Sunday, September 30, 2007

Virtual Coffee

It's been an interesting and incredibly busy month. Filled with mixed fortunes and a lot of reflection, I find myself wondering where the year went. It's hard to believe that today is the last day of the third quarter of the year. September, as it turns out, was a month of contemplation as well as a month of expressing gratitude for God's divine provision, protection and favor. I look forward with great anticipation to what the rest of the year holds for my family, my church family and me.

If you're the praying kind, please send up a prayer for my wife as she travels to Lagos, Nigeria tomorrow (October 1st, which happens to be Nigeria's Independence Day) to visit with her mom who is quite ill at the moment. We are praying that God will touch her body and heal her. While you're at it, say a prayer for me as well since I will essentially be a "bachelor" for two weeks while she's away. It's a good thing my kids and I enjoy cooking otherwise we might have considered purchasing a McDonalds Franchise.

The Well is doing incredibly well (no pun intended), and we are planning a paintball outing this Saturday which promises to be loads of fun. Before the weekend gets here though, I have to make it through the week and I'm worn out just thinking about all the things I am carrying over from September into October that I must accomplish over the next week or so. I wish all my responsibilities and obligations ended with each month so that I'd be able to start with a clean slate. I'm so tired right now after a long day of activity that, even though I don't drink coffee, I am thinking of taking up the habit of virtual coffee. Care to join me in a "cuppa?" Have a great night and come back next month as I'm really looking forward to connecting with you about some really exciting things I'm learning.
P.S.: Click on the smiley face image and pour yourself a cup of coffee.

Friday, September 28, 2007

He did it for you

I went to bed last night with a heavy heart. A young teen-aged girl from our church called me at about 9.00pm. I could tell she had been crying as she sounded rather nasal. Her story is rather involved but let's just say that she was supposed to have had dinner with her 'absentee' father who had come to town for the stated, express purpose of having dinner with herself and her brother.

She ended up walking out of the restaurant even before dinner was served. As she told me some of the mean and hurtful things her father had said to her, I wept quietly over the phone. What possesses a man to speak such destructive words over his own child? How can a person be so calloused towards his own flesh and blood? Earlier in the week, we had prayed together in anticipation of this meeting. She was apprehensive about it, believing that he only wanted to meet with her to get information about her mother (who has been the most amazing and selfless single parent I have ever had the good fortune to meet). I chided her for being so negative and encouraged her to believe the best. "Afterall," I reminded her, "he is your dad, and somewhere in his absentee-father-heart he has to have a sense of attachment and responsibility toward his 'little' girl." I hate to tell you that she was right and I was wrong, but sadly that is the case.

So I went to bed with a heavy heart. Uncertain how to comfort her in the moment, I encouraged her to remember that she was sorrounded by many others who genuinely loved and cared about her. I know it sounded somewhat hollow in the face of how devasted she must have felt at her father's attitude, but it was heartfelt, and it was all I had to offer along with a promise that we would get together tomorrow. As I have continued to prayerfully prepare for my meeting with her, I am encouraged by something I read this morning, which serves as a reminder that my words to her yesterday were not empty platitudes but a legitimate affirmation from the heart of the One who loves her the deepest. Consider the following words;

Jesus planned His own sacrifice. Jesus intentionally planted the tree from which His cross would be carved. He willingly placed the iron ore in the heart of the earth from which the nails would be cast. He voluntarily placed Judas in the womb of a woman. He didn't have to do it - but He did - (Max Lucado - God Came Near)

What's even more amazing is the fact that all the while He was doing these things, He was thinking about you and me. He was thinking about this precious young lady who's heart feels like it's breaking because of her dads inexplicable and insensitive rejection. It is true that she is sorrounded by people who love her incomparably, and who are cheering her on at every turn. When I meet with her today, I will share these reassuring words with her, reminding her that she is loved with an everlasting love. Her fathers decision to miss out on his daughter's life is his great misfortune and loss. He may have sired her biologically, but I'm glad she has a loving Father to whom she can turn when her world seems to be falling apart right before her eyes. What are you dealing with today that seems overwhelming? I am required to remind you that He made all the above listed choices because of you.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sex and Squirrels

Wierd title eh? Well you have to check out the promotional video on the subject by Craig Groeschel. I have mentioned him a number of times (try thousands) on my blog, as one of the most innovative and refreshingly unassuming pastors I have met. His books are simple yet profound, teaching practical lessons in living life well. Craig has a new book out titled Going all the way. It's a book about building a great marriage, sexual intimacy and all the things that sorround that often misunderstood topic.

In Craigs video illustration he talks about a personal encounter with a squirrel that was so close to him he could reach out and touch it. Pet, pet, pet. Stroke, stroke, stroke. Then the squirrel explodes into some sort of ninja action all over his face. He likens this to sexual temptation. It starts out with a pet, pet, pet. Then a stroke, stroke, stroke, and before you know it it explodes in your face and changes everything in and around you. The moral of the story according to Craig is: don't pet the squirrel.

If you haven't read any of Craig's books, I encourage you to get a copy of Confessions of a pastor at the same time you get a copy of Going all the way, as it is sure to give you a clearer perspective into his motivation to write about this subject. He is incredibly transparent in Confessions of a pastor, and it will give you a much clearer context for understanding why he writes on these subjects so effectively. So when you're finished with my blog, skip over to and get a copy of Going all the way. As for me, I am off to Craig's website to pick up my free copy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'm trying to be an egg

I've been inspired lately by the idea that, as pastors we are undergoing a constant metamorphosis. One of the most difficult things about being a successful pastor is dealing effectively with rejection. The "Tuesday mail" from people in the congregation telling you how quixotic the sermon was on Sunday. The "Dear John" letters saying, we are leaving the church but it isn't you it's me. The list reads like a grocery list of reasons why pastors seriously contemplate quitting every Monday.

Someone recently wrote about the fact that these "beatings" that pastors constantly undergo, serve to undermine their effectiveness because many of them become jaded about ministry and it manifests itself in anger, bitterness and resentment. In fact, it may surprise you to know that the stats suggest that as many as 70% of pastors hate their jobs (for the record I don't fit into that category), and that for every one pastor that comes into ministry, five quit. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that we're on a slippery slope if we continue at that rate.

A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to another pastor friend of mine who had just gone through a most debilitating season. People in the church were accusing him and his wife of the most outlandish and ludicrous things, simply because they had a philosophical difference in their approach to an issue. This precipitated an exodus from the church as misinformation was spread. Another pastor friend found himself at the receiving end of people withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of support which they had committed to the ministry because they didn't agree with his stand on prophecy and prayer. Every week presents new opportunities for rejection, so how do we deal with it all and still remain committed.

I call it the egg theory. An egg is hardshelled on the outside so that it can protect the soft nutritious content on the inside. As pastors our greatest gift is what is inside of us. Whether that be a teaching gift, leadership, being visionary, being inspiring and motivational, being a tremendous source of healing and comfort to the hurting; whatever the gift may be, we must learn to protect it with a hard exterior. What I mean by this is simply that we must learn to develop "thick skin" while maintaining a soft and maleable heart. If we allow the pain of rejection to calcify our hearts, then we lose the ability to be sensitive to God and to the needs of the people we are called to serve. We effectively lose the greatest gift we have to give. Have you ever noticed how an egg that is cracked even slightly never seems to boil without leaking all the good stuff out? That's what happens to us when we allow offenses and rejection to "crack" the veneer of our exterior shell.

How do we keep that from happening? Glad you asked. Prayer and a constant revisiting of your calling and purpose are the only ways you can stay healthy and focused after each "battle" with hurt and rejection. So as for me, I'm trying to be an egg!!!

Monday, September 24, 2007

We Cordially request the pleasure...

Receiving an invitation to an event generally warms the heart. Whether it is to the Christmas party of the wealthy neighbors, the annual family summer-cookout, dinner at a friends house, the prom... whatever the event, we generally don't enjoy being left out. This is because humans are social creatures. We need to feel needed and loved, and this fact is borne out by how we love to be invited to the "popular" events. People have become serial killers because they were scarred by the fact that they were not invited to the prom (Okay, I made this up, but it sounded like a great illustration at the time). Growing up, I was always fortunate to be one of the popular guys in school and so I rarely got left out of the major social happenings. University on the other hand, was a completely different ball game. I discovered that, before we became accepted on the social scene and got invited to all the major parties, we had to pay our dues in the most humiliating of ways.

All the parties we attended were generally by invitation only. They were usually the main event on campus that night and they happened pretty much every weekend. As freshmen, my friends and I would get wind of the party and would engage in the kind of undercover work that would have made James Bond proud, just to find out where the party would be. Sadly, freshmen where never invited to these parties and so when we would eventually make it to the venue, the reward for our persistence was that we would be left outside for hours on end, trying to avoid being seen by some of the girls that we liked so that they wouldn't realize that we hadn't been invited. We were known as "gatecrashers," and on the social totem pole of humanity, gatecrashers were right there at the bottom of the pole with nerds. Unfortunately for us, many of these parties had bouncers at the door that were menacing in appearance and skilled in the martial arts. Sometimes one or two of us would somehow make it into the party, only to be unceremoniously hauled off the dance floor by the eagle-eyed bouncer. This process of self flagelation became too much for some of my friends and they quit going to parties, choosing instead to settle for the less condemning lifestyle of the social outcast!

God's invitation is not just for a meal, it isn't for the biggest barbecue event of the year... it is for life. An invitation to come into His Kingdom and take up residence in a tearless, graveless, painless world. Who can come? Everyone. Whoever wishes. The invitation is at once universal and personal. You don't have to stand outside the windows looking in at the people having fun. You don't have to suffer humiliation and pain to get in only to be unceremoniously taken out again (He already did that for you). All you have to do is accept His invitation. Incase you haven't checked your mail lately... He cordially requests the pleasure of your company to an eternal celebration of life everlasting. I look forward to seeing you there!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Who Am I?

It is almost too large of a concept to wrap the human mind around. Me, a friend of God? Why would the Almighty God Almighty (this is not a mistype), the creator of the universe, deem me worthy of His friendship. It boggles the mind just to try and process through that big idea. I have discovered that friendship is a grossly undervalued and misconstrued relationship. Judging from the way that many of us treat and interpret our friendships, they are valuable for only as long as we derive a significant benefit from them. If the way that we interpret friendship was truly what real friendship is, then the question has to be asked; what benefit does Jesus derive from being friends with us?

It would be, at best a weak argument to suggest that He derives the benefit of our devotion to Him, because at the best of times our devotion is rather tepid. So, if the relationship is so one-sided (at least in terms of what we give and take from the relationship), why does Jesus choose to love us and call us His friend? I think it's simply because He desires to set an example for us of what a true friendship looks like. It is committed to giving under any and every circumstance. It is a characteristic of God's nature and it is borne out of pure, unadulterated love. That is how Jesus chooses to deal with us. To love us unconditionally, the way true friends do. In case you think I might be making it up as I go, let me show you what He says about you and me:

"...I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I heard from my Father." (John 15: 15 NCV)

So how do we reciprocrate this amazing gesture of largesse? Obedience. By simply obeying His word. He says so Himself in John's gospel, "If you love me, obey my commands." John was the only one of the twelve disciples at the cross. His best friend for the last three years was in trouble and he had come to see what he could do to help, in what appeared to be a helpless situation.

"Can you take care of my mother and treat her as if she were your own?" Jesus asks. "Absolutely" replies John, confused that this is all Jesus would ask of him at such a dark season of His life as He hangs upon a cross. But you see, that's what friends are for. John teaches us that the strongest relationship with Christ does not have to be a complicated one, requiring all sorts of rules and regulations. So today I am asking the question, "Who am I?" I for one, am a friend of God. How do you answer that question?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

You betray me with a kiss?

How do you deal with the sting of betrayal? What is the appropriate response when you have been "stabbed" in the back by people that were near and dear to your heart? I have pondered these questions and many more over the last few months, while attempting to convince myself that nobody has had it as tough as I have. Then I visited one of my favorite blogs only to have my "illusion" shattered by a revelation: This feeling of betrayal is ubiquitous among pastors.

Betrayal comes as part of the package for those who are privileged to serve others through the pastoral ministry. In fact, it is the pastor's burden. On the blog I'm talking about, the question was raised as to what you are willing to "give up" so that you can "go up." The issue of giving up reputation was raised, and to a man (and woman) every one of the respondents had a horror story to tell about relationships that had gone sour and turned on them as a result of ministry, and about slanderous things that had been said about them. No matter how hard you try to prepare yourself for the pain of these rejections, it is often harder in practice to walk through than anything you ever imagined. One of the respondents to another blog I read put it most succinctly when she stated that, as she drives by different churches, she can't help feeling a burden for the pastors of the local assemblies as she finds herself reflecting, "I wonder if they have a heart broken by God, longing for people; or if they have a heart broken by people and longing for God?"

Whichever the case may be, the sting of betrayal and the pain of rejection is not unique to you. Consider if you will, Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 11: 23 - 28:

...I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not. I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then besides all this, I have the daily burden of how the churches are getting along. (NLT)

As if all the aforementioned wasn't enough to deal with, he suggests in his final summation that, more importantly, besides all of these "light and momentary afflictions," he carries a burden for the churches he was responsible to oversee. I imagine it's safe to assume that he suffered his fair share of betrayal and rejection even from those who "claim to be Christians but are not."

Without a doubt though, the greatest example of how to deal with betrayal came from none other than our Savior Himself. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as He restlessly and prayerfully awaits His fate, Judas enters the garden at the head of a posse of temple guards out for blood. He walks directly up to Jesus and plants a kiss squarely on his cheek. Now Jesus was already prepared for Judas' betrayal. But to betray Him with a kiss! Even Jesus was astounded by this and couldn't help but express the sentiment. In case you wonder how close they were, I want you to know that the Scriptures tell us that Judas was the treasurer for the ministry of Jesus. You don't put people you don't trust in charge of your bank account. He was one of the 12 into whom Jesus tirelessly poured Himself out. Yet after three years of teaching them, weeping with them, laughing with them, eating with them, Judas betrays Him with a kiss. As if that wasn't bad enough, as Jesus traverses the via Dolorosa on the way to Golgotha (the place of His crucifixion), he is derided, spat upon and laughed at by the very people who had just a few weeks earlier thrown down their garments and waved palm fronds as he rode into Jerusalem sitting astride a donkey.

Amazingly, Jesus is on His way to die for the sins of these very people that are ridiculing Him. Is there a greater sting of betrayal than that? I think not. If you're a pastor struggling with betrayal, false allegations, slander and harsh judgment, then you're in great company. It is a burden that you are called to bear and one for which you have been amply eqquipped. betrayal and rejection is part of the pastor's burden.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Maudlin Musings

I am daily learning something new about leadership. Specifically about the leadership style of Jesus. I aspire to be a great leader, only in the fact that I aspire to emulate the leadership style of Jesus. Not long ago I found myself in a somewhat one-sided conversation with a rather inebriated gentleman. The conversation was one-sided because he primarily did the speaking and I primarily did the listening. His maudlin musings reached the conclusion that Jesus was not God but merely a good prophet, in similar mold to the likes of Mohammed, Buddha, and Confucius, among numerous other historical figures he cited, many of whom I had never heard of (or maybe it was just his tipsy brain juxtaposing the letters so that the words came out jumbled).

I was somewhat bemused by the fact that he was attempting to bury the pain that life had dealt him, by drowning himself in alcohol, while debating against the efficacy of Christianity as the one true way to God and healing from life's hurts. I found myself thinking more than once, "WWJD (what would Jesus do)?," as I carefully processed through my response to him. Leading is often difficult as each new situation presents unchartered waters. It is human tendency to often want peoples approval and affirmation, and we sometimes seek this at the risk of compromising what we believe to be right. This was not my thought process as I contended with what I considered to be mindless rantings of a degenerate. My overarching desire was to berate and ridicule my brain-fogged opponent for his alcohol induced tirade against what I hold true and dear. This would not have been congruent with what Jesus would have done. Clearly, Jesus died for him too.

I am fully persuaded that Jesus would have loved him, while massaging his heart back to health through soothing and affirming words. Why do I believe that? Well, let's look at precedence. Follow me to the surreal, bloodthirsty scene of an unamed prostitute about to be stoned to death having been caught in the very act of adultery (never mind that some of her accusers and rock wielders may well have been men who made her profession lucrative). As she lies spreadeagled on the ground, Jesus eyes the malicious and restless crowd. He lifts his eyes penetratingly and says to them, "Whichever one of you that is without sin, cast the first stone." Their response: Shamefacedly, in loud silence, they begin to drop their rocks of retribution one by one as they retreat to the solitude of their mutual hyprocrisy. Amazingly, Jesus does not turn on the woman and give her a tongue lashing about her lifestyle choices, but instead soothingly encourages her to return to living, while recognizing that her value far exceeds what she has been made to believe. Not convinced yet?

Let's examine another account. Another nameless woman of ill repute is making her way to the well in the middle of the noonday heat. Unknown to her Jesus waits strategically by the well waiting to "ambush" her with the love of God. She arrives at the well a despised, rejected and jaded woman. After an encounter with the Author of life, she leaves the well and steps straight into her God ordained destiny. She leads an entire city to salvation as a result of her testimony of healing and restoration. No words of judgment from the Judge of judges. What He offered instead was hope and healing. So that's what I tried to do. I told my alcohol-loving friend that alcohol could only soothe the pain in his mind, albeit temporarily, but the only answer to the very real, and much deeper pain of his soul could only be found at the hands of the One the women of the above stories had encountered.

I am continually trying to emulate Christ, so that I can be like Him in the earth, so that when I encounter people like my drunken friend, I am able to look beyond the belligerence and bravado (that simply hides the pain they're trying to bury), and see them for whom they really are. Just the way Jesus does. I wish I could tell you that at the end of the story, the man got saved and lived happily ever after, but this isn't a fairy tale this is real life, and every soul matters to the heart of God. This is sufficient motivation for me to reach out and love people that seem, at least in the moment, difficult to love. After all, that's what Jesus would do!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bloodstained Royalty

I'm a little nostalgic right now because I just visited a website that paid tribute to the wife of a dear friend of mine who died in a plane crash two years ago (that makes two pastor friends of mine who have lost their wives under tragic circumstances in their forties, in two years). She was an amazing woman and was unquestionably the most well known and well liked female preacher in Nigeria. The website served as a reminder for me of the legacy that she has left for posterity. People who never personally met her spoke in glowing terms of the impact she had had on their lives and of how they had shed more tears than they knew was possible, at the news of her death.

Death, tears, impacting legacies. Talking about these things serves to remind me of the greatest legacy of all. "Bloodstained royalty. A God with tears. A creator with a heart. God became earth's mockery to save His children." These words were penned by one of my favorite authors, Max Lucado. Ultimately it is a sacrifice motivated by love. My friends wife had a great mentor in learning to give so freely of herself until she gave the ultimate: her life. God Himself has set the example of giving. A King who, motivated by love, would shed His blood for His citizens so that they wouldn't have to pay the deserved penalty for their sins. "This doesn't make sense to the natural thinking person," I hear you say. Well, welcome to the club of the initiated. You're not the first one to have received that "revelation" and chances are you won't be the last. Listen to what the Bible has to say about that subject;

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1: 18)

I am challenged daily with the question, how much is too much to sacrifice for the people I love, whether that be my wife, my children or the church I am privileged to pastor? I might have had a "canned" answer to that question just a couple of short years ago, but now I can truly look you in the eye, and with all the gusto I can muster, I would shout resoundingly "there's nothing that I am not willing to sacrifice, not even my life, for the ones that I have been called to love and serve." I know it sounds dramatic, quite like the stuff of movies, but it is the truth and I can't help but say it. My prayer is that, like my friends wife, when my scene is done on the stage of life, and I make my grand exit, the legacy I leave behind will be one that suggests a life that gave more than it took. I'm working hard to ensure that that's the case no matter what others may think or say to the contrary!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Voice of Truth

If you haven't picked up on it by now, my prevalent theme so far this month, is the fact that God is. Period. "God is what?" I hear you ask. That's the point. He is everything that we need Him to be, in every circumstance that we find ourselves in. A few years ago a couple of pastors recorded a song titled He is. The song basically began in the book of Genesis all the way to the book of Revelation, highlighting what God manifest Himself as in each book. It was so powerful in demonstrating that God is always what we need for the moment, no matter the circumstance or situation.

It really doesn't matter what Einstein or anyone else for that matter thought, or thinks about that fact. Truth, contrary to popular opinion, is not subjective. I have stated before that those in favor of subjective truth should attempt to fly off the top of a 10 storey building because they are convinced that man has discovered the ability to fly, and has thus subjected gravity to our power. Such people will no doubt find harsh reality (or truth) awaiting them as they make the acquaintance of the hard concrete sidewalk.

Today's "And I Quote" is just a few words of profound but simple truth.

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts (Hebrews 4: 7)

Like I said, simple and profound. We all contend with days that seem impervious to any kind of good resulting from all of the overwhelmingly difficult circumstances we face. Often times, even as Christians, we find that our natural response is to try and white knuckle our way through the circumstance. The resultant effect of our attempt to fix the problem generally leaves us feeling frustrated, empty, and even questioning God's motives.

But the writer of the book of Hebrews has discovered that the only guaranteed way to find the effective solution to whatever it is that you are contending with, is to "...not harden your hearts." As Christians we enjoy the awesome privilege of hearing the voice of God. Yes, I know that all the skeptics out there are triumphantly offering their "Ah Ha's," reckoning that this is final proof of what they've suspected all along: he is another one of those kooky people that say's God speaks to Him. Let me confirm that fact so that I can allay any doubts that you might still have nursed. Absolutely! I am one of those Christians who believes implicitly in divine guidance, and in the world in which we live today, I am deeply concerned for those who unwittingly follow other voices, thinking it to be their own.

There are myriad voices screaming for our attention every moment of every day. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we give in to one or more of these voices with every decision we make. Whether it is the voice of reason, the voice of emotions, the voice of necessity, or, as todays quote states, the voice of our Divine Maker, who only desires the best for our lives. So please, get off the proverbial fence today (instead of trying to jump off the roof of a 10 storey building in an attempt to create your own truth), and listen carefully for His voice. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, September 7, 2007

swallowing chicken bones

Pastor and Author Max Lucado, has to be one of the most creative wordsmiths I have ever had the good fortune to read. His style of writing is much like Jesus' style of communicating truth: storytelling. Lucado is a master story-teller. He skillfully draws you into the plot and gives you a front row seat as you experience the emotions, struggles and triumphs of the characters in the story. Take for instance today's "And I Quote" regarding the story of Abram and Sarai's struggle with God's promise that he (Abram) would become the father of a multitude of nations. Abram was a little dubious about the idea that he would become this great progenitor primarily because he had no progeny whatsoever, to speak of. Read Lucado's masterful take on this struggle;

Abraham, or Abram as he was known at the time, was finding God's promise about as easy to swallow as a chicken bone. The promise? That his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. The problem? No son. "No problem," came God's response. Abraham looked over at his wife Sarah as she shuffled by in her gown and slippers with the aid of a walker. The chicken bone stuck.

What I marvel at in this imaginative discourse, is not just Lucado's ability to weave a gripping tale out of a more than 6000 year old story, but his ability to make it relevant and applicable to where we live. I can relate to Abram. His wife (with all due respect) couldn't have been much to look at at the age of 99. Gravity must no doubt have done its debilitating work on her once curvy anatomy. In addition, Abram, at 100 years old was probably good for... oh, I'd say, an occasional kiss or two, but to have a child? Now don't go off on a tangent thinking I'm comparing my wife to Sarai, when I say that I can relate to Abram. What I'm actually able to relate to is the chicken bone stuck in his throat idea. At those moments when I find myself confronted by circumstances that provide impossible odds and it suddenly becomes hard to swallow, when my mouth feels like the Gobi desert, and I'm suddenly wet and clammy all over, it is in those moments that I can relate to Abram. In fact, like Abram, all I know to do in those moments is to react with laughter at the incredulity of the situation.

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself [*as if God couldn't hear his thoughts], "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" (Genesis 17: 17) [*words in parantheses are mine]

Lucado's skill as a story-teller helps me keep my life in proper perspective. While the circumstances may sometimes appear insurmountable, God, apparently specializes in making the impossible possible. Otherwise where's the logic in expecting that a centenarian couple can give birth to a child (remember that the existence of an entire race of people is depending on this to happen)? What possesses Abram to even think that He heard God correctly? As you will quickly discover if you read the story through to the end, even Abram, dubbed the "Father of Faith," began to doubt and question the validity of what he'd heard, and so he willingly settled for a tryst with Hagar, his wife's maid, in the hopes that He could help God speed up the promise of a son.

What circumstances are you facing today that appear to be insurmountable? Whatever they are, I urge you to trust in the God of Abram. He is not asleep, neither is He overcome by the problems of our world. The Scripture tells us that He is not slow to fulfill His promises. All you need to do is to hold on in faith to what He has said concerning you, and then watch him work in your life miraculously, as He dissolves that chicken bone in your throat so that you can breath easy again. If you don't believe me, then believe Abram and Sarai. So blown away were they by God's miracle of a son in their advanced years, that they named him Isaac which means laughter, stating, "For when people hear of this they shall laugh." It won't be long now before you are laughing in the face of your own miracle too!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

I Doff My Hat

I doff my hat to men of "timbre and caliber," men of substance like Gov. Mike Huckabee (the former governor of Arkansas). In case you have been living under a stone the last few weeks, he is one of the GOP candidates running for the party nomination to be President of these United States. In this years woefully thin crop of viable candidates who can give the Democratic Party nominee a run for their money (and believe me they have lots of money), it was incredibly refreshing to hear his stand on a question about evolution or creation as posed by the moderator of a recent debate. Like the Gov., I am at a loss to understand why such a question would be posed to a candidate for President, among the myriad relevant issues at stake, but I am grateful for the wisdom that he displayed in answering the question.

People have a lot of impolite things to say about President George W. Bush, but say what you might, you cannot take away the fact that he has restored a measure of dignity to the office of the President, regardless of your political leanings. A sex scandal that made the USA the laughing stock of the world, and which cost tax payers multi-millions of dollars, necessarily needed a man with class and integrity to step into the office of President subsequent to the end of Bill Clinton's term. Integrity is in such short supply in this day and age, and it certainly appears to take a back seat to charisma, charm and oratory prowess. However, when you realize that partisan politics is only a micro-narrative in God's big picture, you recognize the need to live with as much committment to your convictions as possible, in every area of your life.

Mike Huckabee did that in his response to the moderator's question regarding evolution or creation, and in fact responded with more straightforward honesty than many pastors I know. I must admit that a small part of me felt great delight at the way the moderator was made to look like a blithering idiot, as he tried to salvage whatever dignity he may have thought he had left, by reiterating the question as if it hadn't been answered correctly, whereupon Gov. Huckabee proceeded to give him a lecture on his disingenuous strategy employed in his line of questioning. It is of vital importance that you never compromise what you believe in as a Christian. Jesus says that if you confess your belief in, and committment to Him before men, He will confess His belief in, and committment to you before God in heaven. We need more people like Gov. Mike Huckabee on the political landscape of this nation, for it is men like him that will ensure the sustaining of the values and principles upon which this nation was built and governed for so long. All I know is, I wanna be like Mike!

If you are thoroughly lost by now, wondering what the heck I'm going on about, you're in for a real treat as you watch this youtube video of the debate. Enjoy! Please click on the link below to go there directly or copy and paste it in your search bar.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The problem of evil, pain and suffering (part III)

Boy, where did the time go? It's pretty exhausting work trying to provide an intellectual understanding of Einstein's dilema with Christianity (which is a similar dilema for many today), so I missed out on updating the blog yesterday. I apologize to those of you who did come back hoping to find part three of our ongoing discussion on the problem of evil, pain and suffering. Anyway, enough perambulating so we can get to work.

Previously on 24... (I'm sorry, I'm getting withdrawal symptoms from not being able to watch my favorite show on TV). Previously we established that evil, pain and suffering entered our world as a direct result of sin. Skeptics would query, "Why did God create us with the capacity to sin, since, as an all-powerful and all-knowing God, He knew that we would make a mess of our lives?" This is a fair question, deserving of an answer. In order for God to ensure that we could not sin, He would have had to tamper with our freedom of will. In that case we would not have been fully human but more robots programmed to do only what He wanted. That, in turn would have rendered us incapable of loving God or one another, because genuine love cannot be coerced. Genuine love must choose to love. Without free will, we would be incapable of moral responsibility, creativity, obedience, loyalty, or heroism. The only way God could create beings that are fully human was to take the risk that they would use their freedom to choose evil.

Once humans did choose evil, God's holy nature and character required justice. He could not overlook sin and evil, nor could He ignore it. Once the scales of justice had been tipped, they had to be balanced. The skeptic responds, "In that case the human race should have ended with Adam and Eve. They should have been punished for their rebellion, cast into hell, and that would have been the end of God's attempt at creating a human race." But God is as merciful as He is just, and He devised the most "unbelievable" alternative: He would Himself bear the punishment for His creation. God Himself would enter the world of humanity to suffer the judgment and death that sinful humans deserved. Picture that for a moment. Hear the whispers in the inner courts of heaven as the angels in utter bewilderment question the rationale behind such a decision. "God, will be born a baby?" And that is exactly what He did. He came as the God-man Jesus Christ in human form as a baby.

Through His death on a Roman cross, Jesus defeated evil and guaranteed the ultimate victory over it. He beat Satan at his own game: He took the worst blow that Satan and human sin could deliver, and He turned it into the means of our salvation. "By His wounds we are healed." (Isa. 53: 5) The Bible teaches us that at the end of this present dispensation there will be a new heaven and a new earth, free of sin, free of evil, pain and suffering, where He will "wipe every tear from their (our) eyes." (Rev. 21: 4)

Until that time though, God uses the "thorns and thistles" that have infested creation since the Fall to teach, chastize, sanctify, and transform us, making us ready for that new heaven and new earth. I know this first hand: The greatest blessings in my life have come out of my greatest pain and suffering, and I have seen this same process repeated in countless lives. Just as it hurts when the doctor sets a broken bone, so it can cause enormous pain when God "resets" our character. Yet it is truly the only way to be whole and healthy. Friedrich Nietzsche, though himself an atheist, once uttered a profoundly biblical truth: "Men and women can endure any amount of suffering so long as they know the why to their existence." The Bible answers "the why," the wider context of meaning and purpose, an eternal perspective. Why did God choose to die for His creation? Love. In demonstrating free will, He chose to love us even when He foreknew the sin and suffering that would distort His creation. There is no greater love than this, and no greater mystery: that the God of all creation would choose us. It inspires our hearts to worship.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The problem of evil, pain and suffering (part II)

I'm picking up from where I left off on yesterday's discussion about Albrecht Einstein's primary hurdle in accepting the Christian God as an all good and all powerful God. As stated yesterday, what tripped Einstein up was his view that all humans are programmed to do whatever it is they do, by natural forces. Such a view must naturally conclude that God, and not man, is responsible for the evil that befalls us. Further extrapolation led Einstein to conclude that, "In giving out punishments and rewards, he (God) would to a certain extent be passing judgment on himself, how can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to him?"

So, since evil, pain and suffering are the hurdle that Einstein tripped over, and indeed are still the hurdles that many who refuse to accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God and Jesus as the one true way to salvation, still trip over, let's examine the problems with this faulty conclusion. The problem, as Einstein saw it, stated in simple terms is: if God is both all-good and all-powerful, He wouldn't allow evil and suffering to exist in His creation. Yet evil and suffering do exist. Therefore, either God is not all-good (which is why He tolerates evil), or He is not all powerful (which is why He is powerless to get rid of evil, even though He wants to).

Only the Biblical explanation of this apparent contradiction is consistent with both reason and human experience, for it alone tells us how God can be God, and yet not be responsible for evil. Scripture teaches that God is good and that He created a universe that was "very good." It also teaches that the universe is now marred by evil, death, and suffering. Logically then, the only way to reconcile these two statements without denying any element in them is to recognize that there must be a source of sin outside of God. God being good, created a perfect world. One of the things that God chose to do in making humans and angels intelligent beings is to give them the freedom to choose. They had the freedom to obey God or to turn away from him. To turn away from God, the source of all goodness, is to create the antithesis to good, which is evil. Evil does not exist independently, nor was it created by God. Evil is created by sin.

The decision to sin was made in the spirit realm by Satan and other angels, sin then entered our world through the free moral choices made by the first human beings, Adam and Eve. From that point on, according to the word of God, the plague of sin has spread through all of history because of the free moral choices humans continue to make. Freedom means that we are not trapped in an endless chain of cause and effect, as determinists like Einstein believe. In making moral choices, we are initiating a genuinely new chain of cause and effect. When we acknowledge this, we can resolve the apparent contradiction we began with: God is all good, and He created a perfect and good world; but one of the perfect things He made was humans and angels as free moral agents, and they have freely chosen to do wrong. Sin is the entry point to the problem of evil, pain and suffering, but God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy had a plan to counteract the effects of sin. Come back tomorrow and we'll examine that plan.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The problem of evil, pain and suffering

Albrecht Einstein is undeniably the greatest scientist of the last century. In all of his genius though, he found himself struggling with reconciling the idea of a personal God that was all good and all powerful. His dilema? Human suffering. He could not reconcile the idea of a good God who would allow suffering and pain. Considering what the Jews had experienced at the hands of Adolf Hitler, Einstein reasoned (like many do today), that an all good God who was all powerful, would not have sat idly by watching people endure and suffer through what the Jews had to endure.

Reportedly, in 1942 Einstein arranged a tea party in the parlor of his home, to which he invited three clergy men. Some of the conversation went thus:

Albrecht Einstein: "And so, I have come to accept that the universe had a real beginning in time. But what are the consequences of this discovery? Does it have any metaphysical, or even religious, implications?"

Rabbi Hertzen: ..."So you believe in a creator?"

Albrecht Einstein: "I have said before and I will say it again: I believe in Spinoza's God, a deity revealed in the orderly harmony of the universe. ...But what I cannot accept, is the idea of a personal God who punishes or rewards people. My religion has no dogma, no personal God created in man's image. A real scientist must be convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation, and he cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events. You say God is a being of absolute goodness and righteousness. But think of this. If he is the one ultimately responsible for our actions, then he is behind all the harm we do each other. In giving out punishments and rewards, he is in a way passing judgment on himself. God himself is the source of the very evil he supposedly judges."

Father McNaughton: "But we have free will."

Albrecht Einstein: "This I do not believe, science reveals a universe utterly bound by natural laws, a rational universe. There is simply no room left for causes of a different nature."

Reverend Hartman: ..."Religion doesn't make any claims about the world known by science. Genuine religion is a feeling of dependence on the Absolute."

Albrecht Einstein: I know you to be a progressive, forward-thinking man, Reverend. So how do you explain away the problem of a God who causes evil?"

Albrecht Einstein's greatest barrier to Christianity was not the question of whether God created the universe, but the problem of evil, pain and suffering. Einstein's premise was faulty from the start, and a faulty premise all but guarantees a faulty conclusion. Presupposing that a person's actions are pre-determined, Einstein declared that if a person made a choice to do evil "in God's eyes he cannot be responsible" for his behavior any more than a stone is responsible for where it flies when someone throws it. Consequently, if a person is not responsible for their actions, then God himself must be responsible for evil. Like Einstein, many people still blame God for the evil, pain and suffering that happens in our world today.

This causes them to see God as either less than all loving or at the very least not all powerful. The truth is though, that there is an antithesis to God, because the Bible teaches that all good and perfect gifts come from God, and in Him there is no evil. I want to pick up on the big ideas relating to the problem of evil, pain and suffering, so make sure you stop by tomorrow. While you're here, let me know what you think about the problem of evil, pain and suffering.