Friday, November 13, 2020

Home is calling

Remember that movie about the animals who amazingly found their way home after thinking they had been abandoned by their owners? They survive the dangerous mountain terrain, ferocious wildlife, and several other dangers but made it home! It’s been made and remade and recently I confirmed that the movies were based on actual events.

The instinct to return home is so powerful. There is something about the security, love, and belonging of home that calls us back, even through dangers and troubles.

Church leaders have been wringing their hands with worry at church buildings that have gone from maximum capacity to 50%, and that’s a generous estimate. We know many have been watching from afar online, but we’re concerned. Will those unable to attend in-person find their way back home, whenever that will be?

I believe they will. There’s something about home that calls us back. The faces, the voices, the communion, the passing of the peace – these are calling out to our spiritual instincts leading us back to our spiritual home. I long for that day.

But we also know that whenever people wander there will inevitable be those who forget. There will be those who get lost. There will be some who have trouble remembering the comfort and peace and security that church should be and, in most cases, is.

Pandemic or not, people do tend to wander. And even before these days of masks and quarantines, the wandering had begun.

Jesus told a story about a young man who wandered. The man prematurely took his father’s inheritance and went to a far country where he thought he could find something better than home. And for a while, he thought he did. He lived the life he dreamed of, but before long he woke up and realized it was really a nightmare. His instincts kicked in and he remembered home. What he thought was oppressive was really liberating. What he thought was restrictive was really freeing. In his wanderings he came to know that home was the place he was looking for, and he decided to come back. He really didn’t know if he would be received back, but, to his surprise, his return was not only accepted but celebrated. The father had been waiting for him all along.

Home won the day.

Jesus told that story to remind us all that no wanderer has wandered too far. He told that story to remind us that home is always calling us back. Jesus told that story to remind us to follow our spiritual instincts and come back to the place where security, love, and belonging is found.

Maybe you have wandered. Maybe you’ve gotten lost. Maybe you’ve have felt abandoned. Maybe you’ve been lured away by what you thought would be better. No matter the reason, there is a path back home. And, like the wandering son in Jesus’s story, your return will be celebrated.

Home is calling you back.


Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Outwit, Outplay, Outlast

Over the pandemic I reunited with an old friend – Survivor. That’s right, the father of all reality shows and I had been apart for several years when the shutdown brought us back together. I had faithfully watched the first few seasons, but, as it is with many relationships, we drifted away over the years.

I really don’t want to confess how many seasons I’ve watched and since streaming mindless television episodes is not on many people’s list of virtues, I figured I needed to redeem that time with some spiritual application – so here it is.

The premise of Survivor is to gather 20 or so people on some remote location and let them fend for themselves as they systematically vote each other out of the game until there are only 3 left. Those 3 are then voted on by those they had cast out to determine who will win the title of “sole survivor” and the check for one million dollars.  The climax of the season is the final “tribal council” when host Jeff Probst collects all the votes. But instead of revealing the winner then and there, Jeff walks off screen after telling the 3 anxious finalists that the results will be revealed when they are all back in the States for the live season finale. That gap is at least 6 months.

For 6 months the winner has been determined, but not revealed. For 6 months someone is sure to be a millionaire, but no check is cut. For 6 months victory has been determined, but the celebration is delayed. There is a gap between the victory and the celebration.

We are living in the gap.

Christian, the votes have been cast and good has been confirmed the run-a-way winner. Through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, Satan and all his evil minions have been defeated. It turned out that it really wasn’t even a contest. The devil has been voted off and his destiny is set – the Lake of Fire.

The dilemma is that even though victory has been secured the winner has not been publicly revealed. There is a gap between victory and celebration and during that gap the Devil is still creating doubts in our minds that he has a chance. Since he knows he’s going down he wants to take as many of us with him. That’s how he is. He’s always been that way. He’s always tried to rob victory from us.

But know this - Satan has been defeated and his fate is sure.  As wily as he is, he has been outplayed, outlasted, and outwitted.

We are living in the gap between victory and celebration but don’t doubt that one day the gap will come to a close. One day we will all be gathered together as the final pronouncement is made. One day the Producer will give the orders.

Dim the lights. Cue the celebration music. Set off the fireworks. Release the confetti. Read the results. Good Wins!


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The NIV Study Bible Review

We are living in a world of mobile Bibles and on-line research. As a minster I have my fair share of Bibles on my devices and, I admit it, I’ll “google” a biblical question every now and then. And I’m thankful for these tools, I really am. But every student of the Bible needs to know the limitations of mobile Bibles and the potential dangers of on-line research. Every student of the Bible needs some reliable tools to dig deep into the biblical text and NIV Study Bible, Fully Revised Edition is without a doubt one of those tools. This study Bible contains the entire text of the Bible with study tools that will get you well on your way to a deeper understanding of the text and a more meaningful application of its truths.

Here are some valuable qualities of this edition:

  • The translation is the New International Version which continues to be my go-to translation. Among the many excellent English translations of the Bible, the NIV has set the standard for textual accuracy and readability. The font is very readable. This may be a concern for aging eyes, but I had no trouble reading the text. The pages are sturdier than I anticipated.
  • Each page of text has a wealth of cross references in the classic middle column style and more than sufficient foot notes offering explanation of the text. I have found these to be fair and insightful and they are all right there – no need to shuffle through other reference books. The researchers for these notes are top-notch scholars. I was privileged to study under one of the contributors whom I’m sure is representative of the scholarship and faithfulness of the group. I am familiar with many of the other contributors through their independent writings.
  • The volume is replete with helpful charts, maps, archaeological notes, and historical references that would take you hours to find on your own.
  • Each book has introductory notes and an outline. These are very well done. Additionally, each section of Scripture has a brief introduction.
  • Maps, indices, tables, and a surprisingly extensive concordance round out the volume.
  • This may not be the most important quality of this work, but the photography and color are simply stunning! I have an older NIV Study Bible that was printed in all black and white. It does the job, but this volume is beautiful to look at!

The downsides to this Bible are all related to its very nature. Before buying just know that you are purchasing a study Bible.

  • It’s big. Almost 2500 pages.
  • The footnotes and cross references are a smaller font. I struggle a little with the size (I’m almost 60). I do believe there is a Large Print edition.
  • The footnotes take up to half the content of some pages which distract somewhat from the readability of the volume. This is not ideal for yearly reading plans.

In all, the NIV Study Bible is a valuable addition to your library. I do not hesitate to recommend and even encourage it to anyone who is looking for a study resource. It takes the place of several resources and it can be trusted for its faithfulness to the inspiration and authority of scripture – not what you’ll always find on an internet search engine.

As a preaching and teaching minister, I will keep it in a prominent spot on my desk and anticipate turning to it frequently.


Available for purchase at the  Faith Gateway Store and other online retail locations.

I received this Bible for free as a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid for the purposes of writing this review. #BibleGatewayPartner






Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Even if ...

I’ve been reading and teaching through the book of Daniel the last few weeks. What a great book. If you’re looking for something to read and need a suggestion, I recommend Daniel.

He lived about 600 years before Christ and was among the faithful Jewish people of his day. When the Holy City Jerusalem was overthrown, he and many other Jews were exiled from Jerusalem to faraway Babylon, a land of idolatry and paganism. He found himself spiritually in the minority and on more than one occasion was challenged to compromise his faith. Yet, time after time he proves himself loyal to God. At great personal peril, Daniel stands up to more than one king and, as we all know, even manages to escaped unscathed from the lion’s den – the punishment meted out to anyway who dared to pray to anyone but the king.

Daniel is the epitome of a person standing firm in their faith in a hostile culture. And hasn’t that been the challenge for believers of all ages? I know it is in ours.

But Daniel is not alone. There are at least three others who shared this same faithful determination that Daniel demonstrated. Their names were Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego. They, like Daniel, faced a spiritual dilemma. The king commanded everyone to worship an idol he had set up or otherwise be thrown into a fiery furnace. They simply said “no”, and for their faithfulness were brought to the door of the fiery furnace. There, the king gave them a chance to recant. With the heat the furnace bearing down on them, they make one of the most beautiful and profound statements of faith:

Daniel 3:16–18 (NIV) —  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

What is especially inspiring in their statement is, “But even if he does not…” Their faith is not contingent on the outcome. Their “come what may” attitude reveals a faith that goes beyond immediate results.

Oh, for such a faith as this. Too often, my actions of faith are determined by the potential favorable outcomes. I look for instant rewards. Not so with these three. They are confident God can deliver, but their faith is in God, even if things don’t work out they way they want them to.

This “even if” faith is essential to all who live in a culture antagonistic to faith. Otherwise, we will find ourselves compromising our beliefs and constantly caving into the pressures of a godless world.

How would you describe your faith? Is it contingent on people’s response? Does it vary from situation to situation? Or is a deep-seated belief in the reality of God and the truth of His word? Are you faithful despite the consequences? Is it an “even if” faith?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Thoughts on Empty Ballparks and Masked Church

Baseball is back and, although I’m a big fan, I really wasn’t too excited when the season finally started. Most disappointing was the fact that there would be no fans. But I gave it a chance, and after a while I found myself enjoying the games, fans or no fans. It’s not like I prefer empty stadiums, but it’s really not that bad. With or without fans, it’s still baseball.

It’s been about a month now that we’ve been attending church with masks, and at first it was a real downer! However, this Sunday I left church feeling like I had actually been to church. It felt good. It felt almost normal. It’s not like I’ll be campaigning for masks when all this passes, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s not so bad! With or without masks, it’s still worship.
I guess I had to ask myself these questions:
  • “How much do I love baseball?”
  • “Is my love for baseball greater than my dislike of empty stadiums?”
  • “How much do I love worship?”
  • “Is my love for worship greater than my distaste of masks?”

I’ve decided I love baseball more than I dislike empty stadiums.

I’ve decided I love worship more than I dislike masks.

So, I’m watching and attending.

(Note: I know many people who would love to be at in-person church but are at high risk and need to stay home. Continued prayers for the pandemic to pass so we can all safely be together.)

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

My life: Crazier than it has to be

Last Friday was a crazy day. But I made it crazier than it had to be.

High winds blew through Texoma the night before leaving hundreds without power including the church building – well, sort of. One of our assistants called me when she got in the office and said the lights were out, which didn’t surprise me. But what did surprise me was what I discovered when I got to the office. Not all of the lights were off. About 1/3 were off.

What made me go into a tizzy was that we had a group coming up to view an online seminar and the room they were to meet in was one of the rooms affected. We were told by our electric company that they were working on the issue, but we all know that could be forever! So, I started buzzing around the building (I got my steps in by 10 am that day) with cables, computers, and extension cords preparing a room for the seminar. The phones were out, so I rigged more extension cords to get those working. One of our modems was out, so I hustled to try to connect them.  I was tired and frustrated.

Just about the time I got everything working, all the lights came on! I should have been grateful, but I was mad that I had gone through all that work and expended all that emotional energy for nothing! Then it dawned on me. If I had only waited and trusted in someone who could fix it all I would have saved myself so much worry and stress.

If I only waited on someone who could fix it all …

The Good Book tells us more than once to wait on God, and Friday morning that all made sense. How many problems have I tried to fix, how much physical and emotional energy have I spent, how much worry and stress have I needlessly borne because I just didn’t wait on the one who could fix it all.

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. - Psalm 33:20 (NIV)

Friday, July 17, 2020

Masked Communication

Communication has become even more difficult with masks.

As we continue to battle this pandemic, and, as uncomfortable as it may be, I’m trying to learn a few lessons along the way. This week I have learned how much we communicate with our mouths. That sounds pretty obvious, but what I mean is not what comes out of our mouths but how we communicate with our facial expressions. I find myself talking to people or just passing by people and giving them a little smile and then I realize that they can’t see it. My attempts at communicating some measure of good will is masked by my mask.

It’s common knowledge that communication is so much more than just the words that come out of our mouths. Our tone, inflection, body language, and facial expression all contribute meaning to what is actually heard.

There have been times when I’ve said something that I thought was innocuous only to get a negative response. You see, I have been told I have a “tone” - a mysterious and unbeknownst quality of my voice that can communicate anger or disgust. I must admit, sometimes it is intentional but more often it’s because I’m in a rush or just not thinking. It’s then that I have to use many more words to explain what I really meant.

These masks are teaching me how complex communication is and reminding me that I need to be aware of and monitor the subtle ways I am adding meaning to my words. The dangerous thing about this is that many of these gestures and signals have become almost instinctive.

Communication can be difficult, even without masks, so let me offer some advice that has helped me:
  • When you get an unexpected response to something you said, ask the one you are talking to if you said something that offended them or made them angry. Even though you didn’t intend to, you probably have a “tone”, or something similar, communicating something you didn’t intend. Take the time to listen to what the other person heard—it may not be what you were trying to say.
  • Apologize for miscommunicating. Don’t put the blame on the other person. Don’t defend yourself. Admit to yourself that you are like every other person who sometimes contradicts their words with misleading body language or facial expressions.
  • When on the other end of the conversation and you are angered by someone’s tone or body language, be merciful. Everyone gets tired. Everyone struggles with clear communication. Give them a chance to  clarify themselves. Too many arguments are over what you thought someone said and not what they actually wanted to communicate.
The Bible talks about how healing and how destructive words can be. In fulfilling the command to love one another, we must include in that mandate our willingness to communicate well. Commit yourself to being a good communicator. It will bless your life and your relationships in so many ways.