This last week I applied for a job, as the extra money would be nice. It could take pressure off of our church as we don’t have a lot of either people nor money. Over the years, I have worked part-time as a coach and done other moonlighting to bring in additional income. I get fearful when the church coffers get low and I might not get paid. These days the coffers are pretty low.

But it doesn’t look like I will even get a second look for this position. While I was encouraged when I dropped off my application, resume and cover letter that I would likely get a call that afternoon, I haven’t been responded to with an email, call or text since.

I have stewed in frustration and pride. Thoughts in my head bounce around like, “Don’t they know who I am?!?!” I tell myself, “I guarantee I am the most qualified person for this job they could find!” Then I sulk and feel sorry for myself.

The most convicting part of the last week is the realization that my pride so readily rises up with its ambitions for money, positions, and promotions, as my faith retreats to the backseat.

But these hobbits keep calling my name.

One of the great tethers of my spiritual journey has been 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11. It reads, “And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you”.

This verse keeps in my mind that money, positions, and promotions may not be the path that Jesus calls most of us to.

I think that 1 Timothy 6:6-10 offers a great reason for this… “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Certainly, money is one of the traps that draws us in. The enemy has many traps that are terrifically effective, especially when we/I am so prone to ambition and pride.

Yet I am grateful that these Hobbits keep calling my name.

Consider The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien. In the stories, the ONLY effective ring bearers are the diminutive, simple-minded, easily-overlooked, humble Hobbits. Hobbits personify the pursuit of the quiet life.

In stark contrast, the great warrior, Boromir, from the powerful city of Minas Tirith, succumbs to the power of the Ring. Boromir personifies the reach for greatness. His pride, strength and ambition are his downfall.

Another one who succumbed to the power of the ring was Gollum. He was once a man, but his obsession with “the Precious” transforms him into a half man/half animal—a sniveling, grasping, enslaved wretch. His willingness to do anything to have “My Precious,” causes repulsion, but it can even strike a chord of recognition. At least a little bit of Gollum is in each of us, as Jonathan Benz writes.

Benz relates how this humility and self-awareness can transform Christians as they relate to people controlled by addictions. He writes, “If we are preparing to help an addict into recovery and find ourselves dealing with intense feelings of revulsion and disgust toward his or her compulsive behaviors, we have not done the the hard work of looking at our inner Gollum and sizing it up for what it is: a dehumanizing compulsion to choose our own enslavement (to desire, ambition, and lust) over the Spirit’s life-giving freedom. Chances are, too, that the greater the repulsion, the greater the externalizing of our inner Gollum.”

See that? Benz believes that when we recoil from the obvious sins of others, we probably have not done the work of examining the sin within our own hearts.

Humility is our constant companion and friend in the spiritual journey…a veritable Samwise Gamgee of quiet fortitude against temptation and help in keeping the proper perspective. Humble self-awareness is also the key to becoming a faith community that welcomes and receives the prodigals with the love of the Father. Nothing, as I see it, could be more important for churches.

The apostle Paul, the greatest of all church-planters, had this humble self-awareness. He wrote,

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 4:12-16)

My soul has required a bit of housecleaning work this week. I have issues of pride that need to be checked. So glad these hobbits keep calling my name.

I once heard a sermon by Father Raniero Cantalamessa at Asbury Seminary chapel. He had a very unique and interesting position in the Catholic church. He was the “Preacher to the Papal Household”. It was his primary job to preach to the Pope!

When I heard the man preach it was clear that he knew Jesus and that he was no ordinary Catholic priest. In fact, I imagined that he was more like a prophet than a priest; and the Catholic hierarchy probably understood early on that he wasn’t going to play the game of climbing the church leadership ladder. The Pope himself probably understood that Father Raniero was going to preach the truth to him and not waste his time with kowtowing, flattery and fluff.

When people try to please other people rather than God, they will fall into a ditch. I have noticed that often you can smell such people out if they are generous with flattery.

My friend, Denny Wayman, gave me a heads up when he said that those people most generous with flattery on a Sunday are the people most likely to facilitate your removal when you preach something offensive to them. Take all flattery with a grain of salt!

1 Thessalonians 2:4-6  says, “For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.”

The Apostle Paul (the author of 1 Thessalonians) was a person who knew God and knew who he was trying to please. If such a person gets promoted or demoted really doesn’t matter—just if she or he pleases God!

So if you have a chronic case of people-pleasing, here is the prescription…receive a healthy dose of God’s grace as you consciously reject undue satisfaction from the praises of people. A little praise from people is fine. A little is appropriate. We all want to hear a “good job” when we have worked hard at something, but that is not where your worth comes from! Your worth is derived as a beloved child of the King! Your “atta-boy” or “atta-girl” comes from believing and obeying God—the things that truly please God.

Your Redemption Resume

October 23, 2020

As part of my Doctoral work at Fuller Seminary I have been invited to webinars and classes and have gained access to some great resources. This week I enjoyed a webinar by the Slingshot Group called “Building a Resume That Works”. The Slingshot Group consults churches and helps place people into various positions—specifically in churches and Christian non-profit organizations.

Those graduating from seminary want to get a job. I am fortunate to have one that I love and am not looking for a different one. However, I know that some of the readers of this blog post are indeed looking for a job. Perhaps this will stimulate your appetite for more training and resources.

The first point the Slingshot Groups makes is in preparing a resume and in a job interview is to reflect a knowledge of oneself. They have seen the primary importance of a person being vulnerable, transparent, authentic, and self-aware as they present themselves to potential employers.

How do we become more “self-aware”? One way they suggest is to get a mentor or life coach. This person, it is presumed, will come to know you well. In fact, it is good to have had several mentors or coaches. Can you think of the people who have influenced you the most? In what constructive ways have they influenced you?

One good and constructive way is in the creation of your redemption resume.

To have a mentor or life coach in the best scenarios is to have a trusted person with whom you can relate your whole story to—warts and all. Their job is to assist you in seeing God’s redemptive purposes at work in your life. Maybe your story involved some very negative chapters. Can you see how God has turned those into positives? What have you learned from those experiences? How have you become wiser, stronger, and more qualified because of your experiences—good and bad?

In finding a mentor or life coach, we take steps in making peace with our past. One of the facilitators of the webinar said, ‘God won’t cover what you won’t uncover.” I like that. Outright deception and lies will always come back to bite us—especially when God is in charge of our lives. Take the steps to share your story with a trusted mentor or life coach. It can be the start of a wonderful journey of healing, gaining perspective and inner confidence.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes.”

Without a doubt God authors the best redemption stories of them all! How is yours coming along?

Hovering Over the Chaos

October 7, 2020

One of the ways my wife and I have been encouraging ourselves through the turbulence of 2020 is by asking one another, “Do you know who will be sitting on the throne of the Universe on November 4? and January 20? and next year at this time?”

YES! Jesus will be!

God is not threatened or worried or anxious about chaos. He doesn’t run from situations of craziness and conflict as many of us are apt to. He doesn’t turn up his nose and leave when people get boisterous, rowdy, or rude.

In fact, God’s Spirit hovers OVER the chaos.

Genesis 1:1-2 in the NLT reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” (One translation reads, “The earth was chaos and waste”)

The word for “formless” or “chaos” in the Hebrew is tohuw and it means “to lie waste; a desolation (of surface), i.e. desert; figuratively, a worthless thing; adverbially, in vain:—confusion, empty place, without form, nothing, (thing of) nought, vain, vanity, waste, wilderness.”

I confess that at times recently I have felt our civilization has drifted into a wilderness place. But could it be that God is about to break in to our chaos and confusion like He did long ago when He declared “Let there be light!”?!

Author Bob Ekblad recognizes that God’s presence is with us through all the difficult circumstances of life. Our job is to RECOGNIZE His Presence with us. We need reminding to open the eyes of our heart and stir our faith when things look hopelessly chaotic.

He writes, “Knowing that God is creating at the beginning in a place of chaos and emptiness encourages an attitude of watchfulness for this creative presence. Learning of the Spirit’s respectful hovering over the waters before God’s pronouncing light from darkness helps me watch and wait with more hope.”

I choose to believe by faith that God is up to wonderful things in 2020. I choose to believe that new, vibrant life in the church and in the world is about to appear. Let us encourage our own recognition of God’s presence over the chaos and our own discipline of watchfulness.

According to St. Hesychios (who wrote the following over 1000 years ago), “Watchfulness is a continual fixing and halting of thought at the entrance to the heart.”

Before anything chaotic without the Spirit of God enters your mind or heart, remember God hovers over the chaos and He is about to break through!

The Serpent’s Deceptions

September 29, 2020

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent pulls quite a number on Adam and Eve. Author and pastor Bob Ekblad points out that the serpent’s deception was rooted in a negative depiction of God. He writes, “According to the serpent God is not only miserly, God is a controlling power-monger, who lies to protect his supremacy.”

That is intense! And it is successful! The serpent succeeds in getting the woman to ponder and meditate and envision God as detestable.

The reality is so much different. Our God, YHWH, is loving in all His ways. The freedom and dominion He gave the man and woman were virtually limitless. What happens instead is actually a form of idolatry. The image of the true, loving God is replaced by a false image of God. The woman takes her gaze off the true God and onto something different.

In our study of Mansions of the Heart we are being reminded to gaze upon the God of love and meditate on His ways throughout our day. Drawing near to the God of love is the primary objective of the Christian life and the strongest defense against the Father of Lies—Satan.

Pastor Ekblad believes that negative images of God are what most separate people from God, and when we are distanced from God’s love we are vulnerable to seduction. In his work with inmates, Pastor Ekblad has found that the image of God and the Bible as harsh judge and strict, impossible rules (respectively) keeps many people at arms’ length from God and stuck in perpetual cycles of self-defeating behaviors.

As the people of God, let’s ALWAYS gaze upon the God of LOVE and thus fortify ourselves against Satan’s deceptions to distract, divide, and defeat us.

As many of you know, I am now in the third year of my doctoral program at Fuller Seminary in “Recovery Ministry”.  When I saw this degree program being offered I jumped at the opportunity to apply for it because I saw the relevance to our own church’s ministry (the context of who and where we serve).  The program has been awesome and the books, classes, and interaction with fellow students and professors very informative.

Here at the start of year three I find myself with the task of completing another 4500 pages of reading by January 6.  It would be quite intimidating and a little bit depressing if the books weren’t so darn good!!! 

This week I started reading a book titled Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused.  In this book I am learning that people who have suffered abuse at the hands of family members or trusted authority figures (coaches, pastors, teachers, doctors, etc.) lose the concepts needed to understand the Gospel—things like love, trust, and sacrifice.  Rachael Denhollander describes how those concepts have often been redefined by the abusers as weapons for great evil.  It is important that we who would present the Gospel (meaning ALL OF US) understand how to apply the Gospel to this damage in a way that makes it truly “good news”.

Co-author Darby Strickland writes, “We need to remember that God delivers HIs people not just from their own sin but also from injustices.  When God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, He says “I am the God of your fathers, I have observed the misery of my people, I have heard their cry on account of their oppressors.  I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.’ God introduces Himself to His people as their deliverer and protector.  God asks His people repeatedly in Scripture to work for justice and righteousness.  This is who we, as worshippers of God, are told to be—people who do justice.  God calls us to confront oppression but also to provide protection and care for the vulnerable.  We see Jesus doing these things.  He identifies with the powerless, takes up their cause, and stands against those who do harm to the vulnerable.  This is who we are to be, deliverers and protectors.”

May we be a church for all people, but especially for the hurting, lonely, and abused.  Amen.

We Lead Together

August 28, 2020

For years I have had an inkling that the burden/calling/mantle of Christian leadership was not intended to fall upon the shoulders of the “chosen few”.  Especially me!  Here’s a little background…

When I was in the process of discerning the call to pastoral leadership around 15-18 years ago, I would pore through books on Christian leadership and, in particular, church planting.  The message was clear—charismatic and gifted leaders would discern the leading of the Holy Spirit and rally others to his (it was always a “him” back then) side to build a large and “successful” ministry.

Here was my problem…I was never fully convinced that I was discerning the leading of Holy Spirit for the direction and shape of the church plant.  I wanted others to help me to pray and discern the direction and shape of the church plant.  I knew deep down that I, by myself, was not up to the task.  Did that make me doubt my calling and my leadership gifts?  You bet it did!

But through the years I have never lost that inkling.  In fact, with an increase in experience, I have become more convinced that I was correct.  The New Testament model of leadership is for the corporate guidance of a church through a group of spiritually mature “elders” who pray and seek the Lord together.  Why?  For the simple fact that we ALL have the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us distributing to us a variety of gifts that complement one another’s.  

1 Corinthians 12:12-22 says, “12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 

Acts 13 gives an example of the early church’s leadership model.  Corporately, the voice of the Holy Spirit was discerned for “setting apart Paul and Barnabbas for the work to which I have called them”.  In Acts 15, the most explosive issue facing the church (regarding the observance of Jewish traditions among the Gentile converts) was resolved corporately.

Richard Foster writes about Jesus teaching leadership to his disciples.  He says, “With quiet persistence Jesus showed them what it meant to live in response to the voice of the Father.  He taught them that they, too, could hear the heaven-sent voice and most clearly when together.  ‘If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matt. 18:19-20).  

In those words Jesus gave his disciples both assurance and authority.  There was the assurance that when a people genuinely gathered in His name His will could be discerned.  The superintending Spirit would utilize the checks and balances of the different believers to ensure that when their hearts were in unity they were in rhythm with the heartbeat of the Father.  Assured that they had heard the voice of the true Shepherd, they were able to pray and act with authority.  His will plus their unity equaled authority.”

There is already a charismatic and gifted leader in God’s church and His Name is Jesus!  His subordinates are called to seek, hear, and obey his voice together.

A Political Conversation

July 30, 2020

This is a conversation I recorded between two Christian friends leading up to the November elections. Jim and Derek thought it would be beneficial for people to see how Christians could sharply disagree regarding current political events and yet remain friends and respectful of each other’s views.

Derek: Okay, so here we are. Jim and Derek, two Christian brothers who have known each other for years. We have found that during these turbulent times we don’t agree on all the stuff that’s happening in our world politically. So how do we disagree respectfully? The world needs to see Christians operating in unity and love, even when we disagree. Jim, you come from a conservative pro-Trump standpoint, and I’m a “Never-Trumper”.  And just what are the reasons behind that? We’re gonna flesh those out.  Jim, a lot of these issues are near and dear to your heart.  You have worked in pro-life ministries.  I mean, some of these issues have been very prominent in your life—for instance, when you see Donald Trump signing pro-life legislation and electing pro-life judges and things like this. Tell me more.

Jim: So, as you mention, I am a guy who had an abortion with with his girlfriend when I was 28, before I knew the Lord (I came to know Jesus at the age of 37). I almost instantly realized what I had done for the first time in my life because everyone was pro-life who was a Christian, and I understood why because the Bible is very clear that we need to protect the innocent and defenseless, and they are the most defenseless people in the world when they’re in their mother’s womb. And so I was instantly pro-life and, by the grace of God, I felt instantly forgiven. That’s it.

Jim: So, when it comes to the life issue, I am all about extending grace first.  Grace and forgivenss are available through the Cross of Christ to anyone who has an abortion (or any other sin) in their past.  That’s the good news, right?  The gospel?  And, so I would love to see if we, as Christians, could extend some grace to President Trump.  No president ever has been more vilified and attacked by the media and social media and people in general.  He is attacked a million times a day and lambasted 365 days a year.  And, yes, President Trump is pro-life. And what I really appreciate about him it’s his conviction to stand when so many politicians would have been hedging. He said he would be pro-life. A lot of Christians didn’t believe it. They thought he just did that to get votes. But he’s been the most pro-life president we’ve ever had. Ever.  And life is the biggest issue to me. If you don’t get life right, well?

Jim: So to me life is the main issue. You call evil good like they do in New York when they legalized late-term abortion and then they light up the skyscrapers pink to celebrate that late-term abortion is now legal, that is sick to me.  So life is the big decision, and even if it’s just symbolic, he’s the first president ever to go to the March for Life in Washington, DC. The first president ever.  He spoke and that’s huge.

Derek: I appreciate what you have said and how you share your heart. This main issue—the pro-life issue—and how passionate you are about it resonates. And you know, as a Christian, I stand right there with you. It is my sense that there are not many people anywhere who like the idea of aborting babies. I mean, whether you’re left or right, I think that the issue for people who are pro-choice is that this is their decision and the government can’t legislate that for them. This is a very personal decision. It’s something that people languish over. But to have the government tell a person what they can do with their body or not, is their decision. The other issue is when people ONLY see pro-life issues concerning Christians, they believe that is incomplete.  There’s lot of other issues for lower-income mothers especially, like childcare, healthcare, tax breaks, and all of the other aspects of caring for the child once they are born.

Derek: My wife, who is third generation Latina, feels very personally about welfare reform. So she went to work for a welfare-to-work program. And we see people who are being tethered to welfare their whole lives long.  But to help them become independent, to help them find a good vocation, is really needed. So what I think a lot of people feel is that if we’re going to mandate that you have your baby, are we going to be there when you have the baby to support you with a job, with the childcare, with the health care, and these other services? Or are we going to say sink or swim?

Derek: I’ll just speak a little bit about Donald Trump.

Jim: Can I interject one thing, before with with the pro-choice? I would say I am a pro-choice-pro-life guy. And what I mean by that is, I think a woman can do whatever she wants with her body. But I don’t think she can touch the other body that’s inside her. So it’s not just what a woman does with her body, as her choice. Her choice was already made. (Now if you want to talk about rape and the 1% or the less than 1%, that’s fine) But her choice was made when she was in a life-creating act. Nine months prior to the baby being born, that was her choice. If she wants to be involved in life-creating and then end it, I would say absolutely intervene. Also, I think the church needs to be the church, and the government to be the government. The church needs to share grace for those who cross the border, the church needs to encourage their congregants to vote for life, support the local pregnancy center, support the local harmony house that has places for single moms who need help to raise them up!

Derek: Gotcha!  Now regarding Trump, I think one of the reasons why I am anti-Trump is that when I have this privilege of having a vote, it’s extending to me a trust. I am spending a measure of faith in a person and truly character does count. I’m putting trust in a person in their integrity and their character to carry on a very important task. I think this is an important thing that established a lot of people as anti-Trump because they’re anti-demagogue. They see this greedy, lustful, corrupt, all about money, his own name, and not a person of character, and not really a trustworthy person—perhaps even a sociopath, a person who’s not capable of true empathy who doesn’t really understand other people. Recently, when he was interviewed and asked if he needs forgiveness from God and he says, “No.” He says, “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything wrong.”  Such a person scares a lot of people, including me.

Derek: Now we spoke earlier so let’s talk about the Biblical standard for liberalism and conservatism.

Jim: Sure. Hopefully this conversation will move the ball forward a little bit when it comes to political views, and conservative Christian or conservative Republican viewpoints. And I have no problem voting for Trump again as this (pro-life) is the biggest issue.

Jim: The other things that I see from a conservative standpoint that are very clear Biblically are first, marriage as designed for a man and a woman. Second, there are two genders, there aren’t 47 genders, there’s male and female. And support for Israel. I see those very clearly. God says (speaking of the nation of Israel), “I will bless those who bless you. I will curse those who curse you.” The Republican Party blesses Israel, and I can assure you that Israel wants President Trump to be reelected.  Religious liberty is another issue.  You know that four years ago the Democrats wanted to take God’s name out of their convention. And that’s the tip of the iceberg that they want. To me, liberal policy and the Democrats have been so far far left that, ultimately, they want government to be God.

Jim: Republicans are for less government and more religious liberty and not just for us to be Christians, but Muslims to be Muslims and Jews to be Jews and the atheist has the right to do that too. And that is supported, frankly, by the Republican party right now. But it’s going to get worse by the Democratic Party. So those are the issues that I think are very clear Biblically.

Derek: Well, for Biblical justification as a “never-Trumper”, the fruits of the Holy Spirit is where I would start. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control.  These are hoped-for virtues for living, but we don’t see those much in Donald Trump.  Maybe a different set of values, like combative, rude, ambitious, etc. These days, even in the church, it’s fighting time.  For instance, with the COVID-prompted closure of the churches, what I see happening is a motivation to care for other people. If this is an airborne disease and we can stop the spread of this disease to others by not gathering inside enclosed spaces with lots of different people singing and things like that, that will help. That’s one thing that infectious disease experts all over agree on. They are not targeting churches per se. They’re targeting professional sports,  concerts, etc. the gathering of people in close spaces.  They recognize it is dangerous no matter who you are. So when I see Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California, making these edicts about gatherings? It’s not targeting churches, per se, it is targeting gatherings, period.

Derek: Jesus taught on the two greatest commandments… Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  The young man who was questioning Jesus wanted to justify himself, and said, “Who is my neighbor?” And then Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. The story is about a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan who all encounter a broken, injured man.  The first two ignore the man, but the hated, despised Samaritan cares for him and bandages his wounds.  Jesus asks who was a neighbor to the injured man? The one who showed compassion!

Derek: And so I think that’s the heart of what we’re seeing right now in the response to the racial tension—that there are a lot of evangelical Christians who say, “it’s this liberal agenda! or that Black people are somehow to blame, once again, for this trouble, but we’ve got a person who’s hurting, injured and broken by the side of the road, and we’re not expressing compassion.

Jim: I would suggest that President Trump has done more in his three years for the black community than President Obama did for eight years or Joe Biden did for eight years. And he’s the one bringing about police reform. He’s the one that has black unemployment to the lowest level in years. But, yeah, you got to start with the conversation and with compassion.

Jim: The Church of course needs to look at itself, but that doesn’t justify Antifa. That doesn’t justify the riots and the looting and I know you agree with that, but it’s like…

Derek: so I would just push back a little on that. We see this “Yeah, yeah, BUT white lives matter too” response. Of course, all lives matter. But we’re having a conversation about black lives matter right now. And this is where it’s time to just listen, man. Not run off to the places where we’re comfortable with the status quo with whites in the privileged position. Let’s listen to the ones who are hurting.  Let’s be in solidarity with the hurting.

Derek: When it comes to Trump, man, some of the sound bites and the ways that he reacts to racism and white supremacy, wow.  He could say something on script one day and then tweet something that night seemingly justifying the exact opposite thing so when I look at the man’s character, there’s not a lot for me to trust in.

Derek: Some of these policies, Jim, I’m right there with you.  Some of the things that he signed into legislation for pro-life and for historically black colleges and universities, etc. These are great and I am really grateful for some of these as a Christian but I think why can’t we produce somebody better than him!?

Jim: I agree with you, like, why don’t you just give us your Twitter accounts? Like, give Pence veto power over your tweets? No, don’t send that out, Donald. So I agree with you on that. On many of his things that he says.

Jim: But I will say, first and foremost, I’m most concerned about the policies. When we talk about the man, again, Dr. Dobson says he led him to Christ a few years ago. If that’s true, I don’t know. But I do know that our journey is not a straight line and we don’t go from being a complete narcissist and womanizer to Mother Teresa in a day. That’s a long journey. And it’s a harder journey when you’re in the spotlight. I was sold out from day one when I when I knew Jesus but some people just takes longer.  What I have seen with President Trump is I’ve seen some humility when he’s prayed for. And he seems to humbly bow once the prayer starts and I don’t think that that’s a photo op. I see him as he’s going to Air Force One. He’s a military guy. He stops everything to salute. He’s very respectful. I think that’s a sincere heart. And yeah, he says some really stupid things. Can’t we do better? Yeah, I can’t wait for Nikki Haley to be president. That would be awesome. But Joe Biden is not better.

Derek: My vote would be with Biden, as a Christian. And the reason is, because I see the man having EQ, emotional intelligence. He just understands people. I just don’t think Donald Trump understands people. I think that it’s a human business at the end of the day, it’s caring for people, and it’s competent leadership. You know, it’s discouraging when you see the most professional, most qualified members of Donald Trump’s cabinet leave by the droves saying this man is incompetent. He can’t read. He can’t listen, and can’t understand a daily memo. He doesn’t understand any of the issues. Remember, Jim, these are cabinet members who were committed to Donald Trump, they want to be there and work on that team and support the man, but this is an absolute train wreck. We were talking Rex Tillerson to John Bolton to James Mattis to John Kelly, that’s pretty discouraging. Have you ever seen members of other cabinets, other persons come out and write this kind of stuff about the commander in chief?

Jim: I think at his core, he’s a fighter. I’m just saying that’s who he is. He loves to fight. And if he hired someone and then thought, I shouldn’t have hired that guy, well, it’s not gonna end well because he lacks compassion like you say.  Also, I don’t trust John Bolton’s book. But his current Secretary of State is a believer with strong Biblical values. And he has surrounded himself with a lot of seemingly great godly people. So I’m encouraged by that. Are those leaders in Biden’s cabinet? Doubtful.

Derek: This has been great, John. This next election we pray God’s will be done and that in voting we would be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Just give us a final word, John.

Jim: Well, one last thing about President Trump that I find is they say you’ll know a tree by its fruit. His kids seem great. They seem hard working, well spoken, successful. They’ve all made something of themselves. And they seem to love their dad.  And, that is actually a little surprising.  I mean the world is filled with children, particularly children from uber-wealthy families who actually despise their dads.  And Melania seems like she has so much grace. I mean, she gets slammed all the time too. Maybe It’s just this exterior of President Trump’s that is so crass. Maybe it’s for a time such as this. Maybe if his exterior wasn’t so tough, he wouldn’t succeed.

Jim: I don’t think Biden will ever become pro-life as there’s no way the left would let him do that. I don’t think he has the conviction to do that. He certainly didn’t do anything as Vice President for eight years that would help further that. In fact, the other day we learned Nancy Pelosi’s gonna ramp up the support for Planned Parenthood, which is their number one priority.  Government-funded abortions is where Planned Parenthood makes all their money and that’s one of the first thing within 100 days Biden said he’s gonna get back as part of Obamacare.  Obamacare could even make churches pay for abortion insurance, so I think you’re really pie in the sky thinking otherwise.

Derek Prayer: Jesus, thank you so much that we get to talk about these issues and, Lord, we’ve cut to the heart of love. Just hearing John’s heartbeat and that you know all about this issue that is so important to him and to you, God.  We want to love our neighbors as ourselves. We want to demonstrate love and compassion, Lord, as your hands and feet, to do right by you. We pray for President Trump, Lord God, that you would help him and help his cabinet. We pray for all those who are in positions of leadership during this pandemic, all through this crazy year of 2020. Help President Trump with grace and wisdom.  We pray, Lord God, for those who are in other leadership positions. We pray for Gavin Newsom. We pray for people who understand infectious disease much better than Donald Trump or Jim or me, God. We pray that they would get understanding of this disease and how it’s passed along how, Jesus, and make real, quality decisions that we can implement in this country. Your hand is still very much involved in the affairs of men. Yes, we are hopeless without you, Jesus.

Jim Prayer: Father, I just agree with those prayers and I just really thought the year 2020 would be the year of perfect vision and, maybe we’re correctly seeing all the chaos. I just pray for your outpouring Lord. If indeed President Trump already knows you, I pray he would grow up and we’ll know a tree by its fruit. I pray that he would grow in joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Lord God. I pray for all the pastors who have a decision to make whether to open or close and follow the edict or not, that they would just seek you out. Yeah. And that you would speak to them. And whatever decision they make be made with grace and peace. We love you. And we thank You, Jesus, Amen.

I love the church and I love it’s traditional forms of worship, it’s liturgies, it’s playbook (the Bible), it’s pantheon of heroes new and old, and, most of the time, I even love my fellow Christians (ha ha). I came to know Jesus in one of the more common ways…at a Christian summer camp called Woodleaf (YoungLife). But I want to tell you about three women who came to know and love Jesus Christ in three not-particularly-religious ways that will make you smile.

First, there is Jane. She is analytical, rational, logical, and methodical. The smallest errand to the gas station is plotted, planned and calculated. Not surprisingly, Jane was a great student from the get-go. In fact, school was the place she shone most brightly.

Growing up in church, Jane was taught to read, believe, and follow the Bible, but she was never a devotee of the Bible and had trouble believing many of the stories. From her viewpoint, it wasn’t logical or orderly and didn’t “compute”.

Then one day, Jane was enjoying a cup of coffee and looking out her kitchen window when she noticed a spider spinning a web. All of the intricacies of the process, from the measuring of each length, to the design itself, to the material created within the spider for the webbing—it all flooded her mind and she was amazed at the complexity and orderliness of God’s creation.

And at that specific moment she became a Christian. She knew an accident couldn’t have brought about such detailed design, only God could.

Then there is Roberta. She loves fashion. She loves, loves fashion. Throughout her childhood she would fill sketch books with dresses and outfits she imagined. She cultivated fabrics and designs that caught her eye, and envisioned herself becoming a fashion designer one day.

Yet she is raised in the church where fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle are not on the approved reading list. She becomes resigned to the idea that as a Christian, a career in fashion would probably not happen. She discards those dreams, and senses that a little part of her has been discarded as well.

As a 20-something, she starts attending the young adult group at her large church and meets Deedee. Deedee is a self-described “fashionista” who loves Jesus. The two of them connect on a deep level and Roberta begins to realize that maybe fashion is not bad or sinful, but is the artistic way she is naturally wired. And she plunges even deeper into her faith.

Finally, there is Anna. Anna works in Hollywood and is not a Christian. One day she goes to see a movie called “The Last Temptation of Christ” (which the church establishment, if asked, would tell her is blasphemous in its depiction of Christ). When she sees Jesus the carpenter working in his shop and sweating, she has a flash of revelation that God became an actual man. He was a flesh and blood person who lived on earth! It was the moment she says that she became a Christian.

I believe the bottom line is that God is waaaay bigger than the boxes we assign Him to. He will use movies, spiders, fashion, and so much more to reveal His love to our hearts. Is He trying to speak to you? Maybe it’s in a way you’d least expect:-)

Jimmy Stewart…Bomber Pilot

February 22, 2019

You may remember Jimmy Stewart from his iconic movie rolls in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “The Philadelphia Story”, and “Rear Window”, but did you know Jimmy Stewart was also Col. James Stewart, WW2 war hero?

I have been reading a biography of James Stewart focused upon this very significant aspect of his life. In fact, the two people to speak at Jimmy Stewart’s funeral, with full military honors, were his pastor and Lt. Gen. Roger DeKok from the US Air Force. No Hollywood celebrities spoke, though many were in attendance and were close friends. Those closest to him knew that his military career was more significant to him personally than his Hollywood celebrity.

Col. James Stewart was revered and loved by the men he led and respected by his superiors. In one of my favorite anecdotes, Col. Stewart and his 489th squadron is on a bombing mission over Germany and notices that the lead commander of the 389th squadron (Stewart’s superior), has made a navigational error on his return flight. He notifies this superior of the mistake, but is assured by the commander that his calculations are not incorrect, and to continue to follow him on his present course. As a squadron commander overseeing several aircraft and their crews, Col. Stewart is faced with a difficult decision. Should he continue to follow this commander and his squadron of ships, in tight formation, on a potentially calamitous detour into enemy territory? He knows that to do so is to put his life and those of all his squadron in danger.

What will he do?

What would you do? My guess is that it is not the same thing James Stewart did.

He decided to obey the order of his superior and support them on a misguided trek into enemy territory, knowing that his commanding officer was in error. The reason? Simply to follow the two cardinal rules of combat: “persuade your leader of his mistake, if you can, but follow him, right or wrong”.

When I read this with my 2019 peacetime brain, I thought that those rules sound utterly ridiculous. Why would you risk the lives of dozens of men just so as to not “show up” your C.O.?!?!?! Let the superior officer eat some humble pie! After all, he deserved it!

But as I continued to read the biography, I came to a better understanding of war and the terrors associated with it. When crew members, by the grace of God, were able to land safely back in England with their flying fortresses decimated by anti-aircraft fire and “flak”, crew members could often not stop shaking for days on end. The experience was absolutely terrifying in every sense of the word. Absolutely critical to the success of any wartime endeavor was the clearheaded and organized chain of command. If that broke down, success was virtually impossible. Col. James Stewart knew what successful soldiers have always known, obey your commanding officer.

It turned out that approximately 60 Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs (enemy fighter planes) noticed the mistake and pursued the straying bombers. Several lead planes, including the one flown by the mistaken commanding officer, were shot down, but Col. Stewart did not lose a single plane or man from his 445th squadron, and offered critical support to the 389th so that more planes were not lost.

When his superiors recognized what Stewart did, the commendations poured in.

What I appreciate most is that in wartime, one must not lose sight of the bigger picture. In war, lives are tragically lost and mistakes are made, but if the objective is maintained, success is achievable.

As you follow Jesus Christ in this world, do you have a bigger picture in mind? Do you take a long view in your mind’s eye of the Christlike man or woman God is seeking to form you into? Battles are fought and lost, distractions, errors and mistaken judgments are common, but consider the end. Will you receive that commendation from our Lord, “well done, good and faithful servant!”? You have been faithful. You have obeyed. You have not strayed when the temptation was there to do so.

And so, Christian, today consider how you can best maintain your course. And one day enter into your Heavenly Father’s Kingdom!