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).