October 5, 2011

If it were up to me...

If it were up to me, I'd change some things and create my own truth!

1) People would be required to wear purple at least once a week. Purple is a happy color and we should look like happy people.

2) All people would be required to truly forgive their enemies...because it sets you free and it annoys the stew out of them!

3) Americans would be forced to realize that their "American Christmas" consists of at tree from Norway, ornaments from China, lights from Japan, and a story from Bethlehem.

4) Butter Pecan Ice Cream would be considered health food...nuff said!

5) On New Years Day, everyone would receive a pack of crayons (not the 8 color set, but the big 120 color box complete with a sharpener in the side) and would be required to color everyday. What's more fun and creative than drawing and coloring?

6) I would commission engineers to create a Hot Wheels version of the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. Not for any particular reason except I'd just really like to have one.

and lastly...

7) All good people would get to go to heaven.

Didn't see that last one coming, did you? You see, just as much as I would love to see some really silly things come true, I'd also like to see everyone go to heaven...really!

There is a very popular preacher, named Rob Bell, who is stating an hypothesis concerning this. He feels that the Bible teaches that everyone will eventually end up going to heaven. Some may have to take a different route, endure extra hardships, retool their belief systems, etc.

What a tender notion! No punishment for those who refuse to believe in Jesus...the world will not end until everyone confesses Jesus (although I'm not sure who the "last person on earth" will confess Him to)...and we'll all be up there together, forever!

The only problem is that the Bible doesn't say this. As a matter of fact, the book of the Revelation, states exactly the opposite. Jesus' words to the churches of Asia say exactly the opposite.

So, I guess you want to know which "good" people ARE going to heaven. Answer: Only the ones who have been "made good" by Jesus and live out their faith in Him. None of us are good on our own. Only God is good on His own. However we are taught in scripture that "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21) Which means that God desire for us to be "good," realizes that we aren't "good" on our own, so He created an avenue (Jesus) for us to be "made good."

So, technically its true that all "good" people will go to heaven. It's just a matter of how we define good..."good" IS NOT something that we become on our own by performing in ways that make people like and respect us..."good" IS something that we can only be turned into by a loving and gracious God.

September 29, 2011


They called him "Sweetness." His real name was Walter Payton and he will go down in football history as one of the finest running backs to ever play the game. The trophy given by the NFL to the player who has shown the most prolific humanitarianism during the season is named after him. Now, thanks to a book by Jeff Pearlman, his reputation as a stand up guy could forever be tarnished.

In Pearlman's book, he interviewed people who knew Payton best and found that the NFL's poster boy for good works was a closet drug addict and philanderer. His life after retirement made him even more of an enigma. Reading these things about Walter Payton was hard for me to do. To me he was a hero. Now he's just another guy who messed up.

However, I still like football.

Hypocrisy is a difficult trait to stomach in people we deal with regularly. It is even harder to take when we have idolized the person who is guilty of the hypocrisy, all the time believing that they were as they claimed...an all around good guy. This is why people outside the church find it difficult to deal with Christians who can at times be hypocritical.

If you are one of those people who have been disillusioned by the hypocritical acts of someone claiming to be a Christ follower, I want to challenge you to think of it this way: It's not about them, it's about Jesus.

Hebrews 12:2 instructs us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. He says this to remind us that the church is for seekers and disciples, but it is about (and belongs to) Jesus.

I haven't stopped enjoying football because a man who I admired turned out to be less than I imagined. Without the sport, Payton was just another guy. It's still about the sport, not the skill or character of the players.

I haven't stopped loving the church because people who have been my heroes in the faith have turned out to have clay feet. Without Jesus, we are all just another guy. It's still about him, not the imperfection of His followers.

If you are ever turned off to Jesus because one of His followers turns out to be a hypocrite, ask yourself this question: If a hypocrite is standing between you and Jesus, who is closer to Jesus? You, or the imperfect follower?

September 19, 2011

Mercy Instead of Justice

As we head into the home stretch of this year's Baseball season, I thought I'd share the story that caused me to no longer follow Major League Baseball.

It's 1996. It was a close call. One that instant replay could not justify. Maybe the umpire was lying. Honestly, most people will forget the circumstances of the moment as far as baseball is concerned. Fewer still will remember the accuracy of the umpire's decision. But what ensued after "the call" is impossible for me to forget (or forgive).

In the fracas that followed, Roberto Alomar began arguing with the umpire, John Hirschbeck. Davey Johnson, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, rushed over to get between Alomar and the Hirschbeck. Johnson came into the picture to keep his All-Star second baseman from being ejected, not to dispute the umpire's call. What happened next shocked the sporting world.

As Johnson continued trying to shield Alomar from the umpire, Alomar leaned over Johnson's shoulder and spit in the face of the umpire. It was uncalled for. It was unsportsmanlike. It was gross!

One sad part is that the umpire was unjustly abused. (Alomar was ejected and eventually suspended and fined). Another somewhat sad part was the league's apparent apathy toward the matter, allowing Alomar to continue playing in the American League Championship Series by stating that suspensions apply only to regular season games.

However, in my mind, the most sad part was that a young man who spent several years honing his skills to become a six-time Golden Glove second baseman, deservedly lost the respect of the sporting world in less than two seconds.

The Orioles eventually lost to the Yankees in the Championship Series. An extremely rare Alomar error played a major role in the loss. Some say that this is poetic justice. I say that it is no justice at all. He shouldn't have been allowed on the field. Simply by being allowed to make the error, he got better than he deserved. . .

. . . I now better understand the level of rage that I ought to feel because they spit on my Lord. Not just once, but repeatedly. He did nothing to deserve it. Unlike the umpire, he didn't argue or retaliate. He had only one recourse: to die for them and all of the folks just like them.

If that umpire had been my son, my first reaction would be to take a Louisville Slugger to Alomar's noggin. But the Heavenly Father doesn't operate that way! He delivered his Son to a spit-soaked, shame-drenched, sin-saturated death. Jesus washed the feet of Judas, blessed those that cursed Him, and died for those who did not deserve it...and that includes us.

Is this fair? No! Whether we admit it or not, we grieve God at times. But like Alomar, we are receiving an opportunity to live a life that we do not deserve. I think the Bible calls it mercy.

June 21, 2011


Many years ago, my friend's mother decided to take a part time job cleaning an office building at night. She wanted to work alone, so she began with one small, three-story building.

It didn't take her long to realize that cleaning a three floor office building was pretty time consuming, especially for someone just wanting a part time job. So, she decided to hire her son as a helper.

The first night on the job, she told my friend that his job would be to clean all of the bathrooms in the building. She trained him by taking him in the ladies room and showing him what chemicals to use, where they were to be used, how to clean a toilet (because he never did this at home), and how to mop the floors. She provided him a checklist of every task necessary to clean the bathroom.

During the first week, she noticed that it was taking him longer than expected to clean the bathrooms. She wasn't worried because, being a "newbie", he probably needed to do the job intentionally, and that takes time. However, after several weeks, she found out that he wasn't getting much faster. She still wasn't worried because she was paying him by the job, not by the hour.

Before long, she started receiving notes from the employees of the office building...all of them female. They were thank you notes. Each one was a letter of gratitude for how incredibly clean the bathrooms were.

Now, knowing her son and the fact that he rarely cleaned his room and had never cleaned a bathroom before, this was somewhat surprising. So, one night, she waited until he began cleaning the ladies room and followed him in to see what he was doing that was so special. In doing so, she learned a great lesson.

She noticed that he cleaned the stalls first. He went into the stall, sprayed everything down with disinfectant, squirted the toilet cleaner in the bowl, swished it with the brush, wiped down the seat...and then she caught him doing something unusual. After wiping the seat, he turned around and locked the door of the stall. She could tell by the position of his feet that he was now sitting on the toilet. He sat there for about five minutes, then the door unlocked, and he emerged.

As you may suspect, she was dying to know why he turned around and sat on the seat. His answer was inspiring..."when the ladies use this room, they sit on the seat. I figure if I sit on the seat, I can see the stall the same way they do. And if I see the stall the way they do, I'll know what they think is important as far as the stall being clean."


...In our culture, we have come to the conclusion that "perception is reality." The church is called by God to create the proper perception of Him, His Son, and His Spirit. The problem we face is that many (if not most) of the people in our culture have a negative, or at least a skewed, perception of Christ and Christianity.

You see, the only way we can attack wrong perceptions is by attempting to understand and view things from the perspective that created these perceptions. Once we see from this perspective, we usually understand that there are LITTLE things that we are missing when attempting to enable our friends to "experience" the same God we do. And if we don't do something about those LITTLE things that interfere with the overall vision, the job of connecting people with God and God's family through an experience that creates an encounter with God will be nearly impossible.

You see, the toilets were actually no cleaner than they were before my friend started working there. But because extra time was taken to look at the "experience" from another perspective, to do LITTLE things that improved the "experience," the perception of cleanliness became changed.

May all Christians be people who are courageous enough to see from the perspective of those who seek, but haven't found. May we pay attention to the little things that get in their way. And may always take the time, and never give up on helping them develop a new and clear perception of a wonderful God.

May 25, 2011

The Experience

As I have shared before, I find Starbucks and their concept of doing business interesting. I guess they captured my attention first because they had the ability to sell a $5 cup of coffee. I mean really, its just bean-juice, right?

Now it hasn't escaped me that there are some coffee beans that are of a higher quality than others. But you can still get a reasonably good cup of coffee at a third of the price. And when Average Joe wants a cup of joe, price matters.

But after going to Starbucks a few times to see my daughter, who is a "partner," (meaning they pay her to work there) I realized that Starbucks wasn't actually selling coffee. They were selling an experience.

In his book, Onward, Howard Schultz, the ceo and founder of Starbucks, writes about his vision for his coffee company. He states that the concept for the stores are not his own, but are borrowed from a small espresso bar in Italy.

When he was traveling Europe, he visited this coffee bar and the experience overwhelmed him. The first thing he noticed was that everyone in the place seemed to "belong" there. Yet, even during his first visit, he was made to feel like an insider.

This feeling of being an "insider" motivated him to create a uniquely American place to accomplish the same thing. He calls this our "third place." He explained the term this way...everyone craves connection. The first place one should connect with others is in their home. Usually, the second place people find connection is at work. But most people need another place to connect in order to be emotionally healthy. For Schultz, Starbucks is intended to be that place. Every aspect of the place, from free wi-fi to the aroma that hits you at the door, are premeditated. They are intended to allow each customer the opportunity to have an "experience."

(One thing I found incredibly interesting is his aversion to selling breakfast sandwiches in the stores. Why no sandwiches? Because the cheese eventually drips onto the burners, creating an odor that masks the intended "Starbucks smell"...coffee!)

I guess I'm writing this because I totally agree with his "connection concept." If I didn't, I wouldn't do what I do for a living. But I believe the place for people to connect, other than home and work, should be in God's family.

And I've always wondered why this connection rarely occurred, but after reading Schultz's book, I am beginning to understand.

If we all need connection, and God intends for us to be connected in His family, then what kind of "experience" will allow us the optimum opportunity to do so? What should God's church "look" like in order to maximize our opportunity to connect? Scripture states that our worship is a "fragrant aroma" before God, so what should worship "smell" like in order to create an opportunity to "experience" God? What is the "burnt cheese" in your life (or church) that masks the aroma of God, even though, like the coffee, He is still present and excellent?

Just a little coffee talk to get us thinking about how important the little things are when we are trying to connect to God and each other. After all, its pretty important to me to be able to continually "experience" God's presence anew.

May 16, 2011

Grassroots Ministry

In the wake of the devastating storms that ripped through our area a couple of weeks ago, I continue to hear stories of how the small groups at our church quietly helped so many.

One person told me that after the storms, there were several churches that were in their neighborhood helping cut trees, pull brush, and checking for people. Their neighbors knew that this person was a church-goer and asked, "when is your church going to get here." At that time, one of our small groups arrived to help. This person turned to their friend and said, "they just did." (By the way, this person has never been to our church.)

Last week, I went in for a doctor's visit. Just routine stuff. I actually had an appointment with a nurse practitioner. When she walked in the room, the first thing she said to me was, "your church was at our house this week." She went on to say that a small group from our church had knocked on her door and offered to help with clean up..."at no charge." (she sounded shocked that anyone would help out without asking for something in return)

Story after story, the word continues to get out that our church family helped in so many tangible ways. Whether it was offering money to help storm victims, carrying a chainsaw into a neighborhood where they didn't know a soul, sorting cans at a food bank, taking food to a homeless shelter, carrying ice and water to first responders, or praying with victims, grassroots ministry truly affected a great many lives in incredibly positive ways.

Since grassroots ministry is one how our church family has chosen to do ministry, I thought I'd share a poem that I read a few years back to encourage you that you are doing the right thing . . .

I was hungry and you formed a humanities club to discuss my hunger. . . Thank you.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel to pray for my release. . . Nice.

I was naked and you debated the morality Of my appearance. . . What good did that do?

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. . . But I needed you.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the shelter of the love of God . . .I wish you'd taken me home.

I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me . . . Why didn't you stay?

You seem so holy, so close to God; but I'm still very hungry, lonely, cold, and still in pain. . . Does it matter?


. . . I hope I can always be part of a church that will help people. We will never be able to meet everyone's needs all the time. But I think God is truly honored by those who will share a cup of cold water with one thirsty soul at a time, and do it all in His name.

To all who helped in so many ways, thank you for letting God work through you in this time of need.

May 4, 2011


Okay, let me start this post by restating that I rarely (almost never) write about political issues. This doesn't mean that I'm ignorant of them or that they are disinteresting to me. I just realize that some of my opinions are probably unpopular, and I have a strict policy of only fighting over hills I'm willing to die for...

...Now that my disclaimer is out of the way, my issue is disappointment over the reaction to Osama bin Laden's death. One television commentator suggested that instead of burying him at sea we should have "put this guy in a meat grinder with a pig." Another stated that "hell is certainly much hotter tonight." I saw televised celebrations in the streets that looked eerily similar to the ones in the Middle East when the twin towers fell.

Let me unpack my opinions. Osama bin Laden was a murderer and a terrorist who should have been brought to justice. His demise will cost lives in retaliation, but will save exponentially more. Was this event a political ploy by the President? Probably so. But before we take shots at the President, do you know any other politicians who would not have made the same call if given the same opportunity?

What I find discouraging is the reactions I have seen from some Christians.

Paul Brandeis Raushernbush with the Huffington Post wrote, "Osama bin Laden has exemplified the absolute worst of religion. He was a zealot in his own belief and willing to kill those who believed differently; he recruited young people into his ranks by preying on their despair; and he carried out violence in the name of God. Osama bin Laden profaned the name of God and denigrated all people of faith."

I definitely believe bin Laden was evil. But I fear some Christians have forgotten that evil doesn't have a face. And I fear that in our joy at justice being done, some have become what we despise...angry zealots who preach a love for God and practice hate toward the ones he created in His image.

Please remember that the cornerstone of the Christian faith is mercy. And remember that although hell is a real place, if we proclaim to be a people who are dedicated to rescuing souls from hell, we should never take joy in the idea that someone might be destined for it.

What happened this past weekend was earthly justice being served. However, eternal justice is far over our pay grade. As Christians, we should be happy to allow God to be "God," and even happier that we are not gods.

I hope we will always remember that we are sinners saved by a merciful God, that love never rejoices in unrighteousness but rejoices in truth, that life is precious to God and His Son died for everyone (even bin Laden), and that hell is the ultimate in maximum torture and despair...therefore it's the same temperature this week as it was the last.

You have heard that it was said, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)

April 15, 2011

A Proud Moment

Last Sunday after church, I was supposed to go to a fund raising luncheon for the local Kiwanis Club. Fried chicken dinners are an occupational hazard, as you may know. I intended to go, until my son asked if I would go to lunch with him and some of his friends.

If you are a parent of a teen, you are aware that a teenage boy rarely wants dad tagging along. When those moments arise, you have to take advantage of them. So on this day, I would bite the bullet, let someone else have my chicken and ham dinner with all the fixings, and go with my son.

I ended up sitting several tables away from him with some other parents. Suddenly, a young (inexperienced) waitress, who was waiting on our table, came out with a food tray that was overloaded (to say the least). Just as she passed behind my son, the tray became unbalanced and food went everywhere.

You find out a great deal about people when the unexpected happens. The young girl was nearly in tears, on her hands and knees trying to clean up this colossal mess. Some of the boys at the table were oblivious, never seeing what had occurred. Others watched her with a silly grin on their face (in their words: "you know...because she was, like, pretty and stuff"). A couple of boys verbally made fun of her, within earshot no less.

My son got up out of his chair, got on his knees alongside the young lady, and helped her clean up her mess. He told her it was okay and that this sort of thing happens to everyone at some point. All I could think of while watching Average Joe Jr. was, "I'm so proud of him...he's been paying attention." ...

... Prior to this happening, I had just finished teaching about the difference between "doing acts of service," and "being a servant."

Usually, in a Christian setting, when we "do acts of service," we are doing something that we WANT to do. We may see it as a need, but also we see it as something we have chosen to do because it interests us. We may even possess unique skills to do this type of service. And please don't misunderstand me, this type of service is God-honoring and perfectly pleasing to Him.

But when we choose to "be a servant," we are willing to go outside our comfort zone, see the opportunities to serve, and meet them in spite of their uncomfortable nature.

There is a difference! ...

My son has given me many proud moments. But I'm not sure I have ever been as proud of him as I was on this Sunday afternoon. As long as I live, I'll never forget how I felt watching him get on his knees to serve.

I'm sure our Father in heaven feels the same way when we become "servants."

March 25, 2011

Mr. Roth

I would like to share a story with you that I read recently. It is written by an unknown author. . .

. . . An old man showed up at the back door of the house we were renting. Opening the door a few cautious inches, we saw his eyes were glassy and his furrowed face glistened with silver stubble. We were certain that he was either homeless, an alcoholic, or both. He clutched a wicker basket holding a few unappealing vegetables. He bid us good morning and offered his produce for sale. We were uneasy enough to make a quick purchase to alleviate both our pity and our fear.

To our chagrin, he returned the next week, introducing himself as Mr. Roth, the man who lived in the shack down the road. As our fears subsided, we got close enough to realize that it wasn't alcohol, but cataracts, that marbleized his eyes.

On subsequent visits, he would shuffle in, wearing two mismatched right shoes and pull out a harmonica. With glad eyes set on a future glory, he'd puff out old gospel tunes between conversations about vegetables and religion.

On one visit, he exclaimed, "The Lord is so good! I came out of my shack this morning and found a bag full of shoes and clothing on my front porch."

"That's wonderful, Mr. Roth," we said. "We're happy for you."

"You know what is even more wonderful?" he asked.

"Just yesterday I met some people that could use them." . . .

It is not uncommon for poor people to be generous. As a matter of fact, poor people are probably the most generous people on earth. What makes this' story all the more beautiful is that in this man's poverty, he served other's needs rather than his own.

Truth is, terms like small and large, tall and short, attractive and homely, rich and poor are relative terms. What is rich to one man is poor to another. In the case of Mr. Roth, poverty was something of which he considered himself immune. Why?

The story answers the question quite well. He had his eyes set on a future glory. Mr. Roth was rich in spirit. When we long to see Jesus face to face, this world seems to lose its appeal and importance.

So I encourage you to be like Mr. Roth, honestly assess your own needs, serve others, and set your eyes on a future glory. You may be amazed at how effective your personal ministry will become. And who knows, maybe you will entertain angels without knowing it?

"And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints." (2 Corinthians 8:1-4)

March 1, 2011


My daughter is an employee of Starbucks. I came to the realization that Starbucks was taking over the world three years ago when I was in Washington D.C. I walked out of a Starbucks, looked across the street and saw...you guessed it...a Starbucks!

One thing I've learned about Starbucks is that they have their own language. I call it "Starbuckese." They use the terms Tall (English for, well you probably can figure this out on your own), Grande (Spanish for really big), and Venti (Italian for 20...which is coincidentally the number of ounces of this drink). Don't ask me why they mix their languages in their insider code, because I don't know...I just guess they have their reasons.

However, I didn't really know how indepth the lingo was until I happened to visit Starbucks with my daughter, "O." We walked into the store, and she boldly steps right up to the counter, gets the attention of the barista (another fancy word, meaning "coffee fetcher"), and says..."I'll have a latte...tall, double non-fat, extra foam, extra hot, half-caf, with a half pump of chocolate." The barista began writing the "insider code" for all of these instructions on the side of O's paper cup. Quite frankly, I'm not sure if she knew how to do this, since some of the hieroglyphics included a question mark and an image resembling a rather obscene gesture.

Be that as it may, it was obvious that my little girl had acquired the all-important keys to the Starbucks kingdom, simply because she knew the language.

Now comes my turn to order. And, yes, I'm intimidated. I step up an sheepishly say, "I'd like a small cup of coffee, please." After O's order, I expected the barista to be relieved that I had made such a simple request. However, her expression said otherwise... "You ain't a regular around here, are ya' big boy?" I've never felt like more of an outsider...

...I guess I'm writing this because Christians can be guilty of the same thing. We have our words, expressions, and little "inside jokes," that only we understand. We have been around the church and her folks so long that we have developed our own language. Problem is, we sometimes forget that there are people that we are trying to "connect to God and each other" who, not only do not understand our lingo, but feel like outsiders because of it.

This experience made me think about how powerful our expressions can be and how important it is to find a way to tear down any walls that make "seekers" feel like outsiders.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5)

February 28, 2011

Hidden Pictures.

It used to be a Sunday morning ritual. I would go out to get the paper, and promptly look at three sections: Sports, Dear Abby, and the Sunday Comics. I never outgrew the Sunday comics. It just seems that the best way to start your day is with a laugh. I did this for years, right up until they started publishing those “hidden picture” puzzles.

You see, there was (is?) this thing in the comics where you are supposed to look at this series of dots and squiggly lines and see a hidden picture. The directions tell you to put the picture to your nose, slowly move it away from your face, and Eureka…you will see the hidden picture! The problem is that I have yet to see anything except dots and squiggly lines.

There were times in department stores when my friends and I would walk up on one of these works of "trainwreck art." After sharing that I can't see anything, they would say, "you mean you don't see that dinosaur eating the Buick LeSabre?!?!" And I’d just stand there feeling like a third grader trying to do Chinese arithmetic.

I was recently encouraged to find out that some people can see these images and others cannot. It has to do with their eyesight development. So it's not my fault that I cannot see the hidden picture, my eyes just aren't developed for it…and that’s my parent’s fault, right?. . .

. . . My frustration when trying to see the hidden pictures has made me a more understanding Bible teacher. I realize the angst and aggravation involves in not seeing things the way others do. There are things in the Bible that seem as clear as a Time magazine photo, and nearly everyone gets it. Yet, there are some things in there that are like the hidden picture; some folks see them and others do not.

If I have just described you, here's some advice. Don't allow your frustration to rob you of your joy in God's word. . . just wait for God to develop you. Don't give up trying to see the unseen, it's worth the effort. And just because something is unclear doesn't mean that it's too "deep" for you. . . it may just be "muddy. No matter what, don't give up!

February 22, 2011


Several years ago, during a VBS planning session (We call VBS, Summer Jam...I guess to confuse the masses), I began to realize how much VBS has changed. One thing that caught my attention was VBS snacks. Nowadays, VBS snacks are veggie heavy, with a touch of high fiber sweets, all to be washed down the assorted juices. YUCK!

After the meeting, I made mention to the person in charge of goodies that I'm not sure you can have VBS without Kool-Aid and sugar cookies. I went on to declare my abiding love for Kool-Aid and the red mustache created by my favorite flavor...cherry!

Her response was one of a true Christian servant..."I promise that you'll get your Kool-Aid." And she was as good as her word. The first evening of the event, she told me that she had a special pitcher for me in the back refrigerator. Sure enough, I had my own special supply of Kool-Aid...AND IT WAS CHERRY, JUST AS GOD INTENDED!

When word got out about my "secret stash," someone inquired as to why I thought I was so special...why should Average Joe have a special drink stash??? As I listened to them, all I could think of is "its only pennies a glass...1/3 the sugar of regular soda." Really dude, its just Kool-Aid, not personal access to the Holy Grail!

The best part of the conversation was right at the end when they said (really they said this), "I'm not sure if I want to be around a religious leaders who drinks Kool-Aid...are you going to expect us to drink the Kool-Aid too?"

It took me a minute, but I understood the question. "Drinking the Kool-Aid" is a reference to a tragedy where followers of a religious leader drank poison laced Kool-Aid. It has become synonymous with the idea of people blindly following a leader.

I'm pretty sure the final Kool-Aid comment was made in jest. But every time I remember it, I have to wonder.

And then I ponder the thought, "is there any Kool-Aid worth drinking?" In other words, are there hills worth dying for that should be accepted by faith? After all, aren't we expected to walk by faith and not sight?

I know that Jim Jones' followers were acting foolishly. But how about Jesus' followers? Must we understand every nuance of evangelism in order to tell our friends about the Savior? Should we thoroughly disect grace vs. works before being willing to accept God's forgiveness? The list of these types of questions is endless.

So, you tell me, is there any "Kool-Aid" worth drinking?

February 18, 2011


Friendship is the last fleeting sign of childhood dreams. It is the final symptom of youthfulness that lingers around the shadows of our adult minds.

It reminds us of chosen love. Chosen love is unlike family love in that families love one another out of acceptance. Friends, on the other hand, choose one another. This kind of love develops like barnacles on a ship; slowly over the course of time. It emerges without warning. There is no date of establishment to be remembered or celebrated. Most friendships have no real reference point as to the time or date when an acquaintance graduated into a friend. Love and loyalty are the diplomas awarded on such auspicious occasions.

Friendship is real and it is powerful. It is idealistic and capable of dreaming the biggest of dreams. It is iridescent enough to shine through the fog of an aloof world that has somehow forgotten the value of friendships and no longer values love and loyalty.

Average people rarely encounter a real friendship in the course of a lifetime. All to often, people travel through this life having made only acquaintances. One reason for this is that most people today are far too selfish to be a friend. You see, friendship is like riding in a Greyhound bus. In order to allow others on the bus, we must be willing to scoot over and sacrifice our own comforts as well as rearrange our perspectives. We must be willing to not only accommodate our friends, put their baggage as well.

Real Christian friendships require work. Citizenship in God's kingdom is not a simple matter of birthright. It is advanced citizenship. You have to want it bad and be willing to work and suffer for it. You must be willing to struggle with others and forgive them. You have to be willing to look past their imperfections and occasionally see them as they can be and not as they are.

The church is commanded by the Hebrew writer to assemble itself together. A more vivid translation of this might say that we are to join our lives together. This kind of communion in God's family cannot be achieved by mere acquaintances.

Real friendships glorify God. Being involved in real friendship is a Christian's destiny. We are told that the world will know that we belong to Jesus, the lover of the unlovable, by the way we create bonds with one another. So let's work on being loyal. Let's make it our business to overlook faults. And together, let's dream big dreams and teach the world about Jesus by our friendships with one another.

February 16, 2011

When You See One...

About a month ago, my son and daughter wanted to take me to lunch. I'm sure that every parent reading this knows that "take me to lunch" really means "come get us, take us to the restaurant, and by the way, yes, you are paying for this."

My son picked an Asian place. It is one of those places where you are always required to wait an extended period of time (to build culinary excitement), herded in with strangers (privacy is overrated anyway), asked to sit in a semi circle just wide enough that you can't really see or hear your friends (because you know them too well as it is), and are expected to be an audience for a chef who will prepare your meal with amazing flair (if you haven't seen the same show 50 times already).

The first 30 minutes of this visit went just like all the rest...we waited for a table. As usual, we were herded in with strangers. Once again, forced to sit in a semi circle. The waiter came in and took our orders and turned on the large metal grill, where our meal would be cooked.

After that, the "Asian Experience" took a woefully wrong turn.

As we sat awaiting our drinks, we were treated to a show unlike any we had seen in that restaurant before. As the grill heated up, for our culinary amazement, a cockroach came out from under the grill and began to scurry all over the metal surface looking for a cool spot...to no avail. As entertaining as this was, nobody at the table decided to stay for the chef's encore. We all stood simultaneously and left the premises.

On the way out the door, my son looked at me and said, "I just learned in school that when you see just one cockroach, you can be sure there are more than 500 nearby that you can't see."...

...Recently, my son's "cockroach theory" has caused me to ponder some things. What if the "cockroach theory" applies to other things? For example: What if when you caught a friend in a lie, there are really 500 lies leading up to that "one" lie, and you were totally unaware of these lies until it was too late? Absurd, I know, but are you following my train of thought?

The last couple of days have caused me to take stock of myself and my ministry. Some recent statements, which were made innocently, have caused me to think that maybe I'm not very good at what I do. In essence, I'm "Below Average Joe." I spent yesterday pondering my situation, and quite honestly, the jury is still out.

I can't swear that the "cockroach theory" applies in this case. But if it does here's the hard part...regardless of whether they are right or wrong, are there 500 more people nearby who feel the same way? After all, the "cockroach theory" states that when you see one, there are 500 nearby that you cannot see.

So what if you are in the same boat? "Cockroach theory" or not, whether it has been by one or 500, you have been discouraged. My only advice comes from Peter's recounting of the actions of the Savior..."When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:23)

In all honesty, I know no other way to handle the discouragement brought on by others...intentionally or otherwise.

February 14, 2011

Best/Worst Teachers

I have been fortunate to have some very wonderful teachers. In second grade, I was blessed to have a teacher by the name of Jacqueline Grey. During the height of desegregation, she was the first African-American teacher to teach in a “white” school in our city.

First grade was tough for me. My teacher, whom I won’t name, was incredibly unpleasant! (I used to tell my buddies that she was a Nazi fleeing prosecution for war crimes) But, Miss Grey made second grade fun and changed my entire attitude about how fun learning really is.

Truth is, however, that the teachers who have encouraged me to be more than I had ever imagined are few and far between. I recall Chris Sanders, my high school chemistry teacher who spent more time teaching us how to think rather than what to think. I remember Marie Roberts, my high school speech teacher who encouraged me to take drama in spite of my speech difficulties (I used to stutter), and then cast me in the lead of the school play. There’s even a football coach who comes to mind, Terry Hemontolor, who tutored me in algebra and made me fall in love with math. Lastly, Floyd Parker, who opened my eyes and created in me a new love for seeking depth in the Word of God.

I have also had some really terrible teachers. A history teaher, who came into the room the very first day of class, turned out all of the lights, stood on his desk with a flashlight in his mouth, and began turning around and around in circles. After this he jumped off of the desk and asked, "What am I?" (An idiot) The answer: a lighthouse. He then walked out the door and that was the end of class!

I also had a teacher in Grad School who began every by class changing the assignments and how to turn them in to him. At one point he wanted them e-mailed to him. Next class, he wanted them e-mailed to all of our fellow students as well as him. Then he wanted them e-mailed to him, then copied and sent by priority mail to him as well. Why?

The common thread between all of my favorite teachers seems to be a love for students, real knowledge of their subject, and a consistency in their expectations. The common thread among my poor teachers is a selfish attitude and a tendency to grandstand.

When I think of Jesus as the Master Teacher, I am reminded of my favorite teachers. He came to serve, not to be served. He diverted His student's attention to the glory of the Father and accepted no glory of His own. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. How's that for consistency? He became a man, just like us. How's that for knowing His subject? His humility, insight, and expectations do not change and His love for His students will never die.

So if you are looking for direction, insight, and discipline for your life, look to the teacher who has the qualities that mark all great teachers. Jesus truly was/is the Master Teacher!

February 9, 2011

A Criminal's Tale

Torture. That's what it was, torture. Had I known that I'd have been caught, I would have never done the crime. But I did do it, and now I was having to pay.

I was laid on a wooden cross. Seven inch spikes were driven into my hands and the pain was unbearable. By the time they had finished attaching my feet to the cross, I was in such pain that my animal instincts had taken over.

I wanted to destroy everything that I saw and curse everyone who watched. Knowing that I was certainly going to die, I no longer cared. After all, there had never been a "crucifixion survivor" and they couldn't kill me twice. For an hour I screamed accusations and obscenities that ordinarily would have never crossed my lips.

Then I noticed the One next to me. From what was being shouted at Him, I knew who He was and why He was there. You see, although I had never met Him, I had heard of Him. He claimed to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Sure didn't look like much of a Savior to me. Guess those Jews and Romans didn't buy it either.

The other convict and I started to hurl insults at Him. Why not? He claimed to be the Christ. . . how about doing some of that "Messiah stuff' and getting us outta here?

But then I noticed something different about Him. When they nailed Him to the cross, He didn't even wince. When they cursed His name, He prayed for them in return. When we, being in the same predicament, ridiculed His claims, He said nothing.

How could He do it? I was out of my mind in agony wanting to fight the whole world! How could He be so calm? Then it occurred to me that He just might be who He said He was. . . the Messiah! Who else could endure the finality of death with such repose? Who else would love His accusers, and die for those who would kill Him?

The moment that this thought rushed through my mind, I felt a calm that I have never experienced. I scolded the other convict, telling him of the Nazarene's innocence. How dare him speak this way to God's Son! Who did these onlookers think they were? We deserved this. . . He didn't. My mind screamed out, "stop it, He is the Promised One!"

But they wouldn't stop the ridicule and insults. So I made a desperate move. I asked a Savior whom I had just met for something that I didn't deserve. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

I didn't expect a response at this point. It was hard enough to breathe, much less talk. But He did respond. "Today you shall be with Me in paradise."

Undeserved grace. That's the only kind of grace there is! Dying alone was more than I could bear, but dying with Him was a privilege...

...Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)

January 31, 2011

The Boxer

It was early in the fight. This pugilistic affair was billed as the fight of the century. It pitted one of the greatest Hispanic fighters of all times, Roberto Duran, against one of the greatest American boxers of my lifetime, Sugar Ray Leonard.

The bell had rung. Vicious blows had been exchanged. The fighters had returned to their comers. And during this brief break in the battle, one of the fighters began giving in to the enemy.

When the bell rang for the next round to begin, Roberto Duran began a boxer's waltz around the ring with Leonard. Then, for no apparent reason, Duran dropped his gloves, started walking toward his corner, and said, "no mas, no mas!" (Spanish for: "no more, no more!")

The referee was stunned. Leonard looked bewildered for what seemed an almost painfully long time, and then jubilant after realizing that the victory would be awarded to him. The fight was over because Duran's enemy had gotten the best of him.

You may think that Leonard was the enemy who conquered Duran. He was not. You see, Leonard was only the opponent. The enemy lurked in the shadows of Duran's heart. . . a little voice that barraged him with the words "give up, quit, it's not worth it, you can't win, you aren't good enough!" Doubt turned into defeat...as it always does!

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel wrote a song called "The Boxer." One line in the song is still with me today. . . "in the clearing stands a boxer, a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminder of every glove that laid him out, or cut him 'til he cried out, in his anger and his shame, 'I am leaving, I am leaving,' but the fighter still remained."

When I think about perseverance, I think of this song. How the enemy is never in the opposing comer, but in the darkest crevasses of our hearts. . . a nagging, raspy voice that begs us to give up, give in, quit.

As Christians we are commissioned by God to do battle with the forces of Satan. Yet, Paul reminds us that the enemy is not flesh and blood, but the ruler of darkness.

Too often, we examine others to find this dark prince, and forget to examine ourselves. We would like to think our opponent is a nameless, faceless specter that we call "the world." Yet, sometimes the opponent has a friendlier face.

But I warn you to keep an eye out for the deadliest opponent. He is the dark voice lurking in our hearts that says, "stop doing good...don't worry about righteousness...give up...quit...it's not worth it...you can't win...you aren't good enough."

Don't allow doubt to fester into defeat.

Please remember that just as Paul shared that we are to battle Satan's forces, he also encourages us by sharing that we are not alone in the skirmish. We have God on our side. Jesus paid it all. And because of this, even Average Joes can be winners!

January 25, 2011


Every now and then I get the opportunity to meet a remarkable person. The fun part of this is that you never know where you will find them.

This past weekend, I was visiting my mother who is temporarily in a physical rehab facility following a stroke. I was sitting with Mom during an occupational therapy session, just minding our own business. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone speeding toward us in one of those electric wheelchairs called a “Hoveround.”

Mom looked up and said, “Hi Rachel!” At exactly this moment, Rachel realized that she could not get the hoveround stopped and ended up running into Mom’s table and turning it on top of her. Since nobody was hurt, this was pretty funny and we all sat and laughed together. In a place where most of the people there are struggling with their health, and some fighting for their very existence, laughter is a rare commodity.

After gathering her wits, Rachel said to Mom, “look through this mail and see if any of it is yours.” You see, Rachel can no longer read. She is 53 years old and is a victim of Cerebral Palsy. Her entire life has been a battle to walk, think clearly, and attempt to function just like everyone else. However, the disease is now rapidly taking over her body.

Almost two years ago, she fell attempting to take a shower and broke both of her legs. Because of her disability, she has never recovered. She is at the point where physical therapy is no longer an option. Since she has no family to care for her, she is now a resident of this nursing facility for the remainder of her days. (She prefers to call it “long term care” because someday, she is going to “blow this popsicle stand.”)

So what did she do with this news? She decided to find a way to be productive.

Every morning, Rachel reports to the front desk. Any mail that is addressed to the facility’s patients is given to her and she spends the next several hours delivering the mail. As she delivers the mail, she chats with the patients about anything they are able and willing to discuss. She is so pleasant and so quick to encourage. Her visits brighten the day of so many who have nobody to care.

I was blessed to speak with her for nearly a half-hour. Whether she realized it or not, I was inspired!

What would happen if we all had Rachel’s heart? If we would stop worrying about what we can’t do and figure out a way to do what we can. For Rachel, it would be easy to lie in her bed and be bitter about the cards she’s been dealt, or waste the remainder of her life wondering “what if?” But for Rachel, being productive is simply delivering mail and just talking to folks. So, what’s your thing? Well, that’s for you to find out.

Paul challenged the church at Thessalonica to “to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you…” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

It’s still good advice…in fact it is inspired.

I suppose this post is a Christian Nike commercial: “Just Do It!” What many people may not know is that Nike is the Greek goddess of victory. I guess the people at Nike have a point, because I’ve never met a victorious person who dwelled on what they could not do, but rather used and cultivated their gifts beyond anyone else’s imagination.

So, I encourage you to find a way to use your gifts and blessings, and on behalf of my new friend Rachel, who I consider a living, breathing goddess of victory…Just Do It!

January 20, 2011

Comfortable Pain

The base of her back is uncharacteristically fixed at a right angle. Like a rusted hinge, her back muscles are knotted to help bear the weight of her severely curved spine. Her nerves are twisted from the horribly misaligned vertebrae.

For almost two decades she has been chained to this deformed state, held tightly in the grip of what the Bible leads us to believe is a spirit from Satan. This spirit has done a disfiguring dance on her back, leaving behind its heel marks in what was once a healthy, tall, and statuesque young woman.

Under the stress of her deformity, she winces in pain as she trudges along toward the synagogue. She can't see the beautiful sky and the wonderful clouds overhead. She is bound in a posture that fixes her gaze on dirt and yesterday's rubbish in the streets.

As she takes her seat in the synagogue, Jesus' attention is diverted from the scriptures to fall on the yellowing dog eared pages of this woman's life. With divine knowledge, He skims the story of the last eighteen years, reading every sentence and pondering every question mark that punctuates her pain. Yet, her suffering and pain are merely minor characters in the story of her life. The featured character is her faith.

She is a true daughter of Abraham. She has come to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as she does every Sabbath. In spite of the pain, in spite of the pitied looks from adults, and in spite of the quiet giggling of children in the streets, she comes to sit before her God and praise Him in a commotion that would tempt others to curse.

Jesus closes his scroll and bids her to come to the front of the synagogue. It is an embarrassing moment for this woman because the journey to Jesus displays evermore clearly the awkwardness of her deformity.

She stops before him, twisting her torso in a strained attempt to see his face. And their eyes meet. "Woman you are freed from your sickness." Then she stands before her Master. . .

. . . I often wonder what went through her mind that day. Scripture doesn’t really spend much time on her response to this enormous gift.

Like this woman, we have experienced being crippled. But our crippling is caused by sin. Instead of curving our backs, Satan twists our hearts. He creates a deformity that prevents us from seeing beauty in God’s providence. He contorts our perceptions to make blessings appear as a curse. He distorts our view of the Father by diverting our thoughts to focus on the filth that is beneath us.

I wonder what would have happened if she refused to stand up? What if her response had been, “Jesus, no thank you. I like pain. The humiliation has become like an old friend. I have become accustomed to this disease and have altered my entire life to accommodate it. If I stand up, I might have to change parts of my life that I have worked hard for and are designed to fit my old impairment. The cost of accepting your gift is just too high.” Imagine that response!

Then realize that this is exactly what many of us have done. We have been freed from the bondage of Satan. Forgiveness is on the tips of our tongues. Jesus really has paid it all. But when the Savior asks us to walk and live upright, we choose to hang on to our sin because it is familiar and comfortable.

Jesus really does read the pages of our life. I pray that He will see faith as our major character. If you are bowed by selfishness and twisted by sin, you can count on the fact that being able to “stand” in His presence is better than anything else you might be grasping in desperation.

January 3, 2011


Perfection? Is there really such a thing?

A couple of weeks ago, my family and some friends went to a very nice restaurant to celebrate the holidays, as well as my 27th wedding anniversary. When I say it was a nice restaurant, I mean it was one of those places where the waiters are dressed in formal attire (nobody in hairnets here), speak in complete sentences (rather than "what'll ya' have?"), and synchronized the delivery of the food to the table (looking like the Whos in Whoville delivering the roast beast to Cindy Lou Who). Quite frankly, I felt as out of place as a Keebler Elf in the NBA. It certainly was not a place for an Average Joe.

As the evening progressed, I kept noticing that the young lady waiting our table kept asking the strangest question. After each time she brought something new to the table, she would ask, "Is everything perfect?" I couldn't help but wonder, "is there such a thing?"

On first brush, my immediate answer to her would have to be NO. Proverbs 37:25 says that the righteous will never have to beg for bread, and we've had to beg this waiter for it all night...therefore, either we're not righteous or she hasn't read Proverbs.

And in a more serious viewpoint and a larger scope, there are young men in harm's way defending our freedom in the middle east tonight...that's not perfect. There are children in our city who will go to bed hungry tonight...that's not perfect. There are elderly people who suffer from abject loneliness tonight...that's not perfect. There are people who live in fear for their lives due to living conditions we would find unacceptable...that's not perfect.

So, is everything perfect? No.

But the good news is that God allows us glimpses of His perfection. A healthy newborn, a wondrously colored sunset, an unexpected kindness...all of these give us a glimpse of a God who is kind, benevolent, gracious, and merciful.

My latest glimpse, however, came on Christmas Day. My family retired the night before hearing rumors that it could possibly be a white Christmas. Now, mind you, in our hometown there had not been a white Christmas in forty-one years. So, until we actually saw some white stuff, the rumor of snow was merely that...a rumor.

However, we awakened the next morning to a scene that no artist could duplicate. The view off our porch was a Norman Rockwell painting of snowy landscapes and children playing. It wasn't just Christmas...it was a White Christmas. As we opened gifts, we watched the snow fall. Our family ventured out in the snow to play and build a snowman. We ate breakfast together, and then dinner together as well. A family of four who are all as different as the snowflakes piled on our porch, played, shared, laughed, ate, and rejoiced together.

To me, there is no greater glimpse of heaven than this...beautiful scenery, joyous celebration, gratitude, and a family that is truly together.

As we sat down for our evening meal, my son was asked to lead us in prayer. For those of you who know him, you know that he is not a shy boy of few words. He talks constantly. However, when he talks to God, his economy of speech is a stark contrast to his normal conversation. He usually says things like, "Thank you God for everything and bless the whole world, Amen."

But on this day, he gave us a new wrinkle..."Thank you God for everything and bless the whole world...and thank you for a perfect day. Amen."

Perfect? Yes, this time the word applied. From the unexpected to the joyous, God had given us a glimpse of Himself throughout our day. And yes, it was perfect!