April 30, 2014

The Importance of the Source

In doing reports for college classes I’ve sampled a variety of worship services and sometimes the differences are subtle, other times startling. One pastor dressed casually in jeans, stood behind a music stand and glanced at typed notes. Another pastor dressed casually in slacks and a tie, stood behind a podium and glanced at typed notes, but he also read scripture references from the open Bible he held throughout the service. For me, the Bible gave one pastor the edge over the other simply because he referenced the authority he held in his hands. Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and when he stood up to read the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. Unrolling the scroll he read a passage. “Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17 NIV)

April 29, 2014

Power Surge

We have motion sensor lights in our backyard and we also have a neighbor cat that strolls around at all hours of the night. Normally a cat’s character is one of superiority, so I can just imagine him strutting around in power and authority every time he sets off the lights. I’m reminded of James and John’s indignation toward a Samaritan village that didn’t welcome Jesus because he was going to Jerusalem. Sensing an untapped source of power they ask Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them (Luke 9:54b NIV)?”  We’d like to think we wouldn’t have had such a response, however, the more we mature as believers, the more likely we are to test the power available to us through Christ — and we’re not immune from having a power surge of our own.

April 28, 2014


Our local paper has come under fire for being biased and in a recent editorial they tried to justify their actions saying. “It takes nearly everyone to keep our government transparent. “[We] … and other media outlets need public support to keep our representatives open and honest.” Seriously? The print media, who holds the power of the pen, are asking for public support to do their job. And when, pray tell, did they appoint themselves to be the honesty-police over others?  Certainly the media needs to report the facts and expose dishonesty, but the implication here is that without them, government types are not open or honest. Unfortunately, we believers are not immune from setting ourselves up as judges and juries. “Honest scales and balances are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making (Proverbs 16:11 NIV).”

April 25, 2014

Empty Tomb

I attended Easter worship services at two different churches and was surprised by the lack of focus on the resurrection. While the music selections pointed to the empty tomb, the sermons themselves were basic and could have been delivered on any given Sunday in July. A cloud hung over the remainder of my day, as though I’d gone to the tomb only to find the stone still covered the entrance. Catherine Hankey (1834-1911), wrote the beloved hymn, I Love to Tell the Story and the third stanza says,

“I love to tell the story, ’tis pleasant to repeat,
What seems each time I tell it more wonderfully sweet;
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.”

I’m reminded that every Bible story, regardless of how familiar, needs to be told and retold. At the empty tomb, “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you (Matt 28:5-7 NIV).”

April 24, 2014


Recently I attended a worship service packed with praise songs. Similar to a needle stuck in a groove of an old vinyl record, the four-time repeats of each of the choruses struck an irritable chord. Interestingly, something similar seems to be cropping up in sermons where I’ve heard the word “power” was used over 60 times, “valuable” over 35 times and “patience” over 25 times. I’m still trying to understand the need for repetition in the message. Is it lack of preparation and the need for filler on the part of the speaker? Or, does the speaker think the audience we won’t “get it” unless it is hammered home? In all of 1st and 2nd Corinthians Paul used the word “patience” or a derivative, only three times and as a reader, I get it.

April 23, 2014


Wood turners are always on the lookout for tree branches and stumps to turn on their lathes. Six weeks ago Bill had an opportunity to pick up some willow and he immediately sealed the ends of freshly cut logs to keep them from cracking as they dry. A couple days ago I went out into his shop and found seven inches of new growth sprouting out of the logs. I suppose by sealing the ends the moisture is retained, but I can’t get over the fact the logs are acting like they are alive even though they are dead. I thought of the Lord’s analogy of the vine and the branches. “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned (John 15:6 NIV).” It occurs to me that there are folks who are cut off and withering, yet they’re unaware they’re ready to be picked up and thrown into the fire.

April 22, 2014

Gratefully Yours

I’m becoming more and more aware of ways people in directorship roles try to elicit a response from an audience. Recently a church music director told us to, “Sing with gratitude in our hearts for all God has done for us.” My reaction surprised me. Just as we all may get a different take-a-way from a sermon, we may each be inspired differently by a hymn. I was leaning toward thinking the worship leader was a little presumptuous to be directing my worship thoughts and then I read Paul’s opinion, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God (Col 3:16 NIV).”

April 21, 2014


My cousin Diana, who is a fourth grade teacher in California, told me about students asking questions which were so lacking in thought they didn’t even deserve a response. In such instances Diana gives her student a glance, but then returns to her work without answering the question. The student, thinking he hasn’t been heard, persists and Diana simply says, “Yes Johnny, I heard you. I’m just giving you an opportunity to self-correct.”  I can just envision the Lord dealing with believers in a similar fashion as he gives us time to come to the right conclusions. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).”

April 18, 2014

The Beneficiary

Earlier this week I received a call from a woman trying to locate my sister, Shelly, who passed away in 2009. It seems that a longtime friend listed her as the beneficiary on his life insurance policy. Since I am Shelly’s only survivor, the woman gave me the contact information for the insurance company and the policy number. After some research I finally sorted out the situation. Since Shelly is deceased and there was no contingency beneficiary, the policy reverts back to the deceased’s estate and will go into probate. Even though I had not asked the woman, or the insurance representative, the payout amount of the policy, that didn’t stop me from going on a mental spending spree. No doubt the Lord was doing an eye roll at my fleeting thoughts of inheriting something that didn’t belong to me. Unfortunately this same faulty thinking can be found on the religious landscape. A lot of people, who are expecting to inherit eternal life, will be shocked to see they are not listed as a beneficiary in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

April 17, 2014

It Really is the Cross

A video has surfaced showing a large meeting of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. We all understand their hatred for America and their determination to eliminate our influence in the world. However, the video showed Al-Wuhayshi, a new leader and second in command of Al-Qaeda, wanting more attacks on the US because, “We must eliminate the cross … and the bearer of the cross is America.” Ah-ha! So United States of America is not their enemy, but rather it is the cross of Christ. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’ve never actually heard it put into words. In talking to his disciples about the signs of the End of the Age, Jesus said, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”

April 16, 2014

Code of Ethics

Believers are often tried in the court of public opinion as our detractors hold us to their idea of a Christian Code of Ethics. Certainly we often fall short in our walk, but I’m not sure those infractions deserve the accusation, “And she calls herself a Christian!” Interestingly many of my college classes have lessons that deal with ethics. For instance, the code of ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists has four main points – (1) Seek the truth (2) Minimize harm (3) Act Independently and (4) Be accountable.  With all the bias in the liberal media I wonder how they might react if someone said to them, “And you call yourself a journalist!”

April 15, 2014

Requesting Prayer

Recently I received a follow-up prayer request for a fellow believer who has for some time been in debilitating pain. It’s not unusual for someone to ask the prayer chain to pray specifically, however, this request included five selected verses that a family member felt corresponded with the condition. I looked up the verses and while they were impactful, to me they seemed spiritually restrictive. Whether or not we have a coordinated prayer voice, our prayers are heard. From the Lord’s perspective it’s not always about what we pray for, but how we pray. Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer (Matt 21:22 NIV).”

April 14, 2014


When people come through the front door of church they run a gauntlet of handshakes, hugs and, for the children, high-fives.  Last Sunday I overheard one of the widows telling some of the men, “I just need to come here every week to get my hugs and pats. I need that human touch.” There are multiple accounts of people wanting to touch Jesus, and Jesus wanting to touch them. In a sense, elements of the Lord's touch are still possible through the Counselor, the Spirit of truth and his human host, the believer. Jesus said, “…The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (John 14:17b-18 NIV).”

April 11, 2014

Purpose of a Fence

A middle school aged youngster lives a couple houses down from me. Except for the freestanding basketball hoop on the driveway, his yard seems void of childhood attractions. This young man is good at making baskets, but fairly often he misses the basket and ah shucks it just happens to land in the neighbor’s yard. To retrieve the ball he climbs over a four-foot chain link fence and once inside the neighbor’s yard he traverses the split rail fence as if he were a gymnast on a balance beam.  He jumps off the fence, picks up the ball, and retraces his steps back into his own driveway. This carnival act goes on all the while keeping a watchful eye out for adults in case he needs to pull out a prefabricated excuse. I found these antics funny until I realized adults do something similar.  How often do we throw our toys into forbidden territory just so we can retrieve them? “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed (James 1:13-14 NIV).”

April 10, 2014

Cross-Cultural Evangelism

I’m struggling with a college class on cross-cultural evangelism. The thrust of the class puts a prerequisite on the missionary to become part of the culture – language, customs – in order to spread the Gospel effectively. That part I get. What I’m not seeing is any responsibility being placed on those who are hearing the message. Certainly there are examples of the disciples fitting into the culture of their day in order to reach people. However, there are also examples of people responding to the message with what appears to be very little effort on the part of the messenger – Jonah and Nineveh, Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch, Peter and the centurion. What I question is who has the greater responsibility, the messenger or the responder. In the parable of the pearl, the merchant did not need anyone to learn his language or culture in order for him to see the value in the pearl. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it (Matt 13:45-46 NIV).”

April 09, 2014

Getting to Know You

Growing up I really didn’t know my father. In my formative years our relationship was blurred by alcoholism (literally) and in my pre-teen years divorce freed him to be an absent parent. Over the years when we had an occasional visit the communication was surface level and awkward. The disciples knew the Father, but they didn’t “know” the Father. Questions run through my mind when I think about the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray. I suppose each could have had different reasons for wanting to know how to pray. Had they in the past been distant from God and didn’t know how to communicate with Him? Was the relationship Jesus had with the Father something they wanted to tap into? As students did they think this was just another component to their education? Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation’ (Luke 11:2-4 NIV)”

April 08, 2014


A college class assignment required that I analyze the community for the sources we use to present the Gospel. I began by looking through the church directory published in the newspaper and I found the names of churches to be very telling. Denominational churches often use identifiers such as Catholic, Lutheran, and Baptist in their title; about a quarter of those listed in the directory included a derivative of the godhead – Assembly of God, Church of Christ, and Christian Church. Along with the common names I also came across: Waves of Mercy Pentecostal Church of God, Roca De Refugio, Cross and Spurs Cowboy Fellowship, Baha’i Faith = Divine Unity, Catch the Fire Soaking Prayer Center, Church 180, Iglesia Horeb Church, Journey, and Quaker Silent Worship Group. No doubt a great deal of thought went into selecting these names, but I’m wondering if people actually live up to the implied church name, or if the name is a vision of what they want to become.

April 07, 2014


I recently participated in a round-table discussion where the topic was local media. A newspaper publisher from a neighboring town didn’t mince words when it came to elected officials. He smirked, “We need to make them sweat!” Certainly the media needs to hold elected officials accountable, but make them sweat – really? This seasoned journalist seemed uneasy when I questioned his terminology and he said, “Well, I guess it’s personal.” The more he talked it was obvious that his personal reasoning applied to all politicians and, from an editorial perspective, he considered them fair game. It’s interesting that before these people were sworn into office they were our friends and neighbors, but taking an oath of office puts a target on their back. Paul reminds us, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Cor 13:6 NIV)

April 04, 2014

Enemy Oppression

Joann was contemplative when I ask her about enemies. “I guess I need a definition. How can I have any enemies if I’m supposed to love everyone all the time? The word that comes to mind is nemesis.” For over 45 years Joann’s father-in-law held animosity towards her because she was “too religious.” The breaking point came during his wife’s funeral when he called Joann aside and taunted her for ruining his son’s life. It was only then that Joann found the resolve to say, “I want you to know that I love you, but this will be the last time you will see me.” Joann had already worked through forgiving her father-in-law when she learned that he had stroke which has left him paralyzed, unable to speak and dying. With an exasperated laugh Joann said, “Now I can’t talk to him. But here I am, putting him on the prayer chain. It’s still not too late for the Lord to reach him.” Referencing the oppression of an enemy the Psalmist said, “My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”  (Psalms 42:10 NIV)

April 03, 2014

Living With the Enemy

I asked Peggy if she had any enemies and she laughed, “Yes, but can I pick more than one?” Then, on a serious note, she told me about being married to her 90 year-old husband, a man who is 25 years her senior. Early into the marriage he attended church with her, but he soon dropped all pretenses. “He is what I would call a spiritual enemy. He mocks me, makes snide remarks and ridicules what I’m doing.” Peggy is determined to have a Christian home, with or without a believing husband. “I love him, but I’ve stopped taking responsibility for him. All I can do is pray and be a good example.” The book of Numbers offers insight into living with enemies, “When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies.” (Numbers 10:9 NIV)

April 02, 2014

Room at the Cross

Today we hear a lot from environmental folks about the overpopulation on the earth. However, it was reported in 1991 that the entire world population could fit into a rectangle that was 40 mile long and 30 mile wide and each person would have one square yard of space, with room to spare. Interestingly the New Jerusalem described in Revelation is a city 12,000 stadia in length, height, and width – a cube of 1,400 miles. The county Gospel song, There’s Room at the Cross For You brings us to the foot of the cross, but maybe we should also be singing about all the room available in the Great City. (Rev 21:15-27 NIV)

April 01, 2014


When I ask fellow believers about their enemies the normal reaction is to recoil – Christians don’t have enemies; Christians love one another. Eighty year-old Edward struggled with the thought of having enemies, “I guess my daughter made me mad. She needed money to buy a house so my wife and I gave her a loan from my retirement.” It wasn’t long before his daughter missed installment payments and declared bankruptcy. The relationship was severed for years, but when Edward’s wife passed away their daughter asked another family member to find out if she could come to her mother’s funeral. “My daughter did nothing but bring heartache and cause grief in the family. I didn’t see her at the funeral – I don’t know whether or not she came.” Had Edward’s daughter been a stranger he would have taken legal action, but instead he avoided having anything to do with her or ever seeing her again. “… a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:36 NIV)