Saturday, March 29, 2014

Stuff Christians say . . . Hurting your Witness

So I see this all the time "that will hurt your witness" or "that will hurt your testimony."  I may have even said that from time to time.  I have been thinking about it and doing some study, and turns out, that is based in bad theology.

-Disclaimer, I'm not saying sin is ok!  Sin hurts you, makes you feel distance from God, hurts people around you and is generally bad.  It should be avoided, the Bible is clear it needs to be avoided.

What I want to tackle is the wrong view and attitude that causes us to say stuff that is. . . well wrong.  Does being fat, smoking cigars, drinking beer, driving badly or saying a curse word hurt your ability to share Christ?  Often we have said yes, but for that to be true, some other things would have to be true.

1.  Someone accepting Christ would depend on your ability to "sell" it.  Regardless of what some popular theology says, no one is saved without the work of the Holy Spirit.  Unless someone is touched by the Spirit and convicted of sin, they will not be saved.  The Spirit often moves through the words of a Christian speaking truth.  The Holy Spirit doesn't require you to speak, but God desires to partner and work with us, to grow our faith and build the body of Christ.  We believe we are much more important than we are.  We do not need to appear sinless to lead someone to Christ, in fact having a few flaws may help out.  We are not only forgiven, but in the process of being sanctified.  No matter how hard you try, it's going to be clear to everyone you are not there yet.

2.  Outsiders expect Christians to be perfect.  The only ones who expect us to be perfect is other Christians.  We don't give each other any grace at all.  I was once told that if I didn't shovel my walk, I was hurting the Church's reputation with the community.  One Christians would look down on a church for not having the walks at a house shoveled.  Only Christians (especially legalisms) would look at someone and condemn a whole church.  It goes right back to the leaders of the law looking down their nose at Jesus for hanging out with sinners.  Being overweight may be unhealthy, unattractive and make you not feel good, but the lost world isn't rejecting Christ because of your love handles.

3.  Telling others that they are hurting their witness will make them not sin.  NOPE, it keeps people from sharing.  People have told me "I won't put a fish on my car until I can stop speeding".  I'm not saying that is a bad idea "also not saying it's a good idea" but the reality is we don't stop sinning, we stop sharing.  Someone who struggles with drinking decides not to share with his drinking buddies.  Now, he should stop drinking if he feels convicted, but he should share with his drinking buddies what is going on.  Tell them, "I feel like I need to stop drinking because it's not good for me, my family or my wallet, and I feel like God is working on me in this area".  He then can share Christ with his friends and maybe they will even support him.  Being real is a great tool to share Christ, being perfect has never been a prerequisite, ever.

So, we need to think about the stuff we say, especially when we use it on others.  Sure, you should shovel your walk, lose weight, quit drinking and cursing and stealing pens from work, but you should witness all along the way.  You don't need to clean up your life to share, you share as God continues to work in you.  Encourage others, but don't manipulate them.  Guilt is gone, it shouldn't be something that Christians use and that we say.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Feed Your Passion

I have some very strong passions when it comes to ministry.  I have a passion for teaching, my heart cried to help people serve God in a successful setting and feel empowered to be used.  I am passionate about seeing that look on someone's face when they connect truth with their lives.  I love to teach, I would teach about God's truth and God's word all day long.  I love to talk about God, to talk about the Bible, to talk about the Church.  I love to connect people into groups that empower them to grow, serve, share and seek the way the New Testament says we should. I love these things, and they are starving because I haven't been feeding them.

Vocational Ministry ended for me almost 2 years ago, and since then I have worked in a couple places.  I have always found believers and we have always talked and fellowshipped (I made a new word).  I have tried to encourage and used opportunities to teach, but it was scraps off the table for my passion.  I work crazy hours now, I am at work every other Sunday, and my heart's desire is to plant a church that is different than anything I've experienced.  Home church based, cooperate worship maybe once a month that focuses on worship.  Teaching through the week like we saw during the Reformation, but the bread and butter is the home church groups.  I am moving beyond small groups, to start home churches that network.  I'm burning to get going, but I can't, so I write.

I have been thinking about the reason why I write.  I don't write for joy, as much as I enjoy writing.  I don't write for me, even though it does help me.  I write to find an avenue to teach, to share, to encourage.  I love coaching, I love helping and I write for you.  I want to write to create tools, helps, supports and things you can use to connect with God, connect with others and be successful in ministry.  I need to write because I'm called to ministry.  I can't leave it, even if I am no longer at a church, my job can be taken away, my salary taken away, my title, but my calling still burns in me and I can't ignore it.  I have to feed this passion.

What's your passion?  Maybe it's helping children, or supporting missions, or even going on missions.  Maybe it's reading or prayer or encouragement.  Are you feeding your passion? In PLACE Ministries material, they talk about people and how they effect your passions.  Some empower you, some share your passions, some support and encourage you, some appreciate you, some will just ignore you and some will suck your life away.  There will be people who will say you can't do it, will tell you that you aren't good enough.  As I writer, I have a nice stack of rejection letters, we all have a good collection of "thanks but no thanks" in our lives.  Life will eat your soul, destroy your passion, crush your spirit, so you have to feed your soul, empower your passion, bring life to your dreams.  I don't know if my writing will ever be successful, I have no idea if I will ever have a publisher invest in my work.  I do know that as long as this burning exists in my soul, I will write and teach and pray and speak and do whatever I can to serve God by serving His people.  Why, cause I love you all and I pray that God uses you to change the world.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Rocking With Double Blind Study

So I have read the most amazing books lately, and I don't read fiction (much).  A gifted writer I know she wrote a couple of amazing books about a band that I totally want to be the drummer for.  The band is called Double Blind Study, so the book series is all about Double Blind Study.  The first book is Learning to Fly, the second book is In Your Honor, and they are both available online at  I encourage you to go check them out.

What I have really enjoyed most about these books is the character development, I felt like I knew these people.  I felt like I have relationship with them, like they were friends of mine.  I have felt their feelings, their joys and pains.  I was so excited in reading these books, and again, I don't read fiction.  Check these books out here:

Learning to Fly:

In Your Honor:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday Morning, Who I Am and A Thought

Yes, it's Tuesday morning, no one ever seems real excited about Tuesday mornings.  With my schedule now, sometimes Tuesday mornings are days off, so I sit here and write some stuff.  I also sit in the quiet house and think about things.  It has been a good morning to think about things, I got something first thing that got my mind working.  I got a message on a social media from someone who says Calvinism is a cult.  As a Wovenist, I'm not overly offended, but I told him I did lean Calvinistic, so we probably would disagree on some stuff.  His reply?  His book was respectful (all except the cult thing I suppose) but people who teach Election teach a different gospel than Jesus taught.  Hmmm, so I shared with him my thought on time, basically that since God exists outside of the confines of time, election is just a way to describe for us what happens.  I told him not to worry about the "unelect".  Most of the concern comes from this idea that salvation was set before people were born, which makes them unable to choose.  We are stuck in this cycle of Newtonian physics, action and reaction.  God isn't stuck in that mode, He doesn't make a decision and then wait to see what happens.  God doesn't wait, He doesn't have too.  No one is stuck with a choice that was made before hand, because there is no "before".  If someone is unelect, they are for a reason, not just some random casting of lots.  Lets not worry about the unelect, we all still have choice.

That wasn't at all what I was going to write about.  I have been thinking a lot about my life, and what I'm going to do with it.  Right now, I make Soy Protein Isolate.  It's a good job, I make decent money but I didn't go to school and seminary to make Soy Protein Isolate.  I am called to ministry, I want to plant a church, publish books and articles, teach, support, lead, coach, counsel, consult, help churches build healthy education and discipleship structures, help them improve outreach, share with the lost and support young men and women led to ministry.  That's a lot of stuff, and making Soy Protein Isolate doesn't give me the time to do much of that.  I am doing a few of those things, but I have such a long way to go.  The requirement in this day and age to make a steady income to buy stuff like food and clothes isn't helping me a lot.  Combine that with two boys that can eat a week's groceries in 3 days, and I know I have to keep the paychecks coming.  So, then the question arises, what do I do?

Here is my plan.  First, I'm going back to school, as soon as I can afford the GRE.  I am going to pursue a counseling degree to combine with my coaching training and experience to really help people with life decisions and healing.  In the time between now and when I have the degree, I'm gonna keep writing.  I have decided I'm going to try to add in a bit more comedy and humor.  We saw a Christian Comedian last night, and I think that is something I can do.  I don't know if it will be mostly written or if I'll consider doing a little Stand Up, it's all something I'm considering and praying about.  Making people laugh and helping people heal go hand in hand.

So here I am, a Pastor, Writer, Speaker, Coach, Comedian, Consultant, Director, Minister, Missionary who makes his living by making Soy Protein Isolate.  What does the future hold?  No idea, but it's gonna be amusing to say the least.  God is doing something, He has predestined it, right?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Major Decision, Tabling A Work

I have come to a decision when it comes to my Evangelism tool. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me give you a quick history. I started developing a resource to help students reach out to friends. My premise was simple, students want to reach out, but they don’t plan for it. Everything they do is planned, timed and scheduled. To really share their faith, they need to schedule that too. The plan was to make a way for them to plan to share. This simple plan became a book, a tool to help people plan for outreach. I started this project in 2006, the book is complete is a couple different forms, with constant updates. It needs some editing but I have shared it with others, they have used it and everyone seems to think it’s a good resource.
I had thoughts of finishing the editing and putting it up on Amazon for e-readers. I want going to make it digitally available for people, but I have come to a decision that I won’t do that. Let me explain my reasoning.
There is a problem in today’s evangelical culture. That problem is that most professing evangelicals are active in evangelism. Many want to be, they know they should be and they give it a shot from time to time, but seldom do they actually share their faith. Most admit it, you can find all sorts of stats about the few number of those who regularly attend church who also share their faith. It’s a problem, and I think the church as a whole has failed. The problem is that we have lots of resources without aquatley planning for people to use them.
It’s like we took a group of people and trained them how to use a chain saw, but never took them to a forest to use them. Sure, there are trees all around the people, but they never consider cutting them down. We have given people tools, but very rarely we set them up with opportunities. They are trained, but so often the church doesn’t plan to go. The problem to go along with that is we schedule so many times for them to come to church, but we never schedule times to go out. When you take time to schedule evangelism and give people the tools, they share. I have worked with people in FAITH Evangelism and gone out in teams of three and shared our faith. I have done door to door work with adults and youth on many, many occasions and they shared their faith. I have gone with people to the mall, the park, the store and the neighborhoods and they have shared their faith, because we scheduled it and gave them a chance to use the tools in a supportive environment.
Face it evangelicals, we have a problem. We have failed and I don’t want to throw another book at the problem. I want Not Equipped for Failure (the current title) to be just another book. It might help a few who read it, but I want to make a difference. My vision is not just a book, but a training, videos, teaching aids and churches using it to create an outreach program that helps people GO. I want to be able to send out the material, book and video and teaching aids. I want to go to churches, meet people who want to share, show them they can do it and go out with them and let them see they can be successful. I can’t just put my book on Amazon and hope it helps people, I have a passion to help people with my material.

If you want help, if your church wants help making a successful outreach program and enlists, empowers and engages people, please call me. If you want your church to LIVE (a church outreach plan I will teach you) then call me. I would love nothing more than to partner with you. I don’t just simply want to sell you another book.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ten of the Coolest People I Know

I thought it would be fun to give a bit of props and shout out to some people who have really been a great blessing and help to me.  I didn't put family on this list, because of course Elaine is number 1.  She is definitely the coolest person ever, she is always top of the list.  I also didn't put Jesus on this list because He goes beyond anything I could ever say or describe, He's Lord and Master, not a "cool guy".  If you didn't make the list, don't fret, it's not because I don't love you, I had to narrow the list down to 10, so I picked 10 off the top.  I may do this from time to time, depending on if I get insults hurled at me.  Know I love all my readers, friends, coworkers, church family and people who don't fall into any list but are still awesome.  This is not a ranking from 1 to 10, so all these people are cool, there is no hierarchy.

1.  Dave Miller.  It's probably a mistake to put Dave first, he's gonna get a big head.  Dave gave me a shot to write for SBC Voices.  He is a fun guy, but he is full of compassion and deep down he's a really nice guy.  He is full of sarcasm, but don't let that hinder you, Dave really loves Christ, the Church, people and sports.  I have really appreciated Dave the time I have spent with him.

2. Micah Jessen.  Micah is my partner in crime at work.  We work pretty close together and he is an amazing guy.  He is pretty young, 21 but he has a lot of wisdom.  He also cracks me up but he's always got my back.  I can trust Micah, and we have more fun than people should have at work.  I appreciate him a great deal.

3. Jennifer Pitkin.  The first of our local authors on this list.  She is a big inspiration cause she writes and loves it and moves forward with her writing.  She is a great author and has a great heart.  She has 4 kids she adores and one she had to get on a plane and fly half way around the world to get.  She took her son on a date and they both dressed up like Batman, how amazing is that!  Also want to give a shout out to her husband Matt, who is equally as awesome.  He's a great guy, techie at heart and you gotta love that.  The whole family is pretty awesome.

4. Ed Stetzer.  I've never been able to sit down and talk to Ed, but we connect on social media from time to time.  What I really appreciate about Ed is that he is a straight shooter.  He's funny and honest and doesn't pull his punches.  He makes me laugh, he is a great speaker, author and researcher.  I have learned a great deal from Ed.  He's a pretty big deal, but he still talks to nobodies like me.  His goatee is amazingly epic too (yes, I contributed to the goatee idolatry).

5. Jeff Martindale.  Jeff drives a train, and that should be enough, but he is a down to earth and just cool guy.  Jeff and I have lunch from time to time, and he is one of those people that it's just pleasant to be with him.  He is encouraging, supportive, we have a great time and eat amazing food.  Smoked burger topped with brisket, I mean come on.  Jeff is one of those guys I know I can always count on and he is a great friend to have.

6. Laura Gibson.  She is the second writer on the list, and there are so many things to say about Laura.  I think what impresses me the most is that she knows who she is.  She knows her strengths, her short comings and she has learned to over come all of them.  She is very successful in what she does, and usually has a good time doing it.  She makes me laugh and is a great writer.  I love her use of allegory, she is a very talented writer.  Shout out to Jordan, her amazing husband who is a blast too.  Great guy to talk football with, and we always have a good time.

7. Bob Pederson.  Partner in crime at my previous job, a man who is as theologically minded as he is bald.  He's very bald.  Bob is the guy I can talk to about things that no one else really wants to talk about, he pushes me to think, inspires me to learn and study and best of all, encourages me to be holy.  He is there when I need help, supportive but he also would call me out if need be.  He got me through a really dark and lonely time, and I am so thankful for his friendship.  We have lunch at great little Mexican places, and always enjoy his company.  His wife is awesome too, I appreciate Suzanne and how she keeps Bob in line!

8. Lloyd Grant.  He's my Pastor.  I trust Lloyd and I know he is the man to be the Pastor were I take my family.  Don't read too much into that, there are great pastors who I trust, but Lloyd is who we need at this time in our lives.  He is humble, he is honest, he is funny and witty, he is brilliant and well read.  He is introverted like me, he is thoughtful and he's Canadian.  He pushes me and when we talk, I feel like I am getting someplace.  I am so thankful that I have a man like Lloyd in my life, he is one of the places I turn when I am seeking wisdom.

9. Heidi Hutchinson.  Third local writer on my list, and her books are awesome.  I have enjoyed reading her books and you should too, you should read all the Indiewriters on my list.  Just search Amazon for their names.  Anyway, Heidi is real.  That is pretty rare in this day and age.  Heidi is true to who she is and she is happy.  She smiles, she laughs and she is fun to be around.  She is a great mom, her son is so awesome (he wears an orange Mossy Oak hat).  Her husband Charles in equally amazing,and would be on the list if I didn't decide to cheat and put him with his wife.  Charles is one of the nicest guys I know, he is amazing at what he does, and I have the highest respect for him.  They are a great family!

10. Greg Buchanan.  No list would be complete without Greg, who even though we have been a thousand miles apart for the last 6 years, he knows me and get me and can connect with me like we just hung out.  Greg has been the guy since seminary that I could turn too with issues.  When I have a thought, he talks me through it.  When I write a blog, he comments to help me improve it.  He is a great friend, and I miss playing music with him, Battlefront II, building lightsabres and drawing crowds by fighting with them in the street.  If I could just figure out how to get him to Iowa.

This list could be a whole lot longer.  There are some awesome people I didn't get to include, so I think I'll definitely have to do this again.  Thanks so much to all the great people in my life, you have all helped me to be who I am.  Keep watching for when you make the list, I can also be bribed with baked goods.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Ever had a theme follow you and show up every time you turn around?  My wife is experiencing that with the concept in Abiding in Christ.  It came up this morning, it was there for her last week, in studies and devotions, sermons and Bible studies.  John chapter 15 shows up for her over and over, and as a result, it show up for me.  She shares with me what God is telling and sharing with her, and as a result I am hearing God talk to me about abiding.

She and I had a great conversation yesterday.  She and I have both walked though the valley these last few years, really struggling with where God is taking us, and being impacted by people causing us pain.  We have been wounded and as a result, we have pushed back against the Christian cliches that are so often said.  "Just give it to God" or "Run to God" or "God won't give you more than you can handle" (this one makes me irritated).  No one really knows what that means (ok, maybe a few have an idea) but most of the time we say those things because we don't know what else to say.  Often we throw in the "I'll pray for you" comment, and sometimes we pray and sometimes we forget.  Elaine and I have both cried out that we need something a little more tangible and a little less cliche.  She spoke with a friend who gave her some practical advice, to be honest at God, to cry to the heavens, tell Him what is wrong and tell Him what you think you need. I found this to be great advice and very applicable for me.  I have such a tendency to try to fix every issue on my own, in my own power.  It seldom works.

Sometimes we can see this abide principle the same way.  It can be a little bit of a nebulous idea, something that we know we should do, but don't really know what it means.  What does it mean to abide?  We know that much of this message is a metaphor, after all we are not branches.  We don't have grapes hanging off us.  Jesus is not an actual vine, so what does it mean?  We are not physically attached to Christ to get our nutrients, and those who are not in Christ are not shriveling up, drying out and getting thrown into a fire.

As I have thought about it and considered it and pondered what Jesus meant, I am glad he offered some clarification.  Jesus said we need to keep His commandments, which are to love one another, love people, care for widows and orphans.  We are to tell others about His love and be His hands and feet.  So we abide by doing the things He told us to do.  He goes on to say in John 15 that His commandment is to love one another.  We abide in Christ by having love for people.

So we abide by loving each other, and we are to bear fruit so the Father is glorified.  What does it mean to bear fruit?  After all, I don't have grapes hanging from my fingers and ears.  Bearing fruit, being fruitful, in Genesis, this was used in the phrase "be fruitful and multiply".  I am not sure this is what Jesus had in mind, but in the same way, the idea of bearing fruit does give images of producing, growing, adding.  If we need to bear fruit and we need to love one another, it seems that we need to invest in one another. 

I think this has several aspects.  The first is the obvious of sharing Christ with others, but I don't think ends there.  We need to disciple people, serve people, invest in people, love people and thereby add to the kingdom.  God is glorified when we partner with Him in the growth of the kingdom.  In my life, I share with those around me, I talk about the things I have learned, I love for those I work with and spend time around.  I try to have a positive impact in the world, which isn't always easy.  The only was I can do it is to abide in Christ, prayer, study and of course to obey His commandments.  When I obey, I am empowered to love and when I love I love more.

I am working every day to abide more in Christ.  It's not always easy, I don't find it natural to love some people.  It takes prayer and being around other believers who love me.  I don't feel like I understand everything about abiding, and my wife is constantly teaching me new things about abiding and love.  I hope that as I spend time understanding and learning about that last night that Jesus spent with His disciples.  I will strive to enter that rest by abiding.

Friday, March 14, 2014

From Clique to Community

I have a fan or Erikson's stages of psycho-social development, and I add my own observations to it.  What I have seen is that most young people, teens and some young adults have their core connection with a group of friends.  They are in a stage of identity vs isolation according to Erikson, I have seen that in creating an identity, the focus is on a core group of friends and peers.  They find there closest relationships are the circle of friends they have  These close relationships become primary, often even more than their family.  They are more concerned with the group of friends than anything else, and they are relatively short sighted when dealing with others.

As young adults grow and mature, they move from this concentration to this miniature community and begin to focus on the community as a whole.  Erikson looks at the intimacy issues, vs isolation as young adults begin to find their primary relationship with a spouse.  This focus, however, often moves them to a community mindedness that increases when children come along.  They are still primarily concerned with a small cluster, usually family but their concern begins to broaden.  The world becomes larger, from the social circle to the community where they live and work. It's at this stage that many who grew up in church and then left, then return to the church.  They begin to get involved in organizations like Parent/Teacher Organization.

As people make this shift, they move from a focus of immediate gratification and needs that are immediate.  As the transition is made, we move to think more long term, looking for long term goals and gratification.  This is necessary as we build a career, a family, look forward to the future, to kids growing up and to retirement.  It's needed to have a healthy adulthood to move from this immediate focus in our small social circle to moving to a long term thought process in a community minded lifestyle.

The problem happens when a stress or traumatic even happens in the teen years.  Often this trauma call trap someone from moving forward into the next level of development.  Sometimes people become stuck in this stage, and never have the ability to think at a larger community level and think long term.  These people are always looking for immediate gratification and have trouble thinking about the future.  They never emotionally mature beyond the level of teenager.  They are concerned with the immediate, with having enjoyment in the moment and lack much of the ability to see beyond the short term.

This causes all types of issues, the inability to build a successful career, to have healthy long term relationships, save money or prepare of the future.  It is becoming more and more common for people to seek immediate gratification and find themselves in debt they can't pay, no insurance, career or retirement.  Relationships are always short term and these people go from relationship to relationship, unable to maintain any healthy, long term relationships.

If this is you or someone you care about, there is hope.  First, we need to identify the trauma or experiences that trapped the person in the emotional adolescence.  Once that trauma or experiences are identified, there needs to be some counseling, some restoration, and a healthy forward movement.  It will take time and patience and help.  Dealing with those emotional roadblocks will enable the person begin to move forward and  heal.  Once this is resolved, healthy emotional development can begin renewed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Conversation With my Inner Atheist

I try to be a rational, thinking, philosophical individual, and I always strive to be honest about what is true and real.  In being a thinking person, a reading and studying person I have the occasional doubt.  I think we all have some doubts here and there, when faced with so much opposition to Christianity, there is sometimes that doubt creeps in.  Sometimes, the reality of the supernatural, the extraordinary and the beyond comprehension is hard to grasp and hold too.  The literal creation, the existence of angels and demons, the miracles around Christ and the reality of His Resurrection and assertion can be more than my human brain can contain.

Those outside the faith assume I'm simply a Christian because I was taught, grew up in it, brain washed and I'm just a follower with blind faith.  In reality, I am an orphan who has every ability to walk away from the faith without much ramification.  At this point in my life, I have built much of my life on faith, but much of it was torn down for me.  I have a job that doesn't have anything to do with church, my kids are in public school, I could stop attending church.  I am not forced into my faith, and I have times where I wrestle with it's legitimacy.

I will agree with Gandi, and say that often Christians are so unlike Christ.  The Bible says the world will know we are Disciples of Christ because of our love for one another.  I have been hurt and slandered and mistreated more by people who claimed the cause of Christ than I have those outside the church.  That causes me to doubt that the Spirit is really working in lives, but then I see life change.  My friend Noah had a huge life change.  A guy I work with is having a huge life change, and it doesn't just happen.  People don't change like that, even prison and rehab can't make people change like Jesus does.  I see false converts, but I have also seen some great people changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are lots of different faiths out there.  I enjoy reading about eastern thought and religion is appealing to me, but I can't believe it's real just because I think it's cool.  I have to look for what truth is revealed and I have seen evidence of God in life and in nature.  It would be easy to take a "whatever you believe" sort of stance and instead of questioning things, I could just accept everything without question.  It would be easy to say "hey, that's cool, whatever you want to believe" but it's not that simple.  Some things are wrong, they are contradictory to truth.  I feel that what I believe is true, otherwise I wouldn't believe it.  You can say that makes me close minded or narrow or whatever, but if you thought you were wrong, you wouldn't believe what you believe either.

Truth is, we all have things that lead us to our belief systems.  Some people get there through family or friends, some people though experience, some people through manipulation.  I'm no different, I came to believe in Christ through some family, through experience, through what I saw and how I felt God in my life.  As I've gotten older, I've seen more, learned great lessons, read the works of dead men who understood things I never will.  I have read opinions that deviate, seen science that claims there is no God, and spoken with atheists who are as sure as I am (so they claim).  I have talked with people from all over and see and heard a thousand opinions.  Some days I have a hard time.  Some days it seems like even my own faith is just a fairy tale, but we each have to wrestle with ourselves when it comes to our beliefs.  None of them come easily, not if they are worth having.  Examination and scrutiny will show you that sometimes those things which are the most true are the hardest to believe.

In these years, I have wrestled with theology.  I have fought with free will, with Calvinism, with scripture and with the reality of the Atonement.  These days I wrestle with the existence of time itself and how it works in relation to eternity and salvation.  It's not an easy journey, and those who find a faith easily today, they risk losing it tomorrow.  Wrestle with yourself,  if you are an atheist you will have to fight your inner saint.  Easterners may have to wrestle the inner Westerner and those of us with faith will have to fight doubt.  Fight through it and find the truth hidden in the midst.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Carry One Another's Burdens By Elaine Barnes

Amazing thoughts from my awesome wife.

I was driving to school this morning and saw a sight that puts a smile on my face and warmth in my heart and soul. No, it wasn't the local coffee shop - although with daylight savings time I could use an extra cup or two of coffee. A flock of birds were flying in form through the morning sky.  I get excited about this because it means winter really is coming to a close. Spring is FINALLY on the way.
The polite horn honking behind me, brought my eyes from the sky and to the road in front of me telling me the light had turned green. It was time to stop my bird watching for the morning. The V-shape flock stuck in my mind as I drove and I've been contemplating the amazing form and teamwork migrating birds posses.
By working together and flying in form, birds cover 70% more distance than flying alone. The V-shape reduces air resistance allowing for lower heart rates and more stamina. If you have more time than I did this morning to bird watch, you'll notice that the mama birds must have trained their young'uns to take turns when growing up. They switch out positions and take turns leading and following. The lead birds have the most wind resistance against them with no one in front to give a current to ride on. As they grow tired they switch and fall back into line allowing them to rest on the strength of others.
What's even more amazing... if a bird gets hurt for whatever reason and falls completely out of formation, two other birds will do the same. They provide help by coming along beside and giving the air flow needed for that bird to fly slower with less resistance. This continues until the wounded one can once again fly with the flock.
Could there be a more perfect picture of how we are supposed to carry out this verse in our lives: Carry one another's burdens - Galatians 6:2
Maybe if we all pointed for the same direction, and found those who had wisdom and strength to share ahead of us, and we took our wisdom and strength to share with others... we could get 70% farther than we ever could on our own. Maybe if when we became weary from the journey we could get with others and allow them to carry us for a little while, and what an honor to BE those friends with the privilege to carry another one through.
What about when one of us is truly wounded? When they fall out completely from the flock. When life has taken one of us down and they are struggling to fly at all ... If we are going to carry one another's burdens we can't just keep flying and hope they'll catch back up. But what about our lives, our schedules, our responsibilities? we have places to go, things to do and a deadline to do it all in! If we take time to carry another, we'll get behind on those things. It would be hard work too. We would have to leave a flight pattern that may be smooth sailing and become the strong one who offers an easier current for someone else.
The beautiful thing about this calling on our lives is that we never have to rely on our own strength to offer someone else the help they need. At any point in our formation, no one person is relying on themselves, but it's the strength God gives each of us, that flows out of us to others. Philippians 4:13 says, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I believe that includes the strength to step out and be there for those around us who need us to break the V-shape and fall out with them until the wounded one can once again fly with the flock.
On this journey to our warmer, more inviting home - we each get the opportunity and responsibility to be in the lead position ... let's watch for an even greater opportunity and responsibility to be those who fall out and carry another.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Open Letter to the GRHS Class of 95

I can't believe that our 20th year reunion is coming up.  I missed the 10 year reunion, so I'll make sure I make it this year.  High School seemed so long ago, but in many ways, it seems like yesterday.  Many of you I went to Middle School with and some I attended Elementary school.  We grew up together and it's strange now to play those times back in my mind.

I didn't really enjoy Middle School so much.  Ok, I hated it with a passion.  Especially my eighth grade year, I was bullied pretty bad.  I was slow to mature, both physically and socially.  While many boys began to build muscle, I still had my boy fat.  This combined with my slight nerdiness. . . ok my gret nerdiness I got picked on.  It was my seventh grade year that my life changed with my faith and I became very open about my faith in Jesus.  I got teased for that too, but it never bothered me.  I was called God boy, and that always made me laugh, as if that was going to hurt my feelings.

I was bullied less in high school, I found a new kind of bullying.  My friends would find someone to pick on, and it was often me.  I am introverted and never was able to put on muscle and I guess that made me an easy target.

I was pretty happy most of high school, despite the fact I wasn't popular.  I had some good friends, I was mostly ignored and that was ok.  Deep down, I always wanted to be somebody, but never did make a very big splash.  I was not an athlete, not a singer or acter or an academic.  I wasn't much of anything, had a hard time finding my place.  The only place i really felt at home was church, which is why I eventually became a Pastor.  I now prefer the title Theologian to "God Boy" however.

In college, I did better at finding who I was.  In High School, I never dated.  I asked one girl out, she was so sweet when she shot me down.  In college, I dated more but my immaturity still came through.  I had to appologise later in life for many of the mistaked that I made.  I did finally get it right when I started dating Elaine, but I still made my fair share of mistakes.

So here I am, looking at our 20th reunion.  I've been married 13 years, have 3 kids, served in some churches and now I'm working on becoming a writer and getting another Master's degree.  Still trying to figure out who I am.  I discovered that bullies exist everywhere and will seek to cause you pain in every area.  I have found that popularity contests never go away, they just change in nature.  I have found that the lessons I learned in High School never go away but they change.

You will all parts of my life and the lessons you all taught me have influenced me.  I am so thankful for the lessons and the friendship.  Those of you were gave me the occasional hard time, I appreciate how you helped to make me stronger.  Over the years many of you I've kept up with, some I haven't heard much from but I hope you are all doing well.  I am excited to catch up this summer and see everyone.  Maybe I'll dig out the "God is Awesome" tshirt.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Grief and Grieving

I've become acquainted with grief in my life. I've lost friends and family, had to attend funerals and had my heart broken by loss. These times of grief have been hard, but I have found myself struggling with a different kind of grief. This one had caused me more suffering because I haven't allowed myself to grieve. This is the loss of the intangible. Loss of a goal, dream or plan.

I have been with others as they have gone through this. Divorce is often an area people feel this loss. Not being accepted to a school or program. An injury that changes the course of plans. In my case, the loss of a calling, in the place I worked to get to. I had plans and goals and ideas and suddenly it was gone.

At first, I was ok. I looked to new opportunities. Then I became frustrated and felt like I had no traction. I then became very depressed and struggled to even make it through a day. Next, the anger came and the bitterness and I struggled to forgive and let go.

In haven't wire reached full acceptance yet, but understanding that what I am experiencing is the normal cycle of grief is helpful. I don't feel like I'm out of control and I understand I need to grieve.

Maybe you are there too. Maybe you have a dream or goal that is gone. Maybe something you thought was working out and it fell through. A job, a deal, a loan. There are things that die in our lives that we need to grieve. It's important to let your self feel the grief. Jesus felt grief and He wept.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Am I a Failure?

Yes, I am a failure.  You are too.  News flash, we are all failures.  I think the sooner we admit that, the better off we will be.  Now let me explain and unpack this before you think I need to be hospitalized or accosted.  I want to take a second and be honest and real in some self examination.  I hope you will join me at some honest evaluation of your self.  God set a standard for us, to be like Him.  He made a garden, put man in it, made it easy.  He said "you will be perfect as long as you don't eat that fruit.  You have one command to keep, if you keep it you get a 100%".  Pretty simple, right, don't eat off one tree, the rest are fair game.  So. . . we ate it.  Now it gets harder, so there are some more rules.  Don't covet or steal or lie or lust or curse or sleep with someone not your spouse.  Don't worship other stuff, don't make statues of God, rest of the Sabbath.  This was the quick list, there was some more stuff, we blew all of them.  We keep making it harder on ourselves.

One rule or ten, it doesn't matter cause we fail daily.  I am rude and self seeking, I am selfish and sometimes cruel.  I don't do the things I want to do, I should do and I'm suppose to do, I do the stuff I shouldn't.  I get in trouble and I fail and I miss deadlines.  I'm a failure and you do the same stuff.  I have a news flash, it's ok.  You fail and you mess up and God knew you would so He offers you grace and love through Jesus Christ.  This doesn't mean that you should fail on purpose, we still try our best, but we can get up after we fall down because there is still hope.

Here is where we fail in our failure.  We begin to assume that living a good life is dependent upon our self effort.  Ya, it's not.  You can't just will yourself to be better.  Anyone who tells you that you can is lying to you.  They are hiding something, they are probably struggling with some ego issues and you need to ignore it.  How do I know?  Because the Bible says that when I am weak, then I am strong.  The power of Christ is made perfect in my weakness.  God uses the weak of this world to shame the strong.  I boast all the more in my weakness, the power of Christ is in my weakness.  It's all over the New Testament, that we are weak, and that weakness is where Christ is at work in my life.

This doesn't mean we don't try our best, because we do.  We give our lives to follow Christ, but we understand (or should) that it's not through self effort.  This is the hardest blessing in the Christian life to understand, when we quit trying to hard to do it on our own and ask Christ to guide us and support us, we find strength.  We fail less often, not because we are great but because He is great.  We find ourselves on the right track when we let Him navigate the way.

I'm going to tell you how to begin.  First, I want you to relax and stop worrying.  Then I want you to ask God to help you, to forgive you, to empower and fill you.  I want you to pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit until you are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Then I want you to think about what you need, then go do it.  Don't stress about it, don't wonder what everyone else thinks, just do what you need to do.  You will find freedom and grace as you live your life one moment at a time by His grace.  The narrow road is hard, don't want it on your own power.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fat Tuesday

Today is Marti Gras or Fat Tuesday, the day many descend into debauchery right before Lent, the 40 days prior to Easter.  I don't practice Lent myself, but I have no problem with people preparing themselves for the Easter celebration with sacrifice and fasting.  I don't want to focus on giving things up and eating fish on Friday, but rather the activities on Tuesday.  The party called Marti Gras.

I think that Marti Gras is indicative of human behavior, we think we should experience something before we give it up.  We want to be bad and we will be good later.  We will stop smoking, drinking, swearing and eating pork later.  (I'm not gonna quit eating pork).  We have this view that we need to experience the pleasures of the world before we can take our faith seriously.  My response to that is, seriously?

The problem with a day of sin before 40 days of good behavior is sin is like potato chips.  Seldom is it just one.  Not one day, not one sin, not one problem.  Sin breed more sin, and when we give into a little sin, we find ourselves giving into a little more sin.  Eventually we have given into a lot of sin and we are in way over our heads.  Dead brings death, and inviting sin in, even for one day, is liking giving the grim reaper a key to the house.  Simply not a good idea.  My advice to Fat Tuesday?  Just eat bacon cheeseburgers with good friends. . . and cheesecake.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thinking Woven: Your Life as a Movie

Much of our disagreement about salvation, particularly in the area of predestination and election comes from a false understanding of time.  More specifically, where is God in aspect of time.  I have proposed that God is outside of time.  Here is a simple reason why, if God were subject to time, yet is eternal, then God would be stuck in eternity past.  In order to move forward in time, there must be a place to start.  Imagine running a race, but you exist eternally back from the starting line, when would you start?  How would you ever reach the starting line if you are eternally away from the line?  If God has always been, yet inside time, how would He arrive at the present?

If God is outside of time, He must exist at all time (from our point of view) simultaneously.  If this is true, the question of "when" becomes irrelevant.  If God calls us right now, at the foundations of the world, or at the end, it's all the same to God.  Let us look at it as if we are in a movie.  From us, we are only in the movie once, we act the scene and it's over (sorry, no rehearsal, no scene two, it's a reality type show).  In this movie, I accept Christ, for me it's an event in time, it happens and I didn't know it was going to happen until it happens and I make decisions that brought me to this place.  The movie ends, God opens the DVD player and take the movie out.  God then decides later to watch the movie again, and it's back at the beginning, before I accept Christ.  Am I going to accept Christ in this movie?  Yes, of course I am, the movie doesn't change.  I still make the choices, I still do the things I decide to do, I am not forced or scripted, but it's happened.  From God's point of view, it will happen as the movie plays out, it has happened because He's watching it and it will happen when it get to that scene.

This is a flawed analogy of course, but it makes us think.  If God has already seen me do this, if the choices I make I have already made, I just haven't gotten to that scene myself, why are we so worked up over this whole idea of predestined.  After all, predestined really means that God is working in our lives to bring things together that from His perspective have already come into being.  It has happened, it's happening and it will happen in this timey wimey thing (All my whovian readers will enjoy that).  Let's not get freaked out because God exists so far beyond us, let's just be thankful that He does.