Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Promised Land for the New Year

After the Exodus, God sent his people Israel into Canaan, the Promised Land, and he promised that he would help them take the land.  He prepared them for battle, warning them what lay ahead, and sometimes giving them specific military strategy.  He also prepared the way for them naturally, by sending hornets ahead of the Israelites, causing the Canaanites to flee the land.  God promised to drive the Canaanites out gradually, so that Israel could take over the land gradually and not be overwhelmed.  (Deuteronomy 7:20-25)

Our souls are like the Promised Land.  We are all messed up in one way or another; our past is full of mistakes and rebellion; our thinking is distorted and not based on reality.  The enemy of our souls occupies territory in our souls, and refuses to yield ground.  He holds this territory with lies and deception.  When we agree with those lies, the territory remains under enemy control.  The Bible calls these areas "strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4).  The Canaanites controlled the land which God had given to Israel.  So Satan controls parts of our souls, all of which rightly belong to Christ.  Whenever we let fear or guilt or anger dominate our thoughts and distort our perception of reality, we can see the influence of the enemy.  To one degree or another, we all struggle with this influence.

The good news is that God is delivering us.  He gradually opens up territory of our souls so that we can be free.  God uses circumstances and the natural maturing of life as he used the hornets in Canaan:  he opens our minds gradually to see the world from a grown-up, spiritual point of view.  He doesn't show us everything at once, but over time he reveals the truth to us and exposes the lies of the enemy.

When the truth is revealed and the lies exposed, we often have to do battle to claim that new territory.  It doesn't come easily, even with God's help.  We have to work for it.  We have to stand on God's word as truth, in spite of what circumstances or the world may say.  We have to choose to live in faith.  We must intentionally reject our old ways of thinking, even though they are so familiar and comfortable.  We have to remind ourselves that we are tired of living under the devil's deception.

I marvel at how gently God reveals my wrong patterns of thinking.  I also marvel at my old mental ruts.  My old habits of thought continually lead me back into stinking thinking. 

Life in Christ, full of the Holy Spirit is the Promised Land.  It is where God wants me to dwell.  Every day Jesus is claiming new territory in my soul, and I have to fight to take it.

Really, Jesus won the battle on cross.  He took the territory.  He won the victory.  I just have to believe it and trust him.  That changes the way I live.  That's how God changes the world.

The New Year is a great time for a new beginning, choosing to live in the Promised Land!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Reflections

Christmas calls us back to the years gone by. We can feel the cold, smell the cinnamon, and hear the old favorite Christmas songs.

One of my favorite Christmas presents from childhood was an electric train. I remember asking Santa for the train, and he delivered. It had a horn, a light-up crossing sign and an automatic uncoupler feature. You could even make smoke come out of the smokestack. I still have that Lionel train, and it still works. Some of the pieces are missing, but I still enjoy setting it up. It seems like Christmas is the perfect time to pull it out. The sounds remind me of childhood.

I also remember getting Major Matt Mason, an action figure who came out before they knew what to call dolls for boys. He was the brave astronaut who ventured into the void of outer space, doing daring things that I can’t remember. This was just a year or two before Neil Armstrong and company actually landed on the moon.

In my neighborhood we had a tradition of lining the streets with luminarias, brown paper bags with a little sand in the bottom and a votive candle. All the neighbors would light the candles every night for a few nights before Christmas. The neighborhood glowed with ribbons of light winding through the hills and trees. Neighbors agreed to keep their lights off, allowing the bags to light the night. People came from all around to drive slowly, without headlights, experiencing the glow of neighbors celebrating together. We strolled the streets with friends and time stood still.
Jesus was touching my heart, and I didn’t even know it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Sometimes that is a throw-away word.  Boring.  It can mean a general negative feeling toward something or someone.  Math is boring.  No it isn't, unless you are just mindlessly crunching numbers.  Students may say that math is boring, but usually they mean that they don't get it and they are tired of working on it. 

Sometimes people say that the Christian life is boring.  What does that mean?  I think it means that they believe the Christian life is safe and predictable.  It is not challenging.  It means going to the right places, reading the right books, watching the right TV shows, praying the right prayers.  It means staying out of trouble and being nice.  It means fitting into a mold.

Jesus certainly did not fit into a mold.  As I look at the life of Jesus, I don't see anything boring about it.  He was always on the move, but never in a hurry.  He was constantly following the Father's lead.  He was speaking the truth in love, and with a great deal of confrontation.  He was not afraid to call out hypocrisy or any other sin.  Jesus surprised people with his answers and his questions.  He called people to follow him and loved the unlovable.  He went willingly into the city where people were conspiring to kill him. 

I believe the Christian life should be lived on the edge.  It should be on the cutting edge of the work God is doing.  It should be daring.  It should never become routine. 

God wants more for us. 

If we are living by faith, we will constantly need for God to show up.  We will face hardship and failure.  We will be challenged to face our fears, to face the truth about ourselves.  We will confront evil and be persecuted.

That's not boring.  And unfortunately it's not what my Christian life looks like.  Yet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Love Stokesdale

Rarely does a week go by that I don't consciously thank God for Stokesdale.  It's a treat just to live here.
Every time I go into the Bi-Rite grocery store, I see someone I know.  The people who work there are personal friends, and invariably I find other customers to talk to.

Mail gets delivered to me, even with an old address.  The people at the post office know me and where I live, and where I used to live.  Even the Fed Ex and UPS delivery people know where to find me.  Yeah, they know that the church has moved to another address, and they know they can deliver stuff to my house.

And at the post office, no one ever has to wait in line.  If there is a line, I probably recognize some of the people in it.

People care about one another.  When a family has a hard time, the community is there to help out. 

At Parker's, they know what beverage I have with my breakfast.  At Southern Hardware, I know the owner, and he remembers what kind of chainsaw I have.  At Snatchers, they repair my car honestly, stand by their work, and help me find a good deal on tires. 

The Christmas Parade is a parade of friends.  Kids we know wave from floats of churches, clubs, schools and businesses we know.
The fire chief helps the elementary school coordinate with our church, so that we can help raise funds for a school field trip.

A Stokesdale traffic jam has six cars in it.

The season opening of Humphrey's Ridge Restaurant is like a family reunion.  Everyone is excited that the weather is warming up and we can soon swim in the lake.

We are close to Greensboro, Winston-Salem, the airport, Belew's Lake.  We are outside the frenzy of city life, and just a few miles from real wilderness. The Blue Ridge Parkway is about an hour away.  I can see Hanging Rock Mountain from my street.  This is a beautiful part of the country.

Somehow God has smiled upon us, allowing us to live in a small place with a big heart, where we can experience the beauty of his creation.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On Thanks and Thirst

Yesterday we were blessed at Crossroads to have Christ Winter, a representative from Living Water International, share with us about their ministry.  For years we have given to Living Water as part of our Christmas offering, and Chris helped to make our giving more personal.

Chris told us that when Advent Conspiracy and Living Water teamed up in 2006, there were over 1.2 billion people in the world who needed clean water.  Today "only" 884 million people need clean water.  In just a few years, our giving has made a tremendous difference.  Millions of people now have clean water to drink.  It's working!

Living Water drills the wells and trains villagers to take care of them.  Periodically LW sends representatives to check on the wells, perform repairs, and make sure that the water is accessible to everyone.  All these visits provide opportunities to share with people the good news about Jesus. 

As we keep chipping away at the water problem in the world, I imagine that in 10 years we could virtually eliminate the lack of clean water.  Through LW, this work is done in the name of Jesus.  The wells are a constant reminder that Jesus came to be with us at Christmas.  Jesus redeems from the diseases of dirty water, and he redeems from the dirt and hurt in our souls.

At Thanksgiving we celebrate by giving thanks to God .  With a big meal we feast and celebrate the blessings God has given.  But I don't think I have ever raised a glass of water at the meal, just to thank God that we have it to drink.

This Thursday, I'll do that.

Friday, November 18, 2011


I love writing, especially when it is going well.  Sometimes the words just flow.  The phrases just flow through my fingers onto the screen.

But then there are times that I can't get the words to come.  Sometimes I can't think of what to write.  Other times, I find that the idea is there, but the way to say it you get the picture. 

I also suffer from writer envy.  When I read good ideas, presented in a compelling, colorful way, I find myself wishing that I had said it.  Sometimes the writer is saying what I have been thinking, but never put into words.  And that's my frustration.  I like to write, but don't make enough time to do it.  I want to write a book, but I'm not making any progress.  I can barely get a blog uploaded.

Recently I came across a file, something I worked on years ago, never published anywhere.  It was just a start of a writing project -- one of those things I started and never did anything with.  It was good.  I was surprised.  Lately, it seems like I can't write anything.

My daughter is doing the November writing challenge.  "Everybody who's a writer knows about this, Daddy."  Guess I'm not a writer.  Anyway, the challenge is to write 50,000 words in the month of November.  She's already got 30k. 

I need to write more.  I need to write every day.  Writing has an impact that can potentially last through the rest of history.  Of course, you have to write something worth remembering.  I'm not trying to write 50,0000 words in a month.  But maybe I can write more than two blogs a month.  And maybe I can write something worth remembering.  I'll never know unless I write something.

There, I wrote something.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Visiting with God

I have often wondered about prayer.  What is praying, really?  Sometimes I wonder what "counts" as praying.  If I am thinking about a friend with a need, am I praying?  Do I have to ask specific things for the person?  Do you have to pray out loud, or is it OK to pray silently?  What if I fall asleep...have I really been praying?  What about day dreaming?  Does that count as prayer?

Fil Anderson's book, Running on Empty, has really challenged my thinking about the spiritual life.  I recognized myself in his descriptions of his own prayer experiences.  Like Fil, I have spent countless hours bringing requests before God, telling him what was happening and what he needed to do about it.  I have been very careful to say just the right words.  I have prayed the scriptures, prayed while walking, prayed on my knees, prayed with cards and lists.  There is nothing wrong with any of those practices.  But the form of prayer is not really what prayer is about.

For many of us, prayer is just a monologue.  It is a formula of worshiping, praising, confessing, asking and thanking.  When we are through, we say amen and go about the day.

But prayer is not a monologue.  Maybe prayer is more like a conversation.  I have spent many hours talking to God and then listening for God's voice.  Usually after a long litany of needs and requests, I will pause for a minute, just in case God wants to get a word in edgewise.  "OK God, here's your chance to speak, if you want to say anything... How 'bout it?... Nothing?... OK.  Amen." 

If I don't rush the conversation, I will listen for God more patiently.  I might actually hear his voice.  Still, these conversations can feel like times of prayer that "count."

While talking with friends this morning about prayer, it occured to me that prayer is really more like a visit.  During a visit, there will be times of speaking, listening and silence.  You can do something while you visit, or not.  A visit is about being with someone, not going through a formula with just the right words, for just the right time.

I think that prayer is like visiting with God.  Sometimes it can be structured, sometimes free flowing.  But it's all about relationship.  I just need to make time to be with him.  I need to be in his presence so that I'm not too distracted to hear his voice and speak to him.  I can't let time with God always be something that I barely squeeze into my schedule.  On some days that may be necessary.  But there have to be some days every week when I can put away all my distractions and visit with the Creator.

I want to stop worrying about whether my time with God counts as prayer.  I want to begin enjoying his presence, opening my heart to him, hearing his voice and experiencing his embrace.  God doesn't need to be something else on my to-do list.  He is someone I like being around.  More profoundly, I am someone he likes to be around.  Wow.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Faring Well or Welfare?

I’m simple guy. When I find complex issues, I try to boil things down to simple terms. Lately I’ve been thinking about the American welfare state. Something about it bothers me. Well, more than one thing, actually. But what is the real problem here?
People (children!) don’t have enough to eat. The solution is easy: give them food. So, we give food away in public schools with free lunch programs. In many schools there are also free breakfasts. Their families may receive food stamps, so there is food at home for them, too. That should take care of the problem, right?

Then we have people who can’t afford a place to live, so we create government housing projects. Everybody knows what you mean when you say “the projects.” Tenants can get reduced rent, with the balance paid by taxpayers.

For others, we help them buy houses. It is much better to own a home than to rent, right? So we require banks to lend more freely and then we guarantee the loans with government money. Everyone wins, of course.

Unless you look at the results. This war on poverty is being lost. Statistics show it. There are more poor now than ever. What is the problem? I believe it is a problem of attitude. Entitlements given by the government create attitudes of dependence.

People tend to develop an attitude of dependence toward their provider. When people depend on the government, they develop a relationship with a bureaucracy, a system. They develop loyalty to the system and work to maintain the system. When something threatens the system, the source of their livelihood, they perceive this as a personal threat. They fight instinctively to keep the status quo. This passion to maintain a free ride robs individuals of personal initiative, and, I believe, damages their souls. We are only fully human when we can share in the creativity which is part of God’s image in us.

When funding is cut for government programs, regardless of the reason, those dependent on government often become angry and lash out. We saw this recently in Greece, when riots broke out after public assistance was reduced. Never mind that the government is bankrupt.

Dependence on government breeds a defensive attitude, guarding the goose that lays the golden eggs. There is a visceral response when the goose is threatened or when the goose stops laying. People act out of anger or fear. They believe that their only hope is in the system. Ultimately politicians control their lives, because politicians control the flow of assistance. Politics, then, is everything.

This system has lots of unintended consequences, including a corrupt political system, a housing bubble, growing poverty, lack of productivity, lack of responsibility, materialism, and cynicism.

There is an alternative. It’s not new. It is thousands of years old. God instructs his people to take care of the poor. “There should be no poor among you” (Deuteronomy 15:4). Jesus tells the rich ruler to give sell everything he has and give to the poor. The apostles instruct churches to take care of the poor.

Taking this charge seriously, a church might have a food pantry, a clothes closet, budgeting classes, job training courses. They could give these goods and services freely.

Those who receive these gifts are likely to develop an attitude of dependence as well. But here is the important difference. They may depend upon these Christians for food, shelter, clothing, counseling, training and assistance, but they know that these things are given in the name of Christ. These poor would depend ultimately on Christ. They come to depend on God himself. This is really where God wants everyone to be, depending on him.

What springs from an attitude of dependence on Christ? Not fear or anger; not a protectionist spirit of keeping the goose alive. Dependence on God produces a sense of responsibility.

God doesn’t threaten to cut people off from food and shelter. He promises that he will provide all of life’s necessities – and more – to all who seek his kingdom first. The Bible tells us to be productive and to provide for our families, but always to depend on him.

Dependence on God has positive side effects, including increasing compassion, growing personal initiative, and a decrease in poverty. Sounds like a good plan to me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dealing with Struggles

We all have struggles, and working through those struggles can strengthen us.  In fact, James told his readers to consider it pure joy when they encountered trials (James 1:3).  We can be joyful because we know that God will use the hardship to strengthen us.

But in the middle of the situation, it can be really hard.

I am learning to remind myself of a few truths when I hit the hard times. 

First, I remember that I don't have the full picture.  There are pieces of the situation that I don't see and may never see.  God is at work behind the scenes.  He is doing good stuff, because that's what God does.  I have to trust him that he is in charge, and trust that I will see him working for good in due time.  He may be leading me to change my attitude or actions or habits.  He is making me more like him, and that is a long process.

I also remember that my emotions lie to me.  Everything seems like it is falling apart in the midst of a trial.  In my mind I know that it's not all that bad, but my emotions distort reality.  I remember that I will see more clearly soon enough.  I may just have to wait it out, but I will get there.

I can't forget that God has always come through in my trials.  Some have hurt worse than others, but through all of them, he has worked good, in his time.  Of course, I repeat Romans 8:28 to myself:  "We know that God works all things together for good, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose."

I also go to the Psalms for some company.  There I find the psalmist experiencing the full range of emotions.  In one psalm he is jubilant, in another he is wondering how long God will abandon him.  He keeps it real.  Life doesn't seem so bad when I realize that others have been in hard spots like mine.  They have survived and even thrived through the hardships.

Finally, I trust God not to abandon me.  Whatever my trial, Jesus is here with me. 

Trials are never fun.  But they are worth it.  If I can keep my sights set on Jesus, and know that he is leading me to a good place, the struggle is lifted to a higher plane.  It is God's supernatural work in me.  And that's good.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Cost of Staying in Touch

On a recent Sunday three of our teens shared  about their summer overseas adventures.  One served as a student ambassador in Spain, France and Italy; another worked with missionaries in Poland to up-fit an old building as a homeless shelter; the third served in the jungles of Ecuador among the indigenous people there.

Their stories were inspiring, of course.  They saw God at work around them and through them.  They all agreed that it was easier to notice God and stay in touch with God on their trips.  They saw God at work in circumstances, in people and in their own hearts.

Back home, however, they found it hard to maintain that connection with Jesus.  This seems to be a common experience for short term missionaries.

I wonder why that is.  Maybe we are just too distracted in our normal lives.  We have so much clamoring for our attention, that we lose sight of God in the fray.  The natural overtakes the supernatural.

Or maybe we pay better attention when we are out of our normal routine.  We don't know what to expect, so we count on God to take care of us.  We are constantly praying and looking for him to answer.  At home, we get complacent and imagine that we can handle life without troubling God for his help.

Now the question is:  Which way would we rather live?  Lots of people, I imagine, would rather live in touch with the supernatural. 

So the next question is:  Are we willing to rework our lives so that we pay more attention to God?  We would need to set aside our distractions (oh, let me check my email real quick...).  We might need to be less entertained and risk (dare I say it?) boredom.  In the quietness, God speaks.

We may need to vary the normal routine.  We could volunteer at the school, at the hospital, or homeless shelter.  We could take on projects that will fail unless God shows up.  We could embrace opportunities to get out of our comfort zones.

I know it is worth it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rich Thoughts

Most people know the story of Jesus and the Rich Young Man.  He asks Jesus, the "good teacher," what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus reminds him that no one is good but God, and that God wants us to keep the commandments.  The man seems to believe that he has fully kept God's commands since childhood.  He must think that he's good, even though only God is good.

Jesus then brings it home.  In love, Jesus tells him, "One thing you lack.  Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me."

Of course the man was disappointed because he did not want to get rid of his stuff.

As I read that story, I wonder why Jesus told the man to sell his possessions.  Couldn't he just give his possessions without selling them?  Why did Jesus add the extra step?  I have a few ideas.

Maybe Jesus wanted the man to see again and catalog all of his possessions.  Even before he sold anything, he could see how his abundant possessions owned him.  It would be a cathartic experience to part with the items one by one.  At the end of the process he might understand that having a relationship with God was the only thing that mattered anyway.

Maybe Jesus wanted the man to take the time to organize the sale of his worldly goods.  He would have to arrange for his rich friends to come and buy his possessions.  In planning the process, he would learn about human nature and the corrupting power of wealth.

Maybe Jesus wanted the man to witness the contrast between the rich who purchased the items and the poor to whom he gave the money.

Maybe Jesus wanted him to witness the surprise and joy of the poor who received the money.  Maybe Jesus wanted him to put a face to "the poor."  He would have to meet and make friends with the needy.

Following Jesus is not easy.  There is a lot that gets in the way.  Whoever we are, Jesus wants us to give up everything and follow him.  When we let go of our possessions, they let go of us.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Adoption Sunday

On our Hope Sunday in May, we encouraged people in our church to consider sponsoring a child through World Vision.  It was such a great success -- with nine new children sponsored -- that we decided to have an Adoption Sunday.

This Sunday, August 14 we will hear stories about adoption from adopting parents, children who were adopted, and siblings of adopted children.  We want to see first hand how adoption changes lives and shows the love of Christ.

Adoption really reflects God's love, because only through adoption can people have a relationship with him! 

Our goal is not to have every family commit to adopt a child.  Rather, we want to encourage everyone to see how important adoption is to God.  After all, every person is created in the image of God and needs a loving family.  We hope that everyone will have a greater heart for adoption.  We hope that they will decide to pray for children to be adopted, to help adopting families, to support adoption agencies, to support orphanages, to consider foster parenting, or to sponsor a child on another continent.

And maybe some families will hear God calling them to adopt.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Power Within

What would life be like if every day were filled with excitement about God's work in your life? 

It is easy to get excited about God's work when you hear about it from someone else:  a mission trip, a healing, a great VBS week, someone getting a new job.  We may get excited about news from an orphanage in Africa, a great sermon we heard on-line, or the latest book by a favorite author.

But how often do we get excited about what God is doing in our own lives?  When it comes to my own life, I exercise extreme caution.  "Yes, I suppose that's God working, but..."  When I look at my friends' lives, I can share unbridled enthusiasm.  My own life feels more fragile. 

God is doing something good, but it could go horribly wrong at any moment.  How's that for faith?

If I trusted in God more, I would realize that he is really taking care of me -- emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually.  I would see him as my loving Father, who is guarding me and guiding me.

With that kind of assurance, I can really take on the world!  I can get excited about God's work in my life without reservation.  I can look at the good and the bad, and know that God is up to something of eternal importance.  I can live every moment with anticipation of God's goodness.  I can take bold steps, following God's lead.  He can really use me to make a difference

Now, what if the church stirred this fire in every person, the fire of excitement for God's work in their own lives?  He could use us to change the world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fun with Pandas

We are in the middle of our Vacation Bible School now.  It's Pandamania!  With a panda bear theme, we are learning how God is wild about us.

Today we heard the "growl" of pandas.  Not real ferocious.  We also learned about Elijah, who challenged the prophets of Baal to prove that their god was real.  Then he let the real God show off a little bit.

My favorite part of VBS is being with the kids!  They get so excited about everything -- the music, the skits, the games and crafts.  They really throw themselves into the experience, and they get a lot out of it.

I want to live life more like that:  throwing myself into the experience, living in the moment.  It's so easy to miss out by not living the "now" of life.  Enjoying the moment helps me experience God himself.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dying town, living people

Last Saturday I rode through a dying town.  This old mill town, where I was born, was home to a booming textile company 50 years ago.  Probably dozens of my relatives worked there, including my dad.  Now a ride through town reveals architectural relics of the company that used to employ 10.000 people.  Someone has bought the real estate, and they are selling off the old lumber inside the mills.  Apparently after they salvage the guts of a building, they demolish it.  There are no cars parked there, no shift changes slowing traffic.

Downtown about half the storefronts are empty.  New car lots are now vacant lots.  Even the streets are virtually empty.  A few cars pass by, but there is probably never a rush hour. 

I also noticed something else about the town.  Everyone seems friendly.  In the hospital where I visited a relative, most people passing in the hallway gives a sincere greeting.  A one-legged man in a wheelchair caught the elevator with us.  After saying hello, he joked, "I was looking for someone to play double-dutch with me.  I can even jump on one leg!" 

Here's a man in a dying town, with only one leg, and he cheerfully cracks jokes about his disability.  For him life is good.  He has chosen to see it that way.

I wonder how many towns will become like this one.  The signs in the economy are not good.  The experts try to tell us that the recession is over.  The problem is that no one can tell it.  The media is full of less-than-cheerful news. 

The good news is that we don't have to let life become miserable just because the economy is bad.  As we learn to cope with the new realities, we can re-evaluate what really matters to us.  We can share the good news that God has something better for us than material prosperity.  Our souls can prosper, even in the worst of economic depressions.  Even if we only have one leg, we can jump rope!

Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  I'm glad of that!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Vison of Hope

As we gathered for worship yesterday, we celebrated "Hope Sunday," a day to focus on helping children out of poverty.  With the help of World Vision, we learned about ways we can really help eliminate poverty.  We heard from several folks at Crossroads who already sponsor children, and it was a moving experience.  Helping these children has really brought us closer to Jesus.

At last count, we had 9 children around the world who had new sponsors!  (Please let us know if you signed up as a sponsor at home, so that we can see how many children have been blessed through Hope Sunday!)  It was especially encouraging to see our teenagers leading the way, being the first ones to "adopt" these children. 

I especially like World Vision's approach to helping the poor.  On their website, World Vision says,

"We seek to facilitate an engagement between the poor and the affluent that opens both to transformation. We respect the poor as active participants, not passive recipients, in this relationship...The need for transformation is common to all. Together we share a quest for justice, peace, reconciliation, and healing in a broken world."

Giving people food and shelter may help temporarily, but it can leave them waiting for the next delivery of aid.  When we work to transform their living environment, we see sustainable change.  This happens when we actually share the love of Jesus, through education, medical aid, clean water, economic opportunity and the gospel. 

As we share Christ's love holistically, he can change their hearts and truly transform their lives.

And, as World Vision says, we who give are also transformed.  We began to see that yesterday.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ready for Graduation

Next year I will have the privilege *sob* of having my oldest child graduate from high school.  So graduation season this year is particularly poignant for me.  Students have spent virutally their whole lives growing and learning and preparing for the transition to the world of adults.  The world is full of promise and opportunity; temptation and risk. 

It is the parents' responsibility to raise children and prepare them to enter the world of adults.  The transition is much more than the moment of turning a tassel on a mortar board.  It begins years before as children gradually take on more and more responsibility.  It continues long after high school graduation as they seek counsel and advice about education, jobs, and relationships.

But the moment of high school graduation often marks a turning point.  It is a time after which children don't really live at home; they live in dorms, spend summers away at summer jobs, move into their own apartments.  For the parents, it is the time of transition to being empty-nesters.

Before I get too sappy and sentimental, I want to consider how we parents prepare children for that moment when the routines of life change dramatically.  We need to equip them with life skills.  We teach them how to get along with others, how to mow grass and set the table.  We teach them manners and the perspective of empathy.  We make sure they have the necessary formal education, whether in the classroom or at home.

And we have to instill in them the most important thing of all:  love for God.  Jesus said that loving God is the most important thing in life.  From loving God, all else in life flows.  If we love God, then he can equip us to love our neighbors.  If we love God and love our neighbors, Jesus says, then we really have a handle on life.

Remember too that Jesus specified the ways in which we are to love God:  with our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Loving God with our minds requires us to gain some understanding of this world.  If we don't have a firm understanding of this world as God's creation, then we can easily buy into the world's false philosophies.

So often Christian students enter their college studies with great confidence in their beliefs.  But then they face challenging questions in the classroom, from professors and other students.  These questions cut to the heart of their beliefs; they feel foolish for ever having believed in the God of the Bible.  In their minds there are only two reasonable ways to resolve this tension:  ignore the questions with blissful ignorance, or abandon the faith.

What so many Christians don't know is that there ARE answers to these questions.  The God of the Bible does make sense.  We don't have to choose between reason and faith.  The two are more than compatible.  In fact, they go hand in hand as we understand this world in which God has placed us.  I recommend Nancy Pearcey's book Total Truth for an engaging explanation of the Christian worldview.

But while we have children at home, we can enthusiastically teach them about God.  And we can encourage them to ask lots of questions about God, science, morality, the Bible, faith, history, economics and setting the table.  There are answers, even if we have to work to find them.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What's the Big Deal about Easter?

Why does everyone make such a big deal out of Easter?  I'm not talking about the new outfits, the Easter Bunny, egg hunts, Peeps or sales at Kohl's. 

For some reason, this holiday has endured as a major celebration.  It has not become nearly as commercialized as Christmas.  The historical events behind Easter are not nearly as cute as the Christmas story.

A man was falsely accused, condemned and executed, while his friends ran for cover.  Then, on the third day, this man came back to life.  It is a story full of drama and pathos; it is far from cute.  But why does the story need to be told over and over?  Why do we need to celebrate?

Easter is evidence that God has not forgotten us.  The world is full of hardship and evil, but God entered this messed-up world as Jesus Christ.  He took on the evil of the world, suffering ridicule and rejection, even to the point of death.

God the Son died at the hands of his evil creatures.  Death, one would think, would be the final word.  But it wasn't.  On the third day, this dead man came back to life.  He defeated death.

In his death and resurrection, Jesus won the battle against evil on behalf of all who believe in him.  He used the greatest imaginable evil against himself to bring the blessings of heaven to the ones who had him killed. 

If God loves us this much, that changes everything.  He wants our company.  He redeems our sinful hearts.  He gives us his own goodness. 

Because of Easter, we can now see life in light of the Resurrection!  It makes all the difference in the world

Sunday, April 17, 2011

More important than competition

I was hoping to tell stories about my triathlon competition today, but alas, I cannot.  The wicked weather system caused our event to be canceled, or rather postponed until September.  I should not complain, because we were not badly hit by the storm here in Stokesdale.  We had plenty of high winds and rain, enough to blow over and break tents at the triathlon staging area.

But miles to the east of us, home were destroyed and lives lost.  The devastation is unbelievable.  At least 22 people were killed in NC with this storm system.  It may take weeks to clean up, and months to rebuild.

Just when we think that we have conquered the elements, we are reminded that the forces of nature are beyond our control.  We really live every day at the mercy of God. 

Lord, help those who suffered loss in this storm find your love in the midst of disaster.  Let us share your love in your power.

Friday, April 15, 2011

My First Triathlon

I have always wanted to run a triathlon.  Now it is here.  It's coming even sooner than I thought.  The event planners sent out a schedule change this morning.  Instead of starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow, it will start at 7.  They think that we will be done with the race before all the storms roll in.  I'm not so sure...

Obviously I have had to train.  Now this is what they call a "sprint" triathlon.  I don't expect to do a lot of sprinting, but I think I can cover the 750 meter swim, 14 mile bike ride, and 5k run.  I actually went for a swim a couple of weeks ago, trying out my wet suit.  Might squeeze in another swim today.

This is certainly out of my comfort zone physically.  God is constantly calling me outside of my comfort zone, in just about every aspect of life.  He wants to stretch me.  He knows that pushing my limits helps me to grow.  There is so much more that God can do with me when I will step up to a challenge.

Sometimes the challenges come to us without warning; then we just have to do our best.  Sometimes we sign up for challenges.  I need to sign up for more challenges.  And part of that challenge is following through.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Oh Brother

Reading about Jesus this morning, I noticed something I had never paid attention to before.  As he invited people to follow him, Jesus began by calling two brothers, Peter and Andrew.  They were fishermen and were busy with their trade.  After they accepted his invitation, Jesus went on and found two other brothers, James and John.  They were also fishermen, at work with their father.

According to Matthew, these were the first disciples Jesus called.  So, he began with choosing two sets of brothers.  This makes me wonder why he chose brothers.  He could have called Peter without calling Andrew.  He could have called John without James.  Certainly Jesus was not just looking for warm bodies to boost his numbers. 

He called people who already loved each other and cared about each other.  They had grown up together; they had the bonds of blood, common upbringing, and business partnership. 

Why did this matter so much to Jesus?  He could have chosen 12 unrelated and disconnected followers. 

The journey of faith is a journey of relationship.  We need companions as we travel down the path.  Jesus began with at least two sets of brothers.  He began with men who knew the value of living life together, even working together.  They knew they could not do it alone.  They knew they needed each other.

We need today to recapture some of that closeness in relationship.  I'm so grateful for the church as a fellowship of encouragement, where we can live life together, lean on each other, and cheer for one another!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Times are Changing

I have been monitoring the news coming out of Japan, as they begin to recover from a lethal combination of disasters. The situation reminds me of the movie Jurassic Park. Man has created something amazing and dangerous, believing that he can manage all the possibilities. At this point, no one really knows how the disaster will end.

Sorting through rubble and shoveling mud will eventually bring relief from the earthquake and tsunami. Geophysicists, according to missionary Carlton Walker, say that the force of the quake was so great that it moved the main Japanese island of Honshu 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) to the east. With a 9.0 reading on the Richter scale, the quake was the largest ever measured in Japan.

The damage from the shaking and deluge will take years to recover from, but their devastation has stopped. The fallout from the nuke plants may have only begun. No one knows when the radiation will be contained. No one knows what will really happen if a total meltdown occurs. We are dealing with forces that we don’t completely understand.

This crisis is sending other shockwaves through the world as well. Stock exchanges are jittery. Flights are cancelled. Energy policies are being reviewed. Even the friendly relationship between the U.S. and Japan is strained.

We look at this disaster in light of major changes in the Middle East, another key part of the world energy puzzle. While the fighting in Libya seems to be leaning toward stricter totalitarianism, in Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt and other countries, freedom may be taking hold.

There is even political unrest in the United States, as citizens clamor for an end to deficit spending and big government. The stakes are also high in political battles at the state level.

As all these changes come, we have to wonder what we can count on. What is our point of reference? It is easy to say that God never changes and we can always count on him. Yes, that’s true. But the bigger question is how well we build our lives on him.

For most of history, there has been constant political upheaval. And for most of history, standards of living and ways of life have changed very little from generation to generation. Today, the situation is reversed. We are accustomed to epic changes in living standards and stable civil life. I wonder if we are ready for that to change.

If our lives are really built on a relationship with Jesus, we can weather any storm, or earthquake, or tsunami, or war, or even nuclear fallout.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Reality Check

Last week as I tried to pull up my gmail account, Google informed me that they had suspended my account because of suspicious activity.  I could not access my email.  Not good.  I quickly found my heart rate escalating. I had a sense of impending doom.  My android phone is also driven by Google's software.  That means that all my contacts are hosted by Google.  They could deny me access to my own lists of phone numbers and email addresses.

Now, I'm glad that they noticed any unusual activity on my account.  I'm glad that they promptly shut down any scammer who may have hijacked my account.  I don't know how a hacker could have accessed my account -- although a couple of days before I had logged on at Panera Bread and checked email.

I was able to get back into my account after a couple of hours of considerable angst. 

But this lock-down has made me do some serious thinking.  These Google folks are trying to help me by keeping other people off of my account.  If the people who are on my side (I hope they really are...) can shut down my cyber life, I wonder what could happen if someone with evil intent got control.

They could mine my contacts for all kinds of info (maybe about you).  They could deny me access to all my Google accounts.  They could intercept my email.  They could disable my cell phone.  They could shut down my main lines of communication entirely.  This is not a comforting thought.

In the aftermath of my great panic, I set up a Yahoo account.  At least now I will have some means of emailing without the permission of Google.  I'm still dependent on the internet -- no way around that for email.  But when I used Outlook, my contacts were stored only on my very own computer.

Is it smart to avoid being so dependent on someone else holding my vital info?  Yeah, I think it is.  I'm just not sure how to do it. 

I also believe that we have become far too dependent on computers in general.  We live in a world where virtual reality can be confused with actual reality.  That brings me to my knees as I worship the One who never changes.  I know I can always count on God.  I don't have to worry about him shutting me out or suspending my account.  I have to remember that my real life is not on my computer anyway.

I know this blog is on Blogger, courtesy of Google. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Doing Nothing

I tried it.  On Sunday afternoon, for a little while, I actually did nothing.  There were no meetings that afternoon, so I had the chance to chill.  As an added bonus, it was 70 degrees on the back porch with the sun occasionally peeking through.

My wife and I sat in the Adirondack chairs.  She snoozed, but strangely I was not sleepy.  That rarely happens.  Having preached that morning on Sabbath and taking time to be still, I had the opportunity to practice what I preached.  But I had the urge to go get a book or my journal.  I thought about composing a blog.  I thought about reading my Bible.  I thought about getting my prayer list.

But instead, I did nothing.  I sat there looking at the yard, thinking, praying.  It was oddly disconcerting.  That shows how twisted my system has become with adrenaline and the need to be productive.  Heaven forbid that I should allow a minute to go by without doing something.  But that's what I did.

Forgive me for my pride at doing nothing. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Supernatural Valentine

Listening to the radio today, I have heard lots of Valentine's wishes.  It is fun to have a day dedicated to sharing our love with the important people in our lives.

Today it dawned on me that we could also express our love for God on Valentine's Day.  He has certainly shared his love with us.  It might cheapen the work of Jesus on the cross to describe his Passion as God's Valentine to us.  How can you compare the sacrifice of the Son of God to a dozen roses and a box of chocolates?

But if we wanted to give a Valentine to Jesus, how would we do that?  Talk about the man who has everything...

We could show a kindness to a stranger or a needy person.
We could stand against injustice.
We could write him a love letter.
We could take an hour to spend with him, listening and opening our hearts to him.
We could commit to start a new habit (and ask him to help us follow through).
We could get naked spiritually before him, risking the shame, but knowing that he loves us just as we are.
We could enjoy him, staring into his eyes, melting in his arms.

Happy Valentine's Day, Jesus.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Prayers for Egypt

I remember when Anwar Sadat was assassinated and Hosni Mubarak took over to lead Egypt.  He's still the president of the nation 30 years later.  That is about to change.

Who knows what the changes will be?  I believe that the outcome of Egypt's upheaval will have significant impact for at least a generation.  I believe that there is a spirital battle going on for the future of Egypt.

I'm praying for forces of good to prevail, for freedom to win the day. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Adoption Thoughts

I saw in the news that a mother in Alaska is in trouble for the way she has treated her adopted son, who was born in Russia.  She used cruel means of punishing him, including squirting hot sauce in his mouth and putting him in a cold shower.  He's 7.

A video of the punishments was shown on Dr. Phil's show in November, and Russian viewers are incensed over it.  Some are even calling for the boy to be returned to his homeland.  Here's the article.

I have a couple of thoughts about this situation.  First, what about the American children adopted by Russians?  I wonder if there are any such children.  I wonder if any American children are adopted by families in any foreign countries.  My guess is that such adoptions are very rare.  It looks like Americans are very interested in taking in orphans from all around the world.  I know families who have adopted from Uganda, Ethiopia, Russia, Ecuador, and Paraguay.  These are just people that I know personally who have done international adoptions.  My guess is that there are thousands of US citizens who adopt from other countries every year.

Secondly, I wonder about the state of Russian orphanages.  A friend of mine adopted a boy from Russia and later adopted a boy from Ethiopia.  He says that there is a marked difference in the care given in the orphanages in those two countries.  In Ethiopia, the children are loved and cared for.  In Russia, the children's needs are met, but the children are not loved.

Lacking adequate love in their earliest years, these children grow up with a host of developmental and behavioral problems.  Parents who adopt these children become understandably frustrated.  Some, obviously, use unhelpful forms of discipline in a desperate effort to get through to these children who never learned to receive love.

Now, looking forward, I wonder if the Russians who are disturbed by the unwise discipline of the Alaskan mother will also look to reform the care given in Russian orphanages.  Maybe they will even step up to adopt children themselves.

I also wonder what Americans can do to improve the lot of orphans all around the world.  These young lives need love, whether they are in Russia, Africa or North America. 

The fatherless and widows have a special place in God's heart.  May they have a special place in the hearts of his followers.  Beginning with me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Leading a People, Leading a Movement

We turn to the scriptures to learn about leadership, and two of the most successful leaders were Moses and Paul.  In the Old Testament, Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land.  After the resurrection of Jesus, Paul led a small band of missionaries from city to city around the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Both men changed the world because of their life's work, but their roles of leadership were much different.  Moses led a group of a million plus through the desert for 40 years, as they toggled between rebellion and repentance repeatedly.  Moses dealt with the gripes, complaints and mutinies that all leaders face.  He followed his father-in-law's suggestion of delegating responsibilities so that he could focus on listening to God and leading.

Many church leaders today face the same kinds of pressures and challenges, especially in large churches.  There is trouble from within and without, just as in the days of the Exodus.

Paul, on the other hand, was a different kind of leader.  He did not lead a people but a movement.  Although he started as part of the Jewish religious establishment, after Christ appeared to him, he had a new mission.  His mission was not to lead a large assembly, but to make disciples.  On his missionary journeys he went by land and sea to share Christ with Jews and Gentiles from Palestine to Rome.

Paul never led masses of people across the desert or across the street.  He challenged the lost to come to Christ and believers to take Jesus seriously.  He knew that, unlike Moses, he could rely on the Spirit of God to lead the new disciples.  The Holy Spirit would inspire these believers to change the world.  And they did.

Paul was not just leading a group of people, but a movement of God.  He cooperated with the Spirit of God, going where Jesus led him to go, sharing the truth of the Kingdom of God.  As he traveled about, he revisited cities where he had seen churches start.  He encouraged, he challenged, he warned, he rebuked, he rejoiced.  He also faced challenges to his leadership, threats from within and without. 

Moses' task was preservation, transportation and instruction of a people.  A few people came to believe in Yahweh because of the influence of the Jews.  But the emphasis was on getting the Jews out of Egypt and into Canaan.  Moses led them to the cusp of the new land and Joshua led them to conquer it.  Moses was a great leader.

Paul's ministry was to release the power of the Holy Spirit in lives and communities around the Mediterranean world.  God would lead the work.  It would be decentralized and viral.  It would spread just like Jesus described in the parable of the yeast.  Paul was a great leader.

As I learn lessons from these great men, I resonate with the model of leading a movement.  I want to be part of a movement of God.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Our Day

We have an interesting tradition.  Years ago, my older daughter suggested that we have an annual "Bailey Day."  The suggestion came in January, and so I looked for a good way to take time off work and take time with family.  Martin Luther King Day seemed like a great time to devote to family.  I think that MLK himself would approve.

Every year we take time to do something special:  go to a museum, take in a movie, make something together.  This year we drove around NW Greensboro, looking for objects to photograph.  Our mission was to find objects that looked like the letters of our last name.  We can print and frame them, then hang them in the house.  It helps that our name is only six letters long, by the way. 

Well, we had a hard time finding our first letter.  We stopped at Harris Teeter for a snack.  We brought it to the car, and when Lisa opened the package, I said, "It's a B!"  Yes, these Oreo Cakesters came out stuck together, the perfect object for our letter collection.  (They are actually pretty good to eat, too.)

We went on to get all six letters, although our "L" is pretty pitiful.  You would think that would be the easiest letter of all...

We were looking for something, but didn't expect to find it in a cookie package.  If you are looking for something, maybe you'll find it where you least expect it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Someone Different

I friend told me yesterday that he challenged his middle school Sunday school class as the new year begins:

You won't be the same person at the end of the year.  You will change, for the better or for the worse.  What kind of changes would you like to see?  What steps can you take to make those changes?

Wow.  That is powerful and simple.  We can either let life happen to us, or we can take the initiative to create those changes that we want.

Every day we are becoming the person we will finally be.  Every day we make choices that make us closer to -- or farther from -- the person we want to be.  God can help us make the right choices.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Clooney and Engle

There is bad blood in Sudan.  For years, stories of abuse and enslavement have come from southern Sudan.  On Sunday a referendum began in southern Sudan, in which the citizens could choose become independent from the rest of the country.  The votes still aren't counted.  The people in the south of Sudan have been abused by the national leaders.  The people in north and south are different from each other.  In the north, they are lighter-skinned and Muslim.  In the south, they are mostly dark-skinned and animist or Christian.  Before the current abusive situation, there was genocide in Sudan, 1983-2005.

George Clooney is trying to change the world in Sudan.  He and other celebrities are working to get a commercial surveillance satellite orbiting the earth over south Sudan.  If the world can watch better, then the militant groups may behave better.  Not a bad idea.  Clooney believes it could prevent another genocide.

Closer to home, Charlie Engle was sentenced yesterday to 21 months in prison, convicted of real estate fraud.  Engle is an ultra-marathoner.  He ran across the entire Sahara Desert, raising awareness of the need for clean water in that region.  He teamed up with H20 Africa to raise money for wells. 

Prosecutors say that Engle obtained mortgages and second mortgages under false pretences and used the money to live on while undertaking his Sahara venture.  I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.  He's a likable guy.  But before he was sentenced, he said that he had been "foolish enough to think that I could change the world." 

Is it foolish to think that?  Some of us really want to change the world.  Most of us don't have the power of celebrity or the endurance to run ultra-marathons.  But even ordinary folks can change the world. 

God uses ordinary people -- and sometimes famous people -- to change this world.  And when we let his Spirit empower the work, that's when unbelievable things happen.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Understanding the World

I'm reading a fascinating book called "The Discoverers," by Daniel J. Boorstin.  He recounts the history of the important discoveries through the ages, but he begins with some very unexpected breakthroughs.  The first discovery he describes is the discovery of time. 

That almost seems like the discovery of air -- how could you NOT know it was there.  But the notion of marking increments of time was a significant idea.  Days are not of uniform length through the year.  The phases of the moon helped some, but were out of sync with the solar year.  The summer and winter solstices -- the longest and shortest days -- proved to be the best points of reference for the solar year.  For daily measurements, high noon was an obvious marker of mid-day.

To imagine a world in which punctuality had no meaning is difficult.  Yes, in many cultures today, 7:00 really means around 8:30, but for millennia, no one could really distinguish 7:00 from 8:30. 

The world was much more a riddle back then.  People tried to explain why the ball of fire revolved around the earth every day.  They explained the phases of the moon by saying that the souls of each month's dead ascended to the heavens and gathered to create the light.  When the light was full, it emptied back out, ready for the next cycle.

There are so many ideas about how the world works.  Some are based on superstition, some on faith, some on science, and many are based on a combination of the above.  What can we really believe?

If the One who made it all would shed some light on this world, it would be worth listening to him.  He has shed light through his Word.  The Creator has spoken.  He has revealed himself, through his written Word, and through his Son, the Word who became a person.

In the midst all the confusing and contradictory ideas of mankind, it helps to have a point of reference for truth.  God has provided that reference by revealing himself.  That gives me a new reverence for the Bible.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The New Year

Somehow the new year always gets me excited.  I feel like I get a fresh start.  I think it's because the holiday time gets me out of the routine, and I get to settle into a new routine.  The Christmas decorations come down, and everything is swept clean.  Even my desk.

With the new year I can begin new habits, like keeping that desk clean.  I took time last month to get my desk actually organized.  All I really needed was a power strip long enough, so that I could put my desk lamp where it really needs to go.  That inspired me to clean out old files and arrange everything so that I could actually reach it.

I'm working on the Getting Things Done system, and I am gradually making it work.  I've been at this GTD project for over a year, and it has helped me to be organized.  The more ideas I implement, the better it works.

Anyway, the fresh start and the organized work environment gives me hope that I can accomplish more, plan more, make more of a difference in the world.  And, I intend to have fun in the process!