Saturday, December 30, 2017

Obituary of a Friend

I was sad today to see the obituary for Fidel Martin in the newspaper. He was the pastor of The Church of the Living God on Happy Hill Rd. in Stokesdale. He was only 58 years old.

He holds a special place in my heart, because of his church's hospitality to Crossroads. When we launched as a church in 2000, we needed a place to meet. Meeting space is scarce in Stokesdale, due to limited occupancy for most storefronts. We needed assembly space. Another pastor, Gwathney Leak, found out about our situation and introduced me to Fidel. He thought we could work together.

The Church of the Living God meets on the Sabbath (Saturday), and their building was not used on Sundays. With a little logistical work, we arranged to meet in their church building on Sundays for about 18 months, 2000-2001. This old, small building on Happy Hill Road served as an incubator for our fledgling congregation. Without the hospitality of the Church of the Living God, I'm not sure what Crossroads would have done.

Although Fidel and I have not been in touch much in recent years, I look back fondly at the time we worked together. While Crossroads was meeting in the old building, CoLG was constructing a new meeting place. We offered a bit of construction manpower, and rejoiced with them when the building was completed. Crossroads even worshipped in the new building on Easter Sunday, 2001.

Pastor Martin celebrated with us in November 2002 when we dedicated the Longhouse on Christopher Road in Stokesdale. Our church had completed the construction of this lodge building, and Pastor Martin was one of our guest speakers at our dedication ceremony. I respected him for his leadership, vision, and kingdom perspective.

Certainly he was called home too soon. I look forward to seeing him again in glory.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Lessons of 2017

Attitude is everything.
I can choose joy.
The kingdom is bigger than my church.
God touches my soul deeply when I gather with his people and worship.
God is stirring people up to take bold new risks for the gospel.
The gospel is about how we live, not what we know.
I can't manufacture spiritual power.
Jesus connects at the heart level with lots of people I don't understand.
Easter is mind-blowing; if I don't see that, I'm missing the point.
A loving church gives space for healing, understanding, growing.
Jesus will see me through hard times; I need to trust him and hang on.
My first priority every day is to delight in God.
Delighting in God transforms my perspective.
God is doing something bigger than my lifetime.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Nuggets

Every year I hope to dig deeper into the truth of Christmas. I confess that I have often thought of the holiday as season to be endured rather than a holy day to be enjoyed. Like Charlie Brown, I wonder if I am missing something. So, I'm digging for new insights, understandings, appreciations for Christmas. I want to thank my friends for helping me see what God is revealing.

With only four days to go, here are a couple of nuggets.

Christmas really is about connecting. Apart from Jesus, God in the flesh, humanity has no meaningful, relational connection to the Father. He loved us enough to take the drastic measure of sending his own Son. We desperately need to connect with the Father.

God uses substitutes. Joseph was a stepfather to Jesus, a substitute father. But he raised Jesus in a godly home, and clearly gave Jesus the foundation he needed for his earthly ministry. And while we don't know anything about Mary's mother, her older cousin Elizabeth served in a motherly role for Mary. Surely they had a close relationship, even before either miraculously became pregnant. Today we can provide family-like support for people who may feel all alone at Christmas.

Certainly there is much more. I want God to show me more. May he reveal himself powerfully, in new and fresh ways this season.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Religion and Politics

'Tis the season for...
Yes, those awkward conversations with relatives you rarely see--these conversations are just around the corner. Everyone says that you have to avoid talking about religion and politics. That's probably good advice. Interestingly, these two realms meet in places beyond the dining room table.

For millennia cultures have found that politics and religion just gravitate toward each other. Too often this combination creates tangled webs, especially when power is held as the highest value. Both religion and politics wield power in this world, and the merger of these two sources of power looks like a good way to get things done.

It reminds me of the Ring of Power in Tolkien's famous trilogy. In the story, the wizard Gandalf knows the seducing effects of this ring. He knows that he could be tempted to use the ring for good, but that the ring would work corruption in his soul, eventually leaving him incapable of sound judgment. As the old saying goes, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

And so we find good intentioned people being seduced by the siren song of power. If you just get people in office who vote the right way, the world will be a better place. It doesn't matter if these people lack personal character. All that matters is the policies they pursue.

Politicians gain power, and then we are SHOCKED when they abuse it. Wow, that's never happened before.

We can't bear to let the other team get in power, so let's elect our own vile, corrupt leaders. Then we get to defend and explain away all the crimes and abuses.

I'm amazed at the mental and moral gymnastics I see as people try to defend the defenseless.

But there is a kingdom with a perfect Leader. His kingdom is not of this world, but eyes of faith can see glimpses of his powerful reign. He says to put others first, love enemies, and trust the Father. His ideas got him crucified. Then he defeated death itself.

We are soon to celebrate his birthday.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Thoughts on Sexual Harassment

I think we made it through today without another high profile sexual harassment revelation. In recent weeks the dam has burst and the news is flooded with stories of politicians and celebrities who misbehaved.

I'm glad that these stories are coming to light. Clearly this is a bigger problem than naïve people like me had realized.

Throughout history, men have let their hormones think for them way too much. With men working alongside women more now than ever, situations arise in which men have the opportunity to use their power--whether physical, political, or economic--to force themselves sexually on women.

What we need is respect. We need to care about others more than our own desires. We need to treat others as those created in the image of God, not as objects for our own pleasure. We need God's transforming power to change our hearts.

The problem of sexual harassment is compounded when a culture keeps this dirty little secret. It could be Hollywood, a corporate boardroom, or the halls of Congress. When "everyone" knows about a problem and no one speaks out, we have a conspiracy allowing abuse.

So many people, institutions, organizations, and corporations share the blame. Why have we not said something until now? We don't want to lose our jobs. We need the funding or favor or connections of that dirty old man. We know that other people turn a blind eye, so we follow suit. We don't consider it our business, so we remain silent.

In other words, we let them get away with it.

But not anymore. Many powerful men are now sitting up straight, minding their manners, hoping that their own stories never come out. They could be next.

There are also some potential problems with the drive to get men to behave.
  • An accusation is all it takes. An innocent person's reputation can be forever tainted with a public accusation.
  • A hyper-sensitive atmosphere can lead to the misinterpretation of actions. A gesture of kindness can more easily be interpreted as unwanted contact.
  • People looking for offense communicate with much greater difficulty and less trust. Working together will be much harder and less fun.
  • A persistent man asking for a date can look like a stalker.
Even with the possible problems that come with this new sensitivity to harassment, I believe this is a good trend. Society is agreeing that sexual predators should be called to account.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Tricks for Reading the Christmas Story

Here comes the Christmas season! If  you are like me, you struggle to keep the right perspective during this season. There are so many distractions from the "true meaning of Christmas."

So, here's one idea for keeping your focus. Take time every day to dig into the Christmas story, reading and reflecting. You can just read a few verses and let God take over your imagination as you read. You can find the primary stories in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.

As you read consider these tricks for deeper understanding.
  • Read the story in an unfamiliar translation. You can find lots of them at
  • Imagine yourself in the context of the first century, as an ordinary person: poor, struggling, powerless.
  • Imagine how the story would feel to different people in the story: Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, Herod, Herod's court, Mary's family, Joseph's family, Simeon, Anna, etc.
  • Look for some of the familiar story elements and see if they are really in the stories. When did the shepherds see the star? (They didn't.) How many wise men were there? (We don't know.) What was the innkeeper like? (There is no mention of an innkeeper.)
  • Let different family members read different parts.
  • Read the story by the light of an oil lamp.
Let's keep our focus on Jesus this season!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Radical Thanks

There are different levels of thanks. We say thanks to the clerk runs the register or the family member who passes the salt. We say thank you for gifts, and may even write a note. We thank the boss for a raise. We thank our family for understanding when we need to ask forgiveness.

You may thank your spouse for helping with household chores or filling the car with gas. We thank guests for coming to see us. We may also thank them when they leave.

When my first child was a week old, I thanked my mother for all she did for me. I had no idea, and I was only beginning to learn.

Usually an expression of thanks comes with a smile. Our glad hearts shine through our happy faces.

But sometimes gratitude reaches us much more deeply. Sometimes we can't smile. We are humbled. We understand that someone has sacrificed for us, loved us through our indifference, persisted past our pride. That kind of gratitude hits us at the core.

A grateful woman came to Jesus, as he reclined for dinner at someone's house. She came up and stood behind him, crying so profusely that her tears dripped on Jesus's unshod feet. She bent down to wipe his feet with her hair. She opened her expensive bottle of perfume and poured it over Jesus's feet. In her gratitude, she was broken. From the root of her soul, she expressed her thanks to Jesus. She was broken emotionally for the One who had made her whole. She was beginning to understand the depth of Jesus's love for her. And her heart overflowed with loving thanks.

Have you ever been moved to tears with gratitude? Such is the heart that truly understands thanks.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Surprise! It's the Kingdom!

Some things should never surprise us. You get behind a slow poke when you are running late. The children can't agree on a restaurant for dinner. The printer is "off line" when you want to print right now. Murphy's Law is real.

Other things really surprise us.

In Acts 3, Peter and John go to the Temple worship. This is right after Jesus's crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. The Holy Spirit has come upon the church at Pentecost. So on their way through the Temple courtyard, Peter and John meet and heal a paralyzed man. The healed man is so excited, he runs, jumps, and praises God all around the Temple.

This great miracle shows the Lord's power now flowing through the disciples. The crowds at the Temple notice, and they ask Peter and John what has happened.

Peter's response is striking. "Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you?" Well, Peter, I can think of lots of reasons this is surprising. The healed man has never walked a day in his life. He's over 40 (gasp!). And we call them miracles for a reason. Things like this don't normally happen.  That's why they were surprised.

But in Peter's brain, this was no surprise at all. He knew something, and it completely changed what he expected from life. He had witnessed his friend and teacher die. Then he saw that man alive again. It was Jesus, but he was...different. Now Jesus had a resurrection body. Jesus still ate and drank, but he seemed less limited by time and space. He could suddenly appear in a room. Sometimes people recognized him and sometimes they did not. Mostly, he was alive. His grave was empty.

Seeing this miracle changed Peter's perspective. Jesus was bringing the kingdom, beginning with his own resurrection. If he is bringing the kingdom, then he will bring wholeness, forgiveness, hope. This world will never be the same. Peter expected to see God at work. 

Of course this man was healed. Jesus is alive, and is living in us! The world will never be the same. Why are you surprised?

May we experience God's kingdom so powerfully in our own lives that we expect him bring healing, hope, and leaping celebrations!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Church Shootings

I was shocked with the news yesterday of the horrific church shooting in Sutherland, Texas. This one hit close to home. If the First Baptist Church in that small town can get shot up, then I wonder who is safe.

Pastors across the country have to consider how to prevent or prepare for such a situation. Will churches now have armed guards or bouncers at their doors? Will they create tactical strategies and make sure that certain members are armed at church services?

Churches will always be soft targets. Attendees gather to worship, to fellowship. They don't expect violence. Preparing to respond to violence would tend to distract from connecting with the Lord. I make sure that I bring my Bible. I don't even think about my .357.

So, it seems that churches can choose how to prepare. At one extreme, they can arm themselves, ready to take out a threat. At the other extreme, they can change nothing, realizing that they are soft targets.

I think I know which course Jesus would choose. He himself was a soft target. He let himself be killed. He trusted his Father, even knowing that he was headed into danger. The Father used his sacrifice to change history.

And this is the Man we are to follow.

Monday, October 30, 2017

95 Theses for Today

As you know, tomorrow marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation's public beginning. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door. His theses describe his beliefs about God, the Church, and religious authority which differed from the positions of the Roman Catholic Church. You can see them here. In posting his theses, Luther announced his numerous points of disagreement. He was saying, "Hey, I don't think this stuff is right! I think we should do something about this!"

I, like many others, believe that the Church is ready for another reformation. I have been pondering some areas where the Church today, at least the Church in America, could use some reforming. Here are some theses for the Church to consider today. It's only a start. Maybe I can come up with 85 more to go with these.

1. Jesus calls us to make disciples. Everything the Church does should revolve around making disciples. This should include justice, evangelism, and education.
2. Only a small minority of people in churches today believe that they have truly been discipled.
3. Churches do well to emphasize right belief, but they often prioritize the intellectual framework of faith above the practical living of faith.
4. The books of the Bible were written to people who were the outcasts of society. American Christians are rarely the outcasts of our society, and so the scriptures don't reach us at the heart level so easily. That means we often miss the point of the scriptures.
5. Christians value comfort and safety above applying the gospel to life and sharing the Good News with abandon.
6. Those who need a relationship with Jesus Christ often observe those who claim to be Christians and find their way of life to be shallow, selfish, and boring.
7. Christians consider justice to be a secondary issue, but to Jesus it was primary.
8. Church has been so institutionalized that too much energy goes to propping up church structures and programs.
9. Clergy fail to point out the problems with institutional Christianity, because their livelihoods depend on the institution.
10. The American Dream has proven to be a deception. Many Christians have pursued that dream, equating the dream to the Christian life. They have been tricked by the "deceitfulness of wealth" (Mark 4:19) and are frustrated in their unfruitfulness.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Time for a Change

As the calendar roles over to September tomorrow, we know that fall is on the way. I appreciate the rhythms of life, like the changing of the seasons. We get to experience the changing seasons in North Carolina. If I were ever to live somewhere else, I would surely miss them.

I lived for a few years in South Georgia, where it feels like summer all the time. I have been to Uganda where they only have two seasons: wet and dry. But there seems to be no general consensus about when those seasons arrive, and there are multiple wet and dry seasons through the year. And the temperatures are about the same every day. Rarely does the mercury get below 70 or above about 88.

So, I look forward to this next season in NC. I want to go apple picking, camping, hiking. I want to cook another big stew in our cast iron pot. I want to have the neighbors over. And, of course, I want to watch some football.

God has blessed us with rhythms in life. Those rhythms are different in different places. But we all enjoy that predictability. It reminds us that God can be counted on. He's reliable. He's there. And he has placed us in a world that we can study and marvel at. This world pours forth the glory of God.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Questions for God

I'm thinking of creating a list of questions for God. Probably when I meet Jesus face to face I won't care about these issues. But from this point of view, I'm full of questions. There's a popular personality who calls himself "The Bible Answer Man." Sometimes I would like to be the Bible question man. There are so many good questions that arise out of God's word, and out of his creation.

Why does our harnessing of the earth's resources so often harm the earth?
How can people know with such certainty when another person is looking at them?
How does a baby know to look into her mother's eyes, and not her mouth or nose?
Why do reasonable people so often see things from such different perspectives?
Why is the meaning of life so hard to determine?
Why is the Bible such a rich tangle of truths?
How does love conquer all?

That's just a start for me.
What would be on your list of questions for God?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Pulling Together

The news out of Texas shows the devastation of a historic storm. The cleanup and rebuilding will last years. But there is an encouraging side. Story after story shows people sacrificing to help one another. All the lines of division are erased as together Texans fight for survival. The rest of the country is right there, giving, encouraging, coming to help.

Finally there is a big story in the national news where everyone is on the same side. We are pulling together. We really can pull together.

Maybe this spirit of cooperation can carry over, even a little bit, to our other national issues.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Justice and Sin

One of the chief causes of injustice is sin. I suppose you could argue that all injustice is the result of sin, such as greed, selfishness, pride, abuse of power. Some of us fail to love our neighbors by turning a blind eye to their problems. In doing so, we fail to obey the second part of the Great Commandment.

So, one key way to fight injustice is to repent of sin. The more we live in obedience to Christ, the more we conquer injustice.

It does seem, however, that people today are much more willing to point out the sins of others than they are to notice their own sins. I can point out your sin, but I can't repent for you. If you would just quit sinning, then the world would become that much more just. And if I quit sinning too, then justice takes another leap forward.

The key is for me to start with me, and for you to start with you. We all certainly need reminders to keep us (get us) in the repentance mode, but those reminders will be much better received when they come from humble sources. The louder and more obnoxious the voice telling me to behave, the more likely I am to ignore it.

But let me drill down further. I have secret sins, and so do you. Even those secret sins, the sins of the heart, will impede justice. But my sins aren't hurting anybody. Yes, actually, they are. The sins that appear to be victimless actually do hinder the work of God in the world.

Do you want to bring more justice to the world? Start with your own sin. Start with your own sins of the heart. Stop justifying and excusing your sin. Find in Jesus profound forgiveness. Find with his Spirit a desire to do and live as the Spirit directs. As he frees you to live abundantly, he can really work through you to bring justice.

Other people are to blame for this world's injustice. But so are you. Come to Jesus for forgiveness, for eyes to see, for a heart to care about both the oppressed and the oppressors.

No wonder this world needs justice so badly. Let's be part of the solution.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Devastation and Help

The devastation from Hurricane Harvey defies description. News outlets call the flooding unprecedented. Photos and videos show submerged cloverleaves and floating vehicles. As the rain continues to fall, we can only wait to see how severe the damage will be.

Soon will be the time to help with cleanup and rebuilding. This is the time to respond to our neighbors in need.

May God lead us to reach into our schedules, our wallets, and our hearts. May the kingdom of God rush in where the wind and waters have brought destruction.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hurricane Hunker-Down

Harvey is churning over the state of Texas now, dumping dozens of inches of rain. It was a powerful storm, Category 4, but its greatest damage likely will be the torrents of rain.

Last I heard, this storm has stopped moving. It is parked over Texas, pounding that dry state with more rain than we get here in a year. I imagine that streams will be rerouted when the storm finally leaves.

Sometimes crises come upon us like this hurricane:
  • Suddenly. Harvey was barely a tropical depression just a few days ago. When he hit the warm Gulf waters, he grew up quickly. Our smooth sailing in life can quickly be interrupted when life whips up a storm from nothing.
  • Lingering. A storm is bad enough, but for the storm to park over our lives--now that's painful. This is why the psalmists asks, "How long, O God?"
  • Untold damage. In life's storms, we may not be able to assess damage to our souls. We have to wait the storms out, trusting in God's protection, and waiting for the time to see the wounds that need to heal.

Life will bring us storms. Some storms will linger much longer than we expect. And so we learn to hunker down in Jesus. If we live as he teaches us, then the storms of life won't wash us away. We need to build our lives on the Rock.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Campfire Medicine

There is something about campfires that opens up conversation. On our Crossroads men's retreats, campfires are the highlight events. Even with the warm temperatures, we love our campfires.

As the daylight fades, we hear the bugs singing, and the noise in our souls subsides. We watch the sparks and hear the stories of our friends. We know that we are not alone. We know that God meets us at the campfire, wherever we are spiritually. We can see deeper into our own hearts. God is at work.

Campfires with friends are good medicine for the soul.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

I'm feeding a groundhog

A groundhog has set up residence under my driveway. For real. He has dug a burrow under the concrete pad where we keep our trash cans. I sincerely hope that he has only one room in there.

So how do you get rid of these critters?

A little research tells me that they are typically loners, so there should be no family in there. They like cantaloupe, so I'm baiting my live trap with it. So far, I'm just feeding him. He waited for a couple of days after I set the trap. Then, this morning I noticed that the fruit is all gone. And the trap has not sprung. *sigh* Yes, he apparently is a very clever fellow.

So this time I baited the trap with small chunks of cantaloupe. (Good thing I bought a big one...) Now I'm waiting again to catch him.

And I have to figure out what to do with him when I catch him. Anybody need a groundhog?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Phone Free

I did it. I spent a whole day without turning on my phone. Last Saturday, while on our church men's retreat, I left my phone in my tent all day long, and never even turned it on. There were a few moments when I reached for it to take a picture, but managed to survive without it. I did have my camera available, so I could still take a few photos.

I can't remember the last time I went all day with no phone. I need to make a regular practice of it. It gives me a sense of freedom. It's hard to believe that only a few years ago I had no smart phone. Life was slower and simpler then.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Football and Spirituality

Football season is upon us. As August yields to September and the thermometer surrenders a few degrees, we know that we are ready for some football.

I have a friend who was a pastor in Chapel Hill, and he noted an interesting correlation. The people at his church were much more spiritually sensitive when the Tar Heels were winning. In football season or basketball season, as long as the Heels were winning, the spirit of the church was thriving.

I'm not sure what that really means. Could the depth of spiritual commitment really be subject to the feelings of a sports fan? We are all happier when our teams are winning, and that could translate into more sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Maybe our hearts are more open to him when we are joyful.

(There is also a lot of evidence that hardship draws us to God more than good times.)

But if a joyful spirit helps us listen to God and cooperate with him, maybe we should be looking for more ways to cultivate our joy. Why should we let our spirituality be held hostage to a win-loss record?

I'm still going to pull for my football teams this fall. And I will try to surrender my heart to the Lord, regardless of what happens on the gridiron.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Pondering the Eclipse

I noticed today, as the eclipse began, that there was no traffic noise to be heard in my neighborhood. The only vehicle I finally heard was the mailman. We were in the driveway, in our zero-gravity chairs, so I met him at the mailbox. I offered to let him peer through my eclipse glasses to see the sun about 40% obscured. But unfortunately a cloud covered the sun at that moment. He assured me that his wife was videoing the event. Uh, not the same.

We resumed our peaceful moment of eclipse-watching. And then the neighbor began mowing grass. At least that did not keep us from an excellent view of our favorite star. Just surprised me that anyone would willingly miss the spectacle.

I marvel that astronomers can predict so accurately these events. I also marvel that the two great lights of the sky, so of such vastly different sizes, appear to be almost exactly the same size. I saw an annular eclipse on May 30, 1984. The moon was farther away from the Earth at that time, so at its peak, the moon left a ring of the sun's light around all its edges.

This time, those in the path of totality saw the sun disappear behind the moon. The sky became dark as sunset for a couple of minutes.

Seeing the wonder of this eclipse today astounds me--that God would make this world so fascinating, predictable, beautiful, and stable. What a privilege to witness the glory of his creation.

You can't really tell it from this picture, but the sun
was about 70% eclipsed at this point today.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

So Much Sun

As we anticipate the total solar eclipse tomorrow, I'm learning so much about the effects of this event. The temperature will drop. Birds will go to roost. Crickets will chirp. Stars will appear.

We take the sun so for granted that we rarely consider how significant are its effects are on Earth. When the sun goes away, everything changes. Our very existence on this planet depends on the radiant heat from this star. Its electro-magnetic waves include far more than the visible spectrum. There's solar wind, and, well, more than I really know about.

When the sun is gone, everything changes. An eclipse helps us understand that.

There may be moments when God's face is hidden from us. He's still there, but when his face is hidden, we understand so much more what it means to bask in his light.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

I Love the South

I was born and raised in the South. In fact, I have never lived anywhere but the South (assuming that Texas counts as Southern). But I have traveled a little bit. And I have heard what people from other parts of the country notice about our region.

Here's what I like about the South.

Sweet tea. Oh yeah.

College sports. The colors you wear here say much more than the casual observer would realize. My dental hygienist keeps trying to give me a Carolina Blue toothbrush. Are you kidding?

Waving at strangers. I wave at people I have never seen before as I ride down the road. Sometimes they wave back.

Conversations in the checkout line. Weather is always a good starting point. People matter, even strangers, and small talk lets people know that they matter.

The sounds of summer nights. I was at Hanging Rock last night and the sound of the bugs--or frogs or whatever they are--was pleasantly deafening.

Seasons of the year. Okay, in the deep South they don't get much winter. But here in NC, we get four discernable seasons, all glorious in their own way. I like it hot in the summer and cold in the winter. I don't like it when the thermometer skips spring or fall.

Respect for others. We don't treat people unkindly as a general rule. We may bless their hearts, but we don't speak rudely.

The food. I miss grits when I'm in other parts. Why would anyone not like grits, especially a Southerner? Bless their hearts.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Stick it to the Yankees

I get an uneasy feeling when I see Confederate monuments. It seems that such monuments say more about those who built them than those they honor. When the South lost the Civil War, Southerners were forced to give up important social and economic conventions. Building monuments seems to be a passive-aggressive way of holding on to unhealthy attitudes.

The surrender at Appomattox meant that outwardly the South had to change. Somehow hearts did not follow suit. Changing hearts takes more than pointing a loaded gun. So while the South had to end slavery as an institution, many Southern communities held on to all the trappings of slavery that they could: separate water fountains, restrooms, hotels, restaurants, types of employment.

As a way to stick it to those damned Yankees, Southern communities did all they could to hold on to the idea that they were right. Just because they won the war doesn’t give them the right to tell us what to do. They weren’t all that noble themselves, those Union soldiers. So decades after the end of the Civil War, Southerners were still constructing monuments. Cold soldiers on horses proudly looked down on all passersby, reminding everyone what the South was all about.

I hope that is no longer what the South is all about.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Confederate Monument Debate

The debate over the removal of Confederate monuments prompted me to list the reasons to keep and remove the monuments. I'm seeking to be as objective as possible, listing all the reasonable or almost reasonable arguments I can think of. Saving my comments for later, I present my lists.

Monuments should be kept in place because:
  • The monuments stand as reminders of our country's bloodiest war.
  • The monuments honor the cultural pride of Southerners.
  • The time is not right for removal. Maybe they should go, but not yet.
  • Those who appreciate these monuments deserve the respect of keeping these familiar landmarks.
  • These monuments aren't hurting anything. There's no compelling reason to remove them.

Monuments should be removed because:
  • The monuments honor those who fought for an abusive, reprehensible institution.
  • The monuments represent a cause that was rightly lost.
  • The monuments offend Americans who believe in justice and equality.
  • The monuments do not represent soldiers of the United States of America.
  • The monuments were erected by the descendants of a vanquished cause who will not accept defeat.
  • The monuments are better kept in museums where Americans can remember the enduring feelings of rebellion among Southerners.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Growing Up at Serving

Our church had the privilege of serving at LOT 2540, a salvage ministry in Mayodan last Saturday. We served food, helped clients shop the market, and carried groceries to their cars. A couple of us, including myself, interviewed the clients before they shopped. God met me there.

I find that my attitude toward helping needy folks has developed a lot recently. I see now that in helping ministries we find the kingdom of God.

Not long ago I had a bad attitude about helping people. I say this as a confession. I would wonder why the person would not get his/her act together, why they needed help again already, why they couldn't make better choices. My attitude must have tinged and tainted my ministry.

But now God is helping me realize that both the helper and the recipient together get to participate in the work of the kingdom of God. This is the time and place where God shows his love. I get to be part of that. It is a joyful occasion. It's a time of celebration. It is a moment of heaven touching earth.

It becomes a joy, a delight. I get to work through the power of the Spirit to make a difference in someone's life. And even if they take it for granted, or don't really need it--that doesn't even matter. Because through this time, regardless of their attitude, God is reaching out to them.

When I need help, I'm so grateful that those who help me allow God's love to flow so freely. I'm only beginning to know how to do that. It's about time.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Blood on the Page

I heard a podcaster today talk about writing. Luke Norsworthy said that writing is simple. You just find a vein, open it, and bleed onto the page. That's really graphic, but makes so much sense.

My problem is finding the vein. Sometimes I poke and prod and search for that thing to say. My brain allows so many deep thoughts to rattle around. I have to catch one of those flying shards of truth and craft it into a sensical presentation, something worth saying in a form worth hearing.

Sometimes finding the vein is fun. Sometimes it is frustrating. Sometimes I have so many veins begging to be bled that I can't begin to tap them all.

Now maybe I can un-mix my metaphor. The flying shards can, with a bit of guidance, pierce those veins of the heart. A shard of truth slicing into a vessel of life--now that can shed some serious blood.


Monday, August 14, 2017


Having lunch with a friend recently, the subject of writing came up. He's working quietly on a book. I mentioned that I also enjoy writing. I just don't write as much as I wish I did.

He said, "I can help you do your writing." Oh cool. I need all the pointers I can get. I took the bait.

"OK, so what's the secret?" I asked.


That was his answer: Write.

It took me a moment to realize that he had completed his admonition. He repeated it. I processed the simple clarity of the imperative.

Even though I'm not currently working on a book, even though I journal daily, even though I lack focus in my subject matter, I simply need to write. You are reading part of my writing experiment now. I have committed to post a blog every day in the month of August. Some posts are more profound than others. Some posts get more hits than others. But at least I'm writing.

It may not be doing any good to others, but it's at least therapeutic for me.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


I kept thinking that the stories of white supremacists were overblown. Wow am I naïve. The events of Charlottesville this weekend show the dark underside of American society.

Demonstrators have the right to express their opinions just as counter demonstrators have the right to express theirs. When we start killing each other for having differing points of view, we've really got problems.

Freedom of expression, at the heart of the Bill of Rights, would probably be defended in principle by protesters on both sides of yesterday's violence. But all too often someone resorts to force, thinking that silencing dissenters wins an argument.

Ideas are much more powerful than a floored Dodge Charger. Heather Heyer lost her life yesterday, standing against hate. In the days ahead, thoughtful people will dig into the ideas that met head-on in Charlottesville.

It will be easy to dismiss all of "those people" who stand up for their own superiority. Somehow they believe they are right. Reason may not win them over. Love may not even win them over.

But those who pursue truth must not lose hope, and must not resort to violence. How can such wicked hearts dwell in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Good people must stand up, stand firm, and stand for truth. May God change hearts. Start with mine.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Whom to Hate

Some people bother us. We all get bothered by them.
Corporate fat cats
Religious people
Welfare cheats
Corporate management
Labor Unions
Tree huggers
Climate change deniers
White supremacists
Professional demonstrators

We think the world would be better off without those people. We can explain how wrong they are, and all the problems they cause. Every chance we get, we rant against those people.

The problem is, all those rants, all that vitriol, does nothing to improve matters.

Trite as it might sound, we need to learn to love those people. Even the terrorists. Even those we disagree with. Of course it's not easy. That's why Jesus gave us his Spirit, to change us so that we can allow his love to flow from us.

We all think that we have identified that class of people that causes all the problems. The truth is, we are all part of that class that causes problems. We need forgiveness, then we need to share that forgiveness. It takes the intervention of the Lord.

Instead of identifying whom to hate, we need to surrender to the love of Jesus.

Friday, August 11, 2017

WWJT -- What would Jesus think?

Our actions are controlled by our thoughts. It seems reasonable to look beneath the WWJD question and ask what he would think. What would he think about North Korea right now? about America's addiction to entertainment? about the effectiveness of the Church in America? about climate change?

Now, you may have your pump primed, and you are ready to tell exactly what Jesus thinks about any
of those issues. But be careful. We can quickly ascribe thoughts to Jesus and proclaim them as undeniable truths, when we are really spouting off our own opinions.

We can only really know what Jesus would think by deepening our relationship with him. We learn who he is through the Bible, through prayer, through life's experiences, through his people. It takes time. It takes humility. It takes listening to God. It takes an attitude of love toward others.

We can be sure that Jesus would think deeply, not superficially, about whatever the issue. He would pursue truth above ideology. He would love those who disagree with him. He would value the hearts of others over winning arguments.

In most cases, Jesus would not think like I think. His Father said as much: "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord." 

By God's grace he is changing my thought patterns. I hope I think more like Jesus today than I did yesterday. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Do what is just and right...

The prophet Jeremiah warns Judah of God's coming punishment, and he urges them to, "Do what is just and right..." (Jeremiah 22:3). The prophet goes on to explain what that means:
  • Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed.
  • Do no wrong or violence to the alien, fatherless, or widow.
  • Do not shed innocent blood.
  • Defend the cause of the poor and needy.
God expects his people to treat others as though they matter, as creatures created in the image of God. But history shows that people in power nearly always abuse it. It can be official power or informal power, but people always tend to treat their subordinates poorly.

That's why it's so rare to have a really good boss. It's why corruption always seeps into government. It's why corporations can't be trusted to put health and safety above profits.

I heard a man on the radio today describing his experience growing up in the Soviet Union. People in authority could never be trusted. In fact, he said, Russians can't imagine being treated fairly by the one who has power over them. They expect power to be used against them at every turn.

People matter. Even those who are powerless and needy matter. God expects his followers to treat all people with respect, especially those who are on the margins of society--the alien, the fatherless, the widow, the poor. It is so simple, but so hard to live. We need the Spirit of Jesus in us to do what is just and right. We can't do it on our own. He has to change us inwardly, and that is a life-long process.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Korean Missile Crisis

News keeps rolling in and ratcheting up between North Korea and the United States. While Korea threatens to fire a missile at U.S. territory Guam, the United States threatens "fire and fury."

I realize that diplomacy has not worked well with North Korea. But matching threats with threats seems unwise as well.

Some have compared this situation to the Cuban Missile Crisis. One obvious difference is that the Cuban Missile Crisis was all handled behind the scenes. The public only learned about the threats, tension, diplomacy, and resolution after the threat was removed.

Today the public watches the volleys of volatile words. It's scarier for the public, and may cause leaders to take unwise actions to save face. Thousands of innocent people could be put at risk.

We need to pray for leaders around the world. Cool heads must prevail.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Disappearing Spider Webs

I enjoy sitting by the creek, reading, praying, planning, relaxing. Recently I spent several hours there, and noticed something about the early morning sunlight. As the light filtered through the trees, I could see spider webs illuminated, easily seen, spiders in the center, ready to process a meal. How could an insect not see those webs?

As the sun continued to rise, however, those webs vanished. Other webs appeared. With light on them, the webs gleamed. Without direct light on them, the webs faded into branches. One moment a web cried out, "Here I am!" The next moment, it retreated in silent hiding, as though it never existed.

The light of life shines on us in different ways at different times. Some ideas seem so obvious to younger people. In their early years, my daughters vowed that they would never say to a child, "My how you have grown!" It was so clear to them that such an annoying comment could never be appropriate in polite conversation. As life's light shifted through the years, they saw things differently. Of course.

What is so obvious to me may be invisible to another. What is so obvious to another may be invisible to me. Just because I can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there. In time the light will shine just right, and I will see it. And they will see it.

Patience. Give me some patience. I'll be patient with you. The light will shine just right.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Framing the Marginalized

I respect those in law enforcement. I met a Guilford County Sheriff's deputy today, who was very kind and respectful to a family who lost a loved one. His presence and thoughtfulness was comforting to the family. Most people in law enforcement are like this deputy and carry out their mission to protect and serve the public.

Unfortunately, the few officers who abuse their authority give cops a bad name. I saw on ABC news last week two reports of cops who planted drugs at crime scenes in order to frame someone. The body cams make it harder to hide those misdeeds.

What would motivate a law enforcement professional to plant evidence? Here are some guesses:
  • grudge against an individual or group
  • need to meet quotas of arrests and convictions
  • desire to impress peers or superiors
Actually, I think it takes a really disturbed person to frame someone. I want to offer some solutions, but it boils down to the sinfulness of humanity. The crooked cops have a warped sense of morality. Maybe they had difficult childhoods. Maybe they had a bad breakup.

But there is no excuse for such abuse of power. I wish there was an easy solution. It's going to take something like a work of God.
That's why we pray for the kingdom to come. And that's why we need to work to bring the kingdom.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Old School Obedience

Reading Dallas Willard's book, The Great Omission, I was struck by his observation about obedience. While Jesus clearly teaches the importance of obedience ("teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you..."), Christians rarely emphasize it today.

Somehow we want the depths of spirituality without the tedium of obedience. Wouldn't that be easier? Obedience seems so oppressive. Can't we just call it cooperation with God? We do hear occasionally about repentance. But repentance must come back to obedience.

Maybe we think of obedience primarily with outward requirements: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal. And many of us may believe that we have long ago mastered that kind of obedience. Please don't nag us with reminders about such elementary matters.

But Jesus calls his followers to make some more difficult choices: love your enemies, bless those who curse you, don't lust, deny yourself. These are less visible, but still important matters of obedience.

Being required to "obey" Jesus seems like oppression. Obedience is such a harsh word to twenty-first century ears.

We have somehow lost the connection between love and obedience. Jesus loves us, so he calls us to obedience. If we love him, we will obey his commands.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why Church?

More than ever, people are asking why they should attend church. There are good theological reasons, obviously, but folks tend to look for the practical reasons. Broadly speaking, I see three primary reasons for church attendance.

On one level, church attendance give you resources for more successful living through scripture, prayer, and fellowship. Life works better when you do things God’s way, and having friends makes everything better. You feel better if you believe you are cooperating with God. It is a way of loving God.

On another level, church involvement gives you mission opportunities, so that you can make a difference in the world. Churches organize food pantries, clothes closets, marches for justice, mission trips, homeless ministries, prayer meetings for important causes. You feel better if you are actually doing something to make the world a better place. It is a way of loving people.

But if church only makes life work better, or connects people with causes, then it is not going deep enough. Faith is not about feeling better. It is about being better, through Jesus.

On the third level, church involvement should help us see that our own daily lives are a mission from God. In this journey, he helps us to love him, and he helps us to love others. But along this journey, he is changing us, making us more like Christ.

Church is the delivery system God designed for drawing us into relationship with him. He wants fellowship with us. He wants us to become like him. He wants us to experience the deepest levels of fulfillment. He wants us to have real life.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Time Zones and Urgency

My wife and I just spent a day in Blowing Rock this week to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary. We left our hotel about 10 a.m., walking through downtown. Most of the stores open at 10. At least they say they do. But at 10:05, about half of the stores had not opened. No signs of life through the windows.

One proprietor who had opened on time said that stores open "10ish." And that suits me just fine in a place to unwind. We did not come to Blowing Rock for a tight schedule.

Many years ago we spent our anniversary in Hawaii, on the island of Maui. Now that is a place to chill out. With a 6-hour time difference from home, all the day's news seemed old by lunch time on the island. Without the constant drumbeat of news updates and "breaking" stories, we found that we cared less about the latest crisis.

The time difference actually allowed us to think about the news, and decide if it mattered. So often the urgency of news convinces us that it's important. That 6-hour lag provides a step back from the frenzy. No wonder Hawaii is so relaxed.

With a more careful consumption of media, I find that here and now I can provide some distance between myself and the urgency of this world. That helps develop personal peace, and it gives time to think and understand. It allows time for God to get my attention. It helps me tune into reality.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


I read in the paper this week that a group of anarchists protested the calling of a grand jury. A fellow anarchist was being compelled to testify, and these supporters oppose the use of grand juries. There are no records kept of the contents of grand jury proceedings, and this bothers the anarchists.

Now, maybe I don't know what today's anarchists believe, but true anarchy would get rid of the entire justice system, not merely grand juries. Anarchy would necessarily devolve into the tyranny of the strong over the weak. With no laws, and no justice system, life would be worse than unfair. It would be brutal.

As imperfect as our justice system is, it beats anarchy. After all, doesn't the pursuit of justice rule out anarchy? Christ calls us to pursue true justice, and we have a long ways to go. But anarchy is not the answer.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


We fall asleep, fall in love, and fall for a joke. Of course we can fall literally, when we stumble. But all of these falls have something in common: losing control.

Sleep comes when we let go of all the cares of the day. We voluntarily release our worries, our plans, our regrets, our eager anticipation. At least ideally we do. The harder we hold on to those concerns, the more difficult it is to fall asleep.

When we fall in love, we abandon our defenses with our beloved. We let go of selfishness and willingly lose control, trusting in that special one. Some people, even married people, never fall in love. They still cling to control as much as possible, believing that warm feelings are the same as falling in love.

Falling for a joke can be embarrassing or humiliating. It happens when we trust in a person or situation, surrender control, and discover that we were wrong to trust. In the best of cases, we can laugh at ourselves, which shows a good bit of maturity.

Falling is all about losing, forfeiting, giving up, surrendering control.

I want to fall for Jesus.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The World's Oldest Profession

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. But there’s a profession even older than that one. After God created Adam, he placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and instructed the man to care for the garden.

So, the world’s oldest profession is that of gardener. Of course our first parents made that job much more difficult for all of us. With their disobedience in paradise, they experienced a kind of death, and God expelled them from the Garden. In this fallen world now, our work comes through thorns and thistles with sweat and pain. So this is the inheritance of mankind: a fallen world where death reigns.

But God’s command to tend creation remains. As God’s only creatures made in his image, we—humans—have the unique responsibility to care for this world. The flora and fauna, the rocks, rivers, and oceans really do matter to God. It is part of the creation he called “good.” But unfortunately, some Christians consider this world disposable. The physical world will be ultimately be destroyed, they reason, so who cares what happens to it now?

Tree huggers carry too far the responsibility to care for creation. Many virtually worship the natural world. But those who abuse the environment err in the other direction. Maybe they think that the quicker we wear out this world, the sooner God will give us another one. And so the resources of Earth are used for selfish gain, rather than harnessed for good.

Whether we choose to accept it or not, we are responsible for this garden called Earth. And all creation groans in anticipation of the day when God will renew everything.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Search Me

At CentriKid camp this morning, the personal devotions material pointed us to a very familiar verse, Psalm 139:23-24:

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

I have read and heard this passage so many times before. But today I read it as a deeper prayer. The psalmist is asking God to search him and test him, to look for any wrong thought patterns, then to lead him in the way of truth.

We all have wrong thought patterns, and rarely do we want others to point them out. But a healthy soul requires healthy thoughts. Who better to find the wrong thoughts than God? I prefer to ignore those issues and work around them. God wants to find them and disarm them. He wants to expose them to the light of truth.

We can stop hiding from our messed up thinking. We can get God to find those corrupted, false patterns of thinking and free us from them. That's the only way to walk in the way everlasting.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Good at Being a Person

Life is not easy. There are all kinds of ways we can mess up life. And we all do. Personhood is harder than it looks.

Who is really good at being a person? And is that the same thing as being a good person?

Personhood entails a wide range of skills: walking, talking, listening, loving, eating, serving, creating, working, sharing, confessing, confronting, exploring, explaining... The list is endless. So personhood is about doing life. Some people are better at personhood than others.

I'm still learning how to be a person: how to navigate through life, how to keep (gain?) my sanity, how to develop my strengths, how to love others, how to worship.

It's not easy, but it is rewarding.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Tree of Life and Love

The maple tree in my mother's backyard.
It must be at least 45 years old.
This maple has a story. This tree reminds me of my dad's love.

Some time in the early 1970s my dad and I cut down a tall pine tree. We used a big bow saw, with one of us on each end. We teamed up to fell dozens of trees with that saw (which I still have). But I especially remember that pine.

Now anyone who knows about ice storms knows about the problem of pines in winter weather. Their roots are shallow, their trunks not especially strong, and they become top-heavy when laden with frozen precipitation. Such a pine tree doesn't belong in a planned landscape. It did not belong in my dad's beautiful yard.

And so we skillfully took out this pine, and cut it into firewood. When the stump was cut, Dad prepared to cut down a little maple sapling, sprouting by the pine roots.

"Wait!" I shouted.

"What?" he asked.

"Why are you cutting down that little tree?"

The question from this 8-year-old caught him off guard. "Well, it's just in the way."

"In the way of what?"

He envisioned an open space in the yard with no tree. I saw a little tree causing no problems, striving mightily to live. I reasoned with him that this maple, a hardwood, would not cause problems like a pine. This tree deserved to live.

The tree was spared, and it grew right along with me all these years. To this day it stands tall in my mother's backyard.

That maple reminds me of my father's love and his willingness to try things my way. You see, he and I often disagreed. We rarely saw life through the same lens. Yes, I would often find ways to disagree with him, constantly challenging his perspective on virtually everything. It surely wore on him over the years. But that day he listened. He did as I asked. The tree is there to prove it.

My dad never really understood me. But he loved me. It took me years to realize the significance of his sparing that tree. That act spoke volumes about our relationship, and had little to do with landscaping.

Dad died 16 years ago this month. I think of him often. And I remember how much he loved me.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: Resistance

You don’t get to choose your situation of birth. You just arrive on the scene and have to make the best of it. It’s part of your inheritance. You don’t set the stage, but you do have to deal with it. You can exploit it to your own advantage, cooperate with it to your own comfort, or you can resist it to help your heirs.

Everybody’s inheritance is loaded. With it you can blow things up and cause damage, or can use it to fuel positive change.

Some have had the courage to see the problems with the status quo and worked to make things better. These people made a difference and left the world a better place. And they all paid a great price. Resisting the status quo is dangerous business.

  • Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white person. She resisted.
  • Nelson Mandela went to prison for standing against the apartheid system of South Africa. He resisted.
  • Mahatma Gandhi led a movement of freedom for the nation of India as they struggled under British colonialism. He resisted.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized the murderous religious oppression of Nazi Germany. He resisted.
  • William Wilberforce worked to change the laws of England to abolish the profitable slave trade. He resisted.
  • Abraham Lincoln recognized the moral bankruptcy of American slavery. He resisted.

These people saw the problems of the society they inherited. And they took a stand. They made a difference. The world is better for their work.

Think of your own inheritance. Where are the problems? How can it be better? Effective resistance requires a strong moral foundation, a clear sense of right and wrong. Commitment to truth puts people on the “right side of history.” A true moral compass can show us what is wrong with the world. And with the foundation of truth one can stand against injustice, oppression, and evil.

Jesus is the Truth. He is the Moral Compass. He resisted. Then he died. Then he arose. He conquered death for us, so there is nothing more to fear.

Will you see the problems in the systems of this world? Will you take a stand? Will you resist? If so, be prepared to pay a price.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: Cooperation

Everyone inherits a life situation. No one creates the setting for her own life. We arrive on the scene, surrounded by people who seem to know what they are doing, and we try to make the best of it. We can exploit the situation (see previous post), we can cooperate with the situation, or we can resist the situation.

I think most people opt to cooperate with life's situation. We follow the rules (mostly) and try to maximize our own comfort. We play the hand we are dealt, and we play to win--whatever winning means to us. It could mean making money, having toys, owning land, experiencing pleasure, enjoying peace and quiet, raising children, wielding power, achieving fame. We decide what matters most to us, and we go for it.

We aspire, adapt, accomplish.

Think about the world Southerners inherited in the early 1800s. In the antebellum South, many accepted slavery because there seemed to be no way out of it. The South had followed their “peculiar institution” down into a dark, wicked cavern, where they could only light candles and share blankets to deal with the wretched conditions. Finding a way out was impossible. Freeing the slaves was inhumane—what would they do with no one to feed them and house them? Within this entrenched, imperfect system, people had to live life.

So with this loaded inheritance, many chose to cooperate with life's circumstances. They learned their place in the system and sought to make the most of it. Landowners leveraged slavery to work their land and make a profit. It was all perfectly legal. Matriarchs learned how to run their households, caring for their children and managing the slaves. Merchants engaged in every kind of legal trade. Soldiers followed orders.

Some slaves, meanwhile, became resigned to their lot in life, and cooperated with the system for the sake of personal health and safety.

Of course we can find plenty wrong with the social and economic systems of the American South in the early 1800s. But it seems that most people accepted the system as it was, and made the most of it. They cooperated to their own comfort.

And today, most people cooperate with the system. They don't openly exploit others, but work the system to their own advantage. For some people this works well. Others become frustrated; they continue to aspire and adapt, even if they never accomplish.

Unfortunately this spirit of cooperation can be rather selfish. We work the system for our own advantage, never asking if this system is good, right, or fair. It's just our inheritance. We accept it, so often, without question. If it works for us--or if it might someday work for us--we just accept it.

As this attitude prevails, our world barely and rarely changes. Rather than making the world a better place, we make ourselves better suited for this imperfect world.

Next time
Loaded Inheritance: Resistance