Defining Moments

I reflect on this day every year.  Most, at least most of my generation, do, because September 11, 2001 was a defining moment much like Pearl Harbor or D-Day was for a generation before.  However, I reflect on it a little differently than most.  I also write about it most every year, so I apologize in advance for repetition of thought…

I was getting ready for the day when my wife came in to the room.  She had just gotten back from taking our son, Jonah, to Mother’s Day Out and we had a big day ahead of us.  She said, “The Twin Towers have been hit.”

We went to the living room to watch the events unfold.  We were mesmerized and confused and wondering what all of it meant.  Then we left the house.

We went to the store to pick up cupcakes.  Yes, cupcakes.  It was Jonah’s 4th birthday, and we had promised cupcakes for his class.  We took the cupcakes to the class, then rescued Jonah from “school” and headed up to Nashville with his little brother, Jonathan, in tow.  We passed the small, local airport on the way up and noticed the police cars guarding the entrance.  We headed to the Nashville Zoo.  We took pictures, waved at the animals, and visited the gift shop.  There was not a big crowd that day, and we could hear the radio reports of potential other events (which did not materialize) while in the shop.  Holly and I looked at each other, wondering, and then we headed back out into the zoo.

Our thought?  Life goes on for a four-year-old.  It has to.

You see, we are alive in a world today where everything seems to be in such chaos that it is hard to pick out a single “defining moment.”  It is as if everything is going on at all times and that we could sit and watch on the news and make memorials and remember every moment of every day.

In the middle of it all… life must go on.

I think of missiles being fired into Israel and how they must still go to work and school.  I think of beheadings and bombs and how the people still have to shop and work and celebrate birthdays and weddings.

Life must go on.

There are tragic days of our past, but we now live in a world where every day seems to have a new tragedy.  It is frightening.  It is paralyzing.

But… life must go on.


Isaiah 41: 10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Enoch, Walking not Living, and Pursuing, not just Believing

Today, I tried to share a little about Enoch.  Yes, the Enoch in the Bible, the one who was “taken away” instead of dying.  It’s an odd story that really isn’t given as much play in the Scriptures as it should be.

Elijah was the other one who never died in the Scriptures.  His life is well chronicled, from the good to the bad, and his departure is described in vivid detail.  Enoch… not so much.

Genesis 5 says that Enoch lived for 65 years, had Methuselah, and then “walked with God” another 300 years.  At age 365, “he was not, for God took him.”  The only hint of something different in his life was that all others listed in chapter 5 of the book of Genesis simply have their life described as “they lived” but life is described as “he walked.”  I tried to share that there is a difference between living a life vs. walking with God.  The amazing thing about Enoch’s life is not that God “took” him, but that his walk was one that led up to that “taking.”

The key, I believe, to what Enoch’s life was all about is found in the New Testament in Hebrews 11.  The book of Hebrews says that Enoch pleased God, which can only be done through faith.  This faith is that God IS.  It’s that simple.  Being sure of God.  We attempt to redefine God as Someone who will fit our thoughts and plans.  We come up with phrases such as “to me…” to begin our description of Him.  However, true faith is not defining God or His word as we see fit, but allowing our faith in Him to define who we are.

Hebrews goes on to say that Enoch “believed…” and he “diligently pursued God.”  We believe in God.  This simply means that we put our spiritual condition in His hands.  However, he also diligently pursued.  I looked this phrase up.  It means to “crave” or “demand.”  This led to a thought that will be about 35 minutes quicker here than I made it this morning.

What do you crave or demand?

Enoch craved God.  That’s why he pleased God.  I think that’s why he was described as “walking with God” (Genesis 5) rather than simply “living a life” like all of the others.  I really believe that what you crave actually controls you.

I ask you who read this… What are you pursuing?

Whatever that is that you crave… Whatever you demand in life… that is what controls you.

What you are pursuing is determining what will be written about you, and will determine where and how you wind up.

If it is God, then you have a walk.  If it is anything else, then you are just breathing air.

It’s All In Front of You

This is the time of students going back to school.  I have jokingly referred to it as “the most wonderful time of the year.”  Today, however, I feel like I could cry.

Nothing is wrong.  I am just a dad that wants the best for my boys.  I want them to be safe.  I want them to realize their dreams.  I want them to be happy.

And I realize that I cannot make those things happen.

It is in days like this that I am reminded to put them in God’s hands… again.  It seems that God has to remind of this often.  He is constantly on me about allowing Him to have things on His heart so they would not be on mine.  Other days it is other things.  Today it is my boys.  The world is in front of them, and it is awesome.  I wish I could do “it” all for them, but I can’t.

I can’t make them safe.

God is our protector.  We pray His covering over them every day, and then try not to worry as we trust Him to follow through.  The biggest thing about it all is that we are not even called to live a “safe” life.  I don’t want harm to come to my boys, but I don’t want them to play it safe with life.  I want them to experience the rewards that only come from taking a risk.  The new friend that only comes because you walked across the lunch room when no one else would.  The opportunity to show a talent that was only seen because you stood on stage when others stayed in their seats.  The ability to be on a team even though it hurts and is hard and you might not get the same shot as others.  I don’t want my boys to play it safe.  God… keep them from harm.

I can’t make their dreams come true.

Part of not living a safe life is that you choose not to settle.  Don’t setting for mediocre.  Don’t settle for less.  I started off my message in church this past Sunday with sharing that only one of our McDonald’s has large drinks for a dollar.  A small is a dollar, a medium is more, and a large is a dollar.  The only reason to get a medium is that you are just not that thirsty.  I want my boys to be thirsty.  I want them to dream big and then watch what happens.  I really believe that the bigger you dream the greater the things can happen in reality.  God is the Author of their lives… I am not.  God is the One Who orders their steps… I do not.  I pray that He places dreams in them that the world would stand in awe of.

I can’t make them happy.

Happiness is a function of attitude.  We can choose to wallow in our junk, or we can choose to be happy.  School is not the most fun thing in the world, but they can choose to be happy while there.  Work might not be a “happy” place, but you can choose to be happy while there.  Whatever you are going through, YOU choose how to respond.  God has promised to give us “peace that passes understanding,” which means that you might not understand how you can have peace in a situation but you do anyway.  You can choose to have a joy inside and outside at any moment in your life.  In fact, the way you respond to things in your life will go a long way to determine the outcome of the situation itself.  God, give my boys joy and happiness today.

So today, I know that “God’s got this,” so I don’t have to.

I believe… help my unbelief… again.

Thank you, God.

What Is Going On In Israel?

In 2008 I was privileged to go to Israel on a standard pilgrimage.  It was an incredible trip for many reasons, as I determined in my heart to look past the tourist trappings of such a trip and allow the experience to broaden my mind and spirit.  I had a couple of observations that I believe would be good for anyone taking a short trip to the Holy Land to “see the sights.”

  • It’s not about the “site” but about the land
  • It’s not about the land but about the God of the land

You see, the sites are presented as specifics/traditional but are really just general.  The prophets of old and Jesus Himself walked that land, yet the building or the road are not as important as the picture of a nation and how seeing that place redefines how we view the Scriptures and, for me, how I preached the Scriptures.

The young man who led our trip was a Palestinian.  I believe that it was the first time that he had led a tour, and he had a certain amount of knowledge, but the real guide was the man who put our trip together from the states.  We stayed in the West Bank for part of the trip, and I came out of the trip with a few things on my heart to pray for.

  • A city without a Protestant Church (Jericho)
  • A school (and church) in a Palestinian town (Aboud – don’t even look for it on a map) and,
  • A pastor and family in Jerusalem (now living and ministering in Bethlehem)

All are a part of the Palestinian world and I think of these three things / places often and pray God will have his Will rule over them.

In 2010, I went back to Israel on a completely different trip.  I was a part of an Outreach Fellowship with 13 others who were to become liaisons for the nation of Israel to our congressional leaders.  I still to this day don’t know how I got on that trip.  Honestly, I think I was a hot mess while traveling, because I was praying through the revelation that I was finished at the church we led, and was walking into the beginning of the oddest 4 years of my life.  But I digress…

We had security guards because of the nature of our trip.  We drove the Golan Heights, planted a fruit tree steps from the Lebanon border, and walked the streets of Sderot which is one mile from the border of the Gaza Strip and stepped into a bus stop/bomb shelter in that same city.  I shook hands with 18-year-old soldiers on the front, nearly fell asleep sitting next to the Chief Adviser to Netanyahu, and did not make a friend of a reporter for the Jerusalem Post at a breakfast.  I had the privilege of being briefed by three members of the Knesset (the legislative branch of Israel), I visited Yad Vashem (the World Center on the Holocaust), questioned the members of a Post-Traumatic Center in Tel Aviv, met with members of the Palestinian Authority (in what seemed to be an “undisclosed location”), toured an assimilation center for Ethiopian Jews, and shared a Seder with a wonderful family on Sabbath, among other things.

I have a piece of pottery from the southern region that is 2400 years old.  I also have a picture of a man in plain clothes at the Western Wall with an M-16.  To this day I get briefings on what is going on in this nation and the territories that are so much in the news these last few days.

All of this to say that I am not an idiot concerning things of this region.

What is going on in this region is honestly beyond any of our understanding.  We have a different mindset in the U.S., and all we think we know about culture and rational behavior is thrown out the window when dealing with the Middle East.  There are a few things that I want to share about the current escalation:

  1. The escalation is not current.  You probably only heard about it on the news when Israel shot back.  I equate it to a boy hitting another with a stick over and over for days.  One day the boy being struck had had enough and picked up a bigger stick and hit the instigator with enough force to knock him down.  Then the second boy is seen as a bully and gets punished.  Before Israel struck back with accuracy rockets were being fired daily from Gaza, not as surgical strikes but sent without reason to instill terror in the citizens of Israel.  The rockets were beginning to travel further into Israel than ever before, putting more or her citizens at risk.  Israel had had enough.
  2. Israel continues to send aid into Gaza.  More than 1,904 truckloads of good have entered Gaza since the start of the operation.  On the 4th of August Israel transferred 185 trucks carrying 2,769 tons of food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies into Gaza.  This does not count the truckloads of supplies that have been driven into the Gaza Strip daily (and for years) before all of this hit the news.
  3. When Israel left Gaza as part of the “land for peace” agreement a few years ago, the infrastructure was in place to provide for a thriving economy.  Most of it was systemically destroy by Hamas because they did not want anything from the Israelis.
  4. The leadership of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is not the same leadership in Gaza.  The reporter I mentioned earlier (the one that I don’t think became my buddy) mentioned that all of the talk of a “two-state solution” was bogus, “two-state” meaning a Palestinian state and a Jewish state.  (I don’t think he used the word “bogus,” but you get the point.)  He said there was already a two-state situation… the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas (the terror group) in Gaza.  Until that was resolved, he stated, there could be no solution.
  5. The posturing by some in the Christian circle is mind-boggling.  I mentioned before that I developed a heart for some of the Palestinian areas and people that I came across.  It remains.  However, there is a trend that if you stand up for one thing then you must be against all other things.  In this case, some are fighting the idea of standing for Israel because it appears to be a declaration that we hate the Palestinians.  This could not be further from the case.  We are mandated by God to support His people, which are the people of the nation of Israel.  This does not mean that we always see eye to eye with leadership, but we are to stand behind His people.  We are blessed when we do this, and we will have that blessing removed when we do not.  This does not mean that we hate Palestinians.
  6. And this could be 5b, but there is justification by some in the Christian community to stand with the Palestinians because they are “more likely to be ‘Christians’ than those in Israel.”  Again, I am not ignorant of the people of this region.  We suffer from a way of thinking that if someone says they are a “Christian” then that means they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, that they believe that He died on the cross for their sins and now, having risen from the dead, intercedes on their behalf before the Father.  That is what it means here, and that is what it means in the Scriptures.  There, some who identify themselves as Palestinian Christians are not meaning the same thing that we understand.  There are, in fact, Palestinian believers, and there are believers in Gaza as well.  However, some who say they are “Christians” are really identifying themselves as not being something else more than identifying themselves as something.  In other words, they are not Jewish and are not Muslim so they identify themselves as Christians.  This is a general statement I know, and if you are going to argue this point then you will argue against my point, and that is fine.  You see, I also live in an area where we are all “Christians” because we believe in apple pie and the big man upstairs, but not because our lives have been radically changed by the power of the Gospel, so the fact that words mean different things to different people is not lost on me.
  7. If Gaza (really, Hamas) lays down their weapons, they live.  If Israel lays down its weapons, Israel dies.  This is what I keep coming back to whenever I try to wrap my head around right and wrong in warfare.  Who wants peace, and who wants the destruction of another?  I tend to side with the one who desperately wants peace, even when they have to go to war to get it.  I am a “justice” guy… meaning I cannot tolerate a bully.  I know, because a personality test I took once told me so.  I want to see wrongs righted.  That is who I am.  It is what keeps my motivation going at times, AND it is what I have to take to the cross daily because there is a fight within me that wants to keep fighting (and not everything is a fight).  I know of a people who are surrounded by nations that want to annihilate them, and they keep on living.  They are vastly outnumbered, have no natural resources in the land to speak of, and the bias as a default against them is unrelenting… and yet they remain.  They send their children to get on the bus to school knowing that if a siren sounds their children will have to know to find a shelter within 15 seconds… and they continue to send them because life must go on.  Rockets have been fired constantly from Gaza since Israel evacuated, but in the current escalation since July 8: 3370 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza; 2300 rockets have struck Israel; and 578 have been intercepted by Iron Dome.  Yes, Israel has fired back into Gaza to take out targets, but from July 8, 280+ rockets fired from Gaza have hit Gaza.  Hamas is destroying their own people in Gaza.

What some think they know, they don’t know.  In the world of posturing and appearances we want to appear open-minded about everything, but there really are some facts we can rely on.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  Pray for the people in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza that there will be safety from those meant to do harm because of terror.  Pray that God will be glorified and that the Son of God will be lifted up and draw all men (and women and children) to Him.

But It’s My Job…

I am currently sitting in my office (more of a closet really) at our building thinking about the coming year and trying to strategize and plan.  Mostly though, I am sitting staring at the walls.  How do you take a group of people and place them into ministry and put others beside them?

I am really asking…

The reason I am asking is that in churches, most pastors really do want the people to do the work of the ministry.  We understand “gifting tests” and placing people where they fit best.  We understand that we (pastors) cannot do it all alone, and we (pastors) really don’t want to do it alone.  Just the other day I was having the thought running through my head that I was just “putting on church” for everyone to come.

The truth is that I’m not that good to accomplish “putting on church” well, and I’m too human to do it by myself and not get frustrated.  So, I plan and I place people and attempt to make this thing be able to grow bigger than me.  However, one of the issues that I see in churches is this: Once someone is given a job of ministry that they like they tend to hold onto it until it is pried from their cold dead hands.  The principle of multiplication is lost when we refuse to let something go.

How are we attempting to alter the culture of what we do here at City Church?  Well, we are attempting to challenge people not to take ownership of a ministry but to take responsibility.  Everything we do is simply an act of stewardship of what God owns.  It’s (whatever “it” is) is not ours, it belongs to God.  So, in this process of putting people into ministry jobs, I will be starting with a question.

“What can you do?”

Sounds simple enough, but it allows us to help someone know where they fit.  However, we are going to be asking another question…

“Can somebody else do it too?”

If so, we want those in ministry to be able to do two things: 1) Partner with them, and 2) Share with them.

If one working on a project can accomplish something, how much more than 2 or 3 accomplish?  How can we partner with others, both in and outside of our church, to do the work of the ministry that will really change the culture of this city?  That is out goal.

Also, if when we do what we do we feel as if we have stepped into the perfect plan of God, then won’t anyone else with that same gift feel the same way?  We want that good feeling of purpose to be shared by all.  So, we need to realize that others need a chance as well.  We can’t see it as an opportunity to take something from us (remember, we don’t own “it), but as an opportunity to share the blessings of God by seeing others walk in their gifts.

That’s the rope I’m attempting to walk across in my head right now.

Resolve for Discipline

Read something tonight from Tony Dungy’s devotional, “Uncommon Life: Daily Challenge.”

“We commit to learn more about Him and about how we can be better disciples.  It’s not a passive endeavor.  It takes resolve and repetition, consistently working at it for maximum results.”

As I think about what goals I want to reach this coming year (some would call them “resolutions”) I understand at the start that it will take a commitment on my part to make it happen.  However, I also understand that when my commitment is partnered with God’s power and presence, then my goals will become only a small part of what God wants to do in my life.  His ways will overwhelm my ways, and greater things will be accomplished by Him through my endeavors.

I also know that God wants some things accomplished through our church.  My goals, and I think God’s goals, for the part of the body that worships and does life together at CCD (City Church Dayton) are as follows.

– Every Family involved in a ministry team at the local level
– Every Family connected in study with others through our upcoming Connection Groups
– Every Family building relationships with others through the “Stages of Life” events
– Every Family engaged in outreach missions either through giving or short-term trips
– Every Family serving the city in regular iServe1 / Servant Evangelism activities
– Every Family growing through personal and family worship
– Every Family faithful in attendance & giving and receiving the promised blessing of God

Now, imagine what will happen if our commitment joins with the power and presence of God!

Does not being OK mean that you are not OK? A look at the Jason Collins story.

I have been listening for the past couple of days to the story of Jason Collins on sports radio.  For those who don’t know, Jason Collins was featured in Sports Illustrated as the first openly gay pro-basketball player.  You can read the article here.  The ironic timing has coincided with the release of Tim Tebow from the Jets, who is much maligned for being liked by people who are Christians.  Sure, there are issues of football and Tim’s perceived inability to play quarterback in the NFL as well as the stories about His personal faith in Jesus Christ that are all a part of the story; but most of the vitriol against Tebow is that the experts in sports media say he can’t play and are appalled that the masses (fans) would not just take their word for it.

Enough about Tebow, because I have been pondering on the “coming out” of Jason Collins.

This has become a huge story.  My 15-yr-old asked me about it, and I hear him talking about it with his cousins while they are playing the same sport in the driveway that Collins plays on the hardwood.  Colin Cowherd has had guests on to discuss being openly gay in the pros and other sports hosts have aired their support for Collins and his courage in sharing his story.  I get it.  However, there are a couple of things that have gone over and over in my mind that I want to address.

It seems the sports radio/tv hosts are focusing on the issue of “locker room.”  The question is asked, “Will other players in the locker room support a gay teammate?”  The answer from the players has been overwhelmingly, “Yes.”  In the end, they say, it is all about results in the field / on the court and nothing else should matter.  Again, I get it.  I agree with that point.  Who someone is privately should not affect how they can shoot a free throw.  I am not sure that it matters who or what that person is.

However, I think there is one point that is not being asked, even though it still pertains to the locker room.  How does that work, having a man or woman in a locker room who is attracted to the ones who are sharing that locker room?  It’s an honest question.  The point could be spoken that just because a man is attracted to men does not mean he will be attracted to the men who are in the room with him.  The point could also be spoken that just as in heterosexual attractions there is more than just the physical going on.

But I still have a problem.  Say you have a completely committed, heterosexual, married man who loves his wife with everything in him and would never, ever cheat on her.  Say this same man has a job that he shares with women, and the women are not people he is attracted to because he is so in love with his wife.  Some of the women are physically attractive, and others are not by physical/phantom/photoshop standards.  He works with them every day and they rely on each other to get their job done, and remember, he is committed to his wife and will not cheat with any of his co-workers.  Now, say this job requires them to share a locker room, meaning open showers, dressing areas, etc.

Pause a moment before you read my question and think honestly about the answer.

How comfortable would the women be in that locker room?

The “locker room” question wouldn’t be so much about being teammates but about being modest.  My thought is that the women would probably have the right to feel uncomfortable showering next to someone who finds their sex attractive, even if he doesn’t find them attractive.  I think this is an issue with Collins.  Am I wrong?

I still have a another problem.  Where the pundits are going with this is not that we should accept that there can be a gay athlete, but that we should be OK with homosexuality.  This is where a troubling issue comes for me.  The media is spending their time under the pretense of getting society in general (or their listeners in specific) to be comfortable with homosexuality.  I think they are wasting their time.  Society, in a very general sense, has decided that they are more and more comfortable with homosexuality and are beginning to accept it as a normal.  I say it is a pretense because in reality they are really attempting to get those who believe their is a sin problem with homosexuality to change their mind on the topic.  Terms such as “inclusion” and “inviting more to the party” are used.  “It’s 2013,” Colin Cowherd said yesterday.

I don’t think that people should be hated for a lifestyle  they follow.  But the issue is not whether society thinks homosexuality is or is not OK.  Homosexuality is a sin that God sent His Son to die for so that we could be set free from.

Going down the same “locker room” and “teammate” road that the media has made the discussion, what if there is a teammate that is a man who is attracted to women.  However, his deal is that he has no scruples.  His moral compass is such that if he finds a woman attractive he will pursue her and lure her, even away from her husband if possible, no matter the relationship he has with that man.  He can hit the free throw, but would you let him pick your wife up from airport if you needed a favor.

Would it matter to you that he was a leech?  Not on the court or field, perhaps.  Not with the team chemistry, perhaps.  But would you be “OK” with the fact that he was a leech?  Would you be wrong to say that it is wrong for Him to try to steal your wife?

Name another sin, either one that society has chosen to be an actual crime or just one that God says is what keeps you from Him.  Do we have to hate the person who has this sin in their life?  No.  Do we have to keep them from being a teammate?  No.  But do we have to be OK with the sin?  Also, no.

The news media is now crying “bigot”, not if you hate or discriminate against a person, but if you don’t think what they do is OK.  You are close minded and living in another century if will not sign off on every action of another as acceptable.  Listen to the discussion.  That is what is being said.

They are making an issue out of this, not because a pro athlete “came out,” but because some might raise an eyebrow.  In fact, they are not even waiting for there to be any backlash, but are vilifying a phantom detractor before they even step forward.  It HAS been a huge story, but only because there is fight against all who would hold a standard against sin and so the story has been about those who could potentially be against Collins.

Its a great way to win an argument when you make up an antagonist to argue against.

Love God.  Love people.  Hate sin.

Don’t forget any of these three.


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