Monday, December 22, 2014

How to pray for your pastor...

This comes from E.M. Bounds classic prayer text, "Purpose in Prayer," and is a quote from a 16th century pastor, John Welch:

Pray for your pastor. Pray for his body, that he may be kept strong and spared many years. Pray for his soul, that he may be kept humble and holy, a burning and shining light. Pray for his ministry, that it may be abundantly blessed, that he may be anointed to preach good tidings. Let there be no secret prayer without naming him before your God, no family prayer without carrying your pastor in your hearts to God.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

MY Sin of Pride

Last week, I was at the local library and read Christianity Today's article on "33 Under 33: Meet the Christian leaders shaping the next generation of our faith."

I'm 33.

I was not in the article.

I should not have been.

The article had teenagers and folks in their early thirties. Most of them have dedicated their short lives to seeking justice and mercy for the oppressed. Others have created beautiful art reflected our Creator's goodness. Some have served in local churches and impacted thousands with the Gospel through evangelism and discipleship. I thanked God for the men and women listed in the article.

And yet lingering in my soul was unholy ambition. Why am I not famous? Why am I not receiving accolades? The rabbit hole of my depravity runs deep. So so many of my good deeds have not been to my Father in secret but "to be seen!" by others. I've sacrificed so much that is good and holy to have that which is vain and futile. Forgive me Father for seeking the glory that is rightfully yours. Forgive me Father for serving with my fame in mind rather than the good of those under my care. Forgive me Father for not following in the footsteps of Jesus, the one who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

But thank you Lord that you died for this pride of mine. Thank you Lord that Jesus laid down his life, giving up his heavenly glory, to die for my petty efforts at personal fame.

Make me new. 

Help me to embrace the shadows of obscurity.

Let me be faithful and forgotten.

So that You might be known and remembered.

Friday, September 12, 2014

How I would have live tweeted my last sermon:

10:30AM - Pastor Matt quoting another movie...It's a Wonderful Life. How are you going to relate that to Ecclesiastes chapter 1?

10:31AM - Whose life is wonderful? seriously! My kid peed his bed twice this week.

10:35AM - This book of Ecclesiastes writer seems like he's either really depressed or he's setting us up for a joke.

10:38AM - All the preacher's points are about 'vexation' - It's vexing that I don't know what vexation means.

10:40AM - Life is cyclical, that's for sure. Every Sunday, Pastor Matt talks, and talks, and talks...

10:42AM - Pastor Matt might as well call that pulpit a confession booth or a therapist couch; he's always telling us his crud.

10:45AM - Meaningless, meaningless says the teacher, everything is meaningless - if that's the case why'd you take so much time to write the book?

10:48AM - Another Tim Keller quote - does this preacher come up with any of his own ideas?

10:51AM - Ouch, he just went from preaching to meddling. My feet hurt.

10:54AM - Good talk about yourself some more; get off my toes.

10:58AM - Oh, so your back to my life again, huh? What if I don't listen and keep typing away on Twitter?

11:01AM - Hope!! Finally. So all this frustration and futility is supposed to send me to look for hope beyond life under the sun.

11:02AM - Jesus solves everything, doesn't he?

11:04AM - Seriously, another movie reference - Mr. Holland's Opus -

11:07AM - Wait....I could find meaning in this ordinary world...give me more of that.

11:09AM - That's it; come on man! Well, I guess there's more to the book - see you next week.


Sermon available at: http://cornerstone-marion.org/2014/09/07/september-7-2014-ecclesiastes-1-vexation-under-the-sun/

Monday, August 11, 2014

How to keep people from coming to your church...

Joe, Stan's next door neighbor, stopped by one day.

"Hey Stan, I heard you are a preacher or something trying to start a new church. Why didn't you tell me, man?"

"Joe, I thought it would be better for us to be friends first before I let the cat out of the bag about being a pastor."

"Oh," said Joe in kind of a disappointed tone, "So you thought, hiding who you were and what you were doing was a good way to make a friend. You must not be from around here, huh?"

"No, but I know God has called me hear to help make this a better place," said Stan.

"It's a pretty good spot as it is, Stan, with some pretty good people. Maybe if you'd come over more often to my house when we've invited you to some parties, you'd see this is a good bunch of folks."

"Thanks Joe. Yeah, I probably shoulda done that before. Why don't you come on over to our church service next week and I'll plan to make it to one of your next parties?"

"That's great! I'd love to come. I ain't been to church much; what do you guys got planned?"

"Well, we have a bounce house in the children's ministry area, and we have a great alternative band leading the music every Sunday."

"I see; I see. That's kinda different. What about the Bible? You gonna teach me about Jesus from the Bible?"

"Well, we hope to get to the Bible and Jesus soon, but we think the best place to start is to just have conversations and to get to know one another. You know, share our lives."

"Yeah, we could do that, sure. But I do that all the time with all kinds of people. Most of us, as we are talking, often scratch our heads wondering what God might have to say about our messed up worlds and messed up lives. Maybe that Bible of yours could give us some answers."

"Joe, I don't want to be a Bible-beater just telling you what to believe. You need to discover the truth for yourself."

"Well, Stan, that there's the problem. I really want to know the truth, but I ain't found it yet. Didn't Jesus say something about being the way, the truth, and the life. That's what I need to know...heck, that's who I need to know. Could you tell me about him?"

"Joe, there's plenty of time for that, but there's more to church than Jesus. We have things like community, service projects, and helping the needy."

"Yeah, Stan, that's good. But what if I'm the needy one? When you gonna help me? I'm starving spiritually to be honest. Maybe if I had a bite to eat at the Lord's Table I'd be full."

"Joe, the Table is just a symbol. And we don't serve enough food to fill your belly anyway."

"Yeah, I didn't mean that I was looking for a bite of Jesus' flesh or anything. But gosh Stan, I've always thought it would be an amazing thing to feel like I could come up to God's table and eat from His bounty. I just don't think I deserve nothing like that."

"None of us do. That's why you gotta have faith."

"Faith in what Stan? Heck, you talk as if you don't have faith in God at all. Do you even know this guy? What kind of church are you starting? I might as well just hang out with my old buddies if all you got is conversation, discovering, conversation, and faith in who knows what."

"Well my church isn't for everyone."

"I'll let you in on a little secret, Stan. If you don't propose to tell people about all that God has done through Jesus and remember all that God has done through Jesus with that meal of His, I don't think you are going to be a church at all."

Monday, August 04, 2014

"Why are all the churches not doing it for me?"

About 45 minutes into a monthly lunch between two colleagues, Tom turns to Nate and says, "So, Nate, how's 1st Gospel Church working out?"

"Oh, well, we're not going there anymore."

"Really? Just last month you'd only been there 3 weeks and you said, you and Sarah loved it."

"Yeah, well, it turns out we weren't really getting fed there."

"Huh?" uttered Tom, "That's what you said about 2nd Baptist--the church you visited three months ago."

"Yeah, I know," said Nate, "It just seems like the churches around here just don't help us grow spiritually."

"Have you ever thought about going back to the church you went to for two years when you first moved here? I thought you liked that one quite a bit."

"We did, you know, at first. But after being there a few years, no one reached out to us. We hadn't made any friends. And after a while, even the sermons weren't that helpful."

"I thought you said they were the most friendly church in town?" asked Tom.

"Oh, they are. But after you've been there six months, they quit calling. They kinda expect you to start serving, leading, and what not. We just couldn't do anything like that with four kids under twelve, you know?"

"But wasn't there a small group or some Bible studies that were for individuals and couples your age? That seems like a good place to get plugged in."

"Yeah, but they always met on nights we were already committed to field hockey or ballet. The group leaders called every few months or so. They made us feel so guilty, like they didn't understand all the commitments we had, and then they wanted us to do more stuff."

"Maybe the reason you weren't making friends is you were too committed to others things than the various church activities?"

"Yeah, maybe. But if they really cared about us, they would have asked us when we were available and scheduled activities then. We were so sad to leave. We could just tell they didn't care."

"Had you ever considered hosting a Bible study in your home on a night you were available?"

"We would you know, if our kids were a bit older, but it's just not the time in life for something like that. We're looking for other things right now."

"I see," responded Tom scratching his chin, "So, what are you looking for then?"

"I think the same thing everyone wants. We want a church that feels like family, teaches us about God, and has great ministries for both kids and adults."

"I'm surprised no church in the area has at least something close to that."

"Me too," said Nate, "It's really frustrating."

"Hey Nate?"

"Yeah, Tom."

"Have you ever considered that each of these breakups might be about you?"

"What are you saying?"

"Well, let me think. There was your family and 1st Gospel Church. There was your family and 2nd Baptist Church. There was your family and your first church. It seems like the similarity in all these church problems is your family. You're the only common denominator."

Friday, July 25, 2014

Making Leaders of Lizards

"Adaptation is the secret to our survival," espoused Chris the Camelon from his lectern.

This was the fifth annual Long Live the Lizards Jamboree, and Dr. Chris was the keynote speaker (despite his slight lisp). Already that day, the lizards had sat through, "Life's a Croc" by Carlisle Crocodile," "Slow Success for the New Bo(hemian)" by Greg Gila, and "Hipsters Surging in the Swamp," by an up-and-coming horned lizard named Harry.

Chris the Camelon extolled the languishing lizards for nearly an hour on leadership principles. He strongly advocated the importance of adaptation, adjusting to new markets, and recognizing the recurring trends of reptilian expectations.

By the end of the lecture, most of the crawling creatures were ready to skip the Q&A and head for home. But one brave gecko raised a sticky toe pad and said, "Dr. Chris, how can we lizards lead anything if we're being told by you to be ready to change everything and anything on the changing whims of a lizard's likes and dislikes?"

"What's you name gecko?"

"Phil."

"Phil? I would have expected something like Gill or Gary or Gage."

"Nope, it's just Phil."

"Ok, Phil. As my lecture demonstrated, I believe leaders are those with the uncanny ability to evolve quickly to survive adverse environmental changes."

"Yeah, I got that."

"Thus, I showed that the inability to transform leaves a lizard at a disadvantage to survival."

"I thought this was a conference on leadership, not survival."

"It is young lizard."

"Well if it is, Dr. Chris, most of the great leaders I've ever known were those that clung to or went back to the ancient truths and traditions amid change. Those that adapt or cried for evolution seem to be the ones we shouldn't follow."

"How dare you question my scholarship, Phil."

"Well doc," continued Phil, "It was that Martin the Marsh Lizard that reminded us that all reptiles are created equal. He was an amazing leader. He taught us the ancient truths in an adapted world. By way of comparison, Adolf the Alligator almost killed off an entire species because he believed the alligator's adapted state gave them credence to eradicate those less fit for survival. So you can take all your adaptation speeches and throw them in a creek. I'm going to lead by not changing, thank you very much."

Monday, July 21, 2014

My Unpublished Letter to the Editor - January 24, 2006

I wrote this over 8 years ago to The Record Herald in Indianola, IA. It still contains my sentiments:

Op – Ed – January 24, 2006

I graduated Indianola High School in spring 1999.  With my 25th birthday looming, I have been thinking a lot about all the blessings, pain and life-turns I have experienced in my quarter century of living.  I am happy where I am today, and I owe a lot of thanks to the Indianola community and school district.  I wanted the word to go out all across town that Indianola is a great place to find encouragement, hope and inspiration.  The last time I wrote a newspaper piece was when I was editor of the great IHS newspaper, The Indian, so please be gracious.
            I moved to Indianola during the summer before my 4th grade year.  I was a scrawny, big-eared, all-American kid.  I was just phasing out of my love for Transformers and GI-Joe and moving into more mature things like slap-bracelets, sports, and girls.  But as the new kid on the block (not to be mistaken for my favorite band at the time, New Kids on the Block), I was nervous, alone, and afraid.  On my first day of school I entered Whittier Elementary with only one known friend (my neighbor of 2 months Seth Comfort).  My fears were quickly wiped away as Mrs. Bogs’ class kicked off.  I had to go around the room with a checklist: put your Kleenex box on such and such a shelf, arrange your desk, other things, and then it said I had to go up and introduce myself to the teacher.  In my “no shame” demeanor (which I still have) I approached Mrs. Bogs and exclaimed (in a very high 4th grade voice), “Hello, I am Matt Proctor!!”  Though startled, Mrs. Bogs introduced herself right back and it was a perfect beginning to an enduring warm relationship.  My 4th grade year was fabulous . . . Mrs. Kakac challenged me in reading, Mrs. Murphey pushed me in math, and all the staff at Whittier helped me orient to this unique town.  Not to mention, Mrs. Bogs graciously encouraged all of her students to start wearing deodorant (she was a sharp lady).
            The Indianola Middle School building in 1991 was not a pretty sight.  The building was falling apart, asbestos was rumored to be everywhere, and the building was so small that students overflowed into trailers on the schoolyard.  But again, I was challenged and equipped by a great staff of teachers.  Mrs. Deeds was my delightful 5th grade homeroom teacher.  Unfortunately for her, I was one of the many hooligans in her not so delightful homeroom class.  She had this humorous system of ringing bells to quiet us down—she bought louder and louder bells throughout the year.  As a totally mature 5th grade boy, I found it ridiculous that she would read those “girly” books known as Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Well, to be honest, I eventually fell in love with those great books and secretly loved it every time Mrs. Deeds read them to us.  To this day, I am disappointed we were unable to complete the whole series during that year.  6th grade was a unique time in my life because various hormones began erupting within my body.  Luckily, I had the gracious hand of Mr. Nichols and others to walk me and many others through these early days of adolescent life. 
            Oh the days of junior high.  I think the reason most of us have very few memories of junior high is because we have repressed those awful moments from our brain, but fortunately for me, most of my intact recollections are ones of joy.  I loved being involved in competitive sports, especially my days on the 7th and 8th grade lightweight football teams.  I loved dissecting animals in Mr. Scullen’s science class and trying to get a Zowie in Mr. Morrison’s. I appreciated learning more about computers in Mrs. Monroe’s class. I gained valuable insight from Mrs. Sullivan teaching me the pieces of a sentence (and yes, I still know the difference between a subordinating and coordinating conjunction). I had a fabulous math teacher with Mrs. Wermeskerken (I don’t think I ever learned how to spell or pronounce her name).  One of the greatest blessings of my life was my junior high participation in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  Every other Monday night, I’d come to the cafeteria to learn about God, be loved by parents and teachers from our community, and encouraged to live a life of influence among my peers.  I went to the first F.C.A. meeting held during my 7th grade year, and I never missed another Monday night meeting through my entire junior high and high school career.  They loved me in a way I had never experienced and I couldn’t get enough of it.  They lived out the bible verse John 13:35 when Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  Thank you Jan Werling and so many others.
            Like a normal teenager, my high school career was full of ups and downs.  I had the privilege of playing four years of varsity golf, but in all four years I never made much of anything in the sports world.  I learned a lot about teamwork, a lot more about becoming a man of integrity, and some about sacrifice.  I made a lot of mistakes in my friendships, and I experienced as much heart-ache from the lives of others.  High school life was hard, but I was not alone.  Mr. Cooper cared for me not just as a pupil but as a person.  Mr. Harms would not settle for a half-hearted approach to history or life.  Mrs. Putz’s smile was a blessing todos los dias (“everyday” for you non-Spanish speakers).  Mr. Hansen’s concern went well beyond my understanding of trigonometry.  And Mr. Devore made a wise (something I sure wish I had acted on) economic suggestion of investing in a little start-up company called Yahoo!  That high school building is full of great teachers . . . GREAT teachers.  They prepared me for Iowa State University; they prepared me for life. 
            I could write for pages and pages about the people in the little community of Indianola, IA, but I’d prefer that those of you who have experienced such rich blessings to also write in to the Record Herald and let the world know that Indianola is a great place to live.  Thank you and God bless.

By Matt Proctor

After graduating IHS, Matt went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University in May 2003.  One week after graduation he married a beautiful Cedar Rapids native, Carrie.  Matt and Carrie currently live in Marion, IA, where Matt serves as the Lead Pastor of Cornerstone Church.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Asleep at the wheel

I awoke three feet outside the left shoulder. In a few seconds, my drooping eyes had missed the curve in the road. At 75 miles per hour, I couldn't just whip the car back onto the road. By the sheer grace of God, our van traveled another 4-5 feet into the median, which by God's sheer grace was only 36-inch tall weeds. In another few moments, I was able to bring the car back onto the 2 lanes of interstate and navigate to the far right shoulder. There, I paused and thanked the Maker that the six people in this vehicle (my four dear children and beloved wife of eleven ears) were all alive.

The van had no scratch...only a few hundred weeds in the grill. We avoided all possible road signs, of which there were many. We didn't tip over, of which was easily possible. We traveled another 400 miles safely home.

I don't deserve to breathe today. But I'm thankful to be alive.

In an even more stark spiritual reality, my sin had me careening toward the median of death. I was moving at a colossal speed. But by God's sheer grace, I escaped death. Not (again) because I was good or deserving, but because someone died in my place. Jesus took my death so I could live. May each remaining breath be a gift back to Him.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What I'm learning about work...

Today marked the end of a 6 week journey to read, reflect, and learn through the Kern Pastor's Network.

I joined 3 pastors from Minnesota (Scott Barber, Nate Gustafson, and Aaron Brockmeier--it was nice of them to let an ol' Iowa boy in on their theological erudition) in the reading of Tim Keller's book Every Good Endeavor. Then, we had 3 video conference calls to share how the book might impact the ministry in our church bodies in order to advance rich theological reflection, personal application, and collective human flourishing in our local communities. Bottom line: We want to see the people in our church bring the Gospel to bear on their vocations, workplaces, and community. We want to see economic growth, justice, and wisdom to flourish in our people's lives and by extension their spheres of influence.

What did we learn?
  1) Discipleship must sneak into every nook and cranny of our lives...this includes what we do with our hands, minds, and gifts.
  2) The local church is God's means of nurturing faith and sending people of faith out into the world to do works of service to the glory and praise of God (Mt. 5:16).
  3) We are saved not to escape this world, but to be an agent of redemption and reconciliation. Though we await final consummation for the curse upon the ground to be lifted, we go out in the power of the Holy Spirit to see healing, life, and hope. As Christ's ministry revealed the arrival of the already-but-not-yet kingdom, Christ's church has been tasked to participate in the already-but-not-yet kingdom.
  4) It is a complex and difficult process to see profound change. Yes, we want more integrity in the marketplace. Yes, we want justice for all in our societies. Yes, we want Christians to lead the way in innovation and entrepreneurship for the common good. But these kinds of dynamic change will not happen over night. Hence, I highly valued the input from other pastors. I'm also thankful to be a part of the Kern Family Pastor's Network that grants churches money to grow in knowledge (Knowledge Building Grants) and also resources to follow Christ's call in these areas (Church Implementation Grants).

If you are like me in any way, you probably feel like a neophyte. But don't let that be an excuse to not start learning and obeying Christ as the Spirit leads.

Even if you don't have something like the Kern Family Foundation to assist in such support, there's no reason you can't grab a friend or two and read a book like Every Good Endeavor or Tom Nelson's Work Matters. Read the book, scour the Scriptures, and get ready for Christ to form you into a person who honors Him in every good endeavor.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

New Agers in an Argument

"Good morning dear, how was your time in contemplation this morning?" asked Sharon with all smiles as she was whipping up some pancakes for her husband and the kids.

Tom replied, "Absolutely wonderful, as I quieted my spirit, I sensed my Soul directing me to a day of golf to spend more time in nature."

"Ah, that's just beautiful Tom, but you must remember that today is the day you're taking the kids because I have a massage and then spiritual breathing with Julia at the Bonsai Yoga House."

"Hmm...yes, I do recall that earlier plan, but my Divine Self has spoken greater priorities over the day's agenda," explained Tom.

Sharon responded in a tone of ethereal happiness, "I'm so happy you are being directed by the Self; there is no greater source of joy than following our deepest desires. And yet my Supreme Self has also been guiding me all week. I'm certain that a day away is what my Self needs."

"Sharon, Sharon, I find it unlikely that your Self would be in contradiction with my Self. You must have been led astray."

"Yes, Tom, it does appear unlikely that our personal divinities would be in contradiction, that is for sure. Maybe you could take another 30 minutes for meditation outside in nature and then commit to release me for the day."

"Sharon, dear, dear Sharon. Once mySelf has spoken, I feel it would be a breach in the universal principles of the life-force to ignore or not follow these leadings."

"Your leadings certainly seem to always involve more time on the golf course, time away from the family, and even once, your Self was confident that an open marriage would bring greater joy to your Self.  Tom, it seems your Self meets the needs of you more often than it does of mySelf."

"Sharon," Tom replied in mild condescension,"In our spiritual evolution we must come to believe our desires are more and more evolved. To some these desires might look base and selfish, but I am certain that they are simply the proper expression of my divine evolution. If I were not to act on these impulses, I'd be accepting spiritual regression. Someday you may understand."

"Yes, someday, I might. But today, you are going to take the kids whether your Self or Soul likes it or not."

"Oh, Sharon, I sense in my Spirit that you are being driven to a state of anger and distress. Turn back to the light, my dear wife, and see the truth."

"Oh, it's anger all right, Tom, but it's because you are not treating me as your dear wife, but as your personal slave."

"Sharon, you must understand that words like 'wife' and 'slave' are merely social constructs. We must not let society dictate our lives. Instead, we must yield ourselves to the movement of the Self toward full enlightenment."

"If you don't quit talking to me like some unenlightened yogi, I'm going to enlighten you with a smack to the head. Tom, this kind of BS needs to stop."

"Well, Sharon, maybe that is true. Maybe two divines just can't live under the same roof. Especially, when we are on different paths toward our evolutionary enlightenment."

"Oh, good morning kids..." conversation ended.


Monday, April 21, 2014

I just went to church on Easter...now what?

So, you made it to an Easter service at a local church. Not only did you feel good that you went, you actually liked it.  You got a sense that life is bigger than what gets depicted on a prime-time sitcom.  You felt the gravity of the occasion and even a bit of joy.  The preacher didn't make you fall asleep and a few of the songs connected with your soul.  This Jesus who lived in real space-time history, conquered death, and offers forgiveness is quite captivating.

What do you do now?

Option #1: Assume it was just a random coincidence and stay far far away from those crazy religious people.

Option #2: Plan to go back next Easter. Seriously, it can't be that good every week (could it?)...or

Option #3: (my recommendation) Go back to the same church this Sunday. Feel free to email the friend who took you this week or contact the pastor who preached (you can usually find them on the church's website). Ask them questions. Express your doubts. Heck, most pastors would even buy you lunch to talk about your impressions, concerns, and thoughts...that's what they love to do!

And if you attended my church this Sunday, shoot me an email (pastormatt@cornerstone-marion.org) or call me at 447-1688. Let's do lunch.

-Pastor Matt Proctor

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Insulted and Inaccurate - 50 Things Every Woman Should Realize About Men

It appears http://wallstreetinsanity.com/50-things-every-woman-should-realize-about-men/

In it, he basically told women to tolerate all sex-crazy, selfish, and ego-centric males. He reduced women to sex toys who are supposed to graciously allow for moral imperfections, sexual perversions, and undiluted pride in their men.

Women, some 'men' may be like this, but no man should be. Do not settle for such worthless dregs.

Men who agree with more than 5-10 of these 50 things, and Chuck Henderson in particular, shame on you.

Real men sacrifice for the needs of women. Real men restrain their sexual appetites until marriage. Real men want to honor, serve, and protect women.

I confess there have been too many moments in my life that I have thought some of Henderson's realizations were ok. Some I've even acted upon in thought, word, and deed. But at no point did succumbing to the flesh make me a man. Real men should act like soldiers trained for war. We put our own preferences and fleshly desires aside. We train for battle and develop self-control for the sake of the weak and vulnerable. We lay down our wants to meet the needs of others. We stay focused until our blood s spilled and our bodies fall to the ground.

Women need soldier men, not sexualized men. Women need the boys of this world (i.e. Chuck Henderson) to grow into real men.

Jesus of Nazareth said it best when he said a real hero doesn't seek power and lordship over people. Instead, the greatest men will use whatever power and position they have to meet the needs of others. This is why Jesus (fully God and full man) used all his position and all his power to redeem us on the Cross of Calvary. That includes me. I'm in need of redemption. I'm in need of being brought out of dead end life.

But woe to the man/boy who takes his cues from the banal perversion that was penned by Chuck Henderson.

Monday, April 07, 2014

"It will be alright."

"It will be alright, Tim. Your father was a good man," spoke a tall, dark complected man in clerical garb, over the shoulder of a college-aged kid in a dark suit staring at the coffin of his father.

"Father Chris, what does that mean?" questioned Tim.

"I'm merely saying that your father lived a long and full life, bringing great joy to many people...you and your mom included."

"Yeah, but what do you mean 'it' will be alright? What's 'it'?"

"Oh, you know, the future for you, your mom, and your dad."

"But my dad rejected God, heaven, and everything he was taught growing up," spoke Tim with an ever-quickening speed and volume of words, "how can 'it' be okay if you believe the kinds of things you priests believe?"

"Well, I guess I trust it all to God's providence and justice," answered the priest, holding steady with his emotions, "Your father may have rejected his baptism in words, but his life told another story."

"Father Chris, since when does a person's beliefs mean nothing? Are you saying my dad's choice to be an atheist gets ignored by God on judgment day?"

"No, no, Tim, I'm merely saying that sometimes faith is funny. Sometimes we don't even know what we believe until the end comes."

"I'm not tracking with you Father. It's almost like you're saying that a human person has no control over their own mind, beliefs, and will. That, that, my dad's principles mean nothing to God."

"No, I'm merely saying that God gives us things we don't deserve..."

Tim interrupted, "Stop it. Don't feed me some line that God brings everyone to heaven regardless of their beliefs. If God exists, He at least has the decency to respect people's choice to reject Him."

"Tim..."

"No, Father, I can accept the fact that my dad gets hell for turning from God (though I pray He turned back to Jesus in the end), but I cannot stand to hear someone like you claim that beliefs don't matter. My dad staked his eternity on a godless universe, and if he was wrong, he at least goes on forever knowing he made his choice with his eyes open."

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Time to Grow Up

"Sugar, could you help me with the groceries?"

"Mom, I'm really busy right now, the guys really need me."

"Who are the guys?"

"Oh, well, I only know their screen names. I'm pretty sure killer424 is from Bermuda and samson007 is from Georgia."

"MOM!" screamed Tim as his mother clicked off the TV. "Why did you do that? I don't turn off the TV when you are watching something you like."

"Tim, first of all, it's my TV so you better not turn it off, ever. Second, if you are going to live here, you are going to help with household duties."

"Mom, seriously, I'm not planning to stay long. I had two interviews last week. I'm just trying to enjoy myself before I hit the real world."

"Tim, you are 24. You've been done with college for 6 months. The real world hit when you were 18, but you still play video games with "the guys" and blow off all real responsibility."

"It's just my way to relax."

"Relax? Your whole life is one big relaxation. Adults relax by taking a long shower or a 30 minute walk. A 24-hour Ghost Recon marathon isn't relaxation--it's laziness."

"Whatever Mom...it's just something you older people don't understand. I grew up on this. You kill hours in front of the TV watching every Law and Order spin-off show ever made, and now you lecture me on video games."

"Alright sonny boy, why don't you try working 50 hours a week, taking care of a home, and raising 3 kids? Your dad and I might not be perfect, but the bills are paid, our kids are educated, and we've weathered 30 years of marriage."

"Hmph...all you do is complain, complain, complain," continued Tim, "At least, I'm happy with my life. I'd never take a job that makes me as depressed as you."

"Tim, dear, I have a job that doesn't make my heart flutter--that's for sure. But I know that my work serves customers. I know that my work honors my fellow employees. The money I make is hard-earned, and it's the money that sent you to school and feeds your belly to this day."

"Well, you won't see me going the same road you did. I'm going to be somebody."

"Alright kid. I'm done with this conversation. Until you realize that being 'somebody' has a lot more to do with hard work, sacrifice, and setting aside your own wants for the sake of others, you won't get anywhere or be anyone. If you think 'being somebody' means finding the job that releases you for more XBox 360 hours (or vacation or sex or whatever), you won't amount to much. You'll simply grow into a bigger kid. A grown up quits living for themselves and lives for others. The greatest Somebody who ever walked this earth deserved a life of luxury and praise; instead, he took a Cross of suffering for all the kids still playing their self-serving games."

Monday, March 31, 2014

Christianity as Springboard

In reading Ross Douthat's New York Times write-up this morning, I'd like to offer 5 reflections I've noticed in reading world history:

1) Wherever Christianity has spread, the social conditions for women and children, the poor, and the under-educated have improved. (This occurred in pagan countries in the early middle ages, post-communist countries in the 20th century, and in Islamic countries in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.)

2) At some point these cultures and countries impacted by Christianity quit relying and seeking direction from the Christianity. They begin to trust in the people who have benefited from Christianity (now post-Christian "elites"). The post-Christian elites hold to a remnant of Christian teaching (albeit many reject Christianity altogether), but have often abandoned its core doctrines of orthodoxy. This is most evident in European cultures. They perceive Christianity more as a springboard onto something bigger than as the foundation that should never be abandoned.

3) In time, the social conditions begin to deteriorate for women and children, the poor, and the under-educated. This would be seen in the increased percentage of children born out of wedlock, without both parents involved in their lives, and the necessary government involvement to provide basic necessities and education (and sadly, many of these investments in the children still do not prevent a high crime rate and unhealthy life choices).
    A desire for "upward mobility" is not motivating enough for many. Likewise, when Christian convictions and morals are lost, most people lack the drive and inward motivations to properly deal with a decaying culture. People are not willing at any fundamental level to sacrifice and serve those most in need. Voting for higher taxes and increased government support (the common answer in more liberally-minded elites) has not solved our social conditions (and possibly has made them worse for some).

4) Both non-Christian and previously Christian empires and countries have shriveled and died, rising out of the ash heap as military-regimes, hostile government takeovers, mob states (some led by government officials), and the like.

5): What beliefs and convictions lie  in the heart of rulers and followers has a large impact on its future. These will dictate the next direction a nation turns.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A tale of picture-taking in Arizona

"Hello Julie, what brings you into the shop today?"

"Morning, Lisa, I was wondering if you'd take pictures for Jenny's upcoming wedding."

"Isn't Jenny already married to Paul?" asked Lisa.

"Well, a few months ago we found out Jenny had left Paul for a man at work who was more caring and emotionally available. You know that Paul travels so much, and it's been really hard on Jenny. Paul's tried to be a good husband, but it just hasn't worked out, that's all. I think it will be best for them and the kids in the long run."

"Oh," responded Lisa, "I guess I'd want to sit down with Jenny and this new man to let them know my principles regarding wedding photography."

"Your principles? What are you saying?" Julie questioned.

"It's just that when a couple chooses to mistreat marriage according to my convictions, I want these customers to know where I stand."

Julie's face turned red and she almost shouted, "What do you mean, Lisa? You're not going to do this for me? We've been friends for years."

Lisa responded calmly, "We're definitely friends, and I've cared for Jenny for years. It's just that I don't want her to make a mistake like this and think I'm totally comfortable with it, that's all."

"A mistake? Seriously, Lisa, who are you to lecture my daughter?"

"Julie, I don't want to lecture Jenny. I just want her the opportunity to know where I stand and if she's still comfortable with my principles, I could still be a part of her day. I doubt she'll want me there though."

"So what kinds of principles are you talking about, then?" demanded Julie.

"Well, I guess I'd put it this way. I desire to use my photography to capture the most beautiful and amazing things in life. I believe a life-long marriage of fidelity between a man and a woman is one of the most beautiful and amazing things. If I believe something isn't beautiful or amazing, like a woman leaving her husband for a another man for poor reasons, I would hope the way I take pictures and depict them for others would reveal that this is not something amazing or beautiful."

"So you are saying you wouldn't do your best to make Jenny's day special?"

"No, I probably wouldn't in her mind, because according to my convictions this day looks to be sad, selfish, and inappropriate."

"Who are you to judge what's appropriate and not appropriate?"

"I'm just an artist trying to do my best to accurately reflect what I believe to be true. Every artist is subject to their principles. It's up to Jenny if she'd appreciate my involvement on her day."



Thursday, February 20, 2014

How to respond to a 'bad sermon'

Have you ever heard a bad sermon? I'm not talking about a sermon that was heretical. I'm talking about a sermon that didn't make sense, or seemed to ramble on, or didn't have any direct bearing to your life. Or maybe it's a sermon where the pastor said something that came across as offensive or inappropriate (and you're not sure if it was intentional or not).

5 Tips for Responding to a Bad Sermon

#1: Give them the benefit of the doubt. 1 Cor. 13 says love "hopes all things, believes all things." That is, assume they really did give their best effort and really did want to encourage, exhort, and challenge you that day. They didn't mean to hurt you or disappoint you. It's just that they are human and will not walk on water every Sunday.

#2: Don't share your opinion with others. If you didn't like the sermon, keep it to yourself. Even if someone asks, be careful not to speak negatively of a brother or sister in Christ. One negative word from you could start a fire of destruction in a hearer's life and even worse it could get back to the preacher and destroy their soul.

#3: Give them feedback. First, give yourself and the preacher 24-48 hours (certainly not that very Sunday morning). If you still think there are 2-3 things (and probably no more than 2-3) that need to be addressed, call them up. Try and offer a few words of encouragement on what they did well. And yet, don't be shy to help a growing preacher (and we're all growing whether we've been at it 5 years of 35 years) mature in their ability to use God's Word. (Just think how cool it was that Priscilla and Aquila offered feedback to the incomplete, but growing preacher named Apollos, see Acts 18.)

#4: Pray for the preacher. In former years when I wasn't the regular preaching pastor, I often sat in my seat as a critical observer. I always thought they could do better, and I sometimes wished I could be elsewhere...until I saw this as selfishness and sin. I confessed my sin (often), and committed (and recommitted) to pray for the preacher that they would feed me and the other sheep. When I prayed, two things happened. (1) Their preaching came with more power, and (2) I could grow in my proper place of submission.

#5: Believe in the power of the Gospel. We know from Romans 1:16 that the good news of Jesus Christ has the power to save. This message is potent. Its potency is not dependent on the eloquence of the preacher. Its potency is not subject to great application points. Pray for Gospel-preaching preachers not merely great preaching preachers. The power lies in the Gospel, not in the human instrument that conveys the message.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Yay! New Churches...what?

This scenario needs to die a slow death in American cities (in the same cities where churches close their doors too often because there has been no gospel-impact for decades):

New Church A moves into town.

Old Churches A-Z lose members to New Church A.

Old Churches A-Z question the integrity of New Church A. They won't partner with New Church A. They won't pray for New Church A.

New Church A grows, matures, and enters the ranks of Old Churches A-Z.

New Church B enters town and the cycle repeats itself.

All the while, God, as far I can tell, pours His blessing on the work of New Churches A-Z. Maybe it is God gifting the faith of New Churches to begin a new church. Maybe it is God stirring up and reviving the dry bones sitting in Old Churches A-Z. Maybe it's simply God testing His people on whether they will rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

We need church addition and multiplication in America...celebrate the arrival of any Gospel-preaching church. It's good for the city and the Kingdom.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Olympics and Patriotism

"Yo, Joe, did you see snowboarding last night?"

"Huh? Oh, you mean the Olympics, right?"

"Seriously, Joe, what kind of American are you?"

"You're losing me, Jerome. How does watching or not watching a 20 year old flying over a mogul bear any reflection on my American citizenship?"

"Come on man, this happens only once every four years. We gotta cheer for the red, white, and blue."

"Jerome, I have no problem cheering on American athletes, but I'm a bit flabbergasted that the 'best show' of American patriotism is millions of couch potatoes admiring random athletes they've never met."

"Joe, lay off man, we're just trying to support our county."

"That's great, Jerome. But when 83% of Americans say they are going to watch the Olympics and only 54% of registered voters voted for their sitting president, I have a tough time seeing patriotism. Heck, only 2/3 of Americans who can register to vote even have. We won't vote for those who have the power to change the course of history. But 'we're patriotic' because we sit on our couch and eat Doritos."

"Ok, Mr. America, what is real patriotism then?"

"It seems that patriotism is the kind of love for one's country and countrymen that results in personal sacrifice for the good of others. You say you're patriotic, but all you've sacrificed is a few hours of watching your favorite television shows. We haven't help our country one bit when we tune in to watch the Olympics. Maybe any and all true patriots should turn off their television and go sit in on a city council meeting, or volunteer to coach for their parks and rec, or simply bow before the God above and ask for His undeserved blessings. But, please have the moral decency not to question one's love for his or her country based on the amount of hours their rear was stuck to couch watching sports."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Three Signs Personal Revival is Needed

Here are 3 signs that personal revival is needed:

1) You struggle to be merciful and forgiving toward others.

2) You cannot be still in silence or solitude.

3) You do not want to be with other followers of Jesus.

A bit of an explanation and some remedies:

#1: If you are harboring anger or resentment toward another person, it is because you feel they owe you something. It may be as simple as an apology or as serious as a prison sentence. Regardless, this sense of "deserving justice" reveals that in your own heart you believe you are worthy of due payment. 
     On the contrary, the person in a vibrant walk with Jesus Christ doesn't feel like they deserve a thing. Instead, their heart is overwhelmed at two things: (1) The ugliness of their many sins and (2) The extravagance of God's free grace. We accept our poverty of spirit as something we deserve, and yet marvel that God would fill us with the treasures of His grace. The result of this is not a sense of others owing us, but rather as Romans 13 describes, we respond by paying what we owe: the obligation to love one another. We possess the treasury of forgiveness and can freely dispense it to others. We see the multitude of our sins and see ourselves as the chief of sinners. Others' sins pale in comparison to our heinous actions before a Holy God. 
    If you are struggling with mercy and forgiveness, take inventory of your own soul before a Holy God. Which of the commandments have you disobeyed (hint: it's most/all of them)? What would you owe God apart from Jesus' payment on the Cross? Then pray for and receive God's grace. May this grace revive your heart to forgive whoever has a much smaller debt against you than you ever did before the LORD.

#2: If you cannot turn your phone off, avoid social media for a few days, or allow an hour or two each day with no music, movies, or gadgets, freedom is needed. You are enslaved to relationships. You are dependent on distraction. Most likely, this means your own heart is empty, depleted, and dry. 
    The remedy, according to John 4 (which is a tale of a needy woman who needed a man to be satisfied), is to have a fresh encounter with Jesus. Find a place where no-one else is around. Listen again to His voice (the Word of God). Believe once again that he alone is the spring of living water that satisfies the soul. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill the emptiness. Pray that the Father would remind you of his tender mercy. And here's the kicker, keep the gadgets away until you experience the peace that passes understanding. It may be hours before you can detox from the frenzy, but Christ is worthy of our devotion. We either believe Christ is sufficient or we believe something else is. One response brings salvation, the other, death.

#3: If you dislike worshipping with other Christians, constantly prefer any activity besides Bible study, or have 10 reasons why non-Christians are better to hang with than Christ-followers, something is wrong with you (not them). Because I already know (and so do you) that every Christian is a sinner. Every Christian is a hypocrite at some point during the day. Every Christian will hurt you and fail you in some way. BUT (and notice that it was a big but), only Christians will help you keep Christ at the center of your life. Only Christians will say Jesus Christ is the due north that guides all our travels. When you are ready to roll with those who won't challenge you to run after Jesus, you are in need of revival.
   The remedy probably starts with 2 things. First, you will probably need to identify how other Christians have failed you and sinned against you. Then you'll need to work toward forgiveness (see #1 for help there). Second, you'll need to probably confess your own sins. When I've struggled with this sort of thing, I've often discovered an unforgiving spirit, pride and judgmentalism to be the leading culprits. I confess  my sin before God, and then ask the Holy Spirit to give me a deep love for fellow sinners/saints who He has put in my life and church to help me become more like Jesus. The love that is called for in 1 Corinthians 13 is the kind of love the occurs when I'm dealing with difficult and sinful people. Thanks be to God, I can love because Christ first loved me.
   And one bonus idea...the goal of life is not to be happy and free from pain. Rather, the goal is conformity to Christ in Word and Deed. Suffering (even at the hands of Christians) is God's school for transformation...even Christ learned obedience through what he suffered (and often through those fellow believers who said they loved him and would never leave him). Like Paul in Philippians 3, may the Spirit move us to want to know Christ even through the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings. All efforts at love and obedience will be rewarded at the resurrection.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

The Type-Writer Vs. the I-Pad

Two writers who had never met found themselves sharing the same table at an over-crowded coffee shop one Thursday afternoon. The first writer was a fifty-four year old gentleman, wearing a nice cardigan sweater and khaki pants. The second writer was a twenty-nine year old, female college professor. She wore blue jeans under a white spring dress. Both had an air of confidence and composure.

The gentleman typed on his keypad with his I-pad turned horizontal upon the table.

The young lady typed on a manual type-writer of a more recent vintage.

Within minutes the noise of the manual type-writer got on the nerves of the man. Eventually, he felt compelled to speak, "Ma'am, is there anyway you could conduct your business with a bit more quiescence?"

The young lady raised her head with a clear expression of annoyance. She responded, "I'm sorry sir, but this is how my device works. I'd move to another place in the shop, but all the tables are full. Do you mind if I continue?"

"No, not at all," replied the man, though with a tone that expressed that he did mind quite a bit.

A few minute interlude commenced where the woman continued to type. The man's nerves reacted again to the pounding of the keys. Finally, he said, "Ma'am, might I ask you what provoked you to use such an ancient writing device?"

Her keying stopped momentarily, with her fingers suspended over the keys, demonstrating a clear displeasure for a second interruption, she replied, "I find I am generally less distracted when I use devices not connected to the internet." She quickly went back to her work.

"Oh...I see," said the man. "But do you find it an inconvenience to not be able to save your work or easily edit your pages?"

The woman made a resolution to desist from work and engage in the conversation. She turned and answered, "There are definitely drawbacks to this different technology, but I find many of the perks quite rewarding."

"Oh, do explain, please," petitioned the man.

"Well," the woman pointing now to the I-Pad, "My device doesn't need an outlet or a battery. I don't have to search high and low for a wi-fi cafe. I don't need a printer. I am never interrupted by an email or a request to update my software. I don't get sidetracked checking Twitter or Facebook. And when I want to use an intentionally eye-catching grammatical error, it is not corrected by auto-correct. There are just a few. Do you mind if I get back to work now?"

"Certainly, certainly," hinted the man, but he couldn't stop from speaking, "I bet for a girl your age the type-writer is a bit of a novelty. But I grew up learning to type on those things with all my classmates. I remember the ink getting on my clothes. I remember the mechanical glitches. I'm thankful to be done with that ol' fashioned toy and to have now moved onto the height of 21st century ingenuity."

"Yes," remarked the girl (with a sassy air to be sure), "I find most people in your generation ready to throw out the old and move onto the new without much hesitation."

The man cleared his voice, "Excuse me, young lady..."

"Yeah, my dad moved on from my mom when she got a bit too old too. Then also, he raised me on church, integrity, and faithfulness. But it seems those three things got ol' fashioned too and he's moved on to bigger and better things. Now, Sunday is for golf, integrity is history, and faithfulness lasts as long as his 3-month long relationships with his 35 year-old girlfriends."

"Now, you just wait a minute, missy. Just because you have some unfortunate experiences with your father, doesn't mean you can just go around accusing every person in his generation you meet."

"True enough Mister. I'm just sick of every person I meet thinking something that is new, flashy, and fashionable is of greater value than something that has gone before. It is the old ideas and old inventions that have stood the test of time. Just because something works for now or is accepted now doesn't mean it's not another 'advance' in humanity's devolution. I'll take my grandparents type-writer and their ol' fashioned morals, not because they are popular, but because they seem to bring about a deeper joy and livelihood than the 2.0 models and ideas of the 21st century."