Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Spur one another toward love and good deeds 

Although we come to know the Lord individually, and at different times, we are all born into the same family of God, Body of Christ, Church of God. God makes us brothers and sisters. We are also different parts of the same body. What an awesome thought! He has given us different gifts and abilities to complement and to build each other up. His intent is to “Prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ [that phrase means us] may be built up…and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13 NIV84). 

In the average natural family, siblings take care of each other.

For example, if the younger needs something, and the parents are tied up doing other things, the older ones handle the situation. Also, siblings who attend the same school, for instance, look out for each other, making sure all the siblings are safe and not being bullied by some trouble-maker. 

I remember vividly, many years ago, that I punched some guy in the stomach (I was so short, that was the spot I could reach) for harassing my older sister. Under that circumstance, my reaction came very natural to me. I didn't think twice about what my response should be, or what the probable counter response could be. This was my sister. I had to protect her. I wasn't about to put up with any nonsense. That’s all there was to it, so I punched him. Needless to say, we never heard another word out of that bully. 

In a similar way, God expects us to take care of each other under all circumstances to foster each other’s spiritual growth. The Scriptures admonish us to, “Consider how we may spur one another toward love and good deeds” (Hebrew 10:24 NIV84). Synonyms for spur include incite, urge, and even goad. 

So how can we spur one another in the right direction? Which is the direction towards love and good deeds?

Love and respect – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35 NIV84). 
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10 NIV84). 
“Love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1 NIV84). 
“Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers”
(1Peter 2:17 NIV84).

Rebuke and correct – “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him…forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4 NIV84). For example, the apostle Paul rebuked Peter when Peter was being hypocritical regarding his association with the gentiles (See Galatians 2:11-14 NIV84). We should do likewise if the need arises.

Forgive – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV84). 
“As God’s chosen people,...Bear with each other…Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:12-13 NIV84). Do you have an issue with a brother? Handle it. 

Support/Encourage – King Saul, being jealous of David, pursued the young man relentlessly from place to place. During one of those pursuits, Jonathan, son of Saul “Went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. ‘Don’t be afraid’ he said” (1 Samuel 23:16-17 NIV84).  How beautiful! Can we help each other find strength in God during hard times? Sure we can, and we should. 
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak…Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Roman 15:1, 2 NIV84).
“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrew 13:3 NIV84). 

Pray for each other – “Always keep on praying for all the saints”
(Ephesians 6:18 NIV84). When was the last time you prayed for a brother or sister? 
Be examples for each other – “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV84). 
“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NIV84).

Stay in touch and meet together often – “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as we see the Day approaching” (Hebrew 10:25 NIV84).  When was the last time you checked on a brother or sister to make sure he or she is okay?

Be kind and hospitable – “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13 NIV84). Do you know of any needs in the body? Have you responded? If it is within your means, please respond!
Luke the Physician, in reference to the new converts at Pentecost reported, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NIV84).

Serve one another – “Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13 NIV84).  Do you usually like to be the one who is served? Jesus washed the disciples’ feet! Think about it.

Live peaceably – “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15 NIV84). 
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Colossians 3:15 NIV84). The devil enjoys nothing better than to see fights among Christians, because then he gets the opportunity to slander (See 1 Timothy 5:14), and also disrupt God’s work. 

The growth of the Church is so important to God that He does not cease to admonish us continually to take care of each other. He says in 1 Thessalonians 5: 11 NIV84, “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Also, in verses 14-15 He says, “We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”

May God help us to continue to build each other up, more and more (See 1 Thessalonians 4:1) for the growth and stability of the Church and for His glory!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Biblical Model for Processing Emotions

Meeting a counseling client for the first time, I’m listening to what information they’re communicating, observing how they express it, and making note of why they believe the issues are taking place. Everyone interprets life through a specific filter. Hard-wired temperament personality traits, socio-economic, gender and cultural factors, personal experiences, doctrine and theology, as well as family of origin models all combine to create the filter.

But what if your filter is distorted? Maybe you discard information that’s important, or minimize significant symptoms or triggers because you’re fearful. Without seeing all the information from an objective viewpoint, every conclusion you reach will twist truth--resulting in confusion and misunderstanding. Proverbs advises us to lean not on our own understanding. God speaks to us through others; parents, friends, pastors, doctors, counselors, etc. Look for what God is telling you through all the experiences in your life.

Many clients have beliefs about certain emotions being right or wrong or have been given legalistic interpretations of biblical principles. These filters restrict folks from genuinely processing their feelings, critiquing the beliefs therein, and allowing God to show them what is true for their life. Psalms models this process over and over.

Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to him. In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord. Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?” Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4 NIV

Do you see the way David processes all his emotions in an unashamed, genuine manner? He began by venting to God, explaining the situation and how he felt. David’s anger came out in the venting, but he knew God saw that his heart motivation was not sinful. Venting allows us to purge our heart and mind of the emotions which, if stuffed, turn into bitterness and resentment. 

Once David purged the anger, sorrow overwhelmed his heart at the plight of his people in their difficult circumstances. Clarity and truth about God and his heart for those people came after David offered his emotions to God as a sacrifice. The Psalm ends with an exhausted David placing himself peacefully into God’s hands.

David shows us a biblical model we can utilize today. Process emotions, critique beliefs, and receive truth from God in order to live a relational, faith-filled life. I explain this Roadmap to Freedom in detail in my book, “From the Other Side of the Couch: A Biblical Counselor’s Guide to Relational Living.”

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons www.entirelysubjective.com

Friday, June 26, 2015

Good Fences, Bad Neighbors

Today, I'm over here, at another group blog spot, talking about one of my favorite poems, God, postsmodernism, and flannel shirts. Or something like that. Please join me, and have a marvelous weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Lavish Gospel

Simply put, it's more than you can imagine.

Last week I wrote about The Minimalist Gospel. Not that there is any such thing. I only used the classification to describe a customized pseudo-Gospel. One filling a need in a person’s life. But not breathing life into a person’s need.

I suggested a minimalist Gospel doesn’t require pain or sacrifice. That it adopts a repentance falling short of the command. I insinuated people are zombies. That we all need the same amount of fixing. It’s hard to accept we’re completely lost. Utterly hopeless. That even our goodness required the death of the spotless Lamb of God.

This is where we meet the lavish Gospel. While a minimalist approach resists pain and sacrifice, the lavish Gospel begins with it. Not ours, but His. This is the starting point and it’s not easy for a minimalist to see. It’s unpleasant. It takes God and makes Him one of us. Someone whose skin is torn from his bones. Someone who appears hopeless. How can He help us? Doesn’t the very word gospel refer to good news? Violence and death are the opposite of what we expect to find when we’re hoping for good news. But the death of Christ was our death. The substitution. Our sin and rebellion against God was met by His pain and sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sin and rebellion against God. That’s the good news.

Disregarding the complete truth about the death of Christ leads minimalists to curb their repentance. This is not to suggest the work of Christ is dependent on our rigorous understanding of what it means to repent. We can’t and don’t understand much when we answer God’s call. If you met God with the idea you could give up some bad behavior, you didn’t do anything wrong.

But repentance should move us far beyond giving up our assorted sins to total abandonment of our rebellion. Though we most certainly will get a new attitude about sin, repentance doesn’t mean we stop sinning completely. Repentance means we stop running from God. A minimalist Gospel keeps us tripping toward the goal. A lavish Gospel lets us rest at the finish line.

I wrote that a minimalist Gospel doesn’t demand you give up everything. You don’t have to let go of your ways of getting by. You can keep on trying to please God. Your method of getting into His good graces might work. This is the mistake of the minimalist. It’s only His way that’s fail-proof. Trust in the finished work of Christ—His death and resurrection—and you’ve got it. God is pleased with you. Sin has no hold on you. Death will not get you. Good news. Real repentance. Lavish Gospel.

I also implied a minimalist Gospel doesn’t gain you anything. It might get you some guilt relief, but it’ll be temporary. You may find yourself believing God has blessed your minimalist approach if your life is going just right. But there’s a deal breaker in your future. God will make a move you don’t like or understand. And you will no longer trust Him. A minimalist Gospel won’t endure. It takes a lavish Gospel to hold you together when your world comes undone.

But is lavish a good way to describe the Gospel? It’s simple, really. And straightforward. You don’t need to be a theologian. If you like to keep things plain and unpretentious, say hello to Jesus. In that respect, I think He might be a minimalist. If you want to be lavished with unfathomable freedom and never-ending love from the God of the universe, then say hello to Jesus. He’s got something planned that you can’t imagine.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21




Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Believer Sings the Truth

It’s funny the memories you carry through life.

I lived in Tokyo for seventeen years, and a powerful memory from my years there is that it was the place where I discovered Country and Western music.

This was because I listened regularly to the Far East Network, the US armed forces radio station, which at that time provided the only English-language radio programming available. It broadcast a lot of Country and Western music, and I became a big fan. In particular, I came to love Johnny Cash.

One day I borrowed from a public library a Johnny Cash LP record called “A Believer Sings the Truth,” and made a cassette tape of it. I listened often. It was Cash at his hard-driving, rockabilly best. It was also – though I didn’t realize it at the time – a celebration of hard-core Southern Baptist fundamentalism.

I wasn’t a Christian in Japan, and there was no apparent Christian influence on me there. I have often wondered how it was that, on arriving in Australia from Tokyo in 1993, I so unexpectedly felt the urge to turn up one Sunday at my local Baptist church, and so quickly gave my life to Jesus. Could it have resulted from a regular listening to Johnny Cash?

“A Believer Sings the Truth” is surely one of the great Christian recordings, and I don’t understand why – as far as I can learn - it has never been put on CD. At the time I didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics. Or so I thought. But was I picking up more than I realized?

From lyrics like these?

I was dying,
And the time was flying,
And I heard Him calling me.
My will was bent,
And I did repent,
And His sweet love set me free.

Or these?

And the dead of all the ages
Who believed on Him will rise.
And I’ll be one,
I’ll be one,
In the first resurrection,
When He comes.

Or these?

When the tribulation darkens the way,
That’s when you get on your knees and pray.

Or these?

Yes, I know when Jesus saved me,
Saved my soul.
The very moment He forgave me,
He made me whole.
He took away my heavy burdens,
Lord, He gave me peace within.

Or these?

I was lifted one night
By God’s blinding light
And it shook me right out of my sleep.
As His love entered in
It washed away my sin
And I praised Him down on my knees.

Several writers have speculated that the immense popularity in Japan of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is, in some subtle way, bringing some Japanese to the Lord. Could Johnny Cash have done the same for me?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015



Which Scripture passage comes to mind when you think, “Faking Spirituality”? Do you remember the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira? If not, please allow me to refresh your memory. You can read the full account in chapter five of the Acts of the Apostles (see Acts 5:1-11).

After Pentecost, having been empowered by the Holy Spirit, the believers lived in love and shared everything, even their possessions. Those who had property sold it and brought the money to the Apostles to benefit the entire community. It wasn’t required. They did it, because it was the right thing to do, as expressed by John, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17 NIV84). They did it joyfully, not looking for any recognition, for God loves a cheerful giver (see 2 Corinthians 9:7).

One couple, Ananias and his wife Sapphira, like the others, sold a piece of property. The two agreed to give only part of the proceeds to the Apostles for community use, and that was their right (see 2 Corinthians 9:7). However, when Ananias brought the money, he wanted the Apostles to believe that he brought the total amount. Sapphira, coming in a few hours after her husband’s report, not knowing what had transpired earlier, confirmed her husband’s report, which was a lie. Needless to say each was rebuked sharply by the Holy Spirit, and they were buried side-by-side, a few hours apart (see Acts 5:4-10). It was a good lesson for the rest of the group, and it should be a lesson for us as well.

Ananias and his wife were not rebuked for surrendering only part of the money; they were rebuked for deception. They were trying to give the impression that, like the others, they had surrendered all.
Do you ever pretend to be something that you really are not? Do you like to tell others how often you read your Bible, how much time you spend in prayer, how you do this, that and the other good work? Think about it! Do you try to impress others with how often you fast, give to charity, and so forth? Do you criticize others when you are guilty of the same thing? Do you put others down so you can appear to be better (See Matthew 7:6)? God wants you to be yourself.  He sees what you are and what you do, and why. He will take it from there. “Your’ Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:18 NIV84). You don’t need the applause and commendation of men. God will reward you in due time.  

Jesus called the Pharisees, “Whitewashed tombs” because they were such hypocrites, “Everything they do is done for men to see” (Matthew 23:27). That definitely is “Faking Spirituality.”

Monday, June 22, 2015

Does My Parakete Worry?

Daisy #10 looks similar to my 9 prior paraketes. Caribbean blue body flanked by yellow and white wings. Soft yellow face with dark blue patches on each cheek. Sometimes she puffs up, her body expanding into a fluffy balloon. Daisy’s chirping brightens my heart.

I find it fascinating to watch how she spends her day. Initially I bought the same toys and treats my other birds enjoyed, but Daisy #10 ignored them all except one. She’s obsessed with a small, pink mirror. The majority of her day consists of Daisy talking and singing to herself in the mirror. She’ll bob her head and move her body like she’s doing an avian hip hop routine. Then she’ll look out the window and talk to the world, introducing herself and sharing the insights God’s given her.

Daisy never appears to have a worry in the world. She trusts I’ll remember to provide her with food and water. When I come in the front door, she generally responds with a chirp to my greeting. I love her unconditional, vulnerable trust in my care for her—and wish I could have that same trust in my heavenly Father!

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Matt. 6:25-27 NIV

I imagine some folks in the crowd hearing these words scoffed, “This Jesus knows nothing about the hardships in my life!” Worrying about obtaining basic food, clothes, and shelter has been a daily reality since leaving the Garden of Eden. Just as the Jewish nation mistakenly thought God was sending the Messiah to overthrow the Romans and relieve their oppression, we too expect God’s love to be shown primarily by fixing our circumstances.

“How do I keep from worrying in the midst of legit concerns?” These verses say the key is to remind ourselves God has declared us valuable. We are his precious children, glorious bride, apple of his eye. God will never leave us and always keeps us under his wing. 

My value to God goes beyond my present circumstances. This is a really hard concept for human beings to grasp. We’re always intent on having more control over our lives so we can feel safe by making our own choices. But that didn’t work out so good for Adam and Eve.

This week I looked at how many counseling sessions I had on my calendar. I’ve got a minimum number of clients I need to see each week to keep financially afloat. I was two sessions short and the worry started. “Maybe I should kick up the advertising or do a seminar or, or, or….” I’ve learned to take those thoughts captive by confessing my self-protective worries to the Lord. By the end of the day I’d booked 5 new clients. God was clearly reminding me to trust like Daisy.

Not every worry you and I have will be eliminated so quickly. I’ve spent years intentionally practicing trusting God in small areas, learning how to wait on the Lord with less worry when I encounter big concerns. Watch the birds. Use them as a daily reminder of the heavenly Father’s love and care for you.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fatherhood - A gift of life. Don't miss it!

Randy Kirk's photo.

Randy Kirk's photo.
Daughter Christian with her crew
Randy Kirk's photo.
Daughter Navae and her boy band

A very substantial number of my young friends are talking about not having kids or only having one. Here are my secular thoughts on the subject.

As Bilbo Baggins learned in the Lord of the RIngs, this life provides opportunities for adventure. We can choose to have no adventures and sit in front of electronic devices like the folks in "Wally," or we can dive in and stretch ourselves in a few or many ways.

I have had many, many adventures in my life, but none is as fun, satisfying, challenging, gratifying, intense, sweet, loving, disruptive, charming, romantic, fulfilling, teaching, blessing, stretching, or enchanting as being a Dad.

I love being a grandpa to 7 so far, but contrary to popular opinion, being able to leave after a few hours is not that great! It is the all in nature of being a Dad that makes it so intense on so many levels.
So, DON'T miss out.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wavering on the Promises

For nearly 250 years, Americans have celebrated this time of year the one things that binds us as a country of diversity – our declaration as a free nation on July 4, 1776. This year we'll march in parades, light the fireworks, and wave the flags remembering and celebrating. We have much to remember and celebrate. We have much for which to be grateful. We have much to love about this place, its history, and its future.

Yet today as I write this, families in Charleston, South Carolina grieve in sorrow, anger, and confusion. They do not feel the joy of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They do not share my optimism for our future nor an untainted appreciation of the past. They will watch fireworks in the same sky I will. But I wonder if their belief in the promises those pyrotechnics imply will be as worry free.

That I can celebrate my freedom when others cannot makes me more intensely grateful for that freedom. But it should also make me more determined to ensure that everyone under the umbrella of those promises has the same opportunity.

Many, many people have defended the greatness of our nation and the wideness of its opportunities in the last several months. Rightfully so. Many also have lined up the names of the places where people feel less than free: Ferguson, Baltimore, Staten Island, McKinney, etc. and blamed their inhabitants for not seeking their own opportunity. Pertinent to me and to this blog site – many Christians have done this.

We have heard the anguished cries of our fellow citizens and performed political and theological gymnastics in order to ignore that they do not feel equal and free. Everyone who has thought about it at all has thrown blame somewhere. But you know what? I don't really care who is at fault anymore. Because I know who is at fault if I know, if I see, if I hear, and if I do nothing.

I believe with all my heart that we do, in fact, have a great country here, built on a grand, unprecedented experiment of freedom no one had ever tried. But I also believe it's time to prove that greatness.

If America is the great country my father fought for and my uncle died for, let her prove it now by telling the world we will not allow these things to happen in a great country.

  • We will not pretend so many people in so many places are merely aberrations and not a pattern of injustice.

  • We will not look the other way when people entrusted to do right do wrong instead. 

  • We will not allow categories of any kind to legitimize terrible treatment of any people group, whether it be by color or occupation.

  • We will not allow any of our citizens, or human beings within our borders, to fear going about their daily life because of their skin color, gender, or language.

  • We will take seriously our promise that all people are endowed with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Our founders backed up those words with their lives, liberties, and possessions. We spend our time arguing over who deserves those rights and why we're not responsible for their remission. I suspect our founders would appreciate our self-sacrifice more than our speeches and fireworks. While we're celebrating and remembering, let's pause to consider how to be what they thought we could be.

While we're, I hope, thanking God for placing us here, in a country where we can freely be Christians, let's ask God why He put us here. I'm pretty sure it wasn't just because He thought I was so darned worthy of it all. (Quite, quite sure.) I think to whom much has been given, much is required (Luke 12.48). Independence Day is a day to remember how much we've been given – and to pledge ourselves to freely giving it until all are free. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Minimalist Gospel

It doesn't mean giving up everything.

She came to church to get things in order. She has cleaned up her life. Stopped dating men she met at bars. Got her kids enrolled in the church’s summer camp. Cleaned out her closets. Tossed a few outfits she should never have bought. And some books and movies. She quit smoking. Made up with her sister. The only thing left is to up her commitment to God. No more clutter and distractions. Just good clean living. So here she is. Telling God what she has to offer. And what she’s willing to give up. Don’t come at her with a bucket of holy water. Don’t put her on the prayer list. This new plan of hers is all about keeping it simple. She’s even thinking about becoming a minimalist, though she’s not quite sure what that means. But she’s not here to get in over her head. She only wants to get her spiritual side in line with the rest of her shiny new life. She figures if anything should fall under the category of minimalism, it’s this thing they call the Gospel.

A lot of people approach God that way. The minimalist Gospel is restrained, unassuming, and unobtrusive. It assumes you’re pretty close to being okay. If it does reveal a problem, it assures you it can be corrected with little pain or sacrifice. No plying into your daily life with demands of new behavior. Sin is not the issue. Feeling loved is what counts. Repentance is simply an understanding with God that He will accept you. He didn’t before, but now He does. So, did you repent? Or did God?

A soul reaching for a minimalist Gospel will not extend repentance as far as it must go in order to be redeemed. The belief is that we don’t need to address the depths from which we must be rescued. We want a little soap and water. We want the snot wiped off. We know we need something only God can give, and so we grab a little Gospel and apply it sparingly. And keep on walking. But we’re zombies. Our skin is rotting. Our bones are dried up. We’re dressed in rags that don’t cover our skeletal remains.

A dangerous assumption is that not all sinners need a liberal dose of the Gospel. Some people need a complete overhaul, while others only need a tweak. This attitude leads to self-righteousness, which is really no righteousness at all. It settles in legalism. It pets the ego with sympathy and approval. The result is an unredeemed soul living under the guise of being a good person. And to that—the hope of being a good—the soul hopelessly clings.

The minimalist Gospel demands little from the one who accepts it. There must be a belief in God, recognition of Christ, and a level of commitment to right living. For some, this means going to church. For others, it means giving up some bad habits. It doesn’t mean giving up on everything you consider worthy about yourself. Or casting aside everything you think will set you in right standing before God. Everything that makes you who you are. Everything that makes you feel alive. It doesn’t mean giving up everything.

And it doesn’t mean gaining anything.

What is the opposite of minimalist? Outlandish, ornate, excessive. Lavish. Next week’s blog…that’s right…will be about the lavish Gospel.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Speaking the Language of Jesus

I sometimes speak the language of Jesus when I fill my car with gasoline.

That’s because the friendly young couple who run one of my local gas stations are from northern Iraq, and their language – modern Aramaic – is apparently derived from the language that Jesus spoke. They have been teaching me a few words.

Actually, I don’t know if Jesus really did say shlama ‘lokhun (hello) or baseema (thank you). There seem to be many variants of the language, and of course modern dialects presumably differ from the classical language, just as do modern and classical Greek, and modern Italian and Latin.

But I do know that Jesus said Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (Matthew 27:46), and my friends at the gas station say that’s pretty close to how they would say it.

Tragically, we now witness the rise of Islamic State, which has launched a campaign of genocide against the Christians of northern Iraq and southwest Syria, where the language is also spoken. Numerous residents have fled as ISIS gains more territory. The future of Aramaic as a living language is in doubt.

But now comes a rare piece of Mideast good news. A revival in Aramaic is occurring in, of all places, Israel.

Gush Halav – known in Arabic as Jish – is a small town in the Galilee Valley, in northern Israel. More than half the population are Maronite Christians, who still use Aramaic in their church liturgy, and even often speak it.

Since 2011, under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry of Education, Aramaic has been taught in the town’s schools. And last year the Israeli government recognized the country’s 20,000 Aramaic people as a distinct nationality.

So, as Christians increasingly flee from many of their traditional lands in the face of murder or slavery, it is heartening to see a tiny part of the region where they are able to live in peace, and where their traditions are respected and encouraged.

Indeed, Christians are now under threat of subjugation throughout much of the Mideast, with Israel as a shining exception. Christianity there is actually thriving and growing. For that praise God.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Run Your Race At Your Pace

My son Ben began running in grad school as a way to stay healthy. In the last year he’s moved into running races; half-marathons, full marathons, and even two 50ks (31 miles)! When I asked Ben his race strategy, he said the key was to stick to a pace his body could maintain. If he went too slow, his legs felt too heavy to keep moving. Running too fast drained him of energy and cardio strength too soon. By running every day, Ben learns what pace works with his body instead of pushing against it.

Runners encounter physical, mental, environmental, and emotional barriers. The challenge of navigating these difficulties and crossing the finish line motivates runners to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Paul encountered numerous barriers: prison, shipwreck, beatings, loss of relationships, etc. and yet he found his own pace in pursuing Christ.

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NIV)

Many times I hear Christians beat themselves up for not being farther along in their walk with the Lord. Rather than asking God to show them how to set the pace, folks either run too slow or too fast. We can become weighed down by rules, beliefs, and burdens which God does not call us to carry. Defeated, the spiritual race can become too legalistically heavy to run. Or folks will often push themselves to take on an overwhelming amount of tasks (praying more, extra Bible studies, ministry work) as a way to quiet internal guilt.

We each have barriers to overcome in our sanctification journey. Hurt, pain, fear, legalistic beliefs, etc. all separate us from God’s heart—the spiritual finish line. For some, healing comes through finding acceptance and love through ministry. God calls some folks to take great leaps of faith in order to press through fear. Others are called to sit on the sidelines and rest. Comparing your race with someone else causes you to run someone else’s pace. Learning to follow God’s timing gives the necessary perseverance and endurance to finish the race God has set before you.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons (www.foxylearning.com)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

If I Become a Christian, I'll Have to Give Up Sex Outside of Marriage


Free Love without Commitment Is A Major Stumbling Block to Following Jesus

A couple of months ago, I began a series of posts on the cultural issues and attitudes that are making it difficult to move hearts and minds into Christianity today. One of the biggest stumbling blocks, in my humble opinion, is unfettered sex. Many in the US and the world today, believe that they have the right to enjoy sex with pretty much any one that is consenting to the sex, at any time, and for just a season. The "season" might be for just that moment without the slightest expectation of any future relationship.

I think sexual sin in the 21st Century is a much greater hindrance to Westerners  taking the step of faith or returning to the faith than any other libertine behavior or philosophical block. There are definitely those who are using alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc., to fill the void in their lives, and feel they might have to give those up to accept Christ, but giving up sexual activity that is specifically prohibited in the Bible is almost certainly the big deal today.

The obvious issues are teens and young adults living together without being married and/or merely participating in sexual activity without any expectation of entering into a long term relationship. This is also true for homosexual relationships. The availability of marriage in some states for homosexual couples has not changed the reality that most homosexuals are not interested in long term, monogamous relationships.

The not so obvious group facing the issue are older couples living together or having promiscuous sex. As an older man who is just about to reenter the single life, I am faced with significant issues relating to getting married (over an above my daughter insisting the new wife can't be younger than her.)

Prenuptial agreements, something that young lovers would be hard pressed to bring up, assuming there was any reason to, become a serious issue in many marriages between those in middle age or beyond. If one half of the couple has significant income or assets and the other doesn't, there could be some tough choices to make.

Bigger issues revolve around spousal support and social security or other benefit payments. A new marriage can result in a significant loss of income from these sources, whereas many times cohabitation does not. Therefore the laws as currently written, and the interpretation of those laws by the courts commonly makes cohabitation a financial necessity for older couples.

The overall question is huge today. A pastor in my church mentioned that a couple in our church came to see him about an issue they were facing. In the course of the conversation it became clear that they were not married and they were living together. The pastor told them that maybe that issue needed to be addressed before getting on to the reason they had come. They responded "You people are actually serious about this marriage stuff." 

There is no simple answer to what the church is facing today among its members and in dealing with those who might be inclined to make a decision for Jesus, but don't want to "give up" their lifestyle. While the church should certainly be "actually serious" about these issues, the direction in the culture is not good. So what are we to do?

Give your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Letters to Me: What I Wish I Had Known about Loving a Special Needs Child

Recently, a friend asked me to write a blog post in the form of a letter. Specifically, a letter I wish I could have read at some particular point in my life. I thought about a few different points, but this one seemed the best. Knowing what I know now, what would I have said to myself, or any woman, as a young mom of a child with special needs? 

Echoing Elsa here -- dear young mom, Let it go. All the extra mess you don't need. But grace and Jesus? (Which are the same thing.) Hang on to them.

November 8, 1991

Dear younger me,

Look into the face of your little girl. That first one, having her first birthday party. (Yes, one more will be here soon. You will survive.) The one whose colic kept you up for months, who didn't sleep though the night until you made her at nine months old. (You will still regret that 25 years later. Don't do it. It's not worth the extra sleep.)

The one who started walking at nine months and climbing to the top the jungle gym yesterday. The one who has already foiled every baby gate, crib rail, and door knob safety cover ever invented. She will foil every plan you have for her, too, so you might as well get ready.

Get ready by letting go. Take a deep breath and tell yourself a few things now that will be a blessing later.

God made your child different. And amazing. And it's OK. You will not understand your child's behavior. She won't get a diagnosis for years. But you will get tons of unsolicited advice on what may be the problem. Smile. Then ignore it. It won't work, and advice given in judgment is not from God. Get on your knees constantly and ask Him what is best for your child. He knows.

Believe that her difference is beautiful. Don't accept that it is something to be ashamed of. Don't even allow those shame-mongers to get into your heart. You have to guard her heart, too, and you can't if you're not guarding the gates of yours. Tell her every day she is amazing and created for a special purpose. Tell yourself that, too. You will need it. You both will. 

So, that impish eye wink should have been a clue.
You don't have to make everyone else happy. This child will be high maintenance. You will be the one judged for this. People at church will give you those glances. You know the ones. You've given them yourself. The ones that say, “Well you're an epic fail mom. Don't you know what the Bible says about controlling your kids?”

You don't have to please those people. They have no authority over your parenting or life. Your worth as a human was established in Genesis when God said you were made in His image and it was very good. Your worth was cemented when Jesus made you into a new creation. It does not depend on the affirmation of people who should be giving you the grace of Jesus but are rather giving you the stink eye. Give them grace. And let them go.

You don't have to apologize for your child. There will be one moment in particular. A woman, in the pool parking lot, whose car door your child just slightly nicked. She will go all Kardashian drama queen on you over it. You will apologize and offer insurance information. She will not be satisfied. Don't give in to the temptation to shame your child so both adults can feel better. Look that woman in the eye. Tell her you apologized once, and you're done. You don't need to earn her approval. You can't. The rest is on her. People will try to shame you and your child for behavior that is, clearly, that of a child. You don't need to accept it. Be free. Let those people go.

You are the one God trusts for this job. He won't fail you, and you won't fail Him. No one else's expectations matter. You don't have to do this perfectly. So lighten up on your own expectations. Lighten up on your kid and listen to her. Hold her when she has no idea what's going on in her head or body. Know she's as confused as you are. And you'll both survive if you hold on to grace. Let graceless perfection go.

Eventually, you will be in the fight of your life for this child. It will change you. It will grow you. You will become a force for grace you never imagined you believed in, let alone that impassioned your life. Then again, maybe I should not tell you this. No one needs to know when the future will hold great pain. We find that out, by the goodness of God, only when we need to.

That one-year-old dynamo will be amazing. And so will you. Just love her. And hang on to Jesus.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Ledge

(This is my third and final piece of future fiction. At least for now. It's last week's story from a different point of view.)

June 11, 2035   What I saw last week in the park.

I was standing right here on the ledge like I am now, and I zoomed in on the park to the left of my building. I’ll never get over the thrill of hyper-vision. Best invention since the air-shield that keeps me from falling off this open ledge and hitting the walkway. I spend a lot of time out here and a twenty-story drop would take out even a hybrid like me.

Anyway, last week I was out here thinking, you know, about business. And I watched a crowd gather around this kid. He was small—not old enough to be out by himself. But that wasn’t enough to draw a crowd. He wasn’t in a restricted area. Wasn’t playing around or anything. Then I saw the problem. He was reading a book.

I was as surprised as the people on the ground. Paper books are rare, but those of us with the right connections have a few. I’ve got twenty-two. Souvenirs. Never read any of them. So I figured this kid was from a wealthy family and he snuck out with a book. And that’s what caused the stir. It brought a smile to my face. Interesting kid.

At one point I thought he looked up at me and smiled. But I guess he wasn’t looking at me. He just looked up. Then he went back to the book. I couldn’t quite make out the words on the page but the book looked really old. Whatever the kid was reading, it seemed the crowd couldn’t get enough. They just stood there. Listening. Until the drones showed up.

They were ten minutes later than I figured they’d be. They flew right past me—three of them—and hovered over the growing crowd. As soon as one of them shot a warning laser, those people lost interest in the boy and his book. All but five of them. Two men, three women. They looked to be under-optimum. You know the type. Then this patrol showed up and let one of the men have it—a blast between the shoulders. He dropped. And then…the weirdest thing. The rest of them dropped too. And they just knelt there for a minute. Until the patrol snatched the boy up and shoved him into a containment pod.

I watched the idiots get up. Well, maybe they were smarter than they looked because none of them so much as glanced at that book again. It was still lying there where the boy had been sitting. The five went on their way. Didn’t seem they had anything to say to each other. I thought the patrol would come back for the book, but once he had the kid contained he drove off.

Then this lady—another under-optimum—walked over to the book and picked it up. She lifted her head, and I thought for a second she was looking at me. Then she looked back at the book. Her lips moved. And then she tucked the book under her sweater. And she walked away.

I had to laugh. A poor, unenhanced, under-optimum woman going home with a book. What would she do with it? Besides get herself into trouble.

Well, that was last week. Today the park is empty. As it should be. The water memorial provides a pleasant view. The rolling lawn is freshly tended, and I see it’s roped off now. Good. That’ll keep out the little kids and their books. Nothing unusual going on in the park today. Nothing at all.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Executioner’s Hymn

Matt Redman (pictured) is one of the giants of today’s Christian praise and worship song writing movement. His inspiring numbers like “Heart of Worship," "Let Everything That Has Breath" and "Better Is One Day" have been sung at churches around the world.

But even Redman himself could never have imagined that, one day, one of his greatest songs – the Grammy-winning hit “10,000 Reasons" - would be sung exuberantly by a group of convicted drug runners as they were cut down by an Indonesian firing squad.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were two unsettled young Australians, angry at the world and deeply involved with drugs. In 2005 they were arrested and convicted in Indonesia as the ringleaders of a gang that was smuggling heroin back to Australia. The sentence: death.

Initially they were unrepentant and full of bravado. But once in prison, awaiting execution, they underwent an amazing transformation. In particular, they both found the Lord. Chan, especially, became an absolutely devout Christian, pursuing studies that would lead to him qualifying as a pastor.

In the harsh and often corrupt Indonesian prison environment they became leaders. They counselled the other prisoners, many of whom had drug problems. They introduced new programs to keep the inmates active and productive. In the midst of much tension they acted as peacemakers.

Over ten years they launched several appeals against their sentences. At one hearing a surprise witness appeared on their behalf – their prison governor, who spoke of their numerous good deeds and urged they be spared.

But to no avail. In April the pair, together with six other convicted drug felons, were shackled to posts and shortly after midnight were executed by a twelve-man firing squad.

Less than forty-eight hours before his death, Chan had married his sweetheart Febyanti Herewila, herself an Indonesian pastor. She spoke at a memorial service for him last month at Sydney’s Hillsong Church, noting sadly that she had spent more time preparing for the funeral than for the marriage.

A newspaper report takes up the story:

“No-one could ever face death like him,” said Febyanti, revealing Chan had poor eyesight and hated wearing his glasses but did so on the night he died “because he wanted to look them in the eyes.”

As he was led to the execution fields, she said, he asked God to forgive his executioners, and then prayed for Indonesia, a country and people he grew to love. Entering the execution ground, Chan and the seven other condemned men sang “Amazing Grace.” After they were tied to a stake, with Chan urging each to sing louder, they sang “10,000 Reasons.”

They all managed to finish the first verse of the song, she said. But, halfway through the second, the firing squad let loose their weapons. It was, said Febyanti, “The song that we sang on our engagement day, the song we all sang on our wedding day.”

The song reminds us that there are 10,000 reasons (at least) to praise God. And without doubt one of those reasons is the remarkable work of transformation He did in the hearts of those two troubled young men, now together with Him in Paradise.