Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pray and vote...

Election Day is upon us. In just a few days, tens of millions of Americans will go to the polls to elect a new set of men and women to rule them. These citizens will have their say in who governs their fair cities and counties and states. They will elect mayors and judges and sheriffs and district attorneys and treasurers and governors and a whole host of officials they’ve never heard of. Some of those tens of millions of voters will give a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” to ballot initiatives and bond issues.

If it is the Lord’s will for me to live until Tuesday, I plan to cast my ballot at the city building. I hope you aim to do the same. It is a great privilege to be given a say in who will govern you. Not everyone in the world has the right to do that. I urge you to pray for our nation and vote as God directs you.

A lot of decisions will be made on Tuesday, important decisions, but the one decision that the majority of folks are most focused on is the race for president. While there are six candidates in that race, practically all eyes are on two – Obama and McCain. These two have captured the lion’s share of the media coverage and of the millions of dollars in campaign contributions. It’s likely, highly likely, that one or the other of these senators will be the next president of the United States.

I’m not endorsing either of them (I’ve done that in earlier posts) nor am I disparaging the five courageous men and the one brave woman who are running third-party campaigns against them. I’m simply stating the facts: McCain and Obama, with their national name recognition and well-oiled Democratic and Republican political machinery, have the best chance of winning the presidency.

So how do you feel about these guys?

A few of you – I’m just guessing – are enthusiastically supportive of one or the other. You like what Obama stands for or what McCain represents. You have bright hopes for the future. You anticipate change for the better. You will joyfully enter the voting booth this week and tap your man’s name exuberantly.

Good for you! You are rare. Wish there were more like you.

Of those who aren’t enthusiastic, ambivalence seems to be a fairly prevalent attitude. Some are asking, “300,000,000 people in the US and these are the best we have?” Others are saying, “I like that one guy, sort of.” A few honest folks confess, “I dislike this guy less than I dislike the other.”

I’ve had numerous conversations with people who aren’t sure about either of the two main contenders. I’ve heard good friends say, “I’m voting for the lesser of two evils.”

Have you heard the same from your friends? Is that how you feel?

If not eager anticipation or half-hearted resignation, perhaps you’re gripped by desperate fears.

My cousin, a devout Catholic living in Nevada, wrote me this week, uneasy about the election. As he talked about McCain and Obama throughout his note, he used fear words repeatedly. “Scared,” “apprehensive,” “dread” and “afraid” all made appearances in connection to the front runners.

(He is, as a matter of conscience and conviction, voting for Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party because he didn’t feel like he could trust either Obama or McCain. He gave me permission to talk about his letter to me.)

Before my cousin’s email arrived this week, I received another last week from two or three different people that began with these words: “This is the scariest election we as Christians have ever faced.” It was actually an invitation to pray about the election for one minute every day leading up to November 4th. People on the East Coast pray at 9:00pm. Folks in the middle at 8:00pm. 7:00pm for the folks in the Mountain time zone and 6:00pm in the Pacific. A nice enough suggestion, I suppose. A great way to unite Christians. Praying as one for a minute isn’t a bad idea. Pass it along. But I felt uncomfortable passing along this particular note because of the fearful tone set in that opening sentence. I suppose I could’ve edited the “scariest” words out, but I didn’t think of that until now when it’s practically too late.

Believers, we have nothing to fear! We have reason to be excited! God is in control. He will still be in control Wednesday morning…no matter who wins the election. I hope you will pray and vote enthusiastically Tuesday – not with a sigh or a moan.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

House showing in Canton...

I was checking out the House website this morning and found out that it will be showing opening weekend at the Cinemark Tinseltown USA theater in Canton, Ohio, where I'll be for the weekend. To go or not to go? That is the question that now returns full force. I won't have a car there, so I guess it will depend on whether friends want to go or not...and if I decide to subject myself to a night of horror. The book was so good. Can the movie measure up?

Nightmare call...

I woke up this morning, heart thumping, breath shallow and rapid. I'd had a nightmare.

In my dream I was paged out for some sort of medical call so I raced to the ambulance barn. I got there and pulled 101, our first response ambulance, out of the garage, radioed dispatch that we were 10-8 and waited for other techs to show up. I waited and waited, but no one came. No one! (Where were you guys?!)

I got on the radio and asked for assistance. In reply, I got a panicked sounding, "We're on scene!" from Medic 2. (I'm pretty sure on the voice, but I'm surprised it wasn't Medic 4. She always gets the crazy calls.)

So I took off toward the scene. On the way or as I was pulling up to the house, it's hard to remember which, I reached over to replay the page just to make sure I had the right address. That's when the "story" went bonkers.

The page in memory was NOT the same one I'd originally come running for. It was something about a fight gone bad at the grade school. By this time I was in the house I'd stopped at and Medic 5 was there. She was trying to buy something from the people who lived there and my bike was in the living room.

I ran back outside and Medic 2 was driving away with the ambulance. I waved frantically, trying to stop him, but he didn't see me in his mirrors. (I imagine he was mad because he needed an ambulance and didn't have one.)

Now, I don't know how it got there, but my van, the old one with 240,000+ miles, was in the driveway at the house. I ran back inside, grabbed my bike and loaded it in the van before roaring off after Medic 2 in 101. (Are you following all this?)

When I pulled out onto Main Street, I nearly cutoff a bright yellow custom pickup truck with flames on the hood and sides. The tough looking bald guy inside started shouting at me. He ran up on my bumper then swung around next to me and started threatening me.

I turned at the Lutheran Church suddenly, hoping to lose him. As soon as I was out of sight, I doubled back. I'd seen him speed up to the next block, so I thought I'd lose him with my sneaky maneuver. Unfortunately, he did the same thing at the next block and I found him next to me again. (What happened here would be physically impossible, but dreams aren't bound by the laws of physics. Would've been nice if they applied in this case.)

I was in a panic. I drove back to the ambulance barn, grabbed my portable radio and began frantically trying to raise dispatch while the driver, now out of his pretty pickup, started pounding on my window angrily.

I woke up. Whew! (Pepperoni pizza at an EMS meeting late in the evening...NEVER AGAIN!!!)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Don't be stupid...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. This political button is so out there. "Don't be racist, vote Obama"? Get real. I make decisions about my politics based on issues not race and I am NOT a racist even though I will not be voting for Mr. O. Don't be ridiculous!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Without getting angry...

Here is Don Miller's step-by-step formula for "how you, too, can go to church without getting angry":
  • Pray that God will show you a church filled with people who share your interests and values.
  • Go to the church God shows you.
  • Don't hold grudges against any other churches. God loves those churches almost as much as He loves yours.

Leading up to this formula, Miller says this: "I had to tell my heart to love the people at the churches I used to go to, the people who were different from me. This was entirely freeing because when I told my heart to do this, my heart did it, and now I think very fondly of those wacko Republican fundamentalists, and I know that they love me, too, and I know that we will eat together, we will break bread together in heaven, and we will love each other so purely it will hurt because we are a family in Christ." (Blue Like Jazz, p. 137-138)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Crime Stoppers alert!

I thought I’d give you a heads up. Masked bandits are coming to town next Friday. Trust me. They always do on October 31st. Never fails. And the cops do nothing to stop them.

Here’s how they operate…

They ring your doorbell and when you answer, they hold out a sack or a bucket and demand you pay up or else.

“Trick or treat?” is a threat, you know? It’s extortion, pure and simple. “Give me something good to eat,” the little candy-grubbers demand, “or I’ll put mustard in your oatmeal and make noises like a sick cat outside your window while you’re trying to sleep.”

The Mob has nothing on young Halloweeners. Be prepared…or else!

Fireproof's impact...

I was wondering yesterday as I read about Fireproof's profits if the movie was having any impact on lives. Were marriages being rescued? Were people coming to know Jesus? Was there any real stuff happening? I mean, who cares, really, if the movie makes 40 or 50 times the money it took to create if people aren't being transformed?

This morning I got an email update from the Fireproof website. I signed up for it a month or so ago and had mostly been getting info on opening night, profits, etc. This time it was different. This time the email was all about changed lives. What I read was incredibly encouraging.

Here are three testimonials from this update...

"My husband and I went to see this amazing movie! It changed our marriage. We have been married 26 years and had some major unresolved issues that came to the surface after watching the movie. These issues very easily could have cost us our marriage, and almost did. This movie helped us to face the problems and deal with them. After a very hard weekend, God helped us to make it to the other side. God used the movie to show us where our relationship really needed help. Thank you so much for addressing the hard issues in this movie. With God's help, it saved our marriage. I know it will change many more lives."

"We were on the brink of divorce. My husband and I were separated for one year. Our story was very similar to the one in the movie. I did not want to go see it at the time, especially with my husband. I finally agreed to go as a couple after an invitation from a friend and her husband. I was very uncomfortable and nervous before the movie even started. As I watched the story unfold, God spoke to me over and over again. I cried through most of the movie, realizing that I was being selfish and I had hurt my husband severely. After it was over, we went home and discussed participating in the Fireproof study with the same couple that had gone with us to the movie. We have completed the second week of study and I am participating in The Love Dare. My life has changed and so has my marriage. We have a long road ahead, but we're on the right path."

"I am a police officer and a bi-vocational pastor. Last week, a detective asked if he could see me in his office. I noticed that there were tears in his eyes. He looked at me and said, 'Larry, I want to become a godly man. I have done things that I am not proud of and I want to change.' I shared with him the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. When I asked what got him to thinking about making a change in his life, he said, 'My wife and I went to see a movie called Fireproof. I saw a lot of myself in that movie and it did not make me proud.'"

Lives, and eternities, are being changed! I encourage you to go see Fireproof. You'll be encouraged if your marriage is strong. You'll be challenged to work harder at loving your spouse like Christ loved the church. You'll be called upon to respect and cherish the one you chose for better or for worse. Go see Fireproof!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fireproof tops $20 million...

Fireproof, which cost less than $1 million to make, passed the $20 million mark at the box office this weekend. Titanic, the highest-grossing movie of all time, cost $200 million to make and brought in a threefold return.

The pro-marriage Fireproof is the third feature film from Sherwood Pictures, the moviemaking ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.

"We don't do this so that people will pat us on the back," Sherwood Senior Pastor Michael Catt said. "We do it for God's glory."


The Love Dare, a book featured in the movie, hit No. 1 on the New York Times paperback advice best-seller list, and is No. 10 among all books on Amazon.com.


CitizenLink
10-20-2008

Box office figures as of 10/22/2008: $21,237,931.
Source: www.boxofficemojo.com

Thank you for coming...

I received wonderful thank you notes from two boys in Argonia's first grade class today. They both drew pictures of our ambulance and very politely said, "Thank you for coming and talking to us. We liked it."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A word on voting...

Election Day 2008 is just around the corner. Many important decisions will be made final on that day. I want to urge believers of every stripe to pray for our nation at this time and carefully consider each candidate and their stance on the important issues of our day. Then vote!

Keep going...

There was a time when one of God’s prophets, Elijah, was not so sure about his future, not so filled with hope. There was a time when this holy man was a depressed wreck. He was down in the dumps, sure every one was against him. And he was not too sure about God.

Before I tell you that part of his life story, let me give you some background.

Elijah was a faithful follower of God. He was brave. He was bold. He was filled with great faith.

He went before the wicked king of Israel, King Ahab, and told him what was what. Standing before the throne, Elijah spoke out against Ahab’s idolatry-promoting ways. “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives,” he said, “there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1, NIV)

This was a direct affront to Ahab’s new god, Baal – a god of rain and thunder, fertility and agriculture. God was getting ready to show the nation of Israel what was what. He was about to shout it out loud and clear, “I am the God of rain and thunder and fertility and agriculture. I am the God of all things, Maker of Heaven and Earth. You shall not have any other gods before me.” And Elijah was God’s spokesman. He spoke with all the great faith God had given him and what he said happened. For three and a half years there wasn’t a drop of rain on the land. Everything was dry and barren in Israel, brown and dusty. (Kind of like western Kansas in August.)

Elijah hid out first in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. There he was supplied with food by God-guided ravens and with water from a brook that ran through the narrow valley. The birds brought him bread and meat morning and evening every day. When Elijah’s water supply dried up, his hideout became a widow’s home in Sidon.

In the third year of the drought, God spoke to his prophet. “Go and present yourself to Ahab,” he said, “and I will send rain on the land.” (1 Kings 18:1, NIV)

Elijah did as he was told. He entered the king of Israel’s court and issued an invitation to the entire nation. “Meet me on Mt. Carmel,” he challenged. “Bring the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal. Bring the four hundred who serve Asherah.”

And they came, all of them. The mountain was covered with people. Young and old stood together. Regally-robed priests and ragged peasants too. The king and his entourage.

Elijah spoke to them. “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him…but if Baal is God, follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21, NIV)

Then the challenge to the false prophets: “Call down fire from heaven upon a sacrificial bull.” The deceivers tried and tried. They cut themselves and shouted loudly. Nothing.

Then Elijah stepped up and, after soaking his altar – wood, stones, bull, everything – called upon God. Fire! The whole thing was consumed. Not one bone from the bull was left. The flames destroyed the stones. The water in the trench around the altar was licked up.

A great cry erupted from the people as they fell on their faces in worship. “The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39, NIV)

Elijah ordered the execution of every false priest then he spoke to the king. “Go,” he said, “eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So the king went off and ate, but Elijah climbed to the top of the mountain and prayed.

At first nothing happened. The man of God’s servant looked, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Elijah prayed again and again and again – seven times in all. On the seventh look-see, his servant reported back with this news: “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” (1 Kings 18:44, NIV)

Elijah sent word to Ahab. “Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.”

The sky grew black, the wind rose, heavy rain came and Elijah, filled with the power of God, tucked his cloak into his belt and ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to town.

Friends, Elijah was a man who followed God. He obeyed even when the assignment was perilous. He trusted God, had faith in him, saw his Lord work miracles. And then the bottom fell out.

Jezebel, King Ahab’s Sidonian wife, hears what Elijah has done to all of her Baal prophets and Asherah priests sends a messenger to the prophet with this rather pointed message: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” (1 Kings 19:2, NIV)

Elijah hears her words and runs for his life. He’s scared. He flees deep into the desert. Too tired to go on, too frightened to go back, he sits down under a broom tree and prays.

“I have had enough, Lord.” Not a lot of faith in those words. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:5, NIV) With that he lies down under the tree. He’s done in. He drifts off into a troubled sleep.

Let’s stay here with him for a moment. Elijah is as lost as lost can be. His faith is faltering. His fears are taking over. His hope is dying.

We’ve all been in that place before. We’ve laid down in the shade of a broom tree and wished we were dead. We’ve wondered if God is with us in our desperate state. The questions are hard to ask, harder to answer. “Does he care? Does he know? Does he exist?”

Failure, suffering, hardship, pain – they are not easy to deal with. But listen to me. We cannot stay here. We cannot continue to sleep in the desert. We will die. We must follow God out of the wilderness. We must trust him. We must obey even when the way seems overwhelmingly difficult.

God sends help to his servant. An angel wakes Elijah and feeds him. “Get up,” the heavenly warrior instructs. “Get up and eat.” A supper of baked bread and a jar of water are offered. Elijah eats, drinks and falls back into a deep sleep.

The angel returns some time later. His instructions are the same: “Get up and eat.”

Elijah does so and strengthened by this second meal he sets out for Mt. Horeb.

Days later Elijah finds the mountain of God and holes up in a cave to spend the night. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God’s voice! A difficult question.

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty,” Elijah explains. “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:10, NIV)

God speaks again. “Go out and stand on the mountain. Stand in my presence.” Elijah obeys.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Same question. Same response.

“I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

This time God answered Elijah with instructions.

“Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.”

And after the instruction, words of hope.

“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Elijah was not alone. God was with him. A godly remnant was with him. Elijah broke camp and returned to God’s work, trusting his Maker rather than fearing a wicked woman.

This story asks a very profound question of you and me. Simply put, it asks: “What or who do you fear more than God?”

Do you fear failure? Rejection? Death? Are you afraid God will abandon you? He’s promised not to. Do you fear despite his assurances?

Then when the question is asked, God speaks through Elijah’s story: “Do not fear. I am with you. I will not leave you.”

Friends, you’re all alive and breathing today. That means none of your failures have killed you yet. You’ve come through dozens of difficult situations with God’s help. Don’t you remember? He has been faithful. He has been trustworthy. God will continue to be faithful.

“What are you doing here wallowing in self-pity? What are you doing here trembling in fear? What are you doing here worrying about the future?” He will see you through. So get up and eat! You’ve got a journey to complete. Go after God. Pray earnestly for his help. Meet with him and hear his direction.

God did not stop at your failure. Don’t you!


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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fun for EMTs...

Had more fun today than any EMT should be allowed to have. I and three others from Argonia EMS went to Argonia Elementary School to talk to the kids there about what to do in an emergency and to show them some of the things we do. We had a blast hearing what they thought was an emergency and fielding the best (and funniest) questions ever. The kids got to listen to their heartbeat (above), tour the ambulance and check out some of our cool equipment. Three lucky teachers got to be immobilized on a spineboard. Thanks for being good sports Mrs. Dickerson, Mrs. Dunn (below) and Ms. Olds!

Don't stop at failure...

I remember the first time I failed a test. I was in seventh grade at Union-Whitten schools, a small consolidated district in rural Hardin County, Iowa. I’m not sure of the subject, English I think, but I remember the classroom. It was the first door down the stairs and to the right, across from the art room alcove where Trevor McFarland decked me for getting all A’s on a previous report card. It was a small, dark room that got smaller and darker as I stared at the giant red ‘F’ at the top of my paper. That bright scarlet letter was mine, not someone else’s spied with haughty contempt across the aisle between desks. I was not used to seeing that particular member of the alphabet family scribbled across my tests. It disoriented me. I became short of breath. I couldn’t see straight. I cried. I left the room and boohooed. My teacher and classmates chased me down, tried to comfort me. I was inconsolable. I had failed. I would never amount to anything.

I got over it. I redoubled my efforts in that subject and in every other. I wasn’t going to be defeated by such a little setback. I determined the next day to go on, to do everything I could to banish the sixth of the twenty-six from my work. From that day on, I worked harder than I’d ever worked before and it paid off. I was not a failure. I’d show everyone. Okay, not Trevor. I wasn’t stupid, just naïve. I only showed him my report card once. The progress report I earned for that nine weeks would’ve earned me a nasty punch in the face if I hadn’t grown in wisdom.

You’ve all experienced something similar haven’t you? You’ve had a setback or two that led to growth. You lost money on a shaky investment and learned financial savvy. You didn’t make the varsity squad and practiced tirelessly until you were an indispensible part of the starting lineup. You survived a heart attack or a bout with cancer and got more serious about living for God. You were fired and went back to school to gain new skills before securing an even better job.

Has anyone who’s lived not failed forward at least once or twice?

Most of us don’t stay stuck when the muck of life slows us down. We get out of the mud hole and go on stronger for the experience. But some get caught and can’t get free. There are people whose hearts are still despairing over things that happened a decade or two ago. There are people who’ve been knocked back on their seat time and time again. Everything that could have gone wrong in their life has. Lost their job. Lost their marriage. Lost their dad. Lost their money. Lost their health. Lost their dog. They have lost or are about to lose their sanity and their faith. And they don’t live only in New Jersey – inside joke. They live in Argonia, Kansas. They live where you live. Maybe “they” are you.

Whether you’ve fallen and can’t get up or you’re the bounce back kid, I have good news for you today. God is with you in the pit. He has not abandoned you. He is at work right now to set things aright. He has “plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

Trust him and keep going. He will see you through.


To receive my once or twice weekly message via email, send a blank email to webmessage-subscribe@associate.com. Past messages are available at freegroups.net/groups/webmessage.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Small town living...

I started a fun "You know you're in Argonia when..." group on Facebook a few days ago. It's been great reading what others say about my favorite town. Here are a few of my favorites...
  • You know you're in Argonia when the homecoming king and queen hug instead of kiss because they're cousins...happened at least once!
  • You know you're in Argonia when you read the newspaper to find out who had lunch with whom last Sunday.
  • You know you're in Argonia when the population of cats are more than people!!!!
  • You know you're in Argonia when a traffic jam is 3 cars waiting on a combine with a 27' header to make it down Main Street.
  • You know you're in Argonia when somebody passes through town and stops to ask you "Where is Argoina?"

Check out the group and add your two cents worth...assuming you know where Argonia is!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The sounds of church...

I sat in my seat on the platform at church during open worship this morning and heard the most wonderful sounds...
  • I heard a baby fussing in her mother's arms and smiled. That sound reminded me that the church has a future.
  • I heard the distinct flap, flap flap of flipflops exiting the sanctuary. That sound reminded me that teens are hungry for God's word.
  • I heard the creaking and cracking of bones (mostly mine). That sound reminded me that there are older folks who will remain faithful for a lifetime.

I hope your church is as noisy.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No-risk faith?

A friend passed this along to me...

Several years ago I was lecturing at a seminary, and when I was finished, a young student shared with me that she had planned to go to the Northwest to help start a new church. She continued to explain that in the process she had discovered it was not the will of God. I asked her how she determined that, and she said, “The money never came through.” I asked her who told her that lack of finances was proof that God was not in it. She said her pastor and her parents. They said that if God wanted her t go, everything would be provided before she left.

Our wealth and abundance of human resources have positioned us to accept a paradigm that provision precedes vision. This has been the foundation of building no-risk faith. This is a tragedy when a part of the adventure is the discovery that vision always precedes provision. I know this may be a real stretch, but it is always right to do what’s right, even if it turns out wrong. There are times God calls us to do the right thing, knowing that others will respond in the wrong way.


-Guest Blogger, Erwin Raphael McManus (from Chasing Daylight)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A word on Hell...

Saying that “You’re going to Hell unless you start living right” is lousy theology. The truth is that non-Christians are on their way to Hell regardless of how well they start living. Just like Christians, their only hope is putting their faith in Jesus.

It also implies that Christians are somehow living better such that we deserve Heaven, and that is lousy theology as well. Many atheists may be higher up on the (human) moral scale than Christians are. More importantly, we are only saved through what Jesus did for us. Saying his death plus something we did saved us from Hell is heresy, as is the notion that anything short of what Jesus did could save us.

-Guest Blogger, Neil

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It could be worse...

With Thanksgiving just around the corner - You know, that holiday between Halloween and Christmas? - here are a few things that make me thankful…

I am thankful that all of my relationships are not falling apart. In a fallen world filled with selfish sinners a lot like me, I’m amazed that any of them survive. I have a wonderful wife who puts up with my quirks most of the time. I have kids who love me even when I’m not the greatest dad. I have close friends who pick me up when I’m down. I have family members who think I’m mostly okay. I have a church full of incredibly tolerant people that seldom do more than roll their eyes when I get wacky.

I am thankful that most days are better than some. In a fallen world filled with disease and disaster, I’m amazed that on any given day most things are all right with me. Even on my worst days, things could be worse…usually. I suppose there is a worst day in every person’s life. Rather than fearing that it’s ahead, I’m thankful that it’s likely behind me…though tomorrow could prove me wrong.

I am thankful that not all of my words stir up trouble. In a fallen world filled with hurting people, I'm amazed that I actually have decent conversations with friends regularly. I laugh at (uh...with) many close friends nearly every day. We smile at each other as we discuss politics or religion or whatever happens to come up. We agree to disagree and firmly shake hands when we don't see eye-to-eye.

Strange things to give thanks for, I suppose, but the Bible says to “give thanks in all circumstances” so I’m going to.

You are never there...

I walked through the door of my office this morning and found this message waiting for me on the church's answering machine...

"You know what? You’re never there. What the #@&* is your problem? You’re supposed to be a preacher. You are never there. What is your problem…is what I want to know? God would be there. You wanna *&@#*!& be there for people? You’re never there. Goodbye."

That has to be by far the most interesting message I have ever had on my machine. What makes it more interesting is the time of day it was left. I was chewed out and cussed out because I wasn't in my office at 9:44pm!?!?! Kind of a strange time to be calling the preacher and expecting him to be at work. I am NEVER (ok...seldom) there at 9:44pm! I am usually at home getting ready for bed at 9:44pm.

I hope this person calls back, because I already embarrassed myself by calling the person I thought it was. They assured me they would never do such a thing. Hmmmm. I guess it will remain a mystery. I'll just pray for them. You can too.

P.S. Be nice to your pastor. He can only be one place at a time. Trust me on this. He is human. If he doesn't answer the phone at the church, it's because he's either (a) visiting the sick, bereaved, hurting, lonely, etc., (b) enjoying a day off, (c) in the bathroom, (d) at home with his family or (e) dead.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ted Dekker weighs in...

Do I love making movies? Yes.

And no.

As a young young author, naïve to the ways of Hollywood I remember arriving at the set of Thr3e with great eagerness. First movie, time to conquer the world. Then I learned what most authors who’ve done this sort of thing already know: Authors have NO power on the set. The director and the actors look at you as if you walked out [of] a UFO. Who’s this pipsqueak, the author? What’s he doing here? I watched them take apart my story and put it on screen the way they thought it should look.

When they began shooting on House I decided to visit the set in Poland for a couple weeks and subject myself to the same treatment for the grins. Call me a masochist. The filming is a blast, I must say, and the daily grind grows on you. But after two weeks on the ground I found I could no longer stomach what they were doing to my story. They were butchering the theme. They were turning it into a slasher without a clearly redemptive thread and no amount of noise on my part seemed to be getting their attention.

After all, I was only the author. And of the book, mind you, not the screen play.

I clearly remember the day this all boiled over. Michael Madsen was causing some sort of ruckus on the ‘bridge with chickens’ scene and lunch was running late. This was a problem because I’d finally secured a lunch appointment with the director, Robby Henson, after a solid week of yelling from the shadows. Some context: I was absolutely convinced that they had to make some changes to the Screen Play and I was willing to push my point at the risk of getting thrown off the set. The whole light in the darkness was missing! To keep me out of their hair, the powers-that-be had insisted that I rewrite what I thought needed rewriting. I’d done so several times but couldn’t get any of those powers-that-be to look at my changes. And when I tried to explain why we had to lengthen the climax by two pages, for example, or why we had to foreshadow Susan’s ultimate role in the story to lace the darkness with more light, they just nodded while staring off absently. To make matters worse, some of the scenes that needed changing to remotely approach my standards of acceptability were fast approaching.

Now I was getting pissed. I should have known, of course. I was, after all, only the author.

Okay, back to present: The crew finally broke for lunch and I huddled over a table across from the producer and the director. I watched their faces as I began laying out my changes, placing particular emphasis on the rational for each script alteration. The moment I completed one thought, the director began to dismiss it. This movie isn’t about Susan, he would say. She’s just another creepy monster type character. Movies aren’t about ideas, they’re about images. Yes, yes, I tried to patiently explained, I know, I know. But trust me, this movie has to be about an idea as well as visuals and Susan must ultimately deliver on that idea. Every time I tried to explain he interrupted me. Slowly, like the rising tide, my temper began to rise.

Perhaps it was more like a flash flood, now that I think about it. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, because I never lose my temper. Ever. But the dam broke and the frustration flowed. One moment I was sitting there [listening] to this man tell me how we had to lose the redemptive theme represented by Susan, and the next I had snatched away his pen, buried it clean through the thick script and was yelling at him. “This whole freaking movie is about Susan!” I thundered, and I was shaking with rage.

Needless to say, the whole set spun and stared at this ghost called the author who’d manifested right before their eyes. When all was said and done, half my changes were implemented. But when it came to the climax they simply weren’t listening. Unwilling to leave them to their ways, I postponed my flight back to [the] States for five days and determined to get it at least halfway right -- I didn’t care if I had to take a camera crew and shoot some of the scenes myself.

Which is exactly what I did. Working with a sympathetic Polish producer (Mark, may God bless his soul) who agreed to setup the shots, we got footage that proved to be a God-Send in the editing room. And I do mean God-Send, as in saved the picture.

Do I love making movies? Yes. But I would rather direct than write a movie any day. Maybe one of these days. In the mean time, enjoy House, knowing that it is mostly not [my] vision, but in some parts it is.

Ted (posted to the House Facebook group)

An 'R' rated Christian film...

Some time back I read Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker's novel, House (novel cover at right). This story of light vs. darkness by two of my favorite Christian authors was among the most startling, riveting, terrifying, satisfying tales I've ever read. It's an in-your-face horror story about sin and redemption. Heart-pounding is an understatement. Peretti and Dekker made evil really evil in House so that good could be really good. If you like thrillers, read the book...during daylight hours!

On November 7, House, hits the big screen. Yes, they're making a Christian novel into a movie. Surprised? Well this isn't the first time. It's not even the first time Peretti and Dekker have seen adaptations. Peretti's Hangman's Curse and Visitation have both been commited to celluloid. Dekker's Thr3e made it too. I went to see Thr3e at the Warren Theater. I was somewhat disappointed. The movie was not true to the story...or at least not to the point of the story.

I'm afraid House may be the same. I've seen the trailers. Scary! Intense! And really, really dark. The light that pierces the darkness in the book seems to be missing. Maybe the movie will shine light into the night of evil, but I'm not holding my breath.

Early on the powers-that-be were talking PG-13 for House and the movie poster (see the original above at left and the new at right) was much different from the final. But now the folks at MMPA have spoken: 'Restricted'! The Passion of the Christ is no longer be the only 'R' rated Christian film in history. It was only the first.

So now my dilemma. Do I go or not? I love the authors. I want to support them. I loved the book. I'll read it again. I want to see the film. But I hate supporting darkness for darkness' sake. If the core of the story - redemption from sin - is absent, this is not a Christian film. It's a slasher flick. I hate slasher flicks.

Stay tuned...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Columbus another day...

I drove to the bank this morning. Closed! I walked out to the mailbox this afternoon. Empty!

Mr. Columbus couldn't you have stumbled on this great land of ours on another day?

Receiving charity...

A short story from Don Miller's, Blue Like Jazz, to make you think...

For a very long time, I could not understand why some people have no trouble accepting the grace of God while others experience immense difficulty. I counted myself as one of the ones who had trouble. I would hear about grace, read about grace, and even sing about grace, but accepting grace is an action I could not understand. It seemed wrong to me not to have to pay for my sin, not to feel guilty about it or kick myself around. More than that, grace did not seem like the thing I was looking for. It was too easy. I wanted to feel as though I earned my forgiveness, as though God and I were buddies doing favors for each other.

Enlightenment came in an unexpected place: a grocery store. I was on my way over Mount Hood to spend some time in the high desert with a few friends. I was driving alone and decided to stop in at Safeway to pick up some provisions for the weekend. While standing in line at the checkout counter, the lady in front of me pulled out food stamps to pay for her groceries. I had never seen food stamps before. They were more colorful than I imagined and looked more like money than stamps. It was obvious as she unfolded the currency that she, I, and the checkout girl were quite uncomfortable with the interaction. I wished there was something I could do. I wished I could pay for her groceries myself, but to do so would have been to cause a greater scene. The checkout girl quickly performed her job, signing and verifying a few documents, then filed the lady through the line. The woman never lifted her head as she organized her bags of groceries and set them into her cart. She walked away from the checkout stand in the sort of stiff movements a person uses when they know they are being watched.

On the drive over the mountain that afternoon, I realized that it was not the woman who should be pitied, it was me. Somehow I had come to believe that because a person is in need, they are candidates for sympathy, not just charity. It was not that I wanted to buy her groceries, the government was already doing that. I wanted to buy her dignity. And yet, by judging her, I was the one taking her dignity away.

I wonder what it would be like to use food stamps for a month. I wonder how that would feel, standing in line at the grocery store, pulling from my wallet the bright currency of poverty, feeling the probing eyes of the customers as they studied my clothes and the items in my cart: frozen pizza, name-brand milk, coffee. I would want to explain to them that I have a good job and make good money.

I love to give charity, but I don't want to be charity. This is why I have so much trouble with grace.

A few years ago I was listing prayer requests to a friend. As I listed my requests, I mentioned many of my friends and family but never spoke about my personal problems. My friend candidly asked me to reveal my own struggles, but I told him no, that my problems weren't that bad. My friend answered quickly, in the voice of a confident teacher, "Don, you are not above the charity of God." In that instant he revealed my motives were not noble, they were prideful. It wasn't that I cared about my friends more than myself, it was that I believed I was above the grace of God.

I am too prideful to accept the grace of God. It isn't that I want to earn my own way to give something to God, it's that I want to earn my own way so I won't be charity.

As I drove over the mountain that afternoon, realizing I was too proud to receive God's grace, I was humbled. Who am I to think myself above God's charity? And why would I forsake the riches of God's righteousness for the dung of my own ego? (p. 83-85)

The prostitute escapes...

Forty years or so after Israel’s first attempt at entering the promised land, the nation are poised to cross the Jordan and enter their rest. As they stood on the riverbank waiting, Joshua, their new leader, wanted to know what was going on over yonder, so he secretly sent two spies to scope things out.

“Go look over the land,” he instructed his info gatherers. “Check it out, especially Jericho.”

So the two went. They arrived in Jericho and, you’re not going to believe this, decide to hang out with the town hooker. A little disturbing, I suppose, but that’s where they end up: Jericho’s red light district. Makes you wonder what they were thinking…or doing!

Anyway, this prostitute – her name was Rahab – took them in, risking her own neck for theirs. You see, she knew who they were, or more accurately, who they represented. She knew they’re spies. She knew Israel plans to attack. She knew her king would want to know about this duo’s presence.

Well, somehow, not from her lips, Jericho’s ruler found out about the pair and sent word to Rahab. “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house,” his messengers demanded, “because they have come to spy out the land.”

But the woman had hidden the two up on her roof under some stalks of flax. She wasn’t about to give them up to the authorities. She deceived the king’s servants.

“Yes, the men came to me,” she began truthfully enough. “But I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went, but if you go after them quickly, you may catch them.”

So all the king’s horses and all the king’s men went out that night to capture these men.

Alone again, under cover of darkness, Rahab climbed to the roof to chat with her friends. What she said then revealed a great deal about her, even more about her understanding of God.

“I know that God has given you the land,” she began. “We’re all afraid. Everyone in the country feels hopeless. We heard how God dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt, and what he did to the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you put under a holy curse and destroyed. We heard it and our hearts sank. We all had the wind knocked out of us. And all because of you, you and God, your God, God of the heavens above and God of the earth below.

“Now promise me by God. I showed you mercy; now show my family mercy. And give me some tangible proof, a guarantee of life for my father and mother, my brothers and sisters – everyone connected with my family. Save our souls from death!”

“Our lives for yours!” the men said. “But don’t tell anyone our business. When God turns this land over to us, we’ll do right by you.”

Trusting these spies more than some would think prudent, Rahab, the harlot, let them go, lowered them on a rope to the ground outside the wall.

“Go!” she urged them. “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.”

The men replied, “In order to keep this oath you made us swear, here is what you must do: Hang this red rope out the window through which you let us down and gather your entire family with you in your house – father, mother, brothers, and sisters. Anyone who goes out the doors of your house into the street and is killed, it’s his own fault – we aren’t responsible. But for everyone within the house we take full responsibility. If anyone lays a hand on one of them, it’s our fault. But if you tell anyone of our business here, the oath you made us swear is canceled – we’re no longer responsible.”

“If that’s what you say,” she responded, “that’s the way it is,” and sent them off. The two spies hid out and then returned to Joshua with a full report.

“God has given the whole country to us,” they gushed. “Everybody is in a state of panic because of us.”

Rahab left the red rope hanging out the window.

(Adapted from Joshua 2 with some quotations from The Message.)

Okay, so who in this story gets into Heaven? I mean, who do we know we’ll get to meet when we walk the golden streets of the New Jerusalem? You know, don’t you? It’s the prostitute. Rahab’s the one we know for sure stands today before God’s throne, worshiping her Savior, She’s singing and shouting Jesus’ praises, honoring Him with all that she is and ever shall be.

The spies? We don’t know enough about them to say they’re in with absolute confidence. They’re likely there with their red rope rescuer, but we just can’t say for certain that they’re in Paradise right now. They’re never mentioned again. Rahab, however, is.

Three times her name is repeated in the New Testament. Every time she’s honored, praised, elevated.

She shows up in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ancestry. She’s one of only a few women mentioned. We find out that she’s King David’s great-great-grandmother. Pretty cool, huh? From woman of ill repute to royalty. Who’d have guessed?

Then in Hebrews 11, she shows up again – right in the middle of a long list of faith-filled followers of God. Look at the words God inspired someone to write about her.

“By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” (Hebrews 11:30-31, NIV)

Interesting, isn’t it, that the writer of Hebrews was inspired by God to mention Rahab’s faith. Interesting…and important. You see this whole chapter is showing what faith looks like in the real world. It’s showing the kinds of actions those who are saved take as life happens. It’s making a case that faith is necessary to please God.

A few verses before Rahab is mentioned, Enoch is the focus for a sentence or two. “By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:5-6, NIV)

What’s plain here is that Enoch, who had faith, is in Heaven today. Why? First, because he believed God existed. Second, because he believed God rewards those who earnestly seek him. God was pleased with Enoch. God is pleased with all who have the same faith as Enoch. Rahab had that faith. She was saved by that faith.

You tracking with me? This makes sense right? Have faith in God. Get saved. It’s plain as day here in Hebrews.

It’s plain in James, too. Rahab is mentioned in the second chapter of James’ letter to the church.

“In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:25-26, NIV)

Rahab is praised here for taking action based on her faith in God. Her actions, James argues, show that her faith was real, solid, genuine. Faith without deeds is dead.

The harlot’s faith is alive. Those who believe and act are credited with righteousness. Even if their past is checkered, they’re credited with righteousness and admitted into God’s kingdom forever! They survive judgment. They enjoy Heaven!

Believe on the Lord Jesus! Put your faith in God. That’s how you gain a right standing with God. Then act on faith so that the world sees your good deeds and praises your Father in Heaven.

Are you going to be an eternal survivor? This is real, after all. It’s not a game. Only the righteous survive. Not the good. Not the nice. Not the relatively decent. Only the righteous.

Now there’s one more thing to be said. The righteous are not righteous because of actions done in their own power. The Bible makes that clear.

“…no one,” Paul says in Romans 3:20, “will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (NIV)

You can’t be good enough to get in on your own. The law just shows you how desperately sinful you are, how deserving of God’s wrath.

“But now…” Aren’t those hopeful words? They’re for us today. They’re contemporary.

“But now,” Paul says starting at Romans 3:21, “a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:20-24, NIV)

Only the righteous survive. Only the righteous are justified before the Perfect Judge of all men. Only the righteous will enjoy Paradise. Only the righteous who believe on Jesus.

Have you chosen to believe on Jesus? I urge you today to become a survivor, an escapee from God’s wrath, a recipient of His great mercy. If you’ll believe on Jesus, you’ll not perish, but have eternal life. That’s God’s promised gift to all who trust His Son. It’s his love gift to every faith-filled follower of Jesus. (See John 3:16-18.)

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bragging rights lost...

I had a friend in college who played chess against me once and beat me. I immediately challenged him to another game. He refused and walked away from the board. I pestered him, but he wasn't about to give in.

"Right now, I can say that I beat you at chess every time I played him," he explained.

He never did play me again. He was resolute. (He happens to be my sister-in-law's brother-in-law now.)

What does this have to do with losing bragging rights? He didn't lose his. I lost mine last night on the shooting range. For more than 20 years I've been able to honestly say, "I hit seven pigeons out of seven the first time I shot skeet." I guess I can still say that, but to be completely honest now I'd have to say, "The second time wasn't so good."

Our church's men gathered at Argonia's River Park last night for a cookout and skeet shoot. I don't own a gun, but shortly after the shooting commenced, one was offered to me. I shot a total of thirty rounds. I hit exactly four pigeons. I had a blast (no pun intended).

So don't worry if you see me with a gun in hand. Just keep moving and you're as safe as can be.

Forgiveness (Part 4)...

Let’s wrap up our discussion of forgiveness with a few true statements from Neil Anderson’s Steps to Freedom in Christ. Read these wise words and make up your mind to obey God’s command to forgive.

“Forgiveness is not forgetting.”

I still remember the things done to me. I remember, but the anger is gone. It’s been replaced with compassion, pity, love.

“Forgiveness is a choice, a crisis of the will.”

It was a great day when I realized this truth. I began walking in freedom when I understood that I could choose to let bygones be bygones.

“You don’t forgive someone for their sake; you do it for your own sake so you can be free.”

I lived in a depressed state until I forgave. I thought about what “that guy” did to me all the time.

“Your need to forgive isn’t an issue between you and the offender; it’s between you and God.”

I forgave to get right with God. I didn’t really think much about my offender when I chose to forgive. I wanted to be forgiven by God.

“Forgiveness is agreeing to live with the consequences of another person’s sin. Forgiveness is costly. You pay the price of the evil you forgive. You’re going to live with those consequences whether you want to or not; your only choice is whether you will do so in the bitterness of unforgiveness or the freedom of forgiveness…Decide that you will bear the burdens of their offenses by not using that information against them in the future.”

“Don’t wait to forgive until you feel like forgiving; you will never get there. Feelings take time to heal after the choice to forgive is made and Satan has lost his place. Freedom is what will be gained, not a feeling.” (Walking in Freedom, p. 187-188)

And, I’m telling you, freedom is better than good feelings. Freedom is better than anything. You can’t imagine it if you haven’t experienced it. So go get it. Forgive and experience it.

Ready to obey?

Think of all the people who’ve wronged you. Remember the hurts they inflicted. Recall the feelings of rejection. Acknowledge the pain their sin caused. Then choose to forgive. Go through your list of dirty rotten rats and let them go. For each person and each sin pray: “Lord, I forgive dirty rotten rat #1 for dirty deed #1.”

Name names. Be specific about the sins. Be sure to mention them all.

Then release your offenders to God. Here’s a prayer Neil Anderson suggests…

“Lord, I release all these people to You, and I release my right to seek revenge. I choose not to hold on to my bitterness and anger, and I ask You to heal my damaged emotions.” (Walking in Freedom, p. 189)
That’s a prayer God will answer. It’s a plea that will bring freedom. Trust me on this one. I’ve found freedom and freedom is good. I urge you once more: Go after it.


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Saturday, October 11, 2008

We have liftoff...


LifeTeam, an EMS Airlift Service, came to Argonia for landing zone (LZ) training. Argonia EMS and Fire turned out for this informative class. A few lucky ones (not me) got to go up for a better view of what the LZ looks like to LifeTeam when they arrive.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Obama the antichrist?

I received the following in an email today...

This will make you re-think: A Trivia question in Sunday School: How long is the beast allowed to have authority in Revelation?

Revelation Chapter 13 tells us it is 42 months, and you know what that is. Almost a four-year term of a Presidency.

All I can say is "Lord, Have mercy on us!"

According to The Book of Revelation the anti-Christ is: The anti-Christ will be a man, in his 40's, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal...the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destroy everything..

Do we recognize this description?

I responded with these words to my dear forward-happy friend...

According to the book of Revelation? I don’t recall the age of the Antichrist being mentioned anywhere in the Bible nor was he ever called a Muslim. Islam didn't even exist when Revelation was written. The chapter listed in this email talks about deceiving signs and wonders. I haven’t seen Obama working miracles. He also has not suffered a fatal wound that has been healed.

I publish this as a reminder to all. Check your facts. Think through what you're being told. Logic will, if you let it, keep you from forwarding most political rumor.

Personal Opinion Alert! There are plenty of reasons NOT to vote for Obama without getting apocalyptic or misusing the Bible.

Forgiveness (Part 3)...


Let’s hear Jesus out on the issue of forgiveness. He knows what he’s talking about.

Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (NIV)

Let’s not focus on the negative here. The bad news is plain enough for even the densest of folks to figure out. You don’t forgive. You’re not forgiven. Not much to explain.

The good news is that forgiveness is available to us. God will forgive us when we ask. He is gracious. He is merciful. The rest of the good news is that we can forgive. God does not ask us to do something he hasn’t empowered us to do. We can forgive with his help and because we’ve been forgiven. We can pardon others because we’ve been pardoned. We can release others from their debts because we’ve been set free. In a very real sense, forgiveness is the visible evidence that we’ve received God’s grace and that we truly understand his mercy.

Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive his brother when he sinned against him. “Should I do it seven times?” Peter asked. Jesus’ answer must’ve blown him away. “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Then our Master told this story to drive home the importance of forgiving.

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market. The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’ The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid.

“When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king. The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’

“The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt.

“And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.” (Matthew 18:23-35, The Message)

Mark 11:25, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (NIV)

Once again, our forgiveness is tied to God’s. Forgive so you can be forgiven. Show the evidence of God’s grace in your life. Give it away to others.

Luke 17:3, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (NIV)

If we had to vote on the hardest teaching of Jesus to follow, I bet this one would make the top ten. We’d rather live by the old saw. “Hurt me once. Shame on you. Hurt me twice. Shame on me.”

This is tough. I don’t ever recall someone sinning against me seven times in one day, but two or three times, I’ve seen that. God says, “Never quit forgiving. Do it over and over and over again. Let repeat offenders off the hook.”

Ok, we’ve had the talk now. What are you going to do? Are you going to obey or disobey? Are you going to forgive or hold a grudge? It’s obvious what God wants. He wants you to forgive all who’ve sinned against you. Your ex. Your husband. Your wife. Your son. Your daughter. Your mom. Your dad. Your pastor. Your best friend. Your worst enemy. Do you want to do what he wants you to do?

His way is best. I tell you that from experience. There is freedom like you’ve never imagined on the other side of forgiveness. Letting my abuser off the hook was the best choice I ever made after choosing to follow Jesus and picking my wife.

Do you want to do what Jesus wants you to do? I’ll let you think on for a day or two. More to come.


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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Forgiveness (Part 2)...

I’m not sure we could find anyone in the Bible who had more stuff to forgive than Jesus. He’s always getting garbage dumped on him by others, but I hesitate to use him as an example.

I’m afraid some of you will see his forgiving attitude and protest. “Yeah, but he’s the Son of God. He’s different. I can’t do what he did.” And I understand your objection to a point, but let’s not forget that Jesus was not only the Son of God, 100% deity. He was also the son of Mary, 100% man. He felt pain when others mistreated him. He knew anger. He was not immune. His friends wounded him. You can say he always handled things right, but you cannot say he was unaffected by the evil actions of others.

To you who are skeptical, I ask this one favor. See Jesus as a man. Know him as flesh and blood. Know him as someone a lot like you. Know him as one who is able to sympathize with your weakness. Know him as one who was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV)

Believers, this same Jesus lives in you. You can do what he did. You can forgive as he did – not because of who you are, but because of the Spirit of God.

Let’s take a look at the mistreatment and abuse Jesus endured. Jesus was judged harshly by religious folks. He ate with sinners and tax collectors and they complained. He didn’t wash his hands before he ate and they pointed and stared. He accepted praise from children and they griped. He forgave sins and they shouted, “Blasphemy!” He healed people on the Sabbath and they came unglued. He cast out demons and they said he was possessed himself. He spoke forthrightly about their hypocrisy and they hated him. He accepted adoration from a sinful woman and they shook their heads. He showed them the way to salvation and they rejected him.

Jesus was betrayed by a man in his inner circle. Judas was one of the twelve. He was the Jesus crew’s accountant. He held the money bags. Can you get any closer than that? This man betrayed Jesus. Sold information on his whereabouts to the highest bidder. Thirty silver coins was his sellout price. Judas led the mob to the garden where Jesus was arrested.

Jesus was abandoned by his closest friends. They all deserted him when the soldiers took their Master away in chains. One of them, scared for his life, left his clothes behind. He fled the scene naked. Not one of them testified on his behalf at the trial that followed.

One of them, Peter, came as far as the courtyard of the high priest’s home. A servant girl eyed him warily as he stood by the fire warming himself. “Aren’t you one of his followers?” she asked. “You were with him.”

Peter denied the connection: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He moved to the gateway. Another girl saw him there. “This guy was with Jesus,” she told those standing nearby. Everyone turned toward Peter. He denied the connection again: “I don’t know the man.”

A short time later the subject came up again. “Surely you’re one of them,” someone said. “Your accent gives you away.” The others nodded their agreement.

Peter started cursing. He swore up and down: “I don’t know that man!”

Immediately the rooster crowed. Jesus had told Peter he’d deny him three times before the cock shouted out the morning. Peter remembered. He went out and wept bitter tears.

Jesus was falsely accused, spit upon, beaten mercilessly. His trial before the Sanhedrin, Israel’s religious court, was a sham. All the judges were looking for was an excuse to drag Jesus off and kill him. They allowed false evidence, but couldn’t find two “witnesses” who could agree. The only way they pulled off the death sentence was to ask him if he was the Son of God. He answered truthfully. “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

That was enough. What he claimed was too much for these men steeped in tradition. They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit on him. They blindfolded him and struck him with their fists. “Prophesy!” they taunted. “Who hit you?”

When they’d had their fun they drug Jesus off to Pilate’s judgment seat.

Jesus was killed in the most barbaric fashion. Another crazy trial behind him, Jesus was flogged mercilessly by the Roman soldiers assigned to carry out his crucifixion. They ripped his skin with a cat-o-nine-tails. They tortured him and mocked him. He was led away, forced to carry the instrument of his own death. He stumbled under the weight of that cross. He fell numerous times. Finally, they grabbed a man from the crowd to help him. They were wasting time.

At Golgotha, the place of the skull, they did their worst. Jesus’ wrists and feet were pierced with sharp spikes. He was hoisted up to die. His last moments alive were torturous, public, shameful. Folks passed by and mocked him. The soldiers paid him no mind. They’d seen death up close and personal dozens of times. They cared little for the man in the middle that day. They sat at the foot of his cross playing games of chance to see who got his clothes.

Jesus can relate to your pain. He knows what it’s like to be hurt by others. He’s been there. You can’t deny it.

Jesus forgave. Let that sink in for a minute. Jesus forgave. He let judgmental religious folks off the hook. The priests were among those in his face day in and day out. After his death, the church grew and, Acts 6:7 reports, “a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” I bet some of these guys were present at the kangaroo court that sent Jesus to the cross. Perhaps a few of these new believers spit on him and beat him with their fists. Still, Jesus embraced them and they were saved by faith, forgiven just like everyone else.

Jesus didn’t hold a grudge against his friends after his resurrection. He shared meals with his followers. He assuaged their fears and ignored their doubts. He reinstated Peter as a leader in the church. He would’ve greeted Judas warmly had his betrayer not hung himself.

He had pity on those who mistreated him. From the cross he looked down and spoke the most amazing words. Listen in on his brief conversation with his Father. Referring to the soldiers who have just nailed him to the cross, he says, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 adapted from the NIV)

Jesus forgave all who hurt him, even those who did not ask to be let off the hook. He chose forgiveness over bitterness. He chose mercy over judgment.

Kind of adds weight to what this guy says about forgiveness, doesn’t it? He lived out what he taught. He showed us the way. You can trust a man like that. You know he knows what he’s talking about.

Tomorrow we’ll see what he has to say to us.


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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

While I'm waiting...

While I’m Waiting
John Waller

"The explanation for this song is simple, I was waiting on God and I was hurting when I wrote the lyrics. I’m sure there are few people who can’t relate to this song, but the important thing to remember while we’re waiting on God is to not just wait but to actively wait. Serve, worship and be faithful with what you have, where you are… “even while (you) wait.”

I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord
And I am hopeful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait
I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience

While I’m waiting
I will serve You
While I’m waiting
I will worship
While I’m waiting
I will not faint
I’ll be running the race
Even while I wait

I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord
And I am peaceful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it’s not easy
But faithfully, I will wait
Yes, I will wait

I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting
I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting
I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting on You, Lord.

© 2007 Travelin’ Zoo Music (ASCAP) (admin. by EMI CMG Publishing)

This song is so great! I first heard it while watching the new Sherwood Pictures film, Fireproof. It plays in the background while Fire Captain Caleb Holt continues to seek God and even as his wife continues to reject his attempts to love her.

It encourages me today to keep worshiping and serving while I wait on an answer from God concerning an important relationship that's currently in need of healing. God knows. He cares. He's working. I'm waiting...and worshiping.


(Ps 5:3, 27:14, 33:20, 37:7, 38:15, 40:1, Is 30:18, Lam 3:24)

Forgiveness (Part 1)...

I’ve had a couple of conversations about forgiveness recently – that is not so far back that I can’t recall them.

I was sitting across from a friend a month or more ago talking about church stuff when he mentioned the trouble he was having forgiving a man he felt had done him wrong. He told me he wasn’t sure he could do it. He talked about how one of his grandparents had taught him by example how to hold grudges for the long haul. He admitted that the offense he was hanging onto was pretty trivial, but he couldn’t seem to let it go.

We talked a bit, but made little progress. I talked about how miserable the years were that I spent holding onto the anger I felt against the man who had molested me. I told him how freeing it was to forgive that major offense. I urged him to quit waiting for an apology and forgive.

“I don’t think I can,” was his reply. I looked at him and said the only thing that came to mind in that moment: “Have fun.” Not very compassionate, I’ll admit. But I was done. I’d said everything I could to convince my dear friend that forgiveness was freeing. I’d argued this point and that. What more could I say? What more could I do? He was, as far as I could tell, unwilling to budge. (I’m sure there will be a time when we talk again.)

The second conversation about forgiveness took place just a week or so ago. Sitting next to a friend in the front seat of my van, I heard yet another confession.

“Something you said last Sunday opened up an old wound. I still struggle to forgive someone who hurt me deeply a year or two back. I’m angry at how they treated me. I’m angry at how they treated my best friend. I know I need to forgive, but it’s hard.”

We talked for fifteen or twenty minutes. I brought up the words of Jesus that had helped me forgive my abuser. He’s pretty clear on this matter, you know. Not a lot of wiggle room in what he says.

I spoke honestly to my friend. “I didn’t feel like forgiving the guy who molested me. I didn’t want to let it go, but I knew I had to. I made the choice to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice. It’s not really an ‘I can’t’, but an ‘I won’t.’ When God made that clear to me, I made the decision to let go of the anger I held in my heart over the sinful things done against me. I forgave and found freedom in Christ. It took some time, but I don’t feel angry any more. I hope to stand before God’s throne with my abuser and praise our Savior together forever.”

My friend was equally honest. “I’m not sure I can picture myself in Heaven with them yet.” I totally understood. “Forgive anyway,” was my advice. “Choose to forgive. The feelings will come later.”

The subject shifted shortly after that. Enough had been said. It was time to move on.

Thinking about these two conversations, I realized that there are probably dozens of you with whom I could have a “let it go” talk.

Some of you have been divorced. Nasty things are often said and done when couples break up. In some cases the nasty things were happening years before the end came. They were the cause of the divorce. Have you forgiven those offenses? Harboring bitterness against an ex is pretty common. Do we need to talk?

Some of you are married to a man or woman you’re occasionally tempted to dump. Even the best of marriages have their moments of frustration and anger and discontent. Husbands are idiots from time to time. Wives are nags once in awhile. Are there issues you haven’t resolved with your spouse? Open wounds tend to fester if they’re not dealt with quickly. Can we talk about the way to healing?

Some of you have the dumbest parents on Planet Earth. They’ve said things to you that really hurt. They’ve belittled you in front of your friends. They’ve griped about this and that. You’re having trouble respecting them, aren’t you? You hate them – at least that’s what it feels like. Want freedom from those feelings of rage?

Some of you are wondering how much boarding school costs. Your children are just plain evil. They push your button every morning. Their words in the evening are always barbed, angry, hateful. They won’t obey. They can’t be controlled. You want to forgive, but you can’t. Not after what they said last week. Need help?

Some of you have been put through hell by people you thought you could trust. It was a church youth worker who violated me. Was it your alcoholic dad who beat you mercilessly? Was it your judgmental grandpa who told you you’d never amount to much? Folks are hurt by close friends and trusted coworkers all the time. What about you? Do the hurts of the past still hurt? There’s hope for you. Let’s have that talk…tomorrow.


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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I'm not a superhero...

I'm not a superhero, but I play one.

For the past I don't know how many years, I've endured great pain during Fire Prevention Week for the pleasure and education of Argonia Elementary's preschoolers and first graders. Donning the Fire Department's Fire Pup costume for a half hour at a time is not an easy thing. I have sweat profusely in the enclosed space of the Pup's head. The small personal fan blowing on my scalp seldom works as well as advertised. I have had kids step on my toes. The Pup's red fire boots do not have steal toes. Thankfully preschoolers aren't very heavy. I have had the hard hat supports dig into my scalp. That really hurts! I haven't bled yet, but I've had marks. My shoulders and neck have ached for hours after each episode. Try holding fifteen pounds on your head for a half hour, shrugging your shoulders up from time to time to relieve the pressure. You'll be sore too.

I know what you're thinking. Why does this whiner keep coming back? First, I have no where to hide. Fireman Stucky, the guy who heads up Fire Prevention Week activities, is lives right across the street from my office. He sees me walk in the front door of the church and quietly sneaks in and corners me. "Would you please be Fire Pup again?" Second, I have had a great time and have learned a thing or two every year. Mr. Stucky really connects with the kids. Third, I'm a sucker for little kids. They're fun...except when they tromp on your toes.

I "endured" this morning's visit. The strong northerly wind that's blowing down Main Street nearly knocked Fire Pup's head off when the truck pulled away from the station loaded with little ones. I guess it had been serving as a windblock. I kept my head, though, and waved back as 4- and 5-year-olds vigorously shouted their goodbyes. "Bye, Fire Pup!"

Ahhhhh, the reward comes to Argonia's (reluctant) fire-fighting canine superhero. 1:00 is just around the corner. First graders! Can't wait!

(More pictures later...maybe.)