Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Better Christmas

As I reflect on Christmas Day, I see that the mood of the holiday is different this year.  From the news reports, it sounds like people are looking for simplicity rather than the latest toys and fads.

Momentum has been building for restoring Christmas to a celebration of Christian faith.  The trappings of Christmas have drifted farther and farther from any connection to Jesus, and finally people have had enough.  The pendulum had swung so far to commercialism that many are rebelling against excessive spending and partying. 

For years I had suggested to friends that we should give gifts at Thanksgiving, so that Christmas could be uncluttered and directed to the worship of Jesus.  But something better has happened.  Through the work of groups like Advent Conspiracy, Christians are working together to turn Christmas into a time when believers work together to bless the world in the name of Jesus.

Last night at our Christmas eve candlelight service, we received an offering for local and international missions.  We are trying to worship more and spend less.  Then we can give more and really make a difference in the world.  I pray that the world might come to recognize Christmas as a time when the followers of Christ work together to share the love of Jesus.  In practical ways we can provide for the needs of the helpless and hurting.

Christmas becomes an exciting time when we make a focused effort to give Jesus to the world.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I love the darkness – not metaphorically, but literally.  I like to sleep in a dark room.  I like walking outside in the dark.

 I really love to see the nighttime sky.  Recently we had the biggest full moon in a long time.  The moon was (for some reason) closer to the earth.  Venus and Jupiter have also been in conjunction.  Venus, the brighter of the planets, has been moving higher in the sky, while Jupiter has been moving lower.  I try to imagine what it would have been like hundreds of years ago, looking at the night sky, not really knowing a planet from a star.  Why would some of these lights seem to be still, while others are in different positions every day?

 By the way, the word “planet” comes from the Greek word for “wanderer.”  These heavenly bodies appear to wander across the night sky.  It amazes me that any one could look at the movement of these orbs and determine that they orbit the sun.  I just enjoy watching them.

 As we approach the shortest day of the year, there is plenty of darkness.  But even in this darkness, there is light.  And it is beautiful.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Giving Jesus

The Christmas season is fully upon us now.  I want the season to be full of Jesus, not busyness and stress.  

To maintain my focus, I’m working to keep in touch with Jesus.  I really like spending time in prayer and Bible reading, but somehow that gets tough in December.  I want to spend my early morning time with him, so that I have something to give during the rest of the day.

I’m also looking for ways to give Jesus when I’m out in public.  It is easy for me to become absorbed in my “mission,” whether it is filling the car with gas, or finding some item on sale.  I’m training myself to look around and notice the people around me.  Then Jesus can use me to bring a smile, a word of encouragement or a helping hand.

With gift giving, our family is looking for opportunities to give gifts that change the world.  World Vision has a “gift catalog” with various gifts that can be given in honor of a friend or family member.  My family had a great time flipping through the catalog and imagining which gifts we would most like to give on behalf of which people.  You can give a cow, a goat, a chicken or a deep well.  You can also give a fish pond, a fishing kit or a duck.  People in developing countries need these gifts so that they can take care of their own families, without depending on outside help.

We are also planning to give generously to our church’s Christmas offering.  The offering will support local and international efforts to share the love of Jesus.  I’m excited about the ministries and the impact they have on the world.

Jesus gave himself to us.  He wants us freely to share his love with the world.  That makes life more fun for us, and it gives real life to those around us.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Soul Exploration

Friends can help us figure out our emotions.  I read a story recently about a man who felt discouraged, and he couldn’t understand why.  He invited his friends to help him sort through his situation.  They asked him questions about his circumstances, thoughts, and feelings.  It turned out that he had recently buried a friend, and he was simply coping with that.  He suspected that his loss had left him drained and possibly confused.  But his friends helped him clear up the confusion, and they supported him as he worked through it.


The friends knew what questions to ask.  They cared enough to dig deeply.  As true friends, they wanted to discover the source of the anxiety.  The writer said that his friends helped him explore his soul.


What if we all had a few friends who would help us explore our souls?  They could help us dig down to our deepest thoughts, desires and feelings.  The more I get in touch with the deep things in my soul, the more fulfilled my life is. 


But for some reason, it is difficult to invite someone to take such a penetrating look into my soul.  It has to be someone I trust.  It has to be someone who cares about me.  It has to be someone with whom I can share my deepest longings. 


There are a few people in my life like that.  I just need the courage to invite them to go exploring with me.  I would gladly do so for someone else.  I think they would gladly do it for me.  I wonder what I’m afraid of…

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Prayers for the President

             Now that Barak Obama has been elected president, he needs our prayers more than ever.  Certainly every president needs prayer support, but our nation is facing unusual challenges today.  With wars abroad and economic crises at home, we need solid leadership.

             The president-elect will certainly discover that it is hard to deliver on every campaign promise.  He made, it seems to me, sweeping promises to fix every ill in the country, with the power of the government.  It won’t be so easy.

             I hope that he will find that Christ followers are praying for him with energy and expectation.  Many Americans have such high expectations, it may be nearly impossible to fulfill them.

             Here is my prayer:  that Americans praying for Obama will renew or discover their relationship with Jesus, and that our new president will be overwhelmed by the power of God. 

             If Obama will follow Christ and let the Lord change his heart – and some of his policies – he could be one of our greatest presidents.  Such is the power of God released through his people humbly seeking his face.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Being Christ

Sometimes God reveals the obvious to me, and I wonder why I never understood it before. As I was walking with my dog this morning, I ran into one of my neighbors. After a brief conversation, we both continued our walks. I have prayed for this neighbor on several occasions. I wondered how I could really minister with such encounters.

Then it dawned on me. God is not calling me to quote Bible verses to everyone I meet. He is not asking me to give money to everyone I meet, nor to pray with, talk to, or invite to church everyone I meet.

He is calling me to be Christ to everyone I meet. I need to be so filled with Jesus that his love overflows from me. As Jesus met people on the street, he ministered to them in different ways. Some he healed, some he comforted, some he challenged, so he taught, some he rebuked. To all of them, he showed love.

As I encounter people, I need to let Jesus work through me. I need to be so in tune with the Spirit that he uses me to show his love. Because of the life of Christ in me, I can be Christ to those around me. Because he gave his life for me, and placed his life in me, the life of Jesus can flow from me to everyone around me.

So I am free to serve Christ by surrendering to his Spirit. Through me, then, Jesus can share his love – through words, actions, gifts, prayers, and presence.

My job is to be Jesus to those I meet every day. He can then pursue them with his Spirit’s power and bring them into his kingdom.

It’s so obvious.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


It’s always interesting going back to places of one’s past. Last Sunday my family and I went to a homecoming worship service at the church where I was pastor, 1991-1999. In 1999, at our request, they sent me and my family as missionaries to Stokesdale. They invited me to speak at this year’s homecoming worship service.

I was delighted with many of the changes I saw in the congregation and the facilities. There were a lot of people there I didn’t recognize, at least some of whom are new members of the church. They recently baptized several people.

The spirit of the people was very warm and welcoming. They were sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and eager to follow God’s leadership. I got to use their wireless mic as I spoke – a much better mic than I normally use. The whole sound system is wireless. They also have a video projector, which they know how to use. I felt like such a snob, because I had expected things to be like they used to be. Things do change, even without me.

This shows me that God is working, whether or not I realize it. He can change the culture in a church, even a hundred-year-old church. He can mobilize faithful people, any time, anywhere. The gospel changes people, even in traditional churches. May the Lord change me, and keep on changing me, so that he can make a difference through me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Stop it

We had several folks from Crossroads go to Catalyst last week. It is always an amazing conference. There are so many ideas, and so much high octane inspiration, it is hard for me to digest it all.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, offered some great challenges to us. After polling the audience to see that nearly everyone makes a “to do” list, he then asked a related question. Do you have a “stop doing” list? Uh, no. His point is that for everything we do, we have to stop doing something. It could be to stop watching so much TV or to stop sleeping late. But there are also many things we need to delegate to others. By the way, you can find lots of free stuff on his Web site,

Christian leaders always need to build up other leaders. That’s just part of discipleship. So I realize that there are things I need to hand off to someone else. I’m not sure why that’s so hard for me. There is plenty of administrative stuff that takes up my time and drains me.

Meanwhile, I really want to stay on the cutting edge of ministry. At Catalyst I kept hearing about books I want to read, Web sites I want to explore, service opportunities I want to try. I need to make time to do this stuff. If I stop doing some things, then I can free up time to serve God where he has gifted me. And I can do it without going crazy.

That brings me to one more thing that Collins suggested: white space days. These are days when we plan to do nothing but think. It sounds a lot like Sabbath. I could use a few of those days. It is really a matter of obedience, if we take seriously what Jesus says. Ouch.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Just a Little More Candy

As I write today, the U.S. Senate is about to vote on the historic bailout of the mortgage industry. The House voted down a similar proposal on Monday, responding to the outcry from its constituents.

As the media have reported on the formulation of the Senate bill, they suggest that tax payers would approve of the measure if there were some special provisions in the new law for them. In other words, we won’t go for a basketful of candy for someone else; but if you put some candy in there for us, then we are all for it.

Now, I don’t like that thinking, and I resent the implication that we would be so shallow. The reason I oppose the bailout is that it is wrong fiscal policy, and it violates the principles of the free market.

It is wrong fiscal policy to put the tax payers further in debt. We are looking at increasing the national debt by nearly a trillion dollars. Even now, the federal budget must provide for billions of dollars annually simply to service the debt. We are paying interest, but not paying any principal. This measure would increase the debt by about 10 percent and increase our interest payments. No one would advise any person to handle his personal finances this way.

The measure also violates the principles of the free market. The government should get out of the way of the marketplace as much as possible. Some regulations are needed, but they should be minimal. This measure doesn’t just call for more regulations. It calls for the government to buy assets from the private sector and get into the mortgage business. With Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government has already proven that it doesn’t do well in the business.

And now, the Senate has passed the bill. It is 451 pages long, and only 120 pages of the bill have to do with the bailout. All the rest is candy, made to sweeten the deal. I hope it doesn’t make us sick.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


When everyone calls an economic situation a crisis, then there may actually be a crisis. The proposed bailout, which congressional leaders have just agreed upon, is really a momentous piece of legislation. As you know, they want the U.S. government to spend $700 billion to buy up bundles of questionable mortgage loans. The face value of the loans is actually much more than $700 billion, but those holding the loans can’t find anyone to buy the loans at anything near face value.

Theoretically, the government could MAKE money after a few months when they sell these loans again in the open market. I’m not holding my breath. Even if the government did make money, it would be used for more spending, not for paying debt or tax rebates.

But even if the government could make money with this deal, I don’t believe it is the right thing to do. The government does not need to interfere in the free market. The market naturally has ways to correct itself. But in this case, the government wants to step in, ostensibly, to protect us from the fallout of the bad business practices which led to the problem.

Whenever there is government intrusion, there will be government regulation. Government regulation always has unintended consequences. In fact, government regulations, put in place after the Enron collapse several years ago, are partly to blame for today’s situation. Accounting practices which are now required have made financial statements look bad for firms holding the bundles of sub-prime loans. This has sent them into panic, as they try to sell the loans – to improve their balance sheets – in a market where no one will buy them.

With the current proposal, there will certainly be more regulations and more unintended consequences. The government will be in the business of selling off sub-prime loans. And we will have to print billions of new dollars to pay for the party.

Talk about inflation.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I heard a saying a couple of weeks ago which has really stuck with me.

“You were destined to achieve what you were designed to love.”

God has designed us all with various preferences, passions, and abilities. He has designed us all differently, and we love different kinds of things, from activities to foods to employment.

God has placed within our hearts certain desires which, when fulfilled, will build his kingdom and bring us joy. Paul told the Ephesians that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” We are destined, through his work in us, to achieve those very things which will bring joy to our hearts.

Only God can work these things together. We are made to love certain things. We are destined to achieve these things. He has prepared them in advance so that we can do them.

This gives me some assurance that in pursuing kingdom work, I am fulfilling God’s destiny for me. I am learning that he builds great love for the work he has shaped me to do.

Since he has prepared these things in advance, I can trust him to bring them about. Right now, it is hard for me to see the plan he has worked out in advance. I need to listen. I need to watch. I need to pray. He will bring it all about in his timing. I also need to step forward in faith, following his lead. Wherever he leads, he will provide all that we need.

OK, God. Here I go.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Power of Focus

I have enjoyed watching the Olympics this week. Michael Phelps has been unbelievable. At this point he has earned six gold medals. I have noticed that lots of world records are being set, by Phelps and others. Even a 20-year-old record was broken. One track and field commentator said that the track was a very fast one. I thought that all tracks were about the same, except for altitude. I wonder what makes a track fast…

But the water must be fast, too, with all the world swimming records being set. I think that the records are being set partly because of a new tool athletes have to help them focus. Around the fields and pools I see lots of athletes sporting ear buds. Listening to favorite music has a way of getting someone in the zone.

For the first time today I listened to my mp3 player on my morning fitness walk,. I started with one album, but found that the music was too slow or mellow. I switched to a DC Talk record, and felt the adrenalin kick in. I may have covered my 2.5 miles in record time. I know that my dog found it hard to keep up.

I do believe that athletes can use music to get in the zone and perform at maximum capacity. Focus is essential for scaling new heights. The Spirit is the one who really helps us focus, and maybe good music can help too.

I expect to see lots of “world records” being broken in the spiritual realm. Jesus is on the move. He is transforming people. He is changing the world. I want to be part of that!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Real Battle

In my personal devotions now I am reading through the Psalms, one of my favorite books of the Bible. It seems like there is a Psalm to match every emotion possible: joy, fear, anger, discouragement, contentment. I have noticed that I can’t really understand a Psalm thoroughly, unless I am in the mood of the psalmist. When I’m experiencing the same thing as the writer, I keep thinking YES, YES! It’s comforting to know that others have felt this same way.

One feeling I have a hard time relating to, however, is David’s desire for harm to his enemies. Maybe I’m not reading deeply enough, but it seems like David is sicking God on his own enemies. David takes it for granted that he is on God’s side.

Of course David was God’s anointed, and he was – during much of his life – on a mission from God. He enjoyed great intimacy with God and remained humble before him. There may have been no one in the world more intimate with God than David. Since he was a “man after God’s own heart,” he would know who God’s enemies were.

And God does punish the wicked. He hates sin. He is perfectly just. He brings destruction and judgment. But then Jesus tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. God does love the world. He loves even those who despise him.

Recently a Crossroads daily verse (sent by email every day), was Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

While David is calling for God to destroy his enemies, the real enemy is not the people but the underlying spiritual forces of evil. The battle is a spiritual one. The spiritual battle is often waged on the field of human personalities. Maybe David was really asking for God to defeat the spiritual forces.

That’s where we need to focus our prayers. The real battle is a spiritual one. That’s why prayer matters. When we face unreasonable or wicked people, we need to remember that the battle is against the spiritual forces of evil. We need to ask God to win the battle in us and in our tormentors.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mission Trip Send-Off

Last year I went with the youth group on their mission trip. This year, it’s a little different for me, because I’m not going with them. Lisa and I planned not to go, so that our 14-year-old daughter could have the blessing of not having her parents along for the ride.

It is a different experience, staying home, wondering what they will be doing every day. Tonight the youth will have their lock-in, and they will leave tomorrow morning at 4 a.m., driving to Indianapolis.

I’m praying for God to protect them, to teach them and to challenge them. I’m asking God to draw our youth closer to himself and closer to each other. I’m asking him to build their community. I’m praying for the adults to be stretched and to learn more about the heart of God. Last year was a life-changing experience for everyone, and I’m expecting God to continue his good work.

I’m also praying for the people they will serve. God knows who these people are, and he may use our group to answer many prayers. I’m praying for the other youth groups who will be working along side our kids. Many friendships begin through these mission trips.

It may be hard to stay put while others are away serving. It’s just a different experience for me. Prayer is essential for undergirding God’s work. I expect to spend a lot of time on my knees. And I expect God to make difference for eternity through our youth group’s mission trip.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Taking it to God

Our challenge of finding a new meeting place has been an interesting ride. Meeting space has always been difficult to find in Stokesdale. There is just nothing available for assembly space. Because Stokesdale does not have a sewage system, occupancy of any structure is limited by the septic system serving the building. Normal retail space doesn’t require nearly the septic capacity that assembly space requires. So we can’t use normal retail buildings.

Those restrictions are part of the reason that Crossroads has always been a nomadic people in Stokesdale. We have been in the Long House for more than five years, longer than we have met in any of the other eight places where we have worshipped.

So, as we look to a new place to meet, we are bringing our hearts before the Lord in a Concert of Prayer this Sunday evening. Finding our future meeting space is a supernatural issue. That is, God will have to provide it.

But God’s agenda is not to give us a building. His agenda is to bring our hearts closer to him. He can reveal himself with or without buildings. He can use the process of finding meeting space to help us see his glory. This is a God-sized project. Because God has called us together as a church, we believe that he wants us to gather to worship. We need him to lead us to the right situation.

Looking beyond our own needs, we want to know what God is doing in Stokesdale, and we desperately want to be a part of that. If we merely throw together another building and say, “Y’all come!” then we are not doing much to advance the kingdom of God. But if we surrender ourselves to God and say, “Here we are. Use us!” then God can do some truly amazing work.

God is not wimpy. He’s not limited. He wants to show his glory. And so we are seeking his face this Sunday evening.

Lord, please show us your glory.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Staying Close

I’m thinking very carefully these days before jumping in the car. Our family is combining trips and maximizing every excursion, whether to Greensboro or just to downtown Stokesdale. It seems that everyone is making adjustments.

Some people are selling their gas guzzlers. Some are car pooling. I even talked to a guy who plans to fit his Suburban with a homemade device that will double his mileage. I can’t wait to see if it really works.

In some ways it seems like the world of transportation has taken a great leap back to an earlier era. Transportation has never been as easy as today. With it suddenly getting more expensive, we are recognizing travel as a bigger deal. That’s more in line with the historical perspective on getting about.

A hundred years ago, people who lived 20 miles outside of town might only go to town once a month. It was a big event to travel to the city. Extended families also tended to stay close to home, rather than moving across the country.

Back then it made sense to stay closer, because transportation was hard work. People walked a lot, even from one town to another. You would have to plan your week around ten-mile trip to another town. Then horses and buggies made travel a little better, but it was still time spent in the elements, and a rough ride, too. Trains allowed people to travel great distances, but a train ride required considerable planning and it was not cheap.

With all the hurdles to transportation, people traveled less.

Today, transportation is really cushy, with A/C, cup holders, cruise control, power windows, radios and CD players. It is not a rugged experience, unless you are flying half-way across the world. But suddenly travel is becoming much more expensive. With the added cost, we are now seeing transportation a little bit more like our ancestors did.

But there are plenty of benefits of staying closer to home. We get to know our neighbors. We find fun things to do around the neighborhood. We share rides with friends. We spend time with our families. We spend time outdoors with cookouts and horseshoes. We spend time visiting with people. We might also spend more time with God.

I think that less travel may well be a blessing to our relationships. If we are intentional about it, and if we seek God in it, the changes can really make life much better for us. Sounds good to me.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Happy Day

I just read on the Channel 8 Web site that someone has declared June 20 as the happiest day of the year. Sounds good to me.

A psychologist in England has calculated that people feel most happy on this day, based on his interesting formula: O + (N x S) + Cpm/T + He.

O = time spent outdoors
N = time spent in nature
S = socializing with friends
Cpm = childhood positive memories
T = temperature
He = holiday expected

Now, I don’t think he intends to divide our childhood positive memories by the temperature, as the formula indicates, but he does make a good point. There are plenty of good things working together to encourage us.

It makes sense to notice these positive things and even enhance them. We can’t control the outside temperature, but we can dwell on our good memories. We can make time to spend with friends. We can make plans for fun things. We can spend more time outside, enjoying nature.

Just like we can add to our own happiness, we can intentionally add to our own joy. I wonder what your formula for joy would look like? I want to figure out my own formula, and then maximize all the right variables. It won’t make every day a cake walk, but it will keep my heart more in tune with Jesus, and he’s the One who gives me joy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jury Duty

Today (Monday) I reported for jury duty, something I have never done, but always wanted to do. In the past when I have received a summons in the mail, I have not gotten to report to the courthouse. Today, I reported at 9:30 to Courtroom A in Wentworth. As I have breaks, I’ll add to my musings on jury service.

There are about 50 people in the group summoned today. I was called to be part of the first batch of jurors to be questioned by the prosecution and defense attorneys. Both sides are looking for jurors who will be fair and impartial.

The prosecuting attorney asked us all questions about our experiences with law enforcement and the judicial system. She also asked personal questions to learn about our jobs, spouses and families. The defense attorney made sure that we understood the presumption of innocence, and he asked each potential juror how long he or she has lived in Rockingham County. He also asked us personal questions.

I did not get struck from the jury, and am excited to participate fully as a juror. I value very much the American system of justice. I have heard people talk about bright, reasonable people who get out of jury duty, with flimsy excuses. We often hear about juries returning foolish verdicts. If reasonable citizens refuse to sit on juries, then the justice system is bound to deteriorate.

After we were seated in the jury box, we heard the opening statements of both the prosecution and the defense. Then we took a break for lunch.

The prosecution presented its case, calling only one witness. I must say that the prosecutor was very thorough in her presentation of the evidence. The defense presented no evidence, but only cross examined the prosecution’s witness.

The attitude of everyone around the court has been surprisingly encouraging. They have helped everyone feel at ease and have helped us understand the process. They are focusing on us, the jury, making sure that all the evidence is presented clearly for us. I was expecting a more cold, clinical environment among the professionals. The judge, Ms. Eagle, speaks with a drawl and seems very approachable. She urged the jurors to speak up if we could not hear or understand the evidence presented.

Now the case is over, so I can write about it. It was a DWI case. The jurors were unanimous on the verdict with very little discussion. They tapped me to be the jury foreman, which was an exceedingly easy job with such an agreeable bunch. The 12 people were interested in justice and seemed very competent. I actually liked working with them.

This whole day has helped me appreciate our judicial system. I guess we only hear about juries when they return idiotic verdicts. We don’t hear about the thousands of cases tried across the country every day with good, impartial, interested juries.

The verdict? Guilty.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Powerful VBS!

Our Vacation Bible School is coming up, July 14-18, and our co-directors are already taking VBS to a new level. VBS is a signature event for Crossroads, and we have been blessed with great leadership for this ministry, year after year.

The Long House will be transformed into a Power Lab full of fun science experiments and truths about the love of Jesus. The workers will get to know the campers, sharing the adventure in their crews. As always, it will be hands-on, high energy, and wide-open!

This year, we have our own Crossroads VBS Web site, so be sure to check out the link on our homepage under Upcoming Events. You can watch a video about Power Lab, download the Power Lab theme song, volunteer to help and sign up your kids to be part of the fun!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Growing with Changes

After more than five years of meeting the Long House, on the outskirts of Stokesdale, Crossroads is now planning to find new meeting space. Our challenges cause us to grow. It has been very exciting to see the vision and enthusiasm God has placed in the hearts of the people of Crossroads. Rather than being discouraged, we are eagerly, actively looking for our next steps. He is helping us see with kingdom eyes, making us depend on him to do what only he can do.

We are praying that God will provide just the right location for us, where we can be more visible and touch more lives. We believe that God is changing the world, and that he can use us in the process. The months ahead will send us on a new pathway of service, so we are eagerly seeking his leadership.

He also reminds us that church is not a building, but people. We don’t have a church. We are the church. He is God, and he longs to reveal his extraordinary love and power. He is bringing his kingdom. I really want to be part of that!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Family Connections

I learned this week that I am a direct descendant of Patrick Henry. My half brother and his wife were visiting from Rhode Island this week, and they shared with us some of their genealogy discoveries. They knew that Patrick Henry’s name had shown up in my father’s lineage, but weren’t sure how he fit in. With their laptop handy, they dug into their vast family files to determine the exact relationship. It turns out that through my father’s mother, the maternal lineage goes to Martha Henry Fontaine, the daughter of Patrick Henry. He’s my seventh-great grandfather.

I have always been inspired by PH, with his “Give me liberty or give me death,” speech. He seems like a maverick, boldly doing what he believed to be right, not swayed by public opinion. He was not satisfied with the status quo. He was a great advocate for freedom. He also seems like a man of significant spiritual conviction.

Now I feel the need to study this figure in American history and learn from his legacy. I’m sure that there are flaws in his life as well as moments of greatness. It will be a learning experience for me, because I can let his life give insights into my own soul. When I read about any historical figures, I always try to learn about myself – my flaws, opportunities and potential. But with PH, it now seems much more personal.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Must See

Over the weekend I went with my wife and some friends to see the movie “Expelled.” In this documentary, Ben Stein explores stories of some science professors who have been fired from universities around the country. These professors have suggested, through lectures or publications, that there may be some validity to the notion of Intelligent Design.

(By the way, Ben Stein is the guy who played the boring teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” with Matthew Broderick.)

The concept of Intelligent Design is that scientific evidence in the material world points to design, not a happy convergence of random occurrences. A reasonable person, they say, could not observe the order of the universe and declare it to be a mere accident.

This is a direct challenge to the scientific community's prevailing acceptance of Darwinian evolution. According to Darwin, everything is an accident, governed by the laws of chance and natural selection. This universe evolved without any guidance from any being or intelligence.

Stein asserts that the professors who have given credence to ID have been intentionally excluded from the scientific community. They are fired, denied tenure and labeled as rogues. They can’t find work in their fields because other scientists refuse to work with them. Scientists don’t want to associate with those who question the party line of Darwinism.

In the movie, Stein drills down to find the real reason that scientists cling to Darwinian evolution. He interviews many scientists, both evolutionists and those who question the theory. He explores the implications of the Darwinian philosophy, and how it has played into world politics.

Best of all, this is a FUN movie. Stein doesn’t take himself too seriously. The movie includes numerous clips from old movies and newsreels. It actually has a great soundtrack, and I hope it comes out on CD.

Prepare yourself to laugh and to think, and go see “Expelled.” It will open your eyes!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

One More Thing

After I preach on Sundays, sometimes I think of another point I should have made. As our small group met on Wednesday, discussing last Sunday’s message from Acts 14, I had another bit of insight. In Acts 14 we find the story of Paul preaching in Lystra, when he notices a lame man who has faith to be healed. Paul commands him to stand up, which he does.

The man could experience healing because Paul was living in the power of the Holy Spirit, listening to his promptings. But Paul also noticed this man particularly in the crowd. Paul was paying attention to people.

We too can live this way. We can pay attention to the people around us. We can notice their needs and hurts. But we also need to be listening constantly to the prompting of the Spirit. He will show us how he wants to work in the lives of those around us.

It is a powerful combination: listening to God while noticing people. That sounds a whole lot like the Great Commandment: Love God, Love People. These are the greatest commandments, Jesus said. This is how we should be living.

When we live like this, Jesus reveals his power and the world is blessed by him. And this gives his servants joy in the process.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Celtic Gospel

I recently heard someone contrast the Roman way of faith with the Celtic way of faith. The Roman way, said my friend, follows this progression: behave > believe > belong. People coming into the community of faith first have to clean up their act. They need to follow the rules and not offend the faithful. Then they can then listen to the gospel message about Jesus, and place their trust in him. Once they have accepted the tenets of the faith, they can finally belong.

The Celtic model, according to my friend, follows this progression: belong > believe > behave. With this understanding, people are welcomed into the community of faith, even before they believe. We model the acceptance of Jesus and let them experience God’s love. After all, God demonstrated his own love for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Having friendships helps people open up to hear the truth about Jesus. They can learn about his love in the Bible and see his love in practice among his people. The love opens people’s hearts so that they can trust and believe. Once they have placed their trust in Jesus, he helps them know how to behave. The Spirit living within helps every believer live rightly.

The truth is that we can have good outward behavior – at least for a while – without being changed on the inside. I think that such people are among the most miserable in the world. Eventually this fa├žade of goodness cracks, and the resentment of forced conformity comes pouring out.

Jesus welcomed people before they behaved. When they saw that he really cared about them, they listened to him. Once they came to believe in Jesus, they wanted to do what was right.

Jesus changes us from the inside out. That’s the good news!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Parental Rights and Wrongs

Authorities in Texas raided a religious compound recently and took into custody 416 children. They were responding to a call for help, allegedly from a 16-year-old girl in the compound who claimed that she was mistreated by her husband. There were other reports of abuse in the community.

The compound residents are part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke away from the Mormon Church some time ago. They apparently split from the Mormon Church over the issue of polygamy. The leader of the sect was convicted in Utah last year as an accomplice to rape, for ordering the “marriage” of teenage girls to older men.

But to hear some of the wives from the Texas compound describe it, they lived in an idyllic environment. The children were all being raised to live moral, upstanding lives, they say.

At this point, it seems hard to know what was going on in there. No one denies that they practice polygamy, which I thought was illegal anyway. The children were housed in large dormitories, like barracks. It seems likely that the kids were not in a very good environment, but again, it depends on whose story you believe. At the very least, the religious teaching was not based on accurate interpretation of the Bible.

One question here is how far religious freedoms go. Should these men be allowed to take multiple wives? Should they be allowed to raise these hundreds of children as they please? Beyond physical harm, what constitutes child abuse?

Then I wonder, when is the state justified in stepping in? They have taken all these children away from their home, such as it was. It seems that their custody situations are unsettled at the moment.

It is scary to think that some social services case workers and bureaucrats can decide when parents are not doing a good enough job – if indeed the decision was made at that level. Authorities can then forcibly remove children from the custody of their parents.

Clearly there are many, many cases when such intervention is needed. I get sick every time I hear of a case of child abuse or neglect.

But good parenting doesn’t blow with the winds of political correctness. If current trends continue, parents could lose their rights to raise their children as they see fit.

Just last month a court in California ruled that parents could not homeschool their children in the high school years. Since no parent could be certified to teach every high school class, no parent is suited to teach his or her high school children at home, they said. Parents, then, would face criminal prosecution, unless they turn their children over to the state for education.

We need to keep a wary eye on those who think that raising children is the role of the state, not the parent. The Bible clearly teaches that raising and teaching children is the job of the parent.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's in Store

On Friday, my family had a real treat. We went shopping in Stokesdale’s very own Dollar General Store. Having lived in cities, I know what it is to take shopping for granted. But since 1988, I have lived off the beaten path.

So, stepping into the new Dollar General Store, a mere three miles from my house, seemed like a dream come true. No longer would we have to drive to Greensboro or Madison to find household items. Storage tubs, greeting cards, box fans, coolers, toiletries, socks, jeans, food: it’s all there.

My 14-year-old said that it was like stepping into Greensboro. My children have never lived in a city. We went from aisle to aisle, begging each other to come see what treasure we had found.

We also had a fun mission. A young man in our church just moved out on his own and needs the usual housekeeping items. Our church conspired to buy him lots of supplies and surprise him at our worship time on Sunday. So, in preparation for the great surprise, we browsed the isles at Dollar General saying, “Oh, let’s get him this. Oh, let’s get him that!” It was the most fun we’ve ever had buying brooms and flashlights.

I was glad to see such a heart for giving in my children.

Then on Sunday we surprised this young man with loads of towels, trash cans, utensils, food, etc., etc. It is hard to find this fellow speechless, but when he saw what we had done, he was. It was a blessing to me to see how the people of Crossroads got so fired up about helping this man. God has done a work in him, and we have seen it unfold over the years.

I believe this is Jesus wants his followers to do.

Friday, April 4, 2008


It’s that time of year again. I’m about to finish our taxes for this year.

How did I ever do this without TurboTax? I remember the primitive way. Two copies of all the forms. Oops, I still need the xyz-1876 form. Better go to the public library to get one – no two or three. Pencils with fat erasers all around my desk. A red pen to circle important information in the directions. They call those directions? Come on! Just say what you mean!

Change one figure on one form, and then half the lines on half the other forms are all incorrect. But which half? And is this my final copy or my draft?

Family interruptions become such a delight in the midst of these musings. What?! No, I’m not hungry! At least the interruption provides a great opportunity to blame someone. Where did you hide my box of receipts? Did you shuffle my papers while I wasn’t looking? Why are you making all that noise? Stop having fun while I’m working! Words spoken in love – love displayed by my commitment to slave away at this revenue matrix.

And of course there is a rule about working on taxes. You always start at 9 p.m. or later. That way you can stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning, working until you discover which essential slip of paper you misfiled. I know it came in the mail. I know I filed it here. How could it be gone? Then, with such sweet thoughts, you can lie in bed for another hour until you drift into fitful tossing and turning.

So now I can sing the praise of TurboTax. It speaks English, not the language of the IRS, whatever that is. It asks me for numbers and words, most of which I can find. It graciously changes all the figures on all the forms instantly whenever I make a change. It tells me how much I owe, with a running total.

But even with the super-slick software, I can still lose my receipts and yell at my family. I can still start at 9 o’clock. I can even lose sleep, worrying. But so far, I think I have missed out on most of that. At least my family is not avoiding me….Hey, I’m hungry!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Everyday Prayers

I continue to be challenged by the book, With Christ in the School of Prayer, by Andrew Murray. He has obviously thought much more deeply about prayer than I ever have. He has also studied the life and teaching of Jesus about prayer.

I have come to the point that I no longer jump right in to pray for a given situation. I don’t know what to pray. I have to come before God and ask him about the need, the situation. “What do you want to happen, Lord?” Sometimes I still don’t know. Sometimes he leads me to a new understanding, and from that perspective, I can pray effectively.

But one of the most challenging statements from Murray is that we should be seeing answers to prayer every day. He doesn’t mean praying for general good health or for the sun to rise. He means specific answers to specific prayers every day.

It often strains my thinking to remember the last time I had a specific prayer answered. Yes, God provides for my family, he helps people mature in their faith. He helps our children mature and learn.

Then, too, Jesus has worked significant work in the lives of friends. Several people have been healed of cancer, one healed of kidney stones. God used our prayers to help two little children from Uganda come home to live with their adoptive parents in Winston-Salem, NC. God has always provided meeting space for our church, and we have regularly prayed about that.

But I can’t say that I see God answering specific prayers every day. I’m not there yet. That could be because I’m not praying about enough things. No doubt. It is also because I don’t yet know the mind of Christ well enough to know what to pray. As he shapes my thinking and understanding, my prayers are bound to become more effective.

Murray makes the point that most Christians believe that the fellowship found in prayer makes the effort worthwhile. But Jesus teaches that prayer is more than a sweet time of intimacy with God – as important as that is. But prayer is a means for accomplishing the work of God. The answers do matter.

Last night I prayed with my daughter that she would be relieved of her cold symptoms. This morning she is feeling good. Thank you, Lord. I’m willing to start small, so that God can build my faith. Maybe some day I will see daily answers to prayer. When we are so in touch with God and his work, he can use us to change the world.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Advice of Friends

I read that that the governor of New York has admitted soliciting the services of a call girl. That’s not good news. Apparently he has always given the impression that he lives morally.

His wife sounds like a wonderful woman. She is very intelligent, well educated and a devoted wife and mother. Her husband should be ashamed of himself, and he apparently is.

That is all tragic enough. But the press is also reporting that the wife’s friends are urging her to take her three children and leave the governor. Several things about this seem strange to me. First, what business do these friends have telling the press how they advise their friend? That should be a private matter between friends, not a headline on a news Web site.

Second, shouldn’t these friends encourage the wife to stay with her husband? If there had been a pattern of abusive, irresponsible behavior, that would be another matter. From the little I have read, this act of unfaithfulness doesn’t appear to be a pattern.

Third, shouldn’t the friends let the betrayed wife work through her own emotions, rather than dumping on her suggestions that she may not want to consider? A friend is someone who encourages you to do the right thing. A friend is someone who offers emotional support, helping you work through your own decisions.

Obviously I don’t know enough about the whole situation to condemn anything but the governor’s adulterous actions. It just surprised me to see how quickly the friends responded to the press to offer their opinions. And of course the press is eating it up. And, yes, I read the article…

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Parents' Night Out

Talk about win-win. Last Saturday night, our youth group hosted a “parents’ night out” at the Long House. From 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. our youth group provided a fun place for kids to play, so that their parents could have a free evening. It was done as a fundraiser for the youth mission trip this summer, but it was a big time for all.

Most of the adults went out to eat together at a Brazilian steakhouse. This was a blast. We had about 28 adults in the party, so the restaurant gave us their special cellar room. Most of the people were not attenders at Crossroads, and only a few people knew everyone there. We just had a fun time laughing and dining together. I met several new people.

The restaurant has a great salad bar, from which one could easily make a meal. But the star attraction is the selection of meats. “Gauchos,” roam through the dining room with huge skewers bearing chunks of roast meat. They had various cuts of beef, plus pork, lamb, etc. They had about 16 different types of meat. The gauchos walk from person to person, offering to carve you off a slab of meat. It is an Atkins diet frenzy. All the protein you can consume.

This was especially fun for me because I had been to a similar restaurant in 1982 when I went on a mission trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There, of course, the gauchos did not speak English, so we Americans had to guess what kind of meat was being served. The meal was a highlight of the trip. I did not even know until last week that we had a Brazilian steakhouse in Greensboro. We’ll certainly be going back.

When we picked up our children from the parents’ night out, they were all excited. Our teenager loves to play with kids, and so this was heaven to her. Our younger daughter also had a blast, probably doing more giving than receiving of babysitting services. “When are we going to do this again?” they wondered.

The evening was also a win for the youth group mission trip. They watched about 3 dozen kids and received $530 in donations for their trip to Indianapolis this summer.

I hope we do this again, not as a fundraiser, but simply as a ministry. Someone mentioned today that there is obviously a pent-up need for the service. This is a great way to share the love of Jesus with whole families. The kids have a blast and the parents get a break.

When God builds his kingdom, everybody wins. Only he can do that.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Harmony in the Spirit

Yesterday I was driving to a ministry situation, praying for God to use me to share his love. I had already been praying for the need there, and was continuing to ask God to do a supernatural work. Driving along, I was listening to some worship music.

It was a familiar CD, and I know the tunes very well. But somehow I had not quite caught all the lyrics. It was an interesting experience as I could feel the music and let the Holy Spirit speak to me in the moment. He could guide my thinking through the lyrics, but my heart was in tune with him as with the tune of the music.

This seems to me what prayer is. As we mature, we know God more and more intimately, and our hearts are in tune with him. As we spend time in the Lord’s presence, we are connected with him in spirit. It’s like knowing the tune, as we enjoy fellowship together.

But then, in the context of sharing the “tune” through prayer, Jesus can reveal himself to me in a new way. He can guide me to new thoughts. He can speak to my soul. He can call my mind to his Word. He can reveal the truth of the situation.

I long to have more prayer times when I sense that kind of intimacy. And I want to extend those times throughout the day. It will be such a blessing to be able to live that way, moment by moment. I want to sing the song of the Spirit in my heart all day. Then he can show me constantly how he is working and how he can use me. That’s the worship of living. That’s abundant life.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I’ve encountered lots of distractions while preaching. Sometimes a baby cries, someone coughs, people move about. I’ve seen people jump up because a drink spilled. While we were meeting in a garage on wildlife preserve, we had geese walk through our worship gathering.

But a couple of Sundays ago, I experienced a new one. I was talking about kindness, as part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. In the middle of my message, people suddenly tried to tell me something. “There’s a bee!” OK. I brushed my hands through my hair, thinking that the critter must be around my head. “No, it’s on your hand!” I looked down and saw the wasp on my right hand. About that time I felt the sting. I brushed him off and he landed nearby on the floor.

Naturally I stepped over to the bug, planning to squash him. But then I remembered that I was preaching on kindness. Hmm. Not a good object lesson.

So, I allowed the wasp to live, although it already looked nearly dead. I continued with my message, trying not to miss a beat.

But God moved some people to action. They seized upon the occasion to show kindness. Someone gave me a sterile wipe for my wound. Another produced a cold pack. I finished speaking while holding the dressing on my hand.

After our worship time, I learned that someone had put the wasp out of his misery. Didn’t make me sad.

Now, everyone watches carefully for all the flying creatures. You never know when they might get you. Just when you thought we had enough distractions…

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Long Time to Learn

After reading my Bible a couple of weeks ago, I began my prayer time. But I was at a loss. How do I pray? What do I do, now that it’s time to pray? For the first time, I felt what the disciples must have felt when they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

That experience led me to pull out a book I have had since 1985, With Christ in the School of Prayer, by Andrew Murray. I must have begun reading it in about 1989, but I only read about 20 pages of it. I figured that out when I pulled it off the shelf and found my bookmark – my business card from the church where I first served as pastor.

I remember people telling me how great this book was, but it must have been over my head. I had never even finished it. As I read it today, I see how empty many of my prayers have been.

I had been telling God what I wanted to happen, and never really expecting much to change. Now I am beginning to understand prayer as conversation flowing out of relationship with God. When I am close to him, I know better what he wants in a given situation. I know what to pray, and I can expect real, specific answers.

I feel like such a beginner. I can really expect Jesus to act when I pray. He said he would. I’m eager to see this unfold!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Thank Yous

I’m one of those traditionalists who still believes in writing thank you notes for gifts. That means that near the end of January I am feeling guilty if I have not yet written notes of thanks for my Christmas presents. So, that’s where I find myself today.

As I was running errands tonight, I decided to pick up some thank you cards. I happened to be in Office Depot, knowing that they would have stationery of some sort. Seems that the only stationery I could find was designed to be run through a printer. There was nothing smaller than letter-size paper. I did not find any thank you cards. Hmm.

I had to go to Wal-Mart as well, so I checked out their stationery selection. I could hardly find it. Again, they only seemed to have the kind of paper you use to print out party invitations or family newsletters. Surely they would have thank you cards. Finally I found them. They were all marked at clearance prices. Cool. I picked up four 10-packs at 75 cents each.

But will they restock their thank you cards? With email being so simple and easy, we can quickly acknowledge gifts with very little effort. But there’s just something about a “hard copy” note.

Going through old files a few days ago, I found some old letters my parents had written to me in the 1980s. It touched my heart to see what they had said to me then. I had forgotten the depth of their love for me and my new wife. Then I thought about how I would miss having those notes, if email had been available in those days. I doubt we would have exchanged letters much at all.

I don’t hate technology, but there is still something very special about a good old-fashioned letter.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Well Read

I was in college before it occurred to me that I could actually enjoy reading. Nearly all my reading was school work; and that was, well, work. I’m a slow reader, and I don’t have the greatest comprehension, either. Maybe it’s ironic that I like to write.

I took a speed reading class while I was in college, but I can’t tell that it did any good. I got good at passing my eyes over the words, but I couldn’t fully grasp the content. I have long since given up on those techniques.

I have found that sometimes the Holy Spirit gives me what feels like a supernatural ability to read and absorb quickly. Maybe that’s how some people read all the time. I often pray for that kind of mental clarity.

Christian mystic A. W. Tozer said that he would often read on his knees. He may have meant that figuratively, but he sought God’s help to understand what he was reading. Of course we want to read the Bible on our knees, asking the Spirit to enlighten us. But we also need the Spirit to enlighten us about everything we read. Tozer said that he would read great works of literature on his knees, asking God to help him understand Shakespeare, for example.

Tozer also said that there is a difference between being “well read” and having done a lot of reading. One can read plenty of books without really grasping the deep meaning of the work. Sometimes we may need to read a book over and over to mine it thoroughly.

This week I picked up my copy of Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster. I had read this book in the 1980s, and then read it again about three years ago. But when I read the first chapter again on Monday, the words were so alive that it seemed like I had never seen them before. My own markings in the book assured me that I had been there before.

The words hit home for me in a fresh way because God has grown me. Many times this happens when I read the Bible. As I grow in Christ, I am ready to hear things in a new way. The experience reminds me of the lyrics of Toby Mac’s song, “No Ordinary Love.”

Mama never said it would be like this.
I never knew such bliss existed.
Maybe it’s just so indescribable,
Love was liable to get it twisted.
She never told me, but if she tried,
I was a little to young and
it floated right by me.
I never dreamed of love so fulfilling,
Simply killing and over spilling on me.

There are a lot of things that have floated right by me. I want to keep growing, so I keep putting myself where God can pour himself into my soul. Who knows how much I’m missing? There is always more that Jesus wants to show me. Compared to knowing Jesus, everything is just trash.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Why Bother?

A caveman in an old “B.C.” comic strip was explaining the game of golf to a cavewoman. “The fewer times you hit the ball, the better,” he said. She left him speechless with her next question: “Why hit the ball at all?”


In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster suggests 12 disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. We know that God wants us to do these things, because the Bible tells us so. But, besides obedience, why engage in spiritual disciplines at all?


Last week a friend shared an insight from the Christian writer Dallas Willard about the value of the disciplines. As most believers have learned, we grow the most through our difficult experiences. Through our suffering we grow more spiritually than through any other experiences. In our difficulties, we do what we have to. We face the pain. We learn to trust. We learn that God really loves us. We stop relying on ourselves. We get our priorities in order.


In many ways, engaging in spiritual disciplines helps us simulate the experience of suffering, says Willard. With the disciplines, we interrupt our selfish schedules to do something that will allow us to grow closer to Jesus. In a way, we produce our own suffering, because we believe that knowing Jesus is worth it.


I’m finally making sense of this. When I interviewed Charlie Engle, after he ran across the Sahara Desert, he also spoke of the growth that any person gains through suffering. As he tackles seemingly impossible feats, he pushes himself beyond reasonable limits. He said that we all will suffer, and we all can grow through that suffering. He wants to grow, he said, but he wants to choose the suffering intentionally.


I thought there had to be some way to apply that thinking to the spiritual life. We can choose to “suffer” by engaging in spiritual disciplines. We push ourselves to read the whole Bible in a year, to fast for a day or two, to memorize a chapter of scripture, to pray for a half hour, to spend a day alone with God. Through it all, we get to know him and love him more.


We can also push ourselves to “suffer” by stepping out boldly in faith – changing careers, adopting a child, giving sacrificially, volunteering in the community, running for office, going back to school, selling an extra car, becoming a missionary.


A life without difficulties would make us dull and spiritually weak. I’m not asking for trouble, but I do want to grow spiritually. Choosing to engage in the spiritual disciplines seems like a great way to embrace a life of love with Jesus.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ah, Friends

My family and I spent last week at the beach, and it was a great experience. With our time commitments increasing, I knew that we needed to make a vacation a priority. So, we spent New Year’s week at Long Beach, NC.

We got to read, watch cable TV (a rare treat), rest, walk on the beach, visit, play, pray, and eat. We learned to use our new “Cosmic Catch” toy ball. Lots of fun. We found some beautiful seashells.

I read through the book of Galatians in the Bible again, and I think I’m beginning to see what Paul’s big point is. Finally I am seeing how all the pieces of the book fit together. I did lots of other reading, too. I also took time to walk about two miles a day. (I have always regretted becoming a couch potato in vacations past.)

As fun and restful as our vacation was, I was ready to come home on Saturday.

We missed our friends. Fortunately, on Sunday, we had lots of time to visit. Of course we saw people at our worship celebration, and then ate lunch with friends. Then we got to spend all afternoon with friends again at a kid’s birthday party.

More than ever, I appreciate friends whose lives are woven together with ours. One of the best stress reducers in life is friendship. Having one or two close friends is good. And having a few dozen people who love you and build you up is priceless. I thank God for such meaningful relationships.

One of the books I read last week is “Making Room for Life,” by Randy Frazee. In it he talks about life with more time for relationships. Reading it made me grateful for my friends and eager to go deeper into friendship. It also made me see how family has to be a priority. I expect to be sharing more about making room for life in the days ahead.