Saturday, December 28, 2013

Redneck Weed Control

I tried an experiment today.  I'll let you know if it was successful.

You see, I'm very allergic to poison ivy.  I hate the stuff.  This time of year, it has no leaves, but you can still recognize the "trunk" of the vine.  The big vines look hairy.  Even in the winter, contact with these vines can cause severe outbreaks, so I try to stay away from them.

Unfortunately, these vines are all over my farm.  As I walk through the woods, I cringe when I see them.  At least they don't have any leaves right now.  And so winter is the best time to kill the stuff.  I searched the internet for ways of killing poison ivy in winter. One clip was helpful--it showed a guy using long handled clippers to sever the vine.  You don't want to use a saw or axe or machete, because these will cause the evil urushiol poison to spray out from the vine.

Clippers would work fine for small vines, but I've got some vines bigger than my forearm.  Clippers would never get through these suckers.  So, I had to think of a way to cut the vine without getting sprayed with the poison.

So here's my experiment.  I took my 12 gauge Remington semi-automatic shot gun and used it as a primitive saw.  From a safe distance--at least I hope it was safe--I fired away at these nasty vines, as close to the root as possible.  Some vines were so thick, it took a dozen shots to blow them in two.  White wooden bits of terror flew everywhere, but not near me.

In the spring when these vines sprout from their stumps, I'll hit them with Roundup to finish the job.  It's not cheap to fire so many rounds at these vines, but I'll be glad to get rid of them.

In a few days I'll know if I stood at a safe distance.  I'm itching to find out.

Epilogue:  No rash from the vine blasts!  Oh yeah, I need some more 12 gauge shells.  There are dozens more of these evil vines to kill.

Photo: Watch out, poison ivy vines...I've got a shotgun, and you ain't got one.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Church Burning Forgiveness

Riding into town on Wednesday, I heard the national noon radio news on CBS radio.  They announced a story from Stokesdale, NC, so my ears perked up.  When our town makes the national news, even on the radio, it's a big deal.

They briefly reported that the arsonist who destroyed the building of Gideon Grove United Methodist Church had been sentenced.  He pleaded guilty, and so the judge was to set the sentence.  As law allows, the pastor of the church, Wanda Lancaster, was allowed to address the judge concerning the sentence. Believing that the 18-year-old man would not benefit from a long sentence, she asked the judge to be lenient.

The judge was lenient and the young man received no prison time, but was fined and is required to do 100 hours of community service, including roof of the new building.  He also must address the members of Gideon Grove, reading a letter of apology.

Not everyone shares the desire to go lightly on the defendant.

The Rockingham County fire marshal has written a letter of protest to other fire and law enforcement officials in the area, calling the punishment a slap on the wrist.  Records suggest that restitution could have been set at about $45,000, just for the personnel and equipment needed to put out the blaze.

Others believe that a stiffer penalty would serve as a deterrent to arson in the future.

Wanda prayed and wrestled with her decision.  She spoke for herself, not for the whole church.  She spoke with courage, knowing that she would be criticized.  And she did what she believed was right.  She reflected the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.

Wanda, I appreciate your standing up and standing strong.  Some may say you are weak.  They said the same thing about Jesus as they nailed him to a cross.

May the spirit of forgiveness humble this young man and set him on a better path in the days ahead.  That day of sentencing for him was certainly a turning point for him.  Let us pray that he turns the right way.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thoughts on Phil Robertson

Good old Phil speaks his mind.  No one should be surprised about that.  Because he is now famous, more people pay attention to what he says.

A&E listens.  The broader media listens.  Everybody wants to weigh in on Phil.

Phil merely described graphically something he does not understand about the appeal of a particular sin.  He also marvels at the illogical nature of sin in general.  His graphic description pulls the curtain back and exposes the sin, while many in media seek to romanticize it.

Phil has the right to say whatever he wishes.  A&E also has the right to dismiss him from their show.

But A&E, in pursuit of profits, seeks to offend as few people as possible.  The high value of tolerance seems to have imploded.  Phil sounds intolerant, but can't we tolerate that?  Tolerance as a core value proves empty.

Meanwhile Phil seems unfazed by the flap.  He doesn't need A&E.  Even if he did, he would not compromise his values to please them.  His values are not based on polling numbers or advertising revenue.

Through it all, he seems happy, happy, happy.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I'm Pulling for You

I am a fan.  At least I have been.  I became a full-fledged fan for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons when I was in college.  I had planned not to be a fan, continuing my anti-school-spirit that served me so well in high school.  That spirit kept me negative and anti-social, and brought all the fun associated with misery.

But my suite of freshman guys helped me get a school spirit life.  I found that it is fun to have school spirit.  I liked sports anyway, so pulling for my team live-and-in-person was really cool.  So, I went all out for sports.  Although I never painted my face, I did spend the night out for tickets and even bought season basketball tickets one year, guaranteeing me excellent seats.  I went to the last Big Four Basketball Tournament in 1980, which my team won!  I never missed a conference football or basketball game in my four years of college.

Looking back, though, I see that I left some of my soul on the field or court.  That's really good for a competitor, but for a fan, it might not be healthy.  I mean, I spent many weekends in a semi-depressed state because my football team lost.  How could they throw that interception?  If only he had caught that pass.  Why did the coach call that play?  I would run those scenarios in my mind all weekend.  I would hold on to those mental gymnastics and really feel the loss.

One day it occurred to me that I did not have to think that way.  I had no control over the past, and even during the game I really had no control.  I was only a spectator, but I grieved and regretted and celebrated like an actual player.  I realized that was not healthy.  It really helped me to let go of the events over which I had no control.  I could still celebrate and enjoy the victories, but not take the losses to heart.  That badge of fanhood -- feeling depressed -- was not a badge I really wanted to wear.

I'm learning to balance allegiance to my team with my mental health.  Frankly, I don't know how those sports announcers can manage when their teams are losers.

Anyway, I see the same pattern as I invest my life in other people.  I am pulling for people to make good decisions and experience personal victory.  When they make poor decisions, from my perspective, I feel like I have personally failed.  What could I have said differently?  How could I have been a better friend?  But these are their decisions, not mine.  I don't have (and don't want to have) control over others' lives.  I may have some influence, but that's it.

So, when people settle for second best, disobey Jesus, or excuse their mixed up priorities, I take it personally.  I'm pulling for them.  I love to celebrate the victories, and I do.  But I overdo the ownership of loss.  It doesn't help them or me.

I'm pulling for you, but I'm learning how to do that responsibly.  It's your problem, not mine.  I'm here for you, cheering you on to victory.  When you lose, I want to divide your sorrows.  When you win, I want to multiply your joys.  But ultimately, your life is between you and God.  And so, my real effort needs to be in praying for you, and praying for me to be a better friend.

And obviously my problems are not your responsibility either, but you can call me out and cheer me on.

He's the One in charge of both you and me.  And we know he will win.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Running this morning, I happened to look down and see a lone jigsaw puzzle piece in the street.  Pondering its possible origins, I saw another one about 15 feet later.  These loose, displaced pieces apparently belong to the same big picture, but they were solo on the asphalt. 

Alone, those pieces are just trash to be swept up.  But put together with other pieces, they make some kind of picture.  The pieces have to come together to get the full picture.

We are all like puzzle pieces.  Some of are solo on the asphalt.  Some are beginning to connect with others.  We are all part of a big picture, God's picture. 

Unlike jigsaw puzzle pieces, we can find and pursue other connections.  We can connect intentionally with others, knowing that there is a big picture, a big story.  I wonder what part I have in God's picture, what role I have in his story.  As we come together in community, we can see how we fit together; we can see God's big, beautiful picture.

Finding the right pieces, those with whom I am made to connect, is not easy.  It takes years.  God has to bring us together.  Then God has to fit us together.  It's mysterious, scary, confusing, challenging, exciting, discouraging, and fun.  It is what life is all about.

I want to help those who are solo on the asphalt find their connections, with God and others.

As I find my part in the big picture, I want to be a piece that is on the edge.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Face of God

This morning I was praying for God to let me hear his voice and see his face. I began to wonder:  What would I see, if I saw the face of God?  What would be his expression?

I might see his pleasure, his joy, his peace.  I might see his disappointment, his pain, his frustration (Does God ever get frustrated?).   I might see his excitement, his encouragement.  I might see him cheering me on.  I might see him cautioning me or daring me.

Most of us know what we would see in the face of God.  At least we think we do.  We might be surprised.  Where we expect judgment, we may find forgiveness.  Where we expect disappointment, we may find understanding.  Where we expect approval, we may find warning.

What do you expect to see in the face of God today.  Are you afraid to look?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Soul Monitor

As we were putting up our Christmas decorations last Saturday, I thought about all the trappings of the season.  There is so much energy put into this holiday.  Christmas has become the dominant theme of December. 

I wondered, as I searched for the optimal tree branch for my ornament, "What is this doing to my soul?"  Everything we do affects our souls.  Every attitude we hold shapes us.  So, what is the Christmas season doing to my soul?  As I shop, party, eat, decorate, celebrate...what is this doing to my soul?

It's a good question, and not hard to answer.  The hard part is remembering to ask it.  When I answer the question, I often realize that I need an attitude adjustment.  Sometimes, I may need to change my activity.  But most often I need to change my heart.

Jesus came to earth to give life to me.  It cost him his life on the cross.  Christmas ought to breathe life into my soul.  It can, as long as I guard my heart.

So, I'm monitoring my heart, this Christmas, watching for Jesus to breathe
life into me.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Random thoughts on Fitness World

I go to a gym.  I run around the neighborhood.  And I’m not the only one.  Fitness has become such a fad that even sneakers now have a designer look.  Fitness is now cool.  Every weekend offers multiple  competitive events.
I like to stay in shape.

I applaud and participate in the growing world of fitness, but I keep thinking about this culture in the context of problems in other parts of the world.  What would people in the third world think if they saw all our gyms and walking tracks?

Imagine explaining a walking track to a Ugandan or an Indian.  We don’t walk enough in our daily lives, so we create these places where people walk in circles, just so they can walk.  We need a special place that’s safe and convenient.  A few years ago I heard that Stokesdale has more walking tracks per capita than any other city in the country.  I like walking tracks.

Then I ride a Real Ryder stationary bike at my gym.  It’s lots of fun and a butt-kicking workout.  We fog up the windows, as we pant and sweat.  We pay money and make time to sweat, because we don’t exert ourselves enough in our actual work. 

One day as I pedaled through Tabata intervals, I wondered how this energy could be harvested.   We burn calories just for fitness.  But people exert this kind of energy in other places to plow fields, get to school, and haul water.  What if we could harness all the energy generated in the name of fitness?  We could start with electrical generators built into stationary bikes.  The electricity could be stored in batteries and used to power, say, electric lights in a homeless shelter.

Yeah, I know it won’t work.  I can list lots of reasons.

Maybe someone else can come up with a way to harvest our sweat for the gospel.  Then burning calories will make a difference in something more than our body mass indexes.



Friday, November 15, 2013

Party Over Here

We had a party over here tonight at Crossroads!  Thanks to all the Operation Christmas Child workers in our church who pulled this together!  We had a fun time with the party, and tons of people coming out to pack shoe boxes for children around the world.

We have no idea where the boxes will go, but we know that kids will be blessed.

Our party is a really a pre-party.  When we enjoy the Wedding Feast with Jesus in heaven, we expect to see some of these kids who were blessed with boxes of hope.

May God pour out his Spirit through these small gifts...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Advice for Pastors

I’ve been doing this 25 years.  With a Master of Divinity degree in 1988, I was called to serve as pastor of Coolidge Memorial Baptist Church in Coolidge, GA.  My home church, Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC, ordained me in November 1988.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I have served three churches over this quarter century, and I may still not know what I'm doing. 

For what it’s worth, here are a few of my observations:

  • You don’t do this for the money. 
  • Ministry will take over your life (if you let it), and you won’t have a life.
  • Ministry gets real when you get real.
  • Ministry gets fun when you stop taking yourself so seriously.
  • God is hammering away at you.  He always will be.
  • Truth is more important than any planning tool or strategy.
  • You are in this for truth, not accomplishment.
  • God will take care of you.
  • Don’t fake vision.  It won’t work.
  • You know God’s ultimate vision:  reconciliation through the cross.
  • Keep vision simple and let God bring out the details over time.
  • The silver bullet is the cross.
  • You can’t do it all, but you can try.  Trying to do it all will steal your soul.
  • Trust God to be at work.
  • Your sin of avoiding Sabbath is destroying your soul and your ministry.
  • Keep it in perspective.  Most problems are not that big a deal.
  • Jesus cares more about your soul than your ministry.
  • Keep a good attitude.  Your joy means more than your most inspired plans.
  • Give it up.  Let God have a turn.
  • Don’t give up.  You are doing more good than you realize.
  • Laugh.   At yourself, at your first-world problems.
  • Have fun on purpose.  Make it a priority.
  • The joy of the Lord is your strength. 
Here’s to the next 25 years of ministry!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boo vs. Reformation

Happy Halloween.  Happy Reformation Day.  So much to celebrate!

Is that an invitation?
As I sit here waiting for the first trick-or-treaters to scare up the sidewalk, I have a few moments to ponder the occasion.  We celebrate All Hallows' Eve with scary mischief.  The tradition comes from the notion that all the saints would pray
for people on Nov. 1, All Saints Day.  Why waste all those prayers?  Give those saints something to pray about.  Get crazy!

OK, so I have lots of problems with the theology here.  First, saints are all those who trust in Christ, not just those who got lots of attention for being holy.  Second, I don't believe that I need the prayers of dead people.  Jesus is interceding for me.  Third, sinning for the purpose of being forgiven is really twisted.  Finally, good fun, real fun, doesn't need forgiveness.  Well, unless someone can't take a joke...

But this year I have noticed some Christians playing up the Reformation history of October 31.  In the year 1517 Martin Luther nailed a notice on the Wittenburg church door.  His notice contained 95 questions about standard Roman Catholic Church practice.  As Luther was himself a priest, his questions about church practice got a lot of attention.  His questions resonated with many other Christians, and a movement began to reform the Church.  We call that movement the Reformation.

I wonder if Martin Luther knew that he was causing trouble on Halloween? 

Oh yes, here come the trick-or-treaters!

Monday, October 28, 2013


The word Sabbath means "cease."  Or maybe the Hebrew word for cease came from "Sabbath."  Margaret Feinberg offers these insights in Wonderstruck. 

Many Christians today have little sense of Sabbath.  We believe that a different kind of activity qualifies as rest.  So we return from vacation exhausted.  Our days off are whirlwinds of birthday parties, soccer games, errands and dinners out.  Every weekend offers a multitude of festivals, craft shows, parades, yard sales, 5ks and fundraisers.  Save the date, five months out.

When do we stop?

There comes a time when we are forced to stop.  Heart attacks make us stop.  Injuries and illnesses make us stop.

But God commanded a stop day every week.  Stop working, stop cooking, stop exerting, stop gathering firewood.  Let your animals rest.  Let your servants rest.  Just stop.

It takes a lot of faith to stop.  We have to believe that God will be able to handle everything while we don't.  We don't really know (by experience) if he can or not.  We don't let him.  Our situation is different.  Of course we can't stop.  Work will pile up.  We have to stay caught up. 

But we never get caught up.  We just reach the point -- preferably sooner, not later -- when we realize that some things just aren't that important.  We can let them go.  Maybe we can't control them anyway.

Old people don't get worked up over every detail.  It's just because they are retired, right?  Maybe it's because they are wiser.  They take time to be still.  They can think about what really matters.  They've run the rat race and realized that it's an endless exercise wheel.

What if we learned to stop before old age?  We could stop every week.  For a whole day.  That might be wise.  If only God had told us about this...


Monday, October 14, 2013

Government You Can Trust

The spectacle of Washington politics has been crazier than usual for a couple of weeks now.  The government is "shut down," causing headaches for some people in the real estate industry, and keeping some federal employees at home.  The debt ceiling is looming on the horizon, as politicians debate how much more we can borrow.

The debt will never be repaid, so all the efforts are aimed at continuing the illusion that this government is responsible.  See my blog post about the size of the national debt.  The U.S. government has been irresponsible for generations, building a financial house of cards which will eventually come crashing down.  Every politician works to put off the day of reckoning, so that the crash will not happen on his or her watch.

Our leaders have not followed the U.S. Constitution, and that has caused a lot of problems.  The Founders understood that power corrupts, and so they crafted a system by which government is split into three branches.  Those branches would watch over one another, to make sure that power would not be abused.  The system only works if the leaders obey the rules of the system.  Gradually they have ignored the rules and led our nation away from limited government.  The voters have allowed it to happen.

In Jesus' day, ordinary people knew that they could not trust the government.  The Romans were despised, as they militarily occupied the land of Israel.  The Jewish political leaders were also the religious leaders.  They had their own agenda of retaining whatever power the Romans would allow. 

As far as I know, there has never been a government free of corruption.  The U.S. government is following the historic pattern.

But Jesus will one day rule on earth.  "And the government shall be upon his shoulders.  And his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).  That is government we can trust. 

In the meantime we pray, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tools for Developing Discipleship

What is a spiritual discipline?  There is no list of the disciplines in the Bible.  But tradition is rich with spiritual practices that help us develop as disciples.

Spiritual disciplines are habits or practices that allow us to dive deeper into our relationship with Jesus.  They provide a context for our lives in which we can hear God speak and see his hand at work.  They help us get ready to obey.  They help us know him personally and intimately.

Adam and Eve spoke directly with God, beginning the practice of prayer.  Their children Cain and Able may have begun the practice of giving to God through sacrifice.  Abraham continues the tradition of giving to God as he offers a tenth (tithe) of his spoils of war to Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of the Most High God.   

Later we find followers of God fasting, worshipping, meditating, fellowshipping, remembering, confessing, resting, reflecting, serving, studying.  Today we have the Old and New Testaments, a rich collection of documents about God’s interaction with man.

In Acts 2 we find the early church beginning a new kind of community.  They devoted themselves to:
  • The apostles’ teaching
  • The fellowship
  • The breaking of the bread
  • Prayer

In these four elements, we find the foundation for Christian spiritual disciplines.  The apostles’ teaching is captured in the New Testament, with the Old Testament as its foundation.  So many spiritual disciplines are founded on the scriptures including reading, memorizing, and meditating.

The fellowship is the collection of believers, the church.  Disciplines with the fellowship include service, giving and evangelism.

The breaking of the bread is a reference to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  By extension, then, we find the spiritual discipline of corporate worship, including celebration, confession, baptism, and remembering.

Prayer is the oldest spiritual discipline, and the early Christians were devoted to it.  Their prayer included fasting, confession, simplicity and solitude.

These habits are a means for us to know God and love God.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God.  Paul said that compared to knowing God, everything else is just garbage.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Crossroads Values - Joy

Following Jesus is a joyful adventure.

The Holy Spirit produces joy in the believer’s life.  The freedom we have in Jesus releases us from the bondage of religious drudgery.  We do have responsibilities, but heartfelt obedience brings joy, not resentment.  We choose to follow Jesus, not because of guilt, but because of love.  He tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  When we live in Christ, we live with joy. 

Following Jesus is difficult, challenging, frustrating, inconvenient, costly, dangerous.  But if that’s all we experience in walking with the Lord, we are missing his heart.  Following Jesus should also be fun.  It’s an adventure to follow him where we’ve never been before.  We take risks as we follow, knowing that he walks with us.  Joyful trust in our hearts overflows in the adventures of faith.  We won’t always be happy.  But we can always be joyful.

Through the joy of his people, Jesus is honored and glorified.  The joy of the Lord is our strength.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Crossroads Values -- Action

Jesus was a man of action.  After working as a carpenter, he began his three-and-a-half years of ministry.  He healed, taught, preached, traveled, fished, prayed, encouraged, rebuked.  He changed the world by investing in his disciples.  He followed the Father’s plan obediently, giving his life on the cross.

As the Spirit moved Jesus to action, he calls us to action as well.  Sometimes the action is prayer.  Sometimes listening, teaching, confronting, turning over tables.  It is all guided by the Spirit and motivated by love.

At Crossroads, we want to be involved in life, like Jesus.  We step up to fight injustice, feed the hungry, and fight disease.  We step up to reach out to people who need friends.  We step up to show our community the love of Jesus.  We step up to help a friend make a decision.  We challenge each other to stick with our marriages.  We call each other to turn from sin.  We volunteer.  We invite to dinner.  We donate.  We pack shoeboxes with fun stuff for poor children.  We sponsor kids around the globe.  We send missionaries.

Faith means action.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Crossroads Values - Community

Life is all about relationships.  Everything else is secondary.  For us at Crossroads, community is not a zip code.  It is having real friends who know the good and the bad, and still care about you.  It is sharing the joys and frustrations, the celebrations and heartaches of life with people who understand your strengths and flaws.

God shows us the importance of community even before there was a creation.  The Holy Trinity exists in three Persons, living in community with each other.  As we were made in God’s image, we are created to live in relationship with others—with God and people.

Christian community becomes the place of healing and discovery.  We find emotional and spiritual healing in a place of acceptance and grace.  We experience self-discovery as we learn about our unique qualities and find our God-given calling in life.

Real community is messy.  But it is worth it.  We see the flaws in others, and they see ours.  We encourage, rebuke and forgive.  We grow and become more like Jesus.  We really need each other.   And we need to belong.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mental Freedom

Charlie Brown never kicked a football held by Lucy Van Pelt.  Somehow he fell for her deception every time.  She made a fool of him.  I feel sorry for Charlie and I comfort myself in knowing that I could never be so effectively and repeatedly deceived.  At least I used to think so.  In July I preached a sermon called “Freedom from Sin” and began noticing how I fall prey to deception in my thought life.  In a blog post, “Lies that I Believe,” I catalog a series of my erroneous, recurring thoughts.  I charge daily for the football, believing what is not true.  Hurry up.  It’s too late.  You need to be nervous.   God will leave you hanging.  You don’t deserve joy.  You can’t get all your work done.   Only by God’s grace can I break the cycle.

Jesus knows the power of truth.  He said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 NIV84).  When we persist in thought patterns based on lies, we fall into Satan’s trap.  Even believers fall for these tricks.  He lies so cleverly, we do not recognize the deceptio  Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has spread lies.  He asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1 NIV84).  Jesus declared that Satan speaks his “native language” when he lies (John 8:44 NIV84).  The devil uses every device he can to drive a wedge between people and their Creator.  But ultimately, Satan has only one trick.  Author Neil T. Anderson, in his book, The Bondage Breaker, notes that deception is Satan’s only weapon.  All his activity is rooted in lies. 

Lies can be powerful.  Pillars of untruth uphold totalitarian regimes and dysfunctional families. Satan’s lies bring untold misery to humanity.  Paul calls him, “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph. 2:2 NIV84).   His lies set the tone for this world.  In every culture, on every continent, we find murder, hatred, corruption, selfishness, oppression, materialism.  The pursuit of self-interest always carries with it the taint of disregard for others.  (Thus, pioneer economist Adam Smith believed that free-market economies must be based on a system of morality.)  The way of the world rests on pillars of self-centered thinking.  Even the Christian world buys into this.  People shop for churches with a consumer mindset, looking for what they can receive rather than what they can contribute.  Christian authors plug their books, striving for recognition on best sellers’ lists.  If I had a book, I would be plugging it—with entirely pure motives, of course.  Church leaders crave power and influence.  We work so hard to hear Jesus say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” that we forget to love him.  Many in the Christian world believe that the one with the biggest church, most books sold, most Twitter followers wins.

Paul warns us to live above the deception.  “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:20 NIV84).  The patterns of this world are evil and constantly pull us away from God.  And we fall for it.  At least I do.  For a long time, I failed to realize how deceived I was. 

We escape from the evil pattern of the world by renewing our minds.  Our patterns of thought must change.  We must expose the lies and embrace the truth.  Our negative self-talk serves as exhibit A of the enemy’s deception.  We talk to ourselves as we would never talk to a friend:  Boy, that was stupid.  You can’t do anything right.  That was just luck.  It’s all your fault.  These thought patterns find their roots in our childhoods.  They color the way we see life.  And they are not based on truth.  Paul urged the Philippians (4:8) to keep thinking about the things that are true.  When I find myself spiraling downward in negative thoughts, I check to see if my thoughts are true.  They never are.  My mind must be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  “[T]he mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6 NIV84).

For years I have given lip-service to Paul’s claim that our battle is not against flesh and blood, without really noticing any spiritual battle.  After all, in my daily life, I fight schedules, deadlines, projects; I wrestle with writer’s block, lead Bible studies, work to be creative, craft sermon series, and hammer out strategic plans.  These activities do not normally feel like wrestling demons.  Then I began examining my thought life.  I saw how my thought patterns follow the world.  I worry, fret, procrastinate, blame.  Now I see that much of the spiritual battle takes place on the battlefield of my mind.  I cannot be whole and healthy until I base my thinking on truth.  In his love, God provides us the armor we need for battle:  the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the (spoken) word of God (Eph. 6:10-18).  The armor begins with truth.

God is renewing my mind.  It is a daily battle.  On the cross, Jesus won the victory.  He shows me the truth, and the truth sets me free.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Crossroads Values - Simplcity

Life is complicated.  Or we make it complicated.  Our pursuits of the secondary things in life crowd out what is really important.  We don’t need the latest toys and fashions. 

We need family, friends and a relationship with God.

The more we declutter our lives, the better we can hear God’s voice and follow him.

Things are not complicated with God.  He loves us and sent his Son to give his life to restore fellowship between us and God.  He wants us to Center on Him, and Connect in Relationship, so we can Change our World.

It is the simple things that lead people into life-changing community in Christ.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Selfishness or Sensitivity?

Jase Robertson has some lessons in civility to teach us. 

He recently was escorted out of the Trump International Hotel in New York City.  The Robertson family was in NYC to promote the new season of their A & E TV series, “Duck Dynasty.”  As they were checking in, Jase asked a hotel staff member to help him find the restroom.  The hotel worker escorted him out to the street, pointed him down the road and said, “Good luck.”

Jase took the insult in stride, dismissing it as a case of “facial profiling.”  The hotel doesn’t typically find guests with long, full beards and camouflage pants.

Here’s what we can learn.  Jase was clearly insulted.  But he chose not to be offended.  He doesn’t even want the hotel staff member to get in trouble.

Meanwhile, others in our country are constantly searching for reasons to take offense.  They take offense, where no offense was ever intended.  They assert their “right” not to be offended.

Looking for offenses is really a form of selfishness.  If it’s all about me, and you fail to realize that, then you are at fault.  Everyone should change to keep from offending me.

Or we could live like Jase.  We can laugh it off, move on, and care about one another.  Wouldn't that change the climate in our culture?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Non-Spiritual Fasting

OK, with all the talk about fasting, I have to tell this story.  For a more serious post on fasting, click here. 

In my freshman year of college, my roommate, Cres, and I got into a competitive spirit about eating.  Who could eat the most?  As we bragged about our appetites, I added a new layer of challenge.  I could really out-do him in fasting.

So, we set up this challenge, to see who could go the longest without food.  I don’t remember how long we went; it must have been a couple of days.  And for all I know, he cheated.  How could we check up on each other?

I knew he could eat more than I could.  He was a couple of inched taller than I, and about 20 pounds heavier.  I was just skinny.  Maybe that’s why I threw down the challenge of fasting.  I thought I had a chance there.

As it turned out, we were both starving after a couple of days, so we agreed to break the fast together.  The fasting challenge would be a draw, and the eating contest would determine the winner.  What a stroke of genius!  Break a fast with an eating contest.  Of course the perfect spot for that is a pizza buffet.  On a Friday night we sat down at the Pizza Hut on University Parkway in Winston-Salem.

That pizza was so good!  We went slice-for-slice until I began to slow down, around slice 14.  I finally stuffed 17 slices into my empty stomach.  I went light on the beverages to allow more room for food, of course.  Unfortunately, my gluttony was no match for Cres’s.  He ate 23 slices, and had a little lasagna to go with it.  I had to concede defeat.  He had blown me away at the buffet.  

But I didn’t really lose.  Later that night we both experienced the pleasures associated with over-eating.  For the first time I understood the Alka-Seltzer commercial, when the guy says, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing…”  I felt bad, but Cres crouched like an old man and made no sudden movements.  His facial expression never changed:  part grin, part grimace.  Our suite-mates thought it was hysterical.

We both learned something.  I learned that winning isn’t everything, in some cases.  Cres learned that winning with only 18 slices would have felt a whole lot better.  When it stopped hurting so much, we laughed at ourselves.

We never again challenged each other to an eating contest.  I don’t think there was a real winner.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fasting: Food for Thought

As we seek God’s face together, our church will be fasting together on Wednesday, August 21.  We will be asking God to open our hearts and to move in our community.

If that date does not suit your schedule, pick another day.  Remember that if you miss two meals, you have roughly a 24-hour fast.  If you miss three meals you will have roughly a 36-hour fast.

The point of the fast is self-denial for the purpose of spiritual openness.  The time normally associated with meals can be devoted to time with the Lord, reading and meditating on scripture, praying, and listening.

Here are a few tips on fasting.

Don’t try to “stock up” before you begin your fast.  I can tell you from experience that it can make you uncomfortable as you begin your fast.  Scale back on your portions for a meal or two before the fast.  You may consider beginning your fast after a meal of fruits and vegetables.  Break your fast with a light meal as well.

I recommend reading the chapter on fasting in Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  Excerpts can be found at this link  

For a traditional fast you should drink only water.  However, you may choose to drink fruit juices to ease your way into the discipline of fasting.  You can also squeeze some lemon juice in your water, if you need some flavor.  Avoid artificial flavors and sweeteners.  If you are accustomed to caffeine, so you could experience some headaches during the fast.  You could cut back on caffeine a few days before your fast.  And without the coffee  you may need more sleep.  This is a good time to get caught up!

If  health concerns prevent you from fasting, you may choose an alternative type of fast.  You could abstain from meat and dairy products, along the lines of the Daniel Fast.

Another type of fast is a media fast.  For some of us, this may be much harder than going without food.  For this fast variation, consider eliminating all video screens and audio feeds.  No cell phone use, no tablets, iPads, laptops, desktops, televisions, radios, Skype, Facetime, iPods or MP3 players, records, tapes, smart phones, Kindles, Nooks.  For some of us, work responsibilities make this impossible, but all of us can cut back on some media.  One hundred years ago, almost none of these devices had been invented.  We can scarcely imagine life without them.

The time we are unplugged from media we can turn to the Lord.

Fasting can open our hearts to hear from God.  But don’t be disappointed if you don’t find some grand revelation.  God also speaks to us in the small, simple things, such as resting in care.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Brain Dead

The direction of public discourse and public policy is disturbing.  Ravi Zacharias says that any stigma can beat a good dogma.  Good ideas are discredited on the basis of emotional anecdotes rather than facts.  No one seems to know that appeal to pity is a logical fallacy.  Does anyone notice logical fallacies anymore?

We are moving toward a society motivated by high-minded, unexamined ideals.  Most politicians are ignorant of history and fail to consider why traditions ever began.

Helping the poor is easy.  We give them money, with strings attached.  We raise minimum wage, so that every job has good pay.  That was easy.  How’s that working for us?

Managing health care is easy.  We let the government handle it.  Oh, it’s expensive?  No problem—the government owns the printing presses.  We can make money with ink and paper.

Mass murders are getting out of hand.  We can just take guns away from everybody—except the authorities, of course.  They are good and noble.  They are such a superior breed of humanity that they have no ulterior motives.

People feel discriminated against.  Make discrimination illegal.  Now it’s against the law to have the wrong opinions about certain people.  We try people for hate crimes and determine what’s going on in their souls.

We can redefine marriage, redefine family.  We have the technology to conquer nature, so that anyone can be a parent.  We only believe in back-to-nature when it serves the right agenda.

It used to be that grownups kept the kids from doing dangerous, destructive things.  Now the kids are in charge, and there is no check on behavior.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Connection Crisis

Last night my wife and I were talking to our nineteen-year-old about the old days, i.e. the days  before she was born.  When we lived in South Georgia, we would occasionally take trips to the Gulf coast, to a Florida state park on St. George Island.  We always went in the off season, and rarely saw anyone else there.  We were poor, and it was free. 

We would soak up the winter sun, read, talk, relax, nap.  We left the world behind us.  In the late 1980s, no one had cell phones, and so we  could really unplug. 

My daughter had a few questions:  Did you tell anyone where you were going?  (Sometimes yes, sometimes no.)  What if someone needed you?  How could they reach you?

The short answer is that they couldn’t.  There was no way to reach us by phone.  The park welcome center was unmanned and locked, except for the restrooms.  We never interacted with the few parties who also came to the park.  We were unreachable, unless someone sent the sheriff to find us.  And that never happened.  Our high-tech answering machine on our home phone served as our connection with any news we might need.

I checked the machine first thing when we returned home.  The blinks of the light told me how many messages were awaiting my attention.  A non-blinking light soothed my soul, because I knew that we had not missed anything. 

Stories of retreat and inaccessibility sound like fairy tales to my children.  How did we get along?  It almost defies imagination.  In those days, people took vacations and had no contact with family, friends or work.  It was part of life:  detaching and getting away, recharging, relaxing.  How quaint.

Today unplugging feels like holding your breath under water.  You can only do it for so long or you will drown.  We reenter the state of connectedness when our flights arrive, when the movie is over, when we drive back down the mountain to the land of cellular towers.  Yet our ancestors actually lived in a normal state of disconnection.  They connected only when they went to their (physical) mailboxes, when they read their newspapers, when they turned on the one hour of local and national television news.

Only old people, old-fashioned people and hermits live like that today.

But for the hip and enlightened, our troubles and responsibilities are now portable, following us everywhere we go.  Vacation becomes only a change of scenery, a chance to check occasionally (not constantly) for new messages, a scavenger hunt for wi-fi.  We only respond to the urgent stuff.  And then we follow up to make sure our message was received.

How can anyone really take vacation today?  Or even a day off?  The world expects us to stay in touch.  We oblige.  On the typical day we follow tweets and posts and blogs.  We check the news through the day.  We respond to texts and the stray phone call.  On vacation, we just scale it back.  And feel guilty. 

We didn’t check in enough. 

Or we didn’t unplug enough. 

There is no win.

And we experience ADD, high blood pressure, stress, heart disease, poor diet, sleep deprivation, isolation, depression and general fatigue.  How’s it working for us? 

I’ll Google it and let you know.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Diet issues: Is it just me...?

I have been more intentional with my exercise and diet lately.  It's almost like I can't get away from it.  Friends and family have been getting in shape, and I'm right there with them.

Right now I'm training for the Belews Lake Triathlon on September 14.  This will be my third shot at the event, and I plan to keep improving my time.

But I digress.  When it comes to food these days, I'm having a hard time.  I stare in the pantry and in the fridge, and I can't find anything I want to eat.  My old standbys, chicken noodle soup and ravioli, are now taboo.  They are processed food, and are therefore evil. 

The good news is that bacon is back on my menu.  I gave up bacon a few years ago, and now I understand that it is super-healthy.  Oh yes!  Well, maybe not "super" healthy, but at least it won't kill me before sundown.  It is part of a healthy diet.

Now, I'm not yet giving up my breads, but I am slightly more selective about eating refined sugar.  I'm really enjoying the fresh fruits and veggies.

Yes, you can overcook a hotdog.

But the real problem surfaces in the grocery store.  I walk through thinking that I can buy whatever I want to take home and eat.  My thoughts go like this:  Not that, not that, too expensive, too much work, we just ate that, too processed.  Partly, I think that more exercise actually makes me less hungry, strange as that may be.

Here's why the problem keeps coming up.  With my wife traveling for work more this summer, the kids and I are in charge of meals.  So mealtime starts to look like a chore.  Repeatedly, every day, I have to figure out what to eat.  Is it just me?  Well, my kids are feeling the same way.  Maybe they just don't want to eat my cooking.

Now I need to repent for complaining about food when God has blessed us with plenty.  Maybe I should pray over my menu...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Lies that I Believe

My brain is a complicated piece of equipment.  I have spent more than half a century cultivating my patterns of thinking.  I’m learning to take a step back and consider why I think like that.  Much of what I take for granted is not really true.  That’s a scary thought…

Jesus tells us that the devil speaks his native language when he lies (see John 8), and he is still in the business of lying.

It turns out that I'm more of a sucker than I thought.  Below I have listed a few of the lies I have identified.  There may be a kernel of truth in some of these statements, but for the most part, they are utterly false.  It derails God’s work in my life when I agree with these ideas from the devil.

When I identify these wrong patterns of thinking, I can see that they don’t come from Jesus.  I can ask him to show me the truth, and the lies lose their power.  He sets me free!
Here are some of his lies that I tend to believe:
  • You must constantly be on your guard.  (God’s not watching out for you.)
  • There are threats everywhere you turn. (God won’t take care of you.)
  • That person is mad at you.  (He/she only thinks about you and how you messed up.)
  • That person blames you for their problem.  (He’s mad at you for obvious reasons.)
  • Their problem is your fault.  (How could you let them down like that?)
  • Trouble is coming.  (The ringing phone brings bad news.)
  • People don’t want to work with you.  (You are so unreasonable.)
  • You are asking too much when you ask people to grow spiritually. (You just want them to do things your way.)
  • You can’t handle that conflict.  (You’ll just make things worse.)
  • You didn’t get enough done today.  (Aren’t you just lazy?)
  • You can never get caught up.  (God asks too much of you.)

What lies are on your list?  Ask Jesus to expose your stinking thinking, and ask him to speak truth to you.  He will set you free!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Least of These

In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25, Jesus tells us to take care of the “least of these.”   He mentions those who are hungry, thirsty, alone, sick, naked and in prison.  These are people with physical, social, spiritual and legal needs.  All around us we find people with needs.

We can’t help everyone, but we can help someone.  Who are the “least of these” to you?

A look at L.O.T. 2540, a Salvage and Recycling ministry in Madison, NC.  L.O.T. stands for Least Of These.
Just this week I have talked with people for whom the least of these are the mentally disabled, the social outcast needing work, and the immigrant population.

We share the love of Jesus when we reach out to those in need.  God gives his people compassion for the needy.  To some he gives compassion for the sick; to others he gives compassion for the poor; to others he gives compassion for the elderly. 

The "Free Store" at L.O.T. 2540.
For whom has God given you compassion?  How can you reach out to them in the name of Jesus and make their lives better?  Where do you need to start?  Who shares your compassion for them?  What’s stopping you?

Jesus calls us to share his love to the “least of these.”  Let’s live it boldly!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Government: Something Old, Something New

Independence Day provides an opportunity for us to reflect on our nation’s founding principles.  Our government has become so expansive and extensive, we can lose sight of the real purpose of government.

I have wondered why humanity creates governments anyway.  All governments have the power of coercion and force.  Why would such institutions be created?  The Founders asked such questions, and sought to create a system that would minimize the evils of government and maximize the opportunities of citizens.

In the Declaration of Independence, the members of Congress described the role and purpose of government.  They began with truths so old, so apparent, that they needed neither explanation nor defense.

·         The Rights of men are given by the Creator.

·         The purpose of government is to secure these rights under the consent of the governed.

Further, when a government works against these rights, “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”  And so the American Revolution was justified on this basis.  British rule had become so intrusive, so oppressive, that it worked against the freedoms that government should protect.

After a few years under the Articles of Confederation, the United States decided that they needed  a more comprehensive system of government.  The U.S. Constitution with the Bill of Rights became the supreme law of the land.  The document calls for a system of limited government with authority shared among three branches of government.  The Founders understood the corrupting influence of power, and sought to keep government leaders accountable.  All the branches of government would have built-in limitations.  The Founders realized that governments naturally grow, seizing more and more power.  This new government would have only specified powers, and all other powers would belong to the States or the people.  Corruption would have its limits as power had its limits.

In the 237 years since John Hancock signed the Declaration, prevailing ideas about government may have changed.  The “new” ideas give more power to government, and ignore the probability of corruption.  Today’s popular culture would include the following as guiding principles for government.

·         Government provides basic necessities, as needed.

·         Government respects all ideas and philosophies as equally valid.

·         Government protects citizens from negative consequences of their own irresponsible actions.

·         Government creates fairness.

These well-intentioned powers of government tend to work against the very freedoms that governments should protect.  In other words, this new philosophy is actually the ancient philosophy of government as benefactor.  In order to fulfill such a role, government defines fairness, seizes assets and distributes them accordingly.  Tragically, this philosophy makes government sovereign, the entity that endows its citizens with specified, arbitrary rights. 

The new day of government is really a return to ancient, oppressive, authoritarian forms of government rejected by our Founders. 

It is time for our country to wake up and return to freedom.  God has endowed us with these unalienable rights.  Our Founders were willing to fight for them.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Bites and Stings in Relationship

Sitting on my deck this morning I saw one of those big Japanese hornets flying around.  Of course I don’t really know what kind of bug this was.  Normally those hornets are so loud you can hear them before you see them.  This one was the stealth variety, I suppose.  He came over toward my chair, and I lost sight of him.  I wondered if he would sneak up behind me and sting my leg.  The mosquitoes love to sneak around and bite me where I can’t see them.

Then it occurred to me that the hornet didn’t really want to sting me.  He was looking for food or a friend, or a water fountain.  The hornet would only bother me if I threatened him.  Stinging bugs sting because they feel threatened.

Biting bugs, however, will go after me.  They need food and consider me a provider.  It doesn’t matter if I provoke them.  Biting bugs bite because they want food. 

This was a big aha for me.  The stinging bugs are just protecting themselves, and the biting bugs are out for blood.

Both bites and stings hurt, but the motivation behind them is very different.

Bites and stings also happen in relationships.  Most of the hurts, I believe, are just stings.  People feel threatened, and lash out to protect themselves.  Some are very touchy and easily provoked, like yellow jackets.  They become very aggressive, and just plain mean.  Others are more easy going and rarely sting, like wasps.

Those who bite are predators.  They seek conflict and thrive on sucking the life out of others.  They come after their victims.  They are always sneaky, like the mosquito that bites your neck, or the tick that lurks under your clothes.  For some unhealthy reason, people who bite feel like they need conflict to survive.

The bites and stings in life hurt.  Maybe it helps to know the motive behind the hurts.  We can watch out for those who bite and take steps to avoid having our blood sucked.  We can recognize the stings as self-defense and handle them with grace.

See any mosquitoes or hornets in your life?  How about when you look in the mirror?