Jim Wallis on the Republican Party, Health Care, and God's Will

A few excerpts from Jim Wallis' recent post.

 Let’s Get Theological on Health Care and Warfare

"The tax cuts that George Bush pushed through the Congress overwhelming benefited the richest people in America....But many Americans haven’t really calculated that the cost of those tax cuts for the rich was literally twice what health care reform is projected to cost. Twice. Yet, there was not even a mention from Republicans, then or now, about the fiscal cost of such enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest people in America...How does that square with the biblical emphasis on the priority of the poor? There is simply no way to justify the habitual behavior of the current Republican party’s clear preference for the rich over everybody else."

 "The largest single government discretionary expense is for the military, for fighting wars. Military spending is also, historically, the most wasteful form of government spending with cost overruns, fiscal abuse, political corruption, and shameful pork barrel interests all standard operating procedures. So why is there a continual refusal from Republicans to apply their concerns about waste, fraud, and abuse about government expenditures to those expenditures? How does that square with the biblical call to peacemaking and the Christian doctrine that is, at least, suspicious of war as the answer to the problems of human conflict, which should either be outright rejected or very reluctantly accepted as an absolute last resort. There is simply no possible biblical mandate for giving the military a blank check as the current Republicans almost always do now."

 "Certainly, there are different and legitimate points of view among Christians and others about how best to fix the broken health care system, and there is no theological mandate supporting only one set of policy options. But the Republican alternative ideas for health care reform would cover only three million more people, unlike the President’s plan which covers ten times that many—30 million people. Again, how is that justifiable from a Christian perspective?"

"But the Republicans are not being truthful here. They are not really against government spending and for fiscal responsibility. They simply think the government should in its tax, spending, and regulatory policies do all it can to benefit the rich, over low- and middle-income people, and to uncritically support the business of war. Again, there is just no way to theologically defend that commitment. Sorry. I am making that as a theological statement and not just as a politically partisan one. Anyone care to provide a theological foundation for the Republican policy preferences for the rich and for war? I would really like to see it."

Losing Our Purpose. The Story of the Life Saving Station

I was taught in college not to used canned illustrations.  Those are illustrations that are in illustration books and used over and over by preachers around the nation.  But this illustration always comes back to my mind.  I love it, and I am breaking my professors rule and using it on Sunday.  The original author is unknown.

The Parable of the Life Saving Station

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was a once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost.

Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little life-saving station grew.

Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea.  So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they re-decorated it beautifully and furnished it as a sort of club.

Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired life boat crews to do this work.  The mission of life-saving was still given lip-service and prevailed in the decorations around the station but most of the members were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the life-saving activities.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin, and some spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club.  Some members insisted that life-saving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the life of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. They evolved into a club and yet another life-saving station was founded.  History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, only now most of the people drown.

Losing my way on my way to the doctor

I was heading to the doctor the other day and got off course.  There was detour after detour, taking me way out of my way, and I eventually had no idea where I was.  I was lost because the path I intended to take was obstructed. 

We can get lost from being who God wants us to be when things in our life don't go as planned.  Sometimes bumps in the road or drastic detours get in our way.  We eventually have no idea where we are and how we got here.  But if we quit seeking we'll never find our way. 

I figured that I had to head west.  I had to look at the sun and determine which direction west was.  At times like that, I wish I was like my Grandpa Nate who always had a compass on his dashboard.  Eventually, heading in the right direction, I found the road I was supposed to have been on in the first place, but I was late to my appointment. 

Another thing I could have done was to choose another car and start following them, not even knowing what their intended destination was.  We can all easily recognize that following any, old car when we are lost is not a good idea because we do not know where they are headed.

As Christians, I think this is one of our biggest problem, and we don't realize how stupid we are being.  We begin to get distracted from our destination.  We will start to look at those around rather than the example of Jesus.  Our critical eye begins to pick apart others on how they aren't who God wants them to be, as if we have already arrived at the destination ourselves.  We get hung up on little, pet doctrines while ignoring the great commands to love God and love our neighbor. 

The key to finding our way is to keep our eye on the sun and follow his direction.  We need to always remain focused on Jesus and His will for our lives.  That will be enough to get us through, even when we feel lost. 

Interactive Sermons, Preaching, and the Role of the Sunday Morning Gathering

A friend sent me a message asking me the following:
What is your take on interactive preaching on Sunday mornings? What I mean is, if you have a question or a comment should you share it during the sermon? I have started to study it more. Again, just curious.
Here was my reply in case you are also wondering about it.

We did it for a while, and I liked it.  As a listener, I have a tough time remaining focused once a preacher has stated something that spurs me down a side road.

On the pragmatic side, I don't think interactive preaching can be done well in a large setting, and we keep growing larger and larger.  We want to be a church of 100, so I believe that we need to start behaving like a church of 100.  When we had interactive preaching, we only had a few people interact.  It was these same people every week who had something to say.  Interactive preaching also hampers the point of the message from getting across.  A preacher should be wrestling with what God wants him to say to the congregation throughout the week.  His week's worth of prayer and seeking God's thoughts should not go out the window because someone else brought up a controversial tangent. 

Another alternative if you want more involvement would be to open the mic up for anyone to share at some point during the service.  I have seen this done and have enjoyed those gatherings.  I have not experienced it regularly, and I would assume that the same people would get up and speak week after week. 

As for history of the sermon, you might want to read a chapter in a book by Frank Viola called Pagan Christianity.  I would have loaned you my copy while you were here if I would have known then that you were interested in this.  It is titled "The Sermon: Protestantism's Most Sacred Cow."  Viola is a house church guy and does not like the sermon as it is today.  He has a lot of good things to say, although he also has a real agenda against sanctuary church.  I also have a love for the church meeting in houses, but that is not what everyone is called to.  Viola makes a good argument that the sermon is not mandated by Scripture and really did not arrive at its current form until the 4th century with the speaking of Augustine and Chrysostom.  He has the faulty logic that since it originated in pagan circles, it is automatically evil, but that is another long discussion for another day. 

The sermon is not a Scriptural mandate.  The purpose of the sermon is to educate people.  If there is a better way to educate, then we need to be willing to discard the sermon and use the better way.  After all, the sermon is just a tool; education that leads to action is the goal. 

The key thing to remember is that the purpose of any education is to lead people to a place where encountering God transforms them.  If we just educate people on grand theological concepts or historical information that have no practical value, then the process of transformation is stifled. Bad education is worse than no education at all because the people in the church then feel they have done something they were supposed to do when all they have done is sat through a lesson unchanged.  Religion is the exact opposite of transformation.  Being educated can easily fall into being a religious ritual void of its power. 

A read through of the book of Corinthians would show that the church was definitely not just one or two people standing up at the pulpit while everyone else was led.  It was definitely more of an interactive experience.  Prophets would get up and share a message they felt on their heart from the Lord.  "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation"  1 Cor 14:26b (ESV).  It would have been a much different experience than what we currently have.  Maybe it is something to strive for.

But here comes the reason why I have a church gathering with a sermon that is not interactive.  It has nothing to do with a scriptural mandate one way or another.  It comes from the realization that visitors are most likely to check out our church and the seeking are likely to come seek God during that one hour on Sunday where we usually have the sermon, and visitors expect to hear a sermon.  That is what they have come for.  As a church, we have interaction with one another and sharing what God has laid on our hearts during our Christian Education time and Small Groups.  Hopefully, that it is also happening in relationships throughout the week. 

As for the visitors, I want to give them what they want in regards to the sermon and not turn them away from our service by making it impermeable to them.  They are coming to hear a message from the Bible.  I want to them to hear about God's grace and His great call on their life to surrender their life to Him and love their neighbor. 
We need to always be reminded that church is not that hour spent together on Sunday morning.  Church is us living our lives together as people surrendered to Jesus.  This gives us the liberty to tweak things during that hour.

Go ahead and give interactive sermons a try if you feel led.  There is nothing wrong with doing that.  Just make sure it is helping the body you are part of achieve the mission they are called to.

Brief Thoughts for the Day

Hopefully, Scott Brown breaking from the Republican party and voting for the job bill will be the end of all the politicians voting the party line.  It's time for the politicians to stop allowing the party to control them and start answering to their constituents

They need to put the public option up for a vote whether or not they think it has enough support.  That way I would know whether to vote my elected officials out of office, but that's exactly the reason they won't do that.  If they don't have to take a stance and only let their opinion be known in backrooms, then they don't need to held accountable. 

Thoughts shaped from the following stories:
Conservatives Turn On Scott Brown Over Jobs Bill Vote: 'Low Life Scum Hypocrite!'
Gibbs: The Public Plan Doesn't Have The Votes

Obama, Health Care Reform, and the Health Care Industry

Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer stated, "It is our hope the Republicans will come together around their plan and post that online prior to the meeting so that the American people have a chance to go look at it... and be thoroughly informed heading into this meeting."

So Obama has released his health care plan and then challenged the Republicans to come up with their own. The problem is that if the Republicans come up with their own, it would look exactly like the Democrats' plan. Then the whole charade would be over. They seem to both be bought and paid for by the corporations. It appears that the policy was written by lobbyists. The health insurance companies and their lobbyists will be celebrating today.

One interesting thing that I discovered in trying to find a poll of how many Americans are for health care reform is that there are no such polls. Please prove me wrong and show me a poll. I would love to see one or some. Rasmussen and Gallup consistently phrase the questions in terms that would make me, even though I want health care reform, say "no." They phrase the question in terms of whether the respondent is in favor of the current proposed reform rather than whether the respondent wants reform. What I find amazing is that 40% of Americans still say "yes" to such a slanted question.

Bring on the reform, just not this reform proposed by Obama.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Beyond Wishing to Dreaming

A message I preached to my leadership class.

There is a difference between a dream and a wish.

I’m using wish in the genie in the bottle sense.  You’re given the opportunity to ask for something and then you just speak it.  Dream is being used in the sense of “aspiration, goal, aim.”  If it is a dream, it should consume us.  It’s what we are working for.  It really becomes the reason for our existence.
    For small business owners, the success of their business is usually their dream.
    For parents, raising their children well is usually their dream.

Now last year, we started praying for our church to be 100 people in size and that people would stop attacking us.  The last one seemed to be answered despite my thinking that it would not be possible.  But on growing to 100, I think we wished it rather than dreamed it.  What would make me say that?
    A dream consumes us. A wish doesn’t change us.
    A dream leads us to action.  A wish is just words.

And the stark truth is that I really haven’t seen much changes in people’s personal ministries outside the gatherings since then; actually, I think I have seen a decrease.  I’ve seen an increase in “it’s the minister’s job” mentality. 

So what would our lives be like if that was a dream we shared?

Tiger Woods said in his apology on Friday:  “Elin and I have started the process of discussing the damage caused by my behavior. As she pointed out to me, my real apology to her will not come in the form of words. It will come from my behavior over time.”  You’ve heard the phrase, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  That’s Elin’s approach to Tiger’s reformation.  And I think that is the way God sees our dreams; we show him our dreams by what we wrestle over in our mind and eventually go after.  Because if we really dreamed what we, in our churchy moments, give lip service to as our dream, then we would be living our lives differently.  The life we lead gives us the church we are living for.  A dream engulfs us; a wish can leave us unchanged.  Let’s make wanting to be a church of 100 a dream rather than a wish.

In two separate conversations this week, I encountered what seemed to be anti “the church being used for evangelism” slants from people in this church.  The thought is that we have to win them to the Lord completely outside of this building.  Where does that idea come from?  I would argue that it is unhealthy and needs to be purged from our thinking.  The church is only a community of believers under the Lordship of Jesus.  Our first and last goal in our mission statement is to be a community.  God established a kingdom, which implies people in relationship with one another rather than just people in relationship with God.  Our life together should be something that helps our church grow, and our church typically gathers inside this building.  I understand that ministry starts outside of this church, but our Sunday morning gathering is one that I hope could be used by each of us as a tool to minister to the lost.  We should readily, and weekly, be inviting people to our gathering.  It’s not that hard.  Friends invite people over to parties, and every week, church should be a party.  An invitation is a good thing; not being invited is a bad thing.  It hurts feelings to not be invited to a party.  Being invited, even if the person does not want to come, is never offensive.  We need to be inviting people to our weekly, Sunday morning party.  If coming and worshiping God is not exciting for us, then I think we’re lost.     

When I was lost and I started to feel that God was pursuing me, I was being invited to church, other worship gatherings, and bible studies.  I remember being moved, brought to tears, and having my heart worked on during those times.  Our gathering needs to be used by us to minister to people.  If not, we should just stop it and take communion during Sunday School because we are just wasting a lot of time. 

If our evangelism does not lead us to asking them to our gathering, it tells me one of two things – either we don’t believe our gathering is that worthwhile.  If that’s the case, we need to make improvements.  Or it tells me that we really still cling to that good old American individualistic Christianity and don’t believe in the value of community.  Those are two ideas we have to destroy.  We need to make sure our church gathering is culturally relevant and we need to bury the idea that Christianity is not about community. 

This church has developed a culture of not evangelizing over the years.  It’s ingrained deeply.  The style of our Sunday Morning Gathering was a sign of that deeper problem.  The way we worshipped in that gathering was culturally irrelevant to those living in this community around us who did not know Jesus.  It was even hostile to some believers, yet alone non-believers.  And so we started to develop thoughts and convinced ourselves that the one hour we gather to sing songs, listen to a sermon, and share in communion was not something for the lost.  That thought can only develop in a church that is worshipping in a culturally irrelevant way.  It can only come about in a church that has not seen the power of God transform life after life during the time in which people take that step to seek him during the gathering.  That one hour on Sunday morning is the time that visitors are most likely to check us out and get an impression of God; it’s most often the time that a hurt person is going to come and seek God.  It’s not our time; it’s God’s time.

The church should be about evangelizing.  That means each individual member in their daily lives needs to be reaching out to the lost to show them God’s love.  And the gathering needs to be something that is culturally welcoming to all and is only hostile in the demands that Jesus makes on their lives.  I think I’m pretty kingdom-minded when I try to evangelize.  If I think a person will fit better in another church or they are already plugged into another church, I don’t make them feel guilty for not coming here.  But if I consistently don’t believe our church would be a good church for people to get plugged into, then we need to change.  I’ve heard that our lack of growth might be God preparing us for further growth.  That means we need to be changing.  If we aren’t, then we are not making use of this time to prepare ourselves for future growth.

The only way our church will grow is if growing God’s kingdom is the dream of each one of us.  Not a wish.  It has to consume us, not just be one area of our life that we pursue.  Now, I don’t expect, although I hope, everyone in the church to be consumed with showing God’s love and bringing people to the Lord, but I expect our leaders to.  And you’re a leader.  I don’t care how long you have been at this church.  You’re willing to get around early on a Sunday morning, read through a book for this discussion, and take the time to come.  That shows me you show a level of commitment that others don’t.  I consider you fellow leaders. 

I try to not preach theologically deep sermons during our Sunday morning gathering; I try to preach relevant sermons to everyday life.  Our whole redesign for what we do on Sunday morning has been done because we want it to be accessible to people who do not yet follow Jesus because that hour is typically when they will come and check us out and maybe even make a decision on whether to follow God or not.  That hour is no longer for the churched.  So when I hear that somebody would like to have more hymns during the Sunday morning gathering, I realize that I have failed to communicate the vision of the Sunday morning gathering well.  That time is not for us.  It’s for us to use in our ministry to others.  If we don’t have people sitting in those pews who need to hear those sermons, then we are wasting our time because none of us in this room need to listen to another sermon.  And each one of you is responsible to minister and get people in those pews.  We need to be living sermons. 

Lyrics to my favorite Christmas Song - Ska La-La-La-La's Snowball Fight

Snowball Fight by Ska la-La-La-La
Well I’m walking in a winter wonderland
With a cold one in my hand
Yeah, I want to be a blessing to someone
God’s given me a gift
Like Nolan Ryan if you get my drift
Today the youth group wants to have some fun

The other sides slow like Eeyore
But I’m bouncing around like Tigger
You’ve got to pick your hiding place
And I wish this tree was a little bit bigger

Now I know
Why God made snow
1-2-3 Let’s Go
It’s a snowball fight
Snowball fight
Snowball fight
Snowball fight

Well I don’t want to miss the mark
But I just hit some bark
It was enough to scare Roberta have to death
If you look behind that shrub
Boy there going to need some deep heating rub
And I know they’re back there
I can see their breath

Now if I hit you in the face
Well I mean it all in love
Cold, white flakes of fun
Sent down from above


Though your sin may be red as scarlet
It will be made white as snow

Tis the season
To lose all inhibition
At Christmas time I just praise the Lord
And pass the ammunition

Now I know
Why God made snow
Now I know
Why God made snow
Now I know (yeah!)
Why God made snow
1-2-3 Let’s Go
It’s a snowball fight
Snowball fight
Snowball fight
Snowball fight

Snowball fight
Snowball fight (hit it!)
Snowball fight (This is going to hurt you)
Snowball fight (more than it is going to hurt me)
Snowball fight
Snowball fight (alley oop)
Snowball fight (Woo! – Launching missile number two)

My dog dying, Health and Wealth, and the Apostle Paul

This week I have looked in the face of death and deterioration. 

My dog, Nafai, has diabetes with endocrinosis.  The vet said that it is a medical emergency and that Nafai should be hospitalized and treated or we should consider putting him down.  In order to decide the time to bring him in, we should choose three things that he loves and when he stops enjoying them, that is the time to put him to sleep.  My dog does not enjoy a whole lot except hanging around us, something he is still doing most of the time.  So we will wait until he doesn’t want to hang out with us, no longer wags his tail happily when we come home, or is suffering too much.  So far, he doesn’t appear to be suffering a whole lot although he is not eating much.  He has gone days without eating.

On Tuesday, Ron, a nice man from our church, and I had a battle with the giant Ash tree in my back yard.  The top half of it is dead and Ron heats his house with a woodburning stove; the two together made it a perfect time to cut it down.  But Ash is huge and has put up a tremendous fight.  We were not able to cut it down with the 16” chainsaw.  Then on Thursday Tommie, another nice man from our church, came over and we fought with Ash for two hours, but eventually Ash fell.

Although I love my dog it will be nothing like losing a friend or close family member.  Losing a loved pet or seeing the decay in the world around us are lesser reminders of death, suffering, and that the things of this world are only temporary, but they are preparation for the greater losses.  And greater losses will come.  Look around.  Everyone we encounter is going to suffer and die, unless Jesus comes first.  Courtney, a nice lady from our church, posted an anonymous quote on Facebook this week: “Don’t worry about life, you’re not going to survive it anyway.”

In some religious circles, where the health and wealth gospel is taught, it is really foreign to talk about suffering and the fact that we suffer is blamed on our lack of faith.  I just cannot come to that view through Scripture.  And you should know from my recent messages that I do believe God heals and helps his people prosper.  But sometimes he doesn’t.  

The Apostle Paul knew suffering firsthand.  He was imprisoned multiple times, received forty lashes less one five separate times, beaten by rods, stoned on one occasion, was in a shipwreck three times, adrift on the sea for a full night and day.  He was not kept safe from danger as he says he faced danger from rivers, robbers, Jews, and Gentiles; he faced danger in the city, in the wilderness, at sea, and from fake Christians.  He toiled through many sleepless night, starving and thirsty, out in the cold without shelter (2 Cor 11:23-28).  His ministry was a ministry of hope, glory, and the power of the Spirit, but it was also a ministry of suffering.

And the writer of Hebrews elaborates on the sufferings of the faithful:
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy— wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.  And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect”  Heb 11:35-40 (ESV).
If you find yourself suffering, you don't need to blame yourself.  Use that pain to draw closer to God.  In many cases, you can't choose whether you suffer or not, but you can choose how you respond to suffering.  The Apostle Paul suffered.  Many great Christians I have known have suffered.  Jesus Himself suffered.  And you will too.  It's part of this fallen world, a fallen world that we strive to bring into line with God's will, but fallen nonetheless.  A fallen world that we suffer in at times while trying to bring God's perfect kingdom into the here and now as much as possible.

What Love is According to the Bible

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" John 15:12-13 (ESV).

"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth" 1 John 3:16-18 (ESV).

Music in Relation to Growth in the Church

Last week, I had a conversation with a good friend who goes to another church, one that is dying, and, as is typical with many dying churches, has only a traditional service. Some have left that church for the one just two buildings down, a church that worships together in a modern way. I told him this story that Jason Kemerly, the worship minister at Christ’s Church at Georgetown in Ft. Wayne, shared with me.
I can tell you that I have been at 3 churches now where we’ve done the Traditional and Contemporary service thing, and I have yet to see the Traditional service ever grow. I have never seen a baptism or a family join during one of these Traditional services. I’m not saying it’s impossible or doesn’t happen, I’m just saying that I haven’t experienced it yet.
As far as a Contemporary (or I prefer to call them “Modern”) services, we had 43 baptisms last year. I have seen great growth in all churches that I’ve been a part of. In the first church I was at, we went from 70 people to over 225 in the modern service. At my 2nd church, we went from 230 to over 400 in the Modern service. Here at Our current church, we’ve gone from 170ish to about 260ish. So I think it is kind of easy to see where the growth is coming.
Modern music is not a magical potion for growth, but it is a sign that a church is trying to be relevant to the culture they are in. A church that is not willing to be relevant to the culture is focused on what they like rather than what is good for the kingdom. And a church full of people focused on their own selfish likes and needs will never prosper.

But here is the persistent dilemma. What is modern today will be out of date in 15 years. If we are going to make a go at being a healthy church in the long run, a church that can pass the baton while still running, we have to be willing to regularly change. We have to create a culture of change.

So I told my friend, that if he wants his church to grow, then he might want to consider modernizing that traditional service. It isn’t that changing from traditional to a modern music style will automatically make churches grow. It’s the change that must happen in people’s hearts in order for them to allow a change of music style. Church must no longer be a ritual. It must not be about us, but about God who is great and about living out His kingdom! The doors must be flung wide open for the people in our community to come in while the church must be welcoming to them.

There is a lot that has to change in a churchgoer’s hearts so that they will allow a change in worship style from one they like to one they don’t like, but that change in heart is necessary for the church to fulfill its mission. If those hearts don’t change, no tweaking of music, no new ministry, nothing will improve that local body, and I fear more churches will die like many of the churches that have refused to change before them because they are focused on themselves rather than God’s design of them being a body built by Him to bring about His will.

Music is just one example, and I hope we don’t get hung up on that one issue. There are so many areas of our church life that God wants us to surrender to him so that he can build us into the body of believers he wants us to be. There are also many areas of our individual lives that we also must surrender to him. A healthy church is like a catch-22. Individuals will usually reach their true potential in God when the church is what God intends for it to be. And the church will only reach its true potential in God when the individuals that are part of it are who God intends them to be. We each have to allow him to change us individually if we want to the church to be what God intends it to be.

John Wesley, the man who the Methodists, Wesleyans, and Nazarenes have sprung out of, said, “Give me 100 men who love God and nothing else, who hate sin and nothing else, and I will change the world.” God is waiting for a people to say, I will do nothing else except what you want me to. I’m all in. Are we willing to be that group of people? Do we believe enough to go all in? Following God is like pregnancy, either you’re pregnant or you’re not. It’s like life; either you’re alive or you’re not. Are we ready to stop building sand castles and snow statues that will melt away and start allowing God to build us into the eternal place he wants us to be?

The Return of Mr. Anonymous - On Military Aggression, Health Care, and God's Will

Recently, an anonymous poster has frequented my political postings and railed against my views in the comments. I previously had an anonymous poster who disagreed with me about the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts.

My thoughts are the same today as they were then.
I appreciate the reply. I just don't see things the same way. As long as you reply in a spirit of love, I don't mind if you continue to reply. For if you are speaking the truth, it does need to get out there despite my thoughts.
Anyway, Anonymous wrote several comments regarding God's will and Obama. You can go there to read them in full because I have not reposted them in their entirety.
I think if it was God's will for us to stop killing people around the world, he would not permit it. Something would cause it to not happen.
God does not always enact His will immediately. There are lots of events and actions that are against God's will that occur daily. God is patient and would rather see us change our ways than to automatically punish us. Just because something happens does not mean it is His will.

Paul wrote to the Romans that God will work all things for the good of those who love Him. It does not say that all things work according to His will. Events are going to happen that are not God's will, but when we experience those sufferings or pain, we need to not lose hope. Especially in the surrounding context of Paul's letter, it means that God will never abandon or stop loving those who are His despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. We know that we are supposed to faithfully follow His will, even if it leads to the point of death. Our physical condition does not determine our spiritual condition.
What would you have us do about the people that are determined to kill American's? Go round them up and put them in jail or rehab? There is such a thing as self defense.
Since our government has begun to define preemptive strikes as self-defense, we can now categorize any aggressive military action as self-defense. It's very convenient that way.

In regards to the military issue, we seem to be coming at it from two different angles. My only concern is to follow Jesus' teachings to love my enemies and turn the other cheek. A person killing Americans has moved into the enemy category and needs to be loved by me. There will always be people in power trying to force their will on others, but my role as a follower of Jesus is to do His will. America will be able to take care of itself without me joining in on acts that would violate my conscience.
Does the Constitution mention anything about the gov't providing healthcare?
The Constitution does not mention health care nor was I stating that it does. I was talking about God's will that we should love one another. Providing health care for each other would be a form of loving one another. Maybe it is something that only the churches should do with money giving willingly rather than the government through tax dollars, but I do not see that happening. If it was happening, we would not be having this conversation. I only know of one church that has paid the health insurance of an individual that was in need and not an employee of the church. I see a lot of people being rejected health care unless it is an emergency treatment.

And a brief message to the anonymous poster:
Why are you reading all of my posts and anonymously commenting on them? We could discuss these things as friends over a meal if you would like. But if you aren't from this area, we can still discuss these things knowing one another.

A Body that Generationally Lasts

Paul wrote, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV)

The Kingdom is about love. The church, or as Paul says “the body”, is to be about building each other up in love.

When we are kingdom builders rather than just building a church for ourselves - when we are people totally surrendered to Jesus rather than religious people just going through the motions, then we will be used by God to bring about his will here on earth. He wants to build us on top of the work he has done through Alexander Campbell, Soren Kierkegaard, John Wesley, Martin Luther, and all of the other faithful people that have lived, or should I say died to themselves while still living, since the time of Jesus - the cornerstone on which his kingdom is built. God builds his kingdom one life at a time.

During some generations, the kingdom has seen significant growth and progress. During others, we can seen darkness and depravity. If you look at the rings on an old tree, you will see that trees grow more some years than others. You can see years where it faced a great fire or drought, and you can see other years where growing conditions were great. It’s all there in the rings. The same is with the kingdom. It has good years and bad years, but good and bad growth are a result of the human hearts that are part of the kingdom rather than an indictment on God’s will. God wants his kingdom to flourish, grow, and transform the world, and he will empower his people to do that if we are willing. He’s patient and is waiting for a group of people to say, “Use us!”

When I think of the kingdom, I typically wonder, “What state am I going to leave the kingdom when I pass on?” There has been a lot of talk lately in Christian publications of passing the baton in churches because the kingdom is not a sprint, it’s a relay. It’s not one person excelling, but people faithfully serving and handing the mission down from generation to generation. Some churches do it well, some struggle to do it but eventually do, and some just die out. At the one church I interviewed at last spring, they were focused on hiring a younger pastor because it was time for them to pass the baton on to remain relevant. And that is one thing we have to always be willing to do. God will raise up new leaders in our midst. Are we the type of people that will be territorial and not let them lead and stifle them? Or will we be the type of people that will empower those who God has called? Are we the type of people who will be unchanging, or will we keep changing methods, while not compromising the gospel, so that we remain relevant to the culture around us?

Safe Except in Case of Human Error

I love Bricker's Hill. Whenever I can I take my two oldest kids there to sled. It's a hill that the local dentist lets everyone in the small town of Antwerp sled on. Dr. Bricker has cleared a lengthy areas of trees on the best sledding hill in town and allows the community to enjoy it. However, a lot of legs and arms get broken at Bricker's Hill every year because some of the kids stray from the proper sledding places and decide to sled down down steep inclines that go through the woods.

The one path, that we called the Demon Drop when we were kids, is probably a 70 degree steep slope. It's insane. And at one point, all you have is about five feet of clearance between the trees. If you make a mistake one way or the other, broken bones become a good possibility for you. I think I only had the courage, or should I say stupidity, to go down it three times in my childhood.

Sadly, the safety at the luge track appears to be about as safe as the locally discovered Demon Drop, but instead of a tree and a kid going 50 mph, they have a steel pole and you get to smash into it going 90 mph. The AP reported on the story. I find the probe findings to be ridiculous.
The International Luge Federation and Vancouver Olympic officials said their investigation showed that the crash was the result of human error and that “there was no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track.”

In a joint statement they said Kumaritashvili was late coming out of the next-to-last turn and failed to compensate. “This resulted in a late entrance into curve 16 and although the athlete worked to correct the problem, he eventually lost control of the sled, resulting in the tragic accident.”

In effect, they are saying that if the athlete cannot correct the problem, the steel pole that is about five feet away is not a deficiency in the track; it's just a consequence of his inability to correct his problems going into curve 16. Shameful! The key to safety is to have it be safe when there is "human error."

From another AP story on the accident:

"I think they are pushing it a little too much," Australia's Hannah Campbell-Pegg said Thursday night after she nearly lost control in training. "To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we're crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives."

I don't think it is any accomplishment to build the fastest track ever if people die from hitting steel poles when they crash going down it. True, I like to see Olympians pushed to the limit of their physical abilities, but that should not mean they die if they fail.

I did not post the photo of the crash here, but if you want to see a picture of how close the steel pole is to the track, it is the second from the top photo here. Beware, the photos below it get graphic.

I guess they are right in saying that the track did not cause the Nodar Kumaritashvili's death. It wasn't a monster out of a scary movie that ate him up. But the lack of foresight and the placement of steel poles did seem to result in his death when he made a mistake.

Castles Made of Sand

Jimi Hendrix wrote, “Castles made of sand melt into the sea, eventually.”

The other day I was spending some productive time watching sand castles being destroyed on YouTube. I found a lot that showed vandals destroying other people’s sand castles. I found some of people destroying their own sand castles, but the real neat ones were those where you could watch sand castles being destroyed by the rising tide. Watching a sand castle meet its inevitable fate from nature is a great reminder, like the snow statues, that we can either be building for ourselves something that will not last or we can build for God something that will be eternal.

Amidst the mean people destroying other peoples sand castles, I found three neat ones. One is a group of vandals destroying an amazing sand castle. That one is just a neat sand castle to see. Another is an impressive castle that was built by a family in which one of the family members decided to record it being destroyed by rising and falling of the tide. The last is one built by two little kids and set to Jimi Hendrix’ Castles Made of Sand. I just liked it.

We’re either building our own kingdom or we are joining in on building God’s kingdom. God intends so much for our life. He wants us to be part of a community that will last well past each one of our lives. Jesus is the cornerstone and foundation for that great spiritual house, but God wants us to be involved in its construction. Peter wrote, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).

Paul wrote that we are to presents ourselves as a living sacrifice. We do that, by doing what Jesus taught; we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. What would our life look like if that is what we were really doing? What would our relationships be like? What would our free time be like? Are we being built into something that will last or are we just building our earthly kingdom, a kingdom that will rot, decay, and just melt away.

Castles made of sand melt into see eventually. We are just building sand castles if all we focus on is ourself rather than on His kingdom. Let’s not build sand castles; let’s build something that will last long past our death on the cornerstone of Jesus

Building Something That Will Last

Last week, Lindsay and I went to Frankenmuth, MI, in celebration of our tenth anniversary and saw some of the neatest snow and ice sculptures. They were awesome.

Although beautiful, impressive, and awe-inspiring, they reminded me that we need to make sure that we are being built into a spiritual house that will last. So often, we spend our t
imes on things that will just melt away. Video games, pointless hours reading the national news, Facebook and other internet addictions, watching television, or reading books does not help us to build God’s kingdom unless we intentionally allow them to be used as such. And some activities just have no room at all in kingdom building. I understand that there needs to be time for rejuvenating yourself, goofing off, enjoying a movie, and just relaxing. That’s not what I am talking about. What is your life focused on? What do you spend most of your time building? Are we really allowing God to do with us what He wills?

To be a Christian means that my whole life is freely and joyfully given to God. Paul explained it, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:14-15). We no longer live for ourselves.

We live in a society that has watered-down the gospel into a religion that is palatable. You can have Jesus and keep your life too. That goes against this passage and so many others in Scripture. Following Jesus is not just about saying a prayer, getting baptized, or any other act of initiation. It's not about getting a fire insurance policy or having your ticket punched for the grand show. It’s about surrendering your whole life, every ounce of your being. It’s about letting him use us to build whatever He wants to build.

A Giant Snow Lizard

Me (I'm about 6'1") and a giant snow sculpture of a lizard. Amazingly awesome.