Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ant Talk on a Warm Summer Evening

An old allegory came home with added force one summer evening. My daughter Shawna, her little brother Jonathan, and two little friends of theirs were strolling with me through the neighborhoods surrounding our home outside downtown Portland, Oregon.

The kids--as kids will do--decided to make our walk an adventure. "Let's look for bugs on the ground," Shawna suggested, and they all began to scan the ground for signs of life.

I'm not sure where all the other insects were, but the kids found evidence of subterranean ant colony after ant colony in various cracks in the old, pre-World War I sidewalks. Curiosity soon gave way to mischief, however, so I had to ask the kids not to squish unsuspecting ants with their fingers and sandaled feet.

"Why, Daddy?" asked Shawna.

Because God made ants and we don't needlessly kill things God has made, I explained.

"Oh."

That settled it and the kids playfully but carefully continued exploring ant colony after ant colony, yelling down the little holes if no ants were topside at the moment.

While most of the ant colonies had holes somewhere near the center of the sidewalks we traversed, I spotted one ingenuous colony in the process of digging a new home on the edge between the sidewalk and the hard packed dirt strip next to a busy Portland street.

Just as I spotted the thousands of ants hard at work, one of Shawna and Jonathan's little friends stepped smack on top of them, easily killing hundreds with one fell swoop.

"I'm sorry," he said, looking a bit sad as he peered--face near the ground--at the mass havoc he'd created. I wasn't sure what to say, so we moved on, finding the ant colonies fewer and farther between now where fresh concrete had replaced the original sidewalks.

As we walked, I tossed out an old philosophical question to my six-year-old daughter. "Suppose you really loved ants," I said. "I mean, really loved them. And you found out the city planned to tear up some of the old sidewalks back there and kill all those ants. What would you do, Shawna?"

"I'd tell the workers not to do it," Shawna said earnestly.

"What if the workers said they had to tear up the old sidewalks to put in new ones?"

"I'd tell the ants to go some other place."

"You would? What if the ants didn't leave? You don't speak ant language, and they might not understand what you were trying to tell them." Shawna thought about that for a minute, then I continued.

"Suppose scientists could take a Honey-I-Shrunk-the-Kids machine and make you as small as an ant. Would you do it, Shawna, so you could go down and talk with the ants?"

"Of course, Daddy."

"But, Shawna, it wouldn't work. You still wouldn't know how to talk ant-talk."
Shawna thought about that, too.

"Suppose they could take a machine and turn you into an ant, but there were only a 50-50 chance they could turn you back into a little girl afterward. Would you do it, anyway?"

"Yes, Daddy."

"But, Shawna, if there were only a 50-50 chance we could get you back, you wouldn't do it really, would you? What if you didn't come back? Your mommy and your older sister and your brother and your friends would be so sad. And your daddy would cry for days and days. Would you still do it-for a bunch of ants?"

"Yes...I mean, no, I guess I wouldn't, Daddy." We continued walking a few more steps.

"You know, Shawna, that reminds me of what Jesus did for us." After a pause, I asked, "Are you lots bigger than ants?"

"Yes!"

"How much bigger?"

"A hundred million times bigger."

"Is that how much bigger God is than us?"

"No, Daddy, He's even bigger than that. A zillion times bigger!"

"How much bigger?" I asked, gesturing in mock disbelief.

"Infinity!"

I thought about that, then suggested maybe Jesus Christ becoming a human was like one of us becoming a germ...intsy-wintsy, microscopic. By then we were walking down another old sidewalk on our way back toward home, and the kids were beginning to find ant colonies again.

"Would you really want to become an ant, Shawna? What if you went to tell these ants they had to listen to you and follow you to save their lives and they didn't believe you? What if they said, 'Who do you think you are?' What if they decided you must be an enemy from another ant colony they didn't like? What if they called you horrible names and started hurting you? What if they finally killed you? We'd cry and cry for weeks."

By now Shawna was in full agreement she wouldn't become an ant, no matter how much she loved them. I told her I was glad.

"Think about what Jesus did for us, Shawna. Even though He is God and made the whole universe, He became an intsy-wintsy human being. That's what Christmas is all about. And once He became a human, He stayed a human. He still was God but in a body that's this tiny [I gestured with two fingers held close] compared to the universe He'd made. And He still has that body today," I added. We both thought about that for a minute.

"What did people do to Jesus, though, when He came to earth?" I continued. "Did they receive Him gladly and believe what He said?"

"No, they crucified Him."

That's a horrible, horrible way to die, I explained to Shawna. Much worse than being obliterated like so many unfortunate ants. Yet why did He go through the agony of Good Friday?

"Because He loves us very, very much?"

"Yes, Shawna. He does. Jesus loves us so much He became a human being and died for us, to save us. But that's not the end of the story, of course. Because He's God, He also rose from the dead. He's alive!"

By then we'd rounded the last corner. Several of the kids dashed ahead of the others, and 45 minutes later my two little ones were tucked into bed with a kiss, a hug and a heartfelt prayer.

Many times since then, Shawna and I have reminisced about our ant talk--and what Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter really mean. I fervently hope that none of my children will ever grow too old to understand more about God from what they see around them on warm summer evenings.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Real Love

Real Love

A Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13—One of the Bible’s Most Famous Chapters

by David Sanford

If I talk a lot about God and the Bible and the Church, but I fail to ask about your needs and then help you, I’m simply making a lot of empty religious noise.

If I graduate from theological seminary and know all the answers to questions you’ll never even think of asking, and if I have all the degrees to prove it…and if I say I believe in God with all my heart, and soul, and strength, and claim to have incredible answers to my prayers to show it, but I fail to take the time to find out where you’re at and what makes you laugh and why you cry, I’m nothing.

If I sell an extra car and some of my books to raise money for some poor starving kids somewhere, and if I give my life for God’s service and burn out after pouring everything I have into the work, but do it all without ever once thinking about the people, the real hurting people—the moms and dads and sons and daughters and orphans and widows and the lonely and hurting—if I pour my life into the Kingdom but forget to make it relevant to those here on earth, my energy is wasted, and so is my life.

Here is what love is like…genuine love. God’s kind of love. It’s patient. It can wait. It helps others, even if they never find out who did it. Love doesn’t look for greener pastures or dream of how things could be better if I just got rid of all my current commitments. Love doesn’t boast. It doesn’t try to build itself up to be something it isn’t.

Love doesn’t act in a loose, immoral way. It doesn’t seek to take, but it willingly gives. Love doesn’t lose its cool. It doesn’t turn on and off. Love doesn’t think about how bad the other person is, and certainly doesn’t think of how it could get back at someone. Love is grieved deeply (as God is) over the evil in this world, but it rejoices over truth.

Love comes and sits with you when you’re feeling down and finds out what is wrong. It empathizes with you and believes in you. Love knows you’ll come through just as God planned, and love sticks right beside you all the way.

Love doesn’t give up, or quit, or diminish, or go home. Love keeps on keeping on, even when everything goes wrong and the feelings leave and the other person doesn’t seem as special anymore. Love succeeds 100 percent of the time.

That, my friend, is what real love is.

David Sanford serves as a lay teaching pastor at Spring Mountain Bible Church in Clackamas, Oregon (www.springmountain.org). He and his wife, Renée, are the general editors of the new Focus on the Family Handbook on Thriving as an Adoptive Family (Tyndale House Publishers). Permission granted for churches to reprint this paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13 in its entirety (including this notice). All other rights reserved. You can write to the author at david@credocommunications.net.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Moira Brown

My good friend Moira Brown, who’s interviewed me twice on 100 Huntley Street, “gets” the message of my book in a big way. One reason why: her own story.

There was no reason to suspect bad news when my uncle appeared at the door on January 6th, 1970. But as he walked with my mother to the living room, an invisible cushion of support came around me and a clear impression that “something’s coming, but it’s going to be all right.” Within minutes, my siblings and I would learn that our father had died suddenly of a heart attack while skiing on the very slopes where actress Natasha Richardson had a fatal fall this spring – Mount Tremblant in Quebec. At age 47, Dad was gone, leaving six children and a 39-year-old widow “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 NIV)

It would be many years before I realized that the supernatural comfort and strength I experienced during those tumultuous days was the provision of my heavenly Father. Deuteronomy 33:27 was a thrilling discovery, identifying my mysterious “cushion”: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms….” Those arms of love have guarded and guided me ever since.


You can read Moira’s whole article online at www.christianity.ca or www.crossroadstv.ca. As well, you can catch my second interview with Moira online at

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mike Paolicelli's incredible story

My friend Mike Paolicelli gave me permission to share his incredible story.

He writes:

I wanted to tell you about something incredible that happened Monday, June 1, 2009, while I was in for my chemotherapy. I know you probably read lots of "stories" and wonder if they are true. This one is true, and I happened to be in the thick of it. I think this will encourage you. The ending is amazing, if you are patient to through read it.

Monday marked my tenth chemo treatment. The nurse who attended me was someone who never treated me before. Our boys, Titus and Simeon, were with Janet this time around, to visit me at the start of treatment. This is a rare occurrence, for practical reasons, and because children are not officially allowed in the cancer infusion area (used for chemotherapy).

All of us were standing at the entrance to the infusion area, awaiting my turn, and doing our best to keep our healthy boys' talking away from other patients. Simeon was particularly talkative, and loud at times, making it difficult if not impossible for him to stay much longer without causing significant distraction for the other chemo patients. My attending nurse came up to us and said, "Would you like a private room where you and your family can sit?" This never happened before. We took her up on her offer, and away we went. The rest of this would not have happened were it not for Simeon -- but God was actually working through him. Were it not for Simeon's being out of character at this moment, the rest of this story would not have happened.

Eventually, it was time for the family to leave, and for me to begin my first chemical injection, commonly called "The Red Devil," because of it's appearance like red kool-aid. The injection must be given gradually, in the back of my hand, over about a 20 minute period. Just before giving the injection, this nurse, whom I don't recall ever seeing before, said, "So, I hear you are a pastor?" I responded affirmatively. Then she opened up.

"I'm Catholic. But I have so many questions, and I want more," she offered.

"Do you mind if I ask you a question?" I queried.

"Sure," She said.

"On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is I am absolutely sure, and 1 is I am absolutely unsure, would you say that your sins are forgiven and that if you were to stand before God today, He would let you into heaven?"

"I'm a 5," replied the nurse.

"Would you like to know for certain your sins are completely forgiven?" I asked.

"Yes, I would," she responded.

"Suppose you owed someone $5,000,000. How would you feel?"

"Terrible!" She laughed.

I went on, "But suppose that person came up to you one day and said, 'This is your lucky day! I'm going to entirely forgive you of $2,500,000 of that debt you owe me.'" I then asked, "Would you be happy?"

"No," she replied. "I'd still owe $2,500,000! That's still too much!"

"Exactly!" I said. "How would you feel if God only forgave you some or most of your sins, but not all of them? When Jesus was on the cross and said 'It is finished', he didn't wink. Jesus either died for all your sins or you are still in your sins, guilty before God, dead spiritually, and separate from Him."

Then I asked her the key question in life: "Have you ever given your life to Christ for the forgiveness of all your sins? You may know that Jesus died the sins of many, but what about you? Do you realize that your sin was enough to send Jesus to the cross? Have you accepted what He did on the cross for you?"

She quickly responded, "No."

"Would you like to?"

"Yes!" she said. I then motioned to her to come and sit next to me. It was there and then that she closed her eyes as I led her in prayer to acknowledge Jesus' death for her, the forgiveness of her sins, and she invited Him to be the Master of her life. Jesus became her Lord and Savior for the very first time. This is what it means to have Jesus as one's personal Lord and Savior. Amazing.


When we finished praying, I asked her what time it was. She looked at her watch and I said, "Remember this day and this moment. This is when you crossed from death to life." She smiled. Then I read her Ephesians, chapter 2, and explained that though we all have heartbeats, we are all dead -- spiritually dead, and in need to be made alive by God. This is what God did for her, made her alive, the moment she accepted Christ. And there I was, part of her story, involved, yet witnessing the greatest miracle of all before my very eyes: the resurrection of a dead soul to life with Jesus Christ. Does it get any better than this?


Then she said, "I'm just worried about my husband. He may not be interested." I told her to not worry, but to pray and simply share what happened to her that day, her story.


It just so happened that I had a copy of the first in our current message series at Renew with me (I never do). It's the first message in our series "Rediscover Jesus Christ." I gave it to her and she was all excited, as well.


To think, my sickness and my son's loudness led to this amazing event. Don't think for a minute that God can't or doesn't use your difficulties for a purpose larger than yourself. He does.

This nurse was "ripe" for God's picking. She had been prepared by God. There are others just like her all around you. Are you sharing your story with others? Are you looking for God to use you?

Mike Paolicelli
Pastor & Visionary, Renew Church
President, Godfactor, Inc.
www.Godfactor.com
704.800.1207
mike@godfactor.com

Copyright (c) 2009 Mike Paolicelli. Used by permission. Permission granted to freely share with family and friends. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 1, 2009

God’s Answer for Those Who Mourn, Grieve, and Despair

One of the most beautiful passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 61:2-3, says that the Lord will comfort those who mourn and provide solace for those who grieve — bestowing on them “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

What a relevant biblical promise for so many who are hurting these days due to financial losses, job losses, marital strife, and worse.

Relevant, that is, if we understand the word pictures that the prophet Isaiah employs in these verses.

In biblical times, abject sorrow and grief and mourning and anguish and despair were expressed in very tangible and physical terms.

First, the individual, family, community, or citizens of a given region would tear the garments they were wearing.

Second, they would throw ashes and dust on their heads.

Third, they would tear out, cut off, or shave the hair on their heads.

Fourth, they would remove their shoes, refrain from wearing nice clothes, quit using facial creams or oils, and stop perfuming themselves. No soap. No showers. No deodorant. No fresh clean clothes every day.

Fifth, they would dress in sackcloth — the equivalent of wearing a rough, scratchy, but sturdy farmer’s market potato sack.

Sixth, they would sit in silence or cry or weep and then sing songs of lament.

Seventh, they would fast, refraining from food and sometimes from water for a time.

So what are some of the ways today that we can submit ourselves to God and demonstrate our trust in His mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love?

First, let’s remember that while physical expressions of humility before God may take different forms in various cultures, they’re as valid today as ever.

Such physical expressions of humility before God can include bowing down before God, lying prostrate on the floor before God, weeping over sin in our lives or the lives of others, washing each other’s feet, praying for one another, and taking time off work for the purpose of silence and meditation and prayer and Bible reading.

Physical expressions of humility before God can also include doing difficult or menial but necessary acts of service in the church, in the workplace, in institutions of learning, in hospitals and care centers, on the streets and rescue missions, in your home, in other people’s homes, and in the community at large.

As well, physical expressions of humility can include public confession.

Second, let’s not forget seven very important words: “Life is a long lesson in humility.” For our wedding 26 and a half years ago, someone gave my wife, Renée, and me a napkin holder imprinted with that statement. Again, those seven words are: “Life is a long lesson in humility.” If you think about it, that’s a very bold and telling thing to say to a young couple—but very true. And very good. Even when the lessons are hard.

Third, let’s not forget that in time humility bears rich fruit. True, Renée and I have learned hard lessons in humility—including several severe losses of our own—but we have learned the sweetness of humility as well.  Because God is near to the humble, God gives grace to the humble. So Renée and I want to be where God and His grace are.

Fourth, let’s always remember that humility is not denying the amazing strengths, talents, abilities, blessings, and gifts of God at work in and through my life.

Fifth, let’s not overlook the fact that humility is dependence on Jesus Christ and the strong awareness that God is at work in all his love and power in the other person’s life just as he is in mine.

Sixth, let’s not overlook the fact that one of the paths to humility is thankfulness. Thankfulness for what God has done in and through my life, in the lives of those I love, and in the lives of my church family.

What about you? Where is your heart today? Are you wholeheartedly following Jesus Christ? Are you dependent on Him? Do you feel humble, righteous, and wise in the Lord’s eyes? Do you feel cleansed, forgiven, blessed, and honored by God? Do you feel thankful for all He’s done in your life and in our midst? I hope so.

Or perhaps you’re feeling conflicted inside. May you’ve experienced crushing circumstances or overwhelming temptations that have all but shipwrecked your faith. Perhaps you’ve lost more money this past year than you ever thought possible. Perhaps you’ve lost the best job you’ve ever had, to boot.

Let’s never forget that the Lord will comfort those who mourn and provide solace for those who grieve — bestowing on them “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:2-3).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stopping America's Greatest Epidemic

"My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered away from God's truth, don't write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God" (James 5:19-20, Message).

Let's Go After the Millions Who Have Lost Their Faith

Q. How can I help my friend who has left church and seems to doubt everything he or she used to believe about God, the Bible, and the Christian faith?

A. Since the publication of my new book, If God Disappears: 9 Faith Wreckers and What to Do about Them (SaltRiver, Tyndale House Publishers), I've heard this question a lot.

Here's how to go after your friend in the name of Jesus Christ...

First, love your friend unconditionally.

Second, invite your friend to tell his or her story. When they do, just listen. Don't ask questions. Don't interrupt at all, except to quickly affirm that you're actively listening.

Third, be unshockable. Truth be told, we've all broken the Ten Commandments, at least in our heart. Confession is good for the soul, so let your friend just talk. Don't react to anything he or she says, no matter how ugly or angry. They're not angry at you, even if it sounds that way. 

Fourth, after your friend has finished talking, remain quiet. Keep listening. While on business in Orlando I met a man who poured out his heart to me. When he was done, I kept looking into his angry, deeply hurt eyes and didn't say anything. After a minute he finally told me, "All I needed was hope and mercy." What a profoundly sad statement. But if I had started talking, I never would have heard what he needed. 

Fifth, once your friend tells you what he or she needs, clarify that list. Make sure you both agree on what was or is needed. 

Sixth, don't promise to meet your friend's needs. Often they want to know "Why?" You don't know. Don't even try to guess. Speculation will only ruin your credibility. 

Seventh, if you and your friend have a mutual friend who has a strong faith in God, explore the possibility of inviting that mutual friend to join you at some point in the future. If your friend can share his or her story with a second person, it's often helpful. That mutual friend may be a pastor, a professor, a psychologist, or another gifted Christian leader. Or that mutual friend may be an "ordinary" but wise individual you both know you can trust. 

Eighth, ask your friend if you can pray for them. If they're in agreement, pray right then. Then remind them from time to time that you're still praying for them. Prayer invites God back into the picture. 

Ninth, at the right time invite your friend to read the Bible with you. Read one of the four Gospels together. As you read, pray that your friend will fall in love with Jesus again. 

Finally, stay in touch with your friend no matter what. Your friendship can't be contingent on whether or not your friend comes back to faith in God. That's up to God, not you. You may have to hang in there for years before your friend re-embraces faith. No problem. Never get up on your friendship. True, some will walk away. But never let it be said that you walked away.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Yahoo Atheist Wonders About God Disappearing

For 13 more hours, you can reply to a Yahoo atheist named "Jefferson S" by logging onto http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090424080059AAcKGvO.

Jefferson's query: "Believers, what would you do if God disappears? I'm atheist but I'm just interested about what you would do if your imaginary god hypothetically poofs out of existence? What would happen to your morals when there is no reason to be righteous anymore? (no eternal punishment)."

As you can imagine, a lot of atheists and Christians alike have submitted responses over the past three days.

Here's what I said in my reply:

My father is an atheist. While I was growing up, he emphatically told me there was no god and, therefore, no rules. "Don't obey anyone," he told me in no uncertain terms. "Don't even obey me."

When I decided for myself that I believed God has appeared and that I wanted to be a follower of Jesus Christ, however, I found out our family did have a religion and a hard and fast rule. The religion was atheism and the rule was you couldn't follow Jesus Christ.

Buddha? Fine. Confucius? Terrific. The great atheists of the past four centuries? All the better. But Jesus Christ? Absolutely not. My paternal grandparents disowned me. My father unleashed his anger on me.

I paid my dues by studying under a German existentialist philosopher. My challenge to her: Convert me back to atheism or I'll be a follower of Jesus Christ all my life. After studying the great atheists over the past four centuries, I came to some amazing conclusions. They could write brilliantly about any subject under the sun except God, the Bible, and Christianity. Even those who wrote great textbooks on logic couldn't piece together a logical essay against God's existence.

For them, God's non-existence was a matter of faith. It's a faith I couldn't accept. I've written two books telling my story and addressing these issues in depth. I've listed both below.

If God Disappears: 9 Faith Wreckers and What to Do about Them by David Sanford (SaltRiver, Tyndale House Publishers, 2008), www.IfGodDisappears.blogspot.com, www.IfGodDisappears.com

God Is Relevant: Finding Strength and Peace in Today's World by Luis Palau and David Sanford (Doubleday, 1997)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April 1 -- Who Is the Biggest Fool?

In many parts of the world, April 1st is known as APRIL FOOLS' DAY. 
In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus talks about...

In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus talks about...

THE RICH FOOL

What's the Rich Fool's name?

If you asked the judge Ehud, he would have told you King Eglon of Moab, an extremely wealthy and obese tyrant who oppressed God's people for eighteen long years before his gruesome demise (Judges 3:12-20).

If you asked the prophet Samuel, he would have told you Eli, a well-to-do priest who scorned the things of God and suffered the same fate the Lord predicted would befall Eli's two utterly wicked sons (1 Sam. 2:27-4:18).

If you asked King David, he would have told you Nabal, a mean and dishonest man who had grown rich, threw a big party in his own honor and then was struck dead by the Lord (1 Sam. 25:2-38).

Scripture makes it clear that wealth can be a blessing of God.

But material wealth also can be a snare of the Devil, turning our heart from the eternal to the temporal--from wisely choosing God's will to blindly pursuing our own pleasures (Deut. 8:1-20; 1 Tim. 6:6-10).

If we've learned anything the past six months, it's that temporal wealth is just that--temporal. It can be here today, gone tomorrow. So let's hold it lightly, as a gift from God. And as a gift, let's use it and give it away and do things that matter for eternity while we can.

Unlike the Rich Fool, let's always remember that everything we have is God's--and do all we can to store up treasure in heaven.

After all, Jim Elliot was right: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

What many people don't know is that Jim's older brother, Bert Elliot, left for the mission field three years before Jim did. Bert and his wife, Colleen, have given their entire adult lives to serving the Lord in Peru, South America.

Among their many accomplishments, Bert and Colleen have planted well over 100 churches in the Amazon jungles, Andes mountains, and coastal desert regions of Peru. On many occasions, they've risked their lives.

On one occasion years ago Bert and I were walking along a jungle path when he told me, "I expect to leave Peru with a bullet in my head." Little did we know that the Shining Path terrorists had just signed a pact with the drug lords in those very jungles. Among other things, they put a price on Bert's head. Less than three days later they attacked the jungle town where Bert and I had left our wives. Thankfully, God spared their lives. But I quickly learned that it isn't always hard to become a martyr.

What's much harder is living for God with one's whole being for one's whole life. Then and there, I made a commitment to do just that.

I hope you've made the same commitment to "keep the faith" through thick and thin, in poverty and wealth, for as long as you live...whether to age 25, 45, 65, or 85.

On Saturday, April 25, Bert is scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate from Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.

He is no fool, indeed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Christian Post "Keeping The Faith" Blog

Recently, I've had the privilege to contribute to a brand-new "Keeping The Faith" blog on The Christian Post's website. Here are links to some of the articles featured over the last couple weeks:

Trust by Nancie Carmichael

When God has us in a hard place... by Rich Rollins





Losing Everything by David Sanford

Monday, March 16, 2009

Coming Evangelical Collapse?

The most viewed and arguably the most controversial article published in The Christian Science Monitor this past week? An analysis of the massive economic tsumani waves hitting everyone, everywhere around the world? No. Instead, it's a deeply troubling "must read" article by Michael Spencer that begins by saying:

We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century. 

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

         You can read the rest of this “must read” article here. What do you think?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"...I will finish strong."

One of the greatest temptations you and I will ever face in this life is to spiritually drift away from the Lord. No one is immune—no matter how long and faithfully they have walked with the Lord.

The late Dr. Joe Aldrich, former president of Multnomah Bible College, is one of several godly men who have motivated me to stay in the Christian race until the end. I still remember many of the lessons I learned under his mentorship nearly 30 years ago. On Dr. Joe’s desk at his death a few days ago was the following statement: “I surrender my life into the hands of God, knowing He has predestined for me His best. I will count the cost and by God's grace I will pay the price to become the best that I am capable of becoming. I will hold to my course and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I will finish strong.” Powerful words from an amazing man whose ministry and life were cut short by Parkinson’s disease.

Besides Dr. Joe, few men have influenced me more than Dr. John G. Mitchell, founder of what is now Multnomah University. Dr. John F. Walvoord once said Dr. Mitchell reminded him of an aged apostle. Never have I met a man who was more in love with the Savior. On two occasions Dr. Mitchell made a point of reminding me—more than sixty years his junior—that there are only three reasons Christians die. These reasons are true in Scripture, in church history, and in our experience today. Believers die (A) because of the discipline of God, 1 Corinthians 11:29−30; 1 John 5:16, (B) for the glory of God, John 21:18−19, and/or (C) because their work is finished, 2 Timothy 4:6−8. Dr. Mitchell also urged me to make sure, when it comes time to die, that dying is all I have left to do.

Thanks to the influence of Dr. Mitchell, Dr. Joe, and others, I love God’s Word. As a teenager, I started reading it from cover to cover, and before college I had memorized nearly 100 pages of Scripture. I’ve read through the Bible dozens of times. And I’ve discovered that only four chapters don’t talk about sin and temptation. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 we find that the biggest temptation is for believers to experientially “lose” our faith. How? We stop doing what the Lord says. Why? We stop believing what God’s Word says.

The startling truth is no one exempt from the temptation to experientially “lose” his or her faith. Not even Dr. Mitchell. Not even Dr. Joe. Thankfully, both did finish well. The question is, how will you and I die? Are we willing to make Dr. Joe’s commitment our own?

Consider it again: “I surrender my life into the hands of God, knowing He has predestined for me His best. I will count the cost and by God's grace I will pay the price to become the best that I am capable of becoming. I will hold to my course and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I will finish strong.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wisdom from Paul

Thanks to the encouragement of my wife, Renée, and good friend Michael Tso, M.D., earlier this decade I became friends with Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D.

Dr. Paul Metzger serves as Professor of Christian Theology & Theology of Culture and Director of the Institute for the Theology of Culture, New Wine, New Wineskins at Multnomah Biblical Seminary.

The past two years I’ve had the privilege to serve on Multnomah Biblical Seminary’s New Wine advisory council. During our most recent council meeting, Dr. Metzger opened with a half-hour meditation from God’s Word. Some thoughts I jotted down as Paul spoke:

The apostle Paul went for broke because Jesus was willing to be broken for him.

The end of the rope is where God lives.

God gives us this profound opportunity to trust him in the midst of our journey.

God’s character is never jeopardized by his emotions.

Knowing the answers doesn’t eliminate all of our existential angst.

Jesus redeems our story to share in his hour of glory, but he doesn’t do that by giving us all the answers or getting rid of our problems.

Jesus’ good news goes forward when we’re victimized and yet we go forward vs. staying in bitterness.

We are participants of Jesus Christ’s sufferings.

Am I willing to go for broke because Jesus was willing to be broken for me?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Problem with Me, Continued

As I said earlier, swear words aren’t the only words that should make us wince.

We all have had hurtful words spoken to us that we can still remember years later…words no one should ever hear. Yet in anger or spite someone said them to us. What words come to your mind? They may be words that changed how you felt about yourself, about God, about trusting others.

Passages like James 3:5-12 couldn’t be more clear-cut. Such words should never come out of our mouths. But put me in a car and I can say them to an inanimate object like my new GPS unit…or to my wife…or to my children. There’s no way I can justify such outbursts or snide remarks. They’re never from God. They’re always from the Devil.

When I flew home last Friday, Feb. 13, I already had made plans to take my wife, Renée, out for lunch for Valentine’s Day. Toward the end of a wonderful brunch at a nice restaurant on the Columbia River, I made three promises to Renée. The third promise was to show how much I cherish her by changing the way I speak to her when I’m frustrated, no matter what’s frustrating me. I promised to own the problem 100 percent.

There’s no way I want to transfer my frustration onto her by my words, tone of voice, attitudes, or actions. Better to be silent than to say anything that could hurt her.

After all: “The tongue is a fire and also a world of injustice. It is a part of the body, but it defiles the whole body, sets the entire created world ablaze, and is itself set ablaze by hell” (African Bible Commentary, page 1513).

The word “hell” in James 3:5b isn’t just a swear word. It’s a translation of the Greek word Gehenna. It’s the only use of the word outside the words of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The word Gehenna speaks not only of hell, but of the Devil, whom Jesus said is a liar, a thief, a murderer, and a destroyer.

Unlike other writers, James says that the tongue is a fire. Is he right? Doesn’t he mean the tongue is like a fire? No, the second part of verse 5 is clear. The tongue is a fire. It’s either lit by the Holy Spirit filling us to overflowing with words of grace and mercy and love, or it’s lit by the Devil and sparks a forest fire.

On the news we’ve seen the devastating effects of carelessness in California, arson in Australia, and a terrible plane crash in New York that took 50 lives. But have you ever seen the devastating effects of careless, angry, critical, or slanderous words you have said?

Then again, has anyone else ever said words that deeply hurt you? Has anyone ever said words that inflicted serious damage to your soul? As quickly as possible, put out the fire. Don’t let it burn within you any longer. And certainly don’t spread it further by anything you might say.

Instead, what should we do? James doesn’t tell us in this passage, but the rest of the Scriptures do.

First, we need to understand that our words—whether flippant or angry—all come from the same place. So we need to guard our heart and watch for any signs of fire.

Second, we need to understand that it’s not enough to bite our tongue until it bleeds. Instead, we need to confess our sins to God — and, as He prompts us — we need to confess them to the people we have hurt. I certainly have had to do that with Renée and my children and a number of friends.

Third, beyond confession, we need to ask God’s Holy Spirit to flood us with living water. Such living water will heal our hearts and tongues. Such water also will make our tongue fireproof.

Fourth, we need to understand it’s not enough to be filled with the Holy Spirit for an hour or two, or a day or two. We desperately need to ask for God’s washing, cleansing, and flooding with living water every day of our lives.

Has the Lord spoken to your heart this week? I hope so. Now, with His help, let’s take care of some unfinished business. 

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Problem with “Bonnie” and Me

Since New Year’s I’ve learned how to use my new GPS unit. But as I said yesterday, it will never make me a saint.

When I started working with my GPS unit, I tried all of the computerized voices and arbitrarily selected “Bonnie.” I checked off several other preferences, keyed in our home address, and loaded several addresses I knew I’d need in coming days. But using a GPS is a little trickier than that.

Almost predictably I ran into a number of problems. I had driven across two state lines before I discovered that I didn’t want to follow the yellow line “Bonnie” was showing me. Instead, I needed to follow the dark red line. No wonder I was getting frustrated whenever the two lines split apart with the yellow line heading west while “Bonnie” was telling me to head east.

An even worse problem was translating what I heard “Bonnie” telling me. She likes to say things like “keep left and then keep left” only to repeat herself five seconds later. To say the least, how she phrases things is quite different from what I would say in the same situation. And her constant repetition unnerves me. Of course, heading from Atlanta to Birmingham, “Bonnie” sat there not saying a word for a couple of hours, only to fall asleep with a worn out battery right when I needed her the most.

Plugging in the power cord fixed everything, I thought, until “Bonnie” started getting too chatty when I came to some road construction, discovered the exit was closed, and realized I needed to take a different route. “Bonnie” kept protesting non-stop so I finally turned her off to get her to shut up.

The fact is when “Bonnie” is chatting away I can get pretty sharp with her, especially when she pulls stunts like telling me to take an exit in ½ mile and the Atlanta freeway system has two such exits side by side at that spot. There I am yelling, “Which one do I take, Bonnie?” and then smarting off by saying, “Don’t tell me I just took the wrong exit, Bonnie. You’re the one who didn’t tell me whether to take I-65 North instead of I-65 South. Thanks a lot for nothing!”

One evening last week I spent 3½ hours on the road at night driving through a huge storm that sparked more than 19,800 lightning strikes and was spinning off deadly tornadoes, including one that killed 8 people. There I was driving in driving rain hour after hour, only to have “Bonnie” take me to the wrong hotel. I had a few choice snide remarks for her, to say the least.

I never got into the habit of swearing. But swear words, of course, aren’t the only words that should make us wince.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Why I’ll Never Be Called St. David

Lest there’s any misunderstanding, just because I don’t use profanity or swear words doesn’t mean I’m a saint. The fact is I can use “polite” language in very ungodly ways through my tone of voice, my angry attitudes, and worse. Not surprisingly, that happens most where I spend the greatest amounts of time alone or with my family: at home and in the car.

I can get so miserable in the car three or four times a year that my family finally bought me a GPS unit for Christmas. As anyone in Portland may recall, we had a bit of snow and ice around that time. Before heading to our church’s elders and wives New Year’s Eve party, my wife, Renée, and I went on a couple of errands. I hadn’t learned how to use the GPS unit yet, however, so I got turned around. Thankfully, Renée has a great sense of direction.

Unfortunately, my frustration at getting turned around while driving on icy roads added a bit too much undercurrent when I asked Renée which way to head back toward Sunnyside Road. I honestly wasn’t frustrated at Renée. The opposite. I love the fact she knows her way around so well. But what Renée heard was frustration, not thankfulness. So she froze up.

I looked over at Renee, knowing she knew exactly which way to go. Still nothing. “Well?” I snapped. Now Renée knew I was dumping my frustration on her. Of course, at first that was the farthest thing from my mind. But frustration at this is clearly a loss of self-control that can swing quickly to frustration with a loved one. Renée knew that. And sure enough, that’s what I did.

Thankfully, since New Year’s I’ve learned how to use my new GPS unit. But believe me, it will never make me a saint.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Being Gracious and Evangelistic

I remember when one of my older kids hit 18 and went off to university. Their vocabulary stretched by a word or two. I winced, but I didn’t offer a rebuke. Instead, I cheated and simply prayed. The Holy Spirit convicted them a while later, and even later during a visit they told me about it. My decision not to say such words had become their own personal conviction—literally without me having to say a word.

In essence, they realized they had never once heard Mom or Dad say such words, and they felt convicted by God to not use such words either. Now, clearly, those terms were “off limits” before they were 18 in our home, but even then not because we had such rules in our family.

Instead, we had simply talked with our older children about how to handle it when others use such terms or make harsh remarks. In our family, we explained, we have made the choice not to be offended. Instead, we always want to be gracious and evangelistic.

When I arrived at my hotel in Nashville this past Tuesday night, the hotel manager was training a brand-new employee. The woman in line ahead of me was nearly finished checking in. The brand-new employee was very polite, but made the mistake of saying the woman’s room number out loud, a huge taboo in the hotel industry for security reasons. Immediately, the manager rebuked the rookie as the woman walked away.

The tone in the hotel lobby was tense. I saw my opportunity, stepped up to the front desk, and cracked a joke. Humor is one of the best ways I’ve found to earn the right to witness to others. I used it with Nick, as I said yesterday. And I used it last Tuesday night with the hotel manager and trainee. I followed up with some more joking around, got them laughing, and then threw out a hook.

I started using a story to present the basic Gospel message, then paused. They asked what happened, so I finished the story and started a second one. They asked what happened, so I told the rest of that story. They agreed that they needed God in their lives, so I explained how later that evening they could pray to the Lord and place their trust in Him.

We traded contact information, they asked me to send them a book that explained the Gospel further, and walked away thanking God. I thanked God for having a great sense of humor and for giving the gift of humor to humanity, and for making humor, storytelling, and other wonderful, fun ways to share the Gospel with others.

After all, in their heart, almost everyone wants God, even if they have no idea that God is who they’re looking for.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Not Easily Offended

Yesterday I remarked that God doesn’t want any to perish, but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), no matter how colorful or limited someone’s vocabulary is.

I saw this again on my way to Chicago recently. I talked for a couple of hours with a young man named Nick. He’s 22 years old, graduating later this spring from one of the top universities in Massachusetts. During the course of our conversation, Nick dropped several "bombs" while telling me about his New York family’s decades’ long commitment to a Hindu guru who moved to Oregon many years ago. It was both humorous and intriguing as Nick tried to convert me to this guru’s main tenets of faith. Then again, humor is a great segue into talking about our deepest religious beliefs and convictions.

After a while, Nick started railing against evangelicals. Without tipping my hand, I countered some of Nick’s misperceptions of evangelicals by saying I’ve read a lot of evangelical writings and never heard anyone espouse the things he was saying they believe and teach.

When Nick asked what I did, I briefly told him about my new book, If God Disappears, which he said sounded interesting. In fact, he seemed quite interested. So I told him about my blog where I said he could find a link to read the first chapter of my book. I then gave him my IfGodDisappears@gmail.com e-mail address and asked him to let me know what he thought after reading what I had to say.

Later that evening in Boston Nick went online, read some of my blog postings, and then read the opening chapter of my book. Nick then turned around and wrote a lengthy, profusely apologetic letter to me via e-mail. He was seriously worried that he had offended me. No, he hadn’t, I assured him. Why? I consciously made a decision long ago not to be offended by someone’s vocabulary or remarks. It’s a decision we all have to make. It’s counterintuitive, I know. But just because I’ll never use such words in anger doesn’t mean I have to judge others who use such terms, especially if they use them flippantly.

Yes, I realize some can use such words to denigrate others, which I do find deeply offensive. But Nick wasn’t trying to denigrate me. So there was no reason for me to feel offended or ask him to clean up his vocabulary. Any such remarks easily could have been more offensive than anything Nick was saying.