Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Be the Father or the Prodigal but NOT The Brother

I was struck again by how easy it is to be the brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal attempts to create his own reality - in essence - saying to his father, "Your way works for you but I have to please myself so I am going to go my own way." When he discovers the loss of discipline, direction and direct contact with God leaves him without friends, funds or a future he makes a plan to at least have a roof over his head and a benevolent master for whom to work.
The father, of course, is the real star of the story and a challenge for any father to emulate. The fact that he had determined, even before repentance, he would forgive and forget, is a lesson to fathers everywhere that the consequences of an action is usually punishment enough for the penitent child.
It is the brother who reminds me how self righteous I sound when I require a time of repentance, acts of contrition, a period of ostracization before forgiveness will be given. How selfish I am when I demand my rights from someone whom God has received. Even as I write this I am uncomfortable with this complete a forgiveness.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Just reading it is good for you

In “The Key to Overcoming Temptation,” an interview by Brian Proffit of Rev Magazine, Dr. Arnold Cole is the CEO and Director of Bible Engagement Research for Back to the Bible revealed his findings in how best to overcome temptation (
It was no surprise that men report three times the temptations compared to women and that 80% of all Christians report giving in to temptation “some of the time.” What came as a bit of a surprise was so few reported their best aid against sin was other people (at 5.5%), accountability relationships (at 2.1%) or church (at just 0.5%). Three out of four had shared their temptation with another person, but only this tiny percentage named Christian friends as helping them resist temptation. Reading the Bible was the number one method for successful resistance – though there is a caveat.
Dr. Cole referred “The Power of 4.” It seems there is no statistical difference between Christians who read or listen to the Bible two to three days a week and those who do not read at all! There is a clear watershed at four days. Those who read or listen to the Bible at least four days a week are 36% less likely to smoke, 57% less likely to get drunk, 61% less likely to use pornography, and 68% less likely to have sex outside marriage.
Oh, one very important side note. How often one reads or listens to the Bible seems a particularly protective factor for teens. Among teens, we find no effects for church attendance and prayer in alleviating risky behaviors. Our New Testament Challenge has started us on the right path to helping ourselves as well as our family from avoiding risky behavior.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Do What I Do

I am challenged by Paul’s invitation to the Philippians in 3:17 to, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” A few years ago I read an interview of John Stott in which he was asked about the greatest challenges to the church in the 21st Century. He surprised me by making tolerance the number one challenge – as well as a coveted virtue of the church.
Christians should be in the forefront in fighting for equal rights before the law of all ethnic and religious minorities. The church should also actively show social tolerance by going out of our way to make friends with adherents of other faiths, since they are God's creation who bear his image. But the third, intellectual tolerance, which is to cultivate a mind so broad and open as to accommodate all views and reject none, is, in Stott’s word’s, “the vice of the feebleminded.”
By rejecting this feebleminded tolerance the church then properly defines outreach as evangelism and not proselytism, the latter occurring when our motives, methods or message are unworthy. When we properly understand our call to tolerance we make room for evangelism which is (in terms of the Manila Manifesto), “To make an open and honest statement of the gospel, which leaves the hearers entirely free to make up their own minds about it.”
This then brings me back to Paul’s appeal to the Philippians which calls us to be what we profess to be. The covenant still challenges us to look like what we are talking about: This makes the church’s main concern that we look like what we are talking about..
1 John 4:12: "No one has ever seen God, if we love one another, God dwells in us." The invisible God, who once made himself visible in Christ, now makes himself visible in Christians, if we love one another.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

You will get your guilt?

Sunday after church, a mom asked her very young daughter what the lesson was about. The daughter answered, "Don't be scared; you'll get your quilt."

Needless to say, the mom was perplexed.

Later in the day, the pastor stopped by for tea and the mom asked him what that morning's Sunday school lesson was about.

He said, "Be not afraid; thy comforter is coming."

When Jesus told the Rich Young Man to sell all and give it to the poor he was not telling us to do the same. What he was telling us was to not make any thing, activity, person or commitment more important than our commitment to love and serve Him and His Church.

Just as there is a big difference between “you will get your guilt” and “your comforter is coming” so there is a big difference between, “give it all away” and “use it all for Me and My church.”

Monday, October 12, 2009

Oh Foolish Galations

We’ve GOT to listen to somebody…we can’t listen to everybody…and when we make “please everybody” our goal then we will live in a constant state of fear and frustration.

Who are the wrong people? It’s really simple…there are people that do not love you, do not know you, have never tried to understand you and spend the majority of their time attacking you and others. They are not motivated by the love of God…but rather their own pride and arrogance (which they accuse you of because you will not listen to them…which is ironic!) You cannot let those who don’t love you and are not willing to stand beside you be the dominating voice in your life!

Friday, October 9, 2009

God called Paul to S___?

While reading for the New Testament Challenge I was stopped in my reading when I read again the God's words to Ananias, “Go! This man [Paul] is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16 ( NIV )).
Suffering? I thought he was called to serve? Turns out that Paul talks about service in terms of suffering and suffering in terms of service almost as much as he talks about the division of the Spirit and the flesh, except there are three distinct types of "suffering."
Persecution is suffering all believers endure. Some more benign, as in the West where Christians are treated as slightly demented relatives, and some much more severe as in North Korea where conversion is followed by death. In 1 Cor 4:12 Paul makes it clear that persecution is to be "endured" which leads me to pray for strong knees for prayer in my old age.
Tribulation is a more active attack from spiritual forces and could also be taken as "temptations" especially when they come from poor choices. We bring on tribulation by choosing to be with a certain crowd and then refusing participate in their chosen activities. Parents of school age children face tribulation in California as their children are taught tenants not consistent with the faith - but any rebuttal leads to prejudice shown to their children.
Suffering is more generic and could refer to "walking miles to do ministry" or "facing firing for not lying to a customer."
Jesus was calling Paul to suffer in all three categories - I invite you to send me examples of each.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What We Learn from Jesus' Temptation

I have often quoted 1 Corinthians 10:13 when faced with trials and even strong desires that would move me out of God's approved path. You may remember it: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." I have found it comforting at times but more often confusing as I struggled with issues that seemed to take over my life, sometimes for years. During the New Testament Challenge I was reading Matthew 4:1-11 where Matthew recounts the temptations of Jesus and I found there some consolation. It seems to me the temptations of Jesus are a template for all the temptations we are likely to face with the added benefit of "a way out so that [I] can stand up under it."
The first is the temptation to multiply what is in our hand for personal ease and comfort. What is at hand is the ability to make bread from rocks - or - money from using others; two helpings just for me from the loaded Thanksgiving platter; my own - for me only...whatever. Jesus shows us that we can only overcome this selfishness by reminding ourselves that our lives are not about us but about others.
The second is the temptation take God's promises and require them of God - to make God protect us from our impetuousness - recklessness - powerlessness. If Jesus was not willing to put God to the test to protect Him from harm should he through himself off a building, we must be doubly dubious about putting ourselves in personal, financial, spiritual danger because we believe God will never let us be harmed if we are doing "His Will." Here Jesus makes it clear that we do not want to be in the ranks of those challenging God unless He has invited that challenge.
Finally, the temptation to believe we can do it without God if we have a big enough bank roll, support base or preparation. James offers a bit of advice to believers who would never dream of denouncing God for any other power source but are willing to "go it alone" in earthly decisions when he warns in James 4:15-16, "Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil."
The antidote for all three forms of temptation is to pre-load holiness which Jesus offers in these words of response to the last temptation. “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” Matthew 4:10.

Save the Best to Last

I was invited to dine with a family some years ago while I was serving as the guest speaker for the church's Mission's Fair. They were a large family and their hospitality was just as great. As we sat for the meal the father led in prayer for God's gifts and barely took a breath from saying "Amen" before looking at me and announcing, "Life is short so I always eat dessert first."
I was impressed with his wisdom at the time, but, as I have aged I have come to realize that all that is good in life can be better appreciated after the less exotic tastes of beans, broccoli, and celery. While the broccoli feeds our nutrition and leaves us feeling good about our choices, it also clears our conscience for a small piece of pecan pie that feeds our taste buds.
I am reminded of the Wedding Feast at Cana of Galilee when Jesus was asked to supply more wine and rather than offering the pedestrian fair already consumed delivered a vintage with character eliciting from the Master of the Feast in John 2:10 the exclamation, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
Whatever has been on your plate this day - consume it - whether resolution of conflict, tedious book work, arduous cleaning and then be prepared for the dessert God has planned especially for you. It would not taste as fulsome served at the beginning of the day/life but it will be an eternal treat to hear, "Well done good and faithful servant, enter into your reward." I sure hope there is pecan pie in heaven.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Prophet to Pastor

For most of my life God called me to be a prophet. One who loved Him and His church and was unwilling to allow the church to continue to run on only one rail. I saw the churches I was in and working with as being more concerned with nurture/fellowship and self improvement. I spent my energy focused on drawing them to a ministry of outreach. Then God did a strange thing. He changed me from Prophet to Pastor.
I mention this because I - being one of God's "special" children (as in "Be kind to Sherman is a bit...'special'"). I have had an epiphany of late and that is that the reason I have felt stymied in my ministry is because I have been thinking like a prophet when I am gift - now - as a Pastor.
This is going to require some thought - not to mention a bit of reprogramming. Be patient with me as God is not finished with me and I am finally on the same page as my Father.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Stages of CultureShock Part 2: The 4 Laws

Stage 2 is exchanged for Stage 3 by those who have a healthy acceptance of own culture as one of many, but, their own never-the-less. They view host culture as an environment where how people interact my be different but not necessarily wrong, Pemberton’s first Law of Cross-Cultural Communication is, “It is not wrong, it is just different.” Of course, some things are patently wrong, such as infanticide but much less of a host culture is actually wrong – though it feels wrong to eat dog, for instance – and just different. I believe this is the first law for moving from “teacher” to “learner” and preparing oneself for a healthy transition.
The second law tag teams as “It Doesn’t Matter Why, It Only Matters That.” Once one agrees that what they are experiencing is merely different the next obstacle is the “why” question. For the purpose of living and learning one is best served to begin life accepting certain truths without searching for the origins of them. Why do some cultures not allow shorts, sandals, hats, the color red etc. in public places? It does not matter why – it only matters that you have learned this to be true so practice it. If you are asked to be a change agent – as in the case of a missionary – you may want at some point to know the answer to the question why, but for emotional health and good interaction it is unimportant.
The third and fourth are mirror images of each other and help learn the “that” mentioned in the last paragraph. At dinner with a host family one of family members “intentionally” passes the main dish by you to your seatmate which momentarily causes you to feel some slight has been given. First, “Never Assume” what you think you saw is what you actually saw. There are any number of reasons for that practice, none involving rudeness. If you practice Law # 3 then you will need to follow it with Law # 4 “Always Look for Alternate Interpretations.” Living in a new environment involves an endless cycle of Observe/Experiment/Adjust from Observation/Experimentation and repeat till satisfied that Stage 3 has been achieved.
Stage 3 is achieved when the irritation of Stage 2 has been replaced by an understanding that the irritant is “normal” for the place and time and it is ok to accept it as not necessarily “normal” for the traveler. I can live any place where dog is a meat without becoming a butcher of dog meat, or, anti-dog eating activist.
There is a Stage 4 to transition shock and it is achieved when the traveler can both understand and tell jokes in the local language receiving appropriate responses.

The Stages of Culture (Transition) Shock Part 1

Transitioning from one living environment to another almost always involves a process typically referred to as transition shock or in the case of cross cultural transition, culture shock. Transition shock is most commonly described as being in four stages, which are described in terms of experiences and not in terms of length of time. Time is less of a factor than attitude. Some people will transition through three of the stages in relatively short time, only infrequently reverting to the most toxic, Stage 2, while revisiting Stage 1 and living in Stage 3.
Stage 1 is the time when transition is new and is usually full of new experiences, most of which are seen as “interesting,” “quaint,” or “unpleasant” without being unbearable. At some point, when it becomes clear the environment is going to continue to operate as first observed and not adjust to the “foreigner” in the midst, these observations will become “intolerable,” “antiquated,” or “unacceptable.” Whether entering a marriage, new school, or new country almost everyone moves from Stage 1 honeymoon to Stage 2 distaste. Moving through Stage 2 to Stage 3 – as opposed to bouncing from Stage 1 to Stage 2 and back again – depends on how one enters the new environment.
Enter as a teacher, one who has better information than the locals, and you are doomed to live in Stage 2. The danger is determined by how long you intend staying. Vacationer’s returning from France, for example, who spent their two weeks identifying the things that need to change for their comfort suffer minimally, usually by not enjoying their vacation, as long suffering friends and neighbors will attest. They will most commonly reject “host culture.” However, there is also the possibility of rejecting “own culture.” In the first instance the host culture is negatively compared to own culture using paternalistic and patronizing references to the “childlike” nature of host culture or “barbaric” choices of host culture. Less common is to negatively compare own culture to host culture thus rejecting personal history and focus points. Longer term workers for corporations, government, or missions can suffer depression even to the point of suicide in this cycle.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Life Is Repetition

It strikes me the reason I get in trouble - well, most of the time - is when I forget that life is doing the same thing over and over, improving with repetition where possible and following the path previously laid, perfectly, when improvement is not possible (how do you improve teeth brushing?). Quite possibly the only reason I brush "every" morning is because I have always brushed every morning even when in places water is scarce or even tainted. I find a way, because, well, I always brush every morning.
It is not a great epiphany to catch the application to spiritual disciplines. My parents drilled into me the practice of brushing every morning. Though I have never thanked them for that discipline it has served me well. They also required a certain level of Biblical literacy - that required regular Bible reading - if only to respond to parental questions. They required regular church attendance and membership in a local church. All practices I do not find odious but rather feel empty without.
I needed to remind myself of this practice because I become bored with repetitious tasks - even irritated by the "mundane." Remembering the importance of most repetitions (breathing comes to mind) I now face them with more a sense of responsibility than requirement - which may seem a small thing to some but is the difference between joy, on the one hand, and drudgery on the onther.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How Fast Are You Walking?

A fellow was walking along a country road when he came upon a farmer working in his field. The man called out to the farmer, "How long will it take me to get to the next town?"
The farmer didn't answer. The guy waited a bit and then started walking again.
After the man had gone about a hundred yards, the farmer yelled out, "About 20 minutes."
"Thank you. But why didn't you tell me that when I asked you?"
"Didn't know how fast you could walk." (Received from Ann F. on Good Clean Funnies).

It got me to thinking about leading people to do what they have started to do, such as church attenders. Church Attenders have decided to move toward God and many of them want to be close to Him as soon as possible. They might even be heard asking, "When will I be able to face trials - overcome addiction - be the husband my wife needs?" Those along with many others. I think I have a tendency to try to answer that question before I see how fast they can walk.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

When a Leopard Is Not a Leopard

When I was young I in the home of a family who had rescued a leopard cub from the poachers who had killed his mother. They had the "cub" in their back yard with their two Rhodesian Ridgebacks and often with their infant son. My dad expressed his concern but the Doctor assured him that if the leopard received "civilized" treatment he would become a good pet, "he is just a big kitty," explained the Doctor.
Six months later we stopped in to find the "kitty" had playfully killed the two lion hunting dogs and was deemed "beyond redemption." It doesn't take a great mental leap to conclude that nature - more often than not - will rule over nurture in the animal kingdom. I believe that is largely true in the human world when it comes to our baser instincts. Maslow's hierarchy of needs can be tossed about in a philosophical discussion but at the end of the day he had pretty good grip on what our human nature would put first - self.
This is why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church to not be conformed to fit into this world (our fallen nature makes that a rather simple process) but to let God "transform" us by His Spirit to become the worshipers He created. Translation: I cannot stop being fallen but God can redeem me from my nature and "civilize" me for Himself. All of which has been said before, and was in fact said during the sermon this morning (
However, I feel compelled to remind myself that the Doctor, who meant well, truly believed and really tried to change the nature of the leopard - but to no avail. He wanted his child to have the excitement of growing up with a large cat, but, the cat could never become the pet he wanted it to be unless he was able to transform its very nature.
Which brings me, happily and finally, to my point. When followers of Jesus, who have submitted to the transforming process attempt to play/work/coexist with those who do not yet follow Jesus - they may be tempted to try to "domesticate" them. Teach them the principles of Jesus and the moral laws of God. However, just as a leopard is always a leopard - until - it has been transformed into a tabby, those who do not yet follow Jesus use works like love, trust, fairness, commitment and giving - to name only a few - far differently than those who are transformed to use those words and the actions that result as God intended.
Love is not about feeling but about commitment. Trust is not limited to one arena such as family, tribe or union. Fairness is not about equal distribution but equal access. Commitment is not limited to signed document and giving begins with the obligation to God. Not something I can do when I am trying to conform to the ever changing landscape of the present culture. God alone can make those words mean those things which helps my understand one other thing Paul wrote in
2 Corinthians 6:14 (NIV) "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More from Sunday

It strikes me that I did not talk about one area that is often referred to as a solitary place. When people who are in leadership get together it is common for them to use such phrases as, "it's lonely at the top, that's why we get the big bucks, or I wasn't hired to be their friend."
I agree with John Maxwell, and many other authors, who in his book "leadership gold" suggests that if it's lonely at the top the leader's doing something wrong. However, in every organization (whether it's organic such as the church or not) there is by default one person to whom everyone looks to in the event of major decisions or failures. In that sense, it can be lonely at the top.
I've never felt comfortable passing blame, whether deserved or otherwise, to those who serve under my leadership. I have known few good leaders who would disagree. Maybe this is where we find the answer to the age-old question (well as old as my leadership), "why don't leaders delegate more?" It is not that leaders delegate less it is that the delegates wait on the leader for the critical decision which causes the team to miss a critical window of opportunity.
The leader is left in the lurch -- the delegate feels responsible and yet somehow let down-- and the team sees the whole situation is a failure.
And so the good leader continues to fail and along the way he finds other good leaders going to learn from their failure.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Time Away is Not Time Away

I realize this is not a mind boggling concept but having just spent five days away from work with Judi and some friends I am reminded again of how incredibly active the mind is when it supposed to be relaxing.
We spent the time with food, fun, games and, well, food, until I got food poisoning so for almost 72 hours of that time I was laid up groaning or recuperating.
Amazingly, as soon as I stepped back into the work place, for me that is La Habra Christian Church, I began to list the ideas that had come to me while away, even though they did not come to me until I began to talk about work. A Pastor should not be surprised when that happens. After all, God was very specific about our work schedule.
We work six days and take one day off. That is one day away from anything to do with work. The first followers of God were so convinced of the efficacy of such a requirement went about putting a hedge about it resulting in hundreds of laws and rules that, unfortunately, made the practice more of a burden than a blessing. I confess that in my younger years - last year :-) - I reversed their error. I avoided the Sabbath or, even worse, mixed Sabbath with Work ("Business or pleasure, Sir?" "Um, yes, please.").
As I have matured (see eta above) I have come to realize that work needs to be work and "not work" needs to be, well, "knock it off." However, I have found an interesting law at work - because when I am working I am relaxed and when I am relaxing my "self" is working - so that in my life while I do the work of the one who sent me - I find that in my rest He completes His work in me.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

To Blog or Not To Blog That is...

In a June 22, 2009 article on Christianity Today's website Dan Kimball, well known for his “missional” musings warned, “Do It, Don't Blog It” – a sentiment felt, if not expressed by many in the church world when bombarded with requests to “update” “tweet” or “confirm” from various social networks others have thoughtfully recommended.

I appreciated Kimball’s balance of mission and method – something I have always expected of myself and my staff, though I understand the and have suffered from the call of the “new” over the “passé.” I suspect, and this is hard to confess, the real measurement for any technology is not communication as much as it is results. I realize I am swimming up the relational stream here but I believe any tool is only as good as its product.

When the social networks lead to connections that affect lives for Christ they are sacred. When they lead to connections that make lives feel connected they are neutral. When they lead to connections that are distracting from mission they are profane.

There is a fourth option. They could just be gas in the wind, or, as the Bard would have it, “Sound and fury signifying nothing” not unlike this blog.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Arrested Development or St John's Disease?

One of the professions I have had a love/hate relationship with has been MD's. As a Mission Executive I Administrated Hospitals in Africa and managed my share of MD's who are a sacrificial/self-important group (not unlike Senior Pastors - I hasten to confess). My love has been for their ability to hear a cough, rumble or squeak and identify the problem and recommend a diagnosis. Good diagnosticians are hard to come by and great ones are God's gift to the medical profession.
I have worked with at least two great ones in my career and have learned that many times the difference between a correct call and an OK call (one that does not do harm but does not really address the ailment) is all too often "gut" as opposed to brain. I have lived long enough to have a healthy respect for this "gut" input in my own profession and it is with that data I ask the question, "Is the church in America - more particularly the one to which I minister - suffering from arrested development or St John's disease?
Arrested development is the result of too little growth hormones, Bible reading, wise counsel, active church service and personal evangelism. As desperate as this condition my sound - a new believer who has never left the diaper stage and spends their Sunday's whining to be feed, but not too much - it is not a terminal illness. There are many 40, even 70, year old believers who still need to be changed by the Pastor before they can go out to play with the world, but who do little harm to the cause of Christ except as bad examples, which they don't really have much chance for since they spend so little time with unbelievers anyway.
St John's disease (C. Peter Wagner calls it a Syndrome) is best defined by Apostle John in the letter he transcribed to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22 whom Jesus warned was about to be "spit out." But the condition could be seen developing in the church at Ephesus in 2:1-7 who was told to get back in touch with their first love, which I take to mean the love of the lost, given the powerful evangelistic movement in that church that led to a school of evangelism and the anger of the gold smiths of Diana.
I wish our illness today was arrested development but I fear it is St John's and while a good dose of spiritual disciplines will cure (if not heal) the former - only a rebirth in the fire of persecution seems to heal (there is no cure I know of) this malady which finds biological believers (for in America who is not at some point a biological? Few I would say) whining for government intervention to save a church whose Savior waits in the Doctor's lounge to be asked for a second opinion.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

First Time Out

I feel like Punxsutawney Phil sticking my head out of my Paper Office to see if it is safe to put thoughts on a cyber screen. However, I love dialogue and, truth be told, monologue more, so I am going to give this a try.
I respect the bloggers I have read in the past and follow in the present, whose names and sites will appear here from time to time as I rely on their wit and wisdom. I am sure the blogging community will set me straight as I err and even when I only opine.
As a former missionary, professor of Intercultural Studies, not-for-profit executive and Pastor I will draw on my experience, but, look forward to the new concepts I can glean from this new prism of my life.