Monday, February 29, 2016

Paradigm Shift: Achieving Serenity

A few years back I was profoundly impacted by reading the entire serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. Most of us have only heard the first four lines, yet the rest of the prayer brings about an important paradigm shift in how we view ourselves, God, and our time on earth. Meditate on this prayer. Ask God to show you how to deposit it deep into your heart so it will become your godly foundation for life.

Prayer for Serenity

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it;
Trusting that You will make all things right
If I surrender to Your will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Plowing In Concrete

As a member of a large, mission-minded church, I often pray for others around the world. I give to support the spread of the Gospel beyond the familiar realm of Western culture where I pass eight church buildings to get to the one where I worship. I’ve written about missionaries and other cultures, and persecution present and future. Though I pray and give and frequently send my imagination on adventures, I don’t get out of my comfort zone too much.

But I appreciate others who do. A few years ago, my church helped start the Op Weg church in Gent, Belgium. My pastor and others from our congregation have gone to assist the small body of believers. Recently two men from Gent came before our congregation on a Sunday night to tell us about the little church.

Geert, the older of the two gentlemen, started the church in his garage. People don’t go to church in Belgium, he told us, so the church must go to the people. They made the move to a building, but it will soon be torn down. Geert doesn’t know where the church will go then. But the building is not the church, and he is not worried.

Johan was raised Catholic, like most who still affiliate themselves with the church. And like most, his family was non-practicing. A young man, Johan became a believer and was baptized in 2007. His family and Geert’s family lead the small group of Op Weg.

The men explained how the religious climate in Europe is quite different for evangelicals. The search for the truth of the Gospel came out of the Roman Catholic Church. But today it seems no one is searching anymore. Churches are rare. Most church buildings are now used for other purposes. The oldest Catholic cathedrals in Gent are now nothing more than museums.

In contrast to Belgium’s lack of interest in matters of the church, the Roman Catholic presence is supported by taxes. State schools offer religious training as a matter of choice—Catholic, Protestant, Judaism, and Islam are among the electives. Another option: Humanism. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution, and schools promote that freedom. But teachers cannot lean toward one choice or the other. Johan reported his wife, a teacher, must hide the cross she wears around her neck.

Discretion is called for in all matters of religion. Sharing one’s faith is not illegal, but it must be done in private, and it's typically met with polite ridicule. The faithful are mocked, assumed to be uneducated or brainwashed. The atmosphere into which evangelism edges is dark. The ground where the seed must be planted is hard. My pastor commented that sharing the Gospel in Belgium is like plowing in concrete.

He asked Geert and Johan what most surprised them about the American church. Johan replied it was the fact that the church is still flourishing. That we have such liberty. That we are so bold. He commented on the variety of people who attend church. We are diverse.

Geert said he had heard radical stories about the Western church. He told us Europeans have one view of Americans, but it is not so. He was surprised by the friendliness of the church. As Johan had done, Geert noted our boldness. He told us he could feel the difference.

The ground these men plow must not give way too much at all. It must be a dark, hard environment they endure that leads them to call us bold. Societal pressures on them are much greater than we face as Americans. And yet, they keep the plow to the ground. They press on. And they celebrate when one comes into the family of believers.

Our pastor asked them what we can do. They told us to pray for a new meeting place. For leadership to rise from their small gathering. For encouragement. For people to come to Christ because somewhere, Geert said, they are searching in the darkness.

Is my country following the pattern of the land where these two men shine a light in that darkness? I may never leave the comfort of my desk where I write about the places I don’t go. But eventually I might find concrete to plow in my own country. Around the big, comfortable building where I meet with hundreds of other Christians. When it happens, I pray my church is still a place of boldness, and not a museum.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Jesus is My Chainsaw

I recently heard a gentleman tell a study group about how he chops down trees with an axe. A tiresome chore, he said, and when it becomes clear the work is too hard, he gives up. He throws down his axe and quits. He is defeated. The tree still stands. But then he gets out the chainsaw. And a tree is no match for a chainsaw. He made his point with this statement: Jesus is the chainsaw. Another man showed fast appreciation and cheerfully proclaimed, “Jesus is my chainsaw.”

We all laughed and agreed to allow Jesus the classification of a power tool. The droll comparison followed the discussion of a verse I included in a recent blog called A Muslim’s Boy’s Offense. Here’s the verse:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Mathew 11:28-30

I applied this verse to the sad story of the Muslim boy to show the way of absolution is too hard an undertaking for any of us. No act on our part, no matter how hard we try, is good enough to get us in right standing before God. It takes the cross of Christ to pay that penalty.

So what does it have to do with a chainsaw? We can wear ourselves out trying to take care of our own sin problem. We can strive to make ourselves acceptable to God. But it can’t be done. When we lay down our axe, when we see our tree hasn’t fallen, that’s when Jesus comes with great power. Like a chainsaw. A sinner swinging an axe is weary and burdened. A sinner with a chainsaw can rest.

Okay, we’re not really talking about chopping down a tree here. And some may say there’s nothing gentle and humble about a chainsaw. Analogies only go so far. But here’s what I know: I was weary and burdened and Jesus gave me rest. The yoke of my sin was too great. The yoke of redemption is easy. Sin is grueling and stern. Jesus is graceful and tender. But He’s also infinitely powerful.

The disciples called by Jesus to come and rest were bound by the law. Weary of struggling to keep its demands. Burdened by the toil of insufficient sacrifices. Jesus—the fulfillment of the law—wanted them to know life was about to get radically rectified. The sin they couldn’t escape was about to let them go. Their destiny of death was about to take a strike ending its grip forever. The tree they couldn’t topple was about to come down.

I imagine dropping my axe to the cold hard ground and watching Jesus approach my tree with a chainsaw in his strong hands. And cutting it clean to a stump in no time flat. And framing it into a cross. It must have been my tree He hung upon. Thank you, Chainsaw Jesus. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Quite often when people die, you hear their loved ones say, “he or she is in a better place.” This is a comforting thought, and I am sure everybody would like to think that about their deceased loved one. But before we go any further, we need to ask ourselves, “Where is this
better place, and how do people get there?”
            The Bible, the Word of God, talks about eternity being either in heaven or in hell. There are no neutral places, so when people talk about a better place they most likely are referring to heaven, since hell is not a good place. Heaven, however, is not an automatic destination for the deceased. When people die, their living loved ones can comfort themselves any way they want, but that does not guarantee their loved ones are in heaven. The biblical
truth is this: only those who believe on the name of Jesus will go to heaven (see Romans 3:22); only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (see Revelation 21:27).
People who do not believe on the name of Jesus Christ before they die cannot be wished or prayed into heaven by loved ones, not even by the church.
Eligibility into heaven is not based on gender, age or social or political standing. It is also not based on good works or anything else people do. It is based solely on the sacrifice Christ made on the cross (see Ephesians 2:5), making Himself the bridge between God and man. Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for sin, making Him the only way for sinners to come to God by faith in Jesus (see John 14:6).
This is your opportunity. Ask Jesus to forgive your sins now; He will forgive you, and take away the guilt of your sins. He will also fill you with His Spirit as the deposit that guarantees your future with Him (see 2 Corinthians 1:22), and give you peace and the assurance of your salvation. He will also write your name in His book of life. Don’t count on your loved ones or your priests to wish or pray you into heaven after your death. It just does not work that way.

If you refuse Christ’s offer for salvation, you have automatically and personally decided to go to hell after you die. Remember, if you die without making this decision, you’ve missed the opportunity to go to heaven for good! So while you are alive, I implore you to make the decision that guarantees you will spend eternity in heaven. Your loved ones can then say confidently, without doubt, at your passing, “He (She) is in a better place.” Please make this decision soon: hopefully today!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Selfless Gospel

And my selfish pursuit of survival.

Here’s what I needed: To be rescued from among the fallen, reconciled with God, restored to a condition worthy of eternity in Heaven, and redeemed from unavoidable death.

So I turned to Christ to rescue, reconcile, restore, and redeem me. I needed it. I wanted to possess it. And in my quest for self-preservation, I obtained it. I’m a selfish being.

Here’s what Christ needs: Nothing from me or anyone else.

But he offered to rescue me. He became my reconciliation with God. He gave me His righteousness, and therefore passage to eternity in Heaven. He redeemed me from the death I couldn’t escape.

Here’s what it cost me: Nothing.

Here’s what it cost Him: A trade of glory for flesh and gravity. The cross. The strong grip of death apart from the loving presence of the Father.

Here’s what I gained: Knowledge of God. Fellowship with others like me and inclusion in Christ’s church. Awareness of life as it’s meant to be. The ability to follow God. The experience of His glory. Overwhelming identification with His grace.

Here’ what Christ gained: The approval of His Father. The church. The right to redeem the entire earth over which He will soon rule unchallenged. The crown of the One True King. Glorification.

Did he do what he did to accomplish this goal? No. It was all His before He spoke the world into being. He is—His Gospel is—completely selfless. Here are a few other things He gained: Hatred. Mocking. Widespread, blatant disrespect. Apathetic, half-hearted consideration. Adamant refusal.

Even my own selfish need for His selfless gift wasn’t really selfish at all. If He hadn’t pointed out my need, I never would have known. In a way, my selfishness is rooted in His selflessness. If He didn’t show up, I wouldn’t have looked for Him. As it is, I gave up clinging to what I thought I knew about life to obtain…life. And life is in Christ.

Another one of those paradoxical truths? God’s glory gained by selflessness. My redemption realized out of a selfish need to live and not die. The rhythm of salvation. The poetry of grace. God came down to live a simple human life in an ancient land and then he died on a cross. And then He conquered death. And then I accepted His astonishing remedy to cure what I didn’t know was wrong with me until He told me. For His glory, for my life, I’ll take it. What else can I do? There is no other way.

And this is the testimony, that God gives us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I John 5:11-12

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Do you have a difficult time finding God? Really, you shouldn’t. The problem could be your approach. The prophet Jeremiah puts it this way: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV)  

What does it mean to seek? With its many synonyms, I think ‘hunt for’ explains it best, implying there is diligence, enthusiasm, and earnestness in the search. That way of searching reveals the desire and intention of the searcher’s heart; it says to God, “I love you; I want to know you better, and have a vibrant, ongoing relationship with you. I will give up anything and everything you ask of me to maintain a relationship with you.”

So what form should the search take? 
·        First and foremost, let’s get rid of lip service! It does not benefit us when we claim we are Christians, go to church, sing in the choir, and on and on, but live contrary to God’s Word.
·        Second, in addition to being believers, our hearts should yearn for God and focus on Him. We should desire to know Him better; we should desire and ask to know His mind on issues, and then gladly obey Him.

·        Third, we cannot know more about God without learning about Him.  If we desire to know Him better, our next step should be going to His Word, and wherever else we can, to learn about Him. Head knowledge alone about God is not enough, however. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to show us how we can apply what we learn in our everyday living. In other words, we should want to be transformed by what He reveals of Himself to us. Like Paul says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV). Studying His Word comes in different forms: personal study, group              study, listening to sermons, and any other avenue of study God makes              available to us.

·        Fourth is seeking Him in prayer, asking the Spirit to search our hearts and reveal the sins we need to confess and forsake: both sins of commission and omission (see Psalm 139:23-24). We need to hunger and thirst for Him, asking for Him to live through us as Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NIV). We need to yearn to be closer to Him, to be lost in His love, and then desire to be obedient to Him. 
·        Lastly, when we go to Him in prayer, let us not rush out of His presence, but wait patiently on Him to hear His voice of affirmation and any instructions He might have for us (see Psalm 40:1) .

It is not enough to say to God, “I am seeking you,” because He already knows every heart, so He knows whether or not you are seeking Him; “For the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9 NIV). If you are searching, make sure you are searching with ALL YOUR HEART, because it is only then that you’ll find Him; a haphazard search will not yield the needed result. King David admonished his son, Solomon, “Acknowledge the God of your Father, and serve Him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind” (1Chronicles 28:9 NIV).

If we seek God with all our hearts, we will find Him, because He has promised, and He is faithful.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Heart of a Book is not its Genre

I’m pushing the sci-fi angle of my book. It’s futuristic. Some of it’s really coming—at least that’s the plan of certain people. Another angle I push is the Christian Fiction factor. It’s who I am and somebody told me to write what I know. And I won’t stop—the message of the Gospel will permeate whatever I write to some degree.

But when I think about Wake the Dead, the parts I love most aren't the techno-babble scenes, and there is no line defining the call of Christ—not in this book. (But Killswitch is coming this summer, and maybe…) My favorite moments are when Chase is dropped into his own past. God puts him there to prepare him for his astonishing future. 

Here’s one of my favorite scenes:

    Chase looked at the big screen, only it wasn’t a GV. It was more like an old movie screen. Landscape, lush and green, filled his vision. It looked like the place where he’d grown up. A seagull whizzed past. The sound of rushing water told him he was near the river. And then, he was on the screen. Only there wasn’t a screen anymore. Chase looked at his hands. They were small and sandy. He looked at his feet, at the blue sneakers he wore when he was ten.
    “Hey, get me out of here,” Chase whined.
     No one answered.
     He thought he might cry, but he didn’t. He was a grown man. An influential man. This was some kind of new game. A new prize for contestants. And SynVue was trying it out on him. Well, OK, he could play along. As if he had any choice. He turned a circle. He knew the way home.
     He came up past Braden River High School. Stupid teenagers. They were always messing with him. His house was just a couple of blocks away. He started to run.
     “Hey, Chase.” A little girl waved from across the road.
     Chase waved back to her. “Hey, Kathleen.” He ran a little faster.
    He came to his house and went up the walkway to the front door. Chase could hear his mother singing. What was that? Something about the light of the moon. She had a lovely voice. Chase had forgotten she used to sing. He opened the door. “Mom?”
     “In here, Chase. I’m baking your birthday cake.”
     “It’s my birthday?”
     She walked into the front room with a dish towel in her hands. “You silly boy.” She smiled, and he ran to her and threw his arms around her.
     “What’s this? Did you miss me that much? You’ve only been gone for a couple of hours.” She patted his back and kissed the top of his head.
     She smelled like chocolate and soap. That’s when the dream, or the game—whatever was happening on the screen—became real.
     He looked up. “I think it’s been more than a couple of hours.”

As it turns out, Steve Austin (not the wrestler, but the 70’s TV astronaut who got some bionic parts) was a wind-up toy compared to Chase Sterling. But all of Chase’s days (yeah, I know he’s not real) are ordained by God.

As are all of our days. Our experience, the people we encounter, every moment of love, hate, disregard, and reconciliation transforms us. No, it’s not like the transformation Chase endured. And yet it is. Science changed his brain, his body, and his function. God altered his mind, his soul, and his purpose. Science is grand. God is revolutionary. I don’t want what’s coming from the gods of science.

Just let me be revolutionized. That’s what I want to write about.

Maybe pushing the sci-fi angle doesn’t cover it. I never liked calling it sci-fi anyway. Speculative, yes. A what-if story about a transhuman written from a Christian worldview. Too wordy? How about Radical Techno Inspirational? Hmmm. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What We All Long for the Most

You probably haven’t thought about this, and if you have, you probably have not expressed it, but deep down, you long to be very special to somebody—anybody. Most likely, you don’t care who it is, just as long as somebody loves you for who you are, unconditionally.

            In our society, the decision to love is often based on factors that are lacking in many: good looks, stature, social status, education, financial status, skin color, race, nationality, and so on. In other words, someone might love or not love another because of his or her nationality, skin color, profession, or how much they earn. When love is based on such things, it is conditional. What will happen when a big-earner loses the ability to earn that much? What happens when good looks fades with age and or poor health?  Does love then cease?

No matter how poor or unattractive we are, we all desire someone to go head over heels for us. That is where God comes in. He is that Person we are all longing for, to satisfy our deep-seated longing. But why is God that Person?

He love us unconditionally because He created us the way we are for His pleasure. He never decides someone is too unattractive, handicapped, or poor for Him to love. He loves us no matter what; He never disowns or stops loving us because something about us has changed. He loves us just as we are, and by choice!

God wants His love for us to bring us into a loving relationship (which we lost as a result of sin) with Him, and for our deep-seated need to be satisfied, we need to respond to that love—we have a responsibility in the matter. A relationship is not a one-way street: it needs to have at least two people to qualify as such.    

So, how do we respond to God’s love? We need to understand and accept  that we are sinners with no ability or resources to pay the penalty for our sins. The Bible makes it very clear, “For everyone has sinned, we all fall short of God’s glorious standards” (Romans 3:23 NLT). We then have to ask for pardon through His Son, Jesus Christ, who died in our place. When we take this step, he forgives us and restores our previously broken relationship with Him, because, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT). 

To clarify God's unconditional love, let’s look at God’s reasons for loving the Israelites. “Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure. The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT). God’s love for the Israelites was by choice and by His faithfulness in keeping promises He had made previously. God loved them, no matter what they did! He punished them some of the time, but never stopped loving them. In fact, again and again, He pleaded with them to return to Him from their sinful wanderings.

This is the kind of love we all long for: love that is unconditional! Only God can do that. Only He wipes away our sins and never brings them up again. That is easy for Him to do, because  His love for us was by choice. He knew us inside and out; He knew we were evil, but that did not stop Him. Nothing in our future was ever going to surprise Him; we might hurt Him by our behavior, but not surprise Him. Being faithful is the other half. God has promised, “I will never again remember their sins” (Jeremiah 31:34 NLT). When we repent, He forgives and forgets, so our relationship with Him remains intact.

Have loved ones failed you? Are you left to wonder if anyone cares? Are you longing for unconditional love? Try Jesus, the Son of God, through whom God is reconciling the world to Himself (see Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18). He’ll love you beyond your expectations, transform your life, and at His appointed time, bring you home to Himself in Heaven. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Find Your Way Out of Grief

It was a regular Tuesday night. He was on final approach. Just a few hundred yards from the runway when something went terribly wrong. In a split second, everything changed for his wife, 1 year old twin sons, parents, siblings, family, and friends.

I attended my cousin Joel’s funeral yesterday. He was 33 years old, a well-qualified, excellent pilot who loved God and his family. It was my privilege to be part of a family who cared for each other well during this very difficult day. We cried together, hugged, and laughed. We made it safe for each person to mourn. In the face of a terrible loss that made no earthly sense, we declared as a family our faith, hope, and belief in God’s everlasting love.

Many folks get lost in questions when tragedy strikes. Why did this happen? How can I continue to live? If God loves us, why didn’t he change circumstances? Fear makes us question God’s heart. Being reminded of our vulnerability is scary. When Jesus started talking to the disciples about leaving them, they also felt vulnerable. Thomas in John 14:5 asked, “Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus gave Thomas the same answer he gave us yesterday. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Finding your way out of grief and questioning starts with moving toward Jesus. He wept at Lazarus’ death and begged Judas to come to him at the Last Supper. Take the hand Jesus offers. He will guide you to the Father’s heart where you’ll find all the answers you need.

Some of Joel’s siblings danced to a special song at the funeral. It lifted our hearts, reminding us God has promised to prepare a place for us and take us to be with him forever. Joel, I look forward to once again see your ready smile on the day I join you in heaven!

Trading My Sorrows by Darrell Evans

I'm trading my sorrows
I'm trading my shame
I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord

I'm trading my sickness
I'm trading my pain
I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord

We say
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord