Was blind, but now I see.

2 : 9 Aug 2003


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    M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai


Mark F. Owens


Table of Contents
Day 1: Serendipity and Sleeplessness Day 2: Post Modernism at a Glance
Day 3: The Challenge and the Call Day 4: Who is this God Anyway?
Day 5: Reality and Expectation Day 6: A Stranger in a Home Town
Day 7: Remember.... Day 8: Perspective is Everything
Day 9: I Love Church Day 10: Lessons from the Animal Kingdom
Day 11: Sleeping In With God Day 12: Following the Hard Way
Day 13: God or gods... Day 14: Image Matters...
Day 15: Walking in the Big Nothing Day 16: What Child is This?
Day 17: Defining Success.... Again... Day 18: A Few Suggestions for Change
Day 19: Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up... Day 20: Fundamental is Not a Bad Word
Day 21: And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor Day 22: Big Mama
Day 23: Message: System Error... Day 24: Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign
Day 25: He Is Risen Indeed! Day 26: What A Pain...
Day 27: Religion to Go? Day 28: What Kind of King?
Day 29: Not Ashamed? Day 30: My Chair is Killing Me...
Day 31: God Lightens Up Day 32: Until I Get There...
Day 33: Priorities First Day 34: Warning: This Column May Save Your Life...
Day 35: Choose Life Day 36: That’s Entertainment
Day 37: Visions in the Night Day 38: How’s Your Love Life?
Day 39: I Have Decided to Follow Jesus Day 40: The New View

* All Bible passages are from the World English Bible, a copyright free translation available on the world wide web.



This book was not my idea. It is the result of a lot of badgering and harassment from a variety of people who say they love me..... or at least, they respect my mind. That doesn’t say much about them, does it?

Actually, what you have in your hand is the best of a series of columns that I have written over the past several years. After I had my mid-life crisis and left my secure, good paying job to enter missionary school I started a family newsletter to keep in touch with our friends.... both of them.

And to fill up all the empty space that our boring lives produced.... (you can only talk about going to class and watching it snow so much....) I began writing The View From Here...

Well, like I said, people kept telling me to write a book.... or to turn my column into a devotional.... and so I have.... What started out as a way for me to force myself to write regularly and express my deepest needs, fears and frustrations is now a 40 day adventure in self-discovery..... I hope everyone is happy!

But seriously, it is my prayer that as you walk with me through my own spiritual journey you might discover a little more about Jesus, perhaps understand church a bit better, maybe even recognize some areas in your life that need attention. I hope so.... And I hope that as you read these scriptures and contemplate these various thoughts that you will understand again just how precious our faith really is.

The idea is simple. Read one View a day for the next forty days and ask the Lord to lead you as you go.... And remember, the journey is the adventure.... don’t miss it by being impatient to “get there” .....

Happy travels,

Mark O.


Day 1 - Serendipity and Sleeplessness

...and hope doesn't disappoint us, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were yet weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man. Yet perhaps for a righteous person someone would even dare to die. But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5: 5 - 8

I went to France and discovered something about myself. I am a Post-Modern thinker.

This kind of revelation only occurs when one has too much time for introspection, coupled with jetlag and sleep deprivation. At least, that is how it happened to me.

I was walking around Paris, alone, waging an internal battle with my Epicurean nature when it first began to dawn on me. You see, I began to realize how relativistic my morals are. There are certain liberties that I disavow, not because they are wrong, but because I am an American with a strong Bible-Belt background. So while I could sit at a sidewalk café and enjoy an espresso, I couldn't sit at the same table and enjoy a glass of wine.

Now certainly drunkenness is Biblically, and therefore morally, wrong. But is it wrong to enjoy a glass of vin with a croissant and fromage at a café in Paris? It's a Post-Modern question! For the Puritan and the Modernist alike, there is no quandary. But for the Post-Modern, it is a classic example of situational ethics, made doubly difficult by the fact that there was no one around to ever know the answer!

Well, this serendipitous moment led to a long, serious contemplation about the origins of my own worldview. What I began to see was that every experience we have and every influence we endure adds to the lens through which we view the world around us. The more layers we have, the more distorted our view becomes.

As I lay in bed, still not sleeping last night (I think... the nights have gotten kind of blurry...) I began listing the major events that I remember from my past. I will try to recreate that list, although I am still awake again... and it is almost 6:00 AM. Jetlag stinks.

I remember: The Vietnam War. Hippies on 10th street in Atlanta. Woodstock (although I didn't really get it at the time...) Elvis and Tom Jones. Apollo 11. Apollo 13. Apollo 15 (the one that nearly fell into the crater... remember?) Kent State. Martin Luther King's funeral. The Beatles. Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnette. Watergate. All the Presidents Men. Voyager's photos from Mars. The Viking Lander on Mars. Star Trek, Star Wars and Close Encounters... all the first time they were out. Gerald Ford's bad golf game. Saturday Night Live with John Belushi and Gilda Radner. The Iranian Hostage Crisis. Billy Beer. The fuel shortage. Pong. Atari. Reaganomics. The Cold War. Glasnost. The fall of the Wall in Berlin.

DuranDuran. New Wave music and skinny ties. Member's Only jackets and parachute pants. The Urban Cowboy look and electronic bulls. The first flight of the Enterprise. The last flight of the Challenger. George Bush, Dan Quayle, Murphy Brown. Desert Shield, Desert Storm, the Stealth Fighter. Ross Peroit. Clinton - Gore, out in four! Make that eight. White Water, Rush Limbaugh and Monica Lewinsky. Tianiman Square, Kosovo, Indonesia.

Add to that: My dad's multiple surgeries and extended recovery. My parent's separation. My parent's reconciliation. My parent's divorce. My brother left home. One crazy stepfather. Puberty. High school. I fell in love. She broke my heart. Leaving home. Walt Hall days.

Jamie ( finally something good!) Fed Ex. Marriage. Cameron. Church. Chelsea. Management. Corey. JESUS! Courier again. Christopher. Management again? Good-bye FedEx, hello Bethany. Paris, alone, searching for answers.....(still awake.... Must be close to 7:00 by now...)

There is my lens... minus a few hundred (thousand?) layers. The point is this; my outlook on life is tempered by these critical (and not so critical) events and influences from my past. I can no more avoid this reality I live in than you can avoid your own! Were it not for my encounter with Jesus Christ, I would be just another aging Boomer living on the edge of despair. As it is, I have finally been forced to admit that I am a Post-Modern Christian, complete with baggage and a predisposition towards self-indulgence.

So what does it mean? I guess it means that my perspective is not as clear as I first thought. But perhaps, as I struggle to understand myself, I will understand better how to reach the multitudes of desperate Post-Moderns who are clinging to some ethereal hope without the assurance that only comes from faith in Christ.

Or perhaps, after I finally get some sleep, I will just delete this tirade and start again. Of course, this experience has already added a new layer to my lens. I am what I am. It's when I really understand that truth that I appreciate the love of Christ and the grace of God all the more. He loves me, because of who I am, not in spite of who I am. Ponder that for a while...

Au Revoir.

Father, thank You for loving me... not as I should be, not as I shall be, but as I am. I am overwhelmed by Your love..... Amen


Day 2 - Post Modernism At A Glance

Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5: 15 - 16

Last night I read "Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut again. Vonnegut is without a doubt America's premier satirist, and I for one love him. His basic premise in "Cat's Cradle" is that the sum of all religion is a lie and science is deadly. Kurt Vonnegut is a Post Modern.

Recently I heard a sermon by a missionary from Mexico regarding our relationship with God. In the sermon, he made the statement that while many theologians might disagree with him on a certain (non-foundational) point, he chose to believe it because it made him feel good. This missionary is a Post Modern.

I recently came out of the closet and revealed that I am a Post Modern. As I have prayed about that realization over the past days I have been comforted by the understanding that it is perfectly okay to be a Post Modern. In fact, for most of us it is inevitable. We can no more avoid it than Jesus could avoid being a first century Palestinian Jew. He was and we are, simple as that.

But what is a Post Modern? What does the term mean? What are the implications of being a Post Modern Christian in a Post Christian culture?

You know, I'm not sure. But for the sake of those whose curiosity is out of control, I will attempt a brief explanation.

To understand Post Modernity, we must look back at the 19th century Modernist movement. This is the worldview that produced Freud, Marx and Darwin. It's distinguishing presupposition was the absence of the supernatural and the nonexistence of God. Modernism gave rise to secular humanism and socialism. To the Modern mind the only things that were real were those things which could be measured and observed. Naturalism was elevated to neo-religion and evolution was the new paradigm for the existence of life including humanity. The concept of Divinity was considered panacea and man was placed into the ranks of the animal kingdom.

The end results of Modernism were two devastating world wars, wide spread famine and violence, genocide, infanticide, Nazism and the Soviet Gulags. By the midpoint of the 20th century, Western culture was growing tired of dealing with the pain and frustration. In the 1960's, the radical left was thrust forward by the Vietnam War, growing civil unrest at home and the decline of the American Empire abroad. With Watergate in the early 1970's, the anti-establishment movement went mainstream and the ultimate demise of the American Dream was in view. From that point on, Western culture would never be the same.

The birth of Post Modernism can really be traced back to the end of WW II. The advent of the atomic bomb ushered in a new age of pessimism and distrust. By the end of the 1970's, nearly every institution once held sacred by the American public had fallen from grace.

Liberal theology had decimated the church, the government was not to be trusted and an ever jaded public began realizing how deeply they had been manipulated by the media during the Vietnam War years.

By the end of the 1980's, even the opposite sex could be deadly and the ravaging AIDS virus seemed to loom like one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the utilization of the first multinational military force in the Gulf War signaled the end of the Modern age and ushered in the Post Modern reality.

Today we explore cyberspace in the privacy of our own homes. Generation X has left the university and entered the work force. Humanism and socialism have been replaced by dualism and pluralism. Political correctness has replaced religion and science as the governing force in morality. As a culture, we have seen the results of faulty reasoning and have chosen to live with it rather than change it. Along with Kurt Vonnegut, the general populace has concluded that religion is a lie and science is deadly.

Our challenge as Post Modern Christians is to engage this culture with the Gospel in such a way that it is received as Good News, not irrelevant news or even bad news. We need grace and creativity, hope and compassion, fearlessness and power to accomplish this task. Above all we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the comfort of Christ's love to keep us going.

I am intrigued by this challenge and pray that God will show me the key to unlocking the hearts of the average guy who is drowning in the ever thickening morass of Post Modernity. One thing is for sure, conventional means will not win my generation for Christ, nor will mass marketing techniques and sales strategies. The A.G. (average guy) is too savvy to fall for that kind of manipulation. So how do we do it?

Again, I'm not sure! But I am convinced that any answer that begins without fervent prayer is certain to fail in the long run.... so I encourage you to pray....

And remember, pray hard, your neighbors life may depend upon it.

Father, please open my eyes to see the world as You see it. Fill my heart with Your compassion. Fill my mind with Your wisdom. Fill my eyes with Your tears. Fill my spirit with Your desires. Assist me, my God, to share with my neighbor Your love for the glory of Your kingdom. Amen


Day 3 - The Challenge and the Call

By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16

I was out walking and praying the other night. And as I was praying, I asked the Lord to reveal to me the key to this generation. I know the challenge which is to communicate the Gospel in such a way that it is perceived as Good news not bad news.

But how? That was my question...

Then the Lord began speaking to me about the message itself. What are we supposed to be communicating anyway? Simply this; Christianity is not about religion, it's about communion with God. The message of the cross is not that we are so bad, so broken, that God had to go to extraordinary lengths to make a way for us. Instead, it is that we are so beautiful and precious that He willingly sacrificed everything just so we could dwell with Him forever. That's good news.

Compare this with the unspoken message proclaimed by the Western Capitalist Evangelical Church Model: "Come join the club and your life will be better. We have programs to meet your every need and exciting entertainment to fill the voids in your free time. Come join us for "worship" where we will manipulate your emotions and tell you what to think, and as long as you tow the party line things will go well with you. Membership dues are only 10% of your annual income and all of your spare time. So come on in, there is room in the club for you..."

Lest I sound too cynical, stop and consider the realities of the situation. Most churches in America today have adopted a capitalist success model. More members, more programs, bigger facilities and larger budgets are the benchmarks of success. We have turned the church into a corporation, complete with CEO's and Human Resource Committees.

Consider as well our target audience. Not Christians living in the Christianeese bubble, but the average guy living a life of quiet desperation, driven by his dreams and passions. Not the frozen chosen but the nameless masses who pursue life, liberty and happiness without hope, purpose or the promise of something more.

And yet, how much of our church service would sound like a foreign language to the average lost Post Modern? How are we communicating the Good News to the world at our doorstep? With mass mailings and events marketing? Friendship evangelism within a group that has few if any non-Christian friends? Fund raisers such as bar-b-ques, car washes and rummage sales? Do we really believe that we are reaching this group that has seen 5,000 hours of commercial advertising by age 25? The fact is, they are laughing at us, and with good reason. Our hypocrisy is evident to all, even though we refuse to acknowledge it.

I am convinced that we must lay aside our formulas and marketing strategies and begin building relationships with the world. The generation that is coming of age desperately wants something that is real. We have the way, the truth and the life. We must learn to facilitate fellowship first between ourselves and Christ and then among the believers, the seekers and the sought. This is the challenge that lays before church today. This is my calling.

I have chosen to walk away from the club. Away from the realm of good ol' boy politics and salvation by committee. For years I have been convinced that there is a better way, and I am now going forth as a pilgrim in search of a church that doesn't look like a church, of a fellowship that truly loves unconditionally, of a body that understands communion.

We all stand and cry over the rejection of Christian values by our culture today. We cannot change it by wringing our hands and building bigger walls around our camps. We can only change it as we intentionally engage the pagan culture next door and become the salt and light that Christ has called us to be.

Jesus was a friend of the sinner and a shepherd to the lost.

I want to be just like Him.

Father, I need courage. I need passion. And I need the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to be made real in me so that I might reach out and make a difference in the lives of my friends, my neighbors, my co-workers, even my family. Father, I need You. Amen.


Day 4 - Who is this God, anyway?

Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6

This past week, I have had two experiences which have left me a little uncertain of the answer to this question. At a moment when my wife and I were becoming frustrated and unsure of our calling, we received a tremendous gift from some old friends that once again renewed our faith (although we still have a half-million unanswered questions...)

Then Sunday afternoon, we received word that the 19 year-old daughter of some other old friends was killed in an auto accident.

And so I here I am, wondering who is this God, who blesses on one hand and allows tragedy on the other? Is it possible to really know Him? Or are we really just fooling ourselves when we think we do? And how do we answer when a victim of "life" asks the same question?

I mean, we can all pull out the worn trite expressions. You know the ones, "God is in control." "Jesus is still on the throne." "God allows nothing to happen to us that we can't handle with His help." "God is good, all the time." But really now, what does it mean?

Can it be that God is so completely beyond our abilities to conceive that it is impossible to really know Him? Who is He?

I have learned not to ask why. God's answer to Job is good enough for me... (where were you when I created the heavens and the earth?) My struggle is not with God's motives or purposes. I simply want to know Him as He really is, not as the Galactic Slot Machine or the doting Grandfather in the Sky. But the fact is I don't really know Him at all (even when I think I do...)

I am reminded of the disciples on the boat when Jesus calmed the storm. They asked themselves, "What manner of man is this?" As I stand poised between the storms of life, I wonder what manner of God is this Whom I serve?

About now someone will say, "Just keep your eyes on Jesus." Good advice, but which Jesus? The one who let His dear friend die to prove a point or the one who chose to teach in parables so that no one really understood Him most of the time? The truth is, Jesus Himself is an enigma. Jesus who heals the man born blind and curses a fig tree..... if you say you really understand Him, you are kidding yourself. You may accept Him as Lord and Savior. You may gladly enter into His covenant. But understand Him? I think not. He did not intend to be understood any more than the Father intends us to understand Him.

So, Who is this God, anyway?
Obviously we do not have the same perspective as God.
We are not God (no matter what Shirley McLain says...). But what do we really know about Him?

God made us and everything else.
God loves us, and sent His Son to prove it.
God forgives us, even when we don't deserve it.
God has our best interest in mind all the time, no matter what.
God is love and mercy and grace.
God is strength and power and glory.
God is sovereign.
God exist outside of temporal reality.
God is Spirit.

In my heart I know that God desires to reveal more and more of Himself to me. That is both comforting and scary. In the end, I wonder of it is a pointless question. I guess the thing that frustrates me most is the fact that I'm not sure I have the nerve to wrestle with it long enough to find out. Jacob's blessing cost him a great deal of pain.

So tonight I am not content with traditions and television ads. I do not desire easy answers or comforting quotes. I do not want to pick and choose Bible verses in an attempt to appease my curiosity. I do not want to know all about God. I want to know Who He really is.

And I refuse to be satisfied with generic clichés and Christianese balderdash.

Father, would you please reveal Yourself to me today? I want to know You better. I long to walk more closely with You. Lord, would You step near and satisfy my curiosity? Amen.


Day 5 - Reality and Expectation

As therefore you received Christ Jesus, the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, even as you were taught, abounding in it in thanksgiving. Be careful that you don't let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. For in him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power; Colossians 2: 6 - 10

Recently I have been thinking a lot about expectations.

We all come to faith with certain preconceived ideas and presuppositions about what is and what isn't normative, correct and proper.

For example, the charismatic believer will expect extended altar calls and certain displays of "Holy Spirit" evidences. The Orthodox believer will expect intense aestheticism and specific symbols and liturgies. The Roman Catholic believer (gasp!) will expect familiar structure and form. The Protestant will expect sermons built around specific doctrines and hymns written to support specific theological positions. Southern Baptists, United Methodists, Episcopalians, United Pentecostals, Independent Free Speech, African Methodist Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Mennonites, Amish, Salvation Army, Uptight Free Will On Fire Holy Ghost Unquenched Brotherhood of the One True Jesus, etc. all have certain things that make them who they are, and we all fall victim to our own cultural and familial heritage.

And in steps Jesus Himself, leaving in His wake the ruins of our presuppositions and self-induced idealism. Jesus simply refuses to be formulated, formatted or figured out. He remains an enigma, no matter how well we feel that we understand Him.

Jesus made a habit out of ruining peoples preconceived notions about the nature of the Messiah. He also wreaked havoc with the interpretation of the Law of God and with the human concept of the Divine Nature. Every where He went, He left a wake of controversy and scandal.

And He continues to do the same thing today.

I am convinced that it is a very dangerous thing to become comfortable with who we believe Jesus to be. Certainly He is the Son of God. Yes, He is the Savior of man and the Good Shepherd for the lost. But when we attempt put Jesus into a box, He does something so unusual and unexpected that we have to scramble to redefine Him.

One area where we are prone to fall is religion. Dogmatism can be a very dangerous and damaging thing. More pain has been self inflicted by the Body of Christ through a failure to extend grace to one another than in any other way.

Certainly we must denounce heresy at all cost. There are essential doctrines that we must agree upon to remain Christian. The Apostle's Creed is the very foundation upon which the Church Universal must stand or face assimilation and even possible annihilation. On these basic principles we must stand and never move.

However, there is a lot of room for difference and uniqueness within the Body. When one group dogmatically stands upon certain forms or theological principles as the "only way", they miss a very important point. Jesus is the Way, not theology.

Our salvation is predicated by our faith in Christ alone! If good theology is essential to salvation, then a lot of our fathers in the faith are roasting right now. (Go read Origen or Augustine if you don't believe me.)

The truth is, men wise and not so wise have been wrestling with this faith for 2000 years now, and there are some things no one really understands yet. In fact, I doubt I will ever grasp the reality of regeneration and the indwelling of the Spirit until I see Jesus face to face. And yet, I know it is true, and so I choose to believe.

As we continue this journey of discovery I encourage you to take a look at your own preconceived ideas about faith, religion and Church and decide to extend grace to those who worship differently, or who hold to different theological positions, or who choose to wear funny looking hats, or whatever. No matter what you believe about Jesus, He is much, much more than you think He is. And thus the Church, His Body, is bound to be much more than our small minds can possibly conceive.

Expect the unexpected with Christ, it is the only safe route I know.

Jesus, I love You. Help me to set aside my own ideas of who You are and how You are supposed to be, and let me instead come to You on Your terms.... Change me, Lord, so that I might really know You in Your glory, Your power and Your love. Amen.


Day 6 - A Stranger in a Home Town

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

I was back in my hometown for a day last week. As I drove around, I was struck by the fact that although everything looks the same it also looks very different.

What was once Mr. Doughnuts is now a Subway. What used to be a Lum's is now an adult book store. What was once a Shrimp Boat is now a car audio store. The buildings retain their original form but they are not what they used to be.

Even the street names have changed. Cherokee St. is now Windy Hill Rd. as is Jones Shaw Rd. I suppose Jones Shaw wasn't around to complain.

There are traffic lights where there used to be stop signs and subdivisions where there used to be horse farms. Four lanes where there used to be two and pavement where there used to be dirt. It all looked so familiar, and yet, it was all so foreign.

As I was driving back down the interstate noticing all the changes along the way I was struck by the realization that this is how we as Christians are supposed to feel. Once we step out of the world and into the Kingdom we are supposed to feel like pilgrims and sojourners, not local residents. What was once familiar and comfortable should become almost unknowable to us.

This is a real test of our growth as disciples. When you think back to your life of years past does it seem real to you? Or do you, like me, somehow see that old man as an unforgettable stranger who shares memory space with your head?

Can you easily recall the emotions and desires that drove you? Or do you scratch you head in wonder at the sinful life you chose to live? Could you go back, or are you so firmly established on the narrow path that to turn aside is unthinkable? Are you being honest with yourself?

The truth is, we should never feel at home here because when we become His we move our citizenship. We should not be comfortable with the moral erosion that goes on around us because we are called to a higher lifestyle. We must never choose to compromise our faith because our faith is the only reality we possess. Jesus is real life, everything else is just practice for heaven.

There are a lot of things I miss back home; Woolworth's, Dixon's Bakery, the Big Apple grocery store, the Japanese garden at Cobb Center, etc. And it's true, you can't go back home again. So I just look forward to getting home for good.

Father, help me keep my eyes on home. Amen.


Day 7 - Remember...

Now a vessel full of vinegar was set there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop, and held it at his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished." He bowed his head, and gave up his spirit. John 19: 29 - 30

Lazarus was alive again.

The commotion in the temple had yet to die down and the dust had barely settled in the streets of Jerusalem after Jesus had entered in riding a donkey's colt. In fact, the trampled palm branches were still lying forgotten on the roadside.

The remnants of a Passover meal were still to be seen in a certain upper room, where the disciples of Jesus had experienced humility, confusion and worry of betrayal. The whispered, "Is it I?" still hung heavy in the air around the table where He had been reclining.

Thirty pieces of silver lay in the floor of the High Priest's counsel room, and Judas Iscariot was hanging in a tree by his own hand.

Peter was in hiding, desperately trying to come to terms with his own cowardice and failure. Most of the others were there as well, sitting in the gloomy silence brought about by the staggering events that had so unexpectedly unfolded.

Throughout the Palestinian countryside, the echoes of "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" continued to roll, although in the gathering gloom many of those who had been in the crowd were beginning to suspect that they had made a terrible mistake.

John and the women, including Mary, His mother, watched in horror as the Roman soldiers callously drove the cruel spikes through His wrist and ankles and lifted Him up on a wooden cross that was stained with the blood of it's countless victims.

In Hell, Satan and his minions danced with delight, howling with laughter as the Pharisees mocked Him and the crowd taunted, "He saved others, let's see Him save Himself."

In Heaven, the angels stood in silence, as they watched their Lord and Leader suffer for the very ones who were mocking, taunting and hiding. In their eyes there were flames and their hands were laid upon their swords awaiting the command to descend and put a glorious end to the horrible spectacle. The command never came.

And in a second planned upon from the very beginning of creation itself, the Father laid the debt of sin upon His Son, and for one incredible and heartbreaking moment, He turned His back upon the One whom He loved most of all. How His Spirit must have shuddered when He heard the Son cry out, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?"

Then, as all of Creation looked on, He cried out, "It is finished!" and gave up His Spirit.

Three days later, His tomb was to be discovered empty, and after appearing to His disciples, the word would be spread that He had conquered death itself and risen again, just as He had predicted. Faith in His resurrection would be the cornerstone of a new religion that would literally turn the world upside down.

No bunnies, no colored eggs, just a bloody cross and an empty tomb and a certainty that when He cried, "It is finished!" it truly was.

Lord Jesus, what can I say to thank You for Your sacrifice? What can I give to repay You for our redemption? What can I do to prove our love for You? What do I have that You could desire except my heart, my soul and my life? Take them all, they are Yours. Amen.


Day 8 - Perspective is Everything

But you, beloved, keep building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. Jude 1: 20 - 21

I'm too busy.

Every week it seems I have more things to do and less time in which to do them. I want to spend more time in prayer and meditation, and instead I seem to spend more time in activity and motion.

I wonder what would happen if God ever got too busy to deal with us?

I guess first we would notice that our prayers, however quick they might be, would never get answered. Then we might realize that we just weren't too concerned about our failures and shortcomings anymore. Before too long, we might even fail to see the injustice and suffering all around us, and embrace slogans like "Everyone has their own problems, don't bother me with yours."

Then we might see some bizarre natural phenomenon. Stars would no longer hold their courses, the oceans would cease their ageless patterns and the winds would no longer blow in familiar ways.

Plants and animals would no longer be in submission to man, and the earth itself would begin to fall apart as gravity lost it's effectiveness.

Of course, if these things began to happen, we would immediately begin searching for God, crying out for Him to rescue us. In fact, we often turn to Him when everything is crashing down around us, don't we?

But what if, instead of hearing us and helping us, God said, "I'm sorry, I have other things to do today. Do the best you can without Me and I'll get to it when I can."?

How do you think God feels when we answer Him that way?

Naturally, we have plenty of good excuses and rationalizations for our busyness and lack of commitment. But have we ever stopped to consider the fact that if we fail to spend time with the Lord, then we cannot possibly be connected with Him.

And if we fail to connect with Him, we cannot possibly hear His voice.

And if we don't hear His voice, we can't possibly know what He wants us to do.

And if we don't know what we are supposed to do, we can't possibly walk in the good works which He has prepared for us.

And if we don't do those works, nobody will, because He is depending on us to be His ambassadors to the lost world.

Doesn't that make prayer and meditation seem a bit more important? Are they important enough to supersede some of our other activities?

Can we afford to be too busy?

Lord, I confess that I am too busy doing things that really don’t matter. I have allowed “life” to control my actions rather than allowing You to have control of my life. Help me to put away these foolish things that keep me from being obedient to Your word. Amen.


Day 9 - I Love Church

For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all given to drink into one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12: 12 - 13

I feel compelled to attempt to clarify my position concerning church. I realize that my occasional ranting might lead one to think that I am anti-church. Let me state emphatically that I am not. In fact, I love Church.

However, I do have a problem with the Christian Philanthropic Society, which is what many local churches amount to in the long run.

Ask yourself this question, if you took away the buildings and the programs, what would your church look like? How much of your identity as a church member is wrapped up in the activities which occur within the walls of the church facility? If stripped of "doing" church, how much "being" church would remain? Can you see the predicament?

Because our culture is process driven and result oriented, we tend to measure success in terms of production. Church therefore becomes successful only when we collectively do enough good things. For example, growth in attendance and giving equals a greater missions budget, which means that as a body we are increasing our financial support of X number of missions programs, thereby helping to expand the Kingdom of God. We feel good about our church because it is doing so much, and it makes us proud to be a part of such an important player in the Kingdom.

Now most of us, being good Christians, would never use such blatant language to describe this reality. Never the less, the reality is there, and as the Body of Christ we need to be willing to admit it.

Please don't misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with increased attendance or missions giving. These are natural and important parts of God's plan for His Church. The problem I see is that we miss the blessing of being the Body because we are so caught up in "doing stuff for God". And the minute we feel that we have achieved greatness in the Kingdom because of what we do, or what we give, or what we sacrifice, or what we know, learn or teach, is when we fall into the sin of arrogance and pride

Yes, I used the "S" word. That is what it is.

We need to understand that God does not need us to do anything for Him. God invites us to join Him and receive the blessings of obedience, but we are not indispensable to God.

There is an old English word for the church, Kirk. It literally means the Body. I love the Kirk. The Kirk is people not buildings or programs.

It is said that more can be accomplished for the Kingdom with a big church than with a small church. I disagree. I believe more can be accomplished for the Kingdom by one member of the Kirk on his knees than by all of the mega-churches in North America combined. God is not impressed by our collective buying power. He wants our hearts.

I personally dislike big churches. Regardless of how friendly and "on fire" they are, I tend to feel lost in big crowds, and I believe more can be done to reach the lost around us with a decentralized horizontal church growth model than with the large centralized vertical growth model. That is my opinion for what it is worth.

I know many of you are part of big churches and you love them. I am glad. However, let me issue a word of caution; don't go to church because it meets your needs. Church is not about us, it is about God. We have allowed too much of our Western Consumerism to encroach upon what belongs to Jesus Christ.

Bible clubs, day care centers and Christian schools are good things. Music programs, covered dish suppers and Bible studies are good things. Small groups, special speakers and multiple worship services are good things. But they have one thing in common, they are all "things". Consider your church without all of the "things" and how healthy is the Kirk?

It's something to think about.

Father, help me to see beyond the walls, the programs and the worship services, and see instead Your living Body. Lord, if there are “things” that I have loved more than You help me to see them and repent. Jesus, cleanse Your bride beginning with me. Amen.


Day 10 - Lessons from the Animal Kingdom

Jesus said to them, "Have you understood all these things?"
They answered him, "Yes, Lord."
He said to them, "Therefore, every scribe who has been made a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a householder, who brings out of his treasure new and old things." Matthew 13: 51 - 52

Bonehead died.

He was the blue gill bream that my younger boys and I caught at the pond down the street and brought home several months ago....

He was quite a fish, too..... Once he adjusted to living in the aquarium, he seemed to be perfectly content... In fact, I think he liked to watch people... When ever you walked into the disaster area known as "the boys room" he would swim up and stare at you through the murky waters of his home... and follow you as you walked around....

He survived several changes of water.... he survived the cat, Tiny, who last Spring ate the tadpoles we were trying to raise.... (she loved to watch Bonehead as much as he liked to watch people...)

But alas, this morning I waded into the cluttered mess and saw him, poor Bonehead, lying on the bottom of the tank... dead as a doornail....

To begin with, we thought we had starved him to death... (because Daisy, one of our four mutt dogs had eaten his entire package of Tetramin fish food a few days ago..... and we had been feeding him white bread....) but when I went out and cleaned his tank, I discovered several days worth of uneaten food mixed in with the gravel.... and then I knew what had happened...

You see, when we first caught Bonehead, we had a jar of Betamin fish food left over from the unfortunate experience of the Siamese Fighting Fish who lived for two days.... (but that's another story...) And so, that was what he had been eating. Well, after Tiny knocked that bottle of food off the shelf, and Daisy ate it... we went out and I bought a DIFFERENT KIND of food!!!!

And Bonehead apparently wouldn't eat it..... and subsequently starved himself to death....
I guess "Bonehead" was an appropriate name, after all.....

But as I was cleaning up the aquarium, it occurred to me that many Christians are a lot like Bonehead.... We get so used to church being a certain way, that if we were faced with change or die, we would probably die....

I'm not sure why we worship our order of worship, or why we believe our traditions are inspired by the Holy Spirit, but we do.....

And this is as much a problem for "contemporary churches" as it is for "traditional churches" and even "liturgical churches"..... we all love the way we do church..... (as I told my son, who is growing a bit tired of hymns.... every church has 20 songs that they love to sing..... and they really aren't interested in expanding their selection...) even the "Pentecostal churches" know how to speak in tongues at the appointed time......

And we are all familiar with the last words of the church, "It's never been done that way before"....

But think about it.... what if we had to eat grits at every meal every day...... would we be happy? Even chocolate cake would get old after a while.... So why are we happy with the same thing done the same way week after week after week after week...... Why not collect the offering first thing.... or have greeting time after the third song instead of the first song..... why not move outside on a beautiful Spring day... just for the fun of it.... what's wrong with variety? I mean, if you've read your Bibles lately, you may have noticed that God rarely does the same thing the twice..... and He never does anything in the exact same way.....

So why should we?

I guess my big question is, "Why is predictable better than interesting?"

Well, I have had enough! This Sunday I'm going to spice it up! I'm going to sit in the big chair on the left instead of the big chair on the right.... and I may even pray before I read the announcements!!!!

And how about you? Would you rather be like Jesus or like Bonehead?

Lord, I readily admit that change makes me nervous. But I also know that while You are unchanging You are never static. Help me to face the inevitable changes of life with grace. And give me a heart that desires the new as well as the old. Amen.


Day 11 - Sleeping In With God

Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me. John 17: 20 - 23

I woke up the other morning being cuddled by a four year old and licked by a puppy at the same time. I, of course, looked like I always do at that time of day, and my breath smelled like it always does at that time of day. I realized it took an awful lot of love to want to be too close to me before I had showered and brushed my teeth.

In fact, if there is an easy definition of unconditional love, it has to be the love received from four year olds and puppies.

Somehow, as we "mature" we lose that ability to love without reserve. Heck, my morning breath even offends me sometimes, and I can't even love myself until I get to my toothbrush!

But shouldn't we love God the way my son and my puppy love me? Shouldn't we want to get close to Him, even when He seems a bit overwhelming, or perhaps untouchable? What stops us?

Could it be that we are afraid of Him? Or are we so jaded by our cynical points of view that we assume He can't really want us to get so close? And how does one snuggle with God, anyway?

Well, I think it has to begin with our desires. My son just loves to get into my bed and be close to me. I'm warm and getting softer by the month, and he feels secure when he is with me. And my puppy thinks I am, well, a god or something. (Do puppies really think?)

The point is they expect my reaction towards their affections to be receiving and reciprocal. And we should expect the same thing from our Heavenly Father.
So go ahead, get close to God. Love Him without reserve and without regard to your own preconceptions. I suspect He would rather lie in bed with you curled up in His arms every morning than to listen to your long list of complaints, illnesses and wants every night.

And I suspect we would get more out of our relationship with Him if we just spent time being with Him and loving Him unconditionally. What do you think?

Father, I crave intimacy with You, but sometimes You frighten me. Other times I feel so insecure that I doubt Your love. Teach me how to sit quietly in Your arms and soak in Your affection. Amen.


Day 12 - Following the Hard Way

"Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?' "The King will answer them, 'Most assuredly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' Matthew 25: 37 - 40

We Christians use some very pretty words in our worship services and our sermons.

Words like grace, mercy, forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, restoration, love..... But how often do we actually display those words with our lives and not just our lips?
I wonder....

We say that we want to be like Jesus, but do we really? After all, Jesus came to serve the sinful. He chose to disregard His reputation and to clothe Himself in humanity. He had a habit of speaking the truth even when it wasn't popular. He never backed away from the diseased, the demonic and the despised. He loved unconditionally even when He was misunderstood. He chose death over compromise, humility over power, compassion over condemnation....

And He had genuine affection for the prostitutes, the publicans, the adulteresses, the tax collectors, the lepers, the poor, the dispossessed, even the common fishermen...
In fact, in the Gospels the only people Jesus seemed to lack patience with were the self-righteous religious men who sought to preserve their reputations and traditions at the expense of the lost and the less fortunate.... And I wonder, in spite of all our pretty words who do we resemble more?

You know Jesus taught some very hard things, but none more difficult than what He teaches in the 25th chapter of Matthew.....

For it is there that He tells us that He is the homeless beggar who comes to our door naked, hungry and outcast.... He is the convict who sits alone in prison without friends and without hope..... He is the woman who lies in a hospital bed dying of AIDS with no one around to bring comfort or encouragement.... He is the orphan, the widow and a multitude of the nameless victims of life that pass beneath our feet every day as we rush to beat the clock and store up our earthly treasures for all to see....

And Jesus said that if we fail to feed the beggar.... if we fail to bring hope to the convict.... if we fail to offer comfort to the diseased... if we turn our backs on the multitude of people who wander through this life lost and desperate..... then we also fall short of His kingdom... Because in order to love Jesus we have to love them, too.... (And real love is demonstrated, not confessed....)

So I challenge you.... The next time you are forced to choose between reputation or righteousness..... be like Jesus.... The next time you must choose between rejection or redemption.... be like Jesus... The next time you must decide between condemnation or mercy.... be like Jesus....

Because if you can't see Jesus in the unlovable... you may never see Him at all.....

Lord Jesus, I have fallen short of Your demands. I have refused to be compassionate. I have turned my back on the needy. I have thought more of myself than I have of others. I have judged harshly and have failed to love. Forgive me of these sins, and restore me, oh Lord. Because I know that in my failure I have injured You. I am sorry. Amen.


Day 13 - God or gods....

We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5: 19 - 21

For the past few days, I have been reading the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles. It is a fascinating study in failure. Many of the kings of Judah began their reign walking with God, only to end up falling away after He had blessed them. Others turned away from Him completely and were total apostates, suffering violent and painful consequences as a result.

I am amazed at how quickly an entire generation of Israelites would turn away from the Lord and follow the pagan practices that surrounded them. Regardless of how He displayed His might or how richly He blessed them, they seemed ever ready to embrace the idolatry of their neighbors.

It would appear that it is easier to follow local customs than it is to follow God. Maybe that explains why the Church seems to have lost its effectiveness. There are too many idols in the house of God.

Protestants have always been quick to point a finger at the statuary of the Roman Catholics and call them idols. The Western church even fought a brutal war against the Eastern church over the use of icons, calling them idols. Yet I have observed that even within the hallowed halls of Modern Evangelicalism there are (gasp!) idols to be found.

An idol is any thing that takes attention away from Jesus. For many congregations, music has become an idol. Worship forms, communion traditions, pew cushions.... All of these things have become idols, because they become more important to us than honoring and following Christ in simple obedience.

Outside of the church, our Christian lives are filled with the idols of our age. How many hours do we spend in front of the "one eyed god" known as television? How many idols are parked in our driveways? How many idols are in our various retirement accounts?
Based upon the focus of our leisure time, who gets the majority of our worship, God or some god?

I am afraid that we have become so good at rationalizing our abhorrent behavior that we don't even recognize the idols we so willingly worship. The god of Technology, the god of Comfort, the god of Security, the god of Success, the god of Self-Worth, the god of Pleasure, all of these and more seduce us away from the One True God and we don't even know it.

The seduction of the false gods is so subtle that I fear it has become a cancer that will only be removed by radical measures. And radical measures are painful.

So I am challenged to examine my heart and to repent of my spiritual adultery. If we are serious about walking in intimacy with Christ, it is the necessary first step.

Are you with me?

Father, reveal the idols in my life and give me the power to destroy them. Renew my passion for purity and forgive me for loving the world more than I have loved You. Amen.


Day 14 - Image Matters..

He entered again into the synagogue, and there was a man there who had his hand withered. They watched him, whether he would heal him on the Sabbath day, that they might accuse him. He said to the man who had his hand withered, "Stand up." He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? To save a life, or to kill?" But they were silent. When he had looked around at them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their hearts, he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored as healthy as the other. Mark 3: 1 - 5

My son went to his first formal dance the other night. As his mother and I stood admiring him in his dress shoes, black slacks, white shirt, tie and navy jacket we couldn’t help but admit that he is growing up... fast...

And he has become a really good looking young man.... especially in those clothes....

Of course, he hated those clothes... The shoes hurt his feet, the tie choked him, the navy blazer fit like a straight jacket..... just getting dressed in them was an ordeal of the soul for him. And as we ooohed and ahhhed at his appearance he just shook his head in disgust.....

You see, while we though he looked great.... he felt like an idiot. And to make matters worse, as I was driving him to the dance listening to him complain about the shoes and the chafing collar I told him, “Welcome to conformity....” (he made some kind of rude comment that a father will tolerate from his oldest son when no one else is around..... I just laughed at his predicament)

Of course he had a great time at the dance..... and of course, as soon as we pulled out of the parking lot for home he began stripping off those clothes swearing that he would never wear them again.... but he will.... conformity will demand it...

You know, I wonder how many people stay away from our churches because they can’t stand to wear the clothes? I wonder how many people are just like my son.... and they try the clothes on but never feel comfortable enough in them to keep them on.... And are we guilty of expecting people to conform to our image of what a Christian is supposed to look like before we allow them to be a part of our family?

Do we expect people to “look right” before we love them?

Jesus never did that..... As you study the Gospels one of the things you discover is that Jesus was never a slave to convention. He simply didn’t care how it was “supposed to be done”.... instead He always did things His way..... a controversial form of behavior that eventually caused Him a bit of trouble..... namely a cross in a garbage dump....

And when you look at His example it almost seems that Jesus went out of His way to offend the religious order of His day.... He picked grain on the Sabbath.... He healed people on the Sabbath.... He didn’t wash His hands the right way before eating.... He dined with unclean sinners.... He touched lepers and allowed the touch of prostitutes.... He even created a ruckus in the temple...

And I bet He never wore the “right” clothes to church, either....

So here is the challenge....

Instead of desiring others to conform to our image of what is respectable, or reverent, or “right”.... we need to strive to be conformed to the image of Christ Who chose to disregard the expected and the acceptable in order to demonstrate the love of God which transcends such worldly things as popular fashion and human tradition.....

And the next time your tie is chafing your neck or your control-top pantyhose have you in a bind... remember.... Jesus never wore such things.... and He never said that we had to wear them... and if you choose to suffer for the sake of conformity it’s your own fault..

I wonder if I could get away with preaching in blue jeans this Sunday......

Lord, open my eyes to my own foolishness. Where I have been as a Pharisee let me become instead like You. Teach me how to love unconditionally and to accept others where they are, knowing that only Your Holy Spirit can make real and lasting changes in people. And Lord, change me if I need it. Amen.


Day 15 - Walking in the Big Nothing

He said to all, "If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for my sake, the same will save it. Luke 9: 23 - 24

How many times have you been swept away by the relentless surge of life?

How often have you felt as if your tenuous grip on your daily situation was slowly but surely slipping?

When was the last time your self confidence was shattered by the sudden realization that you really had no idea what was happening in your life, much less why?

Have you ever chosen to live in the midst of uncertainty rather than in pursuit of security?

The truth is, the Christian walk is filled with the unknown. It is a continual step into the Great Nothing of tomorrow. Jesus assured us that our life in Him would be filled with strife, persecution, self denial and hardship. He demands that we willingly sacrifice comfort and achievement to His greater agenda, which is to glorify God through our lives.
We all find it difficult to live with the tension of not knowing. We all have difficulty walking behind Jesus, having no clear view of the road ahead. And yet, it is only when we surrender our lives to Him that we begin experiencing the blessings of obedience.

So why do we balk at the chance to obey?

Could it be that we are so concerned with maintaining the illusion of self control that we are willing to sacrifice not only the blessings of obedience, but suffer the consequences of disobedience rather than relinquish our hold on life?

I have been learning (sometimes not so quickly...) how to trust the Lord and obey Him, even when His orders make absolutely no sense. This is the essence of discipleship.
If Jesus is indeed Lord of your life, how is His Lordship being expressed in your daily walk? What tangible evidence of obedience can be seen in your day to day decisions?
How do you know you are walking with Him?

I want to encourage you to take some time and reflect on your walk with Christ and determine in your heart again to follow Him, even when the road ahead seems blank.

You may be challenged but you will never be sorry.

Father, teach me how to trust You so that I might be an obedient servant today and always. Amen.


Day 16 - What Child is This?

The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

I love Christmas. I love the music, the lights, the meals, the traditions, the gifts, the excitement of the children.... I love everything about it. Of course, we all realize that Christmas is about Baby Jesus lying in the manger.... visited by shepherds and wise men... announced by angels and the prophets of old. But how many of us have ever taken the time to really consider Who Jesus was and is today?

Please allow me the opportunity to enlighten or remind you of a few important facts....

Jesus is the Word of God. He is the pre-existent, coequal and eternal Godhead from Whom all of creation emits.

Jesus is the Light of the World, Who came, not to bring judgment, but grace and truth to mankind.

Jesus is the Son of Man. The literal manifestation of God made flesh. He is the Man-God as well as the God-Man. Jesus lived, and in fact, He lives today... in the flesh!

Jesus is the King of the Jews. He is the Messiah of Israel, heir to the throne of David and ultimate ruler of Zion.

Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed Servant Who came to suffer in great humility, die in agony and rise in victory so that we could be reconciled with God.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, Who came to seek and save those who were lost, leaving behind the many to pursue the few, and willingly laying down His life for the lives of those who would believe and follow.

Jesus is the Savior of all, who paid the price so that all of mankind....white, black, yellow, red, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Humanist, Pagan, etc. etc. could have peace with God. The salvation of Jesus is universal and knows no barriers of ethnicity, economics or geography.

Jesus is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He is Lord of the believer and the unbeliever, of Kings and shepherds, wise men and fools.

And the faith that gave birth to the Holiday demands more than a superficial agreement with a system of beliefs, but indeed requires all that we are each and every day of the year.

Father, thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to save us. What would we do with Him? Amen.


Day 17 - Defining Success.... Again..

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can't serve both God and Mammon.” Matthew 6:24

What is success?

Lately I find myself wrestling with this question, because it really drives everything we do...

If success is financial prosperity we need to be creating ways to make more money and buy more things. If success is notoriety and fame we need to be searching for ways to promote ourselves. If success is influence we need to be marketing our ideas and inventing clever new ways of infiltrating the public psyche. If success is power we need to apply our efforts and resources to gain entrance into the world of politics.

And if true success is a combination of these things then we really have our work cut out for us.....

Now obviously what I have described is the world's definition of success.... these are the things that every Senator, rock star and business mogul seeks after and fights to attain...

And then there is Jesus....

You know, by every earthly standard Jesus of Nazareth was a complete failure....

He came out of no where to inspire a great popular movement of the people but He couldn't maintain it for very long.... The people loved Him one day and hated Him the next.... He challenged the political and religious system of His day and lost... and in the end the unholy alliance of Rome and the Temple had Him executed as a common criminal....

He was betrayed by one of His closest followers, and even His most intimate friends deserted Him in His final hours... He died penniless and unnoticed (except by a small group of women....) Now that's what I call success....

If the story had ended there we would have never heard the name Jesus..... but it didn't.... because this very same Jesus who suffered and died on a cross on Friday walked out of the grave alive again on Sunday and the world has never been the same.....

And so we must listen to this Jesus... this counter-revolutionist.... and allow Him to define success for us..

When we do we discover a totally different standard..... we enter into a world where to be great means you must become least.... to win you must be willing to lose... you do not conquer your enemy, you love him... you do not fight against your foe, you allow his abuse and pray for his soul....

It's a world where the Master of all is the Servant of all.... where death becomes life.. where slaves have power.... where defeat becomes victory...

It's a brand new reality where success is measured by what you give away not by what you have....

So, what is success? Well, it really all depends on which world you choose to live in, doesn't it? And this is the great challenge for the church today..... to which standard are we being conformed? Which world do we really look like?

It's something to think about....

Lord, I would rather be a slave in heaven than a king on earth. Help me to keep in mind the swiftness of these days and the emptiness of this world. And give me the strength to stand up and be like Jesus, even if I look foolish to those who know me. Amen.


Day 18 - A Few Suggestions for Change

For when by reason of the time you ought to be teachers, you again need to have someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God. You have come to need milk, and not solid food. For everyone who lives on milk is not experienced in the word of righteousness, for he is a baby. But solid food is for those who are full grown, who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil. Hebrews 5: 12 - 14

Recently, I was accused of pointing out all of the problems without ever giving any of the answers. Of course, the accusation was accurate. I avoid giving advice because it can so often be destructive. However, I feel compelled to at least offer a few strategies for changing the Post-Modern Pop Christian phenomenon which pervades Christendom today.

Before I begin, let me warn you that the following suggestions may appear to be elementary. In fact, they are. The sad truth is, most of the people sitting in churches today are in need of basic remedial training before they can go on to deeper things of the Spirit.

Thus, I must begin at the beginning.

In order to make the corrective changes that will have a long term effect on our church culture, we must devote ourselves first and foremost to prayer. If we spent half the time in prayer that we spend making long range plans and developing church marketing strategies, we would see a lot more people brought into the Kingdom. Prayer is the basic essential ingredient in my "success formula".

Second, we must commit ourselves to the Prime Directive (a.k.a the Great Commission). When we lose sight of our real goal, we lose sight of the proper methods. Our job is not to build churches or to save souls. Our job is to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples. Our goal is not to provide a culturally relevant worship experience for the masses. Our goal is to proclaim Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. If we fail to preach this powerful truth, we fail to preach, period.

Third, we must truly love one another. Not put up with one another. Not be nice to one another. Not care about one another. But love one another the way Jesus loves us; sacrificially and completely. How many church splits would have been prevented by a healthy does of real love? How many angry words would have never been voiced had there been true love between the brethren?

Fourth, we absolutely must adopt Jesus' technique for winning souls.

Jesus -

Deliberately went to the lost people and hung out with them.
Chose to love them before challenging them.
Always spoke the truth, even when it meant losing the catch.
Never flinched or backed away from people who were filled with sin, sickness or Satan.
Willingly gave His life for them (us!).

If we will embrace these four simple activities, our weak, apostate church will once again blossom into the radiant Bride of Christ. If we fail to take these challenges seriously, we will continue to slide into conformity with the world and will ultimately turn into just another social institution like the Elks, Moose and Kiwanas.

I for one don't care for funny looking hats.

Father, help me become a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Teach me to pray fervently. Make me a bold witness for the Gospel. Enable me to truly love others as You would have me love. And give me the heart and mind of Christ that I may be effective in the kingdom. Above all, help me avoid the pitfall of compromise. Amen.


Day 19 - Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up.....

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, " says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." Revelation 1:8

More and more I am convinced that the reason the church is so ineffective is because the average Christian really doesn't know Jesus. Rather than recognizing Him as a living, vital, active God complete with Personality and Agenda, we tend to reduce Him to a cardboard figure from a Sunday School activity box.

Because we are more comfortable with a belief system than we are with a relationship, we make the error of creating Jesus in the image of our own preconceptions. The truth is, a really Human/God Jesus scares us to death because He demands more than our Sunday rituals and lip service.

So, we have rejected faith in order to embrace belief in the Jesus of our choice.
For many people, Jesus has been cast as The Heavenly Vendor. We pray - He pays. All we have to do is ask for it and He is obligated to supply it for us. It even says so in the Gospels. The problem with Jesus as a vendor is that we have effectively created a system of reward based on religious services rendered. There is an entire pseudo-theology built on the erroneous premise that our words carry some kind of supernatural power, and that as we speak, God is manipulated into granting our desires.

What nonsense! Our prayers are answered according to the will of God, period. Jesus is not obligated in any way to give us material wealth, health or supernatural spiritual gifts. And our vain babblings will not move His hand one inch.

And think about it, are not our prayers for blessing motivated by greed and selfish ambition? The true blessing comes when we fall in love with Jesus and begin enjoying His company! As long as we come to Him with hands out and mouths open, I am afraid we have missed the point entirely.

Then there are those who see Jesus as the Heavenly Straw Boss. We work - He pays. For these folks, the way to right standing with God is through good works. If we do the works, He is obligated to reward us. But again, we create a system of reward for religious services rendered. The fact is, this is the camp most Christians sit in. We have created a belief system that gives us a long, comfortable list of "Do's" and "Don'ts" and as long as we keep our "spiritual check list" in order, we must be okay with God.

More nonsense! Jesus is not obligated to reward our good behavior. In fact, we can begin worshipping the good works instead of the Lord. When we give ourselves to works, we very quickly fall into the trap of self righteousness. "See how good I am? See what I have done? God really approves of me, I've done so much for Him!" Instead of a mature, intimate relationship with Christ, we end up with a shallow, conceited religion where we become the focal point rather than the One who gives us life.
It is not until we realize that Jesus is more than an impersonal figure from history, but is instead a dynamic, real Person that we can truly enter into worship. We must come to the Living Lord and be changed rather than trying to reinterpret Him in order to make Him more acceptable to us. When we begin to see Him as the incredible God that He is, then we can begin to truly fall in love with Him.

Jesus is alive! Jesus is sovereign over All Things seen and unseen! Jesus is passionately in love with all of humanity, including you and the sinner next door! Jesus is human and Jesus is God. And the very spiritual essence that brought Jesus out of the grave resides in those who embrace Him and surrender themselves to Him.

So please don't reduce Him to a cartoon character or a plastic action figure. He is so much more than that!

Lord Jesus, would You open my eyes to see You in Your glory? Would You reveal Yourself to me in all of Your majesty? Would You increase my faith by giving me a glimpse of Who You really are? I can’t wait to see You face to face! Amen.


Day 20 - Fundamental is Not a Bad Word

For, "All flesh is like grass, And all of man's glory like the flower in the grass.
The grass withers, and its flower falls; But the Lord's word endures forever."
This is the word of good news which was preached to you. 1 Peter 1: 24 - 25

I went to one of those mega-bookstores today. You know the ones, where you can get anything from cappuccino and a magazine to the latest in fiction and philosophy.
I especially enjoy perusing the "religion" section, where you find Max Lucado's work nestled in between a book on Taoism and Zen Buddhism. I went today to browse through the latest "new truths and heresies" section, also known as "enlightened Christianity".
In just fifteen minutes I discovered a fundamental flaw in the Post-Modern attack on Fundamental Christianity.

In one book, I discovered that Jesus was actually an Essene Master. This was of course the author's conclusion after carefully studying the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Gnostic writings. In fact, he has reconstructed the "lost years" of Jesus in which the Lord supposedly traveled to India and Alexandria in search of esoteric knowledge. Of course, in order to reach these conclusions, he has determined that the Canon of Scripture is both incomplete and corrupted.

I also learned that Jesus' main teaching was "forgiveness, both of others and self." In fact, the author stated that Jesus would have never told the Paralytic that He had forgiven his sins, but would have taught him how to forgive himself. This also proves again that the Bible is wrong.

Another book told how Jesus was actually a humanist whose divinity had been placed upon Him by His misguided disciples after His death in the form of a resurrection myth. Here again, the Bible must be wrong.

Yet another author claims that in the early years of the Christian movement, James was the leader of the Church, which at that time was nothing more than a Jewish sect. However, in a first century shift of power, Paul took over the movement, and going well beyond Jesus' teachings "created modern Christianity in the form of pagan religions, complete with virgin birth and resurrection mystiques, changing the Son of Man into the Son of God in order to perpetuate a new religious idea." The Bible, once again, is false.

My favorite tidbit was a book by a Messianic Jewish Mystic who claims to have uncovered evidence in the Scriptures to prove that Satan is a woman. (I guess that proves once and for all that Hillary is the Antichrist, not Bill.) Here again, the Scriptures are found to be veiled, false and incomprehensible to the average man.

Now, as I see it, all of these people have a common problem in their attack on fundamental Christianity. Simply put, their god is too small.

If there is a God in Heaven who created you, me and everything else, then certainly He is powerful enough to preserve the one body of literature that has been known for nearly 20 centuries as the "Word of God".

This is the cornerstone of Fundamentalist faith. If the Bible is not the infallible, inspired and immutable Word of God, then it is nothing more than an eclectic collection of ancient literature. I'm afraid this is what the Bible has been reduced to by those "enlightened few" who find so many reasons to dispute the plain teaching of the "textus receptus".

When I became a Believer I did not remove my brain nor did I disconnect my mental facilities from my faith. I came to Christ because I could not find an intellectual reason to reject Him. I believe the Scripture is reliable because I believe that God Almighty is both Sovereign and All-powerful.

If He isn't, we're all in trouble!!

Lord God, Your Word endures forever. Help me to approach Your Word with the right mind and a pure heart. Grant my desire that I may be transformed by Your Word rather than attempting to change Your Word with my human “interpretations”. Help me avoid the folly of doubting You. Amen.


Day 21 - And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor

The apostles gathered themselves together to Jesus, and they told him all things, whatever they had done, and whatever they had taught. He said to them, "You come apart into a deserted place, and rest awhile." For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. Mark 6: 30 - 31

I went for a long walk and poured out my heart to the Lord today.
I told Him all about my frustrations, temptations and aggravations. He listened. He didn't even interrupt me as I went on and on and on about the same old things. He is very patient. I'm glad.

I was walking in the woods near my in-law's home on a public trail that runs through a national park. Lots of people use this trail, even on dreary overcast days like today.
I grew tired of walking and ranting, so I sat down on a rock beside a quiet stream. As I sat there, I heard a herd of runners coming through the forest. They suddenly appeared, flying down the path on the other side of the stream, and then they disappeared from view again into the forest. They never even knew I was there.

Then the Lord spoke to me. He said, "So many times I have sat and watched you run by, caught up in your worries and anxieties. I was waiting for you in a quiet place, and you never even noticed Me sitting there. I had good counsel for you, encouragement and a soft shoulder, but you missed me, because just like those runners you were consumed with the path in front of you. I'm here for you now, and I will always be here for you. So relax and rest in My love."

I realize this is neither controversial or confrontational. In fact, it may not mean a thing to anyone but me. Never the less, I offer it to you as a word of encouragement today. Don't get so caught up in the stress of life that you miss the chance to sit with the Shepherd.

By the way, if I figure out how to perfectly apply this advice, I will let you know.

Father, thank You for opening my eyes. Now Lord help me to live as You would have me live. Totally dependent on Your love and trusting fully in Your provision. And please remind me again when I take my eyes off of You and get caught up in life. Amen.


Day 22 - Big Mama

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all. Ephesians 4: 4 - 6

I just went to visit Big Mama. She is the great grand mother of a friend of mine. She is 94 years old. She is dying....

As I stood looking at her frail form lying on a bed I was touched in my spirit by her incredible faith. I shared a few verses from John 14 with her and prayed with her.... and all the while she just said, "Thank You, Jesus..." Big Mama is ready to go home....

But now, as I sit and reflect on the events of this morning, I am struck by an intriguing observation.... You see, I really have nothing in common with Big Mama.....

She is a woman.... I am not... She is of African descent.... I am of Celtic descent.... She grew up in the black poverty of the rural south..... I grew up in the white middle class of the big city suburbs... She was 55 years old when I was born. Her world and my world are as different as different can be.... and yet...

Big Mama and I are one.

Because for all of our differences, we have a shared experience.... we have both been recreated in the image of Christ... we have both been crucified with Him.... we have both been resurrected with Him... and we have both been born again by the indwelling of His Spirit...

And so, while we may not look the same.... and certainly our independent journeys of life have been radically different.... we are living the same life, because it is the same Spirit Who lives in both of us.... Paul calls this the fellowship of the mystery.... I call it amazing....

It is also a great challenge for us... because we who are one must learn to overcome our differences and tear down the walls of separation that divide us...... and I'm not just talking about the color line, although it is a major problem for the North American church

The fact is, there is no difference between Charismatic and Conservative.... we are one.... there is no difference between a born again Catholic, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist or Non-Denominational Independent Conservative Southern Christian..... we are all one... There is no black church and white church, high church and low church, big church and small church, living church and dead church..... we are all one body.... and the only thing that separates us are the sins of prejudice and pride.... because we are one in the Spirit... one faith, one baptism, one Savior.... one God, one Body...

This morning I had the rare privilege of reaching across the chasm of difference and allowing the Spirit in me to minister to the Spirit in another.... and the only thing that made this possible was the connection that the Spirit provides... it's a lesson I pray I never forget....

Thank you, Big Mama..... I'll see you later....

Father, thank You for showing me what unity looks like. And thank You for calling all of Your servants into one Body. Now help us tear down the many walls we have built so that we might truly be one in Your Spirit. Glorify Yourself in us, oh Lord. Amen.


Day 23 - Message: System Error...

Beloved, while I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I was constrained to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For there are certain men who crept in secretly, even those who were long ago written about for this condemnation: ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master, God, and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 1: 3 - 4

My hard drive is almost full. So in a futile attempt to create more drive space, I have been deleting files.

Somehow, I have managed to delete the wrong file. Oh my...

Because of my careless blunder, I have wreaked havoc with my anti-virus program, and now my computer feels compelled to tell me, over and over, that I am unprotected from the hideous evil of computer viruses. Uh oh......

I find an interesting parallel between my system and the current trends in religion. It seems that Christianity is feeling the weight of traditionalism and status quo maintenance. We've become like a sleeping giant tied down with spider webs. As we come awake from our slumber, we immediately begin shaking loose from the futile bindings.

The only problem is, in the process of shaking off the bonds of tradition, we have managed to throw away some of our essential beliefs. The inerrancy of the Scriptures, the necessity of blood atonement, even the death and resurrection of Christ have been rejected and replaced by a kinder, gentler faith that sees only the good in man and the nicety of God.
And as a result, I am afraid the church is no longer protected from the hideous evil of error, false doctrine and apostasy.

The solution for my computer problem is as simple as re-installing the missing program files.

The solution for the church is as simple as returning to the "faith which was once for all delivered to the saints."

In His grace, God created us, blessed us, sustains us, redeems us and restores us.
All of salvation is according to the grace of God. Our faith is a gift of His grace. Our ability to receive the Gospel is according to His grace. All is grace and without grace we are nothing. Jesus came to reveal grace to us, and through Him God extends grace to us.
In and of ourselves we have nothing but sin and error, and so our "feel good" religion is shown to be nothing.

Until we restore God to His proper place in the church and in our lives we will continue to run the risk of infection from the world.

Your system may have a problem. Please check to see if any critical files are missing, and re-install them according to God's Word.

Strike any key to continue.

Father, am I guilty of loving the world instead of the Son? Have I wandered astray from the true Gospel? Have I been infected by the false beliefs of the false prophets Jesus warned us about? Would You show me any errors I have held on to and correct them with the washing of Your Spirit by the Word? Thank You, Jesus. Amen.


Day 24 - Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing him, asked him to show them a sign from heaven. But he answered them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' In the morning, 'It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Hypocrites! You know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but you can't discern the signs of the times! An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and there will be no sign given to it, except the sign of the prophet Jonah." Matthew 16: 1 - 4

Lately I've been thinking about some interesting signs I have seen and the significance they have to our world.

At a grocery store just up the road from me there is a sign on the exit door reminding me as I leave the store that shirt and shoes are required. Now unless there is a new ordinance in Lake Park I'm pretty certain it is okay to go barefooted there. (The shirt thing I will readily agree with.... People should keep their shirts on..... really.....)

Now the thing about this sign is that it is telling me something I no longer need to know, and something I knew already. In short, it is a waste of time. Our culture is overrun with time wasters these days. From television to the internet we spend an incredible amount of time doing practically nothing in the name of entertainment. Even our church services are often a reflection of our cultural love affair with the familiar and the comfortable.

We do the same things over and over and over and over and we never seem to tire of them as long as we "get something out of it" which is of course what we put into it, which is often absolutely nothing. And if all we are getting out of our church experience is a sense of fulfillment based upon the exercise of our preconceived religious necessities, then it is in fact a tremendous waste of time (not to mention effort and resources).

Another sign I love used to be at the top of the exit ramp at Windy Hill Rd. and I-75 just north of Atlanta. As you pulled up to the stop light at the top of the ramp there was a sign with three arrows. One pointing left, one pointing right, and another pointing straight ahead. And at the bottom of the sign in large print was the word, "ONLY".

I suppose this was helpful information for all of the people who felt compelled to place their cars in reverse and back down the exit ramp.

Now the thing about this sign is that it told you to go in only one direction but gave no indication of which direction was the correct one to travel in. Any choice was okay as long as you stuck with it all the way.

And isn't that the message that we receive every day from the culture around us. Make a choice, any choice, but don't change your mind, because your choice is just as good as any other choice.
Even the church has bought into this idea of the worship of diversity and multiculturalism. We are so afraid of being offensive that we fail to be honest. And I suppose the real truth is, we are so unsure of our own truth that we are afraid to risk ruining someone else's truth by imposing our truth on them. The fact that the world is going to Hell without Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior seems to be either forgotten or simply passé in the pursuit of a conflict free existence.

But I guess my favorite sign of all time use to be up in North Carolina on the road going up to Bryson City. It was a small, two lane road which came around a mountain. As you began descending into the valley there was a hairpin curve with a drop of at least 5,000 feet if not more. And right in that curve there was a utility pole with a sign on it which read, "Where will you spend eternity... heaven or hell?"

I have always thought that the fastest way to find the answer to that question was to spend too much time reading that sign.

But it was a great sign because it actually conveyed important information. No useless waste of time. No ambiguous indication of non-direction. Just a simple, straight forward confrontation of fact. Because the truth of eternity cannot be ignored, and we as Christians need to confront our own ideas about what is and isn't critical to our mission on earth, and rearrange our priorities accordingly.

Jesus never wasted any time or any words. Jesus always knew exactly where He was going and why. And Jesus always pointed us away from the temporal and material, and focused our sight on the only worthy goal; eternal life.

So take a look at the signs in your own life...

Where are they pointing?

Father, I need You to show me where I fall short of true obedience. I need You to tell me when I am wasting time and effort. I need You to keep me on the narrow way and away from the paths of destruction. If I am in guilty of ignoring Your warning signs, forgive me and tell me again. Amen.


Day 25 - He Is Risen Indeed!

But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since death came by man, the resurrection of the dead also came by man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15: 20 - 22

Buddha is dead.

Confucius is dead.

Krishna is dead.

Mohammed is dead.

Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin are all dead.

Washington, Franklin, Jefferson; dead.

Indeed, Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel have all passed away.

Peter, Paul, James and John all are dead and buried.

But Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter from Galilee, the anointed Christ, the King of the Jews and the Savior of the Gentiles, the Lamb of God and Lord of all is alive and well today!

This same Jesus who was born in obscurity, who performed incredible miracles; healing the diseased, restoring the lame and broken, delivering the demonized and even calling the dead back to life is Himself alive. Jesus, who challenged the foundation of the religious establishment, was betrayed and deserted by His own followers, falsely accused, unjustly tried and executed in the name of political expediency has overcome the grip of death, and having risen again on the third day continues to live!

For He did not return to life simply to succumb again to the power of death, but has in truth triumphed over the grave. He now sits at the right hand of God as our Advocate, continually making intercession on our behalf and cleansing us with His glorious blood shed once for all on a cruel Roman cross.

And just as surely as He has risen, so shall this same Jesus return to Earth at the appointed moment, calling forth from the grave all of those who rest in Him along with those who yet live in Him. At that moment, we shall all be glorified according to the grace and power of God and we shall join Him in the clouds of Heaven and there reside for all eternity.

This is our great hope. And more than hope, it is our confidence that our faith rest not in the teachings of dead men or in the empty traditions of religion. We rest instead on the marvelous sign of the empty tomb of Jesus Christ and the infallible proofs of His bodily resurrection; an event as certain as the military campaigns of Alexander the Great, the assassination of Julius Caesar and the desolation of Jerusalem during the reign of Vespasian.

For the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a fable. Nor is it a mere fireside story. It is not simply a concoction proceeding from the vain imaginations of desperate men.

No, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact, proven over and over again by skeptic and believer alike to the satisfaction of any honest student of history.

And so we celebrate this wondrous event that not only changed the world but which indeed changed the very fabric of creation. Jesus Christ, by His death, has reconciled us to God. And with His resurrection He has sealed His victory over Satan, death and the tomb and has established for all who come to Him in faith a new life.

Because He lives, our sins are forgiven.

Because He lives we no longer walk according to the flesh but instead walk in the power of His Holy Spirit.

Because He lives we have this certain faith; that where He is so shall we be forever.

Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, our Master and Friend, our High Priest and Servant King. To Him be the glory forever and ever.


Jesus You are my God. You are my Lord. You are my Master. You are my Savior. You are My redeemer. You are my everything and I adore You. I love You, Lord. Amen.


Day 26 - What A Pain....

Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. Phillipians 4: 4 - 7

I'm in pain.

Funny how as you approach 40 things quick acting the way they used to act. Yesterday as I was washing my hair in the shower my back went out. One minute I am minding my own business, happily scrubbing and then, WHAM!, a knife pierces me between the shoulders and I find myself completely preoccupied with pain.

Thankfully there are chiropractors and insurance, and today I am feeling a bit better. Still, my experience has caused me to think about the realities of pain.

I wonder how God feels when we sin? Does He feel the same kind of sickening, stabbing pain that I felt yesterday, or just the dull aching pain I have right now?

I wonder how Jesus feels when He sees us running into the promise of consequences instead of grace. How does His frustration with our humanness reveal itself? Or does He even get frustrated?

I wonder how He felt when He was crucified. Did He really feel everything we would feel? Or was He somehow able to overcome the pain?

Why did God create us with the capacity to feel pain, anyway?

Well, for people who have leprosy, it is the inability to feel pain that causes the worst problems, because the slightest cut can become gangrenous and eventually deadly.
For the paraplegic, it is the sensation of pain that brings the joy and hope of recovery.
And the fact that we have all felt pain helps us understand the sinfulness of inflicting pain on others.

Also, we have a promise of a pain-free eternity which helps us cope with the pain of daily life in a fallen world. And so we see that pain is a blessing from God. A fact that helps us understand Paul's commandment to "Rejoice in the Lord always."

Even when your back hurts.

Father, help me to develop an attitude of joy, even when I am faced with difficulty and pain. Teach me to rejoice in every circumstance. Amen.


Day 27 - Religion To Go?

Peter began to tell him, "Behold, we have left all, and have followed you."
Jesus said, "Most assuredly I tell you, there is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land, for my sake, and for the Gospel's sake, but he will receive one hundred times more now in this time, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land, with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10: 28 - 30

What do a car dealership, an insurance agency, a church and Hooters restaurant have in common?

They all have a billboard on Interstate 20 in Atlanta.

Now, I am not saying there is anything wrong with billboards or advertising. But I do wonder what message the Average Guy riding along in his pick-up truck is receiving.
I also wonder about the thought process that leads to the financial decision made to advertise a church on the side of the interstate highway. Somehow, I don't seem to get it... but then I can be a cynic at times.

Anyway, the more I pray about the condition of the American Church, the more I feel burdened by the misguided direction in which it seems to be headed. The more I meditate upon the spiritual condition of the average church attendee the more I am bothered by a sense that we exist within a well hidden apostasy which permeates to the very core of our Christianized subculture. When I read the Gospels, I feel better acquainted with the Pharisees than with the Disciples.

Again, the point I am trying to make is that we in the Body need to be honest with ourselves. We need to be willing to examine our motives and dissect our methodologies. We need to willingly scrutinize our agendas and determine if we are doing Christian things, or are we following Christ. There is a huge difference.

I am encouraged! I believe there are many Christians who are just as tired of playing Church as I am and are ready to re-embrace the pure Gospel that promises hardship, suffering, loss and pain. It also promises peace and joy, blessing and love beyond description. All in the here and now, and all for the price of everything we are and a drop of Jesus' blood.

I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back......

Father, help me be a follower. If I am trying to manipulate You show me and stop me. If I have learned to trust more in my talents and abilities than in Your Spirit.... open my eyes. Amen.


Day 28 - What Kind of King?

As he was now getting near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works which they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!" Some of the Pharisees from the multitude said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" He answered them, "I tell you that if these were silent, the stones would cry out." Luke 19: 37 - 40

Recently I have been I have been considering the question, "What kind of King is Jesus?"

Obviously He wasn't the King that the Jews were expecting.... He didn't come to conquer and liberate Jerusalem from Roman occupation... He didn't come to reform a corrupt political and religious system.... He didn't come to assume power over the people of Palestine....

So what kind of King was He?

The answer I believe can be found in the events of the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem....

First we see that Jesus is the King who knows....

He knew that He needed a colt and He knew where one was.... because He sent His disciples to get it...

Isn't it a comfort to rest in the hands of a King who knows us? A Lord who knows what it means to be joyful, satisfied, happy, hurt, angry, hungry, sad, unsettled, poor, despised, rejected, even put to death.....

Doesn't it make it easier to serve Him when we realize that He knows our condition, He knows our struggles and He knows the future? I think it does.....

We also see that He is the King who depends upon His people.....

What did the disciples say when questioned about taking the colt? “The Lord has need of it...”

Now this may come as a surprise to some, but the Lord is depending on us to give what He needs... for some it could be time, for others money, for some talents, or prayers, or comfort, or knowledge..... you see, for His kingdom to grow the King needs the faithfulness of His people.... and He is depending on you to fulfill your duties and obligations which begin with "Love one another" And end with, "Follow Me."

He is also the King who comes in humility...

Imagine the Lord of Lords riding into His city on the back of a donkey's colt...... that is the kind of King we serve.... one who did not come to be served but to serve... one who did not come to demand His rights, but who chose instead to suffer and die so that we might live... The King came as a slave to God... and He demands the same humility from all of those who would worship and serve Him..... including you and me...

He is also revealed as the King who represents God.....

The people shouted... "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" And this is something we need to be ever mindful of..... Jesus was more than just another good man... He was more than a prophet...He was more than a King in the line of David.... He was the image of the Almighty... the Son of God who came to establish His throne in the hearts of men... and when we gaze upon Jesus we are gazing at God....

Finally, we see that Jesus is the King of Confidence....

On that glorious day not everyone was cheering.... the Pharisees were offended by the praise of the people that Jesus willingly received.... and they told Him to make them stop.... But Jesus replied, "If these should keep silent the stones would immediately cry out!" Jesus was not afraid of what was ahead.... He knew where He had come from and He knew where He was going.... He accepted the worship of the people because it belonged to Him... and He understood that if the people refused to worship Him that nature itself would fill the void....

Because Jesus was and is the King of Glory!

I encourage you to ponder these things.... because they are important TRUTHS that need to be remembered.... and as you worship and follow the King... remember, He is coming again!

Jesus, I long to worship You with all of my heart, soul, mind and body. Take my life and use it to build Your kingdom. Glorify Yourself with my willing sacrifice, my Redeemer, my Master, my Lord, my King. Amen.


Day 29 - Not Ashamed?

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes; for the Jew first, and also for the Greek. For in it is revealed God's righteousness from faith to faith. As it is written, "But the righteous shall live by faith." Romans 1: 16 - 17

I was recently talking with a minister friend who made the observation that our churches are filled with people who love Jesus, know all about Jesus and are trusting in Jesus for their eternal salvation, but still remain unwilling or unmotivated to follow Jesus.

Personally, I have come to the conclusion that there is a tremendous power in this faith we so often take for granted. It's like a bird sitting on a power line. For the bird, it is a convenient place to perch, but he has no idea that between his feet runs an incredible force that cannot be seen except in the outworking of it's power.

As we look around at the rapid disintegration of Western culture, we must be mindful that the power for transformation and preservation lies not in our mass marketing plans or human idealism, but is contained only in the Gospel of Christ. And this power can be unleashed only by people who are willing to forsake all in the passionate pursuit of Kingdom of God.

I was looking for books on Christian stewardship last week, and in four large bookstores I found one.... only one..... on the subject of kingdom living and the responsibilities of the believer.

Now I found hundreds of books on personal finance, building your personal prayer life, finding peace and happiness in Jesus and other equally egocentric pursuits. But it seems that the concepts of sacrifice, self denial and service to God have no ready market in the consumer driven church of today. And here lies the root of our vain struggle to effectively preserve and change the world around us.

How can we be a beacon of change when we look no different from the pagan culture around us?

In the first century, it was not the eloquent delivery of the Apostles or the purchasing power of the church that turned the world upside down.

It was not the entertainment factor or the promise of personal health, wealth and happiness that grew the church at a phenomenal rate.

It was nothing more than the incredible and unlikely power of the Gospel, delivered by fallible humans and empowered by the unseen essence of God that literally changed the world forever.

And when we once again embrace the simple truth of the Gospel and commit ourselves once again to the simple commission of Christ, then we will see the outworking of the power of God to salvation in our midst.

Unless of course, you're ashamed of it........

Lord Jesus, am I ashamed? Have I placed more faith in techniques and programs than I have in the power of the Gospel? Am I guilty of trying to please myself instead of pleasing You? If it’s true... I am so sorry. Please forgive me and renew my faith in You and You alone. Amen.


Day 30 - My Chair Is Killing Me...

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his Kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine, but, having itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside to fables. 2 Timothy 4: 1 - 4

The chair I am sitting in to write this is terribly uncomfortable. In fact, if I sit here too long, my backside will go to sleep and my feet will begin to tingle. Doesn't that sound like fun?

And so you may ask why do I choose to sit in this chair when I am working at my computer?

My answer, "Because this is the chair that is at my desk."

Now this may sound silly to you, but in fact, it is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I inflict a certain measure of self-torture on myself every time I write. The truth is, this is a beautiful antique chair that has been in my family for many years. And it really looks nice sitting here at my desk.

Now the reason I mention this is because my chair is a lot like post modern Christianity. It is functional, it looks nice on the outside and it is comfortably familiar. And yet, there is something inherently painful about it. There is a sense of wrongness within it that is overshadowed by our own complacency.

(About now, I am feeling the beginning of a tingle in my left leg.... Oh boy!)

In the church today we adhere to certain doctrines that may or may not be orthodox (prosperity for believers, a pre-tribulation rapture, salvation by committee, etc.) And yet, we find it easier to simply nod and accept these things than to seriously consider why we believe them. In the name of unity we overlook critical differences and choose to build up the common ground, often compromising where we should be standing firm.

We find it easier to sit in an uncomfortable chair than to change our habits and patterns.

Now I am not attacking any particular beliefs. What I am saying is that we need to take an objective look at all the pet doctrines of the Post Modern Pop Christian Culture and decide if:

* They agree with Scripture
* They make sense in light of orthodox doctrine
* They can be applied to the universal church or are they Western aberrations
The bottom line is, are we placing our faith in Christ or are we trusting in our self created belief systems? Are we sitting in a really nice, deadly church, or are we willing to swap it for a simple yet powerfully living church?

If we don't change soon, I'm afraid Western Evangelicalism will be as dead as my rear end is right now..... it's something to think about...

Father, I’m not sure why I desire comfort over truth, but I do. Help me to love the Truth as much as I love myself, and give me the courage to question those things I have always taken for granted, knowing that if they are true my questions will only strengthen my faith. Amen.


By: Joe "Givmo" Dollars

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. John 14:6

In an unprecedented move of Holy Niceness, God announced recently that He is relaxing His standards for entrance into the kingdom. "Heaven was just feeling a bit empty." He was quoted as saying, "And so "The Big Three" decided to throw the gates open wide and invite everybody to the celestial party."

This news was first revealed to his most excellent high holiness, the right reverend Rex "Deep Pockets" Turnip on his recent spiritual journey to the New Jerusalem. "It was the most amazing thing," Rev. Turnip says, "People milling around everywhere, eyes wide as saucers, big smiles on their faces. It was just the most beautiful sight I've witnessed in all of my visits to heaven so far."

Latrina Groove, a really nice politician from Detroit was quoted as saying, "You know, I never even believed this place existed, and now I'm here!"

According to Rev. Turnip, the whole change was made possible by simply redefining sin in more Politically Correct terms. Rather than meaning rebellion against God, sin now means whatever we decide isn't nice today. Of course, this could be bad news for those who refuse to recycle or vote Democrat.... but as "Deep Pockets" reveals, "God is in such a good mood right now, He might even let a few hard-core environmental exploitationists in.... who knows?"

Even Saint Peter is getting into the spirit of things, sporting a rainbow patch on his white robe and heading up the "Development Committee" that is currently working on plans to expand the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, New Age, Wiccan, Neo-Pagan, Animist, Spiritist and Atheist sections of Heaven. Turnip quotes him as saying, "There are just so many nice people in the world, we really aren't sure where we will squeeze them all in, but we will make do!"

Of course, there is a downside to all of this. Because space has become such an issue, many proposed "heavenly mansions" will be reduced to "holy condos" but that's a small price to pay for the assurance that all you need is love, goodness and a positive attitude to gain eternal life.

"Bloody crosses, death and resurrection, all that stuff is part of the past." Rex Turnip says. "The New Gospel is built on tolerance, forgiveness and being nice to one another. Even Hitler would be allowed in if he would promise to be nice."

Not everyone is happy about the changes however. It seems that members of the "Martyrs for Jesus" club are crying foul. "It cost us a lot more than a handshake and a smile to get here," quipped one disgruntled Martyr, "and it seems to us that this new relaxed standard is bound to cause trouble somewhere along the line."

According to Rev. Turnip there are no current plans for additional compensation for those who came into Heaven under the old system of repentance, faith, submission and obedience, but, "if things get out of hand among the older citizens there may be remedial training in grace and forgiveness offered to help them adjust. It always takes a little time for folks to accept major policy changes, but after all, God has eternity to work this out."

Jesus was unavailable for comment.

Lord, help me to never be fooled by the many false prophets who abound in our age. Let me be always grounded in Your Word and rooted in Your truth. Establish my feet upon the paths of righteousness and be my Light in the darkness. Amen.


Day 32 - Until I Get There...

If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, our life, is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory. Colossians 3: 1 - 4

I am not satisfied with where I am spiritually.

I have discovered that, no matter how much I grow in faith, there is always more to be obtained. My faith is not nearly as strong as I want it to become.

I have found that no matter how fervently I pray, there are levels of prayer that I have yet to reach. My prayer life is not as passionate as I want it to become.

I have learned that no matter how deeply I study Gods Word, my knowledge is elementary. My daily encounter with the Word of God is not as deep as I want it to become.

I have been recently shown that regardless of how closely I walk with the Holy Spirit, there is always more of me that needs to die so that more of Him can live in me. I am far from content with my walk with the Holy Spirit.

It is my deepest desire to become so utterly selfless that He has absolute control of my life.
I have a long way to go.

Lately, I have been waking up with a Rush song on my mind. (For the uneducated, Rush is a rock group that was very popular, oh, 15 to 20 years ago.... Ouch!) And I have been wondering why I should rise with a secular rock song playing in my head instead of a spiritual song or hymn in its place. The flesh is a funny thing, and it is so very hard to subdue.

My passionate prayer is that my will should become conformed to His will, totally. Yet I find that the inner "I" is so very strong.

As a minister, I find there is a tendency to second guess every decision and to struggle with every choice; from the sermon topic to the expenditure of time. And then, I suddenly stop and wonder why I am struggling so hard to find myself, when in reality I should be losing myself in Him. The will is a slippery thing, and it is difficult to hold.

I have a deep inner longing to lose myself in the ecstasy of prayer and worship, diving so deeply into the Spirit that I never resurface, and yet there is a fear that to do so will cause consequences that I am not prepared to face.

It's easy to preach about the necessity of continual and fervent prayer. It is another thing to place "duty" and "responsibility" on hold in order to truly pray fervently and continually. It's a dilemma that only the Lord can rectify. Thankfully, He desires for me the very same things. And I can rest in this; He will finish what He has started in me.
And so, I say again; I am not satisfied with my spiritual life.

And I hope I never am this side of Heaven.

Father, You know my discontent. Lord, You understand my longing. Please allow Your Spirit to minister to my desire that I might be satisfied in You..... nothing more... nothing less. Amen.


Day 33 - Priorities First

My little children, let's not love in word only, neither with the tongue only, but in deed and truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and persuade our hearts before him, because if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 1 John 3: 18 - 20

Have you ever noticed that the more you have to do, the less you seem to accomplish?

Right now, I have an evening sermon to prepare.... a sermon I was about to start on when my phone rang yesterday, and I wound up sitting and talking with friends instead. And this morning one of my members was having surgery, so I spent several hours in Gainesville at the hospital.......

(You know, this sermon is not going to write itself.....)

But before you get me wrong and think I am whining and complaining... let me assure you that I am not. I have plenty of time between now and Sunday night to get ready...... right?
And what is really important, anyway?

In the quest for intimacy, isn't time together an essential factor? Shouldn't we as the family of God enjoy being with one another? If we are going to truly bear one anothers burdens, doesn't that require knowing one anothers needs, frustration, anxieties, etc.?

Of course, I really do need to write this sermon..... it is, after all, the most important thing I do each week.... Because it is by the foolishness of preaching that the Holy Spirit brings conviction on the hearts of men......

And you could, of course, make the argument that I am wasting time writing this instead of the sermon..... (but nobody's asking you...)

Actually, I haven't spent much time praying today, or meditating on the Scriptures.... maybe what I really need to do is have some quiet time...... perhaps enjoy a cup of tea and a few chapters of one of the seven books I have going at the moment..... (then again, what if someone drops by and sees me doing nothing.... what would the neighbors think? Especially if my evening sermon is a real stinker.....)

No, I think I had better concentrate on Ephesians for a while and get ready for Sunday night..... at least until my kids get home.... I did promise to throw the football with Corey this afternoon, and since Jamie and I have plans for dinner, I will have to do it early...... because if my own children don't get my attention, why should anyone else? What is really important?

(It looks like I may be working on Saturday.... again.... but that's okay......)

You know, the truth is we can't do everything all the time. And my point today is that, while there are so many things I would like to see change in the American church, nothing is going to change overnight. And while I would love nothing more than to be "on schedule" at the end of every week.... that isn't going to always happen, either.....

The same is true for you, so deal with it.....

Because, while we are all praying for an immediate dose of patience, God is doing what He wants to do the way He wants to do it....... and if we think we can rush Him, we are in real trouble.....

And God is more interested in people than He is in events. He values individuals over things. And He puts family at the top of the list every time..... (after all, are we not His children?)

So is this unwritten sermon important? You bet it is.... but I preached a louder sermon sitting in the hospital waiting room this morning.....

Is quiet time important? Absolutely...... but I really believe that when I spend time with my wife and children, I am spending time with my Father as well..... and isn't that what prayer is supposed to be about?

Maybe what we need is a new way of thinking about priorities....

I need to write a sermon..... I wonder if Corey is home yet......

Father, help me to know what is and what isn’t important. And then help me make the adjustments I need to make in my life to do what’s right. Amen.


Day 34 - Warning: This Column May Save Your Life.....

Love is patient and is kind; love doesn't envy. Love doesn't brag, is not proud, doesn't behave itself inappropriately, doesn't seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails..... 1 Corinthians 13: 4 - 8

Lately I have begun to recognize a long unnoticed ailment within the Western Church. I am speaking, of course, of NCS (Nice Christian Syndrome).

Unconfirmed statistics indicate that as many as 9 out of 10 American Church members suffer from NCS. It appears that the Post Modern Church is facing a problem of pandemic proportion!

Symptoms of NCS are: being nice on the outside while harboring resentment on the inside, smiling while in emotional distress so that others won't be uncomfortable, laughing along with the joke made at ones expense and suffering the wounds in silence, etc.

Long term results of prolonged NCS are a lack of emotional commitment, superficial fellowship and stunted spiritual growth in the affected church member. Undiagnosed and untreated NCS can even lead to eternal death due to a wrong understanding of the Gospel.

NCS is a serious problem.

The only known cure for NCS is a renewed intimacy with Jesus Christ and a commitment to honesty and love within the local Body. We are commanded to love one another, not be nice to one another.

Love is strong enough to take issue with sin without being judgmental. Love is able to mourn without falling into despair. Love is able to tell the truth without running roughshod over someone's feelings.

Abounding love knows the truth and chooses to love anyway.

It is critical that we in the Body prayerfully determine whether or not we are suffering from NCS, and then take drastic measures to eradicate it from our fellowship, beginning with ourselves!

NCS is a deadly disease which strikes at many different levels and threatens to destroy the vitality of the Church today. It is a problem that must be dealt with, because left unchecked, the Church may eventually become nothing but a ward for nice people who hold a common belief system and put up with one another for fear of controversy and unpleasantness.

Let us pray that God will begin to reveal to us the malignant roots of Nice Christian Syndrome so that we may begin to truly love one another the way Christ has commanded. And please begin today, because tomorrow may be too late!

Father, I confess that I do not love well. In fact, I’m not really sure how to love as You have commanded. Please forgive me for my hard heart, and help me to truly love You and Your Body. Amen.


Day 35 - Choose Life

Afterward he was revealed to the eleven themselves as they sat at the table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they didn't believe those who had seen him after he had risen. He said to them, "Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. Mark 16: 14 - 15

Just for the record, I thought I would share my burdens and concerns for humanity today.
I feel that to say abortion is a great evil and a blot on our land would be redundant. The fact that a financial machine could successfully propagate the nonsensical notion that murder is okay as long as it is legal is sickening. The fact that God's greatest miracle could be renamed non-viable fetal tissue and purposefully destroyed is not only shameful, but will be a source of great woe to this nation and to the church.

To say that euthanasia is a great evil and a dire threat to our land is also redundant. The fact that, as a culture, we have chosen to warehouse the elderly and forge ahead with life is a disgrace. And when people begin whispering that some poor, sick, tired gray-haired person would be better off dead, then we have stepped into the legacy of Hitler not Jefferson and Washington. The truth is, we have come to the point where old age is a curse, not a blessing, and unless we cut short the pursuit of legalized "mercy killing" we stand to face an even greater judgment.

But greater than the burden for the unborn and the elderly is my great concern for the lost of the world. There are 6 billion people walking this planet today. Of that number, at least 5 billion are faced with a Godless eternity.

5 billion people will die and go to hell if the church doesn't get the message of hope in Christ to them. We must face this reality and choose to become the ambassadors of the Gospel that Jesus called us to become.

The Western Church must shake off its cocoon of "Christian-ease" and enter the battle for the lost. Jesus wept over the multitudes because they were like sheep, wandering aimlessly around, harassed and confused with no shepherd. We sit and worry about our retirement accounts and our tax liabilities.

If we truly believe that all humanity is precious in the eyes of God, and if we truly understand that the vast majority of humanity is faced with eternal judgment in the flames of hell, and if we are convinced that Jesus is the only hope they have for eternity, then we must be motivated to do more than attend entertaining church services and watch Christian broadcasting at home.

We must be willing to do more than write a check and offer an occasional prayer for our missionaries.

We must, absolutely must, obey the Lord and be witnesses, in Jerusalem (where we are), in Judea and Samaria (where we are comfortable and where we are not) and to the ends of the earth (into the great unknown).

The Great Commission is not a pledge drive or a fellowship event. It is a lifestyle that EVERY Christian man, woman and child must accept as personal and binding. For if we fail to BE the disciples we are COMMANDED to be, how can we expect to be receive the blessings of the Father?

You tell me.....

Father, burden my heart with Your burden for the lost of this world. Motivate me to get out of my chair and go share the good news with someone today. Tell me what to say... Show me where to go.... Help me make a difference.... Amen


Day 36 - That's Entertainment

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it will be given to him. James 1: 2 - 5

For months I have been pondering the role that entertainment plays in "contemporary" worship styles. As a worship leader, I always tried to select music that would appeal to a broad range of people, and I always tried to present that music in a way that was comfortable without being stale. However, as the old saw goes, you can't please all of the people all of the time, and I found myself being constantly distracted by the members of the congregation who never seemed to "connect" with the "worship" segment of the morning service.

Then it happened.

I was attending a church service recently, and during the "praise and worship" segment, right in the middle of a "worship" song, the "worship team" inserted a guitar solo. Now don't get me wrong. It sounded great, (the lead guitarist happens to be a good friend of mine....) and it wasn't distracting from the "worship mood" of the congregation. Still, it got me thinking.. (which can be a pretty scary thing...).

So, I find myself engaged in an inner debate about the merits of entertainment in the modern church. We will now join the fray as the duel sides of my ego, Professor Cynical and Rev. Feel Good present their closing arguments and take questions from the gallery.... Right this way please.... Watch your step....

Rev. F.G.: "... and so, I say simply and straightforwardly that the question itself, "Should the church entertain its members?" is jaded and should be, no, must be removed from the floor. Of course we should provide an environment that fosters a mood of entertainment, (discreetly, of course) while at the same time presenting the Gospel in a relevant and modern way. Remember, when D.L Moody and Spurgeon were in their prime, oratory was considered a respected form of entertainment. They were simply engaging their culture with the communication forms which were popular at the time, and were quite successful in their ministries.

Thus, when the modern church presents the Gospel with video, drama and technodazzle, it is merely emulating the church of the past. Should the church be about entertainment? Certainly not! Should church be entertaining? If it isn't, the only people who will remain in church are the ones who go out of a sense of obligation... and I daresay they would find sawdust and stale water entertaining in a strange and unwholesome way. "

(thunderous applause and catcalls proceed from the gallery as Rev. Feel Good steps down from the podium. Professor Cynical rises and walks slowly across the platform, shaking his head slightly and nonchalantly fixing his tie. He stands up to the podium and clears his throat as the room falls silent...)

Prof. C.: "Should the church entertain its members?" This is, of course, the question at hand, and the fact that we have broached the subject says a tremendous amount about the depths to which we in Western society have fallen. What we have is a generation that has entirely missed the point of church. We should worship God with all of our minds, souls and strength. Instead, we attend a worship service which last maybe ninety minutes, and is so programmed that one could set his watch by the events on the stage. We are extolled by Scripture to enter His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts. Instead, we enter the doors with lunch on our minds. We say things such as, "That was great worship today", and, "I really enjoyed the service.", then we complain because we had to stand up so long, or because we just don't understand this "modern" music. Why not get really modern and present the message in 30-second sound bites complete with jingles and scantily dressed super models? ("Foul!" says the moderator. Prof. C. rolls his eyes).

The point being, when we choose to reduce the gathering together of the saints for communion and worship to a thinly veiled commercial for "Get the Gospel and Get A Life" we miss the very essence of church, which is to corporately adore our Lord and Savior and give to Him the worship He deserves. Worship devoid of pretense and prescription, but whole hearted and vital. When church becomes a vehicle for entertainment, its emphasis is obviously on the wrong people. It is focused on us and not on the Three In One as it must be to truly be worship at all. Thank you.

(as Prof. C. steps down, someone clears his throat as a few really nice people applaud tentatively. After an awkward silence, the moderator steps up and opens the floor for questions.)

Q: "Professor, is it your opinion then, sir, that people should not enjoy their Sunday morning worship experience?"

Prof. C: "Of course not, don't be asinine. We should walk away from the Sunday meeting refreshed and revitalized. But not because we had some heavy "spiritual" experience, or because we "worshipped" well. Our refreshing should come from the presence of the Holy Spirit, not from the professional performance of the band or the polished delivery of the preacher.

Q: "Reverend, have we gone too far in our desire to have a good worship experience?"

Rev. F.G.: "I must agree with my esteemed opponent that there are those who have taken worship to a vulgar extreme. Yet, we cannot underplay the role that subjectivity plays in the spiritual development of the individual. If certain songs invoke a deeper sense of Gods presence for the worshipper, we should sing them. If people are distracted by the disjointed delivery of the novice speaker, we should make sure that a poised preacher delivers the Gospel message. We cannot afford to take the cultural realities in which we live for granted. There are forces at work in our congregations that were not there two decades ago, much less a century ago. We have to be cognizant of these facts if we are going to reach our culture with the Good News of Jesus Christ."

.... Well, as you can see the issue is far from resolved in my mind. What do you think? Should the church entertain its members? Stay tuned, the debate rages on.....

Heavenly Father, help me to know what is really important. And help me to never become so caught up in the “doing” that I miss “being” with You and in You. Amen.


Day 37 - Visions in the Night

He set another parable before them, saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches." He spoke another parable to them. "The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, until it was all leavened." Matthew 13: 31 - 33

As I was lying in bed the other night I had one of those "Ah ha!" moments.....

You know the ones... those times when suddenly everything clicks into focus and you see things you have been overlooking all along.... Some call in serendipity, others epiphany...... I just call it fortunate.

I was in that almost asleep stage visualizing a conversation with someone who had walked away from organized religion and the program driven church when it happened..... suddenly I knew how to say what I have been feeling for years..... (and I even remembered it the next morning......!)

See, I have been dissatisfied with the "Drive-Thru" church that Americans have made so popular.... "I'll take two instant blessings and a cup of sanctification to go, please...." I just can't stand it....

And I'm not much for the "All You Can Eat Buffet" church that seems to be everywhere these days..... "A little activity for the kids... small groups and prayer fellowship for Mom..... P.K. for Dad... music for everyone... your choice of worship styles; contemporary, traditional or progressive..... pre-recorded sermon tapes available.... manifestations of the Spirit on Thursday nights...." Call me cynical, but it seems too polished to be the "real thing".

Of course, I'm not big in the "Do Not Disturb" church, either..... (no explanation needed.... I hope!)

These are the churches that people are leaving in droves.... These are the churches that have been tested and found irrelevant..... These are the churches that have made promises they can't keep and claims they can't support..... these are the churches that have left a legacy of disillusioned, skeptical post-Christians in their wake.... and I have finally recognized the root of the problem.... Hallelujah!

You see, for years we have been working with the wrong understanding of what the church is supposed to be about..... we have bought into the vision of the militant church.... the triumphant church.... the victorious church...... the forceful church..... and that has been a huge mistake!

As the church we are not an invasion force...... we aren't called to attack and destroy.... we aren't called to occupy and control..... we aren't supposed to be the church offensive but the church subversive!

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He looked at a group of about 120 people and said, "I want you to go change the world....." He didn't say "conquer..."

And so, we are not supposed to beat people over the head with our Bibles.... we are not supposed to analyze, criticize, rationalize and proselytize..... We aren't supposed to go and "take this city for Jesus!"

Instead, we are supposed to quietly but intentionally love those around us into the Kingdom of God.... we should be like yeast... not like hammers...

And if we embrace this purpose for the church, then the way we "do church" will be transformed..... because we will find that intimacy is more important than variety, and success is measured in terms of quality not quantity....

Friends, going to church should not be like going to Wal-Mart where you get lost in a crowd and hope to walk out with what you came to get..... in fact, we shouldn't be "going to church" in the first place.... we are the church.... and we're supposed to look like Jesus.... not P.T. Barnum or Napoleon.

Heavenly Father, I want to make a difference. I want my life to have meaning and purpose. And above all, I want to have an influence on the people around me for the kingdom. Help me escape from all the preconceived ideas that have held me back thus far. And focus my eyes again on the only thing that matters.... the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Day 38 - How's Your Love Life?

Don't love the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the Father's love isn't in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, isn't the Father's, but is the world's. 1 John 2: 16 - 17

Lately I've been thinking a lot about sin.

Not that I have been contemplating sinning, but I have been pondering the nature of sin and the reality if sin in our lives and the life of the church.

You see, I continue to become more and more concerned for the church because the church continues to look more and more like the world. And the Apostle John wrote that "if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

Now we all feel a bit uncomfortable with dogmatism today. In our postmodern, multicultural, politically correct world of diversity and acceptance there is very little room for the black and white of Scripture. And as the church has embraced the world we have chosen to see shades of grey where once the lines of demarcation were clearly evident. We have chosen to avoid the yes and no, right or wrong attitude of the Apostles and have opted for the more comfortable maybe - sometimes attitude of the pagan world.

The only problem is, this casual attitude towards the Scripture can lead only to error, and error to sin.

(That's right, the "S" word....)

While I am convinced that good Christian people still abhor sin as a concept, I am not sure we really despise sin as a practiced reality. I believe we have become much too comfortable with the world and the things of the world. And this comfort has lead to contentment, and contentment to a callous attitude towards sin and those people who are lost in it!

If we really believed that the lost person next door was doomed to an eternity in Hell (...gasp! The 'H' word!) would that not change the way we view evangelism? Would anyone drive past a neighbor's burning house and casually assume that the fire department was on its way?

And yet, I find that Christendom appears to be more concerned with integrating the latest technologies and fad techniques into its "worship services" than it is with raising, equipping and sending workers into the harvest fields. We would rather bring the world into our churches than send our churches out into the world, and that troubles me.

The bottom line is, sin is sin. There is no grey area in the arena of a man's heart; either we love and serve the Lord, or we love the world and serve ourselves.

Jesus said that it is impossible to serve God and the world and that we are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness.

John says that if we love the world and all it has to offer, then we really don't love God regardless of what we say on Sunday morning.

So, how is your love life today?

Lord, what do I love? I say that I love You, but do I really? Or am I just saying it because I know it’s the right thing to confess? Am I as much a Christian on Friday night as I am on Sunday morning? Oh God, if there is sin in my heart would You reveal it for me? I want to be righteous and pure. Only You can make me that way. Help me, Jesus.... Amen


Day 39 - I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn't worthy of me. He who doesn't take his cross and follow after me, isn't worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10: 37 - 39

I am reading Jim Bakker's autobiography, "I was wrong". I have been fascinated by the fact that he has gone from being one of the premier prosperity teachers to being an advocate for intimacy with Christ. I also find it interesting that he sees a direct link between the prosperity doctrine and the fall of PTL. In fact, he feels that God had him placed in prison so that his relationship with the Lord could grow deeper and closer, something that he admits was impossible while he was empire building.

Bakker even goes so far as to say that in preaching a doctrine of material gain he was guilty of manipulating the Scriptures to meet his preconceived ideas, and in doing so, he was preaching a false Gospel. In his own words he says, "I was wrong."

And so, along with Jim Bakker, we are faced with a decision. Will we move towards a comfortable coexistence with our religious beliefs, or will we move towards an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ? Our decision is a litmus test of the depth of our walk with God.

The truth is, most Western Christians are terribly egocentric. Consider this; if you were to remove the words "I", "my", "me", "we" and "us" from your vocabulary, how would it effect your prayer life? If you remove yourself from the equation, how much would be left to pray about? I wasn't too happy with my answer for that question either.

You see, from a very early age we are convinced that we are the center of the universe, and in a metaphysical way, we are. Certainly I am more intimately familiar with myself than with any other person in existence. And yet we are called by Christ to die to our selves so that He can live more fully within us. That "take up your cross" business is a big deal to Jesus. He expects us to obey Him, even when we don't want to. Even when we aren't sure what it really means.

I have reached a point in my walk with Christ where I desire closeness with Him above anything else. I am tired of a shallow, superficial relationship. I wouldn't be happy with my wife, my children or my friends if they treated me the way I tend to treat Jesus; calling on Him in times of need and heaping expectations on Him in the name of Biblical promises. It just isn't right.

Last night I revisited Calvary and saw again my Savior suffering on my behalf. I realized how much I have taken for granted and how comfortable I have grown in walking near Him without actually being close to Him. I gazed into His eyes and saw again His love and compassion for me, and I felt so small and unworthy.
And as I walked away from that place of renewal, I determined in my heart to put aside my agendas and expectations and to simply walk hand in hand with the One who gave His all for my sake.

Really, it's the least any of us can do.

Lord, once again I am here to renew my commitment to follow You where ever You decide to lead me. Once again I am convicted of my failures and reminded of my desperate need of Your love, grace and mercy. Thank You for Your patience and Your abiding presence. Amen.


Day 40 - The New View.....

All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2: 44 - 47

I'm convinced there has to be more than this.....

There has to be more to church than a weekly gathering of interested parties going through the all too familiar motions of yet another "service". There must be another level of intimacy among the members of Christ's body. But how? Where?

Each week I sit back and watch it happen. People drive into the parking lot with a car load of troubles. Their marriages are in trouble. They are having problems with their children. Things at work aren't going well. They have financial problems, and health problems, and emotional problems. Some of them don't even believe in Jesus any more, but they are afraid to admit it.

But as soon as they stop the car they put on their game face. You know the one; big smile, warm voice, easy laughter, quick hug, superficial topic of the week, and into the same seat they sit in every week to study the bulletin they know by heart and can't remember. I can almost see the relief in their eyes when they get seated because everyone knows it's taboo to talk too much in church. It makes my heart hurt.

And there I sit in the big chair up front. I'm supposed to have all the answers, or at least know the right thing to say to make it all better for a while. And so, like a reluctant conductor I play the game one more time. Announcements, prayer, songs, sermon, benediction, hand shake, see you next week, call me if you need me.....

You know, as I sit there each Sunday morning, I find that I am tempted to stand up and cry out, "The emperor is naked!" But I'm afraid no one would understand, because I have the feeling they are all terrified by the thought that it might be true.

What if "church" really has become nothing more than a shameful facade that hides our unbelief and our lack of faith? What happens if we strip away all the vanity and repetition only to discover that there is nothing left?

What do you do if you find that tradition and habit have become the life support system that give an appearance of life to a corpse? Do we dare pull the plug and go home?

I'm convinced there must be something more.... there has to be more.....

And I long to find it... although I’m not really sure where to begin. But the more I pray the more I feel it. The more I study the more I see it. The more I meditate upon it the closer I am to it....

Real fellowship....

Where broken people are allowed to hurt.

Where sinners are allowed to confess without the stigma of shame and ridicule.

Where lost souls find meaning and purpose.

Where the love of Jesus and the bond of the Spirit are experienced not talked about.....

This is what I want more than anything else. And I believe with all of my heart it is what our Lord wants for us as well.....

So I refuse to give up until I find it......

Lord, lead me. I want to experience the real thing. I am so tired of playing church; of doing and saying and thinking the right things.... I want to be loved because I am Yours not because I am acceptable to the group. And I want to love others the same way. Help me discover the Body of Christ as only You can create it. Amen.



Pastor Mark Owens