Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas is OVER...

There is often a big letdown after Christmas. Family members go home, messes must be cleaned, tree disposed of, and decorations taken down and packed up. Even worse, gifts of the wrong size must be returned, weight gained during feasting must be lost, spoiled kids coming down from sugar-highs must be reprogrammed, and credit cards bills must be paid. Days get dreary. Many people begin to struggle emotionally. Mental health experts tell us depression rises in the months following Christmas. An ABC News story last year said that depression cases have increased recently due to the sluggish economy.

How can we keep the after-Christmas-doldrums from happening? Answer: HAVE A PURPOSE.

So many preparing for Christmas surrender their own desires, give gifts, and love people (even some who are hard to love).’s all over.

You see, before Christmas, we had some purpose. For those experiencing the blues, now there’s none. Even through the hustle-bustle last week, there was joy. Music. Satisfaction of seeing people open a gift you gave. Reconnection with family and talk about Christmases past. Cards from friends. After Christmas, the joy can be extinguished like the holiday candles.

It’s pretty normal to experience the after-Christmas-downer. But it's NOT good to let meaninglessness rule our whole lives. yet so many people live like this all the time. They need to have purpose.

But instead, what do they do to cope?
Some HIDE in alcohol (or some other substance), in their work, or behind a mask.
Some QUIT. They give up on their marriage, or their dreams, or give way to bitterness.
Still others REBEL. “Forget God,” they say in their hearts. And they follow the world or their flesh.

May I offer a suggestion? GET PURPOSE. Know your part in THE Story God's telling (read previous blog).

Question: What is MY part in God's Story? How do I begin to find it?

The answer is found in Romans 12.

In the first 11 chapters of Romans, God reveals (through Paul) his story of humanity’s lost-ness and God’s plan to redeem us. It has been called the greatest theological work ever written. Then comes chapter 12. That’s where we are shown how to live in RESPONSE to God’s Story. So here lies the key to understanding our part:

In short, we are called to surrender ourselves, give gifts, and love people radically. Just like we did, in a lesser way, before Christmas.

Don’t believe me? Look for yourself...

1. Surrender yourself (vv. 1-2),
Romans 12:
1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

In case you didn’t catch it, we are called to surrender. See ourselves as sacrifices, and worship God by pursuing holiness. Not letting the world mold us, but letting God change us. THEN we will be able to know his will- SPECIFICALLY.

It all starts with surrender.

2. Give your gifts (vv. 3-8)
3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment (this is good for us in the ME generation. We tend to excel in self-esteem). 4For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5so we, though many, are one body in Christ...6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Here’s the point: Take an honest look at what you have to offer. And starting with the body (the church—we are NOT Lone Rangers), give from what God has given us. Give your gifts!

3. Love people radically. (vv.9-21)
9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

All of these are in the context of Christian community. We are to radically love our brothers & sisters. How? Start by being with them. Small groups are important! Then we can show love in the ways listed.

But Christian friends aren’t the only ones we are to love radically. Listen to how we are to treat our enemies...
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals (of conviction) on his head." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Did you get that? Genuinely love other Christians like family, and love your enemies...even when they hurt you! Love everyone. Overcome evil with good. That’s radical!

Before Christmas, I bet you were doing all this in a limited way...
1. surrendering yourself, 2. giving your gifts, 3. loving people radically. And it gave you purpose. And you were happy. You hummed carols. You longed for when they would see what you bought for them. You had times of joy thinking of warm memories. You made memories.

DO THAT WITH YOUR LIFE. Be a "Romans 12" Christian. Be a Christian.

THEN you’ll be on your way to knowing YOUR place in God’s Story. That’s what I’ll be talking about Sunday Jan. 2.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Traditions of Christmas

I read an a great article this morning and I've been thinking about it since. It is about how all the traditional elements of Christmas that we celebrate today came about in history. Things like December 25th as the day we celebrate, candles, Christmas trees, caroling, and the like.

Here's the article:

One thing I've been thinking about is this: rather than rejecting outright all things "extra-biblical" (as the Puritans once did, not allowing the celebration on the 25th), Christians have REDEEMED many different traditions, feasts, and festivals of different cultures (both Jewish, Roman, and Barbarian), making them a part of our Christmas festivities today. I love this! Isn't this what we are supposed to do as Christians? Overcome evil with Good? Several years ago I read a book called, Christ and Culture by Richard Niebuhr. In it he shows the different ways Christians interact (and have historically interacted) with the world's culture around them. He categorizes them in the following five ways;
Christ against culture
Christ of culture
Christ above culture
Christ and culture in paradox
Christ transforming culture.

Niebuhr gives specific examples of different groups within Christianity and how they interact with our world.
It seems regarding Christmas, the "Christ transforming Culture" has prevailed. I'm glad. Christ came to transform humanity, once created good and made in his image, now corrupted by sin, back to himself. We who have been redeemed, are on mission with Christ to redeem others.

Today and tomorrow, work to redeem the culture and traditions in which you find yourself interacting. When people are engaging in celebrations that may not bring glory to God, think of how you can redeem it. Overcome evil with good!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

THE Story

The Christmas story (not the movie, but the real account of Jesus’ birth) is quite a tale. Think about hearing it for the first time, as did the Herdman kids in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Who could come up with such a story? But the nativity alone is incomplete. It is only a part (albeit an important part) of the greater narrative that starts before time itself.

History is going somewhere. Evidence for this abounds. Other stories lend evidence of this in the way they resemble “the grand original story” of God. Through the centuries many have recognized that human myths, literature, movies, and other expressions of narrative, both secular and religious, are mere reflections of God’s story. “Even Pagan stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien (famed writer of Lord of the Rings) said, “are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through...real things" He believed that history truly is “His-story,” the literal Meta-narrative that God is telling. According to Tolkien, “We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.”

If you want some resources to explore this idea further, let me offer a few:

Epic by John Eldridge. This little book is awesome. You can read it in an hour or two and you will not be sorry. In it you will see that you have a key role in this story God is writing.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones Don’t miss this opportunity to walk through the Bible with your kids in a way that shows God's master plan for all creation. The artwork is excellent, and the way God’s story is told is incredible. I wish this book would have been around when my kids were small!

Tolkien: Man or Myth by Joseph Pearce. This is for you who love all things Tolkien. Pearce unveils Tolkien’s core convictions and the world in which he lived in order to help us understand what ideas might really be behind his great stories.

Pick a good movie. So many...Robin Hood (2010 with Russell Crowe), Avatar, King Arthur, The Matrix, Gladiator, Harry Potter, Braveheart, The Lion King, Star al. This Christmas break, take a night or two, make some popcorn and watch a good movie (age appropriate) and then TALK to your kids about how it reflects THE Story. So many of these movies are our day’s “myths” that reflect ideas from THE Meta-narrative, THE Story God has written, and is still revealing around us as history unfolds.

And the whole thing hinges on a baby.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Truth Matters

Os Guinness has long been one of my favorite Christian thinkers. He recently spoke at the Lausanne Conference in South Africa, a monumental gathering of Christians. I listened to his speech with great interest. I think he gives such clarity to an issue that is increasingly crippling the church in the USA: the postmodern deconstruction of truth.

I know, some of you are like, "what in the heck is that?" Suffice it to say that our culture is becoming less and less responsive to claims of absolute or objective truth. From science to theology, people are becoming more skeptical. This has been coming for a long time, and is why our culture is marked by tolerating and equivocating all ideas as relative. No longer are most people impressed with a sentence beginning with the words, "Science tells us..." or "The Bible says...", because postmodern people generally doubt the authority of such truth claims.

The problem is how this has affected the church. Just as some "adjusted" the message of Christianity for Modernity (which assumed that Science is the ultimate test of what is true) in the form of Liberalism, some today have attempted to adjust the message for postmodern culture, by denying the absolute truth of the Bible and doctrinal essentials for the "emerging" culture, a term that has garnered much attention. Problem: The methods can change, but the message must not. It is the essence of Christianity and is originated by God himself. As with Liberalism, "Emergent" leaders are compromising the message.

In this clip, Guinness takes this problem head on. If you've got a few minutes, it is worth the watch. It is both refreshing and powerful. Here's the link.

If you want to read while listening (which I like to do), here's the manuscript (not exact, he must have shortened his actual speech a little).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jesus and Politics

Now that the election is over, we can feel a little less tension when talking about politics, right? The message Sunday was about Jesus’ clear invitation to follow him in a revolution not of this world and not of man’s making, but of God, who has ordered all things. The people patriotically waving palm branches to Jesus screaming, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" were placing their hopes in a political savior and solution. But this was not why Jesus came. The idea of political salvation was as much a fantasy then as it is today (and it truly still exists)! The same passionate people turned on Jesus as soon as he began to tell them his true plans for change, and God’s will for this earth. They didn’t want to hear it—and they killed him.

But just like Chief Priest Caiaphas, who unwittingly prophesied that Jesus would die for all the people (John 11:50), and Mary who beautifully prefigured his burial (John 12:1-7), the crowds of Jerusalem unknowingly (and ironically) spoke volumes when they quoted from the Old Testament as Jesus rode on the donkey’s colt.

John 12:
13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out,
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
even the King of Israel!"
14And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
15"Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!"
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

Among that which his disciples didn’t understand at the time and later remembered is that the actual quote was from Psalm 118:25-26:
25Save us, we pray, O Lord! (Hebrew: Hoshi‘ah na’ Greek: "Hosanna")
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

This quotation is just a part of a whole psalm that has an amazing connection with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry if we care to see it. There was already some real significance in the people’s choice of this psalm. It was sung frequently in Israel’s history during celebrations and significant events. In later times it was sung at feasts as a longing for the coming Messiah—especially around Jesus’ day when Israel was under Roman rule.

Let’s observe the rest of Psalm 118, at least in part. It begins:
1Oh give thanks to the LORD,
for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

This last line "his steadfast love endures forever!" is a phrase the psalmist repeats four times in the first four verses. It is obvious that God’s “steadfast love” is the main theme. He continues with why:
..5Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free.
6The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?

The psalmist’s acknowledgement of God personally delivering him and favoring him causes him to not be afraid of people any more. Then a major conclusion occurs to him, a concept that is carried throughout the rest of the psalm, and even to the event we call the “Triumphal Entry.”
...8It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
9It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.

This whole psalm is about how GOD is the answer. Placing our trust in him is infinitely better than placing our hope in a political or military or human solution. The psalm continues:
14The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
15Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous:
"The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
16the right hand of the LORD exalts,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!"

There is gladness and joy in the lives of those who trust in him. He even “exalts” those who are “righteous”! But this is a problem, is it not? None of us are righteous. We are all sinners. Even David himself said that we are conceived in sin (Psalm 51). This is what makes the Lord’s salvation different. More than just a political leader (offering earthly salvation), our Lord makes us righteous, making heaven/eternity available to us. Read this:
19Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
20This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
21I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

There is too much to comment on here! The way of salvation, the “gate” of the righteous is the LORD himself who “has become my salvation”—He IS “THE STONE THE BUILDERS REJECTED” (see this verse quoted in Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, and 1 Peter 2:7), rejection that ultimately happened right after the Triumphal Entry culminating in Christ’s death. He IS NOW THE CORNERSTONE of our faith!! All of this is “the LORD’s doing” not ours! And I don’t think I ever caught that “THIS...the day the LORD has made,” was referring to the day our salvation was accomplished—when Jesus died making us righteous—was the day in which we should “rejoice and be glad!”

Now the verses the crowds quoted:
25Save us, we pray, O Lord! (Hosanna)
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

The irony is stunning here as the people were asking for Jesus to “save” them politically from Roman rule. They did not know that the “Lord” was the on the donkey, and that he had come to save the entire world—including them—if they would believe. They added to the psalm and called him “king,” not realizing he was the King of kings, who made Caesar...and was the one before whom Caesar would one day bow.

The Psalm continues (It’s amazing to me):
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27The LORD is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.

How many references have we seen in John of Jesus as the light, he even claimed this for himself in a stunning “I am” statement:“I am the light of the world” during the feast of tabernacles, a festival that included a ceremony of lights, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt. But there’s more:
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!

Interesting: The Jews chose the Passover lamb which would be sacrificed on either the day of or the day after (scholars debate which) Jesus made his Triumphal Entry, being “chosen” in effect, by the people as their “king.” These same people would cry, “crucify him” 5 days later, and kill him at the very moment the Passover Lamb was sacrificed in the Temple for the sins of the people.

Psalm 118 ends...
28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. 29Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

The psalm both begins and ends with “his steadfast love endures forever.” This “steadfast love” found throughout the OT (e.g. Hosea who pictured God’s love for prostitute Israel) is what drove Christ to come as a man and die on our behalf, redeeming us to himself as his bride.

How is it that some Christians invest so much passion and place so much hope on politics? Why would we, recipients of God’s grace made available through Christ, trust in mere politicians offering merely human solutions to bring us happiness in this world?

Do not infer that I’m encouraging you not to be involved in politics. In fact, I think all Christians should vote and some should even run for office if God calls them to do so. We need more Christian statesmen and Christ-followers involved in the political process. Truth is, there are fewer evangelicals in high offices than in our history. We need more. I am pointing out what the Bible is teaching: that we dare not place our primary hope in man. We are citizens of this country. As such, we are to make it better. But much more, we are citizens of heaven—born again children of the King of kings. Our first allegiance is to him. And out of this first allegiance, all others flow.

Because Christians of the first two centuries after Christ’s ascension understood this divine order, millions received Christ, culminating in the Roman empire’s fall to the influence of Christianity. Rome becoming Christian was not all good (in fact it was quite negative in many ways on Christianity—but that’s for another blog), but Christianity now has become the greatest movement in human history. With God’s help, let’s do our part to make it greater. Our nation is governed by the people who elect our leaders. When the people walk away from God, so does our nation. When they surrender to Christ, our nation becomes more just, more moral, more ethical, kinder, more compassionate, better.

In summary, as a Christian, my first and greatest passion is for my King and his kingdom. He will take care of the rest—using me and others like me to do it—as I view the world through his will and am obedient to him. When we get that right, the rest takes care of itself.

Ronald Reagan, in a famous speech said,
"You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness."

If I may dare to offer an edit to those great words, imagining them spoken to Christians:
"You and I have a rendezvous with PROVIDENCE. We will PRESENT for ALL children this, the ONLY hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into AN ETERNITY of darkness."

This is what is at stake. Don't give your greatest passion and effort to a lesser cause (no matter how noble). Jesus said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God...and all these things will be added to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Learning from Arick

Arick is a special member of our church. He is both physically and mentally handicapped. He probably loves Providence more than anyone and there are a few selfless men in our church that take turns giving him a ride to and from church. He lives in a small group home on Washington Pike.

This past Sunday, Joe Denton was slated to give Arick a ride home after church. He and I both had daughters playing in a big soccer tournament so we rushed to see the last of the game after church. Joe brought Arick with him to the soccer game. At church, I found out that it was Donna’s (Joe’s wife) birthday, so I offered to give Arick a ride home so Joe could be with Donna. Arick, satisfied and happy to be there, just joined right in and watched the game (the field was muddy and there were muddy hills to walk up and down to get there, so it wasn’t easy for him and he got mud on his shoes and pants). By the end of the game, we were hungry, so I took him to get something to eat.

I had a great time with Arick. While eating, we talked. He talked about how much he loved Providence. He told me all these things he had learned that were “in the Bible.” We talked about Jesus. We laughed and talked. To me the rest of the world went away. Often while talking I couldn’t help but think about what I had JUST preached about from John 9. How God had allowed suffering and disabilities (as in the man born blind), for the sake of his glory. Here with me was a REAL example. Internally, I struggled a little. It was one of those moments where my own words almost didn’t pass the smell test. I had the feeling of the injustice of it all as I remembered that humanity’s sin had corrupted the world. I felt regret and anger that Arick’s condition somehow results from this. Arick struggles to see, eat, and walk, although he is completely content. He is so kind. He always wants to hug me vigorously, no matter who’s watching or what’s going on. “Maybe God uses guys like Arick to show me how beautiful a person can be who is simply satisfied and joyful despite his circumstances.” I thought. Nothing in my heart was really resolved.

On the way to his home, I played Jason and Bryan’s CD “Beauty in the Fall” (Joe had warned me that Arick had a Christian Rap CD that he had asked Joe to play, so I thought I would be preemptive!).

I wish you could have been there for the rest.

I didn’t know that Arick knows EVERY SONG on that CD by heart. We both sang the whole way to his home along with Jason and Bryan. I don’t think there was another word spoken. Just singing. I was moved to the point of battling tears as Arick sang every word of the songs.

The last song before Arick got out was “Beauty in the Fall.” He sang aloud with Jason:

Creator of Life, you spoke and it was.
The Image of God given to us.
Fallen and cursed, naked we run.
Into the arms of the Son.

(Chorus) There is beauty in the fall of man. There is grace enough to rise again.
Cause underneath it all we are resting in the palm of his hand
There is beauty in the fall, beauty in the fall of man.

Dust to dust, cradle to grave.
We breath in, the story of grace.
A song that’s made for those who believe.
A song that the angels cannot sing.

[Chorus repeats]

That you would trade the splendor of heaven for a manger,
This is the beauty in the fall.
That you would pay the cost through the power of the cross,
This is the beauty in the fall.
That we are sons and daughters loved by you the Father,
This is the beauty in the fall.

I fought my emotions while he sang loud and clear (I couldn’t sing with him). I walked in with him, hugged, and said goodbye. When I got back in my truck I burst into tears almost uncontrollably.

I learned more from his example than he could ever learn from me. I can’t wait to spend time with Arick again. I think he is closer to God than I will ever be this side of heaven. And IN heaven...Arick will not have any handicap at all. And neither will I.

Thanks, you guys who bring Arick, for your ministry to him. I know you say, “No big deal.” but it is. And God is pleased.

If you haven't gotten the CD, you can pick one up from church or search "Beauty In the Fall" on iTunes.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Football and Church Planting

Ok, it’s fall and football time, so suffer me a related thought or two.

One of my favorite lines from the movie, Remember the Titans, is from Coach Boone when he was questioned about his small playbook. He said,

“I run 6 plays, split veer. Like Novocain, just give it time, always works.”

I guess you have to have played football for (or against) a veer-offense team to fully appreciate that quote. The veer is a fast attack, running offense, that forces the defense to make decisions and exploits them. To the casual observer, it’s not really that pretty. But to the educated eye, it is a thing of beauty. The bread-and-butter play is the triple option. The quarterback is the key. After taking the snap, he must make a decision based on the defense’s reaction to give the ball to the running back, keep the ball himself, or pitch to the other running back.

Many times a characteristic of veer-offense teams is that they will run two plays resulting in very few yards gained, followed by one that breaks for 5-9 yards, and slowly move down the field, eating up the clock. The offense keeps this bam, bam, break; bam, bam, break; pace going—daring the defense to stunt and take risks to stop it. When they do, a long break happens, many times for a touchdown.

What does this have to do with church planting? Let me name three things. As with veer football teams, church-planting churches must: 1. Believe in the strategy, 2. keep the offense on the field and the defense on its heels, and 3. learn from and reduce mistakes.

This might demand some translation/explanation for you football novices.

1. Believe in the strategy:
A veer team can’t be thrown by plays or series that don’t produce first downs or touchdowns, respectively. Losing teams panic and give up on game plans when the first drives fail or switch offensive schemes during the season. Winning teams stick to the strategy. Patience and execution will eventually yield results. Church planting is Providence Church’s primary strategy for culture change. It’s biblical and it works. It’s not glamorous. It is hard. Some plants don’t make it. Some struggle. Some need additional help. Mistakes will be made. But eventually, “like Novocain,” it works. Sometimes you get a big break for long yards. Over time, thousands of people’s lives are changed, and more churches are multiplied!

2. Keep the offense on the field and the defense on its heels:
Check the stats yourself. The team that wins almost always controls the ball longer. Football is also a game of aggression. The veer is an offense that goes forward almost always. It takes it to the opponent. The church is to be on offense. Jesus said, “Go.” We dare not take the foot off the proverbial pedal. It is Hell’s gates that are on the defensive. When Satan’s forces attack us, we must quickly respond. We must never rest. We must always move forward. Even when it is hard we must keep planting and keep planting. God will do the rest.

3. Learn from and reduce mistakes.
My dad used to say it all the time. “We’re not playing the other team. We’re playing ourselves.” This is a statement of confidence. When we work the game plan and run the offense WITHOUT turnovers, penalties, and execution mistakes, we will certainly win. But mistakes WILL be made. The opposition WILL throw schemes at you that you did not expect in order to try to stop your offense. This is where discipline is important. Patiently figure out what they are doing and how to respond. Make adjustments at halftime. More importantly, watch the film, evaluate, and correct mistakes for the next game. Get better. With church planting there are universal principles, but every context is different and demands adjustments on the fly. Mistakes ARE made. We must not become shaken. We must learn from them and move forward.

Believe me, I could compare many aspects of church planting with football! Perhaps later. Pray for the elders right now as we are considering some church planting-related opportunities that have come our way. You will no doubt hear about these soon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Burn the Qur’an? How ‘bout READ it?

We all knew it would happen. Some fringe preacher wanting to be noticed was bound to come out and say something extreme that a willing media could exploit. I’m only surprised it didn’t happen sooner. This guy has actually been trying to get attention for years, writing a book entitled, “Islam is of the Devil,” printing t-shirts and displaying signs in front of his church building that say the same. But he really won the lottery when he decided to publicly burn a Qur’an. National news, Presidential pleas, international riots, this guy hit the mother load!

As soon as I heard about this guy, I wondered how long it would be before someone asked me what I thought. It happened at my daughter’s soccer game. A parent asked me what I thought about the guy wanting to burn the Qur’an.

We Christians are historically the most tolerant people the world has ever known. There is a reason for this: we truly believe that Christ is the truth. Jesus said, “and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” We believe that when all the evidence for every faith system, every religion, every worldview is revealed and put to the test, there is no comparison. Christianity is more logical, more credible, has more answers about how to deal with the real issues of the human condition, and has much more of a proven record of making the world a better place for all humans—Christian or not.

Are there some bad eggs in Christian history? Of course. There will continue to be wolves in sheep’s clothing and Christ warned us in advance that some would come. Are some Christians well-meaning but ignorant? Yep. This guy in Florida has admitted that he has never read the Qur’an he wants to burn. This is nonsense, and makes Christianity look either intolerant or fearful of the power and influence of Islam. Most Christians are neither. We believe the truth will win. Want an example of this guy’s ignorance? He said under oath in court that Judaism is of demonic origin! Did he forget that Jesus was a Jew? Wow. Among other revealing things, this guy calls himself “Dr.” when he has never earned a degree of any kind: bachelors (he didn’t finish college), masters, let alone a doctorate! He has an “honorary” doctorate from a non-accredited school in California, which has now distanced itself from him. Like many of the Charismatic, self-appointed-and-exalted types, he’s an embarrassment to credible ministers and Christians everywhere. Of course members of the media are going to make him out to be a representative of Christianity. Many of them are themselves committed to competing worldviews (whether secularism, liberalism, progressivism, statism, atheism, libertinism, et. al.), which do not stand up to the light of examination and puts them at odds with the Christian worldview.

So don’t burn the Qur’an...READ it. Compare it to the Bible. Do the same with the Book of Mormon, the Tripitaka of Buddhism, the Analects of Confucianism, the Bhagavad Gita and Veda of Hinduism, and any other “holy” book. It is reasonable to believe that an intelligent creator God would reveal himself verbally to the intelligent beings he created. The question is, which book contains God’s revelation? Would it not be the one that has the most evidence to support it, the one that contains prophecies that were literally fulfilled, the one that has changed the most lives, the one that tells of the creation events in a way most consistent with what we can observe in creation? Would it not be the one with the least contradictions (or containing no contradictions at all)? Use the intelligence God gave you and read it for yourself! Trust God to show you the truth!

Having read the Qur’an myself, let me tell you: the truth will be obvious.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Manute Bol: A Fool for Christ

I was gone all last week, camping with my family in the Smokies. I had no email, texting, phone, TV, etc. It was GREAT! When gone for an extended time, it is always interesting to peruse the news of the last week. It almost escaped my notice that Manute Bol had died. I caught it via RSS of a news service which had a link to a Wall Street Journal story entitled: Manute Bol's Radical Christianity. I was intrigued. I had never heard that he was a Christian. Unlike many other celebs, apparently Manute did not seek fame and fortune. He took advantage of what God had given him and what doors God opened for him to help people who were desperately in need. What a contrast to most other NBA stars we hear about! Further reading uncovered rumors of some gambling, and I'm sure there were mistakes he made. But most people I read who knew Manute, spoke of his gentleness, joy, and love for people. Like a true disciple, Manute was persecuted for his faith, banned from his country, and died poor. According to the WSJ story, he gave most of his millions to help refugees in his native Sudan who were being persecuted by Muslims.

You can read the story here.

I'm not putting him on a pedestal. But reading the article made me think of some ways I want to be.

Here's what stirs my heart:

Live for others instead of self.
Be joyful no matter what my circumstances.
Put aside pride for the sake of Christ.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Well, Maybe one more...

Sorry. I know I said I was done. Just found a few more pics of our last couple of days on Nevis and had to share them!

So this picture is like a screensaver or something. Just one of the many we got on our trip that made us thank God for creating it and allowing us to be here.

Is this not awesome?! This has to be my favorite (from many favorites). We were simply having the time of our lives. No schedule, no worries, no people around, just the two of us. Man! Just seeing it again whisks me away to daydream land! I'd love to be there now.

So here are some shots from a walk down our beach away from Nesbit Plantation toward the southeast. Darla didn't like the fact that I kept taking pics of her, but I just had to do it.

Ok, so I saw something on Survivorman (one of me and Dara's favorite shows) a long time ago. Les (aka Survivorman) was marooned on a beach and found a coconut with the sprout of a little tree coming out. He cracked it open and instead of the normal coconut and milk in the inside, there was a sweet solid center more like a crunchy simi-sweet bread. I totally had to find a sprouted coconut and try it for myself!!! Guess what? I did and it was sooo cool! Here's me carrying the sprouted coconut. I don't know why I get such a kick out of this kind of thing! Darla thinks I'm crazy.

The farther we walked, the more shells, coral, and cool rocks we would find. This is a pile of conch shells just lying in the sun on the beach! Can you imagine seeing something like this at Destin?! Of course not. It would make the news!

This was a cool spot where a palm tree had blown down in a storm over the water.

Another pic of the leaning coconut palm, taken from the other side. We couldn't get over this and other postcard scenes.

This is Henry the gardener. He is probably 90 years old. He moves slow, but works hard. He can barely see. He mows the yard slower than any human being I've ever seen, and he sings about Jesus the entire time!!! Henry taught me all about which coconuts are good for drinking or eating, how to get them and how to get them open. Such a nice man. Incidentally, we were driving on one of our last days and we passed a big beautiful house with gorgeous landscaping. The sign on the house said that it belonged to Henry the Gardener! You've got to love Nevis! Like the U.S. It is a place where honest people of any background or profession can succeed by hard work and wise habits.

Ok, so what would a Sparks-at-the-beach blog post be if we didn't include something about FOOD! Lunch that day was Coconut shrimp for Darla and a whopping lobster salad sandwich for me! Mmmm mmm.

Alright. I'm done. Thanks again for letting me share. Again, I hope all of you can do something like this one day. You'll have to go to the website for the Lazy Turtle Villa on Nevis (Google it) if you want to check out our place. Lara and Jane (owners) are great people.
More than anything, I pray that you all will have the blessing of having a life-mate who loves Christ. That's the best thing of all!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Last Nevis Post...What a Trip!

Well, we've been back in Knoxville less than a week and life is crazy busy once again.
Ok...I've been told we've made people mad and some have kidded us that we've been gloating. I feel bad if that's happening (we're NOT gloating, just sharing a joyful time with friends!), cause we certainly don't want anyone getting mad!! I pray that you ALL will have the opportunity to BE MARRIED FOR 20 YEARS TO A PERSON SEEKING CHRIST. THAT'S the REAL blessing! The trip was really just a celebration and rekindling of our most important earthy relationship.

Here's a FEW shots of our final two days on Nevis...

This pic was taken on May 12, the day of our 20th anniversary. We decided to eat at Coconut Grove, a restaurant in which we had eaten lunch one day earlier and really liked. We had met the owner, a Frenchman who had also lived in New York before selling all and moving to Nevis 5 years ago (he looks kind of like George Clooney). Awesome fish! Darla had some freshly caught local grouper that was INCREDIBLE! The restaurant's claim-to-fame is that it has the best wine cellar on the Island. But like a couple of nerds, we brought some non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice that they gave Darla at the Baptist Church for Mother's Day! We didn't care and neither did they. We couldn't take it home. It was a great time!

The view of the beach at twilight was so good. The gentle cool breeze was perfect! A quintessential group of wealthy Brits were there. It was so fun listening to them! It could have been a SNL skit! We were cracking up.

Really, for our last two days, we wanted to spend as much time on the beach as we could. So on the 13th that's what we did until lunch when we decided to go back to Peak Haven where we had eaten after our hike to Nevis Peak.

Here I am looking through the telescope.

I know it is funny, but Darla was always wanting to take pictures of the food we were eating. She took this after I had already eaten half of the chicken. IT WAS SOOO GOOD. It was a Nevis favorite: Curry chicken cooked in a stew. The cook's name is Llewellyn. He used to work at the Four Seasons resort. Such a nice and gentle man, and a great cook! Also on the plate are some yellow Nevis-grown sweet potatoes and other local veggies. I wish I could convey how good it was. Darla had a chicken sandwich made with Llewellyn's homemade bread. Mmmmm. And what a view while we ate. We conversed with the owners there too.

Afterward we decided to pop over to a place we had heard about from several sources: Golden Rock, a restored sugar plantation which has been turned into a restaurant and hotel. All I can say is...Wow. Darla and I were sad that we had not come sooner and eaten there. All these pics will perhaps show how excellent this place was. They had restored the original stone buildings and had added some water features and allowed the tropical plants to grow in just the right places.
Their specialty is their lobster sandwich. We had heard about it the whole time we'd been on Nevis but never went to try it. While walking around, one of the servers walked by with one. HUGE! Homemade thick-sliced bread LOADED with chunky lobster salad (yeah, like chicken salad)! Perhaps my only regret for our whole trip! We should have eaten here!! Even some of the rooms are in the remodeled ancient stone structures. I wish the pictures did this place more justice.

This pic is of the most desirable room there, the honeymoon suite, converted from a sugar mill tower. Darla (always curious to see how the inside looks) went up to the front door and nervously cupped her hands around her eyes at the glass to see inside. Assuming no one was there, she started oohing and aahing about how nice it was. I couldn't resist. I spoke loudly, "We're sorry, we didn't know anyone was in there--sorry!" Darla just about swallowed her tongue!! I wish I had a picture of her face! It was great.

Well, the dreaded day finally came when we had to leave Nevis. Here are some shots from the ferry as we departed and went to St. Kitts to fly home. We met a nice couple on the ferry from Boston who are attending seminary at Gordon Conwell. Great folks, and it was good to talk to some Americans.

It was truly sad to say goodbye to a little island we had grown to love, which has such kind people. Nevisians (pronounced Niv-EESH-uns) are almost all helpful and smiling. They speak perfect English and are very proud of their education (highest literacy rate of all western countries), low crime, rich history, and Christian heritage. They are hard-working people who have made their island great.
We boarded the ferry and took pictures all along the 45-minute ride to St. Kitts. We passed a big old freighter, a Carnival cruise ship, and other craft as we approached the port city of Basseterre. It is interesting that frequently while on Nevis, the Nevisians expressed disdain for St. Kitts. One Nevisian called Basseterre "thug city."

How to end...
I can't express how glad I am that we did this together. We'll be paying for the splurge for a while, but it was SOOO worth it. And Nevis couldn't have been better. I'm recharged and ready for another twenty and beyond!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


There is no way to describe it. God is good to us. Our trip just seems to go from great to even greater. Thanks to all of you who have wished us well. Again, no time to tell details. Here are some shots from the last two days or so.
Yesterday we spent most of the day lounging at the beach. We hung out next door at Nesbit Plantation. We went snorkeling and saw a lot of stuff. There's no way we can bring back the huge conch shells and other treasures we have found. Beautiful fish abound. Don't know if I mentioned it, but Lobsters are everywhere. I've caught
one but lost it swimming back in. They're not easy to catch...and can cut you up if you're not careful. Darla had an awesome lunch on the beach (Mahi Mahi sandwich with a tropical salsa on top, salad, & fries) and we shared a dessert.
A rich chocolate brownie with caramel, nuts, and coconut, served with great vanilla ice cream. Darla's favorite!!

This is what the beach is all about...reading a good book about American Christian history! I also finished a book about Eric Liddel, the Olympic runner about whom they made the movie, "Chariots of Fire." Awesome book. It's called Pure Gold. I highly recommend it.

It was not all paradise, however. Me being the adventuresome type, must push the envelope. I started getting coconuts for eating and drinking the coconut milk. Got a little obsessed with knocking them out of trees and figuring out how to get them open, etc.

Anyway, when Darla and I were leaving the beach to take a shower before dinner, I grabbed a rock bigger than my fist, said to Darla, "Watch out honey, I'm going to get a coconut." I threw it hard at a big coconut about 20 feet off the ground. It hit the coconut square and bounced right off AND RIGHT AT DARLA'S HEAD!! Thankfully she had her visor and sunglasses on which shielded her from the brunt of the blow. I thought she would have a concussion or her head was split open or worse! I couldn't have done that again if I tried all day for a year! She has a little bruise, but nothing serious. Whew! Thank you Lord. Stupid me. She's so patient with my A.D.D.

We went to town to eat and many restaurants were closed (go figure...we're learning that there are certain Nevis cultural ways). We finally found a place we had heard about called Seafood Madness. Sounds totally different than it is. This was actually a very peaceful place, and we had it all to ourselves. I totally splurged and got fresh lobster. UNBELIEVABLE. This was the MEDIUM!

It makes my mouth water just to see the pictures again. It was the best lobster ever. It's my favorite food, and I haven't had it in many years. I savored every bite. Does it seem like we're talking a lot about food?

Today we planned to hike the 3232 ft. Nevis Peak. It's in the center of the Island and is a huge inactive volcano. You can see it wherever you are on Nevis and there is almost ALWAYS a cloud on it. We've only seen the peak cloudless twice the whole time we've been here. I don't know why...something meteorological.

We had been told that it was very difficult and VERY dangerous to go without a guide. Stories of people who have been lost abound. Interestingly, when we tell locals we're hiking the peak, they respond with emotion. "'re crazy!" kinds of responses. But you know's there...we've got to hike it. Poor Darla. She's been dreading this the whole time.
We booked a guide (great guy, his name is Sheldon) and met him this morning at 9:45.

Let me tell you: I've hiked most of the hardest trails in the Smokies. This was SO hard. Over half of it was crawling STRAIGHT up on all fours, pulling on ropes over mud, tree roots, and slick rocks through the thickest jungle you can imagine! Darla is one of the toughest women I know. She wasn't feeling well for the first (less difficult) half because we ate a big breakfast before coming. But she sucked it up and made it! The whole time I was thinking about how sorry I was to get her into this.

This is one of the many flowers we saw on the way called "Bird of Paradise." The flora is amazing--like a big botanical garden--huge ferns, vines, trees that are nothing if not exotic. There were NO bugs, and Sheldon told us there were no dangerous animals of any kind (no snakes on the island due to the many know). As to hunting, Sheldon said, "Open season, all the time." He told of an old guy he knows that kills and eats monkeys. There are small wild hogs, two different kinds of doves (one big, one little) but nothing dangerous.

Here is a typical part of the trail, in this case a hole in the mud, rocks, and roots that Darla is crawling through. What doesn't show here is that this is STRAIGHT up (most was like climbing a ladder), and behind us is a drop of about 50 feet into the dark jungle!

The views on the way up were astounding. We were blessed to have less cloud cover until the very top.

I can't overstate how difficult this was. My arms are sore as I write for pulling myself up with the many ropes necessary to climb this trail.
Sheldon, our guide, was young and talkative. He had a lot of opinions about religion and many questions. We found out much insider Nevisian stuff that was really interesting. He was brilliant and engaging. Not to mention athletic. He climbed the whole thing in Reebok tennis sneakers.
We were beaten up and covered with sweat and mud when we finally got to the top. Drew would have absolutely LOVED a challenge like this. He would have been in heaven.

And of was covered in a cloud. The only other disappointing thing is that we couldn't see into the crater (did I say this is a volcano?). Here we are faking a smile, acting like we're ready for more. Truth is, it was in many ways harder and more dangerous to get back down the mountain. I fell twice, Darla fell a few times and has some bruises to show for it. We were filthy we we got done.

When we were almost to the bottom, Sheldon showed me some red-orange fruits that he called "cherries." Not like ours, but they were so sweet and juicy and sooo good. The redder the better...the orange ones tasted like hot pepper/tomato mixed. I ate many of them. Tasted a little like red raspberries to me. I wish my kids could have been here. They love to eat berries we find while hiking. Aren't these beautiful? They're shaped like tiny pumpkins.

After hiking we ate at a little place called Peak Haven where the trail starts/ends. It was really good. I had a curry chicken stew that was spicy. It was a colloquial dish--that's what I love more than anything, trying the native food. Darla had a grilled chicken sandwich that was on some great homemade bread. We got salads, Thick yellow sweet-potato fries, some kind of orange squash. All delicious! The people were so nice and courteous. We spoke with each of them and thanked them for such a lovely experience. And the view...the pictures don't do it justice.
While eating we talked about how people who take cruises or all-inclusive resort vacations to the caribbean never get to experience the REAL Caribbean like we have on this trip. I wouldn't have changed a thing.

We were soooo tired. But the view...magnificent. Check out the seat of Darla's pants in this picture. I'm telling you...we were battle-scarred.

Finally...what kept Darla going...the HOT TUB. We stayed in it until the sun went down. Another beautiful sunset with an incredible 360-degree view.

Hard to believe there's just two more days.