Sunday, December 31, 2017

Every Church is a Family, and Many Are Dysfunctional

My church has always been a family too me. They have been there with me and for me when I went through so many things. They were there for the good times, for the celebrations and for the hard times. My pastor from my home church growing up will always be more and just my pastor. He led me to Christ, he Baptised me, he licensed me to the ministry, he preached at my ordination, he performed my wedding, he did my parent's funeral, he was the executor of my parent's estate, he became my dad and was always there. He is and will always be a huge part of my life.

After leaving my home church, I had my church is college, which went through a couple pastors where I was there. The first I never really had much of relationship with, he was a nice guy but we never clicked. The second pastor was a huge part of my life. He invested in me and my wife and our new baby. He taught me a lot and invested in my early ministry. He was a great pastor and preacher, but he was also very real. He taught me how to get through the good days and the bad days.

As I launched into ministry, I served in a variety of different churches with a variety of pastors and leaders. I have served with great men and women and some who were. . . .not as great. You see, just like there are many types of families, there are just as many types of churches and some are more healthy than others. Of course, every church has problems and issues, some run deeper than others. Too often in families and in churches, we ignore the problems, make excuses and pretend like everything is fine. If in a family, there is a problem, we need to address it.

The most common church dysfunction is the same issue that's plagued humanity since the fall. The Israelites had it, the Pharisees had it, the church in Rome had it and it exists today. The pride in man's heart creates an abuse of power. Leaders become obsessed with their own leadership, they become controlling, sometimes manipulative. They become overly attached to their own power and importance, and often Christ is no longer the head of the church. The Pharisees were so concerned with their own control, they didn't recognize Christ. In the end, they crucified Christ because they were afraid to lose power. Too often there is a hunger for control and power, leaders become overly obsessed with being in charge. Just like a controlling spouse, leadership dominance to the point of abuse is a dysfunction in a church.

There is the unattached, uninvolved church. You come on Sunday morning, you sit and no one really connects and no one really knows much. Sure there are relationships in the church, friend, and connections, but those groups don't connect to the other groups. The pastor really isn't involved in his people, the people aren't connected to the leadership and there isn't really a sense of community. It's superficial, and the people are connected but more from proximity. It's like that Thanksgiving dinner when no one talks and it's filled with small talk. The kids don't share with their parents, no one talks about their hurts or their problems. Everything is glossed over and no one really knows anyone else in the family.

Of course, there is the family that is over-involved. They want to dictate every action you take. A church is a great help and the pastor can really help you, but a pastor who is overly involved in your life, one who is controlling and manipulative, well that's as bad as a nagging in-law. A church that wants to manage your clothes, your hair, your money, your kids and how you spend every minute of your day, that is not healthy. Now, there are times that a church family needs to help when you are in trouble, in sin, or in bad spot overall, there are times to intervene, but a constant controlling church is not a healthy thing. It's not good when a parent controls adult children and it's not good when a church controls the people.

Of course, there are lots of variations of the next one, but I'm going to call it the secret sin church. A church that has an issue and maybe it's a secret, maybe it's not, but no one wants to address it. A pastor who is an egomaniac, but he is a good preacher and so we ignore it. The Pastor who tells lies acts more like a politician and says what you want to hear. We know he doesn't but we'll overlook it. The deacon who likes to gossip, but he's been around here forever. The elder who is crooked in his business dealings, but his tithe check is the biggest in the church. The influential church board member who is powerful at church and in the community and tells the racist and sexist jokes in his office. Everyone knows, but we aren't going to say anything. Sure the Pastor is emotionally abusive to his family, but as long as things are good for me, then it's all good. Did that sting a little? Look, I get it, you like the Pastor and he seems to be trying, well sometimes. I have served with men who have had issues, addictions, and problems and they struggled. I walked with them, prayed with them and they worked on and it tried. I'm not talking about those guys. I'm talking about the guy who says "well this just is who I am" so he has an excuse to behave badly. He can call his wife stupid in a group, cause that's how he is. He can threaten and insult church members who disagree because that is just his personality. We all know the controlling husband, the hurtful wife and the abusive boss that are given a pass. It happens in church, it happens a lot. Does it happen in yours?

I want to give you one more, although the list is much longer. The last is the trendy church. I'm not talking about the hipster worship leader and jeans wearing pastor, I mean the church that jumps on board with every new trend. In families, we see the mom that reads a new book or article and now her kids are doing that trend. They are the babywise, gluten and soy free, non immunized, raw milk drinking, Montessori school attending, gender fluid non-binary kids. If I offended you, I'm a little sorry. Montessori schools are probably fine, and if you don't want to eat gluten or soy, whatever. Immunize your kids, and they are boys or girls, it's science. Anyway, we all know those parents who read an article on Facebook about how dihydrogen monoxide has the highest pH of any acid will kill you if you have too much, so they plan to ban it from their homes as soon as they figure out what it is. News flash, it's water and yes, people drowned in it. Sometimes we buy the hype and make bad decisions. Churches can do the same thing, we become the best, purpose-driven, awake, simple church, team sport, radical, underground, crazy love church. Now, most of these books are good, I read most of them and really enjoyed them. The problem comes when a leadership team reads a new book and suddenly that becomes the model. The Pastor's sermons for the next 6 weeks are focused on the book, all the meetings and studies and prayers are focused on the book. The church becomes a mini version of the church that wrote it. The problem is, this isn't Saddleback or Atlanta or even Idaho (unless you are in one of those places, but then you are still not the other two). I'm in Iowa, that's my context. It's totally different than the one I was in when I lived in Arizona. They are both different from Wyoming. Parts are the same, some parts are totally different. I can't use the same cookie cutter approach. Can I use principles? Yes. Can I duplicate everything? No. It's like the parents who read a bunch of books by some pop-psychologist and now the kids are 35 and can't figure life out. Do what is best for your kids, do what works in your church.

Like I said, there are lots more, churches are filled with people who are filled with problems. Problems can be fixed, things can be resolved, and there is always hope. Don't go fire your pastor, burn down the building and disband the church. The biggest problem I think we make is when we start to treat the church like a business more than a family. If you go and fire your pastor and staff, that is a business move. If it must be done (he's embezzling or abusive) then it must be done, but don't fire a pastor or staff because you think you can get a better one. That's like leaving your spouse for a better-looking one. It's shallow and stupid and, well don't do it. I digress, don't throw the whole thing away, remember the point. The church is a family. You don't get rid of your kids, dump your spouse and disown your parents because there are problems. You fix them, at least in a functional family. Yes, there are times when an individual must be removed, but most of the time that isn't the case. Let's talk about the issues in the church, work on the issues in the church. If we just ignore what is going on, things will never get any better.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Real Meaning Behind the Separation of Church and State

I hear things often about how there should be a separation of church and state, meaning that religion needs to stay out of public life. How it has no place in politics, education or the marketplace. At the same time, religion is a key driving factor in one of the fastest growing demographics in this country, the Muslim population. In light of what has, is and will happen in this country, we need to look at what the separation of Church and state is, what the first amendment really says and how it is supposed to function.

First, we need to remember our foundation. Many of those who came to this country from England did so to escape religious intolerance. They were called Separatist (not the Star Wars kind) and they had no desire to be part of the Anglican church. They were Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Puritans, Brethren, and others. They came to this country to escape the persecution that was happening, as a result, the freedom of worship was important to them. They wanted those who lived in this country to be free from the fear of prison for worship. This is why they wrote the first amendment, that Congress shall pass no law concerning the establishment of religion and the free practice thereof. The separation of church and state means that the state would not establish a church, we will have no national religion, no denomination that is the state denomination, like The Church of England. No one would be forced to serve the church by the country.

Now today, we have moved to have freedom of religion, there is an organization promoting the freedom from religion. This is impossible since Christianity has shaped Western society. The whole idea of a weekend, the Gregorian calendar, the university, even democracy has roots in Judeo-Christian heritage. You can't escape religion, and you shouldn't try, even if you don't believe in an organized faith, you have to respect the American right to worship as you choose. You have the right and the freedom to worship Jesus, Mohammad, Budha or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You just do, it's a right. Individuals have a right to express that right in word and deed, as long as it does not infringe on the freedom of another. I can pray for you, I can pray in public, I can read my Bible, I can preach and teach, but I can't force you to read my Bible, pray with me or even listen to me preach. It's a fundamental right of every American.

As Christians (this is a Christian blog, so if you don't want the Christian perspective, you found the wrong place), we need to be aware of where we came from and what our obligation is. We are living in a mission field. America's Christian roots are growing short and the number of those not involved in a church is growing. The number of churches that have left Biblical teaching and embracing popular culture instead of Biblical truth is growing. Many mainline churches are leaving the truth of the Bible for what is popular, either liberal theology or the Word of Faith movement which much of it has turned away from truth in the pursuit of wealth and prestige. To stand on Biblical truth is not as popular and seldom see, unfortunately. We live in a time that American is more openly hostile to Christianity. It's ok to condemn the entire Church because some have acted hatefully, and what use to be considered wrong and immoral is not paraded as "normal".  If you stand on Biblical truth and call for things like sex only inside of a marriage relationship between a man and a woman where children are raised in healthy, two-parent households, you will get slapped with all sorts of labels. The culture thinks that's an outdated idea, I think truth is truth.

The culture may be against us, but there is something we have done a poor job at and we need to double down on. Religious freedom, not for us, but for others. I hear too many Christians saying that Muslims need to abandon their faith. I see posts all the time that Muslim women need to abandon the hijab. We cannot expect the world to give us religious freedom and attempt to subvert the religious freedom on another. It's true that some in the Muslim world don't believe that we should have religious freedom, that we should convert to Islam or pay the consequences. That doesn't matter, they are not the standard. The atheist who thinks that Christians should be locked into mental institutions, the Muslim that thinks Christians should be beheaded, the liberal who thinks we are to keep silent and fall in line, none of them are the standard. We need to stand for truth and for the freedom that we have.

Here is my thought. First, we need to support the rights of the Islamic community, the Jewish Community, the Buddhist community and others that are not Christian to freely exercise their religious freedom. We don't need to join them, we don't need to participate, we can tell them about Jesus and pray for their salvation (we can and we should), but we need to respect their freedom in America to be Americans and be free. Religious freedom is a fundamental right, and while we can have discussion and debate about truth, at the end of the day we need to respect their rights.

In we as Christians are going to make an impact in our society, we will do it with love, respect and understanding. We will share our faith, respect others and love them like Christ did. We can speak the truth without attempting to suppress the freedom of others. In this country, you can be Christian, Muslim, Atheist, straight, gay, transgender and even claim all of the above at any given time. We don't need to figure it out or understand it, but we need to show respect and love and understanding. Remember, we are sent to preach the truth, not destroy the unbeliever, that isn't what Jesus teaches, regardless of what any one else does. Our standard calls us to respect.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

How We Know We Are Failing As The American Church

So here is a sad reality. Wait staff at restaurants hate working Sunday lunch. Why? The after church crowd. They report the crowd is rude, impatient, demanding and lousy tippers.

This is just one report.

The church grew and gained favor in the first century because Christians cared for people. They took care of others, regardless of who they were. They took care of Jews, Greeks, pagans, and even people who pursecuted them. They were killed for their faith, but they never retaliated. They loved people anyway. The American Christian is known for plenty, but the Fruit of the Spirit doesn't seem like one.

Normally I try to close a blog with a solution. In this case, I believe problem is two fold. One, the church is filled with the unregenerate. Yes, I think that many of those individuals in your church who are there every week and even lead teams and ministries aren't saved. We know you can be committed and zealous apart from salvation. Pharasees were not saved. Muslims are not saved. Cults are full of the zealous unsaved. Unsaved church members, leaders, even pastors can serve and be unsaved.

That may sound harsh, but either they are unsaved or the holy spirit has no effect. Which do you believe. The second issue is that we are so consumed by self that we no longer are filled with the spirit. We are selfish, self centered and convinced of our own self importance. I made a Facebook comment today about how if you want to know how your church is doing, change something. What I mean is, rearrange the chair or paint a new color. People will get furious, because they feel the church is theirs and they should get to choose. Usually doesn't lead to showing love or grace. We just accept this reality of church members and make jokes about it.

We are not doing well American church, and the wait staff at the restaurant down the road from your church knows it. We need Jesus and we need to beg for the Spirit to heal us.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Heretic Game, Final Round. Am I a Heretic?

Let's finish up the heretic game. This could go on and on, and there are several individuals I would like to talk about, but I think it's time to call it a game. Let's finish up with me, where do I stand? Since this is my blog, it's covered from end to end in my theology. Of course, you know I'm a Wovenist, that God exists outside of time and is eternal, but also inside of time and interacts with us in a personal way, most notably in the person of Christ. I am more on the Calvinist side, but my Wovenist colors that view as well, weaving in man's heart, prayer and evangelism with God's unconditional election. Sound like a contradiction? The strands stay individual, they do not mix, they simply cross over one another as things are woven together. Our relationship with God, our salvation and restoration are not 2 dimensional, but 4 dimensional. You can go back through my posts and read lots of Woven theology if you have questions.

Escatology, I'm historic post-trib. I believe that the events of Revelation are moving through history, not a set 7 year tribulation. I don't believe in a secret rapture, but a visible second coming where we meet Christ in the air and join his army/chorus during his entry into the world. I don't believe in one individual who is the anti-Christ, but an ideology that is the Nation of Islam, which I also believe is the 4 horsemen. Yes, all four.

I'm pretty straight Southern Bapitst. I believe in Eternal security (cause Calvinist) and credo-Baptism, symbolic communion. Surprising to most, I'm not a cessationist, I believe in the continuation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I believe the gift of Apostleship exists (teaching and leading church, church planting) but the office is closed. Same with the gift of prophecy (speaking truth, sharing God's word mainly through preaching and exegesis) but the office of prophet is closed. The jury is out on tongues, but I lean towards the "let's not fake it till we make it" crowd.

I believe that many believe they are saved, but lack the fruit of the spirit and the list given in 2 Peter 1. I believe there will be some pastors, teachers, and leaders who hear "depart from me" and I am confident I have served with a few. Sadly. I believe that the scripture is the foundation and if we believe anything it needs to be solidified in scripture. I hear a lot of things in church that are said and believed with no Biblical support. That's sad. I believe in a lot of unpopular things, like divorce should only be used in a few cases, marriage is only between a man and woman, sex outside of that relationship is sin. These aren't popular, but I don't care. I think that the church too often has become a business, has folded to power and money and influence and more pastors are concerned with opinions and popularity than the Biblical correctness. It's sad.

That's a brief splattering of my theology so you can decide if you think I am a heretic, a false teacher, just wrong or anything else. I'm open to teaching and correction, and I love to talk theology. This is the last in our game, I hope you enjoyed it. Shoot me questions if you have them to

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Heretic Game, Round 4. Is Andy Stanley a Heretic?

So Charles Stanley is a pillar in the Christian Community. He is respected, loved and listened too. He has a son, Andy. He is the pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta GA. He is very popular with many, and just as unpopular with others. He has some books, lots of youtube clips and a huge church. Let's begin there, the same place we always begin. I looked at the belief statement of North Point. Guess what, it looks like every other belief statement out there. It's doctrinally accurate, worded quickly and short. It's orthodox but doesn't have much meat. Here, at the starting point, Andy looks pretty good, but then again, everyone does at this point.

Most of the criticism of Stanley that I have found are based on some interpretation and things he might say. He occasionally says things that I am not sure he means the way people run with them. Many see a statement he made as condoning homosexuality. He didn't say it, it might be assumed that is what he meant, but assumptions are dangerous.

What Stanley does is preach and teach with a Postmodern edge, meaning he questions all traditions, pushes against the establishment and defies the establishment. This makes people nervous, and he often says things in an attempt to be "cutting edge" and often ends up saying things that are not the best. His desire to be open to all people and accepting sometimes causes him (and many others) to push back against sound doctrine and teaching in an attempt to be "relevant". Andy would probably say it's working, he has a great big church and lots of books and he's a pretty famous guy. . . .but the same can be said of his father, and he didn't push back against doctrine.

I've read some of Stanley's books, his theology is ok. His pragmatism I believe to be unwise. Is he a heretic? No, I don't think so. Many may disagree with me, but I think his teaching on Christ and Salvation is pretty much within in the bounds of orthodoxy. I do think he pushes the envelope, but I would not characterize as the best practice. Some would call him a liberal, I am more comfortable saying he is embracing the postmodern idea of deconstruction in his church and tries to get to the root and essentials of the Christian faith, and sometimes I think he misses the mark. After all, no one is perfect. I give Andy a pass and I think we take the good with the bad, he's flawed, but so are we all. I just pray that when it comes time for him to choose to hold onto Biblical truth or follow cultural sway, he goes Biblical.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Heretic Game Round 3. Is Joyce Meyers a Heretic?

We have looked at Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, so let's look at a woman for this round, since women can be heretics too. Here we find Joyce Meyers, who is similar in many ways to Joel Osteen, she even does tours and conferences with Osteen. Looking at her right after Osteen may be a little redundant, but she is very popular so I think it's a good idea to look into her theology. I began with Joyce where we always start, the "what we believe" section of her website. I am not going to post it, just give you the link because it is pretty much a cut and paste from almost every evangelical "what we believe" section around. They all read the same and for the most part, they are orthodox in their teaching. Man, separated from God by sin and must be redeemed by faith in Christ.

Now my big issue with Meyers is her teaching about Jesus going to hell. She claims she has a revelation from God that Jesus went to hell and was tortured by demons and if you don't believe this, you can't be saved. Here is my issue, there is a debate about what it means that Jesus descended into the earth, that he preached to the captives. Maybe He did descend into hell, that's not my issue. Jesus wasn't tortured by demons. No one in hell is tortured by demons. Demons are tortured in hell, they are not in charge of hell. Hell is not Satan's playground, it's his punishment, he isn't in charge there. Demons torturing people in hell is a pagan teaching. In Roman mythology, Hades is the ruler of the underworld. In Biblical theology, God created hell and he created it for punishing Satan and his demons, not for them to be in charge. This teaching has pagan roots and she claims it came as a direct revelation from being anointed in the spirit. Nope.

Jesus finished the work of Salvation on the cross when He announced: "It is finished". Three days of demon torture was not necessary for Salvation and Joyce is flat, plain and utterly wrong on this point. I won't make any qualms, she's wrong. Does this make her a heretic? Here is where she steps in it, she claims that you can't be saved unless you believe this teaching with your whole heart. In her booklet "The Most Important Decision You Will Ever Make", Meyers states:

“There is no hope of anyone going to heaven unless they believe this truth I am presenting. You cannot go to heaven unless you believe with all your heart that Jesus took your place in hell.”

My friends, that is what we call a false teaching, adding to the work of Salvation by requiring an extra-biblical belief, which is patently false. Now, do I think if you believe this will you be rejected by God? Will you not be saved if you believe that Jesus was tortured for 3 days? Of course not, if you have faith and trust Christ for your salvation, if you call on the Lord you will be saved, the scripture teaches that. If you don't believe, however, that Jesus was tortured for three days and paid for sin in hell, you can still be saved. I don't believe it for one second and I feel pretty confident in my own salvation. Here we have another teacher who is right at the edge of heresy. Is she a heretic? Well, she's wrong, so I'll let you make the call.

Now there is the name in and claim it, word of faith prosperity stuff too, which isn't even worth writing about. It's consumerism, meant to get people to pay up and giving them a false sense of what truth is. If you name and claim it, it makes little difference because God has every right to tell you no. It's misleading, it's false and it doesn't make you more like Jesus. Jesus was not a rich preacher in a private jet. The greatest thing you can become is like Jesus, not rich. That part of her ministry, like Osteen is false, deceaving and, well utterly evil and influenced by greed. My final recommendation? Just stay away from Meyers, you'll be better off.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Heretic Game Part 2. Is Joel Osteen a Heretic?

You know him, you love him and check out his hair. Pastor of one of the largest churches in America, it's Pastor Joel Osteen. Author of several books, including the best selling Your Best Life Now, Osteen has quite the following, leading the church that his dad started as a Southern Baptist. Lakewood is a huge church, filled with thousands each weekend. Joel has a popular radio show, travels and preaches all over, can be found on tv and countless videos. I see people posting quotes from Joel Osteen on Facebook often, and he, of course, has a ton of twitter followers. Maybe it's the hair, I don't know. We have heard a lot about Joel, so let's start at the most logical place to look, both his homepage and the Lakewood church home page. I checked out the home page and looked around.  Looking through their belief statements, they are short and don't have a lot of depth, but they are relatively orthodox.

The Bible
We believe the entire Bible is inspired by God, without error and the authority on which we base our faith, conduct and doctrine.
The Trinity
We believe in one God who exists in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to this earth as Savior of the world.
We believe Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood for our sins. We believe that salvation is found by placing our faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross. We believe Jesus rose from the dead and is coming again.
Water Baptism
We believe water baptism is a symbol of the cleansing power of the blood of Christ and a testimony to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We believe in the regular taking of Communion as an act of remembering what the Lord Jesus did for us on the cross.
Growing Relationship
We believe every believer should be in a growing relationship with Jesus by obeying God's Word, yielding to the Holy Spirit and by being conformed to the image of Christ.
Nothing in the doctrine statement from Lakewood stands out, and really isn't' that different from most Baptist churches. It's a pretty run of the mill belief statement, you can find ones similar on lots of evangelical websites. The issues become what Joel says or doesn't say. Joel will say things that sound good but refuses to say the things that are at the heart of the gospel. Here is an example from Larry King's program.
This is why it can be so difficult to get a handle on Osteen. He says that Jesus is the only way,  he says he believes that, but won't call for repentance. He gets slippery and says things that both orthodox people can nod too, as well as those outside of orthodox beliefs. Really tickles the ears. There is a popular clip where he tells Ophra Winfrey that he believes Jesus is the only way to God, but there are many paths to Jesus. I'm not sure what that even means, but it sounds good. It sounds good but means nothing.

There seems to be quite a lot of "wiggle room" left in the theology of Joel Osteen, he does seem to hold to some orthodox beliefs, but he leaves a way out. It is clear that he does not teach the full message of the cross, but he does call people to come to God through Christ, but it gets hazy at that point. How do we get to Christ? That seems pretty open as far as his teachings go, as he told Oprah, there are many ways to Jesus. I'm pretty sure it's just the Holy Spirit, we are drawn to Christ by the Father. That's what Jesus said.

Is Joel a heretic? He teaches Jesus, but without sin, without repentance and confession, there is no salvation. Without "repent and be baptized" that Peter preached in Acts, without "repent or you shall all likewise perish" as Jesus said, there is no way to Jesus. This message exists lightly in some places, and if you look for it, you'll find it. His preaching can leave people feeling like they are saved without being saved because they are not reconciled to God. In his belief statements, I give him in a pass, but in his preaching, he sure pushes the envelope. You can judge for yourself if he is a full on heretic, a false teacher or just someone who likes to make people feel good, get a lot of money and not offend them. However you slice it, he is not faithfully preaching the message of Christ. I would give Joel a big ol F for failure to communicate the gospel.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Heretic Game Round 1: Is Rick Warren A Heretic?

Let's begin with a man you all know, some of you love and some of you loathe. The Pastor of Saddleback Community Church, author of the Purpose Drive material, Pastor Rick Warren. I have read most of Warren's material, used his 101-401 material at churches I've served in, heard him speak, even met and talked with him for a while. I have also read a lot of criticism of him over the years, and all the way around let's say there is stuff I agree with and stuff I don't from all contributing parties.

Most of the criticism I have seen stems from a few basic things. First, there are those who attribute him saying that he stated that "Christians and Muslims worship the same God". I have heard him say multiple times he doesn't believe that and he didn't say it. Never the less, it's a criticism. He has also been criticised for spending time with Robert Schuller, who isn't a very good influence in my opinion. I have never heard him personally confirm or deny this. It's not a good idea.

I personally have a few things I disagree with Pastor Rick about. First, he likes to use a bunch of different translations of scripture, and I feel that he sometimes twists and turns things to make it sound the way he wants it to sound to fit the message. I don't think this is a hermeneutically sound practice, although his book on Bible Study Methods is pretty solid, I think he leaves something to be desired in this category. I find him a little theologically "lite", but I don't think this is a fault, it's just the way his heart is wired, he sees himself more as an Evangelist and in the past, he has surrounded himself with leaders who can take up the slack in this area. He has had some solid teaching pastors at Saddleback.

While in seminary, I was able to meet and become friends with the Director of International Initiatives at Saddleback, actually roomed with him for a weekend class. He was a great guy and was telling us about the work they were doing to eradicate malaria in Rowanda. This was part of the PEACE plan, and Rick Warren has caught some flack about this, but I think that's misplaced. It's a pretty solid plan to try to reach out and share Christ in the process. I know that many disagree with the PEACE plan, and it's not how I would have designed it, but you have to give him credit for actually doing something. If his community were to flood, I think he would be out there doing some work, so I give him credit for being active in the work of the Gospel.

Now, much of what has been said about Rick Warren that I've read I believe to be pretty unfair. Why do I say that? Because if you want to know what someone believes, you should ask him. John Piper did that, he made a 90-minute video available of an interview with Rick Warren to talk about Doctrine. I think Warren answers many of the tough questions. I think when it comes to Reformed theology, he does the "both and" answer, which I agree with but also find too simplistic. I struggled with the dichotomy so much it caused me to continue to wrestle with what I call "Woven Theology" which examines how predestination and election work along with man's ability to choose and how time and eternity play in with a God who exists both inside and outside of time. That's for another day. I digress, Warren tackles big subjects and talks a great deal about the Purpose Driven Life.

First off, know I don't love the Purpose Driven Life. I was at a church that attempted to use it to move members into ministry. I said it was a bad idea to use the program. We used the program. I think we ended up losing people from ministry. I couldn't even get people to volunteer to pray for college students. It wasn't a good thing, and it didn't seem very transformational to me. I know some churches have had great experiences with it. There is nothing wrong with the Purpose Driven material. You should have a purpose, and your purpose should drive you. It's called the Great Commission, and I'm not sure we need to spend time creating mission statements and purpose statements and visions statements. Just read the Great Commission. That being said it's a fine program, but it's a program. It does program things. It won't save your church, fix your people or revolutionize your ministry, but it may help accomplish some things. I like it for launching small groups, and I would use it for a small group launch, minus all the sermon and worship stuff that goes with it. Either way, it's fine, nothing wrong with it. . . . he should stick with one Bible translation though. Just sayin.

So, final analysis, is Rick Warren a heretic or a false teacher? No, he preaches Christ and he is solid on salvation. He, being a Baptist, probably leans more towards the Traditionalist side than the Calvinist side, but he affirms both. He seems pretty average as a Southern Baptist that way. He is smart, he is funny and he is kind. He likes to help people, and he stopped and talked to me and some friends for a while in the airport. I enjoyed meeting him and I think he's a fine, upstanding Pastor. I don't agree with everything he says, I wouldn't do everything the way he does, but he loves Jesus.

If you don't believe me, here is the link to his interview with John Piper. It's a great interview. He will share his beliefs on Salvation. I have personally heard him share his beliefs on Salvation, live in and living color. He believes the gospel, he preaches the gospel and for that, I think other gospel believing Christians should give him some support and respect. Show a brother in Christ some love and stop giving him a black eye every time we don't agree on every point. Remember, in non-essentials, there is liberty. I still love all you who believe in a secret, pre-trib rapture event so we can love Rick Warren for wanting to have a purpose in everything. Listen to the interview and share your thoughts.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Let's Play the "Who Is A Heretic" Game

So I am going to write a series of posts on individuals who may or may not be heretics. Before we get started, we need to define a heretic, cause there are lots of definitions. Let's lay some basics first.  We are going to operate on the following basic principles:
1. In essentials, we will have unity. We will base heresy on the essentials of faith and biblical Salvation as defined by the Bible and secondarily by the BFM and the Orthodox confessions of faith.

2. In non-essentials, we show liberty. I am not going to focus on those things which are not foundational or key to Salvation. We won't debate election, infant vs believer baptism or church polity. We don't declare someone a heretic based on their view of the rapture.

3. In all things, charity. We will show love to those even who we don't agree with. I'm not going to blast anyone, my desire is to be gracious. It's important for us to know which teachers we can trust, what teachers we can trust but disagree with, and what teachers we need to avoid completely.

I am open to your ideas, suggestions, and contributions. If there is a teacher you would like to discuss on this forum, let me know. I am going to do primary research, and base my conclusions primarily on what these individuals say about themselves and their beliefs. We will examine what they say, what they do and what they teach. After that, we can examine what others have said about them. I am less concerned about the gossip about an individual and more of the words that come from their heart and out of their mouths.

I'm going to to make a long list of teachers, but I'll start soon. If you want to look at one, email me at I hope this will be fun.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Zealous Unsaved

Here is a concern I have in the modern church, we have too many leaders who are unsaved and yet don't know it. They are preaching and teaching salvation by grace, but they are trapped in works based theology and believe they are saved because of what they have said and done. They have never been convicted of sin, they are not trusting Christ for Salvation, they are relying on their own works. The lingo is correct, but the reality is, they are not saved. How do we know this is the case? A few ways. First, Jesus said that there would be those in ministry (preach and cast out demons) but will hear "depart for I never knew you".

The sad truth is that too many leaders in the church are leaders because they are more concerned with leadership than with Jesus. Sure, they talk about Jesus, preach and teach about Jesus, tell others about Jesus, but their ministry is all about them. It's focused on selfish desire, need to be in control and ego. They are more concerned about their title, role, and abilities. Most of the time they live according to the rules, in fact, they are zealous about the rules. They are often proud and very sure of their own holiness. They live in a very legalistic world, not unlike a Muslim, Buddhist or moral atheist who can follow rules and live moral and good lives be never know the saving power of Christ. In the end, there is nothing in their lives or ministries that can't be reproduced by a Muslim or Hindu. These world religions can build a large following and do great things and even change lives. They do not do these things by the power of God, but through human effort.

In the end, there is no fruit of the Spirit, they may be influential, but not loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, gentle or self-controlled. They are often temperamental, inpatient, bully leaders who influence with smooth words and powerful speeches. They are more like a good football coach than they are like a disciple of Christ. As we continue to speed toward the end of days, the number of unsaved leaders with smooth words and bad theology will continue to increase. They will grow in popularity and power, but their eternal destination is not with Christ. On the day of the Lord, their selfishness will reap its eternal reward. Pray that our pastors and leaders would know Christ in a way that brings repentance unto Salvation.

Monday, October 2, 2017

You Will All Likewise Perish

"There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them,"Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."" 
Luke 13:1-5 

We sure like to enjoy the punishment of others, don't we. Admit it, when someone gets pulled over, you love to gawk and look and check it out. We like to see who got arrested, we love Cops and Dateline and criminal shows that show people getting punished for being the "bad guy". Right? We like it when the hero wins and we see the bad guy finally get what he deserves, and we assume it works that way outside Hollywood, all bad guys get punished, right? Let's hope not.

In reality, we are the bad guy. You, me, everyone we know, we are in active rebellion against God, and the only hope we have is that we don't receive the punishment we deserve. God tells us what to do, we don't do it. God tells us what not to do, and we do it.

I began writing this post a few days ago, and last night there was a horrible tragedy, a shooter in Las Vegas committed the largest mass shooting in Modern US history, killing more than 50 people (I have heard as many as 60) and injuring 200 more. The gunman hasn't shared any motive (and he is not dead) and we have no idea why. This is a horrible thing, but it's not a punishment from God. These 50 or 60 people were not worse sinners, they weren't deserving of what happened. The harsh reality is that physical death will find us all. I am reminded of that today, we will all die one day. Apart from Christ, we will die an eternal death and suffer torment. I don't want that to happen to anyone.

Jesus said unless you repent. Turn from your sin, turn away from your self-ruled life by putting all of your life, faith, hope and trust in Jesus. Commit your everything to Him. It won't stop shooters or disasters or cancer or pain, but the end will be life. I pray that those who died in Las Vegas found themselves in the arms of Christ. My prayer is that you also find yourselves in the arms of Christ at the end. Repent, and don't perish eternally.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Would You Be Missed?

Here is a sad truth, we lose contact with people on a regular basis and we never miss them. In churches today, people come and people go and often no one notices. I served at a church for 4 years, and when I left I lost contact with several people. We exchanged pleasantries here and there on social media, but those people who said they loved me and cared about me, when I was gone I wasn't really missed. I admit my part, I didn't reach out and put the effort into it, the relationship was built on convenience and when it wasn't convenient, it was gone.

When work or health or other issues take you away from a community, be it work or church or a social group, we lose contact quickly. Let's be honest, it happens. We get distracted and we mostly move from relationship of convenience to the next one. People we work with, go to church with or live by are those we have relationship with. When it's no longer easy to maintain these relationships, we just sort of them let me. First, let's tackle why this happens.

First, we are too busy. I am going to say we are stupid busy. We are busy with work and school and hobbies and events and stuff we are always chasing. We are busy with our kids and parents and family activities. We are so busy that we basically live to go from activity to activity. This doesn't give us time to build deep relationships.

Second, community has given way to convenience. Wal Mart has taken over the local market, we don't get to know the local grocer, we don't know the name of the checker at Wal Mart, and let's face it, they aren't known for great customer service. We go to Wal Mart because it's cheap and we can get all the things we need in one giant warehouse building place. We want big and cheap and cool. In the city I live in, we tore down all the small community schools and merged them into big schools. Even churches are no longer small and friendly, they are big and loud with lights and powerpoint presentations, cool music and videos. We roll in, get the stuff we want, we roll out. Community isn't what it use to be, when is the last time you borrowed a cup for sugar from a neighbor? When is the last time you actually talked to your neighbor?

Next, we have false connections. We have fake relationships due to a myriad of factors. We are too busy, we are looking for convenience and we have all this technology that makes us feel connected. The problem is, it's not real. You can learn about the aspect of myself that I post on Social Media, but you never know me. We aren't real on social media, we are shallow and superficial. There is no real exchange of information about who we really us, just social posting that portrays whatever we want to portray.

Bottom line is we have shallow relationships. I do, I'll admit it. I don't want to be judged, I hate it when people give me the 2 minute "here is how you fix your life" speech, and that is what we have become. If you are struggling, someone will just fix it for you. Why? Pride. People want to have all the answers to appear they have their lives all put together. We hide behind how great our lives are and how much we know and how we aren't screwed up like everyone else. It's because we are shallow and our relationships are shallow. I'll be your friend if it fits in my schedule and I can make time and effort for it.

Here is some honesty, I don't have many deep relationships. I have a friend in Arizona who is my Jonathan, or I'm his Jonathan. Not sure which one of us is David, but he is my closest friend. My brother in law is awesome, but I'm sorta stuck with him, cause he's family. I have a good friend here in Iowa who can call me on anything, but life has caused us to grow apart, and I don't see him much these days. Outside of that, I don't have the deepest of relationships. I have tried, but I have learned it's not worth it. Sounds horrible, doesn't it. I have had people try to fix me without knowing me, I've been tossed aside in exchange for something trivial. A man who I trusted with my dream ended up crushing that dream in an attempt to "increase morale". Relationship of convenience. As long as we provide the goods, we are good to have around.

Being a true friend is messy. It takes work, it takes time, it takes humility and compassion and vulnerability and most of us are in short supply of all these things. We don't have the time or the energy or the patience for it. We would rather just have surface friends. It's easy and not as messy. Unfortunately, we miss things like accountability, we miss true fellowship. Our iron never comes into iron of another and no sharpening is done.

Here you go, here are the solutions. First off, we need to realize that we don't need to spend all of our time doing stuff. We don't have to fill every moment with activities. We need to slow down and we need to calm down and give ourselves some time to build relationships. Schedule some unscheduled time.  Second, you need to find someone to connect with. You don't need a thousand or hundreds or even dozens of close friends. One, two or three is you really like people. You need someone you can share your hurt and pain and hopes and dreams with on a realistic level. You need someone you can tell about your lust, lies, hurts, and pains who won't judge you, give you the quick dime store fix and will walk with you. You need to have a small group Bible study. One of the reasons I am SO very passionate about Flake Formula Sunday School is that it's the perfect group for this type of relationship building.

The most important thing we can do is be honest about our relationships. We need to understand how relationships are in this day and age. Realize that if you leave your church, most people won't notice. It's not because they are bad people, it's because we don't know how to really connect anymore. If you stop talking to someone because they are not convenient, know this is a reality. Find someone who you can be real and authentic and human with. Find someone you can really connect with and will walk with you on his journey of life.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Do You Struggle With The World?

There is a quote at the beginning of a DC Talk song called What If I Stumble. The quote is by Brennan Manning, he said:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

What I think is the most disturbing is the way we behave as professing Christians. We are selfish, in love with the world and the pleasures of the world, we act just like the lost and then we say we devote ourselves to Christ. The Bible teaches that friendship with the world is enmity with God. We can't love God and love the things that hate God and are at war with God. The world has chosen their side, the devil, the demons, they have all chosen their side. They reject God. Those who follow God, however, we try to be on both sides. We want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to be friends with everything that is against God and claim to love God.

Let's be honest, the scripture says that we are lying when we claim we love God and love the world. We can't have it both ways. Let's be honest, if you can't live like we love God, we probably don't. We love ourselves and we love what we think God will do for us. We don't love holiness or godliness, we love the idea that God loves us and we can go to heaven. If you can't act like a Christian, chances are you aren't a Christian. If you love the world so much that you can't walk away from it, you have a problem. How do I know? Jesus said so.

"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and not do what I tell you?" Luke 6:46
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments" Luke 14:15

In 1 Johns 2:15, we read "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." 

I know I struggle with being selfish and sinful and evil but God always pulls me away. I sin and fall into trouble, we all do. When we are in Christ, we are His and He will not let us just be content with sin and evil and love of the world. Maybe for a season, we find ourselves in a dark place, but we never remain in the valley.  I have been in the dark places, but I don't pitch my tent there. This isn't because I'm awesome, but because I belong to Christ. It's all from Him. Do you have that tension? Do you have a restless and unsettled spirit? Do you have a war inside you? Do you have a desire to resist evil in your spirit, even while your flesh is reaching for evil? If you don't, then you need to cry out to Jesus. 

"So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" Luke 14:33

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Racism Is Stupid

Thanks to Charlottesville, the country is divided and tearing itself apart because people are full of hate and lack common sense. Let's just say it, racism is stupid. First off, let's be clear on something, the idea of race is made up. We are all human, we are part of the human race, the idea that we are all part of different races was created to separate people. We are not different races, we have different ethnic groups, different languages, some distinct physical characteristics based on geographical location of our ancestry, but that is it.

Culture is different, language is different, traditions are different, human worth and value are the same. Every person created is an image bearer of God.  The value given to each human life is the value assigned by The Creator, not by any social construct. We set up a system in this country that has never been correct. Slavery was wrong, segregation is evil, racism is wrong and evil and stupid.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Sunday, August 6, 2017

If You "fill in the blank" Will You Still Go To Heaven?

This is one of the most common questions that I've heard. Some have asked, "if you commit suicide, will you still go to Heaven?" There have been questions about if you are Muslim, homosexual, infants (that's a whole other blog), even Catholic or Mormon. Bottom line question is, who goes to Heaven and who doesn't?

There is, of course, the simple answer that says "if you believe in Jesus, you go to Heaven" which is true. I want to dig in a little deeper. There are verses that seem to contradict in the answers. We have verses that tell us that if we believe in Jesus, we would be saved, but Galatians 5:19-21 says:
the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

So Paul says that people who practice these things don't have the inheritance, but what about those who do these things and also believe in Jesus, do they go to Heaven?  We see the same things listed in 1 Corinthian 6:9, this is a list of people who practice these things will not inherit Heaven. This verse includes "those who practice homosexuality" and it says they will not inherit Heaven. There are arguments that this is "sexual idol worship" with pagan priests, but there is no real historical or textual support for that interpretation. In the entire text of the New Testament, any sex outside of a husband and wife inside of the bounds of marriage is placed in the same category. That category is sin.

We need to understand a few things about sin before we more forward. First off, we all sin in some ways. Sometimes we lie or cheat or lust or hate. These are sin. Apart from Christ, we are slaves to sin, and we all have weakness. Some struggle with lust or pornography, some with anger or hate, some with greed. The Bible says that lust is a sin, but attraction itself is not a sin. Having same sex attraction is not a sin. Acting on same sex attraction is a sin. Any sexual contact that is not a man and woman in the context of Biblical marriage is sin. Is two men or two women kissing a sin? It's a more hazy area, the Bible doesn't say, but if the actions lead to sin (sex outside the Biblical context) then it's problematic.

The verses we looked at covered sins that become habitual sins. Sex outside of marriage, lust and porn, a lifestyle of greed or living for revenge, things that control and drive our lives are habitual sins. The verses that Paul writes about points out habitual sins, lifestyle sins. These things become a way of living and are often in our lives in the place of Christ. When Paul says the people who practice these things won't inherit Heaven, he is referring to people who practice these things as a life style.

The truth of the Bible is that Jesus will change your life when you become His. Your life revolves around Him. You have a desire to obey, you want to live in a way that follows the Bible. If you don't want to stop sinning, you probably aren't saved. If you want to live however you want and don't care what the Bible teaches about it, chances are you have not been truly saved.

You don't have to take my word for it, read Peter's word. He writes in 2 Peter 1 that we can know we are saved by our behavior. In verse 10 he says that we can confirm our calling and election by having the qualities he listed and to escape the corruption in the world because of sinful desire. If we are more in love with sin than Jesus, we are not saved. If we hold to our sin more than we hold to Jesus, we are not saved. If we lack the qualities that come from being saved, we are probably not saved.

The behaviors don't mean you lose your salvation. If you sin and fail, get up and pray and ask for forgiveness and strength. If you fail again, keep seeking and praying. If you struggle, you will make it. If you stop struggling and just embrace sin, you may find that you don't know Christ, and you will end up separated from Him. Not because you did this or that, but because you are spiritually dead in your sins and you have never been saved. You will find yourself separated from Him for eternity.

Lastly, I want to cover the suicide issue. Many have said that if you kill yourself, you sin without having the chance to ask for forgiveness. When you trust Christ and turn from your sin, you are forgiven eternally. If you are in Christ and end up committing suicice, it is not a one way ticket to hell. If you are in Christ, you go to Heaven. My prayer is that those who are in Christ find the strenght to continue to live and don't commit suicide and those part from Christ are saved and find hope to continue on.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

My Lessons from Lessons from the East by Bob Roberts Jr.

A different perspective is always important, and Bob Roberts Jr. gave us one. I have worked through this book. We in the American church we try to cram everything into Sunday morning service. We say church and think building and service and an hour on Sunday. We try to do everything in our American way thinking in the best way and the only way. Maybe we should look outside our western context of the church, after all we aren't really making that big of an impact. We are losing ground, while in the East, people are coming to Christ in the face of persecution and violence.

Lots of this book resonated with me. I really connected with what Roberts said in the first part of the book. The second part deals a lot with how Roberts is reaching out to Muslims. I really recommend reading part 1 you can take or leave part 2. Part one will make you think about what and why of the local church practices. Much of what we do needs to be examined. Check out Lessons From the East and give it a read. If you are on church staff, read it with your staff. Give it a look.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Let Ministry Find You

Have you ever had an experience where God orchestrated more than you could ever dream up? I have to admit I find myself there often, mostly with work. I have been in several unique career opportunities the last several years. God has open doors for me to do ministry in unique places with unique people and share Christ with people. I will admit that I haven't always wanted to go where God is leading.  I have worked in a factory, as a Wildlife tech in group homes, in a plumbing wholesaler, at a call center and I've made pizza. In every place I've been, I've met believers that I could share and walk with and non-believers that I could share with.

Over the years people said that I needed to "find a ministry". I have tried and it's never worked. I have discovered that ministry did find me. Opportunities showed up when I was just being who I am. When I lived my faith on a daily basis, not looking for some place to find ministry,  it happened. People would talk to me they ask me things and we had chances to connect in the area of faith.

Here is my point. You need to pray seek God and just be yourself. God is doing things and working in people's lives and He wants to use you to help you and others experience God in powerful ways. He will connect you with the people you need to connect with all you have to do is be faithful. At the call center, the pizza place, the factory and the group home, I've made faith connections. It happened when I did pest control and it will continue to happen, not because of who I am, but because of who God is.

Where is He connecting you?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Maybe It's Shouldn't Be All About You!

We live in a pretty self centered world, and sometimes it seems like we live in a pretty self centered church. I see lots of talk about "me" and "I" and the focus on what I need, have or can get. We have a lot of ideas about what we are free to do in Christ, this was made pretty evident to me today. I saw a Facebook post from a prominent Bible teacher today that had a profanity in it. It wasn't a major profanity, it wasn't one of the big ones, but it's something I wouldn't allow my kids to say, I wouldn't say in front of my kids. You wouldn't say it in church, so I'm not sure why it seemed ok to be used in this write up. No one seemed to mind, except for one person who commented, who said that the message of the post was taken away from by what they considered a poor choice of words.

What transpired to the replies to this person gave me chills. It is what I fear that Western Christianity is turning into, and I'm positive that isn't a good thing. The person was rebuked for her statement, called a legalist, told she was uptight and needed to stop being judgmental. A few people agreed with her, but most seemed to rally around the author of the post and support the use of some colorful langauge. What do we do with this?

First let me say that I understand that we live in the time and land of the snowflake that gets offended by everything. We can't speak the name of Jesus without offending, the Bible is offensive the message of the Cross is offensive, the name of God offends. I get that, and we can't stop preaching or proclaiming Jesus. I understand that, and that is not what I'm talking about. What I am talking about is when we begin to marginalize other Christians because our freedom sometimes is harsh and abrasive to their faith. This isn't a new issue. Paul dealt with this in 1 Corinthians 8. The problem in Corinth, among other things, we steak. Most of the steak you bought made the trip to the market from the pagan temple, where is was sacrificed to a pagan god. This made some believers think that maybe meat offered to demons wasn't a good idea. Other's thought it wasn't a big deal, it's not the steak's fault. Who was right? Paul says, "yes, you are both right". He simply said, if you can't eat it with a clear conscience, then don't. If you can, go ahead. Where it gets tricky is when you are eating it with a clear conscience while clouding someone else’s. Our freedom causing someone else to struggle with sin.

In verse 12 Paul says this behavior is sinning against Christ. To do something to violate another person's conscious, to make them stumble is to sin against Christ who died for them. That is a pretty big thing. I know I have been guilty, I have caused others to sin. I have used my freedom to make a mess of things. For those times I have caused others to sin and to stumble, I am sorry. When my pride and my love of self and my own freedom comes before someone else, I am sorry. Sometimes it's a simple as eating a salad, or not having that drink or not saying that word or talking about that movie. We need to not tell that joke or that story so we don't cause others to stumble. It's as simple as sometimes we need to put the other person first. We need to think about them and how we can support them. After all, isn't that what the cross of Christ is all about?  He put us first, we can be more like Jesus. It's not just about me being free, but about us, all of us being whole, clean and unified. We are the bride of Christ, together so let's work together to make sure we all get there together. A steak and a profanity just isn't worth it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Do You Take Your Own Advice?

One of the things that I learned early on in ministry is that it's much easier to give advice than to take advice. Everyone will tell you what you should or shouldn't do. No one really want to be on the receiving end. It's always better to be the one giving the answers than the one getting told what to do. The truth is we all need some wisdom sometimes, we all need some help. The first and best place to turn is of course the Bible. Outside of that, where do we go? What do we do?

As a Life Coach, I help people in many of the areas they need help. I don't always give advice, I do more guiding and discovery (call me and I'll show you how it's done). I do give some advice, and I like to think its pretty advice. I try to get most of it from the Bible, which is the best place in the world to get advice.

I give some good advice, but it's not always easy to take that advice. It's easy to tell someone they need to forgive, harder to forgive. It's easy to tell someone to stop sinning, harder to stop yourself. It's easy to tell people o quit eating sugar, drinking coke, eat healthy and exercise, but harder to do yourself. It's easy to tell people to do the right thing, not as easy to follow.

Some days I have to stop and ask myself what would I tell someone else in my shoes. I have to ask myself to coach myself and give myself some advice, then I try to take it. Turns out that I give pretty good advice, as long as I found it in the Bible. Need some advice?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Accountability, Social Media and Drive by Judgement

I received a message from a stranger today who claims to follow me (even though I've never heard of him before) who decided that he knows I've made mistakes. He decided that I have no business acting like a Christian, trying to help people or posting truth on social media because of the mistakes I've made in the past. I was told that he heard that I have messed up in the past and said:

"I’m all for forgiveness and God using people who have been broken of their sins, repent and seek forgiveness and accountability. I believe God uses us in incredible ways, but I have not seen from you any humility in who you portray yourself to be. I am praying for you and hope that you will consider praying this over and really seeking God by allowing him to humble you."

This individual who I have never spoken with, I don't know and who doesn't really know me outside of seeing my posts on social media. Is this what we have come too by iron sharpening iron? Is this what we have descended too to have accountability? These are wise words, and I know that I continue to need to be humbled. I know that I need to continue to seek God, but why would an individual send me this message and then proceed to block me so I can't have a conversation with them? This individual claims they know who I "really" am, yet I have no idea who this person even is.

I will admit, when I was initially unable to respond to this individual, I was angry. I am constantly examining myself, I confess and repent, I share my weaknesses with my wife and some close friends. I share with my wife and some others when I struggle and when I fall. I have people in my life who really know me. When this individual claims they know who I "really" am, I struggled with confusion and frustration. How does a stranger know who I really am?

I wonder if this is what is going on with Christians today? What happens when we say we "pray about confronting someone" but none of it is in love. Are we just concerned with being right? Do we enjoy judging individuals so much that we just make comments on Facebook and then close the dialogue? I am grieved that I have no opportunity to even talk with this individual. They have said they haven't seen any humility in me, but I can't have any sort of relationship with this individual. There is no iron sharpening iron here, just stones being thrown. In the modern church, is the woman who was caught in adultery doomed? Will she be stoned to death while the words of Jesus are drowned out by the shouts of "I've prayed about this"? I hope this isn't what we are becoming.

I invite anyone to confront me in my sin and my error, but I ask that you don't it as a brother and not a drive by Pharisee. That never does anything, and to be honest, is probably just as sinful as the sin you are confronting. Like Paul, I know that I may be the worst of all sinners, but I choose to me forward and focus on Christ, not every mistake I've made. Just  thought.

Monday, June 26, 2017

But I'm Not Perfect...

Have you blown it? Ever in your life have you blown it? If you have said no, then you are lying. Maybe you have never done anything that has been a big mistake, but if you added up your little ones. What is someone could read your mind? What if we knew your heart and your desires? I bet we can all admit we are not perfect. We all have blown it to one degree or another, and many I know believe that God can't or won't use them because they have blown it.

Abraham, had a kid with his wife's servant....and it was her idea. David killed a man to cover up the affair with his wife. Solomon had. . . well a lot of wives. Jeremiah was depressed, Elijah moped for a while, the Old Testament is full of broken people. The New Testament is full of broken people. The 1st century was full of broken people, like Augustine and Anthony. The Reformation, the Great Awakening, they all had lots of broken people. The church today is filled with broken people. The guy writing this blog is broken and flawed and has some major problems.

People say God can't use them because of the mistakes they have made. That's just not true. God uses you in your weakness and through your mistakes. Paul stood and watch Stephen get stoned to death. He still used him. He can use you. He can use me. Even during dark and hard times, I'm reminded that God uses me in the lives of people. Tonight, as I was with a client I was able to answer questions and teach them about the Bible. I shared a little with a atheist and a third individual who I am not aware of where he is in regards to his faith. God used me tonight, even though I am a big failure.

Let God use you. Share what you can, tell people what God is doing for you. Help them by discipling them, encouraging, them being a friend. Even on your worst days, God can do His best.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What Has Been Said Shouldn't Define You

I have the series I'm working on about the Devil and Hell, and I'll get back to that. Right now I want to share a life lesson God is teaching me. I'm pretty sensitive to criticism. I don't have the best self image, and the whole depression thing. Top that off with the number of men who have given me the "suck it up, don't complain and be a man" speech, I'm pretty jaded.

There in lies a big issue for me. I've carried around some internal criticism for a long time. The most painful come from a few choice sources. "You're not as smart as you think you are" cut me pretty deep. "You just aren't cut out for Pastoral ministry" still lingers in my head. "We don't think we are interested in your help" was a recent one that stings a little. Words of rejection, sometimes big or just said in passing.

Now I know a bunch of cute sayings, like "criticism is like fried chicken. Eat the meat and don't choke on the bones". Sounds cute, but when we have wrestled with it and feelings of inadequacy your entire life, it's not so easy.

I have to remember and remind myself every day, I'm not the sum of my critics opinion of me. I am not who they say I am, I'm not even who I think I am. I am who God created me to be. I can't be any more or less. I should learn to take comfort in that, and day by day I'll continue to remind myself to live it out.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Experiencing Brokenness

I need to start with a few disclaimers. This is not an attempt to get sympathy. I'm not writing about my problems and issues so you will feel sorry for me, but so I can talk through them and maybe we can reason about them together, or maybe to help you in our own struggles. I don't think Paul wrote his list of struggles in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 to get sympathy. That's not my goal either. Second, I am not looking for advice. I have talked to many wise individuals, please don't post your pop-psychology, self help, introspective counseling on my blog or Facebook or twitter. I get enough of it as it is, so let's fellowship together, pray, rejoice and struggle without trying to fix me.

I feel pretty broken, we will discuss in a minute if that is a good or bad thing, but I want to start with what got me to this point. I struggled a lot as a young man with depression, something that has continued. I lost my parents to cancer when I was in college, I made it through. I had a dream to work in church ministry, I dream that came true and then went away, and for now my dream is lost. I have had more losses than wins in most areas of my life, and now at the age of 40, I have gone through numerous surgeries for my GI system and back. I am currently experiencing some unexplained hypoglycemia and physical problems that can't seem to be explained.

Now not all of life is bad, I still have my wife and kids and I love my family. I have struggled to support them with the back surgeries and being down. My academic focus was always ministry, and with that gone, it's been a struggle to provide. I attempt to take hold of various opportunities, but I'm often rejected. Books and articles unpublished, the letter in the mail that says "we have gone with another candidate, you are just not what we are looking for right now".

I am willing to accept the possibility that the problem is me. The health issues may be I didn't take care of myself, the loss of dream and the inability to get back into a good position may be that I'm pretty horrible. I may lack the appropriate amounts of intelligence, grace, strength and ability to achieve anything close to what I'm attempting. I may stink as a writer, teacher, theologian, coach, pastor, and I may generally be a worthless individual. I am willing to accept that as a possibility.

My real struggle comes, if this is who I am, if I am just not good enough for my dreams, why can't I give them up? Ministry has been my life goal since I had a life goal. It wasn't my plan B, it wasn't something I would do after I did these other things. I don't have another goal or hope or plan or dream or calling. I didn't decide later in life to pursue this path, I started on this path and it's gone. It's more than I just am not in vocational ministry either, I can't even give my service away. Maybe my views are too archaic or radically. Maybe my theology is too out there, or maybe I'm so bad and worth so little, people don't want me messing up their stuff. I do admit I have some strong opinions. I believe a church should be reaching people, planting churches and doing ministry. I believe a church should be connected and people should value and invest in one another. Maybe I am too opinionated.

Here are my questions, feel free to share your thoughts. What am I doing wrong? What are my blind spots that are causing me to be so undesired and unusable? I know I shouldn't seek happiness, that I need to seek God, but I'm really tired of being unhappy. I want to be happy. I have expressed that before and been condemned, that I just need to be happy with where I am and what I have. How can I do that? How can I make the dreams and desires of my heart go away so I don't long for them anymore and can just be happy with where I am and what I'm doing? With all the tensions pulling, making sure I do what is right, what is best for my wife and kids, making an income so we can afford to live, doing the things I have to do, need to do and I'm suppose to do, how can I just let go of everything that I long for and just live with what I've got?

I'm starting in Matthew 5:3-11. Specifically 3 and 4. Blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn. I'm looking at Psalms 51:17, a broken spirit and broken and contrite heart. I am guessing that since I cannot seem to be unbroken, that maybe I need to be broken. Maybe I am in this season for a purpose. I will admit, I don't like it. I feel rejected, I feel empty and I hurt in lots of ways. I struggle with anger and discouragement and sometimes I feel hopeless. I ask my soul "why are you cast down (Psalms 43:5) and I tell myself to Hope in God. It's a struggle, I don't like being broken, I want to be happy and feel like I am serving. I pray it's just a season. If you are in the same season, I'd love to hear from you. If you would like to give me an honest answer to my questions, I would love to hear from you. If you want to fix me and tell me how to be better, well you can share it. Know I probably won't give it much thought, I believe that you have to walk with someone to be able to speak truth in their lives. If we don't want together, you probably won't be much help. Thanks everyone.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

When They Need Help

Let's be honest for a second, the world stinks at helping. It doesn't matter where you are or what you are doing when you need someone to come alongside you and help you out, you get crickets. People don't line up to help, especially when it's not something interesting.  I'm not explaining this well, so let's back up. If you suffer from depression, from anxiety, from a physical disability or have pain, it's hard to get people to really understand where you are and how you feel. We live in such a performance-driven world, driven by the bottom line that often we get too busy, we don't have time or energy to help out those who need a leg up. It's a sad state of affairs, and I'm writing today so maybe we can all get a better perspective.

Has someone ever disappointed you by not getting things done? Something fell through, they missed the boat, dropped the ball? Did you ask if they needed help? Did you ask if everything is alright? I know, if they needed help, they should have asked for it, but how easy is it in this culture and this environment to ask for help? How often do you ask for help when you need it? It can be hard and we are expected to perform at our highest levels all the time.

Now I'm not advocating that we let people get lazy and slide by, I'm not saying we don't expect greatness from people. What I am saying is, maybe it's time we put the person before the task. Maybe it's time we take care of each other. We ask if we can help, we come along side of people, we stop getting angry and offended and upset and we start getting personal. We become helpful. We live in a society, in a world where everyone is damaged, everyone has been hurt. You have been hurt and you have felt like you weren't important at some point. Take that memory and use it to help others, not abuse your own authority.

The only thing in this world that will last for eternity are the souls of each person. If we cast aside the eternal for the things that fade away, we are acting foolishly.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Get Out Of the Past, You Don't Live There!

I remember years ago I was listening to a speaker, who kept repeating that he spent 25 years doing something. About the third time he said it, I turned to my friend and said "If I ever say 'after 25 years of....' anything, you punch me in the face". We live in a day and age that we are all about the experiences and what we have done. We love to tell stories of how things use to be. I worked in a warehouse that had slowed down business wise considerable over the years. Every day one of the older guys would tell us how is use to be. They would tell us about the days is was busy and the lines stretched out the door.

We like to live in the past, we like to set our identities on what we have done or accomplished. The problem is one of two things usually happens. Either we get so caught up thinking about the good ol days that we become despondent thinking about it, or we begin to remember all the negative things that happen and get discouraged. The glory days and the dark times that are both behind us share one thing in common. They are behind us and past us.

Philippians 3:12-15, Paul writes: Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. (CSB)

Paul remembered his past, he was a super Hebrew, a religious elite. When Christ saved him, he became someone different, and forgot about his past. Paul may have spent 20 to 30 years becoming that person, but in an instant, he became a different person. He became a follower of Christ, a new creation.

The person you are becoming is more than the person you have been. Who you have been, what you spent your life doing isn't important because it's not about you. It's about Christ. It doesn't matter what school you went too, what sport you played, what your career was but it matters what Christ is doing in you. All the things you have done and have achieved are nothing compared to what Christ has done, is doing and will do in you. Let's keep our eyes on where we are going, not where we have been.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Why You Should Never Disagree with a Millennial on Facebook

The title is a little bit of a tease because it was inspired by a conversation I had with a young "evangelist". He posted that men should never wear hats based on Paul's teaching. I challenged him that is goes beyond not wearing a hat and he needed to do some study and dig in and find the deeper meaning. He freaked out at me, told me I was non Biblical to say it's ok to pray/be in church with a hat. I never said anything of the sort, I just said there is more too it that simply wearing a hat. I remove my hat when I pray, but the scripture is talking about so much more than just if there is something on my head.

The deeper issue is not if we are a millennial or if we win arguments on Facebook. It's about teachability. Are we open to correction of others, or do we insist we are always right? I will be the first to admit that I don't like to be wrong. I don't like to be corrected or rebuked, but I do everything I can to be totally open about the correction. No one really wants to find out they are wrong, but I would rather be corrected and learn the truth than live believing something incorrect.

I do need to book end this idea, just because you point out something you think I am wrong about doesn't mean I'm going to agree with you. I'm still a Calvinist, even though plenty of people have disagreed with me. What they have done is made me really examine what I believe and look deep in the scriptures. I have examined "whosoever" and looked at "for the sins of the whole world" and it's really helped me to hone my beliefs. Still a Calvinist.

In my faith journey, I am constantly listening, studying and growing. I may learn something tomorrow that changes who I am today. I am striving to be open and teachable and to really get to the depths of what the Bible teaches, knowing I'll never get to the bottom. Let's continue to study and learn and grow, and be open to rebuke and instruction. Don't be a Facebook Millennial, even if you are. I'm kidding. . . .sort of. I do love you guy.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Why God Doesn't Always Heal Us

I wrote a post about my depression, and received some great feedback. Thanks to everyone who posted on my various pages, you are all awesome. Thanks so much for the prayers, I need them. During the comments and conversation (and a few after) I have been asked and/or told that God can heal, does heal and even that He always heals. Some have told me that it's always God's will to heal us and if we are not healed, it's because we haven't asked in sufficient faith. The question is asked by many who are not healed or have loved ones that are not healed, why weren't they healed?  Why does God let His children suffer?

It's a hard question and one we have probably all wrestled with, after all if I saw one of my children suffering, I would make sure it stopped and they were healed, wouldn't it? Maybe not. WAIT, before you called Child Protective Services, let's discuss it. Why would any parents who loves their kids allow them to suffer. If I love my kids, then I will never let them suffer, right? If they are suffering and I do nothing, then I either lack the ability to stop it, or I don't really love them. That is the assumption, but it's wrong. Any of you who have been a parent know this is wrong. Sometimes our kids need to suffer, because it's what is best for them.

The risk of starting a conversation that has nothing to do with my point, vaccines are given to kids to help them. Needles suck and sometimes it makes their arms or legs sore for a while. I don't for a single second think it gives kids autism, please save those comments for another page. Getting a shot it not enjoyable for my kids, but they all get them. Partially because it's required to go to school, but partially because I know what polio, smallpoxs and measles does to people. Growing up, my next door neighbor had issues with his legs and hips because of polio as a child. People die from diseases that we prevent. A small child doesn't understand the risk, they just know that shots are bad and they don't want them.

I admit that immunizations are an incomplete example, since they are intended to prevent illness and ultimately death, and we are talking about God allowing those things. I understand, I watched my parents get cancer, suffer greatly and die. I have asked the questions about healing. My own physical issues have been a problem, but not life threatening, but I still ask why I'm not healed. Why do my legs and back and knee hurt every day? Why hasn't God just fixed it, people are praying for me. My depression isn't healed, and there are lots of people praying. Why doesn't He just heal me?

He might. He could and He may choose to do so. I may write these posts and people pray and God moves in a mighty way, I'm healed and I give Him the glory and people glorify God and believe. We see that in the Bible, people God healed and people praised God and believed in Jesus. We also see people get healed and the leaders decide to put Jesus to death because He healed on the Sabbath. We see Jesus do miracles and people either want Him to do more, or they hate Him for it. Maybe the reason that God doesn't do all the things we ask Him is because we begin to think of Him as just the providers of Miracles. We begin to think about the Disney version of Jesus, who sings a song, birds fly around and all our dreams come true. That is a problem, and it's a reality, but I don't think it's the primary reason we aren't healed. I don't think it's our attitude or lack of faith, I don't think it's because God is punishing us or because He doesn't care.  I think it's because He loves us enough to do what is best.

To really explain this, we need to take a trip back to my childhood. When I was a kid, there was these books that I loved. They were called "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. Remember those? In the books, you made a choice and based on your choice, you got to choose which page to turn too. Depending on what you choose, it changed the outcome of the book. Some of the choices ended in glorious victory, and some in painful and agonizing defeat. If you were like me, you read the book through once, then checked out all the outcomes and then made the choice that led to the glorious victory. Yes, that's cheating, but no one likes to fail. The tricky part about these books is often the choice that seems best will lead to disaster. I'm not sure what they were trying to teach us, but the risky moves often paid off. They always kept us guessing.

What if you could live your life like a choose your own adventure book. The reality is that God sort of does that. God sees all your life, beginning, middle and end so He can make the choice that is best. The choice that is going to be what is the best for your life. The problem comes when we assume that we know what is best for our lives. For example, I could say it would be much better for me if my parents lived, grew old and died at an old age, getting to see my graduate college and seminary, get married and they could meet my kids. That makes sense, that seems like the best plan. God saw the outcome of that plan, He knew what I would be like and the choices I would make if that were my future. It was a better outcome for everyone for them to have cancer and die. The road that I took because of that event shaped my life in a way that it was best for everyone.

That is a hard pill to swallow when faced with despair and tragedy, I understand. I have lost family members and friends, I have seen horrible suffering and pain. How can it benefit a family when they lose a child, when a baby dies, when pain won't stop and when people lose everything? I don't know, but God does. In this sinful, evil, and dark world, sometimes the path that gets us where we need to be is dark and horrible. It can be painful. We also self inflict a lot of pain on ourselves. If you smoke for 30 years, you probably shouldn't shake your fists at the heavens when you get lung cancer. If you get into relationships with people who make bad choices, you can't blame God when those bad choices come back to cause you pain. Sometimes bad things happen because we make bad choices. The glorious part is God still uses those to bring us to a good place. Even our bad choices can be used by God to bring blessing.

To bring it back full circle, God hasn't healed my depression yet because I need it to get where it's best for me to be. The best thing for me right now is to suffer and trust that God has a purpose for my suffering. I don't know what it is, and I don't know what He is doing, and I may never know. I will never know what lies down the other road, but it doesn't matter, because this is the road I'm on. I have to trust the destination, knowing the end will be the best of all available ends.

By the way, this is a theological doctrine called the Best of All Possible Worlds, and I like it. Props to John Piper.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Perfect Relationship and Other Arm Chair Grandeur

I was a romantic growing up. I longed to be in love, and I started having crushes that went way to deep, way too early. Combine that with the fact I was a bit of a loser when it came to love, and it makes for some really, really bad poetry. I remember my first crush. I swore I was so in love with her. I'm not going to tell you who it is, but I will tell you that I could drive you to her house and I can still tell you her phone number. I'm hopeless I tell you. I had a crush on this girl for most of elementary and middle school. Never even asked her out. Like I said, I was a loser when it came to love. In High School, I had a new love and no, I'm still not going to tell you who it is. I did actually have the guts to call and ask her out. She very sweetly shot me down after telling me to hold on for like 5 minutes.

Now you have to understand the era in which I grew up. My kids would never understand the complication that was calling a girl up. We didn't have smart phones and social media and all that fun stuff. We had a phone that was attached to the wall by a cord. There was no caller id, and no way to know who would actually answer the phone. You would dial the number, it would ring and you would be required to keep up your nerve until someone answered. Most of the time, you chickened out and hung up. There was no *69 back then, no caller id so you were safe. Why do you think I still know that girls phone number! I probably dialed it thousands of times, often to hang up before I even finished dialing. Ya, I know, loser.

I was always convinced I was going to be the worlds greatest boyfriend/fiancĂ©/husband. The greatest. Ever. I was going to be thoughtful and romantic and caring and take care of everything and my girlfriend/fiancĂ©/wife would be the happiest ever. I was going to be the greatest in the world. I care now safely say that I am the greatest husband my wife has ever had. I'm also the worst, so there's that. You see, when I thought I would be the best, it was when I didn't have a girlfriend. I thought I would be the best in the world before I was in a relationship. It's easy to think you are the best at something that you can idealize, but have never done. It's like that in a lot of areas. Take Superbowl XLIX, Seahawk have the ball on the 5, they need a touchdown to win. They just need to give it to Marshawn Lynch to go into beast mode, he runs for the TD, they win. Instead, they pass and in unbelievable fashion that only the Patriots can manage, Wilson is intercepted on the goal line and the Pats win. Everyone says "they should have run the ball with Lynch". They probably wish they had, but we had nothing on the line. Maybe the coaching staff knew something we didn't. Maybe Lynch was hurting, maybe the line was too warn down. Maybe it's just the fact that everyone in the world knew that was the best option and they were trying to catch the Patriots off guard and it simply blew up in their face. My point is, everyone seems to know the right answer until it's you on the 5 yard line.

It's easy to be perfect at something you've never done. I can tell you that almost 20 years of marriage and I'm not the perfect guy I thought I would be. I try and I do ok most of the time. I work harder at making my wife happy than I do at almost anything else, but it's never as easy as you think it's going to be. There is always downs to go with the ups, and for every win, there is the interception on the goal line. Sometimes it's even more like a 2nd half Atlanta Falcons game. Ya, I said it. You know you where already thinking in. For those of you who don't want football. . . you probably still know what I'm talking about.

The question is, if it's not as easy as we think and we aren't perfect, what do we do? Should we give up? The answer of course is no way. You can the Tom Brady of your marriage. Ok, I'll stop with the football stuff. The reality is, no one can be better at your marriage than you are. No one can be a better parent to your kids than you are. No one can be a better you than you are. So let's focus on being you in a way that is successful. Don't worry about being perfect, you already aren't. So let's just move forward.

What to improve your relationship, your job, your life at home? First, just establish that this is it. This is it, I'm here. Now, things like your job can change but, but until they do, here you are. You may be looking for a new job or changing careers or moving, but for now, this is it. As far as your marriage goes, erase the word divorce unless there is something unsafe, threatening to your life and safety. If things are just rocky, time to suck it up butter cup. Change that perspective, this is it. The one you married, they are the one and that's it. Your kids? No getting rid of them now, they are yours. Your life is the one you have. So, let's look at it as being it. No getting out now, time to fix what we got.

Next step is realize the problem is everyone's problem. A problem in the marriage hurts the whole family. Problems between a child and parent or between children causes problems through out. We are connected and when something causes a problem, it causes a problem or everyone. I am a firm believer the best thing I can do for my kids is love their mother well. I need to demonstrate what a good husband looks like to my kids. They need to see love and compassion and selflessness. When there is issues and problems, it often is multiplied through the generations. Kids usually pick up the bad habits from their parents. It may be a lot of pressure, but that's called adulthood. We need to get it right to give those who come behind us a chance.

Lastly, you gotta have some grace for everybody. You need to forgive them, you need to forgive yourself. Things are going to go bad sometimes. You'll fight, you'll drive each other crazy, mistakes will be made. Money will get tight and nights will get long and the baby will cry every time you get in the car. Things will be hard and stressful and there will be problems. You need to have grace. Sometimes little things will turn into big things. Those big things will become huge and major things and the majority of our American culture will tell you to call it quits and walk away. You don't have too, you can have grace and you can forgive. If Jesus forgives us, then we can forgive others. He told us too, since we gotta do it anyway, make the best of it and make your relationship better. Make it great.

I hope today you have been encouraged, at least you should feel better about your love life. I prayer for you is that you give grace, receive grace, and share grace. It's the most freeing thing in the world, an it can make your relationships much better. Not perfect, but a lot better.