Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year's Thoughts...

Here comes 2016!

And here are some random thoughts.

I love fresh, new calendars.  With my Google calendar, I miss the thrill of turning that page to a new year.  Now it's just a click to another screen.  *Sigh*

I have a cool new calendar called "The Finding Jesus Calendar."  Think "Where's Waldo," but with Jesus.  For real.  I just need to find a place to hang it...

Resolutions sometimes work, sometimes don't.  Even if they don't work, I like dreaming and planning for the new year.

Danger is around the corner.  I don't know what the dangers are, but I don't want to play it safe in 2016.  I want the danger that comes from worthy risks, not the danger that comes from foolishness or laziness.

The Panthers could make it to the Super Bowl.  Yeah, we're gonna rock at our Crossroads Super Bowl Party!

Speaking of sports, the Demon Deacons look like they may have a real basketball team this season.  Whoo Hoo!  Danny Manning is the man.

I want to put some serious energy into writing in 2016.  Better blogs, guest columns, and maybe a book.  And complete sentences.  Where necessary.

I expect this New Year to be full of excitement.  I want to live every moment in the moment.  It should start off with a bang!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Deeper Christmas

Christmas is for children, folks often say.  It's about toys, Santa, and smiles on children's faces.  It is about giving and receiving.  It is about chilling out in a busy world. 

For some adults, Christmas is about reliving childhood. 
Or it may be about trying to experience what they missed in childhood.  We need to suspend our adult cognition if we want to enjoy Christmas.  Believe in Santa, flying reindeer, and Christmas magic.

Jesus does call us to become like children, trusting fully in the Father.  But his call to childlikeness doesn't mean giggly, air-headed belief in snowmen who come alive.

He wants to bring us to faith that is like a child's in its simplicity, but rich with a knowing wisdom.  This wisdom comes through experience, hardship, frustration, failure and success.  It comes through trial and error.  It comes through prayer and fasting.  It comes through experiential knowledge of the scriptures.

A deeper Christmas experience comes only when we embrace the mystery of the arrival of God himself as a helpless child.  In this child, he continues to reveal himself, as Creator, Master, Shepherd, and Judge. 

Through means that baffle human minds, God himself comes to his hurting, broken creation to restore hope, to unveil the mystery of this creation, and to express his tender love for us.

Unto us a Child is born.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"In your Face(book)"

Every now and then I may rant on Facebook.  But I prefer to use it as a way to connect, not a platform for axe-grinding.

Day by day I find "in your face" updates and links posted by FB friends. 

See, this politician is stupid.
See, this study proves that I am right.
See, all you people who approve/disapprove of gun control (or whatever) are ruining lives.

I have opinions, often strong opinions, but I'm not sure that Facebook is an effective means of persuading anybody.  It lends itself to shallow arguments and labeling.

We do need to exchange ideas on the internet and in person.  We should freely state our opinions.  But we need to be careful not to belittle people in any medium.  Even the dumbest ideas are held by reasonable people.  They won't be persuaded otherwise by being told they are dumb, but by careful, compassionate exposure to truth.

We need to debate ideas, not ridicule people

Can we talk?

We have stopped listening.  Almost everyone has chosen a side--on whatever issue--and we have become emotionally invested in those positions.

We are so polarized that we cannot listen or think.  This brings further division and never solves problems.

I wish I knew a way to get beyond this impasse.  Maybe the best step forward would be recognizing our emotional investment in our opinions.  We invest in our views on climate change, political candidates, party platforms, minimum wage, abortion, etc., etc.  When someone challenges our opinions, we hunker down into a defensive mode; we attack those who disagree; we label others; we become angry.

It is no wonder that we can't have a conversation.  We are emotionally invested in being right.  We defend social and political positions as we pull for our sports teams.  We throw out reason and objectivity when we pull for our teams.  That's okay in the sports realm.  It makes no sense at all with issues that really matter.

A better approach would be to search sincerely for the truth.

I would rather advocate for the truth than pull for "my team" when it comes to climate change, foreign policy, or welfare programs.

If we dial back on our emotional investments, maybe we can actually listen.  Maybe we can think clearly.  Maybe we can find solutions. 

Maybe we can listen.  Maybe we can think.  And maybe we can pull together to achieve our common goals.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Parade Time!

This Saturday is the Stokesdale Christmas Parade, the community's signature event for the season.  Thousands of people will gather this Saturday to see friends and neighbors roll or stroll down Main Street.  We have scouts, marching bands, trucks, tractors, horses, tumblers, churches, and dignitaries in the procession every year.

As usual, Crossroads will host a family fun experience in the front yard of the fire station.  We'll be giving away hot dogs, drinks, desserts, pop corn, and cotton candy.  

We will have face painting and crafts for kids, and we will have a huge bounce house.  

All our festivities will begin around noon, providing you with lots of fun and food before the parade begins at 2:00.  

Then, as the parade rolls by, Crossroads announcers Lisa Bailey and Keith Street will give you the inside story on every entry.  They may also tease the crowd with some Christmas trivia.

The weatherman promises lots of sunshine for a beautiful Stokesdale Christmas Parade experience.  You'll be glad you came!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

More than a Sound

In John's Gospel we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God."  He identifies this Word as Jesus.

Before words were written, all words were spoken.  Words can also be thought, but, I would argue, genuine words must be spoken.  Words represent ideas, which, of course, are thoughts.  Words then are the oral representation of ideas.

Words are distinct from mere sounds.  Words are organized sounds, sounds with ideas attached to them.  Words are complex and somewhat mysterious.  Even the simplest words call forth deep meaning.

So in the beginning, there was more than mere sound.  In the beginning was the Word, something (or someone) deep and meaningful.  There is purpose to this creation, because God spoke it into existence.  This universe is mysterious, purposeful, safe, and dangerous.

There is depth to this existence, and God gives us life with which to explore it.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Football, Heroes, and Priorities

Today, as I watched the Panthers game, I saw something that struck me as sadly ironic.  The camera showed a Panther in uniform entering the stadium, high-fiving a line of fans.  These fans were also in uniform--military uniform.

Here was a sports celebrity being cheered by his fans.  The celebrity was preparing for a game, a contest of no real significance.  He was being cheered by a dozen men who are trained for real battle.

Think about this.  A celebrity-athlete makes millions playing a game which merely entertains us.  He is cheered by a line of men who may only earn enough to feed their families.

Without the service of our military personnel, the celebrity-athlete would have no opportunity to play an entertaining game.  We the public would not need to be entertained, because all our energy would be spent on survival.

Something seems out of balance.  I participate in the society that values sports-entertainment enough to make millionaires of athletes.  These soldiers cheer on the football players as though the players are heroes.  The real heroes fight the battles that really matter.  

I can barely remember who won the 2015 Super Bowl.

History will remember the battles that really matter, and none of them occur in stadiums.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Happiness Science

Today's newspaper features an article in the Life section, "Understanding the science of WHAT MAKES US HAPPY."  The article refers to a study which indicates that today's 30+ generation fears that they will not find as much happiness with age as previous generations found.

Allow me to make some observations.
  • Neither the study nor the article tells us much about the "science" of happiness.  It merely reports statistics about people's reported happiness and expected happiness.
  • To a large degree, the article correlates happiness with material wealth.
  • Efforts to study happiness scientifically seem to reduce happiness to a formula, typically including material wealth, physical health, convenience, education, and relationships. 
Some elements of happiness, however, cannot be measured.  It is mysterious.  Certainly health and convenience can contribute to happiness, but it hinges on attitude more than anything else.  The way we choose to perceive life allows us to be happy.

Ironically, if we pursue happiness, we may not find it.  Being self-centered rarely makes one happy.  So, as we put others first, and choose a good attitude, we experience happiness as a byproduct.  I don't think you can put that into a formula.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Self Deception

It happened again.

Yesterday I had a great idea for a blog.  It was a simple, straightforward idea, something that matters, something that people would care about, something that I could say from my heart. 

This time I would not forget.  How could I?  It was so clear, so obvious, so heartfelt.  It did not need to write it down.  Sure I had forgotten such ideas many times before.  But not this time.

Why do I lie to myself?  Sigh.

My good intentions and stellar memory were not enough.  At least in this instance I recognize the lie.  May God grant me insight to see the other lies I tell myself.

As I see those lies revealed, it astounds me.  How could I be so deceived?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Happy November!

Now that November has arrived, our culture turns to thoughts of thanks. 

Yes, there is "No Shave November."  I just looked that up, and learned that not shaving has a cause.  By not shaving, men (and women?) seek to start conversations about cancer.  As I think about those who have engaged in this cause, they have probably told me about cancer experiences.  The money saved by not shaving should be donated to No Shave November, which shares proceeds with The American Cancer Society, St. Jude's Children's Hospital, Prevent Cancer Foundation and Fight Colorectal Cancer.  Learn more at

There is also Nanowrimo,, encouraging fiction writers to buckle down and crank out 50k words this month.  Sometimes writers need that extra encouragement to push through writer's block.  Many writers face the tension of having something to say, but not grinding it out on paper.  That's a lot of work.  But the best writers fight past the blinking cursor and dull syntax to breathe life into their ideas.  After all, God uses words to create.

But overall, our society thinks about thankfulness in November.  At Crossroads yesterday, we hung a large Thankfulness Sheet--an actual bed sheet--on the wall, encouraging people to write down what they are thankful for.  It will hang there all month, inviting written or drawn expressions of thanks.  I can't wait to see it full of gratitude!

So, whether you write or shave or not this month, please be thankful.  More than that, express your thanks to God and people. 

Gratitude builds relationships and that's what life is all about, Charlie Brown.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Core Values in a Sentence

We often need reminders.  The most important reminders bring us back to the most important matters.  Here are the core values of Crossroads, each condensed into one sentence.


We avoid clutter and complexity to remember that God has made us for relationship with himself and others.


It is not good to be alone, so we embrace the joys and challenges of connecting our lives with others, reflecting the relationships within God himself—Father, Son, and Spirit.


Life is more than theory, so we apply belief to life, living out the teachings of the good news in daily life and corporate ministry.


We choose gladness, as Jesus reminds us that he has overcome this world, releasing us to be fun and to have fun.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yogi's Joy

I was sad to learn today of the passing of baseball great Yogi Berra.  His joy seemed contagious.  I never saw him play, not even on TV.  And I don't watch much baseball anyway.  (Hey, the playoffs are coming soon.  It's time for me to tune in.)  And I've never been a Yankees fan.

Life experiences helped Yogi keep baseball in proper perspective.  He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and fought in the D-Day invasion in 1944.  He had seen real war, and likely faced down death.  That's the perspective he brought to his game.

He set all kinds of baseball records and won many World Series.  But his joy stands out as an enduring legacy.  In nearly every picture published today, he grins ear to ear.  This smile radiates from his soul.  It's not posed, not faked.  You can tell.  He's at ease with himself and the world.

Yogi never took himself too seriously.  He took baseball just seriously enough.  That gave him the freedom to see the world through child-like eyes.  His contradictory proverbs have become part of the American lexicon.  In one of my favorite stories, a family was touring a museum exhibit about Berra, when they happened upon the man himself.  They implored him to share a bit of Yogi-wit.  Berra was taken aback with such a request.  He responded, "I can't just make 'em up on the spot like that.  If I could make 'em up like that, I'd be famous."

Rest in peace Lawrence "Yogi" Berra.  If we could have joy like that, we wouldn't care about being famous or any of the small things.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Open Door to Heaven

Sometimes when I pray, it feels cold and rote.  I try to engage God, and maybe I do.  It's hard to tell.  Often God has a hard time getting my attention, even though I intend to pray. 

Then there are times when I feel like the door to heaven is open, and I commune intimately with the Lord.  I enjoy him.  I feel like I'm in touch with him.  This world makes sense through his eyes.  I know that he knows me, and it's all OK.  It is such blissful harmony.  The time feels so productive, because he has renewed my soul.  He has heard my pleas, and given me answers.

What makes one prayer time so engaging and effective, while the other prayer time is just flat?  On my end, I may be tired or worried or distracted.  I may be discouraged or lazy.  These mental states will obviously hinder my communion with the Lord.

But could God also close the door of communication?  The Bible records stories in which faithful disciples felt far from God.  Elijah and Job come to mind.  God could make communication difficult for me in order to test me.  Will I remain faithful, even when prayer seems useless?

Many spiritual giants through the ages have experienced "dark nights of the soul."  During these times, the disciple seeks to enter God's presence, but something isn't right.  The disciple may confess, repent, take inventory, and still feel distant from God.

The more I pray, the more times I feel connected with him.  But I realize that there may be times when--for his own reasons--God makes that connection more difficult.

Will I keep on loving and adoring him, even when there is no immediate, obvious reward for reaching out to him?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pain in the Process

As time marches on, and good things happen, there is pain, good pain, in the process.  The pain is good because it takes me deeper in relationship all around.  I love my wife more, I love my children more, I love my Lord more.  I could never get there without the pain.  I am getting there, learning, growing, coping, stretching.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fear and Prayer

"I wonder if fear is not our main obstacle to prayer.  When we enter into the presence of God and start to sense the huge reservoir of fear inside us, we want to run away into the many distractions, which our busy world offers so abundantly.  But we shouldn't be afraid of our fears.  We can confront them, give words to them, and lead them into the presence of the One who says, 'Be not afraid.  It is I.'"  --Henri Nouwen, as quoted by Brennan Manning in Ragamuffin Gospel

Fears lose their power when we "give words to them."  Fear can be a looming sense of nebulous dread.  I find that virtually any fear of mine melts away, almost comically, when I put it into words.  Even if the thing I dread comes true, it typically brings me no real harm.

Fear easily hinders my prayer life.  My thoughts go in circles, and I cannot focus.  I become mentally exhausted.  When I should have been wrestling in prayer, I have merely been wrestling in my mind.  Naming or describing that thing I dread cuts it down to size.  No matter what the fear, it can never overwhelm Jesus.

When I put fear in its place, I am free to speak to God and to hear his voice.  Then I can really wrestle in prayer, with problems, decisions, and goals.  That wrestling is not easy, but it beats going around in circles, distracted from the heart of God.

He puts my fears in their place.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fighting the Contempt of Familiarity

They say that familiarity breeds contempt.  I know young folks who don't want to get jobs at their favorite establishments, because they don't want to lose the exhilaration of eating or shopping there.  Workers at Starbucks can no longer smell coffee.  Workers at Christmas tree lots can no longer smell the Frasier firs.  When I worked at a bank, I came to hate the smell of money.

It's not just about the smells.  I wonder if cast members at Disney World soon lose the sense of magic in the Magic Kingdom.  When you are around something all the time, it loses its special feel.

Sadly this can happen in the kingdom of God.  Paid workers and volunteers in Christian ministries can get bogged down in routine operations and miss the wonder of the grace of God.  Even telling people about the grace of God can become routine.  We understand the mechanics of the work of Jesus and lose the wonder, gratitude and awe.

That's why I need to worship.  As our band sang a new song yesterday, the words penetrated my heart and reminded me of God's great sacrifice and love for me.  As we broke the Bread and shared the Cup, I experienced again God's grace.

I need it every day. 

Lord, save me from any contempt that might come from being close to you.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

On Race and Repentance

We all think we are right.  If I did not think I was right, I would change my position.  Duh.  But just because my answers make perfect sense to me doesn't mean that I am right.  Maybe the problem is that I think I have it all figured out.

I have been listening since the murders in the Charleston church last week.  I have heard many different opinions about the meaning of the massacre.

It is a little too late for raw reflections.  It is time for more thoughtful reflections.  But I'm actually still raw.  I thought I had this pretty well figured out.  I've been to Charleston more than once, and I really like the culture there.  That was the last place I expected to see such headlines.

This shooting was the work of a lone psychopath.  He was clearly motivated by racism, and possibly by hate for God.  His actions failed to divide the community.  The public outcry seemed unanimous.  One way or another, everyone condemned his actions.  He should be prosecuted, the Christian community pulls together, and everyone condemns racism.  Boom.  The world puts this ugly chapter behind us.

But this issue has not gone away so quickly. 

Reactions in the black community look different than I would expect.  Instead of recognizing that nearly every white person condemns this horror, the black community seems to screaming, "Don't you see the problem?"  I'm thinking, Yeah, don't we all?  What am I missing?

Suddenly I realize that maybe I don't get it.  I am listening more than ever.  I had all the answers before.  Now I wonder if I have any answers.  OK, I do know that Jesus is the answer.  But how does that translate into dealing with this?

A multi ethnic prayer meeting?
A sermon series on equality before Jesus?
A heart-felt reading of the Declaration of Independence?

I'm now seeing that the American history of racism is a deep, deep wound.  The Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement have only begun the process.  They brought about long-overdue freedom and legal protection for people of color.  That, to me, looked like enough.  The healing would take time.  But time, patience and understanding would fix it.

The wound looked healed.  To me.  The troublemakers kept looking for ways to stir up the race issue.  Why would they do that?  They just want attention or funding or positions of influence.  They could not have sincere motives, because their positions clearly ignored the facts.  Obviously they were opportunists.  They would pull the scab off the healing wound of race relations, only making things worse.

The president seemed to be the worst at this.  Rather than applauding the great strides in our country's history, he kept playing the race card.  Where there was a chance for harmony, he would throw a race grenade.  Of course he is an opportunist.  He's a politician.

But the wound runs deep.  Healing on the surface can conceal deep, toxic infection.  The groundswell of outrage from Ferguson and Baltimore show that there is a deep-seated problem.  Something is tapping into the wells of disenfranchisement, all across the country.  That comes from more than media bias and race baiting.

Now I am repenting.  I am repenting of thinking that I
have it all figured out.  I no longer dismiss the concerns and complaints that don't match my preconceived notions.  There is a problem.  It shows up in hiring practices, prejudices, education, lending, real estate, and law enforcement.  The fact that I have never been able to see it is more evidence of the problem. 

We all think we are right.  If we can step back and question our assumptions maybe we can actually hear one another. 

Jesus is the answer.  I need him to show me what that means.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Irony of Condemnation

Preparing for this Sunday's sermon, I am studying the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery found in John 8. 

This woman is caught in sin, condemned by religious people, and brought to Jesus for judgment.  Yet, these religious people are also guilty.  They had conspired to catch this woman.  They are just trying to find a way to accuse Jesus.  They are condemned already (John 3:18).  But they look for ways to condemn other people. 

The condemned long to condemn. 

Jesus, however, is the only perfect person in the story (or all of history).  He is the only one who has the moral authority to condemn anyone.  Fully aware of this woman's sin, Jesus refuses to condemn her.  He speaks truth, and calls her to repentance.  But he clearly tells her that he doesn't condemn her.

The Perfect One longs to give mercy.

So the one who has the right to condemn refuses.  Those who have no right to condemn look for ways to judge everyone else.

Here is the greatest irony:  So many of us listen more to the bogus condemners than to the Perfect One who calls us to repentance and life. 

What are we thinking?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Outcry for Good Work

Gallop CEO Jim Clifton has written a book called, The Coming Jobs War.  In it, he suggests that wars in the near future will be fought for the sake of jobs.  In an interview about his book, he cites the "Arab Spring" as an example of the uprising of the frustrated masses.  A good job, he says, is a job working 30+ hours per week with a steady paycheck from an employer.

People want jobs.  They want to feed their families.  They want stability.

Clifton further says that a great job is one in which the employee believes that the boss cares about the employee's development, the employee uses his strengths, and the employee believes that her contributions are making a difference. 

People want their lives to have meaning.

All around the world, people will settle for a good job, and so few have a great job.  Clifton estimates that less than half the world's work force has even a good job.  The real unemployment rate, he says, is well over 50%.

Shockingly, Clifton believes that wars will be fought over jobs.  Yet governmental leaders fail to realize the need.  Governments on the local level need to clear the way for entrepreneurs to begin businesses, eliminating needless regulations and burdens.

Refreshingly, Clifton believes that free enterprise will lead the way to good and great jobs.  I wholeheartedly agree.  When individuals are free to put their strengths to work, and reap the benefits of their work, the world also benefits.  This system only works well, Adam Smith would warn us, when people are guided by ethics and morality.

Maybe this war can be averted.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Flow of Science

This universe is a mystery, all the way around.  We humans have been trying to make sense of it through the ages.  We wonder how it all began, and we wonder what it all means.  Every person comes into life in a cultural context.  Children learn from their elders as they work to understand this existence.  Society’s traditions, mores, rules and expectations shape our thinking.

We innately realize that there is purpose all around us.  We recognize that humankind holds a unique position among earth’s creatures.  We extrapolate that human existence has meaning, and that our own lives in particular have meaning.  Myths, religions, and philosophies throughout history have offered explanations for existence.  These explanations include stories of the origins of the world.  The Judeo-Christian story of beginnings can be found in Genesis 1-2.  It has been critiqued and studied for centuries, and is remarkably consistent with the scientific evidence.

Western science today bypasses the question of meaning, and pursues the mystery of origins in purely material terms.  Whether this universe has a purpose is irrelevant.  Scientists have gravitated to The Big Bang theory which postulates that this expanding universe had its beginning when all matter of the universe was compressed in a tiny “singularity.”  This speck in space then exploded, yielding, over time, the universe as we know it.  Today, most scientists seem to take this theory for granted.  It is the best explanation scientists can find.
As more evidence comes to light, the evidence is incorporated into the Big Bang theory.  Sometimes the evidence seems to contradict the Theory, and so elaborate explanations are offered.  For example, many scientists hypothesize that the universe is full of  “dark matter,” and “dark energy.”  This matter cannot be seen, they say, but we know it is there because our Big Bang equations won’t match the evidence without dark matter.  By some estimates, 95% of the universe is dark matter and dark energy (  Almost all of the universe, then, cannot be detected, except by calculations based on the Theory.  This traditional understanding bears the uncomfortable weight of having different “rules” for physical properties inside an atom vs. the larger world.  Einstein’s theories make sense everywhere except on the subatomic level.  There, scientists apply the rules of quantum mechanics.

Now some scientists are questioning the Theory.  Earlier this year an article was published entitled, Everything We Know about the Big Band Could Be Wrong (  The revisions to the Big Bang theory have become so cumbersome that the theory as a whole becomes implausible.  A simpler explanation seems more likely, as this article suggests.

The new thinking eliminates the “need” for dark matter, and bridges the gap between Einstein’s theories and quantum mechanics.  The old theory no longer matches the preponderance of evidence.

Centuries ago, when scientists took for granted the geo-centric theory of the solar system, theories of planetary motion became so convoluted that they no longer made sense.  The foundational theory was just wrong, and empirical evidence could no longer fit into it.  Only dogmatic devotion to a traditional view could sustain the flawed theory.  Good science required that the theory be rejected.  The Big Bang theory could be at just such a tipping point.

Science must keep on grappling with the evidence, and it will remain in flux.  But the theories of the meaning of life remain unchallenged.  As Genesis says, people were made in his image, given the role of taking care of this world.  As Jesus says, the most important tasks in life are to love God and love people. 

Life is still mysterious, but the light of the gospel brings unchanging hope that one day the mystery will be revealed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


The Charlotte Observer ran a story on April 30 in response to National Honesty Day.  On this day, as it is apparently observed across the country, anyone participating may ask any question and receive a straight forward, honest answer from someone representing an opposing view.  To me, the obvious question is, "Why can't we always be honest?"  Why do we need one day a year to stop toeing the party line of whatever agenda we support?  Maybe people really are that jaded...

But I digress.

The mayor of Charlotte proclaimed the Day, and someone asked the Charlotte newspaper why they support such a liberal agenda.  Their response seemed even-handed and reasonable.  I don't agree with them generally, but I respect their attempt to explain themselves.  In many cases, I agree with their goals, but disagree about the best way to achieve those goals.

But one statement stood out to me:  "Discrimination is wrong in every instance."  This is tantamount to saying that making choices is wrong.  How foolish.  They would probably say that they meant that discrimination against people is wrong in every instance.  If that is so, then employers cannot hire anyone.  To do so is to discriminate against those who do not get the job.  Even if they hire all applicants, they are discriminating against those who did not apply.

So mothers should not discriminate against pedophiles when they hire baby sitters?  Factories cannot discriminate against 10-year-olds when hiring line workers?  The NBA can't discriminate against non-athletes?

A world without discrimination could not function.  You could not choose a route to work, an item from a menu, a place for vacation, or a grade of gasoline. 

The newspaper needed to define its terms better. does give this as its second definition of the word:  "treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing based on the group, class or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than individual merit." 

That makes a little more sense.  But we discriminate against felons, those who cannot pass the Bar exam or the CPA exam.  Schools not only educate, but discriminate as they give students grades. 

I'm not advocating discrimination against people because of their race, national origin, etc.  But to say that "discrimination is wrong in every instance," over simplifies and borders on nonsense.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Shadow Cast

As I sat on my deck reading recently, one of those big Japanese hornets began buzzing around.  He was so loud that I could tell where he was, even when I could not see him.  And I also could see his huge shadow.

As much as he may have wanted to hide from me, I could still see his shadow.  It occurred to me that we often cast shadows when we are outdoors.  Sometimes we know where our shadows land.  Often, however, our shadows pass across objects we never even notice.

So it is with our lives.  Our lives cast shadows over people and places, some of which we notice, some of which we don't.  Most often we don't think about or even notice where our shadows land.  We don't even think about controlling our shadows.  Yet those silhouettes may affect people more than we know.

For good or not, our lives have more impact than we realize.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

File Transfer Fun

We are cleaning out the basement.  Yep, lots of surprises, memories, and . . . old computers.  I have a computer that I bought in January 2000.  I waited until after the horrors of Y2K came and went; then I went and bought a new machine.  I replaced it three years later, but kept it for the files.  Today I fired it up, and it all seems to work fine.  But I haven't yet figured out how to get those old files onto a flash drive.

The old machine does not have the right drivers for the flash drive.  I can find the driver, but I can't get it on that old machine.  Hmmm. 

So what's the spiritual application?  I don't know.  Everything I can come up with sounds lame.  Keep your spiritual drivers up to date.  Don't make it hard for God to transfer files to you.  God doesn't need binary code to speak to you.  Computers are stupid.  Take your pick.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Power of Praise

Reading Tim Keller's book on prayer, I received a powerful reminder of the power of praise.  Giving praise to God actually changes us.  Yes, we are commanded to praise the Lord, but it makes us better.

It reminds us Who is in charge.  It connects us to the Source of life.  It changes our perspective.  It opens the way for him to share his blessings.  It fuels life. 

When I saw the tireless praise of believers in Uganda, I wondered how long it could last.  Apparently a very long time.  They never tired of expressing praise to Jesus.  It wasn't like a long worship service.  It was an attitude of reflective thanks and joy in Jesus.  I saw it as they worked, as they ate, as they visited.

When our praise is powered by emotion, it will fade with time.  But when praise is fueled by the Spirit, he gives us renewed energy.  We can embrace moments of life with joy. 

Praise connects us with reality.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Til Boredom Do We Part

I heard a friend recently quote one of his young coworkers saying, "Yeah, he looks like maybe my first divorce."  The young woman was speaking of a young man to whom she was somewhat attracted.  She thought she could be married to him for a while, but she did not think she could grow old with him.

The comment is startling to me, because marriage apparently seems disposable to her.  I'm sure she reflects a trend in American thought.  I believe it is better to be married than to cohabitate.  But I also think marriage should be a permanent relationship.  This young woman might ask me if I would prefer she just live with a boyfriend rather than marry and later divorce him.  Uh, neither of those is really a good idea.

And I'm not just speaking in terms of personal preference.  I believe that, as our Creator, God has made us so that one sexual arrangement is actually better for us.  In his word he has shared with us what that arrangement is.  Those relationships are better for us as a society and as individuals.

In today's culture, many prefer to chart their own paths for sexual expression and fulfillment.  I believe some intentionally rebel against the pattern God endorses, just to show God who is boss.  The world system feels obligated to celebrate these lifestyles and ignore their negative consequences.

If we can just persuade enough people that permanent marriage is a relic of anthropology, then the world will be a better place.  Any sexual expression is okay, as long as adults consent.  Everybody chases fulfillment as they see fit. 

Society is launching into this grand experiment with human culture and sexuality.  We are only beginning to see where it will take us.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Undue Diligience

I remember when food products had no expiration dates.  We could tell when food was bad, so we didn't eat it.  Actually I don't really remember finding any bad food.  Apparently my parents took care of it. 

Now everything has expiration dates, and it appears that (my) children consider examining expiration dates to be part of their due diligence before ingesting anything.  Never mind common sense or the sense of smell.  Let's look at that date.

(By the way, I have seen salad dressing on the grocery shelf with an expiration date less than a month in the future.  Who uses a whole bottle of dressing in a month?  No wonder they are all expired in your fridge.)

Maybe kids could trust their parents or their senses in evaluating food.

But think of the due diligence we exercise with our Heavenly Father.  Yes, I know that you said to forgive, but I want to consider what that will really mean.  Yes, I know that I should tithe, but how can I live on 90%?  Yes, I know that you promise to meet my needs, but I'm just a worrier. 

We diligently examine God's directions, wondering if he really is looking out for us.  We wonder if we can trust him.  So we check behind God to make sure that we can go along with his Word. 

Maybe he laughs at me and rolls his eyes like I do with my kids.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Pole Vauting

Until today I had not been to a track meet since about 1980.  And today I watched pole vaulting for the first time.  Yeah, I've seen it on TV of course, but I never had seen it in person.  It is an impressive sport.  So many things have to work just right.

I am uninitiated in the sport, but here are some of the variables that have to land just right:  running speed, angle of the pole during run, placement of the pole, angle of the body through the whole jump, pushing the pole away from the bar, clearing the bar with all bodily appendages.

Furthermore, pole vaulting is not one of those things you do half way.  You have to put your whole body into it, with full force, or you will fail miserably. 

On the other hand, you get more than one try, so it's okay to fail a lot.  And you almost always push yourself until you fail.

I'm sure there are some life lessons in all of this.  It's okay to fail.  Put your whole self into what you do.  Keep trying to get everything lined up just right.  Follow through until you land.  Give yourself enough momentum to succeed.

Pole vaulting looks fun, but I don't think I could do it now.  Life is fun and I am doing it now.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Remembering the important stuff

Our Team and Uganda Family
One of our Uganda team members just posted a bunch of photos on Facebook.  It was fun to click through all those pictures, seeing images of our experience from a slightly different perspective.  It helped to keep the experience fresh  in my heart.

We so often need reminders.  That's why we have calendars.  And journals.  And photo albums.  And spouses.  In the New Testament Paul, Peter and Jude all indicate in their letters that they are reminding believers of things they already know.

Often I encounter something that I have forgotten and need to remember:  to pray for someone, to change the oil, to confess my sins, to find joy in Jesus, to water the plants, to walk as a son of God, to put on sunscreen, to give thanks, to love my wife.

What are the most important things in your life?  What do you do to remind yourself about them?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

God's tag line

Of course God is too great to be summed up in a single word or phrase.  But in Psalm 136, the writer clearly highlights one of God's primary characteristics.  This seems to be one quality that God wants us to notice and remember.

His love endures forever.

All 26 verses in this Psalm end with this refrain.  When we thank him, when we see his creation, when we experience his protection, when we witness his justice--in all these circumstances we need to remember that his love endures forever.

God has many other attributes, but we must keep on remembering that his love endures forever.  Not his justice, his power, his might, or even his glory--his enduring LOVE we must remember.  Obviously other places in the scripture highlight God's other attributes.  But here the psalmist drives home God's love.

This word for love also means loving-kindness or covenant love.  We must never forget God's love for us.  I need to remember that every day.  That helps me experience his love and live his love.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

More Nones

The Pew Research Center today released a study indicating that more people are claiming no religious affiliation.  These are the "nones," those who select "none of the above" in surveys about religious preference.

Only 70% of the U.S. adult population now identifies as Christian.  There are several ways to respond to this news.
  1. Surveys are not accurate anyway.  Just ignore them.
  2. American media paints such a negative picture of Christians, it is no wonder that people don't want to identify with them.  Media has shaped public opinion so that all Christians are regarded with suspicion.  Christians are portrayed as using faith merely for personal gain.  The survey shows that the media campaign is working, and fewer will call themselves Christians.
  3. The church is fading into history as culture advances.  This has been happening for centuries, and the pace of the decline is now increasing.
  4. The church must make major changes to make faith appealing to younger people.  Many of the traditional stances of Christian denominations are out of step with contemporary culture.  The church must modify its positions on such issues if young people are to remain among the faithful.
I would suggest that there is another response to this decline.  Without any polling or scientific data, I suggest that the news is possibly not bad news for the Church at all.  For centuries faith has been part of the American culture.  Many crossed the ocean to find religious freedom.  As faith practice became more and more ingrained in our culture, many held onto the faith culture without the faith. 

Religion then became a list of rules and practices.  Relationship with God through Christ has often been lost.  I think that the nones are rebelling against this man-made rule of behavior.  They are looking for the foundation, the basis for the behavior.  If a faith system devolves into a list of rules, it is no wonder that people are rejecting it.

Those who equate faith with rules are rejecting the faith.  They see Christians as hypocrites and religion as mass manipulation.  They want nothing to do with that.  So now they identify with "none of the above" when it comes to religion. 

The stakes are higher now for those who do claim to belong to Christ.  They increasingly face the scorn of the media.  The day may even come when people are martyred routinely in America for their trust in Jesus. 

So it may be that today's surveys show that people are more hesitant to identify with Jesus.  And that identifying with Jesus means more than it used to.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Jesus One on One

Jesus encounters people personally.  He meets us where we are, in our confusion, in our sin, in our doubt.  He loves us powerfully.

So Jesus shows us how to minister.  It takes a personal touch.  It takes one-on-one time.  It takes listening.  It requires presence.  Our ministry in Uganda last month was primarily one of relationship and presence.  We listened.  We hugged.  We helped.  We learned.  We experienced. 

We experienced the power of relationship. 

Jesus shared life personally.  We find this throughout the Gospel of John.  In nearly every chapter, Jesus has conversations with individuals, piquing their interest, answering their questions, or coming to their defense.

There is power in personal relationship.  Jesus did preach to the masses, but he also cared about people individually.  He took time to listen, to engage with people.  He answered difficult questions and probed deeply into people's hearts.

"Jesus One on One" is the new Sunday morning series at Crossroads beginning this Sunday.  Each week we will see how Jesus took time with people personally to bring them into relationship with himself.  If we want to make a lasting difference, it will have to be done through relationship.

May 17  Personal Persuasion
Jesus gets Nathanael's attention because Jesus knows where Nathanael has been.

May 24  Questioning Authority
Nicodemus, a man of religious authority seeks to understand who Jesus is.

May 31  Quenching Thirst
Jesus helps a foreign woman understand the real thirst of life.

June 7  Healing for the Hopeless
Jesus reaches out to a crippled man, healing him and giving him hope.

June 14  Life-Changing Mercy
When people want to condemn a woman caught in adultery, Jesus shows her mercy and encourages her to stop sinning.

June 21  Insight on Sight
Jesus' disciples notice a man who has been blind all his life.  They raise theological questions about his plight, but Jesus shows him compassion and heals him.

June 28  Something for Everyone
After Jesus' friend Lazarus dies, the man's sisters question Jesus' friendship.  He shows each woman the kind of compassion she needs.

July 5  Divine Gratitude
Jesus appreciates Mary's extravagance as she honors him by anointing him.

July 12  Compassion in Persecution
A soldier who has come to arrest Jesus is wounded, and Jesus heals him.

July 19  A Son's Concern
Jesus cares about his mother's welfare, even as he dies on the cross.

July 26  The Surprise of Life
Jesus meets Mary Magdalene after his resurrection, giving her the surprise of life.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Power of Confession

I have a confession to make.  I have been way too slack about confessing my sins to God.  I have taken for granted that Jesus died on the cross for me, that I have received his gift of forgiveness, and that my sins are all gone.  That is all true.  But I can't take it for granted.  I need to confess my sins.  In my daily time with Jesus, I need to make sure that I acknowledge specifically how I need to repent.

I have often noticed a distance from the Lord, like my relationship with him is just flat.  As I am reading through Tim Keller's book on prayer, I obviously came across the importance of confession.  Oh yeah.  I need to do that.  Not just because I am supposed to, but because I need the life that comes from openly, specifically agreeing with God about my sin.

I began listing my sin.  It's worse than I thought.  Realizing one sin helps me realize another.  I'm not wallowing in woe-is-me depression.  I'm just seeing that addressing these areas of "missing the mark" will help me live more like God wants me to.  Duh.

Confession brings life.  Wow!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

New Friends

We arrived back from Uganda on April 11, late in the evening.  I think everyone on the trip had a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Nearly every night since our return, I have dreamed about the people in Wakiso, the district outside of Kampala, Uganda.  Meeting these folks has struck a chord deep in my soul.

Thanks to the work of Scott and Erin Littleton with The Mighty River Project, relationships were established long ago.  On this trip, the Littletons introduced their friends from the U.S. to their friends in Uganda.  It felt like a family reunion.

We visited Sunday through Wednesday in the village, spending the nights at a guesthouse in Kampala.  Every day we were talking with the basket makers, playing with the children, and working alongside the young men.  They received us with warmth and gratitude like beloved extended family. 

On the last day in Wakiso, we shared gifts with them.  The basket-making women received gifts from their personal sponsors and The Mighty River Project.  All the kids received backpacks filled with pencils, notebooks, stickers and toys.  It felt like Christmas.  We were a big family who love each other, sharing gifts from the heart.  They also shared gifts with us.

These relationships have been cultivated for four years.  With this trip, the relationship has reached a whole new level.  Already folks at Crossroads are planning the next trip.  We are planning who will go, whom they will meet and what gifts they will bring.

For me, my prayer is that I will never be the same.  I have seen the world as never before.  I have seen the gospel at work as never before.  To Jesus be the glory!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Ugandan Easter

Today we saw the power of the Risen Savior. Jesus showed up in the welcome we received from our Ugandan hosts. At church, we were recognized as friends from the U.S. They allowed our Ugandan matriarch Dorothy to share about The Mighty River Project. Scott Littleton and I also expressed greetings and appreciation for their hospitality. After worship, we gathered at Dorothy's home for lunch and visiting. We shared a meal together, we played with the children, and they sang for us. It was humbling to be greeted with such warmth. I especially connected with Belam, Dorothy's son. He has studied to be an auto mechanic, but ran out of money for his studies. I expect to see him on Monday, and I can get to know him better.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Good Friday to Uganda

Today our mission team is leaving for Uganda to work with The Mighty River Project.  On Good Friday, Jesus laid down his life.  He gave us life as he died for our sins.  His was the ultimate sacrifice.

As we leave for Uganda, I think our team feels more privileged than sacrificial.  How God has blessed us with this opportunity of a lifetime!  We will make new friends, experience worship in a Ugandan church on Easter Sunday, help locals as they begin construction of a kitchen, paint a few rooms, visit with orphans, and witness the work of God in this unfamiliar culture.

We have so much we can learn from them.  We trust God that they can also benefit from our visit.

I am looking forward to meeting Erina, the single mom that my family sponsors.  She and seven other single moms work to produce crafts that The Mighty River Project ships to the U.S. for sale. I hope that our friendship with these folks in Uganda will pave the way for God to transform more and more lives there and here!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

More than a song

I'm a wannabe musician.  I play guitar to some degree.  I sing mostly on pitch, especially if I'm singing with somebody else.  I have been known to hold a bass or tap out one-note pads on the keyboard. 

Learning to play music takes lots of effort.  At least it does for most people.  There is the struggle with learning fingerings, chord structures, rhythms, scales and harmonies.  We work through the basics over a long period of time.  It takes hours, weeks, and years to become proficient.  Then at some point -- with determination, perseverance and effort -- the focus on technique and performance gives way to the flow of the music.  And that's the goal.  You want to reach that point that the melody flows from the soul.  It bypasses your effort and cascades through the air, apart from your will.

On many occasions I have experienced that thrill.  Strumming chords and singing (un-mic-ed) praise to Jesus connects my soul more and more deeply with my Lord.  It doesn't happen every time I play, but often enough to make me expect and desire it. 

Sadly, there are many musicians who reach a great degree of technical proficiency but never crest the hill of pure expression through music.  It sounds good, but it never truly flows.  This is true of worship musicians and nightclub musicians.  They are good, but not quite great.  They miss the feel of abandonment in the wave of acoustic beauty.  Real music is more than a song.

This same process applies to prayer.  When we first begin to pray, we recite prayers we have learned.  "Now I lay me down to sleep..." 
"God is great, God is good.  Let us thank him for our food..." 
"Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name..." 

We learn the grammar of prayer.  How to address God.  What kinds of things we say to him.  Prayer vocabulary, like grace, mercy and faith.  We learn helpful patterns like ACTS, for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.  These patterns are like practicing musical scales.  They help us learn the technique of prayer. 

Many of us labor at this level of prayer for years.  We systematize prayer with note cards (my favorite), notebooks, prayer apps.  We become thoroughly organized, and commit to following the program.  We set aside time every day for prayer.  All this is good and helpful, and maybe necessary.

But prayer is more than a song.  It is more than technique.  More than commitment and organization.  Much more. 

Sadly, many become stuck in this level of prayer.  The act of prayer feels mechanical, rote, or sterile.  It gets the job done, but without much joy or excitement.  We pray because we know it is good for us, like exercise or hummus.  Like plodding musicians hammering away note after note, we pray away request after request.  Some people will never be really good musicians because they don't have the raw talent.  But in Christ everyone has the "raw talent" to be a virtuoso pray-er.  We have the Holy Spirit himself living in us, flowing through us.  We need to set aside our self-effort, and let his Spirit take charge in us.

The form of prayer, like the mechanics of music, must give way to the abandonment of expression of the soul.  The forms have been like scaffolding, providing direction, shaping technique, until those forms become unnecessary.  We crest the hill of prayer after years of working with those guidelines.  Then we realize that the whole point of prayer is not to get stuff prayed for.  The point of prayer is to connect our souls with Jesus. 

The requests and the model prayers are merely ways for us to practice until we finally get it.  After cresting that hill, we still pray for requests, we still use model prayers.  But the prayer flows.  It becomes beautiful before the Lord.  It shapes us through the Spirit, as the Spirit flows through us.  He is in us, and we are in him.

I'm a wannabe pray-er.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One more thing

So often after I preach a sermon, I realize that I left something out. 

Last Sunday I preached from Acts 12:7-12.  In this story, Paul preaches to a group of Christians on a Sunday night.  They have gathered in a building in Troas, in a third story room.  As Paul preaches on toward midnight, a young man named Eutychus is sitting in an open window.  The young fellow drifts off to sleep, slips out of the window and falls to his death on the street below. 

Paul stops speaking and rushes down to the street, throws himself on the dead man, and announces that he's alive.  Amazing news!

Now, here's what I left out.  The name Eutychus means "Fortunate."  One wonders if that was his name all along, or maybe he got that nickname on his resurrection day.

Either way, the name fits.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Islam, Martyrs, and Us

It's getting real.  People are really losing their lives because they take a stand for Jesus.  I know it has always been that way, dating back to the Roman Colosseum.  I have heard about modern persecution in Sudan and India.  It's really been real all along, but it seemed so theoretical to me. 

Now we see the ceremonial execution of named believers by masked jihadists.  They, the murderers, are putting it in our faces.  They are intentionally provoking us.  And by "us," I mean Christians.  Or maybe I mean Americans.  Or the West.  Or non-Muslim theists.  Or all non-Muslims.  I'm not really sure.

Should the U.S. military bomb them, shoot them, invade them? 

This battle used to be clear to me.  They want us--Americans--dead.  So we kill them in self-defense.  But after reading this article in the Atlantic Journal I have a new appreciation for the complexity of the conflict.  I say I read the article.  I did the best I could to wade through the Arabic names and get the gist of it.

These radical Islamists are turning up the heat, emboldened by victories in Iraq and Syria, and relishing the developing caliphate.  It looks like they want an all-out war.  They point to the Koran for their authority to slaughter infidels.

But persecution comes with the territory for Christians.  Ever since Stephen was stoned, only months after the Resurrection of Jesus, Christians have been persecuted.  They were persecuted centuries before Muhammad was even born.  These Muslims are just the latest in a long line of persecutors, from Romans to Nazis to atheists to Jews.

Jesus expected his followers to be persecuted.  He repeatedly warned them and told them how to handle it.  The Book of Revelation prophesies about the martyrs and their strength of faith.  Somehow I thought those days were long behind us, providing mere inspirational stories of history.

And further, I'm ashamed to confess, I pictured Coptic Christians as ritualistic, cultural, nominal believers, caught up in tradition and the form of religion.  Then I saw the men in the orange jumpsuits.  And I learned that they were singing to Jesus as they died.  Just like Paul and Silas in prison at midnight.  But unlike Paul and Silas, these men did not live to see another day. 

Or maybe they are more alive now than ever before.  They stood with Jesus and now they stand with Jesus.  He makes their suffering more than worth it.  Death has brought them life.  Their deaths can also bring us--Christians--life.  Their deaths can wake us up.  Maybe I'm waking up.

It's getting real.  Now what will we do when it gets close to home?