Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best Books of 2010

At my favorite blog, the Gospel Coalition, was posted several lists of favorite books read over the past year. I maintain a book log of all the books I've read every year, and here's my favorites from 2010:

• Decision Making and the Will of God – Garry Friesen, J. Robin Maxson (a paradigm-shift from the traditional view, and the best book of the year, but not a new did it take me so long to find it?)
• America’s Prophet, Moses and the American Story – Bruce Feiler (tells how the Exodus narrative is American's story)
• After You Believe – N.T. Wright (substantive advice for the journey)
• Bonhoeffer-Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – Eric Metaxas (inspiring new biography)
• Paradise General – Dr. David Hnida (life in a Combat Support Hospital in Iraq)
• Christianity’s Dangerous Idea – Alister McGrath (a historical look at how the "priesthood of the believer" has formed Protestants)
• Confessions – St. Augustine (I try to include some "classics" in my reading, and this was well worth my time)

I have a stack of books on my shelf in my "to-read" pile, and I'm eager to get to them. Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Personal Relationship?

Christian authors and speakers often talk about having a “personal relationship” with God, an “intimate”, “close” connection. We sing “In the Garden” how Jesus “walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own.” Here’s my problem with that…

Let’s say a woman agrees to marry you, even though you’ve never met face-to-face, and you set her up in a house, insure that her basic needs are met, but don’t live with her. She never sees you. She can contact you by phone, but you won’t answer or speak; you’ll only listen. You’ve left instructions for her, written out…everything she needs to know is there, and you even write that you love her.

Is this a personal relationship? Yet doesn’t this describe our relationship with God? Some people of faith see a “relationship with God” as their new identity as God’s children, in terms of status based on faith. I choose to follow, serve, worship, and obey God, I’ve trusted the atoning sacrifice of Christ, I even pray, but this concept of a “personal relationship” eludes me. God seems distant, though Scripture assures me that He is near. That seems enough most of the time.

I think when people talk about having “personal relationship” with God we might want to challenge them to define what they mean by this. I suspect most are stating how those who trust God are in a new position. Being justified by faith, we are declared righteous, declared as God’s children, grafted onto the vine, etc. Previously dead in sin, we were God’s enemies. We now have a new status, a new standing. When we pray, God hears us, even though we don’t hear Him. When we read the Scriptures, we discover God’s will. When we hurt, God provides strength. When we grieve, He is our comfort. We might like more, but blessed are those who believe without hearing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas fantasy and reality

I wonder if Santa is the expression of wishful thinking, the desire for magic over faith amid difficulty, that we've invented out of hope that Christmas will be carefree? We hope "this Christmas things will be better," or as the sad song goes, "all our troubles will be out of sight." That's usually unrealistic. Life goes on, regardless of the season. Yesterday I visited a family grieving over the death of their son, something parents should never have to go through, and days before Christmas. All I can say is that Jesus came to die, to defeat death by His own, and for us. If there's no cross in the manger, we miss the point of it all. His death is what gives us hope, what really brings "joy to the world". And He is with us always, even when we walk the dark valley. We face tomorrow, not with wishful thinking or unrealistic hopes, but with confidence girded by faith that God somehow works all things together for our good and His glory.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tolerance and DADT

As a retired Army Chaplain, I have a concern about the repeal of DATD. Will chaplains who believe that same-sex attraction is not God’s design be demonized? Will they receive negative Officer Evaluation Reports and/or official letters of reprimand? Will they be forced out of the military?

Many chaplains believe that gambling, drinking alcohol, pornography, smoking, and premarital sex are sin, and that we're ALL sinners...and for the most part they have been protected for holding such beliefs. Chaplains welcome everyone at their chapel services, but that doesn’t mean they accept and affirm everyone’s behavior. Chaplains welcome adulterers, alcoholics, gamblers, fornicators, people who swear, and even pacifists. I was going to add over-eaters, but the military doesn’t accept fat people. Maybe some day they will. Some overweight people are convinced they have a “fat gene” and should have an equal right to serve in the military, along with people with physical handicaps.

Hatred or persecution of any group is sin. Yet to love all people does not mean one must accept all they do. In the repeal of DADT, service members will have to agree to disagree. Tolerance is not indifference or acceptance. We are not tolerant of something unless we object to it. True tolerance is valuing the right of another person to hold beliefs that we believe to be wrong. Let's hope this will become a non-issue. Let's hope that tolerance will be a two-way street.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

10 questions to ask at Christmas gatherings

Christmas is a time for gatherings of family and friends. The conversation is often about fond memories of Christmases past. Here's a list of questions designed not only to kindle a conversation in almost any Christmas situation, but also to take the dialogue gradually to a deeper level. Use them in a private conversation or as a group exercise, with believers or unbelievers, with strangers or with family.

1. What's the best thing that's happened to you since last Christmas?
2. What was your best Christmas ever? Why?
3. What's the most meaningful Christmas gift you've ever received?
4. What was the most appreciated Christmas gift you've ever given?
5. What was your favorite Christmas tradition as a child?
6. What is your favorite Christmas tradition now?
7. What do you do to try to keep Christ in Christmas?
8. Why do you think people started celebrating the birth of Jesus?
9. Do you think the birth of Jesus deserves such a nearly worldwide celebration?
10. Why do you think Jesus came to earth?

In preparing for Christmas gatherings, ask the Lord to grant you divine appointments to guide your conversation, and to open doors to communicate the Good News. May God empower and use you to bring glory to Christ this Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Advent Prayer

Gracious Jesus, the juxtaposition of images in the nativity scene are almost too much to wrap my tiny heart around. Your mother, Mary, is just beginning to nurse and know you. Even as I write these words I realize what a holy mystery and immeasurable condescension your incarnation was. You, the very God who created all things… the Lord who sustains all things by the power of your word...the King who is making all things a baby you drew life-sustaining nourishment from a young maiden’s breast. I’m stunned by your inconceivable humility--a humility that marked your life from cradle to cross.

Shepherds ran off to spread the word of your birth, while Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” “Hurrying off” like a shepherd to tell others about you has always been easier for me than sitting still and letting you tell me about yourself. It’s always been easier for me to do “productive” things for you, rather than spend undistracted, unrushed time with you. I confess this as sin, Jesus. This simply isn’t okay, for knowing about you is not the same thing as knowing you. An informed mind is not the same thing as an enflamed any stretch.

To know you is eternal life, and I do want to know you, much better than I already do. I want to treasure you in my heart and ponder who you are. I want to contemplate your joyful life within the Trinity, from all eternity. I want to marinate in everything you’ve already accomplished through your life, death and resurrection...and everything you’re presently doing as the King of kings and Lord of lords...and everything you will be to us in the new heaven and new earth--the Bridegroom of your beloved Bride.

O, blessed circuit board overloading and breaking glory...there’s so much to treasure and so much to ponder. It’s not as though I’m a stranger to treasuring and pondering. I treasure and ponder a lot of things, Jesus—things, however, that lead to a bankrupt impoverished heart...and a spent body.

Jesus, this very Advent season, by the power of the gospel, slow all of us down...settle us us on yourself, that each of us might say with awe and adoration, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And being with you, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Ps 73:25-26).” So very Amen, we pray, in your peerless and priceless name.

-Scottie Smith

Saturday, December 11, 2010


This posting is a bit of a rant (one of the purposes of blogs, right?)

Some people regard clergy as RSPs- Religious Service Providers. They call on pastors when there's a need for a wedding, baptism, or some crisis. I get the impression any pastor will do...then when they get what they need, it's "So long."

I went to the nearby Air Force Base to get a new will done. I asked to see a JAG officer, and it didn't matter which one. But the difference between a pastor and a JAG is that pastors truly hope to shepherd people, to have a personal relationship with them (apologies to those who have a friendship with their lawyers).

I had a woman come see for a baptism. I'd baptized her first child five years before, and hadn't seen her since. I asked her, "If you have no more children, will I never see you again?"

People are missing out on so much by regarding the church as just a place that provides religious services when needed. Every Sunday we're providing for the spiritual needs of people, and coming by for some "procedure" is hardly what the life of faith is about. The church offers worship, instruction, fellowship, and opportunities for service, and the pastor is more than merely a "Religious Service Provider."

Friday, December 10, 2010

The extent of God's love

We’re told in the Book of Revelation that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. How will that be accomplished if we have loved ones who are suffering in Hell? How will God console us? Will He wipe away our memories? I can’t imagine such a thing.

A comforting promise to believers with unbelieving loved ones is the assurance that one day “Every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess Christ, to the glory of God the Father” (Romans 14:11). These people will not be coerced but convinced. The original language indicates a willingness to declare Jesus as Lord. What does this mean with regard to those who have died without faith? Will they have another opportunity after death to receive Jesus? God can save everyone if He wanted to…does He not want to?

In comparing our ruin with God’s remedy, the Apostle Paul states that “in Adam all died; in Christ, all will be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:22). We agree the “all” of Adam refers to everyone…can we say the “all” who will be redeemed also refers to everyone, eventually? Does human choice end after death? Can people resist God forever? The very ones who came under condemnation, as a result of the first Adam’s disobedience, will eventually be brought to justification and life, as a result of the second Adam’s act of obedience. The first Adam brought doom upon all; the second Adam brings life to all. The Apostle Paul affirmed both human responsibility and the universal victory of God’s grace.

Knowing what we do about Hell, is divine punishment to be understood in terms of retribution or restoration? And while Hell exists in eternity (a realm beyond time), is the separation of Hell eternal? The Greek word used in our English translations to describe eternal/everlasting suffering could be translated “of an age”--a limited, defined period of time, which transcends time; a quality of time, but not endless.

How could eternal, conscious torment ever be the just punishment for the finite sins of any individual? This seems massively disproportionate. Christian scholarship has developed a theology of fear and arbitrary wrath. The alternative is hope.

It’s been said that people choose Hell, that Hell has “a door locked on the inside.” Yet if people choose horror over bliss, Hell over Heaven, does this defeat God, who desires that all be saved?

Let’s not limit God. C.S. Lewis noted: “We don’t know what the scope of God’s saving capacity is.” We all die physically--the wages (natural consequences) of sin, a severe mercy--but Paul rejoices that the last enemy to be overcome is death…through the powerful, inexhaustible, and perfect love of God. Do you know anyone who hopes this is not true?

Madeline L’Engle remarked: “I don’t think God is going to fail with Creation; I don’t believe in a failing God. Do you want God to fail? I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love. I know that a loving God will not abandon what He creates.”

This teaching is a paradigm shift from what we have heard in our evangelical churches, yet this hope does not mean that “all roads lead to God.” Christ is the only Way, Truth, and Life, and His vicarious atonement will cover the sins of the world. No one comes to the Father except through His Son. One day everyone will accept this truth, and the victory of God will be complete.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Every Christmas we encounter people who are offended by the term "Xmas", who object to "X-ing Christ out of Christmas." X can mean an unknown quantity, or a place, as in "X marks the spot." In the case of "Xmas" what we're dealing with is actually an abbreviation and transliteration. The name of Christ in Greek is xristos, sometimes spelled in English as Christos. In some churches you'll see the first two Greek letters superimposed, another abbreviation. There's no intended disrespect here, though in other ways we might well "put Christ back into Christmas" by focusing on His incarnation and by making holy this special time of the year.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Addiction and Satisfaction

"I can't get no satisfaction" sang Mick Jagger. When we choose not to get our needs met responsibly, we open ourselves to unrealistic, counter-productive, self-destructive options. Ultimately this is a spiritual disease stemming from rejection of God. When this happens, we experience pain and a longing for relief. Unless God is in our lives, we may fall prey to activities and/or substances that will consume and enslave us as unworthy masters. All substitutes for God only intensify the hunger for meaning we all have. Without God, we're "striving after wind," the point of Ecclesiastes. With God, we have purpose for living and new life to face tomorrow. We have contentment and satisfaction.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The power of appreciation

I got an email from an Army Chaplain friend who was in Giebelstadt, Germany having lunch at a Gasthaus (an Inn) and saw on the wall a framed certificate of appreciation I'd given the place for hosting a Valentine's banquet for my chapel congregation in 1997. This seemingly insignificant gesture of showing appreciation obviously meant a lot to them that it's still being displayed. Hearing this made me pleased that something I gave was on their wall (a place I'd sure like to have dinner at now--no German restaruants around here!), and it made me realize how important it is to express thanks to people. I had a Commander at the same time who had a habit of saying frequently to his staff, "Thanks for all you do." Like my certificate, it was a simple thing, but I believe when we take the time to give an "atta-boy" it makes a difference...or as a soldier told me once, "Getting praise is like getting paid."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Selective Censorship

Someone builds a snowman who looks like a klansman, and there is (justifiable) outrage...yet the "ant-covered Jesus" at a Smithsonian exhibit is apparantly OK. Granted, it was (finally) removed, but not before the liberal media protested at the narrow-mindedness of Christians. Give me a break. It seems that offending Christians is acceptable these days, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for objecting to any sort of blasphemy. Good grief.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What if...

What would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone? What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets? What if we flipped through it several times a day? What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it? What if we used it to receive messages from the text? What if we treated it like we couldn’t live without it? What if we used it when we travelled? Unlike our cell phone, we don’t have to worry about our Bible getting out of range. No dropped calls! What we need is right there where we need it.

the Road Cutter & Puppies

This is an Advent devotional from Jeffrey Arthurs of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, based on 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

As we wait for the second Advent, Scripture tells us Satan prowls like a lion, or in the context of this passage, he is a “road cutter.” That term comes from 1 Thessalonians 2:18: “Satan hindered us.” The term “hinder” was originally a military term meaning to “chop” or “cut.” In the ancient world, retreating armies would chop up the road behind them to hinder the advancing army. That’s what Satan does. He hinders the advancement of the gospel by destroying the testimony of the messengers, by causing disunity and by persecuting the witnesses; and that can turn us into “puppies.” The word for “unsettled” in 3:3 was used to describe the wriggling and shaking of puppies. No wonder the apostle thanks God that his dear people in Thessalonica were standing firm (vs. 8), and no wonder he prays that God would strengthen their hearts (vs. 13). As Satan tries to delay, hinder and stop the spread of the gospel, may you be strengthened, and may you be blameless and holy in the presence of God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again (vs. 13).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

During Advent we live in two worlds...

There’s the secular celebration, with Frosty and Rudolph. People in stores wish us “Happy Holiday” and we may feel like asking, “Which one?” I’m tempted to wish store clerks “Happy Holiday” on Presidents’ Day and the 4th of July.

And there’s the other world, a world of wonder. We come to church and re-focus. We are reminded of why this is a special time. It’s not just the presents and parties, it’s not the decorations (and there’s nothing wrong with these things). The only thing that matters is the coming of Christ to a world in great need.

The two worlds frequently intersect. When they do, we’re given a wonderful opportunity to communicate JOY to the world. There are some Scrooges out there, some skeptics, even some pagans (who only observe the Winter Solstice), and many for whom the holiday is entirely secular…but there are also some who see the wonder and are open to hear the Good News of Christmas.

CS Lewis summed up the message of Christmas: 'The Son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of God.' This is the message we proclaim to a world weary of the stresses of the season. To a people who have bashed expectations, we offer something firm and unchanging. The Messiah is born and can be born in us.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Trying Church

If you’re no longer attending church, what caused you to leave? Was someone unkind to you? Were the messages not meeting your needs? Was the music not to your taste? Did you have a doctrinal disagreement? Were you starting to get lazy? When was the last time you “tried” church?

Someone told me he had a bad experience in church so he stopped attending altogether. I responded that I had a bad experience at a restaurant so I don’t eat out anymore. That’s just as ludicrous, don’t you think? So something happened at your church. You can deal with it, or depart…but to stop worshipping only punishes you. Find some other place to grow spiritually; otherwise you may well stop growing.

Church has resources for spiritual growth. Here’s an analogy: you can work out without using a gym and you can learn without going to school, but these “institutions” make it easier. They’re designed to do so. In the same way, the church helps us be what God wants us to be.

This brings up the argument I hear that “I can be a Christian on my own.” Individualism is a big thing today. People rely on technology more than community. But how are you growing if not at church? Do you faithfully pray and read the Bible? Do you listen to Christian music? Do you read Christian books? Go on religious websites? What do you do about the Lord’s Supper? And what are you doing to serve the Lord?

Some people stop attending church because they’re unhappy with the only “version” of the church they’ve known. One advantage I’ve had as an Army Chaplain is seeing the vast diversity of worship styles—contemporary, traditional, liturgical, Gospel, emerging, charismatic, blended, and so on. I recently read a book by a woman who visited a different church every Sunday of the year. There are a lot of varying styles. Churches are somewhat like restaurants, when you come to think of it. They’re not all the same.

A former interim pastor of my church told me, “If you really love the Lord, you’ll crawl on your hands and needs to get to church.” Sounds a bit harsh, but get the intent—if we’re really are committed to Christ, we won’t let anything interfere with this necessity. We need what the church supplies. John Calvin said “You can’t have God as your Father without the church as your mother.” Going on your own is playing games with God. We need one another. Paul in the book of Romans says we need to “rejoice with those rejoicing and weep with those who weep.” Church supplies a place to do just that.

Worship isn’t optional. The bottom line is this: We worship because God deserves it, we need it, and Scripture commands it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A veteran's prayer for Veterans Day

Author of Liberty, as veterans we appreciate the acknowledgement of our grateful nation. It’s wonderful to be recognized for our service, but we’re simply glad to have had the privilege of serving. Not everyone who wanted to serve had the opportunity, yet their prayerful support sustained us in difficult times. We thank You, Lord of hosts, for opening the door so that we could give back to our country. Some of us didn’t have a choice, while others served in the all-volunteer military. Either way, we look back with fond (and a few not so fond) memories of experiences that helped define who we are today. And we can hardly take all the credit, for Your hand was upon us, strengthening us for the task. You made us fit for battle and helped us bring peace to a troubled world. Equip us all to be instruments of Your peace. All glory to You, O Lord, Amen.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thanksgiving prayer

To Thee, O Lord, we offer our thanks:
For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wisdom when Christians differ...

I attended a seminar at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary this week, and presenter Dr Garry Frieseen made the following points on handling differences when our doctrinal viewpoints (our theology) differs:

-Learn to distinguish between matters of command and matters of freedom (Romans 14:14 & 20).

-On debatable issues, cultivate your own convictions (Romans 14:5).

-Allow your friends the freedom to determine their own convictions, even when they differ from yours (Romans 1-2).

-Let your liberty be limited, when necessary, by love (Romans 14:13-15:2).

-Follow Christ as the model and motivator of servanthood (Romans 15:3-13).

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Sunday afternoon I participated in the commissioning of a Navy Chaplain aboard the USS Constitution in Boston harbor. As the LTJG's mentor it has been a satisfying culmination of helping in the preparation of a seminarian for military service. The chaplaincy is a unique institutional ministry, unlike traditional parish work in many ways. There are unique challenges and opportunities with the military lifestyle. As a retired chaplain, after 25 years I departed the Army with fond memories and no regrets. I wish the same for this young Navy Chaplain.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Handling the aftermath of suicide

A teen committed suicide in my town this past week. Now his friends and family have to deal with a myriad of emotions. Here's some hope for survivors...

• You may be experiencing a complicated grief by dealing with both love and anger towards the person and the stigma of suicide. You may also be falling into the unhealthy guilt game (“If only I did….”). We’re accountable for our choices only.

• Pain is universal and unique; we all grieve in our own time and fashion. Don’t listen to anyone who disapprovingly tells you to “be strong” or “get over it.” Eventually you’ll begin to feel the pain less frequently.

• Your church is a safe place to struggle openly, a place where you’ll receive non-judgmental, non-critical support among friends.

• You may be trying to attach blame in an effort to resolve the unknown “whys”, especially when there are few clues as to why your loved one chose a desperate, permanent, unnecessary solution.

• You could be struggling with “role hiatus;” in other words, who will fill the shoes and assume your loved one’s functions. You may feel unable to deal with personal effects. You don’t have to do anything right away.

• You need to be able to express your sorrow uncensored; tears are healthy, appropriate, and necessary for healing and talking is therapeutic…sometimes people grieve with what seems like inappropriate laughter, withdrawal, or uncharacteristic anger.

• Survivors often feel that they should not show their grief due to the social stigma of suicide; you may need encouragement to grieve.

• You may take on heightened activity as a substitute for grief. Some people channel their pain into positive activities, like supporting suicide prevention organizations.

• You likely will have some unresolved issues & unfinished business.

• Consider journaling, or writing a letter to the deceased, or join a grief support group.

• The bottom-line is: “No good thing has happened here…but we can rely on God’s grace.” Your goal is not to forget the pain of the past but to move on to the business of living.

• We’re not limited to human resources. Jesus gave His followers this promise: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, and do not be afraid....Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


We need one another; we can't make progress spiritually by ourselves. Here's a great quote from Madeline L'Engle:

"If I am attempting to understand what it means to be a Christian, this cannot be done in lofty find God only in private ways is to break off from the Body, to leave the mainland, and ultimately to worship myself more than my Creator."

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Confession is a spiritual discipline and means of grace. It is a way in which we connect to God in a healing manner, opening up to all sorts of possibilities of transformation and renewal. Without confession, we remain stuck in our sins and hang-ups and prejudices.

Confession means telling ourselves the truth--about us, about our situation. To confess means we agree with God that a deed or thought is wrong. We can get so used to the unhealthy mess we’re in we think that it’s normal, when it is anything but. Confession means waking up to reality, seeing life from God’s perspective, claiming ownership of our choices, and taking off our blinders so we can see clearly what’s wrong and what needs to change.

Confession is the first step of repentance, a turning away from actions that are hurting us and others. Repentance is surrender to the Lordship of Christ, a change of heart and direction. We won’t change direction till we realize we’re on the wrong path.

Confessing our sins before God tells God something He already knows. Yet the act of confession draws us closer to God and helps us experience His grace. In confession we humbly make ourselves vulnerable and dependent. We do more than bring information; we bring our hearts.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rest in grace

-from a book review in Christianity Today magazine...

"We do not have to compete for grace, mine for it, earn it, or pay for it. It does not come and go. We can only rest in grace, thus becoming agents of grace. When we rest from our frantic labor, we are being asked to trust another that everything is going to be okay. We don't have to save ourselves; we are being saved. We do not have to fret and flail and snatch. We are being cared for."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Koran controversy

I'm waiting for someone to threaten to delete a Koran from a Kindle or other e-book device. Seriously, this whole matter is distressing on many levels. The Florida fringe minister got his 15 minutes, so now let's concentrate on relevant ways to resolve the hostility. On a related note, someone wrote TIME magazine claiming that people in our country don't want Moslems to build mosques. This is ridiculous--the concern is over the LOCATION. It seems a good time to ask the question WWJD? Also, whatever happened to "Blessed are the peacemakers"?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


An Iranian cleric has proclaimed the Holocaust as "superstition", in spite of the fact that eye-witnesses are still around today to testify to the truth of this horrific event. I'm reminded of the Apostle Paul reminding his Corinthian readers that over 500 people saw the resurrected Christ. It was as if he were suggesting, "If you don't believe me, ask them!" For some people, no amount of evidence will suffice. Refusal to believe keeps people in the dark; it's as if they don't want to know the truth.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chaplain (CPT) Dale Goetz

Chaplain (CPT) Dale Goetz was killed in action in Afghanistan Monday. He was assigned to the 1-66 Armor Bn, 4th ID. This is the first Chaplain combat death since 1970.

We who serve or have served in harm's way know full well the risks of military service, but none of us like to dwell on this; our lives are in God's hands. Our intention is to carry out our mission and return home.

The Apostle Paul never served in the military, but as a tentmaker he compared death to the striking of a tent, folding it up, and moving on to our permanent home. Soldiers spend a lot of time in tents, looking foward to homecoming...but for some, their lives are cut short by the nature of war. Ch (CPT) Goetz served within a chain-of-command, but his ultimate Commander was the Lord Jesus Christ, Who has promoted him and welcomed him to his true home.

Let's remember Dale's wife and three children, and pray that they will find peace in the midst of their pain.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

the blessing of a stolen book

At least a year ago I lent someone my copy of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Normally I write down who has borrowed my books, but somehow I failed to do so...and never got it back. A bit disgruntled, I bought another copy, one without my notes in the margins and underlining. So I decided to read it again (the third time). It was like reading it for the first time, except for the familiar quotes that seem to read like Scripture (I know Lewis isn't inspired, but he seems close). While not my favorite Lewis book (that would be The Great Divorce), this is considered his magnum opus. People tell me it is a difficult book to read. On one level that's true; it deals with deep subjects...but there is no theological jargon or intellectual language. The result is a book that is simple yet profound. I hate to lose books, but Lewis himself when asked if we would have books in Heaven replied, "Only those we were willing to lend."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Managing Quotations

When I was a new Christian I began recording catchy quotes in the back of my Bible. After awhile I needed more pages and bought a journal. After awhile, my journal became cumbersome since these quotations weren't in any order. Eventually I put them in a MS-Word document, alphabetized by topic. Now when I hear or read a quote worth saving, it goes into the "quotations" document. Whenever I finish reading a book, I review what I've underlined and usually a few end up in my collection. I've been doing this for many years, and I'm getting close to 200 pages (if you'd like a copy, send me an email). When I prepare a sermon, I find this a helpful and quick way to find good quotes. This is something I'd recommend to anyone, an organized way to retain thoughts worth saving.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

the Mercy Seat

I heard Dr. Drake Williams from Tyndale Theological Seminary in the Netherlands speak on Romans 3:20, "God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished"

Dr. Williams pointed out some significant differences in translation for a phrase in verse 25…

NIV: “sacrifice of atonement” –Christ's death takes away sin.
KJV, ESV: “propitiation” –God’s wrath has been satisfied by thee sacrifice of Christ.
RSV, NAB: “expiation”/NAB God’s wrath has been covered and appeased; our condition has been rendered favorable.
NET, Tyndale: “mercy seat” Jesus is the mercy seat who intercepts God’s wrath and restores us to a relationship with God. *This is the most exact rendering of the Greek.

This Greek word is rendered "mercy seat" in Hebrews 9:5 as well. Under the Old Covenant, sins were forgiven but not absolutely/permanently taken away. Temple sacrifices had to be repeated; the Cross is the new Temple, and Christ’s blood covers our sin. The work is done.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Innocent" and "unjust"

I was reading an interview with a Moslem who was attempting to state the case that Islam is a religion of peace. Regarding so-called "extremists", she claimed that "we reject killing innocent people", then went on to quote the Qur'an, "If you kill one person unjustly it is as if you have killed the whole of humanity unjustly."

The problem with this is that Moslem leaders claimed that no "innocent" people died on 9/11, and that they died "justly". This is the problem we have with Islam claiming to be a religion of peace.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dante's Infirmary

Book Review: Paradise General by Dave Hnida
Having served as an Army chaplain with the 28th CSH in Desert Storm, I was eager to read how another CSH did in Iraq, which the author dubbed "Dante's Infirmary" and "Paradise General." Major Dave Hnida is a Reserve doctor who was assigned to the 399th CSH during the surge, which means he was kept busy every single day with horrific injuries. He was old enough to be most of his patients' father, which is one reason he volunteered to serve. Another was the service of his dad in WWII. I've read a lot of books about combat, but none as engaging as Paradise General, the best first-person account I've ever read about war...but as Dave says, it's really a book about life. He takes the reader into his experience of arriving as a fish out of water from a family practice to the very worst imaginable injuries ("the rude unhinging of the machinery of life") and operating under less-than-desirable conditions. A bond quickly formed with fellow physicians, and at times the narrative reads like a sequel to MASH. I found myself laughing and getting choked up with every chapter. As a chaplain, I appreciated his mention of faith, and I understand his reluctance to attend "military-style hooah chapel" services, which some chaplains are guilty of conducting. But his faith and friends get him through this hellish ordeal. He complains about the bureaucracy of the military subculture, but not with what troops call an "attitude problem." The little things, like the battle to get a decent cup of coffee (and NOT "foo foo coffee"), and the practical jokes the doctors played on one another are hilarious. He describes in detail the human face of the war, and how "some wounds just aren't fixable." The language is rough, but realistic, especially in a combat environment. There are stories you'll want to read again, and observations you'll want to remember. Don't get this from the library; you'll want your own copy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Another Sunday walk

I was asked this morning to support an organization holding a walk on a Sunday morning, which seems the time period for most walks these days, regardless of the cause. Why not Saturday or Sunday afternoon? Why are all these walks held during morning worship? Perhaps because the public deems Sunday morning a prime time to hold an event since nothing important is going on during that time--in their opinion. I do not support these events, no matter how worthy the cause. I respect the Lord's Day and it is not asking too much to expect organizations to hold their fundraisers (or awareness raisers) at some other time.

Monday, July 5, 2010

What defines us?

As I talk with people, I often wonder what defines them…
-Their politics?
-Their health?
-Their jobs?
-Their relationships?
-Their interests and hobbies?
-Their faith?

And the answer is, to some degree, all of these. But which has prominence in their lives? Perhaps what they talk about the most. When I visit a shut-in, and all I hear are health concerns, and none of the other “defining” matters, I pretty-much know what has priority. Poor health can certainly seize our attention, but should it define us? I knew of a cancer patient who didn’t want to do a cancer walk because she was tired of being defined as a cancer patient…and that made perfect sense to me.

I would hope that our position as followers of Christ would get some priority. But if we never talk about our faith, perhaps it is a minor matter. May God get our attention so that we might give Christ preeminence.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

2 options

As I see it, there are only two options in life:

1) There is a God who made this world and has a purpose for it;

2) Everything came about by accident and nothing matters.

Which option seems best for you? I honestly can't think of any other option.

It’s one or the other: faith, or despair...meaning or meaningless...hope or futility.

The beauty of this world leads me to believe in a creative God who made us and the world in which we live. I believe we need to seek Him. I believe we can find Him. He's spoken to us--in the Bible. And His fingerprints are everywhere. A nature photographer observed, “Sunsets are God’s final brushstrokes on the beauty of the day.”

Without God, there is no basis for ethics. Why do atheists want there to be no God? So they can be free to do as they like. Without moral absolutes we’re left with personal preferences. But if God exists, it matters what we believe and how we live.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why I go to church

At a clergy roundtable discussion at Gordon-Conwell Seminary this week, one of the pastors gave an interesting reason why someone in his church decided to start attending his church. The reason: "I've got to find a better story than the one I'm living." I think if we were honest most of us would have to agree that the way we're going about life isn't working. We need a better Way. Our hope isn't found in education, political or economic reform...but in the comfort and direction God offers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Protesting teachers

This past week, public high school teachers protested their own students who were being honored for their choice to serve in our nation's military at a special assembly. They held up anti-military protest signs, claiming First Amendment privilege...if this was appropriate, then it may well also be appropriate for their students to hold up signs protesting their teachers during class.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Where did she think she was studying?

According to Christianity Today magazine, a Muslim student campaigned to have the phrase "in the Year of our Lord" removed from her diploma, because it referenced Jesus Christ. The school? Trinity University. Maybe her diploma should list the school as "University."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The questions we ask future pastors

Candidates for the ministry go before rigorous Vicinage Councils at which their theological positions are put under a microscope. I've attended two recently and was surprised at how few questions were asked about pastoral ministry. I'm assuming that, with a seminary education and a position paper I've already read, the candidate is doctrinally sound. Any concerns would be raised with their paper (which we don't need to dissect). What I want to know is whether this person is capable of working with people and ready to serve in a church. Most Vicinage Councils seek to determine if the candidate is a theologian. Doctrine matters, believe me, but the reason most pastors quit the ministry is due to a lack of people skills. Plus if the person is wanting to serve as a military chaplain, I have a host of other questions to ask to determine his/her readiness for this unique institutional calling. It is time to re-look the process of examining/appraising those who wish to serve.

Monday, May 31, 2010

the Annisquam

In case you're wondering, the photo above is the Annisquam lighthouse off the coast of Cape Ann/Gloucester where the Annisquam River merges with the ocean. It's a great place for kayaking. There are so many scenic paddling places in the north shore and this is one of the best. Though we're living in a fallen world we can still get some glimpses of Paradise and anticipate the new earth that one day God will bring about, Eden restored, and a Day when "the knowledge of God will fill the earth as the waters cover the seas" (Isaiah 11:9).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Memorial Day

It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the minister, who has given us freedom of religion (unless he's an Army Chaplain!).
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,who has given us freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.
-Father Denis Edward O’Brien, USMC

Friday, May 21, 2010

True Followers

Are we true followers of Christ, or just believers according to contemporary standards? What does it really mean to be a “follower” of Christ? Jesus said, “If any of you want to be My follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:25). Taking up our cross means putting to death any plans or priorities that are self-centered and out of line with God’s will. We discover the will of God by first being willing to yield to God, letting Jesus be our Lord and Master. Being a disciple may involve some self-denial. The closest contemporary word to “disciple” is “apprentice”. We learn the Christian life by living it, often guided by others and by the time we spend in the Bible and on our knees. We may want to follow Jesus, but we sometimes are apt to tell Jesus what we need instead of surrendering to Him. When we pray, do we issue orders or report for duty? Discipleship means learning how to listen to Jesus, not getting Him to listen to us.

Jesus was approached by a wealthy young man (in Mark chapter 10) who wanted to know how to get to Heaven. He was disappointed to learn that Jesus wanted total commitment. Jesus knew that this young man had made an idol of wealth, and before we can come to God, we have to be willing to forsake anything that’s in the way. An idol is anything we trust in and love more than God. We can make an idol of our possessions, our education, even our relationships. When we put Jesus first, everything else in life fits into place. But it takes discipline to be a disciple. We need to make time for Bible study, worship, fellowship and Christian service. A pro football player expressed his passion for the game when he shared his personal motto: “Go hard or go home!” We could use the same commitment.

The time to be a follower of Jesus is NOW. It’s ludicrous to think, “I’ll visit people in the hospitals and prisons and nursing homes when I get to Heaven and have the time. I’ll tell people about Jesus and I’ll hand out Bibles to the lost.” We show that we believe Jesus by making Him part of every decision, every project. A man went to pick up his wife from church one Sunday. When she got into the car, he jokingly said, “So I guess the sermon’s finally over, huh?” She answered, “No, the sermon is only half-over. The Pastor is done preaching it, but now I need to go do it.” If we’re not living what we learn in church, all we’re left with are unfinished sermons. Let’s give the Master our all!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Anti-Semitism and self-hatred

I think it’s important that the we understand the roots of anti-Semitism, and why it goes against the teachings of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments...

Initial animosity towards the Jews among the early followers of Christ was not possible, because the overwhelming majority were Jews. The Messiah’s arrival was the culmination of Judaism, and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. John the Baptist, who heralded the advent of Jesus, is often regarded as the “last Old Testament prophet” in that he was the last link in the prophetic chain. One has to only look through the Gospel genealogies to see the Jewish heritage of Jesus. The Apostle Paul, who was trained as a Pharisee, admitted that the Gospel was “for the Jew first” (Romans 1:16). Paul didn’t view Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism. Faith in Christ the Messiah was the fulfillment of all Old Testament hopes and promises. Since Hebrew culture gave birth to Christianity, we find our true identity in connection with Israel. We could not exist without Judaism. The more biblical we become, the more Judaic we will be.

Jesus used Hebraic images to show His connection with Judaism: He stated that He was the true Vine, the Passover bread, the Temple and the atoning sacrifice. He declared that He was the embodiment of these Jewish symbols. Jesus did not start a non-Jewish Church.

Animosity towards the Jewish nation came for two reasons: First is the crucifixion of Christ. We need to understand that a small, special interest group, not the majority of Jews, but a faction in Jerusalem, put political pressure on Pontius Pilate, who lacked the integrity to refuse them. The Apostles’ Creed doesn’t blame the Jews, but states that Christ was “crucified under Pontius Pilate”. The buck stops in ancient Rome.

Although Jesus proclaimed Himself Israel’s Messiah, He was not theirs exclusively. He came for Gentiles as well, and gradually with massive conversions, the makeup of the fellowship of believers became increasingly non-Jewish. The move to Sunday worship was in part to focus on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, but also to distinguish Christian worship from Judaism and Sabbath traditions. Many Christians today believe we need to return to our Hebraic roots. Paul states in Galatians that when non-Jews receive Jesus as Lord, they become the spiritual seed of Abraham. This means that we are linked to the father of Judaism. To hate Jews is to hate one’s self. There is no room for hatred in any form in Christian thinking. We disagree with Jews regarding the Person and Work of Christ, but Scripture compels us to do so lovingly. Anti-Semitism is inconsistent with the love Jesus taught us to show towards all people.

God loves Israel. The Psalmist has declared, “the Lord has chosen Israel to be His treasured possession” (Ps 135:4). Zechariah records God’s warning to those who oppose Israel: “whoever touches you touches the apple of My eye” (2:8). The Jewish nation has maintained its ethnic identity in spite of numerous dispersions and persecutions, and according to Paul in Romans 11, God is not finished with His chosen people. He has a special future for them, in spite of their rejection of Jesus. They have stumbled, Paul states, but they have not fallen “beyond recovery” (vs. 11).

We see Christianity as a “Western religion”, but it is not. We have westernized Christianity by imposing our culture onto it. But Christianity is Jewish. As we study the First Testament, we Gentiles should see it as part of our story. From our Western/American cultural perspective the culture, customs, and traditions of Israel may seem strange, even alien to our experience. Yet when we trace our spiritual roots, we find the rich heritage of our father Abraham.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Vicinage Councils and Mentored Ministry

Today our church convened a Vicinage Council to appraise the gifts and calling of a young man for the US Navy Chaplaincy. A diverse group of pastors, chaplains and seminary professors gathered to ask some challenging questions after the reading of the candidate's ordination paper, an overview of his theological positions and pastoral vision.

It is a wonderful thing when a local church can participate in the preparation of future clergy. We've been investing in our time to mentor and encourage two young men training for ministry. The Army used to have a slogan, "We don't ask for experience, we give it." I am convinced that this future chaplain will be better equipped to serve effectively in the Navy and manage to meet the unique challenges of military ministry.

Churches that are near seminaries should open their doors to seminarians and offer them an opportunity to learn by doing. Pastors should take the time to teach the skills that seminaries often don't cover. I think back on my seminary days; I learned theology but when called on to conduct my first funeral, I had no preparation whatsoever. I want to make sure this doesn't happen to others.

Being a mentor is an important work. The Apostle Paul was careful to develop Timothy, and seasoned clergy should be generous with sharing the wisdom of their experience to the next generation of clergy, to the glory of God

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Natural Selection & the Fall

I've been reading about how Darwin's natural selection contradicts the notion of God creating a world that He would call "good". Why would any Creator fashion a world in which animals prey on others and disease and death reign? Because this world isn't the world God originally fashioned. The world as we now see it isn't what it was originally. The Fall of humankind turned a garden into a grave. We have no concept of an innocent, pre-fall world. Yet in spite of it all, even our fallen world is pretty amazing, as secular nature videos can attest. When Jesus returns, He will right every wrong and the New Earth will be most unlike the present corrupted planet in which we live.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

-order and complexity-

I've been reading about Intelligent Design and atheism lately, and I've been wondering if atheists believe that the world has merely the appearance of purpose. It simply doesn't look like an accident (or series of accidents) caused the world to be as it appears. I also wonder on what basis atheists choose to be ethical rather than amoral, since if there are no fixed moral absolutes, why bother to be good (in fact, "good" is a non-issue in such a world). I've probably said this before, but a world without God is left with arbitrary preferences at best and anarchy at worst. The world may function better with standards, but without a fixed moral basis, every value may be questioned and rejected outright. The other day I read in the newspaper a letter to the editor declaring a questionable activity as moral. On what basis? Personal opinion? That is hardly an adequate criteria. Let's get back to a theistic worldview.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Like many churches and ministries, giving is down a bit at our church. We're living in tough economic times. People should give what they can afford while giving the work of God a high priority. Attitude is more important than amount. We trust God to provide our needs, and therefore we give generously, systematically, proportionately,and gladly. By giving cheerfully we are most like God, Who is a cheerful Giver. John Wesley urged, "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can." We need to offer God our time, talent, and treasure. Our gifts to God become a gift of ourselves. We also need to reflect on how tied we are to material comforts, and perhaps take an assessment on how we're spending our money. Maybe we can't afford to give in church because we've been maxing out our credit cards by over-indulgence. A simpler, more disciplined lifestyle might keep us from going overboard financially. None of this is easy...but God can supply us the grace to do the right thing.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


When I was an Army Chaplain I got to go TDY (temporary duty) for training, often a month at a time, at least once or twice a year. I received an entire year of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) at Brooke Army Medical Center when I was a Major. Now that I'm a civilian Pastor I find it harder to renew myself and refresh my vision. I've contacted scores of retreat/conference centers and they'll let me stay a few days...which is hardly what I need. I've asked to get put part-time on staff only to be told it would be "logistically unfeasable." There ought to be a retreat center designed for clergy sabbaticals where a minister could go (with spouse) for at least 2 months. There'd be worship and educational sessions, recreation, a library, and some one-on-one spiritual guidance. If I had the wherewithal I'd try to establish such a center myself. Most clergy I know keep plugging away year-after-year with a couple of vacation weeks per year, usually scheduled around the annual denominational meeting. It's not working. We could simply sit in our living rooms for a month, but that's a terrible idea. To remain effective, ministers need to break away from the responsibilities that consume them and work on personal renewal. I know a lot of's not happening.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Offering what they already had...

When the serpent tempted Eve to sin, he held out a promise: "You will be like God." He went on to explain why: "You'll know good from evil." She already knew right from wrong--God explained what was allowed and forbidden. As for being "like God", her and Adam already were like God, having been created in God's image. By sinning, they became less like God.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Man's maker was made man...

-that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
-that the Bread might hunger;
-the Fountain thirst;
-the Light sleep;
-the Way be tired on its journey;
-that Truth might be accused of false witness;
-the Teacher be beaten with whips;
-the Foundation be suspended on wood;
-that Strength might grow weak;
-that the Healer might be wounded;
-that Life might die.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"The church is full of hypocrites"

Are all politicians corrupt?
Are all pro athletes on steroids?
Are all journalists biased?
Are all soldiers war-mongers?
Are all lawyers unethical?
Are all CEOs pragmatists?
Are all Christians hypocrites?

When people disgrace their profession, rebuke them, not their profession or what it stands for...don’t dismiss theism because some "professing believers" aren’t living their faith.

Followers of Christ model pilgrimage, not perfection. We are "works in progress."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

From fear to faith

When I was an Army Chaplain, I invariably would be asked by Commanders during field exercises to pray for good training weather. And I would be reminded of General George Patton’s Chaplain. You may know the story. On December 14th, 1944, on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge, Patton called his Third Army Chaplain into his office and told him he wanted to publish a prayer for good weather. Now, what most people don’t know is that Patton also said to his Chaplain, “With your prayer, and my relationship with God, we’ll have good weather to fight.” When I explained this to one of my Commanders, he said, “Chaplain, we’re in trouble.” Patton’s Chaplain received the Bronze Star for his prayer. Since then, most Commanders have regarded Chaplains as meteorologists, even though we’re really in sales, not management!

Patton was known for being a fearless Commanding General. Listen to a few of his famous quotes:

o “Fear kills more people than death.”
o “There is only one direction—forward!”
o “The person who cannot face a fear will always be running from it.”
o “The courageous man is the man who forces himself, in spite of his fear, to carry on.”
o “You are not beaten until you admit it. Hence, DON’T.”

The reason Patton was able to face his fears and engage the enemy courageously was simple. Patton explained that the reason Patton conquered his fear was by reading the Bible (“every #@&*% day!”). While Patton’s language was typically soldier-rough, he sincerely trusted the promises of God in Scripture. Like King David, he declared, “God trains my hands for battle; He gives me His shield of victory and His right hand sustains me” (Psalm 18:34-35).

I don’t regard myself as an exceptionally courageous person, but when I entered Iraq during Desert Storm I wasn’t afraid. My confidence was not due to our effective weaponry, but due to God’s watch-care. I knew He was with me every step of the way. Because of God, we can face life and death.

In II Timothy 1:7, Paul explains, “God has not given us a spirit of fear/timidity, but a spirit of power, love and of self-discipline.” This is also the theme of the Old Testament Minor Prophets book of Habakkuk, in which the prophet encourages Israel to move from fear to faith in times of trouble.

While fear can mar our effectiveness as Christians and cause us to worry how people may respond to our efforts to express our faith, God can grant us boldness. We can serve God with confidence. We can be fearless because the Spirit is with us and gives us the ability to serve God effectively. Faith casts out fear, and helps us to see life from God’s viewpoint.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Vampire mania

Here's an excerpt from Penguins & Golden Calves by Madeline L'Engle:

Many bestselling books today offer despair to a world crying out for hope...Why are vampires so hugely popular in books today? Do they offer to their readers a promise of immortality that seems more real to them that that affirmed by a church which stumbles over the Resurrection? Are vampires taking up where their church leaves off? Satan quickly moves into such openings. I asked one vampire fan, "Is that really the kind of immortality you want? Do you want to live at the expense of some else's life, someone you have to kill?"
"Well, but not all vampires do that."
"Yes, they do. There's no other way for a vampire to go on living but to drink a living person's blood."
Jesus did not drink other people's blood. He gave us His own--a very different thing. Would vampires be so popular if we remembered that?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


“Work worthy of the vocation to which you’ve been called” (Ephesians 4:1). The Apostle Paul is urging us to take seriously the path God has planned out for us. We’re to seek His will and follow it with integrity.

At my Army retirement ceremony I stated how God was redirecting my calling from military to civilian ministry. Afterwards my Executive Officer, a fellow Lieutenant Colonel, came up to me and said he had no idea what I meant by a “calling”. I was stunned, especially since this Field Grade officer was immensely dedicated to the Army.

Many people lack a sense of calling. Certain few professions are considered callings, like teaching, the pastorate, and healthcare…but what does that mean with regard to other lines of work? If we’re not in one of the “called” professions are we free to pursue whatever captures our interest? Does it matter what we do? Some are relieved that they don’t feel called. But no one is exempt in God’s providence.

One reason some people feel a lack of job satisfaction is due to a lack of calling. Peter Kreeft observes, “If you do not believe in what you do, you cannot love it.” “It’s just a job,” and Paul’s admonition doesn’t apply…so they think.

In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky tells of two hospital cleaning crews--one with a high sense of calling, and one without. The workers who saw their labor as “just a job” disliked cleaning, felt it was a low-level, demeaning job, and thus only performed the minimum required work. The workers who felt their work was a calling believed they were bettering the lives of patients, visitors, and staff. They enjoyed cleaning, did more than was required, interacted with people, and saw themselves as having an impact on wellness as part of the healing environment.

A good friend of mine called himself an “ordained plumber.” He got it right! It matters what we do, and God has a plan for our lives, for each of us. We need to seek His will and follow it. Charles Spurgeon urged, “There is no comfort more desirable than the confidence that you have aimed at doing your Lord’s will.”


Romans 5:1-2: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God."

We are placed in new relationship to God, resulting in peace. “We are no longer the objects of God’s displeasure” (Hodge). A popular definition of justification is this: it’s “just as if I’d never sinned.” The only righteousness God accepts is His own. Jesus supplies what God demands. As a result, the weight of our guilt is gone. We are already in Heaven legally--and there is no hassle at the border!

Forgiveness is negative--justification is positive. Forgiveness deals with sin that has been committed and pardoned; justification deals with the new position and relationship of the restored believer. Justification is a permanent yet progressive gift.

This new position results in “peace”--not referring to calm serenity but the resolution of conflict/cessation of hostility; a condition, not a feeling. God is at peace with us. The war/conflict is over; we’ve accepted God’s terms for peace. Those who rely on works to save can have no peace.

What does it mean to you personally to have peace with God?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ironies in Jacob's life

The ironies of Jacob’s life…or what goes around, comes around!

Jacob deceives...........................Jacob is deceived

He doesn’t respect the first-born sibling...He marries first-born Leah

He follows his mother’s scheme...He flees, never sees her again

He schemes to get the inheritance...He arrives at Haran with nothing

Birthright deal with Esau......Laban deals for 7-yr employment

He wears Esau’s clothes....................Leah’s veiled in bridal attire

He relies on Isaac’s blindness.............It is dark in the tent

He serves Isaac a goat (not game)...Goat’s blood on Joseph’s robe

Esau has to live with the outcome..........Jacob gets unwanted wife

His parents have favorite siblings...Jacob sadly has a favored wife


I know of a minister who pretty much "beats up" his congregation every Sunday, confronting them with their sinful short-comings, exhorting them to strive for an unattainable level of personal holiness, then sending them on their way home feeling miserable. A lot of people come into church already feeling defeated--they sure don't need to depart feeling worse. I've always believed that a major purpose of preaching is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I speak as a wounded healer to wounded people every Sunday. I minister out of my own pain, and hold out hope to hurting people. That doesn't mean pastors shouldn't challenge their congregations, but exhortation needs to come within the context of exegetical preaching. Let the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, do the convicting.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Thanks to television and movies, many people simply do not read books anymore. I think what helped me to attain a love for reading was growing up in Germany without television. I visited the Post Library often and have retained my reading lifestyle to this day. Bookstores are my favorite place to hang out, and I enjoy talking about books with friends. I wouldn't have survived seminary without being a good reader. I can point to certain books that have changed the way I think and which have helped me to grow. And I always have a stack I'm working on. I read professional books but also novels, to be balanced. I attend a monthly clergy gathering where we discuss particular books. I understand that some people learn by hearing, which makes listening to MP3 lecture valuable, or books on CD. I have certain blogs I follow, like Between Two Worlds by Justin Taylor. But I am always with a book. I'm no genius, so I rely on my reading to learn. I remember a guy in college who said when he graduated he wasn't going to read another book...I don't think he got the point of college. A lifetime of learning requires that we continue exploring ideas. We read stories to expand our imagination. We read the Bible to learn God's will. Western writer Louis L'Amour said that he dropped out of schol because "it was interfering with my education." The reason he was such an enjoyable writer was simple--he was an avid reader. We should all develop a love for books and keep them close at all times. We'll not only learn some things; we'll be better people.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Some people who have seen the movie Avatar are experiencing depression, having to return to the ugliness of the "real world" after seeing the paradise of a CGI world. After hearing about the horrors of Haiti an escape to Pandora (or Middle Earth) may seem a welcome thought. This depression seems to me to be a longing God has put in us for our true home. This world is not as God intended, it's not the way it is supposed to be, but it has become broken, corrupted, pollutted by the Fall, by human sin. And so we yearn to return back to the Garden, but with that not possible, we look toward a new world someday that God will fashion when Christ returns.

Friday, January 15, 2010

the Name of God

I hear it said often that the God of Islam is the same God Jews and Christians worship. Yet a translation of the Bible was recently condemned by Moslems because the name of God was rendered Allah. Are they saying that their deity is not the same God as that of the Old & New Testaments? I really strive to be tolerant of all faiths, but I find that tolerance isn't always a two-way street. Most fundamentalists (regardless of their specific label) seem to be more interested in being correct than being loving. They're hard to love because they reject our acceptance. Well, we still need to reach out to everyone, even if they don't reach back.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I read the cover article of the latest issue of Christianity Today magazine, "The Myth of the Perfect Parent" by Leslie Fields (available on the CT website).

Fields points out how Christian books on parenting assure readers that if they follow their formula they'll produce godly kids...yet this behavioral approach doesn't always work, in spite of parents' prayerful best efforts. If the way "they're doing it" doesn't work, then it's obviously not biblical, so some authors of parenting books claim. If that's true, then prayer isn't biblical, because all Christians parents agonize in prayer over their kids, and are often stunned by the answers.

Then there's Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." This verse has caused some Christian parents to lose their faith in God's promises. It may be an observation, but the confident tone of the verse doesn't sound like a mere "principle". Fields point out that Solomon, who wrote this, was hardly a successful parent.

Like the author, I too sat down with a pastor I respected, and asked for parenting advice, only to be told that “Parenting is the area in which I feel the most amount of personal failure.” I think the only parents who feel good about their kids are those who happen to have compliant children (for which they take the credit).

Fields reminds the reader of the list of heroes of the faith from Hebrews 11, which highlights something I’ve been pondering for some time: you simply don’t find too many examples of successful parenting in the Bible, apart from Mary & Joseph. I’m the son (hardly product) of agnostic parents, and one of my kids is a prodigal, and guilt over this nearly made me quit the ministry. I intend to get the author’s book and I think every Christian parent should at least read her CT article.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Prayer for the New Year

Lord of time and eternity,
Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed
In Your presence, in Your service and to Your glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies every hour,
That I may not for one moment be apart from You.
Cause me to rely on Your Spirit to direct my every step and prosper every effort.
Give me a desire to show forth Your praise, testify to Your love,
and advance Your Kingdom.
I launch my vessel onto the unknown, restless waters of this year,
-With You, O Father as my safe harbor,
-With You, O Son, at my helm,
-With You, O Spirit, filling my sails.
Your goodness has been with me in the past year;
Your goodness will be with me in the year ahead.
You are the pilot of my future as of my past…
Steer me toward the Celestial City with
my ear open to Your voice, my heart full of love, my soul free.
Protect me in the moving sea, steer me safely,
until I reach the shore of unceasing praise.

(adapted from The Valley of Vision)