Tuesday, August 30, 2016


                I am pretty sure that I would never make it as a newspaper columnist who has to produce a new article every day. There are many days when I just don’t feel very creative. My mind seems to be dull, sluggish, and unproductive. This is one of those days. On days like this, I begin to question myself. I start to wonder if I have come to the end of my creative abilities.

                When I have days, like today, it is important for me to stop and examine what is going on in my life that may have brought me here. I recently returned from a week of vacation, so my trouble can’t be that I need time away. But, I did spend most of my day off yesterday working outside in hot, muggy weather. I woke up this morning feeling a little out of sorts. I’m sure that being tired from yesterday’s activities has something to do with it. Also, we just came off of a big weekend, with the carnival. There is always a certain amount of emotional let-down after something like that. Besides all of that, Tuesday is my Monday, and everyone knows how hard Mondays can be.

                The real danger on days like today is that Satan loves to use them to sow the seeds of doubt, discontent, and discouragement. Dull days make me wonder if I have come to the end of my ministry journey. They make we question whether I really have anything important or significant to say. I can hear Satan whispering in my ear, “You’re just going through the motions. Maybe it is time to pack it in.”

                I’m sure there were days when the Apostle Paul felt as I do at times. His ministry was far more strenuous and demanding than mine is. He didn’t have to cope with just dull days. He had to cope with being run out of town, being stoned and beaten, and being thrown in prison. There had to be a few days when He was asking himself if this was all worth it. But we know that he always came back to the same answer, Yes.

                Paul recognized that the ability to accomplish his task was not totally dependent upon him. Whether he felt on top of his game, or clueless, he knew that God would empower him to do what needed to be down. He made his position clear in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.                 On my dull days, I need to be reminded that my competence comes from the Lord and not from me.

                The other thing Paul always kept in mind was that his work was not through. No matter how he felt, God had called him to play a very important role. God had a plan for Paul’s life, and Paul was determined to live it out. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. Philip. 1:21-26

                On my dull days, I remember that God has brought me to this place, and He is not done with me yet. Although I don’t see all that God is doing, or how God wants to use me, He has not released me from my call to faithfully serve Him where He has placed me. So on dull days and brilliant days, I press on toward the goal to win the prize to which I have been called in Christ Jesus. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016


                So much of people’s lives these days is lived in a virtual reality. I saw a commercial the other day for Xfinity that stated, by use of a catchy tune, that life is better when you’re watching a screen. Virtual reality seems to have taken the place of reality. People fill their lives with virtual friends on Facebook, but rarely sit down and hold a face to face conversation with someone. The new Pokémon Go has people walking around town glued to their smart phone looking for virtual pokemons. I saw an ad for a device, which looks like a pair of glasses, that you attach your cell phone to so that you can enter any virtual world that we want to. I am not anti-technology, but it seems like technology is separating us into our own individual worlds, instead of really drawing us together.

                In contrast to this virtual reality craze, we just went on a vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We stood in awe at the foot of Mount Rushmore. We took a ride on a steam train through the canyons of the Black Hills, tracing the route that was used to supply the miners and settlements that once dotted the landscape. We watched several hundred buffalo walk past our car, within about 50 yards of us. We stood on the edge of a field and watched prairie dogs pop up and down in their holes. We drove through the Bad Lands (in the rain) and marveled at the amazing landscape. We could have experienced all of these things on the internet from the comfort of our home, but it would not have been the same.

                Living in a virtual world is easier and has fewer risks, at least on the surface. Living in the real world takes effort and comes with real risks. Living in a virtual world offers us immediate rewards, but often dulls our senses. Living in the real world challenges us to discover things for ourselves. Although living in the real world comes at a cost of time, money and effort, it enlivens us and sharpens our senses. If we had taken a virtual trip to the Black Hills, we would have never met a young man from Jamaica who spent his summer waiting on tables in Keystone, excited about the opportunity to experience America first hand.

                When it comes to being a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, we need to guard against settling for a virtual faith. A virtual faith is very individualistic and self-centered. It is more about getting something from God, rather than giving to God. It is more about isolating myself from that scary world out there, then engaging the world around me in meaningful ways. It is easier and more comfortable to live a virtual faith. It is harder and more uncomfortable to live a real faith in a real world. But the real rewards of our faith can only be found in the real world.

                James challenges us to not settle for a virtual faith. Instead he calls us to get out in the real world and live it out. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22-25 

Friday, August 12, 2016


                I am a flawed follower of Jesus Christ. I want to make that very clear. In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul talks about the glory of God being placed within us. We are clay pots, which hold God’s glory in trust. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” My clay pot has numerous cracks in it, but it is through the cracks that the glory of God shines.

                There is something within each one of us that wants to be seen as competent, successful, put together. We struggle to prove ourselves to others, to God, and to ourselves. We all want to be winners. We all want to be the best. We all want to stand on the top step of the podium and receive the gold medal. So we work very hard to portray an image of outward perfection. But, in our quiet moments, we know that it is not true. We are not perfect, so we beat ourselves up, and determine to try harder.

                I have always struggled with a mixture of feelings about who I am and how others perceive me. I have often struggled to “prove myself” to God, only to fail miserably. I have struggled with the need to please others, and so I try very hard to conform to what they expect of me. Yet, I constantly fail to live up to everything others want from me. Above all, I have failed to live out my faith fully, in every area of my life. I am a flawed follower of Christ.  

                The good news is that God knows that I am a flawed follower, and He still loves me. The Psalmist put it best. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14

                I have gone through several times of discouragement lately, where I have felt inadequate, unproductive, and incompetent. I know that Satan wants to magnify these feelings to keep me from being faithful to what God has called me to. His greatest weapon against me is my flawed nature. He keeps telling me that I am not good enough, and that I never will be. During these times I desperately need to listen the voice of God.

                God reminds me that my hope is in the right place. My hope is not in my ability to save myself, but in what Christ has already done for me. When Satan cuts me down, I need to cling to the reality that his opinion of me isn’t what counts. I come back to the truth that I have already been redeemed and I am secure in Christ. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 I am a new creation in Christ.

                God reminds me that my heart is in the right place. My greatest desire is to please Christ. I want to follow Him, even though I stumble and fall regularly. Every time I read Paul’s words in Philippines 3, a surge of energy courses through me. Even though I don’t always live it out, this is genuinely my heart’s desire. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
    Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philip. 3:7-14

                God reminds me that my “success” does not depend on me, but on Christ. Jesus reminds me that He is the vine and I am a branch. Any fruit that appears on my branch is really produced by Christ. So my competence is not a measure of my skill or efforts, but a expression of God’s grace. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

                God reminds me that, when I fall, He is there to pick me up. I wish that I lived a sinless, perfect life, but that is just not true. I stumble and fall on a regular basis. If it were not for the amazing grace of God, I would be a bloody mess. But God continually restores me. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9

                God reminds me that I am secure in His everlasting, unending love. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39

                God reminds me that I am a flawed follower of Christ, but I am His!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


                I have almost finished G.K. Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy. In the final chapter, Authority and the Adventurer, he addresses some of the common arguments against Christianity. He masterfully shows how agnostics try to bring divergent ideas together to discount Christianity, only to affirm it. I was struck by Chesterton’s mental agility and clear logic. Without directly quoting him, I want to reproduce one set of his sample arguments. I was encouraged and challenged by his thoughts. I hope you are as well.

                Here are three ideas that agnostics put together to argue against Christianity. Their first argument is to point to the similarities between humans and other animals as a point against the idea that we were created in the image of God. Their second argument is the assertion that religion has grown out of fear and intellectual darkness. The third argument in this triumvirate is the argument that priests have blighted society with doom and gloom. Chesterton dismantles each of these in the following ways.

                The really amazing thing about humans and all other creatures is not how superficially similar they are, but how significantly different they are. The abilities, creativity, and ingenuity of humans is so far beyond all other creatures that there is no comparison at all. The real gap between humans and other creatures is so enormous that it cannot be bridged.

                When it comes to the idea that man started at a low place and progressively got better and that religion just created a boogey man to keep people in line is patently false. First, we know nothing for sure about pre-historic man, simply because he is pre-historic. All of our “discoveries” are purely speculation. Yet the legends handed down throughout the generations all speak of a time when humanity was more kind and more upright, and then something happened to change that. Christianity calls this the Fall. The truth is that humanity has not become more civilized, but more barbaric. We continue to create new and more horrible ways to kill one another.

                Lastly, the idea that priests, in particular, and religion, in general, have caused people to live dull, colorless lives is demonstrably false. Those people groups who have embraced Christianity have also excelled in the arts, music, and in general, the love of life. The boundaries imposed by faith actually foster freedom and creativity. To quote Chesterton, “Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism.”

                One of Chesterton’s most compelling arguments is the resilience of Christianity and Christian culture. The most amazing thing is that the Church still exists. It has gone through a continuous cycle of death and rebirth. Again to quote Chesterton, “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that there is, in historical Christendom, a sort of unnatural life; it could be explained as a supernatural life.” “We are all revenants [returned from the dead]; all living Christians are dead pagans walking about.”

                The most compelling and encouraging aspect of what Chesterton wrote is the idea that most, if not all, of the arguments used against Christianity can actually be turned around and used to defend it. During a time when it feels like Christianity is being attacked from all sides, it is refreshing to be reminded that our faith can weather any storm.

Matthew 16:13-18
    When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
    They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
    "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
    Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

    Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Black AND White

Revelation 3:14-16
    "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
    These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.    

                We have come to view people who see things as black and white as being narrow minded, unintelligent, or naïve. Children see the world as black and white, but mature adults understand that there are many shades of gray.

                I have been rereading G.K. Chesterton’s book, Orthodoxy. I confess that it is not an easy read. The first chapter or so was a stretch for me. But several chapters in, things started to come together and make sense. Throughout this book, Chesterton is outlining his journey to faith, and the factors that led him to believe in Christianity. He weaves together clues, from his observations of the real world, which he discovered pointed to the truth of Christian Doctrine.

                The chapter titled The Paradoxes of Christianity resonated with me at a deep level. It addressed an issue that I have struggled with for years. At the heart of this chapter, Chesterton makes the case that the modern world ( and I would include the post-modern world) wants to see everything in shades of gray. But Christianity, in contrast, sees life in its extremes. That Christianity sees the world as black and white at the same time. It holds extremes in a dynamic tension that is uncomfortable, yet rings true.

                Chesterton makes the case that Christianity aggressively challenges the trend to make black and white into gray or red and white into pink. Chesterton explains this paradox in the following way.  

                “Paganism declared that virtue was in balance; Christianity declared it was in conflict: the collision of two passions apparently opposite.”
                “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live, taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advise for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. He can only get away from death by stepping within an inch of it.”

                Chesterton further explains the paradox in stark terms about the true nature of humanity. He talked about the clash between pride and humility. He points out that trying to somehow combine these two emotions dilutes them both. But Christianity is able to hold these two emotions in a dynamic tension that keeps them both at full strength.

                “Christianity sought by this same strange expedient to save both of them. It separated the two ideas and then exaggerated them both. In one way Man was to be haughtier than he had ever been before; in another way he was to be humbler than he had ever been before. In so far as I am Man I am the chief of creatures. In so far as I am a man I am the chief of sinners.”
                “Here, again in short, Christianity got over the difficulty of combining two furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious. The Church was positive on both points. One can hardly think too little of one’s self. One can hardly think too much of one’s soul.”
                I believe that God is not pleased with the current trend in the Church toward pink and gray compromise. By compromising, the power of the Gospel is diluted to make it more palatable to post-modern sensibilities, yet it loses its power to transform lives. True Christianity holds black and white in dynamic tension, so that the power of the Gospel can be unleashed, full strength, into the world.

                The blackness of sin is real, it is dangerous, and it is all around us. The whiteness of salvation is real, it is powerful, and it is readily available. We need to humility to admit our struggle with sin, and the boldness to challenge its right to rule. We need the humility to admit that we are not perfect, and the boldness to hold up a perfect standard to which we must attain. We need the humility to admit that we don’t have all of the answers to everything, but the courage to declare that we know “The Answer” to everything. We need to be willing to lose our lives, so that we may truly gain them.

                We do not live in a black or white world. Neither do we live in a grey or pink world. We live in a black and white world. We, as followers of Jesus Christ, have been called to live boldly in that dynamic tension.

1 John 1:5-10
 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
    If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.