wholeness, hope, direction and purpose flood and fill lives so that they look as different today as 2006 looks different from 1906.
Yes, I know that there are broken churches that have hurt people and caused far-reaching problems. If you or someone you love has suffered from a dysfunctional church I sincerely apologize. At the same time, the best churches are still filled with sinful people and there is no perfect church. That being said, just as America, with all of our problems, is worth defending, the church, with all of her problems, is worth giving a second or third chance. I’m praying for you, my blog reading friend, to meaningfully engage God in His church.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What's the Evidence of Being a Christian?

This past Sunday, 48-year-old Linda Long of London, Kentucky died at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. The cause of death was snakebite. Apparently Mrs. Long belonged to a Pentecostal Holiness church that practices snake handling as a part of their worship experience, or as they call it “serpent handling”. This past Easter a pastor, Dwayne Long, likewise died from handling poisonous snakes and is believed to have been the husband of Linda Long. Reporters were still trying to confirm their relationship at this writing.

Through the years you may have heard a reference from time to time about Christians who hold and handle poisonous snakes as a part of their worship. If you wondered if that were true or an exaggeration, it’s true. It primarily takes place in rural areas around the Appalachian states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia.

Apparently this practice originated in the first decade of the 20th century as a Pentecostal minister named George Went Hensley was preaching in eastern Tennessee when some men dumped a box of rattlesnakes in front of him as he was in the midst of his sermon. Hensley is said to have picked up the snakes while continuing his preaching and thus the practice began. Hensley died in 1955 from snakebite.

In the Bible there is a verse that says, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my [Jesus] name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:17-18, NIV)

The context of the verse is Jesus instructing His followers to go into the entire world and share the good news about salvation and forgiveness of sins. The point of the text is that while going for Christ, extraordinary things may happen that will encourage others to believe. Each of the things mentioned have happened from time to time. But nowhere is it suggested that “serpent handling” would validate or prove that one is a Christian.

This is a case of taking one verse and creating a far-reaching practice that can’t really be substantiated but is very effective in giving ammunition to skeptics as to why they should stay away from “those crazy church people.”

What you will find the Bible stating is the evidence that someone is a Christ follower is that they effectively and consistently “love one another”. There are dozens of these verses throughout the scripture.

Loving one another doesn’t have the drama of “serpent handling”. It is hard work, risky, opens one up to being treated unfairly and can literally cost you your life in some circumstances.

If you’re a seeker or even a skeptic examining the Christian faith, let me encourage you to reflect on whether the Christians you’re watching love others well. If you’re a believer reading this post, by all means “love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my [Jesus] disciples” (John 13:35).

Monday, November 06, 2006

Learning Forgiveness From Gayle Haggard

I posted on Saturday about the allegations raised against Pastor Ted Haggard of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Sunday a letter of confession and resignation was read to the congregation of 14,000 in which Pastor Haggard admitted that most of the allegations were true and that he was guilty of immorality.

How does someone who claims to have the power of God in his life fall to such heinous sin? I tried to address that question in my post.

Today I’m reflecting on the published response of Ted’s wife Gayle. As a leading voice in the women’s ministry at New Life Gayle felt that she needed to say something to the hundreds of women that she had taught about how to have a godly marriage.

Remarkably Gayle said, “I’m so sorry for the circumstances that have led me to write this letter to you today. I know your hearts are broken; mine is as well. Yet my hope rests steadfastly in the Lord who is forever faithful.

“What I want you to know is that I love my husband, Ted Haggard, with all my heart. I am committed to him until death ‘do us part’. We started this journey together, and with the grace of God we will finish together.”

How can a woman that has been betrayed by a husband who has apparently been caught up in drugs and gay sex for 3 years, continue to love that man? How can she forgive him so that she remains committed to be married to him for the rest of her life?

I suggest to you that is the power of God. Forgiveness is a choice. Commitment is a choice. Even love is a choice. Though feelings are powerful forces in our lives, the power to choose is greater. Gayle has chosen to forgive, remain committed and love. Her testimony is that it is God’s steadfast work in her that gives her the power to make those choices.

Will she be able to persevere, especially if additional sordid details and stories come out? I don’t know. If she continues to effectively lean on God she will. Gayle Haggard is drawing from the very same power that Jesus did while hanging upon the cross and praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Dead Sea Scrolls & a Living Bible

For several weeks the Dead Sea Scrolls are on exhibit in Seattle. This remarkable archeological find is perhaps the most significant ever if not in the past 100 years. Several of my friends have already checked it out. I’m going soon.

The Bible was written over 1500 years by over 40 different authors with radically different backgrounds and culture, yet there is a remarkable thread of continuity. It is the most published book in history. It is the most translated book in history appearing in over 1200 languages. It has survived bans, burnings, ridicule, criticism, and political eradication. It is THE single-best documented piece of ancient literature that exists. Scholars are excited if an ancient manuscript of any type had 10 or more copies. The Bible has over 26,000 ancient copies!

However, the Bible is also read by too few and understood by even less. It is THE most important book (or collection of books) ever. One of the reasons it is under-used today is because many of us don’t have a good chronological sense or context for the Bible.

Today at the church I attend, Meadowbrook Church in Redmond, we made a big deal about the little book called the Bible. We were challenged to engage in a reading plan that basically covers most of the more important or significant events and teachings in chronological order. And, the reading happens a little bit every day and can be completed in 61 days. The reading plan is online at Bible Gateway.

If we begin reading today we would have gained a tremendous awareness and familiarity of the Bible by the first week of January. What a great way to begin the New Year.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ted Haggard & Dealing With Sin

Ted Haggard is the senior pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado and he is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which claims membership by dozens of denominations and millions of Christians. Haggard has had regular meetings with President Bush and was named by TIME magazine as one of the 25 most influential religious leaders in America.

November 2, Mike Jones, a male escort in Denver, claims that Haggard had been paying for sex with him for the past three years. Jones also says that that Haggard snorted methamphetamine before their sexual encounters to heighten the experience.

Ted Haggard is on suspension from New Life Church pending investigation and he has resigned his position with the NAE. Haggard’s initial response to the allegations was a complete denial of gay sex and drug use. At this writing Haggard has now admitted that he received a massage from Jones and bought meth but never used it and threw it away.

More of the story and the truth will come out. I will not draw final conclusions about Haggard until the investigation is over.

Because Haggard was such a man of influence and had taken strong public stands against a number of moral issues including gay marriage which is on the Colorado ballot for November 7, many are jumping on the story for whatever political gains can be had as well as to take shots at the hypocrisy that is found in religion, especially Christianity.

I concede that Christianity and the church have much hypocrisy and sin. For a variety of reasons there have been a percentage of believers through the years that have felt it important to portray themselves as “having it together” and not living “in bondage to sin”. Therefore, when it becomes known that said life that is “together” and free of “bondage” is in fact broken and sinful, watching skeptics take it as one more reason not to come close to God and faith.

To my skeptic friend, Christianity does work in the lives of believers to bring integration and to free from destructive behaviors. It works in my life. But, I’m still a broken and sinful person and so is every other Christian. I’m more healed, more whole and more free from destructive ways than I’ve ever been. But, I’m not above ever failing and falling again. That’s why we must live with humility about our state and extend much grace to others.

To my believing friend, take Haggard’s story as an occasion to re-examine your own frailty. Refresh your relationship with Christ and continue receiving His grace to become all that God has designed your life to be.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

John Kerry & God's Grace

This past Monday former presidential candidate and Massachusetts Senator, John Kerry, addressed a group of college students and said that if they studied hard and made “an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Five days away from mid-term elections Republicans are scrambling to spin this story in ways that lessen their sure-to-come losses and Democrats are scrambling to spin this story to shore up their anticipated gains. It’s all resulting in way too much noise for me.

Like you I’ve seen video replays of the comments more than I want to. I do think that Kerry’s intent was to take a shot at President Bush and not the troops. I don’t know whether Kerry’s comments were a true reflection of some level of disdain he holds for the military (like a “Freudian slip”) or if it was a “botched” joke.

Here’s what I do know. What comes out of the mouth is a reflection of what is in the heart. What’s in the heart affects the way we think and speak. Jesus said, “What people say with their mouths comes from the way they think; out of the mind come evil thoughts…” (Matthew 15:18,19, NCV)

Politics and damage control aside, if John Kerry wanted to experience God in light of his comments and the national backlash he’s incurred, Kerry would want to pray a prayer similar to King David: “God, examine me and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any bad thing in me. Lead me on the road of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24, NCV)

If I’m critical, harsh, unkind, sarcastic, or wounding in any way with my conversation, that is an indicator of the state of my heart. If I want to have a rich experience with God I must have a clean heart. So, I pay attention to my conversation (and a lot of other things) to help monitor the state of my heart/thinking.

At the point that I see pride, condescension, lack of kindness or love, that’s God’s invitation to receive His grace to repent (have my thinking changed). Then, my confession to others about my conversation is not an attempt to spin or lessen some consequence, but to reveal the changing work of God in me.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oprah Winfrey Gives Away $1,000 Debit Cards

On Monday’s Oprah Winfrey show, the hostess had another big giveaway. If you’ve missed it in the past she has given away to her audience books, clothing, trips, a variety of foods and treats and even cars. This time Oprah gave each of the 300 guests in the studio audience a debit card worth $1,000.

However, there was a stipulation to receiving the gift. Each recipient had to agree to give away the $1,000. The audience was told that they could give away the entire $1,000 to one needy person or charity, or they could divide it up and give it to multiple people or charities. The choice was theirs. Each recipient was also given a DVD recorder so that they could capture what happens with their giveaway. Some of the clips will be used on later Oprah broadcasts.

Oprah said this was her favorite giveaway of all time. Why? Because she loves the feeling she gets when she gives something away. In her mind the gift was not the $1,000 debit card. The gift was the opportunity to know the feeling of bringing happiness to someone else.

What do you think? If you received a $1,000 from Oprah would you then want her to tell you how it must be used? I wonder if any of the recipients were disappointed? I wonder if any of the recipients will find a way to keep most or all of the money for themselves?

Why would I think such lowly thoughts? Because you and I regularly receive blessings and gifts from God that far exceed $1,000, and God retains the privilege of telling us what to do with it. A lot of the times we get to keep and enjoy His blessings. A lot of the time God directs us to give away His blessings. When we choose to pass on God’s blessings to others, theoretically we get to share in the experiential joy of blessing others.

But, many of us choose to keep God’s blessings to ourselves. We choose to ignore the needs of others or rationalize our own need for keeping all or most of the things God entrusts to us.

Here’s a prayer that God will always answer; “Lord what would You like for me to do with your blessings in my life?” Pray that prayer today and have some fun!

Friday, October 27, 2006

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" Is More Difficult Now

It would be much more difficult for Ferris Bueller to have a day off now than it was in 1986 when the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, was made. Do you remember how high school student Ferris tricked his parents into believing that he was sick, then he went out for a fun day of driving around Chicago with his buddy and his girlfriend?

According to USA Today it would be nearly impossible for Ferris to pull that off in 2006. Many cities have passed daytime curfew laws, so the cops would stop Ferris if he were on the street during school hours. New provisional driver’s licenses forbid teenagers from having other teenagers in their cars. Mom and Dad now have a global-positioning device installed in Ferris’ cell phone so that they can pinpoint his location on a map on their own cell phones.

Ferris also used the occasion of his day off to hack into the school’s computer to change his grades and attendance record. Now Mom and Dad can examine all of Ferris’ typing with software that let’s them monitor the home PC from their monitor at work.

Yes, it’s a new day. If you’re a parent you understand the desire to have more control over your child’s whereabouts. If you’re a teenager you probably don’t have much appreciation for the new technology and legislation.

No matter your age or generation the reality is that your Heavenly Father has always been monitoring your location, behavior and decisions 24/7. You’ve never even had a thought that God didn’t know about. Cheating, gossip, lust, illicit acts, unforgiveness, punitive behavior, stinginess, hate, prejudice, and much more have been seen and acknowledged by God. The human heart is desperately wicked and fallen.

Did you just do a double take on my use of the word “wicked”? In our relativistic world we’ve relegated wickedness to mass murderers and terrorists. But, the Bible makes it clear that we don’t compare our lives to others in this world. We compare our lives to the life of Jesus.

What we all deserve is judgment and condemnation from God. But, the grace and mercy of God provides forgiveness, redemption and transformation. That’s worth going to church and celebrating this Sunday!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Here Comes "Christmas Creep"

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…and we haven’t even had Halloween yet. Have you noticed? Retailers are already stocking their shelves with Christmas items while it is still October.

Wal-Mart, Target and Penney’s are hoping to get consumers into a shopping frame of mind two months early.

It’s a phenomenon called “Christmas creep,” according to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. William Cody of the Wharton School said, “The creep has been going on. Every year retailers hope that coming out early is going to reduce the amount of promotions. They’d rather people buy at full price.” The strategy is to capture more sales by letting people shop early.

For those who have forgotten, “Christ”mas is about the coming of Christ into our world. Every year the reality of Christmas and its rightful celebration is further buried and overshadowed, and for many even lost because of the assault of consumerism.

The retail industry has become so dependent on Christmas sales that for many it makes up 40% of their annual profits. This assault will only continue in the years to come.

For those that want to have a meaningful experience of God in the month of December let me encourage you now to make strategic decisions with your calendar, your checkbook and your heart. Make and live a plan to not get crazy during the holidays but to enjoy God’s presence.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dreams, Fears & Darkness

Saturday I attended the memorial service for a long time friend. Buddy had been a Christian for many years and served God faithfully. You always knew when Buddy walked into the room. He has to be one of the top 5 extroverted people that I personally know. Energetic. Visionary. Funny. Encouraging.

During his service an anonymous quote by one of the speakers has arrested my thoughts for the past 24 hours.

Most people have their dreams reduced to the size of their fears.
Then their vision is tunnel, and most of what they see is darkness.

Do you have dreams? Has God given you a vision? Are you pursuing a destiny from above?

Buddy always did. I heard him say many times, “The best is yet to be.”

I pray today for you, my blogging friend, that your dreams are liberated from your fears and that your vision is filled with light. Believe it…the best is yet to be.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mention of Prayer "Enrages" Professor

At Olivet College in Michigan a student who is a Christian says he was punished by one of his professors for making a reference to God in the classroom. According to Agape Press, freshman Jeremiah Bannister claims he was the target of anti-Christian bigotry and grade retaliation in his “Writing and Rhetoric” class.

Apparently Bannister was asked by Professor Austin Jackson, a Sunni-Muslim, to voice his personal opinion about what African-Americans can do to overcome historical prejudice. Bannister opposed affirmative action and slavery reparations and suggested that prayer would be one means of dealing with prejudice.

That suggestion allegedly angered Professor Jackson. Bannister claims that the professor said, “that invoking God in class was unacceptable; that it was anti-intellectual, that it was belligerent, and [that] it was completely unacceptable in his classroom. And he actually docked us 10 points from our grade because I invoked God in my opinion of what could be done.”

According to Bannister he was instructed to never mention anything about God or Jesus in the classroom.

Ironically Olivet College was founded in 1844 by Father John Shiperd with Christian values. According to the college’s web site Olivet redefined its direction in the early 1990’s.

The school is investigating the matter and my purpose is not to be critical of students, administration or faculty. My reflection is on the alleged statement of the professor. Whether he actually said such things or not, other academics certainly have. Are Christian theology, ideology and values “anti-intellectual”?

I’ve been in places and gatherings where “Christianity” was very “anti-intellectual” and looked at academia with disdain. To be fair, academia has often been anti-faith. But, the rest of the story is that nowhere does Jesus (the founder of Christianity) ask men and women to “check their brain at the door”. In fact just the opposite is true.

Jesus exhorted that if one is going to know God and follow God well one must “love the Lord your God with all your heart (feelings) and mind (thinking)…”

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dying Is Living

Last week I was listing to one of my favorite groups, MercyMe. Their latest CD,"Coming Up To Breathe", has a song at the very end called, "I Would Die For You". I liked a lot of the songs but this one arrested me.

I pulled the sleeve out of the CD cover and began reading the lyrics. They were exactly what I was preparing to say in a talk that I was giving yesterday in my church. Below the lyrics there was a paragraph that mentioned that the song had been written about a guy named BJ Higgins. Check out his web site here.

I read about 6 months of blog posts that not only detailed how BJ lived a full and abundant life for God but also how he died with peace and grace and a powerful sense of God's presence. BJ was just 15 years old but even at such a young age he discovered what was most important in life and he lived well.

The Bible says that the secret to living the life God plans for you is a paradox. In order to live you must die. Check out the link to my talk, "Dying Is Living" if you want to hear more.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Lesson From The Torn Down Amish School

Thursday the Amish in Nickel Mines, PA had their one room schoolhouse demolished before dawn. The site where a gunman fatally shot 5 girls and wounded 5 others is now a bare patch of earth. The Amish plan to leave a quiet pasture where the schoolhouse stood.

Hopefully our nation has already learned important lessons from watching the Amish respond to this nightmarish tragedy. The Amish have modeled forgiveness having already declared their concern for the gunman’s family. They have modeled grief as they have clung to their faith and to their community for strength and courage. Anyone that learns how to forgive well and grieve life’s losses well is living an extraordinary life.

Now the Amish are demonstrating how to move forward from tragedy. Forgiveness and grief are not over. They will continue to experience both for some time. But, they will no longer view the schoolhouse. There will not be a structure to remind them of their pain. It’s gone.

In the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:3 tells us that there is a time for everything; “A time to tear down and a time to rebuild.” There are times when our experience is so far reaching and so life penetrating that moving on has to be more radical than a patch work job on the walls and a fresh coat of paint. There are times to tear down and remove.

Some of us have “rooms” of resentment in various places of our heart. We sometimes go there and relive past trauma and experience pain, anger and raw emotion. And, as long as that “room” remains we return to it over and again. It’s like playing a videotape of someone wronging us, then rewinding it and playing it again and again.

That “room” needs to be torn down and we need to move on. This is a work that God does in us and we exercise faith in order to cooperate with His work. By faith we receive power to forgive, grieve, to tear down and to rebuild.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Do We Need More Churches?

In answer to the question, “Do we need more churches?” many cities are saying an emphatic “No”. According to USA Today churches are being turned away by cities and towns that hope to enliven a fading downtown or boost their tax base.

“There's more interest than ever in attempting to exclude churches and other houses of worship,” says Kevin Hasson, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “They say they don't want churches there. They want something that generates tax revenue.”

Kenly, NC; Stafford, Texas; Miramar, Florida; Titusville, PA; are some of the cities listed that have concluded that more churches would be detrimental to their communities. It’s a case of choosing economics over faith.

Hey, I understand the argument and I’m sympathetic to cities that are trying to provide services to their citizenry in the face of escalating costs. And, I’ve seen many a church that never made much of a contribution to the well being of a community.

Let me hasten to say that I love the church, I’ve committed my life to serving God through His church and I believe that the church is the hope of the world. I really do. The church is entrusted with the gospel, the message from heaven on how to have eternal life. The church is the steward of the ministry of changing lives.

However, many churches have taken the notion of “don’t let the world corrupt you” to mean, “don’t be involved in your community.” As a result churches often act like leeches. Once you get involved in a church then you are no longer a contributing participant in the community.

About 3 years ago someone asked me the question, “If your church no longer existed would the city care that you were gone? Would the city even know that you were gone?” Great question.

From that point it became clear to me that God not only wanted us in the business of “changed lives” but He also wanted us in the business of “blessing the city”.

“When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices…” (Proverbs 11:10)

I want our church to be so involved in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, aiding those in recovery, counseling those who are confused, encouraging those who are losing hope and equipping others with basic life skills, that if our church should disappear the city would greatly mourn our absence.

Friday, October 06, 2006

What's Going On With Recent School Shootings?

This past week we were shocked and saddened to learn of a 32-year-old milk truck driver and father of 3 entering an Amish school in Pennsylvania and killing little girls execution style. This follows the tragic account from the week before of a 53-year-old man entering a school in Colorado, molesting several girls and then killing one. In both cases the men killed themselves afterward.

According to ABC News there have been 25 shootings at or near schools across our nation since the beginning of school two months ago! What’s going on?

Some complain that schools are not secure enough and need more procedures and personnel to ensure safety. Some continue the debate about gun control. Some point the finger at the media for giving “15 minutes of fame” to the perpetrators. Maybe there’s some truth to these positions and others that I didn’t mention. We probably should see some change in the above-mentioned areas.

However, I’m not hearing in the national conversation what I consider to be at the top of the list for the cause and effect of these tragic and horrific shootings. EVIL.

The most recent case involving Charles Roberts is the most illustrative of my point. Here is an average guy with a regular job, married with three children of his own. Without exception, everyone that knew Roberts said that they could never in their wildest dreams imagine him shooting and killing the little Amish girls. And yet, with full premeditation he enters the school with several guns, a lot of ammunition, lumber to block the door, a change of clothes and K-Y jelly, which one can only speculate was for sexual assault purposes.

Was Roberts depressed, upset, despondent, or hopeless? People get like that all the time but if they start “losing it” they are usually self-destructive at that point. They get drunk, take drugs, or even attempt suicide. Yet, Roberts carefully orchestrates and carries out a plan that assaults innocence, brings him fame and ends his life and pain. Now Roberts' invisible and seemingly insignificant life is known to all Americans and will live on in infamy.

This is the way evil works. The Bible teaches that there is a real person of evil called Satan or the Devil. He really has power. He really does influence the thinking and feelings of people.

Yes, make schools safer. Let’s work to have better control over who gets the privilege to use a gun. Let’s quit sensationalizing and making famous disturbed people who do awful things. But, let’s not forget to address the pervasive problem of evil. The ONLY hope we have in fighting against evil is the heart transforming work of God. ONLY God can change our evil and broken hearts and make them good and whole.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Is Congressman Mark Foley a Pedophile?

Mark Foley, a Republican Congressman who represented parts of Palm Beach County in Florida for 12 years has resigned and entered a rehabilitation program. He has been disgraced by the disclosure that he sent sexually suggestive emails and text messages to male congressional pages. He claimed that at no time was there actual sexual contact with any page. Before Foley entered rehab he also disclosed that he had been sexually abused as a child, he was intoxicated when he sent the inappropriate communications and he is homosexual.

Wow. One week Foley is a multi-term Congressman about to be re-elected and the next week his life is an entire “made for TV mini-series of scandal”.

I am sympathetic and I pray for rehabilitation and healing for Mark Foley. I do hope he is telling the truth that there was never any sexual contact with any page. I’m also prayerful for the pages that received these communications that God would guard their hearts from emotional, psychological and spiritual wounding or damage.

Reflect with me on one of the statements made by Foley’s attorney, David Roth. Speaking on behalf of and in defense of Mark Foley, Roth declared, “Any suggestion that Mark Foley is a pedophile is false.”

That statement raises the question: Is someone a pedophile because they have inappropriate sex with a minor? OR, Does someone have inappropriate sex with a minor because he is a pedophile?

I contend that the Bible makes the case for the latter. Jesus clarified the nature of a sinful heart when He pointed out the Law says, “Do not commit adultery. But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

In other words, someone commits adultery because he IS an adulterer in his heart. Foley is a pedophile because he has pedophilia (lust for young males) in his heart.

Let’s bring that home to you and me. What’s in your/my heart? Pride? Greed? Lust? Envy? Gluttony? Wrath? Sloth? The Christ following life is not one that just recovers over and again from fallen behaviors. It is also a life that experiences “heart surgery” where God is allowed to purge and heal our hearts and thereby deliver us from fallen behaviors and outcomes.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Veggie Tales More Shocking Than Madonna?

Writer Terry Mattingly asks, "If you were a television executive, which program do you think would offend the most viewers across America?

"The first is a children's show featuring digital vegetables that sing and dance and tell silly parables. Each episode ends with a Bible verse and a witty tomato's reminder that 'God made you special and he loves you very much!'

"The second is a prime-time special in which Madonna sings her enigmatic ballad 'Live to Tell' while hanging on a disco-mirror crucifix and wearing a crown of thorns."

If you decided that it's the vegetables that are too hot to handle, then you're on the save wavelength as NBC.

Actually both shows got the green light but the veggies had to do some significant editing. The editing "rule of thumb" is that the veggies can tell what God did in the past but they can't suggest that God can do it in the present.

For example, in one script about Samson, Larry the Cucumber is convinced Samson must have gotten his extraordinary strength from his hairbrush. No, replies Bob the Tomato, the Bible says that Samson's strength came from God.

That line was okay. The next line where Bob says, "And God can give us strength too," had to be stricken by order of NBC execs.

Got it? Claiming that God can do something in your life today is offensive and not suitable programming.

Dear Reader, I'm not complaining. I'm just pointing out that there are powerful people in high places that are committed to preventing you and others from hearing the full story about God's presence and God's activity in this world. That's worth a moment of your reflection.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Embezzling Priests & The Nature of Sin

Thursday the news services carried the story of two priests in Delray Beach, Florida who allegedly embezzled $8.6 million in offerings and gifts made to their parish over several years. Specifics on how the money has been spent or where the remaining amounts are have not been determined but apparently the two priests have taken some trips and gambled a good bit of it away. It should be noted that the attorney for the priests claims that the money is more like $325,000 rather than millions. The seizure of funds began in 2001.

The actual amount of money stolen is important but my point of reflection focuses on the act, not the amount. How can two “holy men” do this? I’m not concluding that these two priests are already guilty. I’ll let the courts do that. But today’s news also carries the story from the West coast of a pending legal situation concerning a priest who allegedly molested boys and young men. I also don’t cast my reflection upon Catholic priests only. There are plenty of stories about protestant clergy.

How can those entrusted with the spiritual care of people and given stewardship over resources abuse that trust? This isn’t a case of someone “slipping” and falling once and repenting and getting back up. All of us do things we know are wrong and that most of the time we don’t want to do. Regular confession, repentance and forgiveness are the means of getting back on the right track.

But what I’m highlighting today is long-term, systemic sin, even while continuing to carry out ministerial duties of prayers, mass, communion, blessings, etc. How does that happen?

Long-term, systemic sin (sin habits) happens to all of us. You have “pet” sins and I have sins that tug at me to repeat them over and again. Maybe our sins don’t get into millions of dollars or make newspaper headlines, but our sins grieve God and leave us separated from God no matter how “insignificant” we deem them to be.

Sin habits and even addictions happen when we don’t immediately repent from a sinful act. For the priests, this would have meant that the first time they embezzled in 2001, God no doubt convicted them of this wrong and stirred them to repent (i.e.: stop, turn around and go a different direction). If they had chosen to repent there would have been some immediate consequences but they would also have been set free from the sin becoming a “master” that had power over their lives.

Every time they were convicted in their hearts and failed to repent, their hearts hardened. The human heart is capable of being so hard and our thinking can be so double-minded, we can literally perform ministry while stealing millions.

I share all of that to say this--Guard your Heart. The scary thing about the priest’s story is that it can and does happen to all of us. Again, just because you don’t make the headlines doesn’t diminish the importance of having a clean heart before God.

An unchecked lusting heart will lead to emotional or physical affairs. An unchecked greedy heart will lead to theft. An unchecked selfish heart will lead to a narcissistic, self-centered life. I could go on. Guard your heart.

If you are unclear about how to guard your heart, get involved in a church and a small group of trusted Christians that are all committed to “heart care”.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Dave Dravecky & Doing Life Over

Do you remember the Dave Dravecky story? A young left-handed pitcher for the San Francisco Giants in the late 1980’s, Dravecky showed great promise as a major league player until it was discovered that he had cancer in his pitching arm. Dravecky had an operation that removed the cancer. He went through grueling rehabilitation and re-entered the major leagues with an inspirational performance that earned him standing ovations.

Life and baseball looked exciting and promising again, and, Dave had more positive influence in the lives of young and old than ever before because of his courageous comeback. Then, the cancer returned and it was determined that the pitching arm had to be amputated! There are books and videos that tell the story and it would be worth your time and money. Check out his web site.

Last week my son got to hear Dravecky speak. I asked, “How was it? Did he say anything that stood out to you?” Justin replied, “Dad, he said that if he had his life to live over again he would want it to happen exactly the same way. He said that going through the cancer experience was the best thing that ever happened to him.”

Does that surprise you? It doesn’t me. I’ve heard dozens of people of faith through the years say similar things. Their conclusions are the same. God worked so powerfully in their lives and changed them so thoroughly that they would significantly be less than the person they’ve become had they not walked with God through hardship.

I think that is similar to what the Apostle Paul had experienced and thus he confessed, “I boast in my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me…I delight in my weaknesses…For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Sunday, September 24, 2006

$200 Million Powerball Winner & Heaven

At this writing it has been determined that one person selected the correct numbers in Iowa’s Powerball but he or she has yet to come forward to claim winnings of $200 million (actually about $140 million after taxes).

Wow! Can you imagine? One day you go to work for an average or below average salary and the next day you’re a multi-millionaire. In my mind the only thing that could be more stunning is to discover that you had the winning numbers after the time allotted to collect the prize and therefore you forfeited the windfall.

Do you feel the pain of the above scenario? Regretfully such a thing happens daily with respect to life’s greatest “jackpot”; the gift of knowing God and going to heaven some day when you die.

God has already said that He is not willing that any should perish without having eternal life. Therefore He pursues and woos you, others and me in order to give us life’s greatest gain. Yet many of us ignore God’s gift like a Powerball winner ignoring the announced winning numbers. The day that the “could-be-winners” discover their loss will be so awful that there is only one word to describe it: Hell.

Friday, September 22, 2006

What Do Tiger Woods & Roger Federer Have In Common?

Tiger Woods attended the recent US Open tennis championship and was spotted in the stands watching Roger Federer play. Did Tiger just happen to be in town, snag a hard-to-come-by ticket and enjoy a little tennis? Hardly. Tiger came just for the purpose of watching and later meeting with Federer. Why?

According to USA Today Tiger was with Federer because champions are attracted to each other. The article is the first in a series that looks at champions in baseball, football, basketball, NASCAR and more. Writer Erik Brady contends that men and women that are champions at such a high level are like “soul mates, magnetically attracted by mutual eminence.”

After the match Tiger and Roger spent significant time together connecting about life and about competition. Brady contends that only a few people on the planet know what it is to be the best of the best.

Before I finished the article I was in agreement with Brady’s premise. Recently I had the opportunity to spend three days at a nationally known training center for Christian missionaries. This center trains thousands of missionaries from all over America. I was privileged to have conversations with several men and women, some of whom were in their 20’s and others in their 60’s and all ages in between. Within minutes of each conversation I felt a tremendous connection.

I’ve been on mission serving God for several years and though I am not engaged internationally there is a lot of common experience with these missionaries so that my heart was constantly stirred as I heard stories about where each was going and what each would be doing. As with Brady I’ll also call it being “soul mates.”

We have chosen to love God and love a group of people with all our heart. We have chosen to sacrifice and pour out our lives to bless, encourage, resource, befriend, counsel, console, grieve, celebrate and in general just walk with people in the name of Christ.

If your mental picture of ministry is narrow-minded, know-it-all, condescending people that you wouldn’t want to hang out with, please think again. I’ve met those kinds of people and I don’t want to hang out with them either. The hundreds of “soul mates” that I know are some of the kindest, most generous, caring and sensitive people you’ll ever meet. Some of these “soulish” kinds of people can probably be found in a church that is near you. This Sunday might be a strategic time for you to check it out.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Rick Santorum & Bob Casey Talk About Faith

Tuesday was an election day for primaries and other issues in many states. In Pennsylvania incumbent Senator Rick Santorum (R) and challenger Bob Casey (D) are both openly talking about their faith during their campaigns. Both are Catholics and social conservatives. Both address Catholic and Evangelical groups. Sound okay to you?

For several years it has been increasingly taboo for Christians to talk about their faith in public much less in the political arena. The vocal social opinion has been that religion should be a private matter and not imposed on others in public discourse. Why?

I’ve had people share with me about their non-Christian convictions and I’ve never been offended or even uncomfortable. In fact, I’m often interested in what someone has to say because I’m curious about why people hold to non-Christian beliefs.

I agree that no one wants to be put down, condescended, or “sold” someone else’s convictions. I’m sure that kind of thing happens. I just never really encounter it. If someone becomes a little too enthusiastic with me in sharing his or her beliefs I don’t mind coming back with, “I can tell that means a lot to you. My faith means a lot to me also.”

If we are in fact moving in a direction of more freedom to discuss or share something of our faith I rejoice. Will there be those who posture themselves religiously or overstate their practice? Of course. Those people will overstate their concerns or involvements in other arenas also. But if we also have the opportunity to hear from authentic people like Santorum and Casey I say, “Bring it on.”

Monday, September 18, 2006

Life Has A Way of Crashing In On Us

Mary and Bill Hornbrook live in a relatively quiet and uneventful mobile home community for seniors in Auburn, Washington. Mary has some hanging baskets on her porch that needed some trimming. As she was headed toward the porch she was startled by a loud crash. At first she wondered if it were an earthquake. Bill came running into the room wondering if there had been a car accident in front of their home.

When they went out on the front porch to see what had happened the Hornbrook’s discovered that a piece of an airplane had fallen from the sky and crashed through their front porch roof according to the Federal Aviation Administration officials who came and took it away.

Mary was shaken for quite some time not only because of what happened but also because of what might have happened. If Mary had moved a little quicker and been trimming her baskets two minutes earlier she would have been standing in the exact spot where the airplane part came crashing in. In the “blink of an eye” Mary’s life as she knows it would have been over and she would have been ushered into the life to come.

In the Epistle of James we’re told that life is like a vapor or mist. Our lives are only here in this world briefly and it’s over. The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is going to return to our world (a second coming) and when He does life, as we know it will be “changed in an instant, as quickly as the blinking of an eye.”

Whether we experience our own death or the return of the Christ, life can instantly be over and we enter the afterlife and world to come. The question is, “Am I prepared?”

I don’t know if Mary was and is ready to meet her Maker. I know that I am. Maybe you have some skepticism about this matter. That’s fine. My friendly encouragement to you today is, “What if I’m right? Don’t you owe it to yourself to find out?”

Perhaps you’d like to dialogue with me or with some friend that you respect who is a Christian. Maybe you’d like to read a book. Why not take some step to begin to get answers to what I think are life’s most important questions. Do it before life comes crashing in on you.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Susan Kuhnhausen Strangled an Intruder, a Hit Man

Susan Kuhnhausen is a 51-year-old nurse in Portland, Oregon. She returned home from work September 6, turned off her home alarm and stepped inside to find Dalton Haffey racing toward her with a hammer in hand. He landed a couple of blows on Susan but she began to fight back and she wrestled the hammer away from him and then strangled him to death.

Police are not charging her with any crime concluding that Susan Kuhnhausen acted in self-defense. In the immediate aftermath the police investigation was going in the direction of an interrupted burglary that turned violent. However, when investigators looked further into Haffey’s background they discovered that he not only had prior arrests for assault and attempted murder, but that he also worked for Michael Kuhnhausen, Susan’s estranged husband from whom she was in the process of divorce.

Now there is evidence that Michael was upset over the divorce and hired Haffey to kill Susan. Michael Kuhnhausen also bought a gun just prior to this incident and left an apparent suicide note. Allegedly Michael was going to have Susan killed and then take his own life.

This story is but one more example of the axiom, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

My point of reflection revolves around Susan’s recovery from this ordeal and God. It’s significant enough to deal with the sense of invasion that happens when someone breaks into your home. Add to that attempted murder, then killing a man with your own bare hands as a matter of defense. Then, to top it off, your husband has orchestrated this episode. This trauma is off the charts in terms of recovery.

Susan is an ER nurse and acquainted with trauma and bizarre realities. But, there is a world of difference in maintaining a professional objectivity in your job and coming to grips with multiple personal violations.

I couldn’t find in any of the stories posted if Susan is a follower of Christ. I pray that she is or will be. Her inner life has been ravaged and though medicine and psychology can offer many kinds of help, this life needs a touch from a loving God. Don’t misunderstand; that loving touch isn’t like a magic wand that suddenly and immediately brings transformation. Rather that touch leads to another and another that in process brings healing and wholeness.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

T-Ball Coach Mark Downs Has Lost His Moorings

Mark R. Downs, 29, of Dunbar, Pennsylvania, coaches 8 and 9-year-old boys in baseball. Near the season’s end there is a tournament, which is typical for most youth leagues. And also typical is a rule that says every player on the team must play some number of innings. That of course attempts to keep coaches from being so competitive that they only play their best 9 players and every other kid then sits on the bench for the whole tournament. Most parents have faced the ordeal of encouraging their child when they don’t get much if any playing time.

Downs apparently was overtaken by his competitiveness because he offered one of his players $25 to hurt a 9-year-old mentally disabled teammate. Obviously if the child was hurt then Downs would not have to put him in the game.

Eight-year-old Keith Reese testified in court that Downs made him the offer before a June 27 playoff game. “He told me if I would hit Harry (Bowers) in the face he would pay me $25,” Keith said.

Today a jury convicted Downs of two misdemeanor charges and acquitted him of the more serious charge, a felony count of criminal solicitation to commit aggravated assault.

Most of the commentary (journalistic and blogger) about Downs just says he is a jerk. Maybe. More precisely I contend that Downs has lost his moorings.

When a ship is moored or tied to a dock, it is prevented from drifting away and being lost. God creates people with unique and purposeful design. People have tremendous capacity to enrich and bless. When we become “untied” or disconnected from God, when we lose our moorings, then we are left to the ravages of the seas and we become broken and fallen. Downs squandered a strategic place in the lives of boys to enrich and bless their lives.

I pray for Downs to experience a “wake-up” call and use this episode to turn his life around. He is the father of two daughters. I also pray for the boys that the trauma of testifying in court and the sad memory of a spoiled summer can be used for positive life lessons. All would benefit greatly by being connected to the Creator.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Chicago Bears, Free Furniture & God's Blessings

Congratulations to the Chicago Bears for their shutout of the Green Bay Packers on September 10. Congratulations to all those who received free furniture because of the 26-0 win. According to the Chicago Tribune 206 families received free furniture from purchases made over the Labor Day weekend because Randy Gonigam, furniture store owner and Bears fan, had promised that all purchases over the holiday weekend would be free if the Bears shutout the Packers.

Gonigam was both frustrated with the Bears quality of play and he wanted to sell furniture. He thought his combined interests would make for an interesting promotion and he also thought it was a safe bet since the Green Bay Packers had not been shut out in 16 years. Now Gonigam is writing off $300,000 worth of furniture!

For one woman this meant her $5,000 master bedroom set was free. For one man it meant his $1,500 book shelving was free. And so the giveaway went. One customer commented, “This is the luckiest day of my life.”

In this story everyone is a winner (except for the Packers). The Bears win, the furniture customers win and even Gonigam wins. He received a lot of free publicity and calls from CNN and MSNBC about the promotion not to mention he took out an insurance policy just in case the Bears pulled off the shutout.

What would it take for you to have the “luckiest day of your life?”

Everyday Christ followers personally enjoy friendship with the Creator of the Universe. Everyday we see God bring healing to broken hearts, hope to despair, guidance to the confused and companionship to the lonely. Yes, God is the Almighty who holds our world together and He is the Judge that we all answer to, but He is also our Father, our Savior and the Lover of our Soul. The day you begin a relationship with God is the luckiest day of your life.