Monday, December 31, 2007

Of Warriors and Worshippers

Like my daughter would say, wooooooooooow!!! (If you don't know how to say it properly it doesn't have quite the same effect). I can hardly believe that today is the last day of 2007. Where did the time go? When did I get those extra grey strands in my beard? When did my kids get so big? All these questions roaming around freely in my head as I attempt to put perspective on my life in 2007. I don't know about you, but I'm glad 2008 is around the corner. I certainly have experienced and learned an awful lot in 2007, but I am eager to see what 2008 holds.

The Well turns two on February 19, 2008 and I am particularly excited about what God has in store for us as we reach the 'toddler' stage of our existence. I am sorrounded by a group of loving, caring, 'battle-hardened warriors' who have truly demonstrated their mettle as we have navigated the sometimes treacherous roads of planting a life-giving church in Central Florida. So on this, the last day of 2007, I couldn't think of a more fitting tribute to pay to those men and women that I have proudly served the King alongside of. I am thinking fondly of, and praying for all of you today (you know who your are).

As we exit the grand stage of 2007 and make an entrance into 2008, I wish I had the prescience to tell you what's in store (that would, however, make me Omniscient). What I can offer though, is a reminder of one of the quotes that impacted me the most in 2007. This quote has served as a constant reminder of the strength I am sorrounded by on my team. So to all you warriors out there, you are the one!

"Of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't be there. Eighty are nothing but targets. Nine are real fighters... we are lucky to have them... they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one of them is a warrior... and he will bring the others back." - Hericletus (CIRCA 500 B.C.)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Treasure hunting

I really enjoyed watching National Treasure - Book of Secrets. It was fun, light-hearted, and witty. All the hi-tech stuff that happened from inside a toilet stall was way beyond me (I'm at a loss to see how you can control video cameras, fire alarms, locking security gates, and other such security measures simply by hooking up your iphone and laptop to the bathroom wall), but I loved the story line: An honest, nationally honored, treasure-hunting family trying to clear their good name, which has been smeared by a glory-seeking, no-good charlatan.

If you're a stickler for accuracy and believability, then this isn't the movie for you, as this one will drive you wild with questions like "How on God's green earth could they have done that?" For instance, in the space of a few days, they somehow make their way into the Queen's private study at Buckingham Palace, the Oval Office at the White House, and "kidnap" the president of the United States of America (at a party to which they are not invited), all without consequence, or without even being caught. Also, for a movie filled with so much hi-tech stuff, when it comes to attempting to 'rescue' the "kidnapped" president, they are remarkably uninventive. One is forced to wonder: all they can come up with is a sledge hammer?

But since I am not Gene Shalit (movie critic), I eschewed all the hard-to-believe artistic liberties taken by the director of the movie and simply enjoyed the unfolding love stories, the I'll-die-to-clear-my-good-name drama, and the inevitable end of the 'evil' man who finds his 'salvation' and the good inside of him at the very end. Oh, and it didn't hurt to have the not so smart, smart guy find a girl and get his Ferrari back too! If you're looking for something light-hearted and fun to do over the holidays, now that I've conveniently laid out the plot for you, I highly reccommend seeing National Treasure.
Hey, I'll do anything I can to help!
Custom Smiley

Thursday, December 27, 2007

South Africa or bust!

I thought I'd share this image with you today. There is no clearer universal language than a language that is spoken by all races. Football (or soccer as it is called in countries that don't know any better :)) is a universal game. More people on the planet play or watch football than any other sport. In 2010, in an unprecedented display of incredibly rich and diverse culture, South Africa will host the World Cup for the first time on the African continent. This is an honor not only for South Africa, but for the entire continent.

The logo for the largest sporting event in the world was recently unveiled at the FIFA preliminary rounds selection event. In case you didn't notice, the man's head and neck are in the shape of the African continent. This event is not only the greatest sporting event ever, but it also provides a platform for the building of potentially life-long relationships. Why is this news worthy? Well, if you know anything at all about African and world history, you'd know that only a few short years ago, South Africa was ostracized from the world community because of her practice of apartheid. Nelson Mandela (former South African president after the dismantling of apartheid) was incarcerated for almost 40 years because of his vocal and active objection to this evil system of governance.

For South Africa to be hosting the world in a competition that demonstrates the dissolution of any kind of racial barriers, is not only epic and historic, but undoubtedly proof that mankind is redeemable no matter how low we sink. I for one am thrilled that the continent of my birth will host such a major global event. Anyone interested in going to South Africa in 2010?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Do you like Rock or Roll?

That quickly it's here and gone! Christmas seems so fleeting. In the weeks following Thanksgiving there is such a frenzy to prepare for Christmas. Get the gifts... check. Get all the ingredients for the meal... check. Call the credit card company and ask for an extension... check. Fall into bed completely spent, the evening of December 25... check. Is it worth it? I guess that depends on your perspective of Christmas.

If for you, the most important thing about Christmas is the fact that you can pause in the middle of your busy life and contemplate the truth about eternity, and the fact that history records its dates from the life of one man (B.C. and A.D.), suggesting that He offers more to our world than just a day in which you become catatonic from too much tryptophan, then it may well be worth it. If, on the other hand, you simply look forward to the "holidays" so that you can gorge yourself silly on sweet potato pie and all the other 'holiday fixins,' then you might want to reconsider what is value to you.

Christmas takes its name from the one that we Celebrate. That really is what it's all about. Worshiping, praising and thanking Him for all He's done. Jesus said if we didn't praise Him, it would be nothing for Him to give voice to rocks that would praise Him. A Christian recording artiste once wrote a song in which he essentially said that he didn't want to be replaced by a rock and so he was committed to praising God. Christmas provides just one opportunity for you to do just that. Now, if you choose to excercise your rights not to praise Him, that's okay too. Except, I hope you're ready to be replaced by a rock! So I suggest that you roll over, get out of bed, and give praise today to the One who is worthy of all praise.

Hey, even dogs are smart enough to know when to tow the line and they don't even have anything at stake.
Light Bulb

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Happy birthday, we are saying we love you…

Some people are born and simply pass through our world. Our world is no better for their entrance or their exit, and the only proof that they came, is an epitaph on a weed infested grave somewhere. Then there are those who pass through our world and our world remembers their contribution, for good or for bad: An Abraham Lincoln or a Winston Churchill. A Jeffrey Dahmer or an Adolph Hitler. Then there are the uncommon few who not only pass through our world, but who shape it by their convictions, their character, their commitment and their courage. These are people who leave the world a better place than they found it. People like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. readily spring to mind. We should all aspire to be such people.

Then there is the ONE! The One whose birth was foretold. The One, at whose demise creation groaned in protest, and for whom the heavens wept torrents of driving rain. The One who created and shaped our world with a spoken word. The One who said, “Let there be…” and there was. The One who chose to subject Himself to His creation and suffer the shame and ignominy of the cross. The One who said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love…” Today, on this wonderful December day, we celebrate You and we say:

“Happy birthday Jesus, we are saying we love you…”

Monday, December 24, 2007

And He will be called...

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom... from that time on and forever." (Isaiah 9: 6 - 7 NIV)

Isaiah couldn't have had any earthly idea that a Messiah would be born, and that he would be accorded all the titles that Jesus was accorded. Isaiah lived at least 600 years before the birth of Christ, yet his prophecies so accurately predict his birth. This could only have been by Divine insight, since there are over 200 prophecies that Jesus fulfilled concerning the coming Messiah. You might think this is no big deal, but put another way, your perspective might change:

It's been said that the chances of one man fulfilling all of the prophecies concerning the Messiah (if he were not truly the Messiah), are slimmer than the chances of a high wind blowing through a metal scrapyard and assembling a boeing 747 in its wake. Wow! Jesus is God incarnate, whether we give mental assent to that fact or not! The calumny of men simply leaves me bemused at how they think they can erase truth by simply denying it. I hope your Christmas is meaningful and Christ centered, otherwise your celebrations might just be an exercise in futility.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I'd like to thank the Academy...

And the winners are… (Drum roll please)!!!

The following are the correct answers to the 20 Christmas carol trivia questions. We certify that the envelope containing the answers has not left the possession of our (ac)counting firm of Thompson & Thompson since the answers were tabulated. We further solemnly attest that no one else has handled the envelope (other than the manufacturers, and maybe the store clerk where it was purchased, and possibly the delivery truck driver, and…) I’m sorry, I got a little carried away. Back to the results:)

The Academy is proud to announce that the winners of this year's Christmas trivia quiz are...

1. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
2. Silent Night
3. O’ little town of Bethlehem
4. Good king Wenceslas
5. Joy to the world
6. Hark, the herald angels sing
7. We three kings
8. Away in a manger
9. Angels we have heard on high (Gloria in Excelsis Deo)
10. O’ come all ye faithful
11. O’ holy night
12. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
13. The 12 days of Christmas
14. It came upon a midnight clear
15. Frosty the snowman
16. All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth
17. I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus
18. Walking in a winter wonderland
19. Deck the halls with boughs of holly
20. Silver bells

So how many did you get right? Are you up on your Christmas carols or do you need to make a quick dash to Walmart and purchase a few greatest hits Christmas albums? Any way, have an incredible weekend and I’ll talk with you next week. Oh, incase I don't see you before then, have a blessed and merry Christmas.

3D Santa

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Name that tune

How did you do figuring out yesterdays Christmas carols? Apparently only one person was confident enough in their answers to be willing to post them. Don't be so bashful, just take the plunge and give it a try. You might surprise yourself. Any way, here's a list of the final 10 carols. Hope you do better than you did yesterday (pun intended, Hope)!!!

11. Hallowed Post Meridian
12. Fantasia of a colorless December 25th
13. A dozen 24-hour yule periods
14. Befell during the transparent bewitching hour
15. Homo Sapien of crystallized vapor
16. Desire a pair of incisors on December 25th
17. I spied my maternal parent osculating
18. Perambulating through a December solstice fantasy
19. Adorn the vestibule
20. Tin tintinnabulum's

Go ahead, knock yourself out. I'll see you tomorrow with the correct answers.
3D Elf With Candy Cane

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Are you smart enough to figure these out, or...?

Last Sunday we had a great 'outdoor' service except that it was held indoors. We had planned a special outdoor service with all kinds of fun. A gift exchange, games, brunch and lot's of other activities, but we had reckoned without the totally unpredictable weather of Central Florida. Heck, hurricane season is over so who would have thought that there would be torrential rains in the forecast? It rained non-stop overnight and by 7.00am on Sunday morning (it was still raining) I had figured out that our planned special outdoor service was going to have to move indoors (I know what you're thinking, but I'm really smart like that!)

Anyway, it turned out to be a great 'outdoor' service, and we had a ton of fun with our newcomers as well as our regular attenders. One of the fun games we played ("Fun in church? How sacrilegious," I hear you say. Well, all I can tell you is that we break the stereotype), was a Christmas carol trivia game. The idea is to figure out the actual name of the Christmas carol from the description listed. Since you didn't get the opportunity to be part of our incredible 'outdoor' service (may be I need therapy from the trauma of having to move it indoors), I am going to give you the opportunity to test your Christmas carol savvy right here. Today I will list 10 popular carols. Tomorrow I will list another 10, and on Friday I will give you the correct answers so you can see how well you did. Don't hurt anyone in frustration while you're trying to figure these out. Okay?

1. Quadruped with crimson proboscis
2. Eight P.M. to six A.M. without noise
3. Miniscule hamlet in the near East
4. Ancient benevolent despot
5. Exuberance directed to the planet
6. Listen, aerial spirits announcing
7. Trio of monarchs
8. Yonder in the hay rack
9. Cherubim audited from aloft
10. Assemble, everyone who believes

Well, what are you waiting for? Go on and get started, you've got a long way to go. No I don't want to hear any excuses about it being too early in the day to get your brain in gear. Let me know how you did.
Seasons Greetings

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lost in translation

Since I'm on this travel theme, I thought I might share another story about observations I've made while traveling. Airports are the most amazing places in the world to people watch. If you travel often enough, and you make it your 'business' to people watch, you are bound to become quite the expert at interpreting facial expressions. My all-time favorite of course, is the perplexed look. This is generally seen on the faces of people who are clearly in a country where they don't read or speak the language. While English is a universal language, in some airports around the globe many of the directional signs are in 'gibberish' (or they might as well be for all the good they do the traveler looking for directions to catch a connecting flight).

Take for instance one time I was in Heathrow Airport in London. I noticed what appeared to be a gentleman of eastern European stock attempting to get directions from an equally perplexed, uniformed custodian. Evidently, in eastern Europe any kind of uniform screams of authority, and so this confused traveler thought that the uniform implied knowledge. I suspect that, like a friendly smile attracts other friendly smiles, so the perplexed look says "hey, your expression looks just like mine so you must be able to help me." Otherwise why else would you go up to someone who looks just as confused as you, to ask for help?

Anyway, I pretended to be totally disinterested, while I strained as hard as I could to hear the conversation. Since it was taking place in haltingly broken english and sign language, as near as I could deduce, the traveler needed to transfer between terminals in order to catch a connecting flight that was leaving in an hour. Even though I understood perfectly well what the custodian was saying (he spoke English), his hand gestures and Midlands accent would have been confusing to the most well versed person, if you weren't familiar with the accent. I heard him direct the passenger to the trains which would connect between terminals, explaining that he had quite a ways to go. I continued on my way and by the time I had retrieved my luggage and headed to the train station to catch the Picadilly line to central London, I noticed the 'perplexed' passenger standing on the platform apparently waiting to catch the same train.

My heart went out to him and I tried as best as I could to explain that this train would take him to London and not to the terminal he was trying to get to. I have no idea if he understood me, or for that matter, if he ever made it to his flight on time. Sometimes, life seems to work the same way. Everything around me seems so confusing and uncertain, and I go to the wrong source for directions. I look for the nearest, just as 'perplexed' person to ask for help and guidance. If only this traveler had the foresight to find an information desk he would almost certainly have been helped. By the same token, life offers us only one authoritative source of helpful information, and if we turn to Him we are certain to find our way through the maze of confusion that has us lost in translation.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Traveling light

It's the 17th of December, a little over a week until Christmas. If you blink you might miss the rest of 2007. I don't know about you, but I'm full of excited anticipation for what 2008 will bring. I love the journey I'm on! I have a one way ticket to my destination and I'm committed to getting there no matter what the weather.

During this Christmas season, lots of people are traveling to spend the holidays with family. Sadly, some of them are destined to spend Christmas day at Chicago's O'Hare airport, amongst numerous other of our nations airports that might be snowed in. This happens every year. The weather offers no guarantees that your flight will depart (or arrive), and you make connections through Chicago at your peril. I remember meeting my wife at O' Hare airport one year, as we were meant to fly out to New England. She came from Colorado Springs, and I came from one of the numerous places I travel and speak at. We spent the entire day waiting for our flight, only to have it cancel just in time for us to catch the last flight back home to Colorado Springs (It turned out we had met at Chicago for a lunch and dinner date before returning home).

One of the keys to traveling successfully during this season is to travel light. If all you have is carry on baggage, you can switch flights (and sometimes even airlines), to ensure that you don't spend the holidays at the airport instead of at your planned destination. Life is kind of like that too you know! We're on a journey to a destination that passes through many of "life's terminals." How much "baggage" we have will often determine whether we are able to move quickly through each terminal or whether we have to "camp out" a while until the "weather" clears up. I know, I know, I'm speaking in parables. Well, I learned from the best! So, as you're preparing to "pack" for your journey through life in 2008, wondering what to bring from 2007, pack carefully so that you can travel light.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Broncos Vs. Patriots (1 - 0)

One can only persevere so long right? I mean who would blame me for jumping ship right? Come on, you know you would do it too right? Think about it for a moment: My commitment as a fan should last only as long as my team is winning, especially in this day of free agency where your favorite player's commitment to the team lasts only as long as things are going just the way he wants. These days there are little or no guarantees that your favorite player will end his career playing for the same team he started out with. Since that's the case, who on earth am I being loyal to?

I'm sorry, are you confused? You must have joined this conversation mid-thought as it was playing around in my head. I'm talking about the 'schizophrenic' Denver Broncos. Last night they played the Houston Texans, but brought their 'college' team instead of the guys that beat the Kansas City Chiefs 41 - 7 only five days earlier. In a poetic twist of fate, some good friends of ours had sent us an official welcome pack as New England Patriot's fans (see post titled Fair Weather Fans under the Commitment label), and it just happened to arrive yesterday. In it were 'hoodies', caps and a 'membership certificate' certifying that we are officially Pats fans.

So, should I do it? Should I just go cold-turkey and make the switch? I'm thinking about it, but it's really hard. You see, I'm not a quitter. I've never quit at anything in my life. Don't get me wrong, I've failed at a few things but it wasn't because I quit. I can live with failure, but I can't live with wondering "What if?" Life is like the Denver Broncos (and you thought it was 'lak' a box of 'choclits'). Sometimes everything goes just like you want and other times it really, well... sucks! But it is no reason to quit. So Sola and I (she couldn't really care what team I like since she has no idea about football) decided to show off our support for our new team (just kidding). Russ, I hope you like this picture 'cos it's the only time you're going to see anything like it, so enjoy. By the way, does anyone out there like football? Who's your favorite team?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Bourne 'Shopping' Ultimatum

I went shopping yesterday! Yes. I said it. The dreaded "S" word. You need to know that I hate shopping. I don't like looking for a parking spot about 2 miles from the front door. I don't like feeling guilty about not having any change to put in the 'kettles' of the poor souls sitting for hours on end outside the store entrances, raising support for charities. Most of all I don't like having to wrestle with the rest of the 'mob' vying for a spot at the check out counter. So I pulled a Jason Bourne... I snuck in under the radar. I arrived at the store when most normal humans are at work or at school, hoping that I'd have the store to myself. I did. It was just me and a few thousand others.

'Hating' shopping the way I do, why did I do it you ask? I did it because I had to. I have my last lead team meeting of the year today, and I had to get a few gifts for my leaders to demonstrate my appreciation for all that they do. When I was done shopping, it occurred to me that what I was giving them cost significantly more than what I paid for in cash. Braving the sea of humanity, risking life and limb (okay, maybe I exaggerate slightly), getting in my morning exercise simply by walking to and from the car to the store (considering where I parked), all have to count for something right? But it really is worth it. I have a great team of leaders who make my job and my life infinitely easier. So for them, I went shopping :)

While I was at it, I decided to buy a copy of the newly released Bourne Ultimatum. Having watched it for the second time last night, I am reinvigorated and ready to brave the 'evil' world of shopping yet again. Why? Duh, cos I still have to shop for gifts for my wife and kids for Christmas. Gulp! Are you done with your shopping?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Butterfly Effect

You're probably thinking that it's been a couple of days of some pretty heavy posts. I can't help it. I am truly overwhelmed at the depravity of what is going on in our world. I am equally aware though, that life is made up of hills and valleys, peaks and troughs, entrances and exits and all the other 'beginning and end' cliches you can think of. So I am dealing with my sadness at the irrationality of humanity, in my own way, and praying that as I am circumspectly gaining understanding, I am truly becoming a better person.

As we experience life, change is inevitable. Our paradigms shift, our values are tested, our philosophies and ideologies are challenged. And we, inevitably begin to change. Sometimes we are more tentative and less adventurous. Other times we second guess our calling and effectiveness. And at the worst of times, we want to throw our hands in the air and give up. But life doesn't permit such indulgences. You can't just stop living; unless you're dead. Since I'm obviously not dead, then I must live, and change. I must become the man that God designed for me to be. Part of the price I pay in becoming that man, is that I am more compassionate and feel the pain of others more deeply. So I am greiving for the Works family that lost two daughters on Sunday, having just celebrated the love of God together in a church service. I grieve for the families of the two YWAMmers that were also killed on Sunday. I grieve for the family of the tormented young man who took their lives.

With all of this metamorphosis going on in me, I really relate to the butterfly. Larva (nasty and ugly looking), pupa (not much use for anything and almost as ugly); butterfly (an amazing kaleidoscope of color, beauty, and flight). This is what my life looks like. I am constantly evolving (not in the way Darwin's theory would suggest), and some of the stages of my evolution are not pretty. But with each successive stage, I am becoming more and more like God designed for me to become. I pray you are changing too. We must all change. That is the inevitability of living. That is the butterfly effect.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rich beyond belief

When life is weighed in the balance and we are confronted with its fragility, the significant is distilled from the irrelevant. With the weekend shootings at both New Life Church and the YWAM base in Colorado, we are suddenly forced to take a closer look at our own lives, and at how finite we really are. So I pose a troubling question today: If your life ended right now, would people celebrate the life you had lived? Is your legacy one that would suggest that you gave more than you took, or would those who knew you best, breathe a collective sigh of relief at your demise? Whatever the case, events like these force us to take a closer look at our humanity and at how we interpret what is value to us.

With the recent spate of allegations of financial mismanagement by pastors of mega ministries, here's what I have to say about whether or not they are living in excess: NOTHING! It doesn't matter to me in the slightest. What really matters to me is how I am living in response to how God has asked me to live. Believe me when I tell you that this is an issue that I have really had to process through. I have had more material possessions than most people on earth. I have always had a full stomach (when I wanted). Over the years I have spent money buying 'Christmas' trees which I turned around and discarded a few weeks later, while people on the other side of the globe had no guarantee that there would be a next meal. I have a decent vehicle to move around in, and even to drive myself to the doctor's office where I get great health care if I need it. Shamefully, I take all of this for granted until I'm confronted with my mortality and my proclivity towards excess.

So the truth is that I am certainly not interested in executing judgment on how other Christians are living their lives. I have enough trouble trying to figure out how to live mine. This video segment of a Rob Bell (Mars Hill Church) message drives home the point much more powerfully than my words. Enjoy!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Colors of Christmas

Christmas brings out the best of humanity. We become more giving, more caring, and more serving. There is something about human nature that suggests that we should be more accomodating and more magnanimous during this season. As a result, it makes it doubly difficult to understand that this season also brings out the worst of humanity. I'm certainly not a psychologist, but I think a basic understanding of the scriptures qualifies anyone to speak to the 'psychology' of human nature..."For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." (Romans 3: 23)

Early last week we dealt with the senseless killing spree of yet another disgruntled gunman at an Omaha, Nebraska shopping mall. Reportedly, one of the victims happened to be at the mall to buy a dress for his two year old daughter. Sadly she will never get to attend a father/daughter dance with him. He will never get the opportunity to give her a chastity-promise ring. He will miss the privilege of modeling for his daughter how she should be treated by a man. Preliminary reports, in an attempt to find answers as to why the killer 'snapped', informed us that he had just recently lost his job at McDonalds and his girlfriend had just broken off their relationship. Yesterday, this dark side of humanity surfaced yet again. At around 12.30am (in the small hours of Sunday morning) another gunman killed 2 people and injured 2 others at a YWAM base in Arvada, Colorado. Approximately 12 hours later, at New Life Church (where I served as associate pastor for five years) in Colorado Springs, Colorado (about 70 miles south of Arvada) a gunman of similar description ended the lives of two more people and wounded another two before he was shot to death.

We can conjecture and speculate all we want as to why these senseless tragedies occur, but I am persuaded that the real answer to why these 'dark colors' of humanity seem to surface during a season when there is meant to be so much joy, love and giving, has nothing to do with lost jobs or broken relationships. We were created by a loving God to live in relationship with HIM. Out of that relationship flows the ability to live in healthy community with others. Whether we acknowledge it or not, it is that pivotal relationship that serves as the principal hub for human relationships. The value of life is magnified in the understanding that Jesus gave His life in exchange for ours (Whether you believe this or not does not make this truth subjective). This season has a way of highlighting the void in our hearts that results from an absence of a true relationship with the Savior of mankind. While it's true that the majority don't resort to violence as a display of that void, the few who do, make it patently obvious that we need a Savior.

So today, on the other side of these senseless deaths, as we pray for the families and survivors of these meaningless acts of violence, it is incumbent upon me to tell you that there is a God to whom we must answer. If you don't have a point of reference for the depravity of mankind that informs both the best and the worst of us, let me give you one... "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17: 9). Today I'm asking that you spare a moment to pray for the hurting families and friends.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Wise Men trivia

For you lovers of the Christmas carol "We Three Kings..." I am about to burst your bubble with some facts that will ensure that you never see that song in the same light again. This is the proverbial "Santa Claus doesn't really exist talk" and you're certainly old enough to hear it now.

The story of these "three kings" is taken from Matthews account of the birth of Jesus in the Bible. The Bible never tells us that they were kings. It calls them Magi (a Median preistly caste in ancient Persia or what is now modern day Iran).

The Bible does not tell us how many Magi there were. We have assumed the number three simply because three kinds of gifts were presented.

The names Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar first appeared in Christian literature in the 8th century when Saint Bede the Venerable, described them this way: "The first was called Melchior; he was an old man with white hair and long beard; he offered gold to the Lord as his king. The second, Gaspar by name, young, beardless, of ruddy hue, offered to Jesus his gift of incense, the homage due to Divinity. The third, of black complexion, with heavy beard, was called Balthasar; the myrrh he held in his hands prefigured the death of the Son of man."

The Bible never gives us any information about their mode of transportation. Camels are assumed simply because they are the most popular mode of desert transportation, and also because they would fit a kingly mold much better than a donkey or a foot caravan.

Contrary to the popular nativity scene depictions, Matthew's Gospel tells us that they did not arrive at the manger when Jesus was a baby, but arrived when He was a "young child" living in "the house."

I know, I know, I'm a party pooper. I just couldn't bear to have you continue living with the deluded notion that your nativity scene, all nicely laid out on your mantlepiece, was an accurate depiction of the events sorrounding our Savior's birth. So now that we've burst that bubble, what other "facts" do you know about Christmas that are urban legend and not actual facts?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wishlists (Part 2)

Yesterday I mentioned that the "Wise Men" who sought out Jesus, brought gifts other than gold, frankincense and Myrrh. They brought gifts that we can still give today. They gave the gifts of Hope, Time and Worship. When everyone else saw a dark night sky, this small band of brothers saw the Light. The sight of the star ignited a desire and a hope in their hearts. When night comes to your world, what do you see? The darkness or the stars? Hopelessness or hopefulness? If, during this festive season your heart has been overshadowed by the darkness of loneliness or grief or disappointment, look for the light that only He can give. "I am the Light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the Light of life." (John 8: 12)

And while you're giving, give God your time. The Bible gives us precious little information about the journey of the wise men or Magi (monarchs) as Matthews Gospel refers to them. So what do we know about them? We know that they came from the East. We know that they got word that a special 'King' had been born. We know that they immediately embarked on a journey, following a guiding star that took them to the King they sought. We know that by the time they arrived, Jesus was no longer in a manger but in a house and He was no longer a baby but a child (Matthew 2: 9 - 11). What don't we know? We don't know where they specifically came from. We don't know how long or how far they traveled. This leads us to conclude that, the one guarantee that we do have is that they devoted themselves to seeking the Savior. So can you. "...You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul." (Deuteronomy 4: 29)

It's important for us to understand some things about these wise men. It's probable that they were wealthy, or how else could they have embarked on an extended journey and still have gifts to give at the end? It's likely that they were men of some influence, or how could they have commanded Herod's attention and an audience with him? It's almost certain that they were men of great intellect, or how else could they navigated across, possibly thousands of miles of desert terrain following a star to a precise location? So, potentially these were men of wealth, influence and intellect. What did they do when they saw Jesus? "...Fell down and worshipped Him." (Matthew 2: 11)

The gifts of hope, time and worship. Three gifts on God's wishlist. Three gifts wise men (and women) still give.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


A friend of mine recently sent me an outline on a Christmas series he had titled "Wishlist." His series got me thinking about 'copyright infringement' (in other words I thought it would be a great idea to steal the title) and so I developed a message of the same title which borrowed the idea that God has a wishlist too. In this season when we all get creative about wishlists, we might do well to remember that God has one too, but even He doesn't always get what He wishes for. For instance, we know that He wishes that "none should perish" (2 Peter 3: 9) yet people are dying daily sans a personal relationship with Him.

So over the next day or so I'll be sharing with you about a few things on God's wishlist so we can find out if you are interested in giving Him a gift for Christmas. Actually, that would be a great place to start. Suppose you could give God a gift for Christmas, what would you give Him? You might be inclined to ask, "What do you give to the One who not only has everything, but who made everything?" Well, how about a Wii? A Sony Playstation 3? Vibrating massage chair? No? Well, what about belly-button-lint (the 'traditional' gift for one who has everything)? I guess my list just doesn't cut it. What if we knew what was on God's wishlist, what would we do with that knowledge?

In the Bible we're told the story of "wise men" from the East who came to find Jesus, bearing gifts. Now before you rush out to your friendly neighborhood Walmart looking for Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh so that you can give an appropriate gift to God this Christmas, let me assure you that, while we know that the wise men brought these gifts, they aren't the gifts that are on God's wishlist. What else did they bring you wonder? Join me tomorrow and we'll explore the answer to that question in earnest. I 'wish' that you have a fulfilling day!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Reflections on the Seven Dwarves

"Grumpy" is one of the fabled seven dwarves of Snow White fame. You run into him at the stores quite a bit during this season. A friend told me how he successfully paid a little under $6.00 for a 14 pound turkey the other day simply because he was behind Grumpy in the check out line.

Grumpy, as it turns out, comes in a variety of colors, shapes, sizes and even genders (like many of the gifts out there during this season). This time, Grumpy was an extremely impatient and irritated lady who couldn't wait to give the cashier a piece of her mind about how long it had taken her to check out (as if it was the poor cashiers fault that everyone and his uncle had decided to shop and check out at the same time). The turkey she was buying happened to be the same brand of turkey my friend was buying, and it rang up at a whopping $0.78 a pound, which meant that, for a 14 pound turkey she would have paid $10.92. After she had taken her grumpy disposition and the cloud that hung over her head, out of the store, my friend smiled sympathetically at the cashier and complimented her patience. The cashier took one look at my friends disposition and realized that he was "Happy" (another one of Snow Whites dwarves), so she said, "I heard that these turkeys were selling for $0.40 a pound across town, so can I give it to you for that price?"

Well, my friend, while he may look like "Dopey" (yet another one of the erstwhile Dwarf clan) was certainly not "Bashful" (yes, you guessed it, he's another one of our friendly dwarves) and so, recognizing that that price was nothing to "Sneeze(y)" at, he readily agreed to the 'instant savings' and ended up paying $5.60 for his 14 pound turkey. Now, he did tell me that he and his wife consumed the turkey all by themselves, which, as you can imagine would have brought on a comatose state and made them quite "Sleepy" (this is getting ridiculous). I just hope they wouldn't have needed to see a "Doc" (Thank God this is the last one) after consuming a 14 pound turkey between the two of them.

So the real moral of the Snow White story is: If you have to go shopping for food this Christmas, and there's a long line of people at the checkout, try and get in line behind Grumpy and save your self a ton of money by switching to Geico... I mean... Ah, who knows what I mean? It's too early in the day to think that deeply. Hope you have a "Happy" day Brows

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's been nineteen years!

(This is a photo of my wife and her sisters in Nigeria in October 2007. She is the gorgeous one in the white)

Wow! It’s hard to believe it, but I’ve been married nineteen years today. It’s been an amazing journey and I’ve discovered things about myself (and about marriage) that have needed every one of the nineteen years to learn. The truth is though, that in some ways it feels like just yesterday that I was a young and dashing groom, starry-eyed at the prospects of becoming a husband and a father, yet in other ways (especially when I have to hold in my stomach so that it doesn’t droop over my belt) it feels like an eternity of good, home-cooked meals and lazy Sunday afternoons in front of one football game or another.

In retrospect, I realize that the smartest thing I ever did, other than making the decision to become a Christian, was to marry my wife. She has made my life infinitely easier and has prayed for and loved me into seeking to become the man that God ordained for me to be. I’m still a work in progress but trust me when I tell you that the last nineteen years have had a definitive and positive impact on my life. So if you’re thinking of getting married, find someone who’s just like my wife… oop’s, sorry, the mold was thrown away after she was made, so you’re just going to have to make do with second best.

To those silent readers who never post a comment, today would be a good day for you to send congratulations so that we know you’re out there. Well, enough blogging for today, I need to go and figure out what we’re doing for dinner tonight so that I can really enjoy my nineteenth wedding anniversary.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Contemplating something other than my belly-button

Since I began the month in a rather contemplative mood, it seems rather fitting that I should end it on a similar note (Don't ask me why, it just seems right). I'm contemplating yesterday's win by the Dallas Cowboys over the Packers. I know Mark Batterson(In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy day) and a few 'gazillion' other Green Bay fans are pretty disillusioned right now as they try to figure out what went wrong and how come Brett Favre still can't win at Texas Stadium. As these beleaguered fans try to search for something positive to hold onto in the sad loss, they are reminded that most of them didn't even get to see the game anyway since only one-third of the country have satellite TV and the NFL network. Ouch!

So today's post is for those Packer fans in mourning. To you ardent, committed and faithful supporters I say: Get over it and quit whining!!! I'm a Broncos fan so how do you think I feel? Seriously though, the glass is half-full not half-empty. Let's be honest about this, what on earth does the team that wins the NFC championship have to look forward to? Imagine playing an entire season with the supreme goal of reaching the Superbowl, knowing that your destiny is to ultimately be pumelled at the unrelenting hands of the New England Patriots. I know, I know, that's why they play the games, you tell me. There's no way to know the outcome of a game until it's been played, you say. While this is true, you must admit that somethings are a little more certain than others. One of those things that seems certain (barring a major mishap) is that the Patriots will run the table.

So my unsolicited counsel to you Packer (or even Cowboy) fans: Be like me! Resign to your fate and work towards finding a high draft pick that might possibly make your team a little more competitive against the 'Brady Bunch' next season. Did I mention that I'm a recently converted Patriots fan? See you next month. Ce la Vie, eh?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What would you die for?

Sagarmatha (which means "Mother of the sky") Is the best known of the Himalyan mountain range lying between the countries of Tibet and Nepal. It is more commonly known in the West as Mount Everest! The first westerner on record to have scaled its lofty heights was a British explorer named Sir Edmund Hillary. For his efforts he has a "step" on the Mountain named after him. Others were not so lucky. Their legacy to an attempt at summitting the worlds highest peak: their bodies preserved forever right where they fell and died. In 1996 more than 16 people reportedly died in one summer expedition to the summit (read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air). Some of the worlds most renowned climbers have died or been severely 'beaten' by this 'mother', yet every year they come back for more, not deterred by the apparently exhorbitant climbing fees ranging from $45,000.00 to over $60,000.00 (these fees don't include climbing equipment, and they offer no guarantees that you'll make it to the top or for that matter even make it out alive).

Why do seemingly sane people do it you might wonder? Well, George Mallory gave what I consider to be the most classic of responses when asked why he wanted to summit Everest. "Because it's there" was his well reasoned response. Excuzeme??? "Because it's there"? So let me try and unscramble this in my fogged brain. The worlds highest piece of real estate (higher than many jet liners fly) offers a challenge for some people to summitt simply because it is there? I'm glad I live vicariously through the Discovery channel and National Geographic, because you couldn't drag me to that mountain even if I were dead (I would place a well aimed karate chop right to your jugular). I just don't think attempting to scale a mountain while suffering from high altitude pulmonary edema is worth dying for. Evidently, judging from the bodies that lie strewn across the barren, colorless landscape that is Mount Everest, some people do.

I have often thought long and hard about what I would be willing to die for. I have settled this fact beyond any shadow of a doubt: I would die for the cause of Christ! As I think about Rwanda, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and other such war-torn areas of the earth, I am broken-hearted for the innocent people whose lives are given as collateral damage for a war that they didn't even understand. I would be willing to die to ensure that they received the good news that: Jesus already gave His life in exchange for theirs. Some people would die for money, some for drugs, some for a licentious lifestyle, and others from simply having nothing to live for. It is part of the human psyche to believe enough in something to be willing to die for it. That is what becomes your passion. That is what becomes your driving force and your motivation to do whatever it is that you do, even on your darkest days. So, In case no one's ever asked you the question, I'm asking it now: What would you die for?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What day is it?

I bet you didn't know that today is writers-block day!!! What's that you ask? Well it's a new 'day' that I have designated simply because I have nothing to write about that's burning in my heart. So this morning I'm simply writing to let you know that I have nothing to write about. How's that for ingenious???

By the way, since I'm here and you're here, what's your favorite kind of dessert? I am really partial to bananas foster or those really great blondie's at Applebees. Speaking of... I think I'm going to go make some bananas foster for breakfast. Hey, I don't often get the chance to be that decadent. You're welcome to join me if you'd like.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Friend (Root) Forever

I’m still reeling with laughter from having recently watched Tyler Perry’s Madea goes to Jail. Interspersed between the humor and inimitable rhetoric of every one of his plays (that I’ve seen), are succinct spiritual messages that encourage us to live our lives effectively as well as recognize the value of relationships. While there were numerous moral messages in the play, the one that got my attention the most was ‘hidden’ at the end when Madea was speaking with the 16-year-old girl for whom she was providing temporary custody while her mother served out a prison term. Madea compared relationships to a tree. Wow! I’ve heard lots of analogies, and I’ve heard relationships likened to so many different things… but a tree? That’s how engaging the writing of the Madea scripts can be! Here’s how she expressed it (the following are my words but Madea’s ideas):

Some relationships are like the leaves on a tree. They are unstable and unreliable. Blowing this way and that with every wind of circumstance, these relationships tend not to last. Like leaves on a tree, that are constantly blown this way and that in the wind, they eventually fall off and then wither and die. Other relationships are like the branches of a tree. They are attached to the trunk and can typically withstand the wind. But, put under enough pressure from bearing a load, they will often bend and break. Like the branches of a tree, certain relationships often can’t withstand the weight of pressure that might be brought to bear on them as a result of life’s influences.

Finally, there are the relationships that are like the roots of a tree. Firm and solid, they run deep into the ground and withstand the pressure of any wind of change. Long after the leaves have withered, and the branches have snapped, the ‘root’ relationships are still standing. I have walked through circumstances in my life that have revealed all three levels of relationship. It is my fervent prayer that, as I become more like Jesus, I will be the kind of friend that always represents the roots. What kind of friend are you? What kind of experiences have you had? Care to share?

Monday, November 26, 2007

I ain't lyin', I ain't lyin', I ain't lyin...

Yesterday I nearly developed a hernia from laughing so hard while watching Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail. Tyler Perry is an amazing story teller, interjecting the right amount of humor and 'food-for-thought' that keeps your head spinning with all the myriad life lessons behind each play. His life story is also quite an amazing testimony of rags to riches, but what makes his story even more impressive is the fact that his wealth, rather than change him and embitter him towards a society that "trampled" on him for so long, has simply provided the means for him to serve people the way he's always wanted to.

At the end of the play, while introducing the cast as he usually does, he mentioned the fact that he was giving $1,000,000.00 (yes, this is not a typo, I said one million dollars) to victims of hurricane Katrina from the ninth ward district in Louisiana. To ensure that every red (or bronze) cent went to the beleaguered victims, he was not going to give the money through an agency, but was going to personally walk the streets and listen to the stories of the people. He went on to explain that the only reason he was sharing this information publicly was because he realized that many people may have wanted to give towards helping displaced Katrina victims in the past but were financially unable to do so. He further opined that, since he was able to do this primarily because of the largesse of people who purchased "anything Tyler Perry," this meant that they were also giving vicariously through him.

What an incredible way to start the week! First I get a sore stomach from laughing so hard at the ingenuity of the writing (and the brilliant ad libbing) of his play, then I get a sobering reminder of what true wealth is all about: pouring into the lives of others who don't have. You're not wealthy, so you can't give like that you say? Therein lies the beauty of wealth. It's not found only in the abundance of material possession. I am confident that you have a gift or a skill that would change someone else's life for the better if you would only be willing to share it. So I dare you! Do a Tyler Perry today and give a personal gift to someone that isn't expecting it. Can you do that for a brother?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Heart Disease (Part 4 of 4)

So, if you can drag yourself away from the leftover turkey for a few minutes, I'd like to conclude this series of posts on heart disease by dealing with this word "hyper" that has us all excited and... dare I say it... yes, hyper (there, I said it, I admit, I'm weak and I couldn't resist). The Greek word hyper literally means "in place of" or "on behalf of."

Let's examine these verses that employ the use of the word hyper.

1. Christ died for [hyper] our sins - (1 Corinthians 15: 3)

2. Jesus gave Himself for [hyper] our sins - (Galatians 1: 4 NCV)

3. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for [hyper] us - (Galatians 3: 13)

4. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for [hyper] his friends - (John 15: 13)

5. Before His death, Jesus took bread and said, "This is my body given for [hyper] you - (Luke 22: 19)

Do you get it? Are you hyped up about this word "hyper" yet? If not, let me attempt to make it a little clearer. What does He plan to do about our diseased hearts? Nothing. He's already done it! Everything we need to resolve the problem of heart disease, He has already provided. All we have to do is accept the heart exchange that He offers. There is absolutely no cost to you except the choice to surrender your diseased and weak heart in order to receive His strong and healthy heart. We enter heaven not with a healed heart, but with a new heart. His heart. Soooooo, the question of the day is: what are you going to do about your heart disease?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

As we celebrate the time honored tradition of Thanksgiving Day here in the USA, I wanted to take a moment to express my thanks for a few things. As I read the inimitable words of Paul in Ephesians 5: 20 "Always give thanks to God the Father for everything..." I would be remiss not to begin by saying: I'm thankful to my Heavenly Father for loving me even when I'm unlovable.

I'm thankful for my precious parents who shaped my values and ideals.

I'm thankful for my wife who has been my compass for character and integrity, and my warmth in the coldest moments of my life.

I'm thankful for my brothers and sisters who constantly challenge me to become a better man.

I'm thankful for my wife and kids who have somehow convinced me that I'm the greatest husband and father on planet earth (even though it defies logic).

I'm thankful for my extended family who believe in me even when I have struggled to believe in myself.

I'm thankful for my staff and team at The Well who serve selflessly from day to day, believing in our calling and our purpose.

I'm thankful for the precious people that call me their pastor (I still marvel at why that is), encouraging me to keep doing what I do because of the difference it is making in their lives.

I'm thankful for the friends in my life who have proven themselves true friends in the midst of the greatest adversities I've faced.

I'm thankful for the Mast family, and for Ron in particular without whom I would be doing something different today.

I'm thankful for the friends that left in the midst of the greatest adversities I've faced. They taught me true character.

I'm thankful for Dennis, Steven, Steve, Ron, Chris, Jeff, Femi Obaweya and all the guys who speak into my life on a constant basis, assuring that I don't miss the calling.

I'm thankful for my bicycle that allows me to burn off the calories from all the over-eating that is prone to happen between Thanksgiving and New Years Day.

I'm thankful for the turkey that "volunteered" to make my Thanksgiving Day memorable.

And I'm thankful for you, the reader, that graces my blog with your presence when you could be anywhere else.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy once said: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." What are you thankful for today?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Heart Disease (Part 3 of 4)

Understanding that our hearts are diseased, and that we don't pass the "heaven" test, Jesus, our spiritual cardiologist has come up with the perfect "exercise" regimen to fix the problem. He says: "exercise your right to accept my heart in exchange for yours." We are urged to contrast our hearts with His. When we list the claims that qualify him as either crazy or kingly (depending on your world view), don't omit this one: "Can any one of you convict me of a single misleading word, a single sinful act?" (John 8: 46 MSG) I know if I issued that challenge to my friends and family hands would wave like stalks in an Indiana corn field.

While His enemies tried to drum up false charges against Him so as to convict Him of wrongdoing, Pilate, Ceaser's highest ranking official in the region, found no guilt in Him. Peter, His excitable disciple who walked with Him for three years, testified: "He never did one thing wrong, not once said anything amiss." (1 Peter 2: 22 MSG). Clearly His heart is in perfect condition, so how does He respond to our diseased and imperfect hearts? Well, can a cardiologist spot irregularity and dismiss it?

By the same token, Jesus has made His position clear: "[Only] The pure in heart will see God." (Matt. 5: 8). So where does that leave you and I? It leaves us needing a heart transplant. It leaves us drawing hope from a five letter Greek word - Hyper. "Hyper's not a Greek word I hear you say, it's what my kids are when they have to stay home from school for a week at Thanksgiving!" Well, we'll just have to find out tomorrow won't we?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Heart Disease (Part 2 of 4)

Yesterday I told you about my experience with a "heart condition" which, thankfully turned out to be a sleep apnea episode and not any sort of heart trouble. I did mention however, that we all have a heart disease that requires a heart exchange, since medication and exercise don't work on this kind of heart disease. For the skeptics, I suggested that a simple heart exam would establish whether or not we had diseased hearts.

The spiritual cardiologist examines our hearts and finds deep disease: "For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly" (Mark 7: 21-22). The problem is further described in pandemic proportions: "No one is righteous - not even one..." (Romans 3: 10). Am I overstating the facts? Well let's find out with this simple heart exam and measure our life against these four standards from God's law, since, as applicants for heaven we should at least score well on God's entrance test.

1. You must not steal (Ex. 20: 15) - Have you ever taken anything that didn't belong to you (even a paper clip)?

2. You must not lie (Ex. 20: 16) - If you say you never have you just did!

3. You must not commit adultery (Ex. 20: 14) - Jesus said if you look at a woman with lust, you've committed adultery in your heart (Matt. 5: 28)

4. You must not murder (Ex. 20: 13) - Before you claim innocence, remember, Jesus equates murder with anger. "Anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder." (Matt. 5: 22) We assassinate a dozen drivers daily on the morning commute.

Evidently, the news is grim from the cardiologist. Your test scores indict you as a thieving, lying, adulterous murderer. Apparently, you, like I, need a new heart. What do we do? We'll find out tomorrow.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Heart Disease (Part 1 of 4)

In 2004, the night before I was scheduled to leave for an annual motorcycle trip, I had a heart "episode" that required me to be rushed to the ER about 1.00am in the morning. The cardiologist ran a battery of tests and scans. I was put into every machine conceivable and every machine (at least that's what it seemed like) was put into me to ensure that my old "ticker" was, and would continue to work perfectly. It seems that we need our hearts working well and without disease in order to live. Why am I so skilled at stating the obvious you ask?

Well, sometimes I wonder if it is as obvious as we think. Over the next few days I'll share some thoughts about heart disease that might give you a little different perspective on what appears to be the obvious. My cardiologist, unable to find anything wrong with my heart after running a series of tests and scans, decided that I might need some medication to help. Help what? I wondered. If you can't find anything wrong with my heart, why on earth do I need medication? I guess no cardiologist worth his 'weight-in-blood,' would detect what appears to be an irregular heart beat and ignore it.

That's why I prefer the treatment of another heart Doctor. When He saw the condition of my heart He made me an eye popping offer: "Let's exchange hearts. mine is sturdy; yours is frail. Mine's pure; yours diseased. Where on earth did I find such a doctor? You can reach Him at this number: JOHN3:16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son." What has Jesus's death got to do with me you might wonder? Maybe you even appreciate the teachings of Jesus. You equate Him to other "wise" sages of history such as Gautama Buddha, Confuscius, Mohammed among many others. But no matter what side of the equation you view it from, you can't see the significance of His death being of any benefit to you. The answer to your question begins with a heart exam. Jer. 17: 9 states, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." Not your heart you say? Tomorrow we'll do your heart test and find out.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Money, money,'s a rich man's world!

Okay, it's soap box time so prepare yourself. There have been a number of stories in the news recently about Christian leaders being under the investigative spotlight of the IRS and the U.S. Congress for gross financial mismanagement and misapropriation of funds designated for charitable purposes. The reports suggest that many of these leaders are "milking-their-flocks" and getting rich off the income earmarked for ministry.

I have been on a number of blogs that I visit regularly, and many of them have expressed opinions about this issue. One of the reasons that I decided to write about this is the fact that, as I have observed many of the comments written in response to the blogs, I recognize that, not only is this a volatile issue, but it is potentially divisive for the Body of Christ. First, I would like to suggest that the only reason the Church is being policed by secular organizations is because we have failed to police ourselves effectively. Scripture is not silent on matters of integrity where finances are concerned and, unfortunately we all bear the brunt of the poor choices made by a select few. It is amazing to me that while some are forming organizations such as the "Junky Car Club" so that they can spend less and give more, others are buying Bentleys, Rolls Royces and multi-million dollar mansions with income derived largely from the benefits of pastoring a large congregation.

I am persuaded that it is not my role to judge or adjudicate on matters that don't concern me. I don't know anything about the income sources of any of these leaders under investigation, so I am not in a position to determine whether or not they are able to afford these "luxuries" without dipping into church coffers. I do know however (from both Biblical and first-hand experience) that while "all things are lawful, all things aren't expedient." My committment to my calling precludes me from driving a Bentley simply because I don't want to have to constantly explain why I drive a Bentley while people in my congregation can't keep the lights turned on. Am I responsible for their electric bill? No. But I am responsible to demonstrate a sacrificial lifestyle before them in order that I might earn the right to speak into every area of their lives. What does a sacrificial lifestyle look like you ask? Since that is personal, we must each let the Scriptures as well as our purpose and calling speak to us about what that looks like.

Before you begin to protest, let me assure you that I have heard (and at different times even made) all the arguments about different people having different callings, and different income levels and so on. I don't seek to impose a lifestyle standard on anyone. On one of the blogs I read, someone had suggested that the lifestyle level at which we should live as Christians can be called "reasonable man standard." He stated that while he agreed that it was somewhat nebulous to define what that meant, he knew it when he saw it. My response: then your so-called reasonable man standard is subjective, since we will all have different parameters for measuring it when we see it. What I do seek to do however is to point us back to the Bible. Jesus spoke a lot about finances during His ministry. At the risk of over generalizing, I believe we can sum up a lot of what He said as being, "Don't be owned by your possessions so that they don't blind you to the true purpose of having those possessions." A hedonistic lifestyle cannot in any way be complimentary to the message of the Gospel that we preach.

At the end of the day, God is the one who sets the standard of integrity (In His word), and if we find our selves facing a barrage of accusations from the secular world about our extravagant and hedonistic lifestyles, then maybe it's time to take personal inventory and fix whatever needs fixing before the IRS or Congress does it for us in a very public and humiliating setting. What are your thoughts about this issue?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Is anyone out there?

The new movie "I Am Legend" featuring Will Smith looks like a must watch. Since I haven't seen it yet, I can only speculate as to how it ends and as to what the whole premise of the movie actually is. I can however surmise from the trailers that it has to do with a guy who wakes up after a devastation of some kind only to discover that the entire world has perished from some sort of contaminant. He finds himself all alone, trying to survive in a harsh and unforgiving environment. If art imitates life, then this scenario speaks well to the realities of every day living. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by the pressures of life's circumstances that seem to constantly assail me. At those times (even though they are few and far between), feeling all alone in the midst of myriad people, I find myself wanting to yell "Is anyone out there?"

In the movie, Will's character appears to rely on his training as a law enforcement officer, as well as a couple of firearms to get him through the unfamiliar and difficult task of surviving. These may turn out to be woefully inadequate for the task at hand (I'll let you know after I've seen the movie). However, I am privy to a few stories of people who have called out in dire straits, needing help, and have been rescued by the most unlikely of things because their complete and total dependence was on God. Rahab the harlots entire lineage was rescued by a rope that she threw down over the city walls to help the Israelite spies. David's lineage was rescued by a sling and a smooth stone from a brook. Samson's lineage was rescued by the jawbone of a donkey. The nation of Israel was rescued by a common staff used to support Moses in his advanced years (he parted the Red Sea with it).

So next time you feel like crying out, "Is anyone out there?" Remember that there is a God who loves you and who provides the most unlikely of "weapons" to rescue you from your circumstances, if you will only choose to trust Him. Whether you're a risk taker like Rahab, a conqueror like David and Samson, or a deliverer like Moses, if you'll learn to trust in Him, He'll deliver you too. So I ask you this morning, who's out there for you?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Gift for the Ages

One of the myriad things I am discovering as I make my way along the course of my destiny is that God's greatest blessings often come costumed as disasters. What we might often interpret as tragic and disastrous, are actually blessings. How so you ask? Well look no further than the cross of Calvary. Jerusalem's collective opinion that Friday afternoon was this: Jesus is finished. What other conclusion could have made sense? Even His disciples had turned tail and fled.

He was nailed to a cross and left to die. They silenced His lips, sealed His tomb, and, as any priest worth the price of a yamulke would tell you, Jesus is history. It would appear that three years of power and promises are decomposing in a borrowed tomb. In the darkness of the crucifixion sky there appears to be not one ray of hope. How disastrous!

But God is not surprised. This was His plan all along and it is right on schedule. The greatest blessing the world would ever receive was placed on a common cross to suffer a very public death. What a travesty. What a disaster.... May be not! May be it's a blessing masquerading as a disaster. How so you ask again? May I take the liberty to remind you that in His painful and tragic death, He purchased eternal life which He now offers freely to us. There has never been and indeed never will be a greater blessing than that. Have you or will you accept His priceless gift?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jack's the Man... sort of.

Jack Bauer is the man! Well sort of. Jesus is really the man. But I must admit that Jack's story does try to emulate Jesus in certain things. I don't imagine the writers of the famed "24" series thought about the parallells between Jack Bauer's day and a day in the life of Jesus when they came up with the idea for the show, but the parallells are there, interspersed within the stories. You just have to look a little carefully.

I really like the episode in season 1 when Teri and Kim Bauer are held hostage in a barn awaiting their death sentence. Cowered in the corner and flinching at every sound, Teri suddenly calms herself. Realizing that Jack will do whatever it takes to rescue them, and knowing that until that time she must be strong for both Kim and herself she says these reassuring words to Kim, "I'm trying to explain to you what a simple, powerful thing my love for you is! No matter how bad things get or how good they get, that's not going to change, I just don't know how to do anything but love you."

Hold up. Time out. Those words aren't original to Teri. Jesus expressed that sentiment long before Teri Bauer's "creators" ever came up with that line. He says: "I have loved you with an everlasting love." And then to prove it, God became a baby, subjected Himself to the ridicule of His creation, and then died on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins. He exchanged His life for ours. It sounds too good to be true. It's almost as fantastic a tale as Jack breaking out of the most unlikely situation and rescuing Teri and Kim. But it happened. You can take comfort in that fact today. No matter what you're going through, He doesn't know how to do anything but love you. The question is: will you receive His love?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fretting is Futile

Fretting is futile! Just like attempting to resist the Borgs of Star Trek fame, fretting is futile. Matthew wisely counsels in his gospel, "You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it." The word worry used here in the Scriptures is a compound of two Greek words, merizo ("to divide") and nous ("the mind"). Worry literally causes us to devote only part of our focus on the immediacy of today's priorities, and the rest on what hasn't even happened yet, as we continue to fret about it.

The result of this is half-minded living. Worry and anxiety can become a really expensive habit. Consider the fact that, while worrying is not in itself a disease it can result in high blood pressure, migraine headaches, an overactive thyroid, and in some extreme cases, heart attacks. If worrying eventually solved the problem then maybe it would be worth while. But the reality is that all it produces is stress, an empty wallet, and more problems to worry about.

Fretting is futile! The real answer to your problems is one word: Jesus! The Bible urges you not to harden your heart when you hear His call (like right now), because if the truth be told, resistance is futile too. So, the real question for you today is, what do you do to ensure that you are not fretting about the things you can't control?

Friday, November 9, 2007


When I was a kid I imagined that my dad was the strongest man on earth and the best at everything. I remember very vividly kicking around a soccer ball in our vast backyard with my brother one afternoon. The goal was to kick the ball as high into the air as possible. My "superdad" decided to join in the game, and with authority kicked the ball so high that it disappeared into the clouds. No, really it did! Okay, maybe it just looked like it did. Can you understand though, how from the perspective of a six year old that ball looked like it had disappeared among the clouds, especially since it took like two hours to come back down to earth? That "disappearing ball" moment simply confirmed my suspicions about my dads superhuman capabilities.

For some inexplicable reason that moment still lingers in my memory after all these years. I still recall it as a moment when I felt so proud of my dad and his abilities (real or imagined). I trusted my dad implicitly and anything he said was as good as money in the bank. I realize now that the reason for my confidence in him was the apparent authority (real or imagined) with which he did and said everything. Jesus deals with us in much the same way except for the fact that his authority is never imagined. He offers to show us the way and fix the problems. He offers to show us why on earth we are on this earth. Don't we all need to learn this?

We know so much, and yet we know so little. The age of information is the age of confusion: much know-how, hardly any know-why. We need answers. Jesus offers them. Make Jesus your polestar, your point of reference. Set your sights on Him and then take your bearings from the light that He shines into your life and circumstances. What do you believe about Jesus? What's in your wallet... I mean, in your imagination?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

What's Your Flavor?

It's absolutely amazing how different we all are, and yet how much we strive to be the same and conform to certain norms and expectations that society places upon us. I heard someone once speak on the fact that everyone in kindergarten is a creative artist (because they all believe they are) but by the sixth or seventh grade "reality" and "conformity" begin to set in and we begin to question our abilities and creativity. Society tells us what we can and can't achieve, and places limitations on us based on our gender, culture, or education. I'm still blown away by the fact that in our "socially advanced" culture I still hear statements like "I'm not sure this country is ready for a black or female president." What??? As if being black or female is somehow a handicap!

Being different is a gift from God. Being different is what creates innovation, development, and change. In order to create the kaleidoscope of color on the canvas that is our world, we must encourage and celebrate our differences. I am truly grateful for the churches in our region that are so different from us, as they reach a segment of our community that we are unable to reach. I am so grateful for the things that I'm learning from them as we build relationships and commit to helping each other fulfill our calling and purpose. That's what makes Baskin Robbins so successful. Every one has an option of their favorite flavor. I heard a preacher say one time "because I'm not your flavor doesn't mean I'm not in God's favor." I like that! It speaks to the very essence of our differences being a part of God's plan and purpose.

So I encourage you to keep being you, even as you conform more and more to God's will for your life. Don't try to shape or model yourself after someone else otherwise you'll deprive the world of the true gift that God designed you to be. I'm learning this truth in the most profound way in ministry. I must be true to whom God called me to be, no matter how much I interpret other people's methods or systems as being the recipe for their success. What are some of the things you struggle with wanting to do but don't for fear of being labeled different? For that matter, what are some of the things you're doing, simply because others are doing them, but shouldn't be doing? Care to share your thoughts with us?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pain Junkies

I am pretty strongheaded! It takes me a few times of falling flat on my face before I get it. Now it's not necessarily because I'm a pain-junkie or anything like that, it's just that sometimes I'm so convinced about something, that life has to smack me around a few times before my perspective begins to change. Take for instance the time that my son was mouthing off to me about how old I am. Being the balanced, intelligent and emotionally calm parent that I am, I challenged him to a race to demonstrate my agility and ageless speed. In all fairness to me, I did at one time run a 12 second 100 meters, so I can't be blamed completely for thinking that somewhere inside me still resided the "beast" that once was.

Reality often paints a far different picture from fantasy, and I discovered this fact yet again, the hard way! I stretched and warmed up in preparation while my son picked his teeth and looked entirely disinterested in the proceedings. My wife, being the good sport that she is, was the starting umpire and tried to give me every possible advantage. We took off running the minute she said "go" and to my utter surprise and amazement I found myself well in front of my son. All went as I envisioned until about the 50 meter mark, when my aging body went on strike. I felt this agonizing pain all the way down my left leg and thought I would keel over. Common sense, among other good reasons dictated that I stop immediately, and so like the wise man that I am I doggedly limped to the finish line neck and neck with my son who would have overtaken me if we had had two more feet to go. The sprained muscle in my leg took over a month to heal (don't you hate that about getting older?).

You can be sure that's the last time I ever challenged him to a race. Even I know to quit when I'm ahead (or neck and neck) depending on your perspective. Sometimes this type of tenacity comes from a deeper place than "pig-headedness." The Bible actually says that the righteous man may fall seven times, but he will rise again. In Jeremiah's treatise, he rhetorically asks, "if you have run with footmen and they have wearied you, how can you hope to contend against horses...." My tenacity prepares me for some of the rigors that life throws my way. I refuse to quit in the middle of the race, no matter how much pain I'm in, because I know that, "though weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning." What's your pain threshold like? Do you quit the race at the slightest twinge or are you impervious to pain?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Doctor Dunkenstein?

I find that the real me is not as cool as I sometimes think I am. I'm not quite as smart, I have to hold my belly in to get that washboard look, and I'm clean shaven because I'm bald and not because it's the fashionable look. Taking stock of reality can be depressing at the best of times (that's why we go to the movies, so we can escape reality for a couple of hours and fantasize about being the hero) but it is truly essential in order for you to make the right decisions.

I discovered that truth the hard way. I tried to dunk a basketball not too long ago while I was messing around with my very athletic son. I'd done it in the past, and I had convinced myself that, with all the weight I've lost and my religious committment to exercising and staying fit, I would repeat the feat. All went well until I slammed the ball against the rim and came down really hard on my side. I hurt for a month! In fact, I hurt now just thinking about it and it happened over a year ago. Having taken stock of that reality, I now enjoy watching others dunk, and live vicariously through them.

Wisdom dictates that I let some things go as I take stock and accept the truth about my limitations. The good news is that the things I have to learn to accept are not always bad. Take God's love for example. God will not let you go. He has handcuffed Himself to you in love. And He owns the only key. You don't need to win His love. You already have it. And since you can't win it, you can't lose it (unlike the ability to dunk a basketball). What things are you discovering about your life that inform the need for change and reevaluation?