Monday, December 14, 2009

Stepping on Toes - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 159

"Stepping on Toes"
By Rev. Greg Smith

When I turned 35 years old, I took a trip to the doctor, because I wanted to hear what he might say about entering middle-age. After much poking, prodding, and blood-letting, he said, “You’re a tad overweight, and your triglycerides are a touch high.”

Here was somebody telling me some pretty negative things about myself, but did I get offended? No. I'd gone to him just so he could tell me negative things. I went to him so he would tell me what I needed to change in my life.

Often, I have finished a sermon and been greeted by a parishioner who said, "You stepped on my toes today, Pastor." Sometimes they're smiling. Sometimes they're not. Most people don't like getting their toes stepped on.

Many people don’t come to church to be challenged. They only want to hear pleasant messages. They flock to be one of thousands attending televised megachurches whose pastors preach a feel-good message without any substance. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 says, "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" But when we go to church, we need to be open to hearing from God, so that we will be challenged--so that we will be changed.

The message that John the Baptist preached was a hard one to hear. "John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Luke 3:7-9)." But people listened to his painful preaching and they gave a receptive response. In verse 10, the people say, "What should we do, then?" Verse 15 says they were "waiting expectantly."

How do you respond to the tough teachings you get from the pulpit? Do you get offended? Or do you allow yourself to be totally transformed? Sometimes a sermon steps on our toes, but thank God that Jesus only steps on our toes when we trample on His heart! Maybe it's time to listen to God's message.

Instead of coming to church wearing steel-toed boots that protect your precious toes, we need to listen to God's word from Exodus 3:5, ""Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Make yourself vulnerable. Let God step on your toes, so you can be totally transformed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Main Characer in Your Life

“The Main Character in Your Life”

By Rev. Greg Smith

Then Jacob called for his sons and said: "Gather around....” He blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him.... When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people. (From Genesis 49:1, 28, 33)

Every one of us was born, and every one of us, like it or not, is going to die. From the first breath to the last, we are the main characters in our own lives. Unlike any of the other characters in our life’s story, we view our own experiences from start to finish. Nobody else witnesses our secret moments or sees the depths of our hearts. Likewise, we can never see the hidden places in the lives of others. The only life we see completely is our own.

While it is true that we are the main characters in our own lives, it is not true that our lives are all about ourselves. The apostle Paul says, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8).” The truth is, we are not the only one who sees the full scope of our lives from beginning to end. God is the invisible witness who sees it all. We must remember that we do not live or die to ourselves alone.

As he faced his own death, Jacob was aware that he did not die to himself alone. While each of his sons was the main character in his own life, Jacob’s death would be a major chapter in the personal history of each of his children. At least for a time, Jacob would become the central player in the family drama. He would, in fact, pass on from his own life, leaving his sons to pick up the pieces and figure out how to move on. Truly it could be said that his death was not all about him. His death was all about them. Knowing that his time on earth was finite, he used his final days to bring blessing to those around him.

The same can be said about us. Though you are the main character in your life, you are also the main character in someone else’s life, at least for a time. Think of the family gathered around Mama’s death bed. In their eyes, it’s all about her. But she makes a choice. Is it all about her? Or will she make it about them? Will she leave them with a parting gift of wisdom? Or blessing? Or peace?

In reality, none of us can predict the hour of our own passing. It may be in sixty years, or it may be tomorrow. So it remains for us to live today as unto the Lord. Likewise, our imminent destruction must make us live for others, and not for ourselves. The more we invest in ourselves, the more we invest in the destructible. The more we invest in those who will live beyond us, the more we invest in immortality. Will you make somebody else the main character in your life today?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Spirit and Truth # 158 - Painful Preaching

Spirit & Truth # 158
“Painful Preaching”

By Rev. Greg Smith

"See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming," says the LORD of Hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner's fire and like cleansing lye. (Malachi 3:1-2 HCSB)

He is coming. Can you feel it in the air? Can you hear it on the wind? Even as we wait, the Messiah is on His way. We don’t know when He will arrive, but He is coming still. Are you ready?
Malachi had a vision of the coming Messiah. But he knew that the people’s hearts weren’t ready to receive the Lord. He foresaw that before the Lord would come, another messenger must arrive, to fertilize the soil of their souls. John the Baptist must come before the Messiah, preaching that people should repent and be baptized.

John was anything but what the people might expect. From the beginning, he turned people’s expectations upside down. His message was the photo negative of everything that they already knew. It was completely backwards from the way their minds worked. John Opposed sin and invited repentance. Specifically, he decried the sin of King Herod, who had taken his brother Philip’s wife as his own. John knew that the people take the morality (or immorality) of their political leaders as an example to follow, so he confronted Herod’s sin directly. John preached a message that would turn the establishment on its ear. And that kind of message is dangerous.

Sometimes preaching can be painful to the hearer. Powerful preaching can burn away our impurities like a refiner’s fire. It can scour our hearts like strong lye. And that can be uncomfortable. Yet it is necessary if we’re to become what God wants us to be.

Preaching can also be painful to the preacher. John stuck his neck out, and ended up losing his head. Yet he was willing to risk it all. As a result, Jesus would say that there had never been anyone born who was greater than John.

God calls every believer to be a preacher like John. Maybe we’re not called to wear camel’s hair and eat locusts—but we are all called to speak God’s truth, even if we know it won’t be well received. Even if it gets us into trouble (Mt 11:11; Lk 7:28). We can’t be afraid of criticism. We can’t be afraid of people getting mad. When we, like John, become “a voice crying in the wilderness,” then “the crooked will become straight, the rough ways smooth, and everyone will see the salvation of God (Luke 3:4-6)."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Peace On Earth, Good Will Toward Men

Spirit & Truth # 157
“Peace On Earth, Good Will Toward Men”

By Rev. Greg Smith

As we enter into the Christmas season, we remember the angels’ words, “Peace on earth, good will toward men (Luke 2:14).” Some Bible scholars say this verse is mistranslated, and should read, “Peace on earth toward men of good will.” The difference between these two interpretations is tremendous! One says that we should have peace with everybody. The other says we should have peace only with people of good will. What does Jesus say?

Jesus is perfectly qualified to talk about enemies. He probably had more enemies than anybody who ever walked the earth. His enemies were politicians, religious leaders, the rich and famous. The poor and needy rejected Him as well, if He didn’t meet their needs in the way they thought he should. His followers cried, “Please, teach us!” But then when he taught them things they didn’t want to hear, they turned against Him. His friends betrayed and abandoned him when trouble came. Even before His arrest and crucifixion, the crowds tried to stone Him (John 8:59), while the priests and teachers of the law were trying to kill Him (Luke 19:47). And this doesn’t even take into account the demonic attacks on Jesus throughout His life.

All of this uniquely qualifies the Prince of Peace to talk about enemies. In Luke 9:54-56, Jesus’ disciples are angry because the people did not welcome Him. “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.” Some manuscripts add that Jesus said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

Jesus didn’t say, “No—they don’t deserve to have fire fall on them from heaven.” Perhaps they did deserve it after all. Maybe even your enemies deserve it. But the reserve Jesus expressed had nothing to do with the enemies—it had everything to do with the kind of spirit that dwells in the believer. We choose peace, not because our enemies don’t deserve our wrath—but because the Spirit of Peace lives in us. We choose peace because we deserve to be peaceful people. And that changes everything.

Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This is what Jesus did, even to the point of laying Himself down on a cross. As we remember the manger this season, let’s remember to truly have peace and good will toward everyone, even those people who we don’t think deserve it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Starving Times

Spirit & Truth # 156
“The Starving Times”

By Rev. Greg Smith

New Englanders want to lay claim to the first Thanksgiving service in America, but we Virginians know that it really happened in Jamestown, in the year 1610. The Jamestown colony started well, laying the foundations in faith. Captain John Smith wrote about the first church in the new land: "When I first went to Virginia, I well remember we did hang an awning (which was an old sail) to three or four trees to shadow us from the sun; our walls were rails of wood, our seats unhewed trees, till we cut planks; our pulpit a bar of wood nailed to two neighboring trees; in foul weather we shifted into an old, rotten tent, for we had few better…This was our church till we built a homely thing, like a barn, set upon crotchets, covered with rafts, sedge, and earth; so were also the walls...Yet we had daily common prayer morning and evening, every Sunday two sermons, and every three months communion till our minister died."

Soon, however, the colonists took their faith in gold more seriously than their faith in God. They also abandoned their farming in exchange for searching for the yellow stones, hoping to barter and trade with the Indians for their winter supplies. But when Smith left the colony, tensions grew between the indigenous people and the settlers. The Powhatan Indians refused to trade with the English, thus leaving them without provisions for the winter of 1609-1610. This period would be known to historians as The Starving Time—when colonists resorted to eating shoe leather, horses, and the bodies of people who had died of starvation. Of the original 490 colonists that Smith left in the autumn of 1609, only 60 remained in the spring of 1610.

They decided to abandon the colony, boarded a ship, and followed the river downstream. At the mouth of the James, they encountered a flotilla of English ships, led by Lord Delaware, filled with supplies and fresh colonists. The bedraggled survivors returned the Jamestown, encouraged by the bounty and provision. The Rev. Mr. Buckle held a service of thanksgiving to God, filled with songs of praise that were heard even by the Indians who sat on the outside of the assembly.
Simply put—there would have been no Thanksgiving without the Starving Time. We must go through struggle and trial and hardship in life, if we are to be brought close to God. The prophet Amos said, “’The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD (Amos 8:11 NIV).’”
God designs the starving times that we go through in order to make us hungry and thirsty for God.

Is this Thanksgiving a struggle for you? Do you feel like you’re in your own personal Starving Time? Remember that there can be no Thanksgiving without a struggle. Let the lean times bring you closer to God. Thank Him, in advance, for the sustenance you need—even if you don’t see it yet. Then wait, and see the salvation of God.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Crabtree Falls Hike

This past Monday, my friend Jed and I hiked most of the way to the top of Crabtree Falls, in the George Washington National Forest. (Click here to read about the layout of the falls, etc.) We had a great time! Here are some of the pictures I took on the hike.

Along the way, we stopped at a cave, which opened in the back as well. It had a natural chimney, and we could tell from the charred remains that somebody had taken advantage of it. Below is a picture of Jed in the cave.

Crabtree Falls is the highest (tallest) waterfall east of the Mississippi. This might look strange to you, from these pictures. But remember, this is the tallest...not the biggest. It's no Niagara, but the trail is a nice 2.2 mile round-trip hike, which takes longer than you might think, because of the steep incline. A nice hike.

Crabtree Falls is 1,200 feet high, and absolutely beautiful.

On the way back, we stopped at Harmony Presbyterian Church to admire its beautiful stonework. What a beautiful day to spend in the mountains!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

An Awesome Michael Jackson Video

Since this is the "Love the Word" Blog, I thought I'd share this with you--just because I love words, and the words in this video are absolutely awesome!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Word About My Stones

Just an update for those who frequently visit my blog:

Yesterday, I went to the urologist, who took an x-ray and said, "Kidney stone? What kidney stone???"

Well, he didn't exactly say that. He said, "You must have passed it without knowing it."

How often have you ever known anybody who passed a stone without knowing it? Doesn't happen very often, does it?

The other stone is still way up in the kidney, and the urologist said it could take years, and that I shouldn't worry about it much at the moment. In a day or so, we'll do a dietary analysis (you can just guess how that's done) to see what the food or drink factors (I think it'll end up being coffee) were that caused the stone.

Thanks for your prayers! I feel fine--God is good!

Monday, October 26, 2009


Spirit & Truth # 152

By Rev. Greg Smith

He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and his hand was completely restored (Luke 6:10).

They say you should never pray for patience, because God might present a situation in your life that requires you to learn it. Lately, I’ve learned to be patient, while being a patient. The words are, of course, related.

Recently, I’ve been dealing with kidney stones. My experience has not been as agonizing as some of the horror stories that I’ve heard from friends. However, today I’ll have my third doctor’s visit to deal with these little kidney boogers, and tomorrow I’ll probably have to get them blasted. I’m learning to be patient with the process of being a patient.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, The English word patient, as an adjective, has been around for a long time, since around the year 1320. It comes from the Latin word patientem, and means “bearing or enduring without complaint.” The noun form of the English word patient has been in use since 1393, and refers to a “suffering or sick person.”

The English word patience is a bit older, dating to around 1225. It comes from the old French pacience, and is related to the Proto-Indo-European base pie, which means “to damage or hurt.” The Online Etymology Dictionary defines “Proto-Indo-European” as “the hypothetical reconstructed ancestral language of the Indo-European family. The time scale is much debated, but the most recent date proposed for it is about 5,500 years ago.” From this early base, we see a relationship to the English word passion, in the sense of suffering, and in the sense of strong emotion as it is related to the Greek word pathos.

Another related word in English is passive, which dates to the year 1388. It comes from the Latin passivus, which means “capable of feeling or suffering.” The meaning “not active” is newer, dating to the year 1477.

So why all this study of language? To underscore the point that when we find ourselves as medical patients, we have to learn patience. This patience means adopting an attitude of passivity as we experience passion and pain. A patient can be nothing but patient as he waits in the doctor’s office. She can be nothing but passive as she submits to the doctor’s treatment.

When Jesus said, “Stretch out your hand,” the man with the withered hand did exactly as he was told. He submitted to the Lord’s will, becoming passive under the care of the Master. Whether you’re receiving medical care, or seeking God’s healing in more spiritual and emotional ways, remember to submit passively to the Lord’s will. Perhaps then, you’ll find the relationship between being passive, and the Spanish word paz, which is the English word peace.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pressing On!

Spirit & Truth # 151
“Pressing On!”

John Napier was a famous mathematician and theologian who lived in Scotland between the years 1550 and 1617. As the seventh Laird of Merchiston, he was known for his wealth as well as his intelligence. He published many theological and mathematical works that awed his readers. He was the inventor of logarithms, and divining rods that were used as multiplication tables. John’s grandson, Dr. Patrick Napier, immigrated to the new colony in Virginia, where he was a surgeon at Jamestown.

Patrick Henry, who lived from 1736 to 1799, was that famous American patriot who gave the speech that ended with “Give me liberty, or give me death!” He was one of the great minds that inspired the American Revolution. Patrick Henry lived at Red Hill in Charlotte County, and Scotchtown in Hanover County. I was fortunate enough to live near each of these at different times in my life.

Chief Red Bird (aka Aaron Brock) was a Cherokee Indian who lived in what is now known as Clay County, Kentucky, in the late 1700s. When fighting broke out between Indians and European settlers, Red Bird sought peace. As a result, he and a friend were brutally tomahawked to death. Their deaths almost started a war, with the French and Indians on one side, and the Americans on the other. The war was averted by treaties, which were later broken by the whites.

Phoebe Moses was a young sharp-shooting performer who was born in Darke County, Ohio, in 1860. Changing her name to Annie Oakley, she amazed audiences throughout Europe and America. Once, she shot the ashes from the cigarette of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Joining Colonel Cody’s Wild West Show, she became known as Little Sure Shot, and performed with Buffalo Bill Cody and Sitting Bull.

What do all these characters from history have in common? Me! I am directly related to each of them—and I’m proud of it! But I have to keep my family in proper perspective. While the past is something to celebrate, it cannot save me—now matter how interesting my ancestors may have been.

In the book of Philippians, Paul bragged that he was a Hebrew of Hebrews—blameless according the Law, a follower of tradition, a citizen of both Israel and Rome. He had quite a pedigree, but he said, “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done… Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us (3:7, 13-14).”

It’s tempting to either let your past bog you down, or to try to ride its coattails into glory. Christians must do neither of these things. Instead, we must press on to the future that God has in store for us. Is your past holding you bound? Release it to God. Have you relied on your heritage for your salvation, rather than trusting in Christ to save you? Reach, instead, for God. Only by pressing on can you free yourself of the past and reach the blessings of the future.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fall is in the Air!

I don't know about you, but I'm loving these changing leaves, the nip in the air, and the promise of wonderful holidays! The Smiths have been busy enjoying Fall, and I thought I'd share a few pictures with you.

Here are our three youngest, gathered around an old-fashioned apple juicer on a friend's farm. We spent last weekend doing farm stuff, like making home made apple cider, and visiting just-born calves. Here's a picture of my animal lover and a newborn (the same day) calf.

Today, we went to Carter's Mountain Orchard and got a 36-pound pumpkin to carve.
Daniel thinks Lydia's pretty funny as a worm wriggling out of an apple.
Lydia thought he was even funnier.
Fall is my favorite season of the year. Lots of family fun, but without all the expectations of the holidays. It's been a good week, and I anticipate it's going to get better.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Garbage in, Garbage Out

Spirit & Truth # 150
“Garbage In, Garbage Out”

By Rev. Greg Smith

September 18 saw tragedy in Farmville, when four people were brutally murdered. 16 year-old Emma Niederbrock; her Longwood professor mother Debra Kelly, 53; her 50 year-old father Mark Niederbrock, who was a Presbyterian pastor; and her 18 year-old friend Melanie Wells of Inwood, West Virginia were butchered in Kelly’s home. The alleged killer is Emma’s boyfriend, Richard McCroskey, of Castro Valley, California. McCroskey also went by the rapper name of Syko Sam when he performed his horrorcore music.

If you’re like me, you may never have heard of horrorcore before reading about Syko Sam. Back in the 1980s when I was a teenager, Ozzy Ozbourne put on a gruesome show, but most of it was hype. Today, a new style of music makes Ozzy look like the Telletubbies.

Horrorcore is a sub-genre of hip hop music that is basically a slasher film put to music. Its themes focus on murder, Satanism, cannibalism, suicide, rape, and murder. Imagine if every day were Halloween, and you can begin to get into the mindset of horrorcore. The difference is that unlike a once-a-year holiday, or an occasionally watched violent movie (which can be detrimental enough to mental and spiritual health), music is something that fills most people’s lives. We listen at work, at home, in the car, almost everywhere we go. Music is all-pervasive, and can alter a person’s mood faster than a psychotropic drug.

The list of serial killers and mass murderers who were influenced by violent music is long. From Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker who slaughtered 25 people in the 1980s, to Richard Paul White’s butchery earlier in this decade, many murderers attribute their brutal killings to the influence of groups like AC/DC, Metallica, and more.

Strange, you never hear a serial killer saying he was led to murder by Mozart or Casting Crowns.

The truth is, our mothers were right when they said, “Garbage in, garbage out.” The things we put into our minds, good or bad, have a way of working themselves into our lives. That’s why the apostle Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8 NIV).”

Of course, music is not the only contributor to the mindset of killers like these. Many, like “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz, (see his website here to see how he has now become a Christian) also cite the occult as an influence . Blogger Paul Calcagno, an actor who now regrets making a video by the horrorcore rapper “Sicktanik tha Soulless,” knew McCroskey, and alleges that the murderer’s actions were influenced by the Son of Sam killings, and occultic involvement. A fascination with evil, obsession with death, and attraction to violence lead to acts which fulfill dark fantasies.

Perhaps you or your children may never be led to such depths by violent music and movies. But why pollute your mind with things that clearly aren’t of God? If God has called believers to be holy, why not make our entertainment holy as well?

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Grass that Suffers - Denial and Pride

Spirit & Truth # 149
“The Grass that Suffers: Denial and Pride”

By Rev. Greg Smith

They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest (Mark 9:33-34).

Our culture is obsessed with proving who’s the greatest. Our sports heroes become heroes by dominating other players. Our most intimate relationships are marked by contests of will, and competition defines the marketplace. Perhaps we could learn something from the story of Jesus’ disciples.

Last week we saw how arguments arise out of ignorance. Combative relationships are made worse by denial—a refusal to admit that there’s any conflict there to begin with. Jesus asked his disciples what they were discussing (a mild term for what they were actually doing), and they refused to admit that there had been a dispute. Are you in a relationship that’s marred by conflict? It does you no good to deny the problem. Admit the brokenness in your relationship, and let God heal it.

Pride is at the center of almost every argument. The disciples were arguing because they had to prove which one was the greatest. When husbands and wives argue, it’s because each one is putting self first, rather than the other first. They are placing a greater priority over their own needs, wants, and ideas. Jesus has a solution to this problem of denial and pride.

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all (Mark 9:35).” First, Jesus sat down. When conflicts arise, take a break. Cool off. Get out of fight-posture. Next, he threw an idea at them that totally blew their minds. Place yourself last! Recently, I spoke with a husband in a difficult marriage. I encouraged him to become a servant to his wife, and love her with all he had in him—without expectation of any reward! What a concept—to love for the sake of loving!

Jesus “took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me (Vv 36-37a).’” You have to understand the place of children in Jesus’ day to truly appreciate what He was saying. Children had no rights. They were property. They were cheap labor, disposable, and easily replaceable. Jesus said we are to welcome the lowliest of the lowly in His name. Even if you think the one you’re arguing with has no rights, treat them well, and you will have welcomed Christ.

An African proverb says, “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” Who is the grass that’s suffering as you’re fighting with your spouse, your co-worker, your neighbor, or a fellow churchgoer? What do the children around you see and hear? How do the innocent pay the price for your ignorance, denial, and pride? Jesus wants you to put yourself last, and become the servant of all. Only then can you have your way—because your way will be God’s way.

Pics from this past weekend

This past weekend was super-busy for us. My 3rd child, Lydia, turned 12 this weekend. Here's a picture of her enjoying her birthday cake with friends. We had a house full of squealing, Hanna Montana-singing, nail-hair-and-makeup doing girls. It was great fun!

Yesterday (Sunday) we had a baptismal service at the Hardware River. We baptized 8, and re-affirmed baptism for 1. (I don't believe in rebaptism, but will dunk any previously baptized person who wants it, as long as they understand that this is to help them re-affirm their faith and remember their baptism.) One of the baptisms I did was in Spanish!

These are pictures of me baptizing my 7-year-old son Daniel. He was so excited!

Yikes! That water was cold!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mixed Messages

Today, at a McDonald's restaurant, I saw something that made me laugh. I had to take a picture of it and share it with you.

Yes, this is a real stand-up ash tray with a no-smoking sign on it. What were they thinking?

It reminds me of all the mixed messages we send everyday.


  • When Christians say "Love the sinner, hate the sin," and then turn around and treat people in a hateful way because of their sin;
  • When people say "We should be open-minded about everything," when by definition that means being open to both truth and lies;
  • When we say "Do as I say, not as I do."

What mixed messages do you hate to hear? Leave a comment, and let me know.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Grass That Suffers: Intolerable Ignorance

The Grass that Suffers: Intolerable Ignorance

Bits & Pieces reports: “Years ago, a large statue of Christ was erected high in the Andes on the border between Argentina and Chile. Called "Christ of the Andes," the statue symbolizes a pledge between the two countries that as long as the statue stands, there will be peace between Chile and Argentina. Shortly after the statue was erected, the Chileans began to protest that they had been slighted -- the statue had its back turned to Chile. Just when tempers were at their highest in Chile, a Chilean newspaperman saved the day. In an editorial that not only satisfied the people but made them laugh, he simply said, ‘The people of Argentina need more watching over than the Chileans (June 25, 1992).’”

Sometimes it seems that the people who should be the most at peace with one another, experience the greatest degree of struggle. Family members struggle for supremacy over each other. Fellow Christians worship with one another on Sundays, and tear each other apart the rest of the week. Like neighboring countries prone to conflict, we need Jesus to watch over us and keep the peace.
Far from the saintly icons we see in stained glass, Jesus’ disciples were not immune from petty squabbles. Mark chapter 8 relates Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah. The Matthew version (16:13-20) adds Jesus’ praise, and seeming elevation of Peter’s status among the disciples. After that, Jesus invited only his favorites, Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration, leaving the other disciples at the foot of the mountain. It is no wonder, then, that in Mark 9 Jesus finds the disciples arguing about who is the greatest.

Arguments always begin with ignorance. This was true for the disciples, and it is true for us. First, they did not realize that “God shows no favoritism (Acts 10:34 NLT).” Second they could not understand Jesus’ mission. In Mark 9:31-32 Jesus “said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.’ They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.”

They didn’t understand—but they didn’t really want to understand, either. How often I have engaged in argument when I didn’t really want to understand! I needed to learn from St. Francis, who prayed, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to…to be understood, as to understand.” Instead, even when a lightbulb went off in my head and I realized I was wrong, I continued arguing my point, just so I could win! I’m sure you’ve done the same.

Petty arguments always arise out of ignorance. Next week, we’ll continue in Mark’s story to find out the parts that denial and pride have to play in our disagreements. The next time you’re in an argument, instead of trying to win, try to understand. God will bless you for it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Aaron's 14th birthday

Today is my son Aaron's 14th birthday. Happy birthday, Aaron!!!

Here are a couple of pictures from our family meal at the local Mexican restaurant, El Vaquero, in Palmyra. Above, you can see from his posture that Aaron thought the Mariachi band and sombrero were hilarious but embarrassing (which is exactly what it's intended to be). Below, Lydia shows that she likes the sombrero much more than Aaron did.

In Memory of Ashley Turlington

Those of you who frequently read my blog may remember my blog entry in November, asking you to pray for Ashley Turlington. I met Ashley when she fell from a horse and hit the pavement in front of my house. Along with some others who stopped to help, her boyfriend and I treated her for shock and took care of her until the rescue squad came. He and I weren't sure she would survive the fall, but miraculously, she only suffered from a concussion and various cuts and bruises.

That had been their third date. My wife and I said at the time that the experience would either drive them apart or cement them together. It wasn't long before they were engaged. I was doing premarital counseling, and they had asked me to perform their wedding in Puerto Rico.

Last Friday morning, on her way to meet us for a premarital counseling breakfast, Ashley fell asleep at the wheel. Her car went off an embankment, and she was killed instantly.

Ashley was a vibrant, vivacious young lady, only 24 years old. She was a strong Christian, and had dreams of doing missions work overseas. She wanted to work with victims of human trafficking. She was a student at Liberty University. Ashley touched people's lives in Florida, as well as in Virginia. She will be greatly missed.

When tragedies like this happen, people have a lot of questions. They wonder why God would allow someone so young to die? Someone with so promising a future. Someone who was engaged to be married. Why would God rescue her in November, only to allow her to die now?

There is no end to the questions we could ask. In the end, the faithful must learn a lesson from Job 1:20-21

At this [suffering], Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."

If we come into the world naked, and depart from the world naked, then each day we live, each person we touch, each experience we have is a blessing. God owes us nothing. All we have, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health--we have because of God. We are blessed to be part of God's plan, for 100 years or 24 years or 2 minutes. The length is not as important as the quality of life lived.

God owes us nothing, but because we are so blessed, we owe God our praise. "May the name of the LORD be praised," Job said. Ashley lived in such a way that every day praised the Lord. Though it was short, her life was full. May God bring blessing to her, and to her friends and family as they remember her.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pursuing Wisdom - God's Abundant Grace

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been talking about the pursuit of wisdom. What kind of person pursues wisdom? What are the qualities you must have, if you are to be successful in your hunt? First, we saw that you have to demonstrate a love for God, more than anything else in the world. Next, you need to pay attention to the traditions and advice you have received from previous generations. Also, humility is important, lest when you gain wisdom you think of yourself more highly than you ought. Finally, you must recognize God as the source of all things. Only when you have done this can you begin to pursue the wisdom that God offers.

Then, we saw how God offered Solomon a blank check. “Ask for whatever you want,” God said. Rather than asking for fame or money, he asked for wisdom, to lead God’s people. James 5:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

Today, I want to conclude this series by sharing God’s abundant grace. This whole time we’ve been talking about our pursuit of wisdom. The grace is this: Wisdom pursues you! It searches you out!

Proverbs 1:20-23 says, “Wisdom calls out in the street; she raises her voice in the public squares. She cries out above the commotion; she speaks at the entrance of the city gates: "How long, foolish ones, will you love ignorance? [How long] will [you] mockers enjoy mocking and [you] fools hate knowledge? If you turn to my discipline, then I will pour out my spirit on you and teach you my words.”

Wisdom isn’t just something that you hunt after—it’s something that hunts after you! What encouragement to know that God’s wisdom pursues us! God doesn’t leave us floundering and wondering and lost. He wants us to have what we need.

And then, God’s abundant grace provides even what we haven’t asked for. When Solomon asked for wisdom more than riches or fame, God answered, “Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life (1 Kings 3:13-14)."

Romans 5:8 shows that just as He did with Solomon, God gives us above and beyond what we could ask for: “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” What a blessing to know that the wisdom and salvation of God are available to us. They are ours for the asking. Will you ask for these gifts today?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pursuing Widsom - Blank Check

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you (1 Kings 3:5).

What if a generous benefactor told you that he wanted to bless you with a special gift that you should expect in the mail soon? What if the next day in the mailbox you found an envelope with a signed, blank check and a note that read, “Write the check yourself.” You wouldn’t want to presume too much on your benefactor’s generosity by writing a check that was too large, but you also wouldn’t want to insult your patron by writing a check that was too small. What kind of check would you write for yourself?

Solomon encountered the same kind of conundrum when God told him to ask for whatever he wanted. He could have asked for anything—for fame or wealth or the death of his enemies. What would you ask for?

Many people would ask for fame. Today in the Word (October 1990, pg. 11) says, “The boxer Muhammad Ali was known as ‘the champ,’ arguably the most famous athlete of his generation. He was on top, and his entourage of trainers and various helpers shared the adulation with him. But the party ended, leaving many of Ali's loyal followers disillusioned--and in some cases, destitute. Ali himself, now halting in speech and uncertain in movement, says "I had the world, and it wasn't nothin'." Would you ask for fame, if God offered you a blank check?

Many would ask for wealth. One of the richest people I ever knew had a house that boasted every comfort imaginable, including an indoor movie theater, school-size playground for his one child, and golden doorknobs throughout the house. His garages were full of vehicles. He had a beautiful wife, overflowing bank accounts, and empty guest suites in his mansion. Not only was he one of the wealthiest people I ever knew—he was also one of the loneliest, and most empty. Would you ask for wealth, if God offered you a blank check?

King Solomon asked for wisdom to rule God’s people. God responded, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be (1 Kings 3:11-12).”

What do you want, more than anything else? Your desires reveal your heart. What kind of heart does God find in you? James 5:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” If God offered you a blank check, what would you do with it? What kind of check would you write?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pursuing Wisdom: Sine Qua Non

When I was in college, I had an old professor who loved to impress his students with his mastery of the Latin language. He was from the old school. Picture the schoolmaster, pulling off his wool newsboy cap to reveal disheveled gray hair. He takes off his tweed coat, unpacks his beaten-up leather satchel of books, and hands out his syllabus. On the syllabus is a list of terms that you’ve never heard before. “These are your sine qua non terms,” he says. “That’s Latin for without which not. In other words, these are the terms you need to know, without which you will not pass this class.”

Last week we talked about pursuing wisdom. There are several prerequisites, several sine qua non conditions we must meet, without which we will not acquire the wisdom we want in our lives. In 1 Kings 3:3, we saw that Solomon had already met two: He demonstrated his love for God, and walked according to the instructions given him by his fathers. This week, we’ll look at the other two prerequisites that Solomon and we must meet, before God blesses us with wisdom.

The latter part of verse 3 says that Solomon “offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.” Solomon was a king, and as such could have held himself above worshipping with the common people. The high places were where the common people went to seek God. Solomon could have had a chapel built in his own palace, yet he remembered that in God’s eyes, he was the same as all the people. Out of humility, he deigned to worship with the commoners. Along with love for God and respect for tradition, humility is one of those sine qua non qualities, if you’re seeking wisdom in your own life.

In verse 6, Solomon tells God, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.” Solomon recognizes that God is the source of all things. He could have said, “Look how great my father was, that he achieved this great position for himself and for me.” Instead, he recognizes sees that “every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17).” Wisdom can only come when we realize that God is the wondrous source of all things.

My professor said that our sine qua non terms were ones without which we would not pass his class. Love of God, respect for tradition, humility, and the recognition of God as the source—these are the sine qua non conditions for seekers of wisdom. When God saw these qualities in Solomon’s heart, He was glad to write the king a blank check. Do we want God’s wisdom in our lives? We would do well to seek these things.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Lord Provides!

Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

God provides! We've seen it time and time again. Today, I saw God's provision in a pretty cool way.

Our church is in the middle of a building campaign. We're building a new Sunday school wing, that will connect our current sanctuary building with our current fellowship hall. God's people have been very generous in their giving, and we are actually ahead of our projected giving!

We've seen how when we give, God returns the favor.

A local office has donated an entire tractor trailer load (stacked to the ceiling) of gently-used office furniture, ready to outfit our new building, which we haven't even broken ground on yet. Another local business provided the tractor trailer and driver to haul it, and is allowing the church to store the furniture in the trailer--for free--for a year, or as long as it takes to get the building finished. Praise God for His provision!

The only thing church members needed to do was help move the furniture. We announced the move last Sunday, sent out phone tree messages and emails, and had a dozen or so willing helpers show up at the office tonight. It only took us a little over three hours to get the truck loaded and away.

Most of the furniture can be used in the church offices and Sunday school rooms, while some will probably make its way into a church yard sale, and go into into the building fund.

So thank you, American General Finance, for the furniture!

Thank you, Tapscott Bros. Logging Company, for the tractor trailer!

Thank you, tireless volunteers!

And most of all, thank you, Jesus, for the way You provide!
(BTW: The red and green lettering is because our church treasurer said it feels like Christmas!)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pursuing Wisdom: Wisdom-Givers

All of us have wisdom-givers in our lives, people who share God’s truth with us. One of these in my life was Granddaddy Lemon. I recall how he guided me during those times when I was listening, and how he scolded me during those times when I wasn’t. He never let a scolding go by without letting me know that he loved me. Sometimes I thought that Granddad didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. But he always knew far better than I did. He taught me how to think problems through. He taught me how to rely on the gifts God gave me. Granddad loved me so much—and then he was gone.

What do we do when our wisdom-givers leave us? How do we cope with life, when they’re gone? Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking about wisdom. What is this “wisdom” that they impart, anyway? How do we find it on our own? The story of Solomon gives us some clues, as he pursued wisdom after his father’s death

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow offers the following characteristics of wisdom:

• Seeing things clearly
• Acting prudently
• Acting holistically
• Understanding human condition
• Knowing when to act and when not to act
• Having peace of mind & compassion
• Possessing the ability to anticipate & avoid problems

If we want to possess these characteristics, what prerequisites must we first meet? What are there conditions we must fulfill within ourselves, before we are ready for the wisdom that God wants to give us? 1 Kings 3:3 says, “Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.”

First, Solomon demonstrated his love for the Lord. Rather than simply saying that he loved God, he showed it. He displayed his love for God in the way he lived, and by the extravagant offerings he gave to God. If you want wisdom more than anything else, you must first seek God more than anything else.

Then, he walked according to the instructions of his father. Later, in Proverbs 13, he would write, “A wise child heeds a parent's instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.” He did not neglect the example and advice given him by his father, who said, “Be strong, act like a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go (1 Kings 2:2-3).” Nobody can possibly gain wisdom If they reject sound teaching. If you want understanding in your life, start with those insights passed down to you from your parents. It’s likely they won’t let you down.

Next week, we will look at two more requirements for the person who would seek wisdom in his or her life. I hope you will join me for the adventure in God’s wisdom.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cap'n Jack Sparrow's Moral Compass

Warning: This post may spoil the movies for those who haven't seen them yet! Turn back now while ye still can!

Disney's Pirates of the Carribean was a great piece of entertainment! It taught that pirates, cutthroats, and rapscallions are good, while law and order are bad. With it's extremely high body count for a movie that was marketed towards children, why wouldn't you take your kids to see it???

Actually, I enjoyed the movies (for the most part). But I never thought I'd find spiritual truth embedded in them.

Until today.

If you saw the movies, you know that Cap'n Jack Sparrow had a remarkable compass. On the surface, it looked like it was broken. Jack's compass wouldn't point north. The needle moved all over the place. Later, we learn that Jack's compass isn't broken. It's not supposed to point north. It points to whatever you want the most. Jacks' magical compass leads our antiheroes on many great adventures, full of danger and treasure and adventure.

Today it occurred to me...

Our culture has a compass just like Jack's.

Our society's moral compass no longer points north. It truly is broken. No matter what they tell you, a compass that doesn't point north is a broken compass. In the movies, they didn't call it "Jack's treasure-finder." They called it a compass. Compasses point north. That's what they do. Unless they're broken. Jack's compass was broken, because it wouldn't point to true north. It pointed to whatever he wanted the most.

Today, our moral compasses have lost True North. They have lost the sense that north, south, east, and west are real and actual things. Moral relativism has said, "True North doesn't matter. Whatever you want most at any given time--that's what matters."

Following a broken moral compass, that says that whatever you want most is the direction you should follow, will get you lost every time. Unless you know where True North is, you'll find yourself lost. Jesus said, "I am the way." Unless you follow the way, you'll find yourself lost.

Disney would have us believe that getting lost is fun. You have more adventures when you're off the beaten path. You might find treasure. You might win the fair maiden. Even if you get eaten by the kraken and find yourself in the bottom of Davy Jones' Locker, there's a way out of that, too. See, our culture teaches that if we follow our own broken moral compasses, seeking out what we want more than anything else rather than relying on True North, we can escape whatever consequences that may come from our scalliwag ways.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"
But Hollywood says we should follow our hearts. Follow your own broken compass, wherever it leads. Cap'n Jacks says, "The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do."
Oh really? How's your compass, lately? In which direction have you decided to set your sails?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Warning from the Secret Mystical Blogger Code

Ok--now, before any of you thinks, "He can't be serious--he's got to be saying this tongue-in-cheek" let me tell you that I've seen other secret mystical codes in other places--and this is the most convincing one that I've ever seen! This is a warning from the secret mystical blogger code--one not to be taken lightly.

It hit me when I looked at the Feedjit gadget on the right side of my blog page. This Feedjit thingy records your hits, whenever somebody visits my blog. It doesn't say WHO you are (thus my last post), only where you came from.

When I checked out my Feedjit today, the place names swirled around my head, creating a kaleidoscope of letters, numbers, and secret ancient meanings. When the meaning came to me, it had me shaking in my shoes, so I had to share it with you.

First, let me point out that my visitors came from 21 American cities, and 8 international cities. They are as follows:

American Cities:

  • Charlottesville, Virginia

  • Milton, Florida

  • Miamisburg, Ohio

  • Fontana, California

  • Richmond, Virginia

  • Toms River, New Jersey

  • Palmyra, Virginia

  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Tempe, Arizona

  • Rancho Cucamonga, California

  • Reading, Pennsylvania

  • Austin, Texas

  • Alhambra, California

  • Sharpsburg, Georgia

  • Hollywood, Florida

  • Chattanooga, Tennessee

  • Los Angeles, California

  • Chesapeake, Virginia

  • Dallas, Texas

  • Seattle, Washington

  • Glendale, California

International Cities:

  • Tehran, Iran

  • Hong Kong, China

  • Odessa, Ukraine

  • Jakarta, Indonesia

  • London, England

  • Lausanne, Switzerland

  • Pahuatlan, Mexico

  • Dumbarton, England

OK--Now you've got to follow me on this one. You can't possibly put the two numbers 21 and 8 together and get the date 21/8, because we don't have 21 months in a year. So you've got to put it together as 8/21, which is coming soon, right? You'd think so, wouldn't you. But what year?

What you've got to do next is realize list out the first letters of each city, like this:


See how that works? Isn't it obvious by this point?

OK-so maybe you don't see it yet. Let me explain. You have to decipher the Roman numerals that are embedded in this coded message. Which are the Roman numerals?

American Cities: CMM------------CL-CD-- ; International Cities: ----LL-D

If you add these up, it equals 600 for the international cities and 2,850 for the American cities. Now, that doesn't make any sense at all, until you subtract the international cities from the American cities (because we all know America is the greatest) and get 2250, which is pretty close, but far enough away that it's safe to make a prediction of the future.

So, the secret mystical blogger code is saying that on August 21, 2250, some great and momentous event is going to take place. What could this be? How can we determine it from the hometowns of the visitors on my blog?

Ancient Greek, of course!

All I had to do was take a look at the Greek alphabet, and pull out the letters that have Greek equivalents, while discarding all the letters that don't have exact Greek replicas (capital Greek letters, only, of course, because prophesies are important things, and would never employ uncial letters).


Much easier to deal with, don't you think? Isn't the meaning becoming obvious? Of course, it's an anagram!

The secret encoded message spells doom and gloom for a major city in the United States. Due to unsteady pH balances in the earth's crust, a volcano will erupt. How do I know this? Because the anagram says:

PH HOT MT TAMPA Or, in English, pH - Hot Mountain Tampa!

Still, another way of reading the anagram realizes that, since they come side by side in the English language, M cancels out P, and vice versa. Since we have 2 M's, they cancel out 2 P's, and vice versa. In that case, we drop MM PP, and we are left with:



Monday, August 10, 2009

Lessons from a Parking Garage

You can tell a lot about a person from the way they act in a parking garage. There’s something about the parking garage experience that either brings out the best or the worst in people.

Most people are in a hurry in a parking garage. Many times, I have watched as hurried people fly through a parking garage, not only endangering themselves, but others. Then they miss spaces that are hidden behind large vehicles, because they’re driving too fast to notice them. Similarly, we tend to move too quickly through life. That’s a dangerous thing to do! We might not see obstacles in our way, and risk collision with other precious souls. We also miss hidden opportunities if we go too fast, wasting time by our own hurry. Proverbs 14:29 says, “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” This applies in parking garages, and everywhere in life.

People can be terribly rude in a parking garage. A “me-first” attitude can cause people to steal spaces that other drivers have already claimed with their turn signals. It can make them stop and wait for someone who’s slowly walking to their car, just so they can get that person’s spot. Never mind that the driver has a long line behind him and could probably get another spot quicker by just moving on and finding a spot further up the ramp. He has to hold up the entire line, because he thinks he’s more important than everybody else. This kind of person would do well to remember Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

People are often fearful in a parking garage. They’re afraid of getting hit by those drivers who go too fast. They’re afraid of those rude people who might slow down and follow them to their cars, just to take their parking spot—and who knows what else. They’re afraid they might forget where they parked. Have you ever noticed how many scary scenes in movies are filmed in parking garages? They make us nervous. We’re out of our element, surrounded by strangers, often in the shadows where anybody could be hiding. But rather than walking confidently with keys in hand, I have observed many in parking garages who travel with the frightened bearing of a victim. 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” Instead of fear, we need to walk in faith.

Yes, you can tell a lot about a person from the way they act in a parking garage. What do parking garages say about you? I pray we will all learn to be a little kinder, not only in garages, but in life. Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us that , “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Let’s learn to both drive and walk in the Spirit, so that when people see us, they might see followers of God.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis' Sermon to the Birds

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury,pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


A Missed Opportunity

Once a month, I take a special day that I call “Wholey Day.” (I used to spell it “Holy Day” until I made the connection between holiness and wholeness.) It’s akin to a personal holiday (a word that comes from “holy day”), where I get away from everybody and everything, and spend the day in prayer, devotional reading, and whatever else builds up my spirit. I go hiking, wandering, whatever. Jesus needed to get away, reflect and recharge upon occasion, I figure it’s okay for myself as well.

I spent my last Wholey Day at the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, reading at café tables, wandering the shops, and enjoying the outdoors. The Mall boasts a great array of unusual people, but that day I saw a very odd sight. Four monks dressed in albs walked by, backpacks and bedrolls slung on their backs.

I desperately wanted to talk with them. This being my “monkish” day, it seemed their presence was a puzzle piece that fit. I hailed them at a distance. “Brothers!” I called. They turned and waited for me to catch up with them.

It turned out that they were Franciscan monks who were hiking the Appalachian Trail. They had turned aside to see Charlottesville. They were spreading the message of Jesus as they went. They carried no food or money, but accepted donations for their sustenance, as St. Francis did.

I told them that, though I’m not Catholic, St. Francis is a great hero of mine. I said that I greatly admired the monastic lifestyle. Of course, with a wife and four children, it’s a lifestyle that I could never follow, but I told them that today was my once-a-month personal monastic day. During the course of our brief conversation, I told them that I was a Baptist minister. Before we parted, they asked if I would bless them. I prayed with them, asking God for strength and provision for their journey, and we went our separate ways.

What I’m reflecting on now, a month after the event, is my distinct inability to receive the blessing that these human angels had for me. While I was interested in them on some level, I think my real interest was in having them understand and appreciate me. It was in having the validation of my hero, Francis—albeit indirectly, from his followers. This, in its extreme irony, flies in the face of that famous prayer of St. Francis: “Grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood as to understand.”

I should have been seeking more, and speaking less. I had four angels show up in my life, and I was more interested in their understanding me than I was interested in understanding them, and the message they might have for me. I should have said, “Brothers, bless me, too!” But I did not. It was a moment in my life that I can never re-live. But I would, if given the chance. Perhaps on other occasions, if God sends angels into my life, I will listen.

We all have times when we should be listening to God’s Word as it comes to us from other people, but instead we choose to fill the conversation with our own thoughts. My prayer is that we all might not seek not so much to be understood, as to understand. And that by understanding, we might hear God’s voice.

Check out this Washington Post article about these monks. (Thanks, Paul, for finding this article for me online.)

That Summer Dry Spell

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1 NIV
Summer is a wonderful, but a very crazy time! The kids are out of school, and we have the opportunity of spending more time with them. But, as a couple that’s comprised of a stay-at-home-mom and a work-at-home-dad, summertime can also be hectic. Far from the lazy break that we all envision as summer vacation, this season can be for us a time of juggling kids and work, over-activity and boredom.

The insanely busy relaxation of summer contributes to a spiritual dearth that leaves me feeling like the psalmist. I have not taken the time I need for spiritual rest and renewal. I have allowed my sermon and Bible study prep time to replace my daily devotional time. Sure, we’ve taken a vacation to the beach for a week. We went to Busch Gardens for a day. We’ve been swimming in the river, and visited friends a lot. But in all this “rest time” when did I take the time I need to nourish my soul?

“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory,” the psalmist writes in verse 2. Certainly a corporate worship event like going to church is a terrific way to sense God’s presence. Of course, for a pastor, that’s also work! So what other God-adventure can I have, independent of public worship? I imagine that many who are reading this ask the same question. You might not be a pastor, but you might be a musician, deacon, usher, lector, or have some other function in the church that makes you feel like at times like worship isn’t worship.

Verses 6-8 say, “I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night….I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you….” At times, I have to force myself to have moments like these with God. They do not come naturally. They come only when I carve out the time I need to seek God’s presence. Only when I do this can I survive the summer spiritual dry spell. Only when I do this can I truly say with the psalmist (verse 8), “…Your right hand upholds me.”

Summertime relaxation is a good thing, but it’s too easy to make recreation a replacement for spiritual nourishment. I remember one summer job, working with freezers full of dry ice. When things got hot, it felt so good to stick my head in that cold freezer. What I discovered, however, is that dry ice is not made of water, and the CO2 vapors of dry ice will take your breath away! Not everything that feels good is good for you. In the same way, summertime “rest” is not always refreshing. This summer, remember to refresh yourself with the Living Water, and not a substitute that steals the Breath of Life.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Don't worry if this says it's for mature's only a Saturday Night Live skit.

A bizarre thing happened to me yesterday. I was in a store in the Downtown Mall, and the lady behind the counter said, "You sure look like Richard Dreyfuss. You even sound like him." Then, with all seriousness in her voice she said, "Are you Richard Dreyfuss?"

I played with her a little bit, but finally said no, I'm not Richard Dreyfuss, but that father-son resemblance is striking, isn't it?

It wasn't bizarre that she thought I look like Richard Dreyfuss. I get that a lot, actually. The bizarre thing is that she thought I actually might be him. He's my dad's age! (That gives me a complex about the white hairs I've been finding in my beard.)

So what do you think? Do I look like Richard Dreyfuss? Here's a video of him.

Another comparison I get: People think I look like Adam Savage, from MythBusters. What do you think?

I also get compared with Timothy Busfield. Here's a clip from Byrds of Paradise, with Arlo Guthrie and Tim Busfield. He was also in the cast of Thirtysomething.

This blogpost is a bit of a response to my brother's blog post some time back. People told Paul that he looked like Richard now the game's on, Paul! Which of us looks more like him? We're going to let my blog readers decide! Click here to see Paul's blog post about his/my Doppelganger.

So, Dear Reader, whether you know me or not--whether you know my brother Paul or not--I humbly ask you to cast your vote by commenting on this post. Which of us looks more like Richard Dreyfuss? And who do I look more like? Dreyfuss, Savage, or Busfield?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Speaking Their Language

Today, I went with our church's senior group to a nursing home. There, we sang hymns. I led a devotion. We heard a poetry reading. We probably spent about forty-five minutes doing that. Then, we greeted some of the residents.

Many of them suffered from Altzheimers, Parkinsons, and other age-related diseases. Some of them were physically challenged, and some of them were mentally disabled. Some were easy to interact with, while others merely stared and clutched their baby dolls.

One woman made an impression on me, that I think will stick forever. I introduced myself, and when she told me her name, I detected a slight accent that I couldn't identify. "Where are you from?" I asked her.

"Puerto Rico," she told me.

Immediately I switched from English to Spanish. She told me that she had a son and a daughter and a sister in Puerto Rico. She has lived in the nursing home for eight years. We spoke for only three or four minutes. There was no lengthy spiritual conversation. But when I said, "Que Dios te bendiga," [God bless you] in her own language, there was something on her face that spoke volumes beyond words. It became obvious to me that she probably never spoke or heard her own native tongue anymore. Maybe she hadn't in years. And here was somebody giving her a blessing in the language of her heart.

That three or four minute exchange probably meant more to her than the forty-five we spent singing and sharing in English.

Which makes me wonder--In all the ways we Christians try to share Jesus with people, how often do we take the time to make sure that we're doing it in their language? Maybe they literally speak another language, and it'd be better to share Jesus with them in the language of their heart. Or, maybe they speak our same dialect of English, but they come from a subculture or special group that we need to appeal to--and put Jesus into terms they can understand.

On February 4 of this year, reported:

It was the 1980s and Van Zan Frater was a young Texan relocated to Los Angeles. One night he was driving in South Central Los Angeles and needed to use a pay phone so he pulled into the parking lot of a liquor store. As soon as he exited he saw a group of toughs. They were young, none older than seventeen and out to prove themselves. As Van Zan walked to the phone they set upon him. As Van Zan remembers there were at least 12 of them and they surrounded him and began to ask him questions like where he was from and other questions that let Van Zan know he was dealing with a street gang.

One of the younger boys struck him and Van Zan fell to the ground. It was then the young gangster put a gun to Van Zan’s head. The other boys were telling the young man to pull the trigger and take Van Zan’s life so they boy cocked the trigger. Van Zan pleaded and pleaded but nothing could sway the boy. Then Van Zan looked around and then back to the boy with the gun. Eye to eye he looked at the boy and said, “Jesus is my homeboy and don’t you know that Jesus is your homeboy too?” The message was passed.

The message was withdrawn from his head. He had connected with the boy living inside the gangster. That boy looked at the next one and one by one each boy felt the message, that Jesus was their homeboy as well. Van Zan left there unharmed but the message still rang in his ears.

Van Zan Frater now heads a foundation inspired by Jesus is My Homeboy dedicated to helping innocent victims of gang violence.

How will we learn to "speak the language" of those around us? First, we need to listen to them.

That's not always easy to do, because we often bypass those who don't already speak our language. We're lazy about witnessing. We want people to come to us, on our terms. When will the church learn to bless people in their own language? It's so simple, and so much more effective than expecting them to come to our services, and learn to speak our language, just so they can hear.

Dee & Van Zan Frater recently read my blog post, and left a comment. Please click on "comments" below to see what they had to say.