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Monday, October 31, 2005

What, in hell?

I don't like to talk about hell. I don't like to talk with other people about hell. It is very difficult for me to speak on the subject as a pastor.

Yet it is necessary. I believe in heaven. I believe in hell. I believe in an afterlife. There must be something beyond what we are currently experiencing.

This cannot be all there is.

Did you know that Jesus speaks more of hell than he does of heaven? And that almost everything we know about hell in the New Covenant comes from the lips of Jesus?

Jesus found the necessity to speak of hell.

If I saw a house on fire down the street from my home, wouldn't I have the moral and ethical responsibility to run down there and yell as loud as I could that "you have a fire in your house!" "Be warned"!

Hell is a real, literal place. But what makes hell so horrible is not just what we read about in the Bible, but that hell is a place where the is an ABSENCE of the presence of God.

Right now the only thing that is keeping this world from being worse off than it is, is the presence of God and the presence of His church.

I want to avoid hell. I want to live in heaven.

How can I make heaven?

I must acknowledge that there is a gap between God and myself.

I must know that the only way to bridge that gap is by starting a relationship with God.

I must then come to the point where I understand that the way to start a relationship with God is through Jesus Christ, by admitting that I have mistakes and failures in my life, and that when I ask Jesus to forgive those failures, and ask him to reside in my life, my relationship with God is secure.

I encourage you to do that today, if you haven't already. But don't do it just to avoid hell. Do it to start a little bit of heaven in your life today.

Come to Jesus - and start anew and afresh.

With much love.....

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Doing the right thing

My dad once told me, "you can never go wrong doing the right thing."

The right thing is not always easy.

The right thing is not always popular.

The right thing doesn't always seem justified.

But it is the right thing.

I read this story recently:

"Over the last couple of weeks we've all heard the story of POW Jessica Lynch's rescue in an Iraqi hospital. Last week we learned a little more about how it took place.

An Iraqi lawyer told U.S. forces where to find her. He made the decision to assist in her rescue after seeing her slapped in the face by a guard—a sight that, in his words, "cut my heart."

He and his wife, who works at the hospital, spent the next few days gathering information and making hand-drawn maps of the building's layout, giving the information to U.S. intelligence officers.

Why did he do it? He said he simply couldn't watch the mistreatment of a fellow human being without taking action. Even though it could have cost him his life, he made Jessica's rescue possible.

This young Iraqi lawyer has been an inspiration to American troops—and he's an example for us all to follow."

There will be times when you are faced with the prospect of doing something risky--but you know it's right thing to do. Maybe defending someone who can't defend themselves; maybe speaking the truth when the truth is not welcome; maybe putting your life on the line for a complete stranger. Sometimes we have to take risks—both big and small—in order to what is right.

It takes what we have seen in this Iraqi civilian: courage and love. I don't know what his religious beliefs are, but I know in this instance he lived out the words of Paul...

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14) q

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Do it anyway

There's a great little box by Kent M. Keith, entitled, "Do it anyway." It's a self-described handbook for finding personal meaning and deep happiness in a crazy world.

Excellent stuff.

The book contains 10 paradoxes of life. What is a paradox? A paradox is something that seems contradictory or against common sense, but turns out to be true.

It talks about the principle (which Jesus also teaches) that personal meaning and deep happiness don't depend on the external factors that you can't control. They depend on your inner life, the part of your life that you CAN control. He writes, "the Paradoxical Commandments are bout loving people, helping people, and doing what is right and good and true. That's where you can find personal meaning and deep happiness, even when the world around you is difficult."

Here are the paradoxical commandments with an actions checklist:

1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

Action step: Which illogical, unreasonable or self-centered people am I going to love anyway?

2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

Action step: What good things am I going to do, even though people will accuse me of selfish ulterior motives?

3. If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

Action step: In what ways am I going to be successful, even though I know I will win false friends and true enemies?

4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Action step: What good things am I committed to doing, even though they will be forgotten tomorrow?

5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

Action step: With whom, and about what, am I going to be honest, even though it will make me vulnerable?

6. The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

Action step: What big idea am I going to pursue, even though it will be shot down by small men and women?

7. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

Actions step: Which underdogs am I going to fight for?

8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

Action step: What am I going to build, even though it may be destroyed overnight?

9. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.

Action step: Who am I going to help, even though they may attack me?

10. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

Action step: Am I committed to always giving the world my best, even if I get kicked in the teeth?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Worship and commerce - a good mix?

I read and interesting article by Damien Cave in the New York Times yesterday. The title of the article is "How Breweth Java With Jesus?"

If you get a chance, read the article below, and tell me what you think. How far should we go in "marketing" the gospel. Are their any boundaries? Should, there be any boundaries? Does the ends justify the means?

The author closes out his article by asking, "in any case, if religion is good for Starbucks, is Starbucks good for religion? Being associated with a $5 soy mocha latte may spread the word, but at what cost to the image of a heartfelt faith?

What do you think?

Here's the article:

"STARBUCKS coffee cups will soon be emblazoned with a religious quotation from Rick Warren, the best-selling author and pastor, which includes the line, "You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense."

Meanwhile, hipster havens like Urban Outfitters have made a mint selling T-shirts declaring "Jesus Is My Homeboy." Alaska Airlines distributes cards quoting Bible verses, and at least 100 cities now have phone directories for Christian businesses.

Clearly, business owners have sensed a market opportunity. The question is whether it's a mutually beneficial relationship.

"The way in which religion allows itself to be reshaped by the larger culture, including markets, allows it to prosper and do well, but it also clearly changes its core values," said Charles Ess, a professor of religion at Drury University in Springfield, Mo. "The oldest Christians sold all their goods and shared them in common. They didn't shop and launch marketing campaigns."

Then again, Christianity seems to have done quite well by mixing worship and commerce. "Religion is like yeast in dough," said Michael Novak, a theologian at the American Enterprise Institute. "It's in every part of life, so for it to show up everywhere is only natural - in commerce, politics, sports, labor unions and so on and so forth."

Not that the intermingling of faith and commerce is anything new. Christians have always used all available means and venues to spread the gospel.

"Jesus taught in the temple and the marketplace," Mr. Warren, the author of the blockbuster "The Purpose Driven Life," said in an interview.

When those with political power signed on, the intermingling of faith and commerce became official. The Roman emperor Constantine I may have started it all by converting to Christianity in the early fourth century. His epiphany led to the official sanctioning of the religion, transforming Christians from a persecuted minority to an honored elite. Overt expression of faith became a tool for getting ahead.

"If the empire is Christian and you're seeking power or success, well, you join the church," Professor Ess said. "Once it becomes a mainstream tradition, people join for all kinds of reasons."

"Since that time," he added, "the Christian church has been fairly savvy about the mix of power and faith."

Western history is rich with examples of the church-commerce concoction. In the 1800's, the image of Pope Leo XIII appeared on posters for Vin Mariani, a wine with cocaine that was a precursor to Coca-Cola. The pope honored the drink with a medal to show his appreciation for its effervescence.

In the England of the Industrial Revolution, Methodism and Wedgwood pottery spread from the same kiln. John Wesley and Josiah Wedgwood were friends and fellow Christians who joined forces in what might be described as cross-platform marketing.

"Wedgwood built its global pottery industry by selling little statuettes of John Wesley and the other superstar preachers of the day," said Philip Jenkins author of "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity." "British capitalism was built on religious marketing - well, maybe."

In the early days of the United States, businesses, for the most part, did not use religion to sell products. They lacked the technology for mass production, and the Puritan influence helped forge an opposition to showiness or material embellishment.

And according to Robert W. Fogel, a Nobel-winning economist at the University of Chicago, the public largely assumed that prominent businessmen were devout. Many were educated in universities that focused on theology. Their products did not reflect their beliefs because their lives did.

"John D. Rockefeller is a classic example," said Mr. Fogel, author of "The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism." "All of his life, he gave 10 percent of his income to the Baptist Church."

From World War I to the 1950's, the nation became more secular, Mr. Fogel said, while the business of advertising and mass production rose. The advertisers sought to woo everyone, regardless of creed, and so avoided Christian themes.

In parts of the country, however, there was still a feeling that a business owner ought to be a devout Christian, and those who were not, like Jewish executives in Hollywood, often felt pressure to make a public show of addressing that expectation.

"That's why films in the 1940's show all Catholic priests as supermen," Mr. Jenkins said. "That may be the best example of intimidation, which of course only works when the assumption is that some businessmen are not good Christians. The more people assume that business is secular humanist liberal - e.g., by giving gay partner benefits - the more they may feel a need to reconcile 'people of faith.' "

And that may be position of Starbucks. It was widely criticized by evangelical Christian groups last summer after its cups included a quote from the writer Armistead Maupin that said, "My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long."

Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, one of the conservative groups that led the charge, said the company's support for liberal causes made it an obvious target.

"Starbucks has long served up a New Age secular worldview," he said. "It's about time that they acknowledged that 90 percent of Americans believe in God and that millions of them are Christian."

Starbucks executives deny that the company was trying to placate religious groups when it decided to add Mr. Warren's quote to its cups. "We're trying to show a diversity of thought and opinion," said Anne Saunders, a senior vice president in charge of marketing. "There is not a quote that's an answer to another."

In any case, if religion is good for Starbucks, is Starbucks good for religion? Being associated with a $5 soy mocha latte may spread the word, but at what cost to the image of a heartfelt faith?

"Sometimes it's so vulgar that it's not particularly good for religion," Mr. Novak said. "But if religion is in everything, it has to be in the vulgar stuff, too."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

God is the healer - why not ask him?

My name means "farmer" in the Greek - George. I'm a long way from being a farmer, being the "city" person that I am.

I'm most comfortable in the city. I can find my way around, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Brussels, Paris, Geneva, Los Angeles and Dallas, but you get me out in the rural areas of southwest Michigan and I get lost quick, real quick.

So our names don't necessarily match with our personality or character. Back in Bible times, that wasn't so.

Names meant something.

Mephibosheth means "exterminator of shame"
Merodachbaladan means "Mardul has given a son"
Jesus means "savior".

Their names characterized who they were.

One name for God in the Old Covenant is "Jehovah-Rapha"meaning literally "the Lord Healer."

He is the God who heals us.

In his book, God Is Closer Than You Think, John Ortberg includes this story about the power of prayer.

"When my friend Kim was a young girl, her dad pulled the car off the road one day to help a woman change a flat tire. While he was lying under her car, another vehicle accidentally swerved to the shoulder, and in the collision the car was shoved onto his chest. His right thumb was torn off at the joint, five of his ribs were broken, and his left lung was pierced and began filling with blood.

His wife, who is barely five-feet-tall, placed her hands on the bumper of the car and prayed, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ," and lifted the car off his chest so he could be dragged out. (Some weeks later she found out that she broke a vertebra in the effort).

Kim's father was in a state of shock as he was taken to the hospital. Doctors prepared him for emergency surgery. "His thumb won't do him any good if he's dead," one of them said. His survival was iffy.

Suddenly, spontaneously, the man's skin changed from ashen to pink. He experienced a miraculous healing. He invited a surprised surgical team to join him in singing "Fairest Lord Jesus." They did not even bother to hook him up to oxygen. He did not find out until later that this was the precise moment his father-in-law, who was a pastor, had his congregation start to pray for him.

Sometimes these stories come from not-very-credible sources - such as publications sold in grocery checkout lines that also carry news about extraterrestrial creatures secretly playing third base for the Boston Red Sox. In this case, however, the subject was James Loder, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. His life was not only saved, but changed. Until then, although he taught at a seminary, God had been mostly an abstract idea to him.

Now Jesus became a living Presence. Kim writes that her father's heart grew so tender that he became known at Princeton as "the weeping professor." He began to live from one moment to the next in a God-bathed, God-soaked, God-intoxicated world.

God heals us spiritually by restoring our relationship with Him.
God heals us emotionally by giving us peace in the midst of our storm.
God heals us physically by touching our bodies in a supernatural way that natural science cannot.

God is the healer!

Do you need healing today? I would suggest you talk to Jehovah Rapha who can touch you and bring about the healing that you need.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

God's way is the right way

As much as I sometimes don't want to admit it, God's way is always the right way.

In my sinfulness and rebellion, and in spite of my spiritual growth, I find myself digging in my heels at certain points of my life and insisting that I go my own way. Or worst still, I go my own way and don't consult with God first.

The Bible is full of guideposts that show us the way. With those things that are not clearly marked, we have the Holy Spirit to lead us.

Listen to this story:

As a ship approached the coast of New England, a heavy fog set in. The ship's radar detected what appeared to be another vessel in its path, so the captain sent the following message:

"Change your course 10 degrees port."

Shortly they received a reply:
"Change YOUR course 10 degree starboard."

The captain became annoyed and said:
"I am a Lt. Commander of the U.S. Navy. Change your course."

This was the response:
"I am a seaman 3rd class. Change your course."

By now the captain was furious. His message read:
"This is a battleship! Change your course."

Moments later a message came across the wire that said:
"This is a Lighthouse! Change Your Course!"

There are certain laws at work in the universe, and no amount of power, or money, or influence can change them.

These laws are God's laws. He designed them to work for us, not against us. In order for this to happen, we sometimes have to change our course. His laws don't change; we must change.

God's way is always the right way.

When we try to find happiness, fulfillment, and meaning in life through any method other than a personal relationship with God, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Drugs won't do it. Alcohol won't do it. Hours watching T.V. won't do it. More money won't to it. Bigger vacations won't do it.

But it doesn't have to be that way. We can change our course at anytime. We can choose life over death; we can choose spiritual blessings over self-destruction.

God doesn't change his course to accommodate us, but if we are willing to change our course, to chart the path of lives in his direction, he will to open his arms wide to receive us, and will shower us with blessings from heaven.

These are his words...

"I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life..." (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

God's way is always the right way.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Serving others is the way to greatness

Over the course of years of ministry, I have had the opportunity to touch base with some of the giants of the faith, most recently, Jack Hayford.

At a pastor conference of 40 men and women, he invited us over to his home on a Monday night for dinner. It was a wonderful experience. He makes you feel special, like you are one of a kind.

My point is not to impress you with my brush with greatness. My point is to emphasize why Jack Hayford has become great. One simple reason: people matter to him. He has made a lifestyle of building up others—even others who can't offer much in return.

The Apostle Paul wrote...

Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:2)

For his good, Paul said. In our quid-pro-quo culture, someone who is strengthening others with no strings attached will stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Arthur Ashe once said, "True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but he urge to serve others a whatever cost.

Mark writes in Mark 10:45, "Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'

This week our challenge from God's word is to strive to build up others.

Our challenge is to make someone feel special.

Not for own interests, not in order to further our goals, but for their good. From a practical standpoint, doing this may not increase your bottom line. But from a spiritual standpoint, it will make a difference for all eternity.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Beethoven's Paper Trail

I read an article yesterday in the New York Times entitled, "Beethoven's Paper Trail", by Edmund Morris.

It really fascinated me. If you get a chance, read the article and tell me what you think. Are we losing our ability to create with all five senses? Touch, taste, feel, hear, see? And what about the spirit? Where does the spirit come in?

Here is his article:

"My first reaction to the announcement last week that a major Beethoven manuscript had been discovered in a Pennsylvania seminary was an aching desire to see it. (The ache will not be gratified until the work goes on exhibit at Sotheby's on Nov. 16.) To see it. How often we use that phrase in a tactile sense - as when, for example, we ask a jeweler to unlock his cabinet and bring out a Rolex so we can feel its cold, thrilling weight on our wrist. Eye contact is enough, though, when we cannot gratify our animal desire to caress whatever is unattainable, inimitable or worshipful.

Beethoven's manuscripts are revelatory, because he was an intensely physical person who fought his music onto the page, splattering ink, breaking nibs, even ripping the paper in the process. Not for him the serene penmanship of J. S. Bach, whose undulant figurations sway like ship masts over calm seas, or the hasty perfection of Mozart, or the quasi-mathematical constructs of Webern. Their writing is the product of minds already made up.

Beethoven was so full of ideas that to fire them out - to see which were precious metal and which mere dross - was a process in which he needed to involve his eyes and his hands (not to mention his heels drumming out rhythms, and his voice howling and groaning: landlords were forever giving him notice). Long before he went deaf, he was perhaps the most prodigious sketcher in musical history, unable to walk around a room or, I regret to say, sit down on a toilet without doodling hieroglyphics on every reachable surface. Even when perambulating around Vienna at a hyperactive clip, he was always stopping to scribble something in a notebook that seemed to be an inseparable part of his left hand.

One such scribble was the "lightning flash" theme that begins the second movement of the Ninth Symphony. It struck Beethoven one night as he was emerging from a bright interior into darkness. To page through his sketchbook of the period, and see it suddenly appear amid clouds of murky musical thought, is to feel the electricity of genius.

The newly discovered manuscript - an 80-page piano version of his famous "Grosse Fuge" for string quartet, Op. 133 - dates from 1826, the last full year of Beethoven's life. It is reported to be typically three-dimensional, with erasures worn into holes, and a large patch of rewritten music spackled onto one page with sealing wax. Since the "Grosse Fuge" is the single most pugnacious movement in Beethoven - 15 minutes of furious contrapuntal combat, adored by Stravinsky - what we will be seeing at Sotheby's promises to be as much an artifact as an autograph.

Somebody who still works like Beethoven is the French artist Bernard Dufour. His drawing hand substitutes on camera for that of the actor Michel Piccoli in Jacques Rivette's masterly film "La Belle Noiseuse," about a painter struggling to execute his final masterpiece. One notices, as the hand reaches out to select a pen and jab it into the ink bottle, the violence of its movements, impatient yet tentative, as if wondering in which direction to discharge its energy. The sketchpad lies white, waiting to be savaged by the looming nib.

Then down the sharp thing comes, at a deliberately obtuse angle, so that the first line is not so much drawn but dug out of the paper. Nor is there as much ink running as you would expect; the artist seems to be daring his inspiration to dry up. More swoops and gougings, then suddenly a deliberate splash of ink, which the heel of the hand smudges across some cross-hatching ... and lo, the curve of a naked woman's thigh materializes out of the whiteness, and art begins to happen.

It is moving to watch, because we can feel Mr. Dufour's love of struggle, his sheer joy in being bespattered, stained and even resisted (when a sketch obstinately refuses to cohere) by the materials at hand. Such relish is of course characteristic of workers in the plastic arts. But with the decline of painting and drawing in recent years, in favor of hands-off processes like video recording, performance art and installations farmed out to contractors, even artists are putting less and less of themselves into their work - with the result that what there is of it, is cold. I had to spend a few weeks earlier this year looking down from my window at Christo's orange hangings in Central Park, and got back from them nothing but a sense of manufactured lifelessness.

I worry that further withdrawal of the body will increasingly depersonalize creativity in our computerized age. It is already a given that many young architects can't draw, relying on circuitry to do their imaging for them. Nor can many of them model, never having built things with their hands as children, and felt the pliancy and fragility of structures, the interrelationship of empty space and solid mass. Recently my wife and I bought a country house designed by just such an architect. It looked great until we discovered that the main floor sagged in the middle because it lacked the kind of central support that a child, 40 years ago, would have sensed was necessary in the foundation.

Writing does not, of course, rate high on the tactile scale of things. But a screen of glass impregnated with pixels now gleams in front of practically every young person who wishes to commit words to - I was going to say paper, but will avoid the anachronism. Today's words, dit-ditted downward, flash off somewhere at the speed of light and assemble themselves in electronic limbo. Seen through the glass darkly, they look seductively perfect, every character proportional, every paragraph in alignment. Why mess around with them? In any case, if their orthography is not quite correct, a default "word processor" (ghastly phrase) will alter them to its liking.

A couple of years ago I had a disillusioning residency with students at the University of Chicago who wished, or thought they wished, to master the art of narrative nonfiction. Cyberspatial innocent that I am, I was at first puzzled by the weird uniformity of their written "style," if that's the word for prose equally composed of I.M.-speak and catchphrases downloaded by the megabyte. At last, like the girl in "Stage Door Canteen," I caught on. But what was even weirder was the way these not-unintelligent seniors looked at me as I lectured them on Tolstoy's frenzied chicken-scratches all over proofs of "War and Peace," Capote's yellow-paper drafts of "In Cold Blood" and Nabokov's exquisite watercolor diagrams, illustrative of metric schemes in poetry yet at the same time touchingly reminiscent of butterfly wings.

What freaked me out was the students' collective gaze, not uninterested, but uninvolved. They weren't listening so much as watching. To them, I was just the latest in a lifetime's succession of images, another talking head.

I doubt I'll see any of them when I go to look at the "Grosse Fuge" manuscript next month. Why should they bother? They can already "access" it on the Internet. But without seeing the real thing, with actual light falling on its scuffs and blotches, will they ever feel the desperate energy of a dying Beethoven, imprisoned in the cavern of his own disability?"

Edmund Morris, who has written biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, is the author, most recently, of "Beethoven: The Universal Composer."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Growing in God

I desire to grow in my walk with God. You might ask, "How can I prevent my personal Christian growth from becoming stagnant?"

Let me answer that question with a question. Did you know that you will always struggle with your tendency to make mistakes in life until you die? That no one will be perfect until they are with Jesus in eternity?

And then let me follow that with a statement:

A person who is truly "in Christ" is a person that is growing in God.

Now, obviously, our Christian growth can move at various speeds, and we tend to have times of rapid acceleration in our walk with God, and then have times when we are completely stale, stagnant, moving at a snail's pace. I experience that a lot. Sometimes I wonder if God is really even there; at other times I want to pray for everybody that crosses my path.

When we are growing "at a snail's pace," we may think that we are totally stagnant. But we are not. Little growth is better than no growth at all.

If there is no evidence of growth whatsoever in our life with God, I would suggest that it's time to examine our spirits and our hearts to see if we're in Christ al all because when the Holy Spirit lives in us, he will not permit total stagnation.

How do I grow?


I must be a learner.

Now that doesn't mean simply to accumulate date and/or head knowledge, but coming to an understanding of what it is that pleases God and what it is that pleases Jesus. I must work at my love and enjoy my relationship with God.

That comes through the spiritual disciplines.

Reading the Word.
Having conversations with God.
Sharing my faith.
Be faithful to coming to church.

The best way I know of becoming disciplined is by first learning patterns of discipline under somebody else's mentoring. Join a small group. Talk to Pastor Ron about being discipled. Approach one of the pastors for and schedule a time for coffee.

May we all grow in the Lord today!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Psalms 112

Let me quote and have a conversation with God from Psalms 112:

"Praise the Lord"

I praise you today, Lord, because you have everything under control.

"Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands."

I respect and live in awe of you, Lord, and find it comforting and challenging to do what you want us to do.

"His children will be mighty in the land: the generation of the upright will be blessed."

I pray for my children today. Let them achieve success in everything they do. May they prosper. May they be granted your favor and the favor of those around them.

"Wealth and riches are in his house and his righteousness endures forever."

I thank you for my wife, my family, my home, my vehicles and my health.

"Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man."

I trust in you to bring forth my righteousness as the noon day sun. In times of darkness you are always there.

"Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice."

I thank you that you know that I have consciously and intentionally and prayerfully made a walk of integrity my goal.

"Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remember forever. He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes."

My spirit and my heart trusts in you this day, oh God. You are the maker, the creator, the restorer, the leader, the one who steadies us in time of need. My heart is secure in you, I have no fear, for in the end, I will look in triumph over my enemies.

"He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honor."

I thank you that at the end of this day, my name and leadership will be lifted up in honor.

"The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away; the longing of the wicked will come to nothing."

I thank you, Lord, that at the end of this day, we are going to rejoice at your goodness to us. The foes of your work and your vision will walk away mumbling to themselves, amazed at the Holy Spirit confusion that is in their hearts.

Bless your name oh God!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The breath of God

A couple of weeks ago I have the privilege of spending the week with Jack Hayford (along with 40 other pastors).

A memorable moment was when he shared how those who present the Word of God are to rely upon God's spirit. He took a Bible and put his face over it and breathed in deep, symbolizing the fact that he was taking in the word of God through God's spirit (breath).

And then he blew that breath out on all of us, symbolizing the fact that the word of God was being breathed out upon those who were receiving what God had given him.

It was a powerful illustration of what the breath of God or the Holy Spirit can do in our lives.

God wants to "breathe" in us.

Henri Nouwen writes, "Being the living Christ today means being filled with the same Spirit that filled Jesus. Jesus and his Father are breathing the same breath, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the intimate communion that makes Jesus and his Father one.

Jesus says, "I am in the Father and the Father is in me." (John 14:10 and "the Father and I are one" (John 10:30). It is this unity that Jesus wants to give us. That is the gift of his Holy Spirit."

We used to sing a chorus that went like this: "let it breathe on me, let it breathe on me, let the breath of God, now breathe on me"

That is my prayer today - "God breathe on and in me!"

Monday, October 10, 2005

Dr. James Dobson's comments

I think it falls under the "what in the world?" category. Before Harriet Miers was named as a nominee for the Supreme Court Justice, Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, carefully stroked the evangelical leader. I quote a news source:

"Dobson endorsed Miers, somewhat enigmatically declaring, "Some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about." To the chattering classes, Dobson was speaking in code: his remark was widely translated to mean that he had been reassured that Miers would vote to reverse the Supreme Court's 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, giving women a constitutional right to abortion."

Will his endorsement help or hurt her cause? Now Senator Arlen Specter is verbalizing calling James Dobson to testify on his conversation with Karl Rove. Will that "box in" Ms. Miers and force her to share her true convictions about abortion, thus swinging the left and some of the right totally against her?

Or did Dr. James Dobson do the right thing by endorsing her, thereby assuring the right of her "viability" to serve on the Supreme Court?

And what about him saying, "some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about." Should he have left that sentence unsaid and not draw attention to the fact that "he is in the know?"

Just some random thoughts about a very important decision that the leadership of our country will be making concerning the direction of the morals and ethics of our great country in years to come.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Impressing God is the thing

Joyce Meyers has written a book recently called, "the approval addiction". I haven't read it, but I like the title.

Many times we can become addicted to receiving the approval of others. And that is especially hard when we are misunderstood, misjudged and underestimated.

I read a story this week of a policeman in Dallas who was working undercover at a high school, posing as a student, trying to bust a drug-ring. In the process of doing his job, he showed up late for class.

The teacher sent him to the principal's office, who gave him a choice: licks or detention. Since the detention would interfere with a scheduled drug buy, the policeman had no choice but to take the whipping.

Isn't this ironic?

A cop is putting his life on the line for the safety of the students of an inner city school, and in the process has to take a beating from the man whose job he is trying to make easier.

The principal didn't know the man was an officer working undercover. When he looked at the cop, he didn't see a comrade, he just saw a long-haired kid.

Before he was a king, David faced a similar situation. He was still a teenager when Goliath the Philistine challenged the army of Israel. None of the Israelite soldiers dared face the challenge; they were paralyzed with fear.

David was God's man to meet the challenge, but those closest to him couldn't see it. His brothers accused him of being selfish and egotistical; the king told him he was young and too small.

Yet, we all know what David did. He met the challenge; with a sling and a stone he conquered Goliath.

Even though no one else recognized David's potential, David didn't lose sight of what he could do with God's help. He refused to let their lack of appreciation for his ability prevent him from doing what God had called him to do.

You, too, may find yourself in this position. Many of the people who benefit from the work you do may never recognize the contribution you make. They may never give you the acknowledgement you deserve. They may underestimate you. The may overlook you. They may see you as something less than you really are.

And in the process, like the principal in Dallas, they may make it more difficult to do the work you've been called to do.

If others misjudge you, don't let it keep you from stepping out in faith and letting God do his work in your life. Their opinion of you means nothing. Your faith in God means everything.

David told Goliath that he would strike him down so that "all of the earth may know that there is a God in Israel." (1 Samuel 17:46)

David's eye wasn't on impressing his friends or winning the approval of his family. His eye was on the big picture—that through this step of faith, God would be glorified before the whole world.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Harriet Miers - should faith be an issue?

In the Washington post today was an article with the headline, "Church ties could shed light on Miers' thinking."

President Bush has nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. She apparently doesn't have much of a judicial record to follow. It's beginning to shape up to a discussion over her faith. Can an evangelical Christian be on the Supreme Court? Should our faith even be an issue? Should we as Christians be excited about her being on the court? Should we as Christians support her, solely on the basis that she is an evangelical Christian?

Please read the article from the Post and tell me what you think:

"One evening in the 1980s, several years after Harriet Miers dedicated her life to Jesus Christ, she attended a lecture at her Dallas evangelical church with Nathan Hecht, a colleague at her law firm and her on-and-off boyfriend. The speaker was Paul Brand, a surgeon and the author of "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made," a best-selling exploration of God and the human body.
When the lecture was over, Miers said words Hecht had never heard from her before. "I'm convinced that life begins at conception," Hecht recalled her saying. According to Hecht, now a Texas Supreme Court justice, Miers has believed ever since that abortion is "taking a life."
"I know she is pro-life," said Hecht, one of the most conservative judges in Texas. "She thinks that after conception, it's not a balancing act -- or if it is, it's a balancing of two equal lives."
Hecht and other confidants of Miers all pledge that if the Senate confirms her nomination to the Supreme Court, her judicial values will be guided by the law and the Constitution. But they say her personal values have been shaped by her abiding faith in Jesus, and by her membership in the massive red-brick Valley View Christian Church, where she was baptized as an adult, served on the missions committee and taught religious classes. At Valley View, pastors preach that abortion is murder, that the Bible is the literal word of God and that homosexuality is a sin -- although they also preach that God loves everybody.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to comment on Hecht's recollection yesterday but said President Bush did not ask Miers her personal views on abortion or any other issue that may come before the court. "A nominee who shares the president's approach of judicial restraint would not allow personal views to affect his or her rulings based on the law," Perino said.
Some religious conservatives have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the Miers nomination, grumbling that she has never taken public stands on hot-button social issues. But her friends point to Valley View as evidence that she is cut from conservative cloth. They say she's not a "holy roller" who flaunts her religion on her sleeve but she lives her faith as a born-again Christian.
"People in Dallas know she's a conservative," said her friend Ed Kinkeade, a federal district judge. "She's not Elmer Gantry, but she lives what she believes. . . . I'm like, y'all, has George Bush appointed anyone to an appellate court that is a betrayal to conservatives?"
Even in Dallas, home of groups such as the Texas Eagle Forum and the Republican National Coalition for Life, some religious conservatives say Miers, 60, has demonstrated an insufficient commitment to family values. They cited a questionnaire she filled out for a gay rights group in 1989 as a candidate for Dallas City Council, indicating that gay people should have the same civil rights as straight people and that the city should fund AIDS education and services. After her election, she appointed an openly gay lawyer to an influential city board.
‘Faith in things unseen’
"For goodness' sake, why elevate AIDS over cancer? She shouldn't have filled out that questionnaire at all," said Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum. "President Bush is asking us to have faith in things unseen. We only have that kind of faith in God."
But on the same questionnaire, Miers opposed the repeal of a Texas anti-sodomy law and said she was not seeking the endorsement of the gay rights group. In a meeting with the group, she said that her "personal conviction is not consistent" with the "homosexual lifestyle," according to one activist's notes.
Hecht suggested that it would be difficult to attend Valley View regularly and support gay rights. At the same time, he said, Miers's faith made her more sympathetic to the struggles of others, and her duties as an at-large City Council member transcended her personal views.
"She represented those people, and she wanted to represent the whole city," Hecht said. "It doesn't mean that you approve of their lifestyle."
Hecht remembers that when Miers made partner at their law firm, the first woman ever to do so, she began to question what life was all about. He said they would often put their feet up and trade Big Questions: Is there a God? Who is He? What difference does it make? Miers had attended Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches as a girl, and her mother was religious, but Miers told Hecht she wanted a "deeper faith." Hecht believes she may have supported abortion rights at the time, although he said she had not thought about it much.
"Well, let's go to my church," Hecht told her.

That was Valley View, where Hecht played the organ and taught Sunday school. It was a church, pastor Ron Key said, that believed in "the Judeo-Christian perspective on the sanctity of life" and "the Christian perspective on marriage." There are antiabortion pamphlets inside the church and literature opposing premarital sex. Key and his wife, Kaycia, said they never asked Miers what she thought about those issues, because they never thought they had to.
"We've known Harriet for 30 years and we've never had any reason to discuss these hot topics," Kaycia Key said. "But I can say one thing: She's a totally committed Christian."
But some antiabortion activists noted that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was described as a devout Catholic when he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan -- and he still voted to uphold Roe v. Wade . Miers donated $150 at a fundraising dinner for a Texas antiabortion group in 1989, but Colleen Parro, director of the Republican National Coalition for Life, remembers that there were plenty of politicians trolling for votes at the dinner. Parro said she does not care whether Miers is a born-again Christian, or the companion of Hecht.
"It's not about her church, or the fellow she dates. It's about her record," Parro said. "She seems like a fine lady, but this nomination does not advance the culture of life."
‘Following her beliefs’
In 1993, when Miers was the president of the Texas bar, she led a challenge to the American Bar Association's support for abortion rights. Some of her friends say she just thought it was inappropriate for the group to take a stand on a moral issue, but others point out that an abortion rights supporter probably would not have challenged the status quo.
"She didn't have to do that," Kinkeade said. "She was following her beliefs."
Those beliefs were forged at Valley View, but Miers is breaking away from the church where she embraced Jesus. In recent years, church elders have moved to cut back on missionary work, sparking a split this summer among the parishioners. Key is forming a church that plans to donate half its revenues to mission work, and Miers plans to join him.
"These days so many of the churches have become Christian country clubs," Key said. "They are more about making you feel good about yourself than making you grow. Some of us, including Harriet, were uncomfortable with all this."
But if Miers is leaving her church, the church is not leaving her. Kaycia Key said she expects to see the next Supreme Court justice in the pews, singing enthusiastically, if not skillfully. "Let's just say she makes a joyful noise unto the Lord," Key said. "She doesn't hesitate to sing out”

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Making disciples

Jesus said that we are to go and make disciples.

Disciples. We are to participate in discipleship. What is discipleship? Discipleship is the replication of the ministry life of Jesus, his person and his power, that it may be transmitted to others through his disciples.

Discipleship is more than information. It is transformation.

My conversion is the beginning of my relationship with God, not the end. True repentance is a way of life, not just an entry point.

To some, discipleship is a student sitting at the feet of a teacher, learning new truths.

To others, discipleship is fulfilling a list of required duties.

But I would suggest that true discipleship is me giving you (by example, conversation, prayer and lifestyle) the life of Jesus so that you might give the life of Jesus to others.

We do that incrementally. We as Pentecostals like to go for the "big score" the "long pass" for the "touchdown" to make disciples. "Come to the altar," we say, "and experience the power of God." And there IS tremendous value in that.

But as a starting point, not an ending point.

A disciple, in the sense that Jesus portrays this, is made step by step, line by line, precept by precept, incrementally.

And we do that out of our own woundedness. Our own vulnerability. It's amazing to me that we spend an enormous amount of time trying to convince people that we are something that we are not, when in reality we can only really connect with them when we show our own faults and failures and mistakes and hurts.

We are all to be "wounded healers."

I encourage you today to be open with someone that they might receive Christ's life through you.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The true intent of prayer

If God is sovereign over everything why do we pray? Good question!

I suppose that many times we ask that question because we misunderstand the true intent of prayer.

I've heard it said something like this, "prayer is not to change the mind of God, prayer is to change me!"

That is so true. When I pray, I am encouraged, I am lifted up, life is put back into perspective, I receive peace, love and joy.

I become more and more aware of the hand of God in my life and grow in my sense of gratitude toward God.

Reading the Psalms is life changing because David is so open and vulnerable. He opens himself up to God and God responds.

In prayer there is spiritual, mental and emotional life.

Let me give you a quote from Jack Hayford and then ask you to respond to what you think the meaning of the quote is:

"there is a LIFE to being spirit filled, not a LOOK to being spirit filled."

My interpretation of that is this: walking with God is not so much how I act or react between 9:00 A.M. and 12:00 P.M. in our big building here at First Assembly. It's how I converse and grow in God throughout the week.

My life in God is not to be fueled by times of corporate gatherings but celebrated as we gather together to rejoice together at the lessons that God has taught us throughout the week.

Most of those lessons come through prayer. Conversing with God. Speaking and listening. Enjoying God's presence.