Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Easter is a time for Christians to celebrate and recognize the core of our faith: The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. While I love Cadbury cream-filled eggs just as much as the next person (probably more), Easter is obviously about something much greater. In fact, Paul went so far as to say that if the resurrection didn’t happen, then the rest of our faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:17). So are there good reasons to place our hope in this event?

This Easter season I came across an article written by professional atheist and editor of Skeptic magazine Michael Shermer (read it here http://www.michaelshermer.com/2017/04/how-might-a-scientist-think-about-the-resurrection/). He’s not a fan of the resurrection. Let me be clear: I like Shermer. I follow him on Twitter, I find his personality winsome, his writing is clear (I disagreed with the theses of The Moral Arc and The Science of Good & Evil, but I thought they were interesting and helpful reads), and his approach as a public atheist is engaging (he is a former Evangelical, so he understands us 328476 times better than someone like Dawkins, who probably couldn’t find 2 Corinthians if he started in 1 Corinthians). That being said, I found his arguments against the central event of the Easter narrative unconvincing. Here’s why…

He first points out that “Jews and Muslims, along with the world’s other four billion religious people, do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.” While he admits that the truth of an event cannot be authoritatively determined simply by how many people believe it, he offers little else to support this argument. He basically says if there was good evidence for the resurrection, then more people would believe it. First of all, he’s assuming that all these other religious believers have heard about the resurrection and the evidence for it (arguably, most Christians haven’t even heard the best evidences for the resurrection). Many of these religious believers have not had the opportunity to hear the gospel at all, and you cannot actively reject what you’ve never heard. Second, since when have people believed true things based solely on the evidence? Shermer of all people should understand this. It is to his own great frustration that many people seem to believe things despite the lack of evidence. As fellow atheist Jonathan Haidt claims in his book The Righteous Mind, people mostly believe things on intuition, and later use their reasoning to justify what they had previously accepted on emotion.

His second point is, “resurrecting someone back to life who was truly dead would be one of the most unusual events to ever happen in history, given the fact that to date approximately 100 billion people have lived and died before us and not one of them has returned to life.” Um, yeah. I don’t know any Christian who would claim that the Resurrection of Jesus is normal or natural. A miracle, by its very definition, is not a common occurrence. He is pointing to an unusual event and saying it didn’t happen because it’s unusual. But that is not a good reason to assume it is false! One might even argue that every event is unique, as it is not exactly like any other event. The resurrection is improbable, but it is only impossible if there is no God. So in the end, this point goes back to the age-old debate of 1. Does God exist, and 2. Can He do miracles? Regardless of what David Hume might have claimed, these are not closed cases. You cannot assume that the very event you are questioning is false to make the case that it’s false. If the resurrection happened, it was a miracle. So the greater debate must go back to the possibility of miracles and the existence of God.

Shermer’s third point assumes the “principle of proportionality,” which states that the more extraordinary the claim the more evidence is needed to prove it is true. While this is a good rule for a courtroom (when lives and life sentences hang in the balance!), it is not a hard-and-fast rule about the truth of any event. People might need more evidence in order to believe such claims, but limited evidence does not change the truth of the event in question. Shermer is the one claiming the resurrection lacks evidence. There are many who not only see evidence for the resurrection, they see convincing evidence (see particularly the works of Mike Licona, Gary Habermas, and William Lane Craig). In the words of Blaise Pascal, “There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.”

Fourth, Shermer claims, “there are no reliable extra-biblical sources documenting Jesus’s resurrection.” He assumes that the Romans would have made extensive records of such an event. Maybe they did. Does any historian pretend to have all the ancient accounts of common executions? Crucifixions were common in the Roman empire, and although we think the events of Jesus’ life and death are important, this does not mean that the Romans themselves thought they were any more significant than an isolated religious disagreement among the Jewish people. Also, he casually uses a word like “reliable” to dismiss the evidence that is there (such as Josephus and Tertullian). Finally, why is it that skeptics continually dismiss the eye-witness accounts of the gospels themselves by requiring “extra-biblical” sources? This is like dismissing all the firsthand witnesses of a robbery from a courtroom so that you can rely on the testimony of those who heard the news secondhand. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (which virtually all New Testament scholars believe to be authentically written by Paul), Paul claims that over 500 witnesses, including the disciples, the skeptic James, and himself (who actively opposed the preaching of the resurrection) were witnesses who could verify the appearance of the risen Jesus.

Fifth, Shermer states, “the biblical sources we have for the resurrection are not dependable.” He notes that the gospel accounts were written several decades after the events they describe. However, people tend to remember the most significant events of their lives, even after many years have passed (ask a couple who has been married 50 years to describe their wedding day). Furthermore, the gospel accounts are not our earliest sources for the resurrection. First Corinthians 15:3-8 clearly lays out what the first believers were teaching, likely within 2 years of the actual events (Paul received this doctrinal creed sometime after his conversion and before he met with the other disciples, which means this teaching was passed down to him by those who were already preaching the resurrection immediately after the event happened). Shermer goes on to claim that perhaps the disciples (all 500 of them?) saw post-death apparitions of Jesus due to their grief. But hallucinations are not group phenomena, and Paul (who himself claims to have seen Jesus) was not in a state of grief at the time of his experience. Also, this fails to explain why the disciples, who had nothing to gain and everything to lose, would face persecution and certain death based on nothing more than a ghost citing. Finally, Shermer suggests that religious people may have added these miracles into the story years later in order to boost the credibility of their own faith. The problem is, as 1 Cor 15 again shows, these miracles were being taught immediately after the events.

Finally, Shermer notes that the Catholic Church teaches, “Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles’ encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history.” I’m not a Catholic, so I don’t feel the need to defend their doctrine. However, all this seems to be saying (after admitting there is evidence) is that the spiritual importance of the resurrection is far greater than simply an event in history. Indeed, Christians believe that this event carries with it a significance that goes beyond a basic recollection of unconnected historical events. The resurrection is central to our faith because of what it did. It gave us peace with God, removing the guilt of our sin so as to mend our broken relationship with our Creator. The spiritual significance of the resurrection is greater than anything recorded in a dusty old history book or dug up from the sand. Our spiritual salvation, while not the kind of “evidence” Shermer is looking for, is certainly the most real to us, as we experience it every day. The resurrection is not less than historical; it’s more.

Happy Easter everyone, we’ve got reasons to celebrate.

Driscoll1In case you haven’t heard, Mark Driscoll, the controversial speaker/author and pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle for the last 18 years, has resigned from his pastoral position in his church. Here are a few things that led up to this…

Driscoll has always been known to be blunt, outspoken, and oftentimes offensive when it comes to many things, but especially when speaking to men (or, as he would often put it, “Boys who shave.”). In a culture where the idea of biblical manhood has been all but totally disregarded, his voice (however vulgar at times) was a pleasant change. In fact, it appears that sometimes you have to speak with a certain degree of “shock value” in order to be heard. Seeing as though his church consisted of a large amount of young men, I’d say his target audience was listening. While most churches, even in the Bible Belt, are trying (and failing) to reach young men, Driscoll seemed to have their ears. Did he use crude and inappropriate language at times? Yes. But he also publicly apologized and repented of that on several occasions. The truth is, when you clean up as many messes as he had resulting from men acting like idiots, you have the right to “speak straight” with them.

Another point of controversy was the marketing strategy he used for the release of his book “Real Marriage,” in which enough copies were bought by inside sources to immediately put it on the New York Times bestsellers list. This was a form of manipulation, and he admitted as much in his open letter of apology (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/mark-driscoll-posts-open-letter-apology). Again, he admitted it was wrong, explained his misguided intentions in doing it, and has taken steps to try and fix what can be fixed of the problem.

Mark has also been accused of plagiarism in another of his books, which turned out to be a mistake and overlook in proper citation, as he often works on books in conjunction with others who help with research. Again, he has acknowledged this and apologized for it.

Perhaps what gets me the most, and what tipped the scales for Driscoll’s apparent downfall, is when his church leadership recently came to him accusing his leadership style of being too aggressive. This, I believe (and he has admitted), is indeed true. I don’t have a problem with their church leadership bringing concerns to the table and working them out. What I do have a problem with is the way the church community has handled this.

Rather than leaving things in the hands of the Mars Hill leadership, it seems as though the entire Christian community has jumped in to tear Driscoll apart. Lifeway pulled all but a couple of his co-authored books from their shelves. Why? What purpose does that serve? Is the content of these books heretical or inappropriate? Some might say there is some inappropriate content in his books. These people have obviously not read their Bibles, which contains enough violence, sex, and vulgarity to make a pretty gritty R-rated film, if it were to be all put on screen. The great thing about Driscoll’s books (and the Bible, for that matter!) is that they speak to real issues. Having read several books on marriage before getting married, I so appreciated flipping through his “Real Marriage” book to find a Christian writer who was not afraid to tackle questions that Christians are actually asking. This is often ground others fear to tread. Was it a little uncomfortable and crude at times? Yeah…but so is life. Anyway, back to Lifeway. To me, it seems like they are simply trying to avoid controversy by pulling any books that might align them as “supporters” of this man. To me, this is not only cowardly, but pointless. The same is true of the several places that canceled upcoming speaking gigs they had Driscoll billed for. It’s a display of looking out for oneself, rather than the content of what they will now be missing because of the cancelation.

All of that to say this: Why is it that we, as a Christian community, so love tearing down the ones we used to revere, just because they make a mistake? To be honest, it could have been a lot worse! The Mars Hill Leadership admitted that Mark was not found guilt of any kind of moral failing or illegality. It mostly comes down to a leadership style that left people with hurt feelings, frustrations, and a sense of being intimidated or bullied.

As a pastor, watching what is happening to Driscoll, I can say that I’m now even more scared to mess up. I don’t have the following he does (not by a long shot!), but what were to happen to me and my ministry if I were to make a mistake? Would Lifeway pull my books? (not that anyone would notice!) Would I be put out in the cold? Would people on the internet weigh in on me and call me a despicable false prophet? I’ll be honest, I am not innocent of expressing my disapproval of Christian leaders and teachers. At times, I’ve brought up men like Joel Osteen to address, what I think, is a seriously misguided reading of Scripture. But I try to deal with their ideas, not their person. I hope I never get into the business of character assassination. We all hate those political commercials that try to tear down the opponent, rather than deal with the real issues at hand, don’t we? So why have so many been so quick to jump on the “Out with Mark Driscoll” bandwagon?

Should Mark have been called out for his aggressive and insensitive leadership style? Absolutely. If those he is trying to lead are feeling this way, then this issue certainly needs to be addressed. I just wish we would have let them address it as a church, rather than bringing out the pitchforks and torches and getting thousands to join in on what should have been a private issue for Mars Hill leadership to deal with.

It saddens me to see Driscoll step down from a church he started from nothing 18 years ago. Let’s be honest: His church is reaching people that very few other churches are reading, and they’re doing it in a place that is notoriously secular and closed off to the gospel. If anything, I think we need more Driscolls who will have the courage to speak straight, even if people don’t want to hear it. I believe that the truth must always be spoken in love, but sometimes tough love can be a good thing. The audience Driscoll was speaking to seemed to think so to, and he was seeing results because of it.

So let’s all be slow to anger and to speak, and quick to listen and build up. Driscoll made it clear that he was not forced out of his leadership position, and I’m glad for that. I hope and pray that whatever he does next, he will learn from this and continue to allow God to shape his character and his leadership style. He’s definitely got some rough edges. But you know what? So do we.

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Did you see the news that Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris are splitting up? Sadly, it’s not surprising that another Hollywood couple is getting a divorce. Rarely do their relationships outlive the relationships of their on-screen characters. However, this break-up is different. In fact, let’s not even use the icky word “divorce.” Instead, let’s call it “Conscious Uncoupling.” Is that politically correct enough? What does that actually mean?

I don’t know Miss Paltrow, and while I have no ill will towards her, her life philosophy seems to be on some pretty shaky ground. Especially if it is based on anything written in this article (http://www.goop.com/journal/be/conscious-uncoupling?utm_source=goop+issue&utm_campaign=e01b658d69-A_Note_From_GP_3_25_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5ad74d5855-e01b658d69-1569350). Right below her “Conscious Uncoupling” announcement is arguably one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read in my life. Written by Dr. Habib Sadeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami (doctors of what, I wonder?) is a New Agey, evolutionary way to sanitize divorce. In short, it’s about as steaming as what our dogs left on the side of the road this morning (sorry for the mental picture!).

In this article, they try to describe why there is such a high divorce rate in our culture (typically cited as 50%). Their answer? We are living longer than our ancestors, and we have not evolved a sense of commitment to go along with our longer lifespans. That’s right. They tell us that our cave-men ancestors lived much shorter lives, and so it was easier to stay committed to a single relationship. However, now that we live longer, we basically get sick of each other and need to shake things up a bit (Hey, a guy’s got needs, right?). Therefore, our relationships must eventually come to an end, so that we may enjoy one or several more over the course of our lifetime. And this is OK, because that’s what evolution has made us to be. Thanks evolution, for again providing a shallow and ridiculous answer to one of our most important life questions.

They go on to make some metaphorical statements about why bugs didn’t evolve to take over the world because of their exoskeletons. Humans, however, are more flexible, and can therefore adapt easier. This is what we must now do with divorce, apparently. Of course, being soft on the outside also makes us more vulnerable to be hurt physically…and emotionally…blah blah blah. They also go on to say we should see our partners as our teachers, helping us to evolve into better, more “spiritual” (helloooooo New Age, Oprah spirituality!) beings. Thanks Dr. Sadeghi and Dr. Sami, but I just don’t buy it.

If you want to read the rest of this garbage, follow the link above and check it out for yourself.

I’m a newly married man (since June 15th), and so I would be foolish if I claimed to be anything but a rookie when it comes to marriage. I am heartbroken over the statistics, especially the fact that Christians seem to be getting divorced at the same rate as everyone else. I believe this has killed our credibility to speak into a culture that is struggling to figure out how real relationships work.

However, here are a couple things I’ve learned over the last several months. 1) Marriage is difficult and takes work 2) Marriage is totally worth it. What we don’t need is some sort of pseudo-scientific spirituality fluff that sticks the blame on evolution, thus allowing us to break free of our “till death do us part” commitments. In a culture that continues to struggle over understanding what marriage truly is, we need real answers based on solid foundations.

I know many will disagree with me, but I find that what God has spoken through His Scriptures is still the most solid basis for marriage you will find. Not just “one man and one woman for life,” but also “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church” and the entire born-again, Christ-centered, God-honoring, biblical worldview that comes with it. People are struggling in their marriages because they are struggling with all the other things the Bible tells us to do. Does this mean we throw in the towel and quit, blaming it on our long lives, of all things? Funny, I would think that most people who get divorced aren’t the 70-year-olds who have “outlived” their commitment, but rather those who simply gave up along the way.

Now, hear me out, I understand that we live in a broken world, and that divorce is sometimes a sad reality as part of our lives. There is definitely not a “one explanation fits all cases” when it comes to divorce. My heart loves and breaks for many friends of mine who have gone through this tragedy. However, just because the world (and Dr. Sami and Dr. S-whoever) sets the bar so low the ants can crawl over it, doesn’t mean that we must live that way. Instead of blaming evolution, or old age, or any other of the million scape-goats we could find, let’s just commit to live by a higher standard. We won’t all achieve it. In fact, chances are when you set the bar high you will fall more often than not. But let’s at least aim for it. Who knows? With God’s help, we may actually reach it.

I have never been a “Cat Person.” For as long as I can remember, I have been incredibly allergic to them, plus, they just always seemed a little stuck up to me. I prided myself on being a “Dog Person” over one of those “Cat People.” Well, that’s not entirely true. My roommate before getting married was a rabbit named Sir Nicholas. I guess I’m a “Rabbit Person” (whatever that means!). Then I married someone who loved her two dogs only slightly less than she loved me! So I quickly learned to become a “Dog Person” (I think it was part of our marriage contract). However, when we experienced a problem with rats getting into our home, we came up with the idea of getting an outdoor cat to guard the perimeter of our house. When Sarah drove to Pet Smart to purchase the appropriate supplies for caring for a feline security guard, there happened to be a man with a box of kittens in the parking lot. He had found the litter in his boat and was now seeking homes for the little orphans. A blonde, furry little face peered over the box and won Sarah’s heart (much faster than it took me to do, I might add!).

I decided that if we were going to become “Cat People” then we would at least have an AWESOME cat. We named him Thor, and set him up with his own little bachelor pad around the back of our house, with a full deck over his head and a fence for protection. The world was his playground, and he loved it! I’ll admit, he started to win me over every time we met. For starters, he would definitely be considered an extrovert! It would take all of 3 seconds for us to step outside before Thor would come scurrying around the corner to crawl up our legs and into our arms. Then he would purr, and not stop purring until we put him down. When we walked the dogs, Thor would follow along in the ditch. When we left the dogs in the back yard, Thor would play and tease them, often running up a tree in the nick of time. The dogs loved him. WE loved him. Then one day my aunt Gina (the female version of Dr. Doolittle) took a closer “inspection” and informed us that Thor was, in fact, A GIRL. We laughed, and changed her name to “Thoraline.”

Then one day she went missing. It happened after several days of extreme rainy weather, and we feared the worst. It was not like Thoraline to be gone, and every day we came home, we hoped to see her waiting for us at the top of the driveway as she had so many times before. Days became weeks, and our hearts continued to sink.

I wish I could say this story has a happy ending, but tonight we finally were given closure for our beloved pet. While walking our two dogs, I greeted a lady walking down the other side of the street. She asked about our dogs, and then asked a question that stopped me in my tracks. “Do you guys know anything about a little blonde cat?” After further description, I realized she was indeed talking about Thoraline. Apparently Thoraline had come up to her during her walk (being the “people person” she was) and this woman had not known where she had come from. Taking her first to our house and finding nobody home, she went door to door looking for its owner. Having no luck, she reluctantly brought her back to where she had found her. The next day the storms came, and a couple days later, again on her walk, our neighbor found Thoraline. She had been hit by a car.

Heartbroken, and still not knowing who this animal belonged to, our neighbor tearfully wrapped Thoraline up, brought her to her own home, and respectfully buried her in her own garden. While the shock of this set in, the “chance meeting” crystallized in my heart as not “chance” at all. For weeks we had been haunted by thoughts of the worst possible scenarios. I had worried about predators dragging our cat into the woods behind our home. We had prayed for weeks for God to give us answers. The truth was bad, but not as bad as my imagination. God had allowed our questions to be answered by a neighbor I had never previously met. As she emotionally told me how sorry she was, I thanked her for her kindness, and walked back up the driveway to our home.

Animals are funny. I think God created us with a certain love to be expressed and received by the animals He allows us to care for. It’s not by accident that God surrounded Adam with animals in the Garden. While ultimately humanity shares a bond with each other that cannot be found anywhere else, for us “Dog People” or “Cat People” or (dare I say) “Rabbit People,” our pets become part of the family. They give us experiences that strengthen our bonds together, and when it’s their time to go, it hurts. A lot.

God gave us a little cat that won the heart of the most unlikely “Cat Dad,” and blessed Sarah and I with some sweet memories in our first year of marriage. Thoraline didn’t live long, but she left a mark on a couple of human hearts. She also did the unthinkable. She made this guy a “Cat Person,” and she will be sorely missed.

RIP Thoraline.

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2013 in the Rear-View Mirror…

Posted: January 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

Well, it has been a long time since posting a blog! I thought looking back on 2013 might be an appropriate way to re-enter the wonderful world of blogging. Below are what I consider the top 10 highlights for me of 2013, in no particular order (except #1). This was a good year, and God did some incredible things. Sometimes, it’s just good to look back before you move forward. So here it goes…

1. Getting married to Sarah Elisa Bernard. This definitely ranks as my #1. Though the story is much too long to recount here, I could not have asked for any better. Sarah is the Robin to my Batman (actually, she’s more like Batman and I’m more like Robin…). She is the perfect compliment to me and I already forget what life was like without her. What an incredible thing to have her show me a list of “Future Husband” qualities (and not the shallow kind, mind you) she wrote while in college and realize that I meet all of them (except “athletic” and “southern gentleman” haha!), with obvious room for improvement of course! Although I never made such a list, she is exactly everything I should have put down. I prayed a lot about who my future wife would one day be, and as Pastor Larry Lawrence says, “God always chooses best for those who let God do the choosing.” Amen to that, brother.

2. Writing and publishing my second book. For someone who never dreamed (or even desired!) to be an author, this has been a unique blessing. What a privilege to take the iconic Experiencing God principles of my grandfather and (with the help of brother Daniel and uncle Tom) put them into a book for teenagers. My goal is to see it sell 10,000 copies. Last word I got showed that we were getting somewhat close to that. If God uses that book to change the life of even one teenager, it was worth the many (often grueling!) hours writing it. If you’re interested in helping us reach that 10,000 goal, go here… http://www.amazon.com/Seven-Steps-Knowing-Doing-Experiencing/dp/1433679833/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388869989&sr=8-1&keywords=mike+blackaby

3. Signing a 3rd book contract. The process that resulted in #2 above is well underway again! This time I have the privilege in writing with my dad and my uncle/pastor/boss Mel. It’s an apologetics book that I hope and pray will be useful to those who are seeking a relationship with God for the first time or who have difficult questions regarding faith. A goal for 2014 is to finish the darn thing!

4. Finishing my 4th semester of PhD work. For a guy who needed his dad to convince him to take a 4 year bachelor degree after high school because “I can’t see myself being in school for another 4 years!”, this is an accomplishment! It has been difficult, and has shown me time and time again that there is nothing that God calls you to do that He won’t also equip you to accomplish.

5. Celebrating Cafe on Main’s 3 year anniversary. On Thursday, Sept 9, 2010 we took an old cafe on Main Street in Jonesboro and desired it to become a place where young adults could come and find community and experience God. To date (although I haven’t counted the total visitor cards in a while), we’ve had over 300 college-aged young adults come through our doors for the first time. We’ve had church kids, gang members, druggies, college students, felons, atheists, missionaries and everything in between. We’ve had people from Cambodia, Africa, Honduras, Haiti, Canada, Vietnam, Mexico, Greece, and many other places from around the world. We have rearranged the place, built a sound booth, built a new coffee bar, painted the walls, hosted concerts, and served our community for the Jonesboro Christmas parade. To say that I love this place would vastly understate my feelings about it. Related to this, what a blessing to see 60+ young adults fill the home of our pastor’s house for the annual Christmas party, many of them having first connected to our church through Cafe on Main.

6. Preaching my 201st sermon. Though I am currently at 253, this number is significant. On May 25, 2003, Mel Blackaby stepped aside and allowed his 17 year old nephew to preach his first sermon. On July 11, 2011 he did it again (this time in Georgia instead of Canada!) and allowed me to preach my 101st sermon. On February 17, 2013, he again let me stand behind his pulpit to preach #201. Whenever #301 approaches, I’ll be sure to let him know.

7. Seeing my sister Carrie get engaged. For one thing, it allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief that I at least beat my baby sister to the altar! For another, what a special time to see God complete our family by adding the last piece of the puzzle (“Until grandchildren!” I can already hear my mother say…). Sam Camp has been my right-hand man ever since I came to Jonesboro and is a HUGE reason why #5 on this list ever happened. If I could have hand-picked who I wanted my baby sister to marry, it would have been him (actually, I believe it was him who I had in mind!).

8. Preaching alongside Francis Chan in Maui. While technically I’m not sure he was even in the same room when I preached, we were at least listed alongside each other as conference speakers! To meet him afterwards and tell him personally that God used his message at Passion Conference the year before to set our ministry goal for 2013 was a great honor! For the record, he comes up to about my shoulder, but man can he communicate!

9. Taking 30+ young adults on a mission trip. What a joy to go into the most culturally diverse part of Atlanta and lead after-school programs for kids right there in their apartment complexes. I felt like a proud parent watching our young people (some of them new Christians) spread their wings and let God use them in amazing ways. Also got to watch 3 of these young men eat the hottest pepper in the world, and I don’t know that I’ve laughed that hard before OR since!

10. Taking a 4-week swing dance class. Ok, sometimes it’s just good to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Especially when your fiance asks you to…

BONUS. Going on a 7 day cruise for our Honeymoon. I guess technically this goes along with #1. However, this was the perfect honeymoon (even though I had a cold, stomach flu, and pink eye during the course of it!). Going to Harry Potter World in Orlando, eating at Rainforest Cafe on Downtown Disney, cruising with Royal Caribbean, driving a jet ski in Haiti, etc. all with my new bride was the perfect way to let loose after many months of wedding planning. If I could, I’d make honeymoon’s (specifically on cruise ships) an annual thing…

So 2013 was a pretty good year. I’m reminded over and over again how good God is. The more I walk with Him the more I see how undeserving I am that He would walk with me. I’m not sure what all lies ahead in 2014. I’m currently in the process of thinking and praying through a list of goals for this next year. All I know is life as a Christ-follower is always an adventure, and as the great J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Happy New Year!

A Friendly Reminder

Posted: August 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

Wow, it has been forever since I’ve posted a blog! Many of the thoughts I might have written have actually been going into a book I am currently writing with my father and uncle (called “Discovering God: A Conversation about Faith, Truth, and Stuff that Really Matters”). However, a recent experience seemed like the perfect story to share. So here it is…

Do you ever get to times in life where you just need a little reminder that God cares and that He is watching out for you? Although I think God is constantly at work in and around our lives, we often miss it. However, every now and then we get a clear message that says “Don’t worry, I’m looking out for you.”

Ever since our wedding in June, Sarah and I have tried to be as “cost-conscious” as we can (apparently weddings aren’t cheap!). When several dishes arrived in the mail from Macy’s, we discovered they had broken in the shipping process. A couple weeks ago, we finally got around to taking them back to the store in order to exchange them for non-broken ones (those dishes always seem to work so much better!). We also grabbed a $50 Macy’s gift card we had been given, so that Sarah could get a back-to-school outfit for her first day back (she teaches 5th grad math, I guess opposites really do attract!).

When we got there, the process involved returning the dishes and getting a full refund put on a gift card. Then, we would just re-purchase replacement dishes with that card. However, because of the back-to-school weekend sales they were having, everything in the store was 20% off, and so the customer service lady graciously gave us the discount. This meant that when we bought our dishes back, we ended up with $12.62 still on our card. On to the dress section!

As I sat in the waiting area, letting Sarah try on her selection of dresses, me and another tag-along kept blissful silence between us as we engaged in man’s best friend: the iphone. Occasionally, his girlfriend would come out and model some clothing, to which he would say, “Looks good baby.” Then Sarah would come out and model a dress, to which I would reply “I like it, let’s go.” Eventually, she narrowed it down to “The One” (a title I had previously reserved for myself!) and we went to pay (I’m not sure when the other guy finally got to leave!).

Now, Sarah has the spiritual gift of “frugality.” She saves money better than anyone I have ever met (which is good, because I spend money about as fast as she saves it!). She had shopped around to find the dress she really wanted, and once all the discounts had been put into place (including a coupon she had on her phone), the dress came out really cheap! “Oh wait,” said the clerk, “let me put in the 20% store-wide discount. That brings your total to…$12.62.” Sarah and I just laughed. She looked down at the $50 gift card, and then to me. “On to the shoes!” Needless to say, we came out of there with a dress and shoes, and still about $3 on our gift card. God provides for your needs, and we really needed that confirmation.

A few days later…

“Our new dishes came…but some of them are broken again.” Sarah informed me, before her eyes lit up. Looks like we’ll have to make another trip to Macy’s, who knows what might happen this time?

Let this encourage you that if you put your time and energy into serving God and being obedient to everything He has called you to do, He will look out for your needs. I’m not saying He’ll make you rich and famous, but He will provide for your needs. Sometimes I forget that, and it’s nice to get a friendly reminder.

The Game misses The Gospel

Posted: December 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

the_game_rapI recently found out rapper The Game now publicly claims to be a Christian.

Now, it is important not to judge too quickly when it comes to celebrities “finding religion.” As it is often quoted (usually out of context), Christians are not supposed to judge at all.

That isn’t true.

1 Corinthians 5:12 says “For what is it to me to judge outsiders? Do you not judge those who are inside? But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves.” We, as Christians, are supposed to judge those inside the church. Obviously, the final judgement of a person’s soul is given by God, and we are all in the same boat there. But we are not called to simply accept sin in a person’s life without question (i.e. what culture today calls “tolerance”). Now, does this mean we should go around being jerks to people? Of course not. It does, however, mean that you care enough about your fellow brothers and sisters to call them out if need be. Let’s just say, if I was walking towards a cliff and didn’t realize it, I would want somebody to say something! It wouldn’t need to be “You’re walking towards a cliff, you stupid idiot!” but I sure wouldn’t mind someone coming alongside me in love and saying “Mike, there are some things in your life that worry me, because I think they will ultimately hurt you in the end.” There are different ways to judge the fruit of someone’s life, and it doesn’t take a genius to know which way gives Christians a bad reputation.

That being said, what did The Game actually claim? In a radio interview, he explained his upcoming album “Jesus Piece” (which will be released on Dec 11) like this: “I’m calling it ‘Jesus Piece’ ’cause last year in August I got baptized and so I’ve been going to church, but I still been kinda doing me out here. I still love the strip club and I still smoke and drink. I’m faithful to my family, so I wanted to make an album where you could love God and be of God, but still get it poppin’ in your life.” He believes he has a special message that may connect to people in his shoes. He continues, “‘Jesus Piece’ gives me an opportunity to speak about situations that people like me who love God but are still street and still wanna remain themselves…”

Jesus PieceThe new album’s controversial artwork features a depiction of Jesus as a gang member. Needless to say, he has come under some criticism. In response to those who have questioned his faith claims, he said, “I don’t want to feel like I can’t love God or appreciate Jesus and have to put down that blunt. I want to smoke, maybe shower up, then go to church. Get the word, walk out of church, maybe smoke again, maybe hit up a strip club or two and do me, but I don’t want to be ridiculed.”

So what should we think about all this? The Game is certainly not the first celebrity to claim allegiance to Jesus in the public sphere. In fact, recently Angus T. Jones (the kid from the show “Two and a Half Men”) recently made it public that he has committed himself to the Seventh Day Adventist church, calling “Two and a Half Men” (America’s long-running #1 comedy) “filth” and urging people not to watch it. Rapper DMX was recently ordained as a deacon and hopes to put out a gospel album this Christmas. So are these people legit?

Only time will tell, but there often seems to be little by way of understanding the gospel when celebrities use the public spotlight to promote their personal beliefs. It is not uncommon for celebs to thank Jesus in acceptance speeches or in liner notes of their latest album. In this sense, the spotlight can be both a blessing and a curse. It gives you the world as your platform when you are trying to figure out your new faith as a spiritual infant. When Brian “Head” Welch (formerly of the band Korn) gave his life to Christ, it was an incredible moment for him. As with most new believers, he was excited to tell everyone! The problem was, he began speaking about things he didn’t quite have a full grasp on. He had the basics, and he had zeal, but he wasn’t ready to be a public spokesperson to his former world quite yet. Can anyone think of a more antagonistic subculture to faith than the entertainment industry?

The Game seems to have some sort of belief in God. The question becomes, “What is the gospel by which one must be saved?” The Bible certainly doesn’t say you have to clean yourself up before coming to Christ. The whole point of the gospel is that you can’t do that, which is why you need help! However, Jesus was very clear on what it meant to be His follower. He said, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matt 16:24) This means that you can’t choose to add Jesus into your life and then continue living in your sin. How can The Game justify going to the strip clubs while also following Jesus?

We must be careful not to turn the gospel into moralism or legalism, that says you must act a certain way to be a Christian. However, someone who believes they can follow Christ and yet make no lifestyle changes does not understand repentance. To follow someone means you have to leave other stuff behind. Picking up your cross does not mean encasing it with gold and hanging it around your neck as you indulge in sin. It doesn’t mean glorifying sin in your music and throwing out racial slurs and curses. It means a radical release of one’s life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. If we miss that, we miss the gospel. Jesus did not die for us so that we could embrace the very things that drove Him to the cross. The Game seems to desire a relationship with God. Pray that he discovers the beauty and freedom of releasing everything to the Lordship of Christ. May we do the same.

What do you think of when you hear the term “Satanist?” You might imagine a group of people dressed in black robes, wearing pentagrams around their necks, offering a human sacrifice to the lord of the underworld (while, of course, listening to heavy metal…). It might surprise you, then, to see that modern-day Satanist actually have more in common with atheists than they do ancient pagans. Let me start by giving you some background on a very disturbed individual…

Anton Szandor LaVey never really fit in with those around him. He didn’t play nicely with the other kids, and he always seemed to stand out. He was born in Chicago in 1930, but eventually moved with his family to San Francisco. He became enthralled with dark literature such as Dracula and Frankenstein, and learned of many superstitions from his Eastern European grandmother. He possessed extraordinary musical ability, and would later earn an income playing the organ. It was here that he began to notice the hypocrisy of many Christians. Under the name “The Great Szandor,” he would play the organ at carnivals on Saturday nights, and then for tent evangelists Sunday mornings. This is how he describes those experiences:

On Saturday night I would see men lusting after half-naked girls dancing at the carnival, and on Sunday morning when I was playing the organ for tent-show evangelists at the other end of the carnival lot, I would see these same men sitting in the pews with their wives and children, asking God to forgive them and purge them of carnal desires. And the next Saturday night they’d be back at the carnival or some other place of indulgence. I knew then that the Christian Church thrives on hypocrisy, and that man’s carnal nature will out!”

From there, LaVey would go on to become a part-time investigator of alleged supernatural phenomena. What he found was that most situations had a natural explanation, but people were inclined to believe the supernatural. People would often rather believe the “other worldly” explanation than the reasonable one. This further moved him away from the belief in any form of religious supernaturalism.

LaVey eventually gathered together an inner circle of like-minded individuals, and in 1966, on the last night of April (Walpurgisnacht, the most important festival for believers in witchcraft), LaVey shaved his head and declared 1966 as year one, Anno Satanas (the first year of the age of Satan). The Church of Satan was thus founded, and has since included personalities such as Sammy Davis Jr., Marilyn Manson, and Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio.

What few people actually realize about Satanism is that it is a purely atheistic and materialistic worldview. They do not believe in God or the devil. In fact, they took “Satan” (which, in Hebrew, means “Adversary”) as a symbol of anti-religion. Just as Satan is the traditional opposition to God, so also does he now represent a movement in opposition to all supernatural religions. Where the Bible teaches such things as turning the other cheek, abstinence from sin, kindness to those who don’t deserve it, selflessness, and the exclusive worship of God, in Satanism’s “Nine Statements” they support the complete opposite. Man is an animal, and so his highest goal is the pursuit of selfish pleasure. The church, in scaring people away from Satan, has tricked the masses into fleeing their natural desires to seek refuge in their sanctuaries. LaVey saw it as his mission to free people from this oppression.

So how, you may ask, is Satanism like atheism? There are several similarities…

1. They don’t believe in the supernatural. This is one of the primary soap boxes that modern-day atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet preach from constantly! They say that we are now beneficiaries of “The Enlightenment” which showed us how foolish it is to believe in the supernatural. In fact, both Satanists (see #7 of the Nine Satanic Statements) and atheists (see Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea) insist that there is no fundamental difference between us and the animals. They say that we are simply highly evolved animals. It should come as no surprise that atheistic sexual ethics are becoming more and more like those held by Satanists. Satanism “…encourages any form of sexual expression you may desire, so long as it hurts no one else.” (Satanic Bible, pg 69) Influential atheist ethicist Peter Singer has come under controversy for claiming sex between humans and animals, although considered taboo, presents no ethical prohibitions as long as the animal is not hurt. It seems extreme, and most atheists will likely disagree with Singer, but it shows the dangerous places you could theoretically go when you abandon the biblical distinction between humans and animals, and Satanism and atheism both share this belief.

2. They believe that self is the ultimate authority. When you do away with the existence of God, you are left with no ultimate authority besides yourself. In The Satanic Bible, LaVey writes: “The Satanist feels: ‘Why not really be honest and if you are going to create a god in your image, why not create that god as yourself?’ Every man is a god if he chooses to recognize himself as one. So, the Satanist celebrates his own birthday as the most important holiday of the year.” (pg 96) On the atheist side, Richard Dawkins claims “…that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other.” (The God Delusion, pg 72) Dawkins insists that if God exists, He should be explainable through science alone. But what does this say? It says, “If God exists, he must be explainable in a way that I can understand.” When we can understand something it gives us power over it. Dawkins will not admit that there may be a God that we cannot fully comprehend. In this way, atheists promote themselves as God. In both Satanism and atheism, the human individual ultimately occupies the place of god.

3. When we are the ultimate authority, then we determine our own ethics. If God does not exist, then who becomes the authority on ethics? We do. Without God, we are left to determine our own ethics. For the Satanist, nothing is greater than the pursuit of pleasure. LaVey writes, “The FLESH prevaileth and a great Church shall be builded, consecrated in its name. No longer shall man’s salvation be dependent on his self-denial. And it will be known that the world of the flesh and the living shall be the greatest preparation for any and all eternal delights!” (Satanic Bible, pgs 23-24) Ethicists like Peter Singer are “Utilitarians” who believe in maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain for the greatest number of people. Indeed, if there is no God, and all we have is this physical life, then why waste time in pursuit of the spiritual? Why not engage in the physical pleasures available to you? Unless you borrow from Christian morality (which atheism almost always does), you are left with nothing to determine your morality except the pursuit of pleasure over pain.

4. They are both strongly opposed to religion.

This is perhaps the greatest similarity between the two. One of the biggest themes running through the Satanic Bible is a disdain for religion. Modern-day atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens have been anything by subtle over their thoughts on religion. Whether it is claiming that religion is child-abuse (Hitchens, God is Not Great, chapter 16, Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, chapter 9) or holding rallies specifically to “ridicule and show contempt for faith” (http://content.usatoday.com/communities/Religion/post/2012/03/-atheists-richard-dawkins-reason-rally/1#.UDfn6ER9kzo), today’s atheists have made it clear that they are against religion in all its manifestations.

So, why do I draw attention to the similarities between Satanism and atheism? Simply to say that it should come as no surprise that the biblical adversary to the Christian faith would have his name attached to a cult that ultimately reflects the polar opposite of faith. People cringe when they think of Satanism but are a little more understanding when they hear “atheism.” However, when you strip away the scary rituals and dark robes, the two are essentially the same at the worldview level. They both deny the existence of God (or anything supernatural), they see humanity as the ultimate authority, they are Darwinian in their ethics, and they both oppose religion. The Bible is clear that there is a spiritual world that is very real, and it only has two sides (Ephesians 6:10-17). If you reject God, you inadvertently side with the devil. So which side are you on?

In the wake of such a headline disaster as the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, it seems absurd the amount of attention comments made by Dan Cathy of Chick Fil A have received. But this should come as no surprise, given what a hot button issue same-sex marriage has become. Not long ago, Kirk Cameron came under fire for supporting the biblical definition of marriage (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhGQUKoH_TE). The funny thing is that his comments were completely in line with what he has said all along. The real shock would be if Cameron (or Cathy) came out and said “I support homosexual marriage, even though it goes against my biblical standard of morality.” But that’s not what either one of them said, and yet the controversy has exploded. My question is, “What did people expect these men to say, and why are they so outraged and surprised that they said what they did?”

Here is what Dan Cathy actually said: “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.” (http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=38271) This was in response to a comment about his support of traditional family, to which Dan replied “Guilty as charged.”

Yes, those are the comments that have lit up Facebook! They have even driven Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to say this: “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values. They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.” (http://www.suntimes.com/news/13988905-418/emanuel-goes-after-chick-fil-a-for-boss-anti-gay-views.html)

Actually, Mr. Mayor, your city is split down the middle on the same-sex marriage issue, with an equal 42% opposed and 42% in favor (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-08-16/news/ct-met-poll-same-sex-marriage-20100816_1_civil-unions-gay-marriage-legal-rights). Now let’s look at what Dan Cathy actually said (remembering that he was not expressing all the values that Chick Fil A abides by, which are far more numerous than this one issue, and with which few people would likely take issue). They are 1) Supportive of the biblical definition of family 2) A family-owned business 3) A family-led business 4) Married to their first wives 5) Thankful to God.

So apparently the people of Chicago are not in favor or support of family owned/led business, the biblical definition of family, staying married to your first wife, or being thankful to God. Seems like a little bit of a stretch for the mayor to make such statements (of course, I could be wrong, and maybe he took the time to poll everyone). I know, I know,  the outrage is more against the underlying beliefs behind what Cathy said, rather than what he actually said. But seriously, folks, are you going dig in to the personal beliefs of every privately-owned business you come across, just in case they have different personal views than you? You have the right to boycott anything you want, but when someone like, oh, I don’t know…the mayor of Boston…uses his position of power to try and boycott a business from his city, it has become too personal. Honestly, I don’t support many things that Starbucks does, but I enjoyed a frappuccino from there two days ago and didn’t spit it out and scream “Tastes like liberalism!” If you’re going to boycott Chick Fil A, why not boycott all Christian owned businesses? Of course, you’ll have to do a lot of research first, and you might seriously limit some of your options for where to shop! You’ll just have to hope their CEOs do some of the work for you and make a public statement that can be blown way out of proportion!

In the end, the great thing about America is that we can disagree and work these things out in a democracy. If people are in favor of same-sex marriage, then it will likely get voted in to more states than the few where it is currently legal. If not, however, then one hopes the decision will be made by the people, and not by angry advocate groups who become outraged over the comments of a business man, who has never made any secret of where his moral standards come from. Now stop slinging mud at each other (especially if you’re the mayor of a city), and go buy a chicken sandwich with extra pickles (or not, that’s your choice). As for me, I have a hankering for a peach milkshake right now…

Written by Lynn Dove*

I have always loved the children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could”.  I loved the pluck and spunk of that little engine with the “I think I can, I think I can” attitude.  Love underdogs!  I love the idea that despite all odds and being the smallest and definitely not the strongest, this little engine succeeded when all the other bigger engines failed because he believed in his heart he could do it!

What’s that got to do with me, you say?  Well, in 2009 I published my first book, Shoot the Wounded, a young adult contemporary Christian fiction that has spawned two other books, Heal the Wounded and my latest release Love the Wounded  (The Wounded Trilogy).  The books delve deep into the real world of teenagers trying to live out their faith in the midst of upset and struggle.  The books have garnered much praise and attention for their sensitivity towards social issues such as teen pregnancy, gossip, bullying and cancer and the books are listed as resources on one of the largest anti-bullying websites in the world: www.bullying.org   They have won awards and 5 star reviews, and teenagers and parents alike are buying and reading the books in numbers I never imagined.

But the books were almost never written…

I wrote Shoot the Wounded nearly fifteen years ago.  It started out as a short story, something I just plucked away at for a weekend writing,  but 100 pages later I realized it was not a “short” story any more.  I added a bit more to the manuscript now and then, not sure what it was that was driving the effort because I never planned on doing anything more with it than tucking it away for my eyes only to see.

Then life happened.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and it was a two year battle where everything I was doing before basically went “on hold” until I was healthy again.  I was just starting to grow back all my hair that I had lost after chemo, when God called me to seminary and also to be Minister to Children at my home church in Cochrane.  My daughter got married.  Life was full and busy.  I graduated from the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary with my Master of Religious Education degree in 2007 and one day as I was cleaning out all the “old” files on my computer I came across the then untitled Shoot the Wounded manuscript, collecting computer “dust” you might say and I almost hit the delete button…

My husband, Charles stopped me.  “Why don’t you finish that story and do something with it?” he said.

That led me on a writing/publishing journey that has now culminated into the recent release of Love the Wounded (May 30, 2012), third and final book of the Wounded Trilogy.

There were many ups and downs, seemingly endless hills to climb on this writing journey…times I felt just like the little engine that could…but with the help of God and MANY mentors and supporters of my efforts all along the way (including MANY members of the Blackaby clan I must say!) I puffed my way up those hills with an “I think I can” attitude.  When there were days when my thoughts were: “I DON’T think I can anymore”, and I felt weak and worn out from the effort, it was then that I could feel all those encouragers God had placed in my path helping to push me up and over those mountains!

God is using the message in my books to encourage students who are victims of bullying.  My books, written from a Christian world-view perspective are reaching out to teens and adults who need to know that they are not alone…God is always there for them.  My writing has become a ministry and I am humbled God would use me and my books to spread His message of Hope to the nations in this way.  I have an extensive following on my two blogs: Journey Thoughts (Winner of a 2011 Canadian Christian Writing Award) and Word Salt (a blog for those called by God to write).  Blogs I would never, ever have even thought to write had it not been for publishing my first book.

I don’t know where this “track” I’m on will continue to take me but with God and all my encouragers beside me, I’m pretty sure it will be a great ride!

*This interview is borrowed from my brother’s blog “Imagination’s Underground Railroad” (https://danielblackaby.wordpress.com/)