The Lord of Anxiety?

As a young man, I read the following passage in a much different light than I do today.

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; [2] before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, [3] in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, [4] and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low—[5] they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets—[6] before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, [7] and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. [8] Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity. “(Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 ESV)

In my youth spring of optimism- I saw it as a story of those who DON”T walk with God at an early age. Forget God, and your life becomes a twisted, empty, and miserable maze of melancholy.

As I grow older, I NOW see that this passage describes periods of time in which all humans share- whether in the Lord or without. No one escapes. The one most surprised by it was me.

There are hindrances to blog writing… this topic in particular needs more than a book to dissect and deliberate…. And many who I work with find the struggle to be in decades and not days. But I will delve into this just a little as a testimony that there is victory in Christ in this area- and winning sometimes is as simple as breathing.

Though modern Christianity tends to shy away from these topics… the Bible and the history of Christianity is a hard core, blunt testimony to believers who walk in periods of darkness and despair.

If you doubt this – read David’s laments as he cries through lonely nights, Naomi who called out to those around her to change her name. She said “Don’t call me Naomi (pleasant), Call me Mara (Bitter)”. Jeremiah was known as the ‘weeping prophet”.

There is an ENTIRE book called “Lamentations”- I guarantee we don’t read that book a lot.

Martin Luther was famous for fits of what he termed a malady of melancholy.The great nineteenth century preacher Charles Spurgeon suffered from acute depression. Often he was bedridden and unable to preach, sometimes as much as twice a month.

Now, again, it is so important here to not put all of these experiences in a simple basket called ‘the blues’.

The more we learn about these conditions from acute to chronic, from chemical and genetic disorders, from weather related conditions, from trauma in early life, from tragedy in life, from fear and anxiousness, to identity crisis… even spiritual crisis… this is never going to be simple and the cure will often appear out of the reach of reality… but God is never absent and we are never without hope.

I also wanted to make reference and distinguish to something similar, but not the same. Early church fathers spent much time on a season they referred to as , “The Dark Night of the Soul”.

The phrase comes from an 8 stanza poem by St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), a Spanish monk and mystic.Gerald May, in his book  Care of Mind/Care of Spirit, says that these dark night places are doing a work that is deeper than our experiences of emotion, thought or action. In some ways, it might be more helpful to call the “dark night” a non-experience or a process of ‘unknowing’ .

The word ‘distinction’ is so important in ciphering through these experiences….

“It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness. A Christian can have joy in his heart while there is still spiritual depression in his head. The joy that we have sustains us through these dark nights and is not quenched by spiritual depression. The joy of the Christian is one that survives all downturns in life.” R.C. Sproul


I may be wrong, but I NEVER remember being ‘depressed’ for any length of time throughout my teens, 20’s, and early 30’s. Sure, I got ‘disappointed’ and I suffered loss. I went through seasons of unrequited desires.

But not only do I not remember fighting depression or negativity, I actually had little patience with anyone who did. I disliked anyone who spoke in defeatist terms.. and the ‘blues’? My shallow and unfeeling reply was ‘get over it, you loser’.

BUT LIFE (and God) made sure I experienced what Ecclesiastes was promising.

Sure I was still a man of faith, I was loved, I was blessed- I was a peaceful man more with joy than regret..

but I also found myself dealing with a strange new friends… fears, doubts, loneliness, and emptiness. And they were tangible.. I could taste them. They made my eyes tired, they kept me up at night, and I couldn’t even introduce them to my wife.

It wasn’t dramatic enough to be labeled a ‘mid-life crisis’- I wasn’t thinking of convertibles and Corona’s…..But I was pulled by a strong gravity inward to wrestle with deep desires and questions that I had hidden with youthful exuberance and a smile.

Now, here is the weird thing….looking back over 20 years of meeting these friends in sneak attacks and seasons of grief or pain….. It was wonderful!

Because I did find the one person who met me there, in the dark, under the accusing crooked fingers of my demons.

Jesus was and is there, though many times I did not see Him. He didn’t say much.. but I knew He cared. You know the old Marine saying? “You can pretend to care, but you cannot pretend to be there.” One of the greatest growth moments of faith is to look into the darkness and know you are not alone… HE WAS THERE!

How was He there? I found that God’s Word powerfully attached to all of those dispositions. I particularly found healing in Psalms and in the gospels.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:7­-10).

The apostle Paul in writing to the Philippians gives me the admonition to be “anxious for nothing,” telling me that the cure for anxiety is found on my knees, that it is the peace of God that calms my spirit and dissipates anxiety. Again, I can be anxious and nervous and worried without finally submitting to ultimate despair.


Before you give me a wreath of victory… the struggle remains. And for some people, it is a lifelong battle that requires consistent medication, evaluation, and professional support. At this time, I haven’t had to go there, but it is no lack of faith and no reason for shame if I did.

I was also helped by Os Guinness in a book titled, “The Call”

For me,  Os Guinness began to articulate about finding authentic love and truth in the dark.

He writes: The notion of calling is VITAL to each of us because it touches on the modern search for a basis for individual identity and an understanding of humanness itself.

He outlines stages of human identity that is connected to our own sense of purpose. All human worldviews and philosophies speak to aspects of these ‘labels’ of identity

One is “I AM CONSTRAINED TO BE”– this simply is where we are right now by following the path that led here. It is the lot we find ourselves, and can present itself like a prison of our own circumstances. Sometimes these constraints look insurmountable… and some are.

The next one is “COURAGE TO BE”- this is the one that I held to as that optimistic 20 year old. I bought into all the snappy slogans that turned into self-help best sellers. “Be all you can be”- “Shoot for the Stars”. Now, to he honest- these are great challenges and they do ‘birth’ dreams that are helpful in the process of pulling against our restraints.

The third one is “CONSTITUTED TO BE”- this one is where most secular philosophies stop and ‘mission accomplished’ is celebrated. We have broken out of our constraints and now revel in a life. We have FOUND our identity in context of experience, passion, and skill. The power is within ourselves and can be described as a kind of ‘intestinal fortitude’ or ‘guts’.

But the Bible does not stop there… it wants me to take one more step… a step of faith..and it is a huge deal…

‘CALLED TO BE’– this is the relationship of love that moves us with purpose and not a product of chance and whim. By being called to a person… especially the Creator and Lover of our souls, we have a place to go when our soul is wounded and crushed or flooded with anxiety. Who can we depend on when our ‘guts’ run out?

R.C. Sproul said it like this:

The presence of faith gives no guarantee of the absence of spiritual depression; however, the dark night of the soul always gives way to the brightness of the noonday light in the presence of God.

My relationship with a FATHER… THE FATHER.. the lover of my soul… gives me a NAME that matters.

My despair… anxiety… loneliness.. depression… grief… was good- because it drove me to the One who was seeking me all along.

C.S. Lewis says it is in our stories…. a ‘desire for a far off country’  the scent of a flower we have not found… the echo of a tune we have not from a country we have yet to visit”

And when we find Him in the depths.. we still don’t know a lot… but we know Him. And our question becomes “What do you desire me to do?”

Remember Naomi… the one who wanted to be called “Bitter”?

Naomi knew darkness. She and her husband had to sojourn in famine conditions in Moab. She had 2 sons who married Moabite women. Life was tough, but grew desperate as Naomi had to experience the death of her husband and, 10 years later, she went through the pain of losing her two sons!

And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”  (Ruth 1:19-21 ESV)

But, OVER TIME, Naomi experienced the love of God through Ruth and God stepped in and provided a Kinsman Redeemer and lifted this family up!

I hope you know the story about how Boaz, a kind and devout man, met Ruth and sacrificially worked to gain Ruth as his bride. And when Ruth gave Naomi a grandson… the blessing was complete.

Naomi’s identity was miraculously changed:

“Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! [15] He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” [16] Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse.” (Ruth 4:14-16 ESV)

The depression/anxiety that we struggle with may be profound, but it is not permanent, nor is it fatal.

And sometimes, all we can do… all we need to do is just keep breathing… our hearts need to keep pumping… and listen for the word of Your Father… He is THERE and He does CARE.

Don’t run from God in the midst of chaos and tragedy of life..cling to the One who loves and restores.

One day we will all see Him face to face…He will wipe away our tears… and we will truly know a freedom from human misery, death, and deceit.

“The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and He saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Can you dare to believe this?

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Unremarkable Yet Unforgettable, A Significant Insignificance

My 2017 look into the life of Jacob continues….

So, is there anything about Jacob’s life that was especially ‘heroic’? No glorious battles won. No giants defeated. No exploits of supernatural episodes. In fact, the memorable things in Jacob’s life are God encounters which God Himself initiates and with no crowd of witnesses.

Is there a message here?

As unremarkable as Jacob’s narrative may seem to be…. the lasting impact and power of the story is deep and everlasting.

As a young man growing up in an enthusiastic sports culture, I got a taste early of the glory of competition and ‘highlight, movie moment’ narratives. I have mentioned this before, but seeing my name and picture in the paper after a thrilling Friday night football game was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. I got wrapped up in the ‘glory of the story’.

If I could talk to myself back then, I would do my best to say…’ this is the fluff part of this experience… not the meat of it’. It emphasized the wrong things about what I was doing. I became more selfish, more self absorbed, prideful… to be honest it is hard to describe. It was a dramatic shift change… a complete paradigm restructuring that in the end stole away significant benefits of the opportunity.

There is nothing wrong with a dramatic narrative… especially a God directed one. We all get the thrill of seeing Eric Liddell’s Chariots of Fire victory and thousands of other contra mundum moments, especially in slow motion and set to music. We all love the heroic narratives even in the Bible- Moses and the Exodus, David and Goliath, the walls of Jericho, Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

Let me drill down one more layer… with great glory becomes a great name. The weightier the story.. the more reverent the name. Sports heroes carry those weighty names… Ruth, Nicklaus, Jordan, Tiger, Brady, Lebron….

How weighty is the name ‘Israel’? Pretty important… agree?

But it wasn’t a dynamic movie moment that cause this name change. However, it was a moment of HUGE significance and meaning.

And there is nothing heroic about Jacob here… he is his same old conniving, manipulative self. His name, “the deceiver’, fits him like a glove.

You know the story in Gen. 32. Jacob is ‘escaping’ Laban and is facing a terrifying reality… He is going to have to face his brother, Esau, who as far as Jacob knows… wants to kill him… with reason.

And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” [7] Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed

And Jacob continues his scheming….

He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, [8] thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”

To commend Jacob here… he does pray… and in the prayer he says the right things… but we know so much of Jacob that all of us question whether he is adding an expedient to his plan (who knows).

 And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ [10] I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. [11] Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. [12] But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

Jacob still works his plan- waves of presents to possible appease his brother….

[13] So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, [14] two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, [15] thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. [16] These he handed over to his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me and put a space between drove and drove.” [17] He instructed the first, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ [18] then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us.’” [19] He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you find him, [20] and you shall say, ‘Moreover, your servant Jacob is behind us.’” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.” [21] 

So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp.

Then he added even an extra layer of protection…. wife and children

The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. [23] He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. [24] 

And Jacob was left alone. 

And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. [25] When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. [26] Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” [27] And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” [28] Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” [29] Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. [30] So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” [31] The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. [32] Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.

[1] And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. [2] And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. [3] He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

[4] But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. [5] And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” [6] Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. [7] Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. [8] Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” [9] But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” [10] Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. [11] Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.

The hero of Jacob’s story is God, God is actually the hero of every human story.

What we are called to do is not to worry about the audience or ‘magnitude’ of the story… we are just called to ‘strive’. The funny thing is… I don’t even think we are called to win.  We just need to keep walking, keep breathing, keep trusting.

And God is glorified and satisfied even in the small, seemingly insignificant victories.

Life is a series of trials and battles, there is no way around it. The story of Jacob is all of the circumstances God used to change him from the inside out. Jacob’s name means “schemer” or “deceiver” and he spent much of his life as a manipulator. He would lie, cheat, steal or do anything to get his way.

Then, through a series of hard circumstances, Jacob was left to struggle. The struggles began producing the fruit of character. It finally culminated in this epic story of Jacob wrestling with God. In this struggle, Jacob is given a new name and a new destiny. But the road of progress always includes pain.

Have I experienced hard times in the Lord?  To be honest, I am ashamed at what I call ‘hard’- my suffering is nothing compared to what many others have had to endure. But I have felt betrayal and disappointment, loneliness and despair. There have been dark moments where I believed my whole life was going to crumble.

As a competitor, I have had some bitter losses and deep, painful experiences.

There are two very important points in this process. The first one is to keep striving. Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night. In the darkest moments when all seems lost, we need to keep fighting. We need a rugged disposition to fight to the bitter end.

A second important point though is seen in the process..God’s tactic. The Lord jumped Jacob and wrestled with him. I imagine that early on, Jacob tried to get out of the choke hold. Then, during the night, Jacob changed his plan. Instead of fighting against God, he began to cling to Him. God said to Jacob, “Let me go” and Jacob said, “Not until You bless me”. WOW!

Are you struggling in life? Have you considered pressing into God instead of running? Do you have a battle-hardened spirit that says, “God, You may kill me, but I am not quitting until this comes through.”

You will find blessing. And you will have scars and limps. But that is OK- Jesus kept His scars too! They are marks of victory!

But most importantly… are you willing to do this in secret? Are you ok winning battles over temptation and idolatry that only God sees. Are you and I ok with God giving us a new name… but no one knows about it yet? And may never know it at all?

The call of God on my life is becoming more apparent…

John 3:30

 Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. [30] He must increase, but I must decrease.” (ESV)

Jeremiah 45:4-5

[4] Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. [5] And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the LORD. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.” (ESV) 

And it is a joy to see that attitude growing in me and all the credit belongs to Him.

Let us all keep striving!

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Testing Truth

Truth is not easy to come by. In our current political silly season- the barbs and half cocked charges are enough to melt my brain!

I have seen more pitiful posts this season than ever before. Part of it is a media that has no boundaries of journalism and rabid partisans who throw out raw meat without any rational evaluation of source or evidence.

But..hey.. that’s politics. And if you think our mess is going to be solved by political persuasion……

So let’s take a truth test this morning…shall we?

It isn’t hard… but it is also impossible! Take it as a dare… as a challenge… as a quest for hope!

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!  (2 Cor. 13:5)

Here is a starter question.

How do I know I have saving faith? 

And the answer is strange. Part of the initial evidence is that you and I even dare to  ask the question!  I believe a big key in sorting out true faith is that a true believer wrestles with whether or not he has it in the first place.If you aren’t willing to put it on the table for inspection, you might be face to face with reality of knowing it is not there.

So ask God to give you  (and I) Holy Spirit eyes and place what faith you think you have, as weak and small as you think it may be- and do some comparison and investigation.


Before you enter this exercise- you need to make a declaration: “I am going to use God’s Inspired Word as my only rule of faith.” If any part of this analysis is conjecture based on my feelings or flawed logic, I pray that may be put away. This is not what I think, or how I feel- what does God’s Word say? I will not be quoting exhaustive Scripture in this blog post (but I should)- but my hope is that it reflects the entire scope of Biblical counsel.


I need to run through my list of faiths that are not true, Biblical saving faith. I need to be willing to look at my heart/mind/will/emotions/experience/memory/word/deed and see if I fall into some of these categories.


This is a big one. We live in a highly post everything culture where we shish-kabob our lives according to our fancies and whims. We have to understand that a multi-cultural, relativistic American society corrupts our understanding of ‘saving faith’. Add to that American roots of rugged individualism and powerful autonomy and we have a recipe for what the Bible labels “holding to a form of godliness, but denying the power within (2 Timothy 3:5)”.

No- we have to fight this one. Saving faith is taken as a whole. As Paul Helseth powerfully defended  in his book,Right Reason and the Princeton Mind:

 “They (Princeton Reformers) recognized that the operation of the intellect involves the ‘whole soul’- mind,will, and emotions-rather than the rational faculty alone, and as a consequence they insisted the ability to reason ‘rightly’ i.e., the ability to see revealed truth more or less for what it objectively is, namely glorious- presupposes the regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit on the ‘whole soul’ of a moral agent.”

How we compartmentalize faith:  I tend to do it by making it merely a mental exercise. I can get fooled into believing if I learn more facts, I am increasing in saving faith. So my personal  compartment is AN EDUCATIONAL FAITH– but others can trend into non-attached FORMS as well. I believe other ‘compartments’ include:  ‘EMOTIONAL FAITH’, getting revved up for Jesus and worked into a frenzy. There is a ‘DO GOOD’ faith- where maybe the service or mission trip is the feel good event of the summer.

No- we need to guard ourselves from staying detached in these things. Saving faith connects ALL of the areas.”Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Shema, Deut. 6:5)”.


One of the icons of our ‘post-everything’ culture is the sloganeering of causes. Sometimes called the “Disneyfication of America” sociologists have written in mass about how mass communication technology has created a ‘world of simulation’ where high culture and low culture are combined and any sort of grand narrative is lost. I have always thought that Grant Lyon’s book, Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times, captured this idea very poignantly.

The overarching image that Lyon’s attaches to is a Harvest Day Crusade day that was hosted by Disneyland in Anaheim, CA in 2000. This Christian festival seemed innocuous enough. One of the event organizers had a great quote: “We saw Disneyland as an opportunity to bring God’s kingdom to the Magic Kingdom. We felt that, as they opened the door to us to share Christ, we wouldn’t turn down the opportunity just because other things take place there. Jesus is the example for this.”

I am not being critical of this at all. Christ needs to be going EVERYWHERE. But the symbolic image of Christian marketing in the Mecca of consumer marketing could not be ignored by Lyons.

“A bizarre sounding collaboration…an ancient, premodern religion is found… interacting with the epitome of post modern culture- the artificial, simulated, virtual, fantasy world of Disney.”

I need to be careful here- there were huge parts of Lyon’s book that were instructive and thought provoking. I do think the biggest flaw of Lyon’s approach is confusing the visible and invisible Church.

The bigger point here is what the Disney culture influence has done to ‘virtualize and simulate’ faith by transforming it into slogans and fancy logos. Spy magazine defined it this way: “Disneyfication is the act of assuming, through the process of assimilation, the traits and characteristics more familiarly associated with a theme park….than with real life.” 
So what does this mean? Here is how Disney has impacted church ministry and caused some to hold to a faith more characterized with logos and slogans than saving faith.

Theming: Everything relates to an overall ‘theme’. The problem is that the theme is always a sanitized  and organized abstraction and not reality. In themes, everything fits. But we all know that real life carries conundrums and problems.

Merchandizing and Consumption: It doesn’t take long to realize that the theme can sell. I still get shudders sometimes when I walk through Christian bookstores. What are we selling? Why are we selling? I am not against selling books and books have ministered to me in so many amazing ways- but the packaging and theming should make us wary of what is missing.

Prescriptive Empathy: This is a tough one to define. Disney employees are taught to smile and interact in such a way that park attendees think they are having fun and not working. A logo faith teaches us all the proper terms of endearment- but it is an act. I say, “I will pray for you”… do I actually do it?

Self-adulation: The toughest consequence of a logo faith is that I buy into the ultimate consumer mindset- all of this is for ME and my pleasure.

So here are my questions about LOGO faith. Do I just recite the Jesus answers? Have I learned all the themes, present a clean put together life of faith, but in the end…. there is little or no connection to the Holy God of the Universe. Do I measure my growth in how I feel? Do I evaluate worship based on what I get?


It is hard to separate a LOGO faith from an INSTITUTIONAL faith because they are bred in the same petri-dish.An institutional faith is where I have allowed my daily work in a Christian environment to substitute for personal, saving faith. Do I read my Bible? Yes, in faculty devotions, writing blogs, teaching Sunday School, preparing lessons. Do I pray? Yes, weekly prayer meetings. Staff meetings. Opening and closing events. Do I worship? Yes. We have a chapel every week.

This is one I have to fight. And when I leave the institution for vacation or the weekend. Does my faith follow me? Do I have a personal pryer life, Bible study, or worship? Do I share my faith?


Oh boy! Another tough impostor!  This is one where we are all good people and acknowledge the good Lord. We attend church and don’t rob banks. We give money and sing Amazing grace. But there is no real spiritual recognition of our depravity. There is no real hatred of sin. There is no felt desperation of the reality of hell. God is warm and furry, a cosmic Santa Claus ready to dish out good gifts but absent in times of distress. It will all just work out, let it be.

There are other types of false faiths: religion, liberalism, status, in fact all idols are held to by a type of ‘faith’.



I JOHN 5:11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

1) SIMPLE TRUST: It is so important to remember that faith has an object- faith is not a work. The power of our faith is not faith- the power of our faith is the power in what our faith is in. In Matthew 17 Jesus says:

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

I have always applied this as it is not the amount of faith applied- but the source. A great comfort in your fight of faith is a quiet voice that says, ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus- just to take Him at His word.”

2) A FAITHFUL FIGHT OF PURPOSE: Jacob wrestled with God until daybreak. We must be willing to engage Him the same way. God, I will not let you go until you show me. I think He enjoys that. A willingness to wrestle with God is actually evidence of the Spirit.

3) DEEP ROOTED DOCTRINE: If you want to dissect whether you have a saving faith versus a merely speculative one- you have to be willing to dive into the roots of God’s Word. If you haven’t done so in a while- you may need to freshen up on Romans or find balance in I John. You may need to let Jesus’s commands in the gospels hurt and heal.

Again, I turn to Helseth here:

The Princeton theologians approached the task of theology not as arrogant rationalists would have done, but as Biblically faithful Christians have always done. Indeed, they sought to discern the difference between truth and error not by appealing to magisterial conclusions of the rational faculty alone, but by hearing the text with ‘right reason’, which for them was a biblically informed kind of theological aesthetic that presupposes the work of the Spirit on the whole soul of the believing theologian.

Finally, saving faith is a gift that we receive by a miracle… saving faith is a gracious gift!

Heb 12:12 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Want to be blessed?

Here you are, presented once again with the Christ.. Even as other opportunities past have slipped by….. here is that offer once again.

You and I have messed it up again and again- over and over- falling short of all that God intends us to be. 

Even as you feel your pride wanting to justify and excuse away- even as you feel the deadness of rejecting it- please review these beautiful doctrines of salvation by God’s grace.

Reach out to Him right now- Your sins have been cancelled and removed. Do you trust that?

Simply trust. “God I cannot do this. You have to do this. I am a rebel and you have not been my King. Is it too late to come home?” You know the answer.

Fight for it. There are those who will tell you you are too bad. You think in your heart you are too good. Don’t let it go. Capture the childlike magic of new birth! Don’t let Him go!

Dig Deep. Spend time this weekend searching the Scriptures.

Thank God for the gift of saving faith.
Tell someone else what you have done.
It will be the best gift they get this year as well!

John 5:39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me,

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My Mental Illness is Better Than Yours


 I’m into old things…. I’m into the old time religion… hymns, classical literature, and 18th century theologians……
 But there is something I love about the old dead guys…… they were smart, they were confident, and they were full of optimism and hope.
Every time I read the Old Princetonians for example…. I love how they reason in an upward fashion … you have to read them to discover what I mean. These men were full of love and joy, content in what they did, and satisfied with their slow but steady progress.
Any time I finish with B.B. Warfield, Archibald Alexander, John Witherspoon, or James McCosh- I am inspired to love God more and I have a deep awe of the Holy Scriptures which shine through them!
These men have been categorized under the term “Scottish Common Sense Realism”- but I see it more like ‘Powerful Gospel Hope for Real Life”.. it is the ecstatic declaration of the great truths of salvation poured out in oceans of grace.

These men were free…and in their freedom, they didn’t seek leisure…. no, they became voracious workers and breathlessly exegeted every article of Scripture. And it never feels like labor to me. These men worked out of an abundance of love.

Today’s intellectual arguments have more of a downward spiral- shouting, personal attacks… the enlightenment has a legacy of skepticism…….

My Princeton heroes have such hope and love….. try ’em…you may like ’em.

Now…. let’s reason together for a little bit…….

How is it, that 2 men, can look at the same set of facts and stubbornly stand on two radically different opinions?

It happens everyday and almost in every way.

What is happening?

My premise is this- It isn’t what is happening… it is more about what is NOT happening.

Let’s add a few ingredients to this and see if I can find a half-baked conclusion.


Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3 ESV)

I have to be careful here to not throw this whole verse out of context-

I always fear for super-smart people…… in some ways, the verses of warnings regarding ‘those with great wealth’ could almost be doubled down with application to ‘those with great knowledge’.

We have to be SO CAREFUL HERE… especially to those (like me) who love to hear (or write about) themselves and what they think……

Paul is not condemning knowledge in this verse…. He is making a universal truth application to a very controversial topic…. knowledge can inflate our egos in such a way that we lose our way in the end…..

Indeed…the entire foundational theme of I Corinthians is Paul spending a full 4 chapters deflating human ego built on prideful, pseudo-superior, and foolish human thinking….

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20 ESV)

And the result of this endless human debate and pride? CONFLICT– It is the motivation for the letter to the Corinthians….

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. (1 Corinthians 1:10-11 ESV)

Wait a minute! Go back a re-read what he is appealing for us to do?

BE UNITED IN THE SAME MIND AND JUDGEMENT? Are you kidding me?  We can’t agree on anything!

Let me add another ingredient in this secret sauce……


This is even trickier….. have to be super,super careful here…….

As we acquire knowledge, we want to share it…. and as we share it… we want to find like minded approval and support….

and if we aren’t careful, we will sometimes judge whether something is TRUE based on the NUMBER of those who agree with us.

But this creates a very dangerous situation… I hope you see it….. as each side rallies it’s supporters… the winners are in the numbers…. SO the VALIDATION of truth now becomes just the popular mindset of the moment… it is what we hold to inwardly, supported by numbers of those who think like we do…. and there is no real outside objectivity….

Isn’t the old snarky parent reply…. ‘Well, if everybody said it was good to jump off a bridge, would you join them?’ so appropriate here? But so true? Popular wisdom may not be wise…..

One more dash… please hang with me…..


How important are the 10 commandments?! I’m telling you…. these are foundational truths that are REQUIREMENTS of sustainable life and civilization! ‘You shall not bear false witness” is one of these! And I GRIEVE over how rampant lying is in my generation… in some is an expectation!

Dishonesty comes in many dangerous forms…. the man unwilling to keep his promise, the withholding of very important information for personal gain, passing along an unfounded rumor, fudging numbers, the ‘so called’ ‘white-lie’ (such a horrible term)…. or just plain MAKING STUFF UP….

“The bearing of false witness’ is a serious sin in our society. And rampant dishonesty brings all artifacts of evidence into doubt.

In today’s world,  opinions and presuppositions shape facts….. and it should be the other way around. It has gotten SO BAD that facts are made up to prop up our immovable views on matters of eternal significance.


Personal pride, peer support, and problematic evidence can convince you to walk straight into a chasm of death with no fear or trepidation.


YES…. but it’s complicated… it is trying to convince an insane person that everything he is seeing is a lie……

Remember the movie, A Beautiful Mind? The 2001 film by Ron Howard is based on the life of John Nash of Princeton. Though some details had to changed or left out for the sake of storytelling, the basic premise was correct.

Here was a BRILLIANT man….. a mathematician, a Nobel prize winner… understood and developed theories in economics, differential geometry, computing, artificial intelligence…and on and on… but he had a mental illness… later diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia. “According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, a person suffering from the disorder is typically dominated by relatively stable, often paranoid, fixed beliefs that are either false, over-imaginative or unrealistic, and usually accompanied by experiences of seemingly real perception of something not actually present.”

Read that again… a brilliant man….

DOMINATED….. by relatively stable (they hold together in analysis and experience)- often paranoid (hyper internal and personal) FIXED BELIEFS (almost impossible to shake) that are:

usually ACCOMPANIED by EXPERIENCES of SEEMINGLY REAL PERCEPTION of something that is not actually there!

So how would you ever convince this man that he is in error? It is almost an impossibility.

Reason with him? He knows he is smarter than you
Show him? How? His perceptions are twisted

In the movie, Nash finally begin to see inconsistencies in the hallucinations and found a way to ignore them…..

OK OK OK- stop telling me about the problem…. is there a solution?

YES- and it is all counter to what our natural tendencies are to do……

STEP ONE: HUMBLE YOURSELF.… As long as you are the most important person in the room…what no one else says has any value to you. Instead of walking around and wanting to dazzle people with your brilliance… why don’t you elevate others around you and desperately drink in what they think, feel, and believe.

STEP TWO: BREAK OUT OF YOUR COMMON THINK TANK… Seek out those who see the world in quite a different way and find common ground… know them well enough to know where you are different and how the thinking goes in an opposite direction. By the way, if you find yourself disliking a person because they are different… you aren’t doing as well as you think in STEP ONE.

STEP THREE: NEVER STOP LEARNING…but use learning to help others, not for your own personal dominance.

CONCLUSIONWhat if I am the crazy one?

You read me enough to know that I have planted my flag in the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe God exists, I believe, because of that, the Bible is true and the truth and testimony of Jesus validates it enough for me to cast my lot with Him.

But the teachings of Jesus should help me do what I am supposed to do…stay humble, live out the gospel, serve, be patient with those who oppose me, love all people, give answers to questions, stay reverent and gentle, and not be anxious or comfortable…this world is not my home… I am to just be obedient.

And if I am the crazy one…. it doesn’t matter because the perspective I have gained allows me to successfully navigate a sad and dark place.

If you are the crazy one….. well… I trust in a good God to sort it all out….

In my worldview- it is comforting to leave the big stuff up to God.

Without my worldview- a man is left to be God himself… and that terrifies me…

Friedrich Nietzsche, (himself a brilliant crazy man,) understood this almost better than anyone. He personified it in his famous parable of The Madman…. but he also commented on it as he reflected on the philosophy of German, liberal theologian David Strauss….

Strauss has his full share of the temerity to which every successful hero assumes the right: all flowers grow only for him—the conqueror; and he praises the sun because it shines in at his window just at the right time. He does not even spare the venerable old universe in his eulogies—as though it were only now and henceforward sufficiently sanctified by praise to revolve around the central monad David Strauss. The universe, he is happy to inform us, is, it is true, a machine with jagged iron wheels, stamping and hammering ponderously, but: “We do not only find the revolution of pitiless wheels in our world-machine, but also the shedding of soothing oil”

My friend– (you have to be if you are still reading this with ANY interest)… I am an old dinosaur…. maybe too outdated for your fancy…. but you are going to have to choose… what is reality and what is hallucination?

We both have the same problems- we are prideful in our intelligence, we surround ourselves with people who think and talk just like us, and we have accumulated enough artifacts to support our strained grip on our truth….

I guess my last effort and plea to have you bend your knee to King Jesus is to take the temperature and measure the light.

Without God– this universe in now just a big enormous drive of an uncaring machine with our vain aspirations a mere speck of dust in a causeless cosmos… the wind is cold and the end is so dark that life becomes too cheap to save… including our own.

But the Bible is FULL of soothing oil– without it, the world will grow cold and dark and grind itself to oblivion..

But Jesus offers grace, hope, love of others, patience, understanding, humility…

In Jesus’s kingdom, it is OK to laugh at our foolish human failures and get up and try again tomorrow.

Without HIS WAY (and all other religions are mere cogs of effort and product)- we are too important to be wrong. But as we gather our troops of truth, we must crush any opposition that stands as a symbol of our possibility of being wrong.

The way of Jesus gives us a chance to wait on God to rightfully judge……

The wisdom of man says it is too late to debate, now let the killing begin…

I have made my choice… I think it is pretty easy to make (though, impossible to live, thank God for grace)….

What about you?

Take your time…. but here’s a start… just start reading the Bible again…it will be the most soothing experience you have had in years.

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“Snoozin and Losin” Our Problem with the World

“Worldliness  is what any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness see strange” G.K. Beale

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. [16] For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. [17] And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.   (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)

This post is deeply indebted to the writings of Os Guinness, especially ‘The Last Christian on Earth” and ‘The Call”

We live in a culture of growing secularism- and it is a slow sleep of death…..

I wanted to comment on many of the great Os Guinness quotes regarding, “The Sandman Effect” or putting the church to sleep through worldliness. ‘The Sandman Effect’ is presented as an enemy tactic versus the church.

In this tactic, the church digs its own grave while Christians sleep.

The major premise of the Sandman Effect is to infiltrate the church by use of worldliness- which exposes the defensive vulnerability of the church. Instead of the church becoming more aware of the damaging effects of popular culture, she falls into a deeper and deeper sleep.

The first experiment with this tactic is confusing the nature of belief. The impact of the enlightenment produced unexpected and unintended results.  We live in a world that lives by a false notion… “Christians live by faith and secularists live by reason”.

The pomp and pressure of those who presented themselves as the intellectual elite offered much promise, but only produced exclusive caste systems and cynicism. The ultimate fruit of intellectual oppression is a quest for power and the greatest use of that power is cynical, dream killing, skepticism.

I love how Guinness describes this: “Yes, there was brilliance, but its darker side was the empty rhetoric, the hypocritical poses, the shabby compromises. the betrayal of friends and causes, with some people fellow-traveling with the communists, and others more or less sleeping with fanaticism…The legacy of this kind of general mood became a more effective inoculation against faith that a hundred (Voltaires)”. The desire for truth went out of fashion….. which led the way for post-modernism which is not a clear philosophy… it is also a mood.

And here is where we (Christians, especially in the south) go wrong- we fail to see what has happened among those who are not the traditionalists. Traditionalists have a strong sense of right and wrong- they have a foundation of TRUTH.

But we are increasingly living among those (especially the young- media savvy- who tend to think by sight and act by impulse) who judge truth not by objectivity, but degrees of plausibility.

In Guinness’s words- “we have created a climate in which a thing’s seeming to be true is often mistaken for its being true.”

And what is the means of this change? By changing the definition and standards of ‘belief’.

We allow and even applaud people who believe or disbelieve on non-rational or psychological grounds.


I love Guinness’s analogy here: we accept a person who is an atheist- not because they have weighed truth and fallacy- but simply because their father was a religious hypocrite who alienated the family from God as much as himself.

Unfortunately, we fall into this trap when we begin to elevate psychology over Scripture or only accept interpretation and application of Scripture as it fits the latest psychological models.

See how subtle it is? We agree with truth if the support structure is strong. But if the support structure is weak, it is harder to believe.

“Coach it with care and and plausibility will upstage credibility”– this is a scary statement.

The church has become a heart suffering from fibrillation – the rapid, irregular, and unsynchronized contraction of muscle fibers-

one spasmodic side is the Christian philosophers- who expound the theoretical- and the other meaningless motion is the ‘just give me Jesus’ anti-intellectual crowd who throw out doctrine.

Then Guinness shows how the Apostle Paul provides a framework for the fight. He knows that the church is the pillar and bulwark of truth… not theory. “Paul would have believed his faith was objectively true if he had been the last one convinced of it.”

The truth of Christianity is NOT dependent on a strong church.. but a weak church hides TRUTH as it seems less credible, and a less credible church is a less plausible church.

A Two-Legged Stool

Guinness also shows how apologists only use 2 of three tools of analysis in unveiling this issue.

Leg 1- The history of ideas

Leg 2- The climate of culture and custom

and the missing…Leg 3- the justification of knowledge

In the post modern world- cultural pluralism and relativism offers confusion in leg 2 and the rapid flow and dynamics of information makes Leg 1 seemingly archaic and irrelevant (and BORING). But if we pressed more into Leg 3 and make the post-modern man justify his knowledge beyond the perspective of personal experience and evaluate truth claims in a more logical framework- we would see some progress and usefulness of the other 2 legs.

A huge roadblock in this mess is the frenzied pace of communication technology and global mobility. I love the quote about the Kenyan saying “All westerners have watches…  but Africans have time.”

“A culture of mobility plus convenience leads quite naturally not only to (drive-in food) and banks but also drive-in churches”

See how it works? Overlay upon overlay- the effect of molding lives through culture has all the advantages of a revolution and none of the disadvantages of intellectual sweat.

As our children see belief as a feeling of plausibility and relevance- as they are spun dizzy by infinite activity- as they are enticed by the promise of convenience- as they are distracted by new cool tools of transport of information tsunamis- they cannot understand that TRUTH is TRUE even if no one ascribes to it. ‘When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?’ He won’t, if we have lost what ‘faith’ means. What will He say when we respond “It just didn’t ‘seem’ right… It didn’t feel true”?

If we succumb to worldliness.. it not only keeps us from being effective for the Lord, it also hinders our calling in life..

Ask any invading army and they would agree: ‘Subtle compromise is always better than sudden captivity’.



A church without distinction is a church that has lost its ability to be ‘salt and light’. But Jesus states very clearly in Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

What can help us ‘stay awake’ in a culture where the church is ‘sleeping in the watchtower’ while the enemies ravage the gates?

  • Find the balance of being “in the world’ but not ‘of the world’.

If the Bible teaches us to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world”- how do we manage that? Sadly, we miss this delicate balance and find either we are in the world and OF the world or we become so isolated that we are ‘out of the world’.

Paul addresses this in I Corinthians 5:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—[10] not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

and later:

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? [13] God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

(1 Corinthians 5:19-10 and 12-13 ESV)


Think about how far removed we are from this Biblical concept. We rail against outside sin and ‘wink’ at inside sin. We strike at those on the outside who know no better and we shrink away from those on the inside who do know better.  OR we say we want strong church discipline but wail when it happens.


  • Diligently keep God’s Word as the ‘true north’ of our moral compass and mission

As the Word has dwindled in our midst, the clear and reasonable boundaries have become cloudy and confused. Without the Bible, a believer has NO HOPE of staying in between the ditches on both sides of the road.

But as reading has dwindled, so has strong Bible study fallen away. Most of our Bible knowledge comes from listening to others, But even listening to a popular preacher without personal Bible reading has huge pitfalls. We tend to only remember what fits our presuppositions. Even ‘devotionals’ are no substitute of the NEED of deep, solid Bible study.


  • Gospel Integrity must be authenticated with lives committed to personal holiness and discipline.

Not only should we not be railing against outside sin (though we do lovingly and patiently warn about the penalty of sin and follow up with gospel truth)- we should be railing against our own personal sin.

Remember how Jesus addressed it in Matthew 7?

[3] Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? [4] Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? [5] You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.


  • LOVE toward sinners must be visible in word and deed.

Staying alert and awake is helped when we initiate activity. Our society is confused.. calling good “evil’ and evil “good”. A way to help is patiently and lovingly learning how to ‘hate sin’ but ‘love sinners’. Christians who serve and pray for people who  throw insults or mistreat us is the greatest authentic statement of gospel truth in the world today.

Now here is the tough one- we must love them enough to not be ‘co-dependents on their behavior’. Christian love is quickly running to provide a ride for a friend who has had too much to drink.. but it is NOT being the designated driver every weekend.


  • Humble, but firm stances on God’s moral law.

My advice is to ‘keep it business like’. We don’t cover our eyes and ears and scream in shock when we find sin. We point to God’s moral law and say, “This is what the truth is”. We cannot compromise when those areas of clear sin come up. I love how Tim Keller speaks. He says to ‘non-traditionalists’- “I hope you will empathize with us Christians. We have to support what the Bible says. If the Bible says, “Jesus is the only way” then we have to stand by that.” And he says it in as a ‘disarming’ way as possible.

  • Bold Confrontation to those IN the church regarding false teachers.

As gentle as we are in all things.. we cannot and MUST NOT allow those who profess to be Christians get away with false teaching. Any wide reading of the New Testament epistles will show that urgent warning to oppose any alteration or perversion of the gospel.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. [2] And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. [3] And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV)


For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, [27] but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. [28] Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. [29] How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? [30] For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” [31] It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31 ESV)

  • A love for evangelism and corporate worship.

Again, corporate activity is a vigorous, godly exercise program that keeps us awake and in shape. It is hard to fall prey to the ‘Sandman Effect’ if we are actively taking opportunities to share the good news of Christ and making effort to passionately participate in worship. These two distinctives keep us in the stream of adventure where we HAVE to rely on God’s Spirit.

Father- we need help. We need to slow down- we need to read the WORD- chew it- meditate on it and mull it over- we need true WORSHIP to lift us out of the trivial pursuits and insulated hearts.In short- we have loved things and ideas that have not loved us back. We live for pleasure while the King suffered and died.Culture makes godliness seem strange, but without truth… justification of life is meaningless-Our children need to see us forsaking our idols- because the idols will soon forsake them.But we also need to train our children how to ask the right questions- make men justify their beliefs…. make them follow the consequences of their faith…..and Holy Spirit…PLEASE illumine the TRUTH.ALL FOR THE GLORY OF YOUR NAME!

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Open Eyes, Open Arms, Pure Hearts, Authentic Faith, and the Gospel in a Post-Christian Culture

Know  God-0A              No FearOur culture is in a steady state of moral decay….. does this bring you a hand wringing fear of the future or an energetic excitement for ministry opportunity?

The evidence is most obvious among our teens. The messaging they receive through social media, tv, music, and movies is highly sexualized, relativistic, narcissistic, and resistant to traditional structures.

As an administrator at a Christian school- you can imagine the conflict I constantly live in. My parents and grandparents are appalled at the loss of innocence while most of my students compare themselves to the rest of culture, shrug their shoulders, and wonder why they are not being congratulated.

I also live in turmoil… how do I inspire a pursuit of holiness without sounding legalistic while, at the same time, not causing others to stumble over perceived hypocrisy and worldliness?

I have been pondering the world and witness of the Apostle Paul:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13 ESV)

This passage challenges me on so many fronts.

It also helps me.

It is not a requirement to be a Christian to attend our school- we have students all across the spectrum- and I have to remind folks often.. my school does not equal the church.

The environment of a Christian high  school is unique- and not easy. It is hard for all of us to navigate the truth of Scripture, the grace of the gospel, and the rules that all institutions need to function well while providing as much safety and security as you can.

The teens I rub shoulders with are so much like me at that age and so different at the same time.

Human nature has not changed… but cultural dynamics produce feelings, attitudes, and emotions that I was capable of in that stage of my life- but not to the degree these teens experience. And just like any circumstance, it is a mixed bag of blessing and difficulties.

Let me mention what I observe and then reflect on the passage in I Corinthians…..

Students today are extremely empathetic to the marginalized and wounded. Combine this with a deep desire for justice AND dislike of any perceived hypocrisy or insincerity and you have potential triggers to resist traditional structures in the Church community.

The strangest part of this is that they hurt each other quite frequently with jabs, barbs, and improper actions that spring out of their forms of humor and entertainment- but if ANY adult, parent or other, hurts anyone their age- they rally to protect and fight.

Almost any parent of a teen on this culture experiences this.

After listening to whining and complaining about the actions of their friends, you say something negative, and before you know it- your child has taken a position to defend them against you. The first time it happens, it is like a shock; especially in the intensity of the defense!

It becomes too easy by those of us in older generations to fold our arms and count all of this as poor parental discipline, extreme narcissism, and evidence that we are sliding quickly into Sodom and Gomorrah.

One thing I have found myself fighting in the last decade of my life, is a growing pessimism that, if I am not careful, will harden my heart toward teens. If I find myself losing patience too quickly or giving up on students too soon…. I know I need to do some prayer about my disposition… the gospel never loses hope and maybe I forget what condition I was in when Jesus saved me.

Almost every Scripture I read from Jesus challenges me to be hard on MY sin and be loving towards sinners.

How can you stay patient and hopeful in a culture where there is no blushing at sin? How can you keep from being in despair… when you realize that Clark Gable saying the word ‘damn’ on the movie screen in 1939 was controversial? Who can’t  help notice a huge difference in Andy Griffith and Criminal Minds?


When I first started youth ministry in the last 1980’s, I had the privilege of working at 2 schools that were close together in geography, but vastly different in social mores.

One school was small and staunchly traditional- strong nuclear families, collaborative parenting, and great partnership with school and churches.

The other school was larger and less traditional. New money, more broken homes, and more fractured partnerships with schools and local churches.

Well, you can imagine the social atmosphere among the teens in those schools- one was full of compliant and (on the surface at least) rule keeping kids- submissive to authority and stable.

The more traditional school had most of their students being introduced to alcohol and drug opportunities between 9th and 10th grade. The other school had a big drug issue beginning in 7th and 8th grade.

I was never asked to chaperone kids on a trip at the smaller school. It was parents and students traveling together with good accountability built in.

The other school? I took some students from that school to the beach for spring break. One condo had students drinking at the pool while the condo next door had all the parents drinking at their own party at their own pool.

What may surprise you was the more fruitful ministry I had was at the less traditional school.


It doesn’t take long for sin to show its truthful side… what seemed fun and exciting, cool and adult.. before long becomes shallow, old, and empty. The kids I spent time with were hurting…. they were desperate to know if there was more to life and where to go with the pain and guilt of their sin. They were ready for the message of hope, forgiveness, restoration, and meaning in Christ. They were longing for Him and grew to love His Word.

The other ministry was effective as well… it was just a slower process. A lot of the students in that school needed the Holy Spirit to show them that they actually were sinners and that they actually needed God.


This is where we need to see what Paul was saying to the Corinthians.

The early church was being planted in Gentile lands….. greed, fornication, idolatry, violence, and syncretic, false rituals were normal. Often trade guilds were required that included practices that were not in keeping with the moral commands of God. That is why the church decided to publish the ruling regarding converted Gentiles on abstaining from sexual immorality and not eating food that had been given to idols- both were common practices in that culture.

PAUL DID NOT DESPAIR OVER THE BEHAVIOR OF NON-BELIEVERS. His biggest regret was how he had acted before meeting Jesus. Paul did not shrink away in worry. Make no mistake, he very well KNEW the penalty of sin… it is all over Romans 1. The wages of sin are contained in the acts themselves. I can only imagine what Paul saw in the culture. He was zealous for traditional religious living- but because of the depth of God’s love and mercy he wrote Holy Spirit inspired verses of constant hope and joy… even in prison!

Here in the south, in this great country- we are living in FAR different times… the gospel did take root and swept the globe. Authentic and obedient Christians (sinners who embraced the message of justification and adoption) took the challenge of sanctification VERY seriously-  and began to apply that life to all of culture. Our prosperity and liberty are blessings of that work.

I understand the pain of seeing us lose ground to the world as the church has less and less influence in the culture at large… the salt seems to be losing its saltiness…

But it should never lead us to despair or bitterness.. and it should not cause us to automatically treat young people in the culture with distance, anger, and presupposed ideas of their sin.


Now here is where I am challenged…. while I am to stay hopeful, loving, patient, and optimistic towards the next generation… it doesn’t mean that I don’t lovingly confront open sin. Where I need to be careful is staying on actual Biblical sin and not getting into preferences.

And I think the older generation is challenged to make sure we don’t mark youthful sin as MORE egregious than older sin.

Is is a sin to not be as patriotic? Is it a sin to not like a musical genre? Is homosexual sin more sinful that heterosexual sin?

Again, I am not trying to stir controversy… but the challenge of truth is that only the truth should lead and follow us on our journey. We have to be willing to separate truth from tradition. And we must be willing to stay with truth when cultural fads distract our attention.

I have struggled over the past few weeks with this statement in Isaiah:

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19 ESV)

I have linked it to the response Jesus gave to the  challenge by the disciples of John in Matthew:

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17 ESV)

The challenge of this culture is to disciple others in Biblical truth with a goal of producing uniquely prepared disciple makers to reach others as the culture changes. The truth does not change..but it often comes in new structures…..

Our evangelism needs an effective apologetic and our ministry needs to pour out of hearts of love. We needs God’s zeal and a palpable passion for people… no matter what they look like!

So in dealing with teens in this culture….. how does this flesh out?

OPEN EYES– We can’t shrink back from what we find in culture. It is there. It is not going away. We don’t have to like it- but we do have to live with it. We need to stand firm without flinching!

OPEN ARMS– We have to reach out to sinners in love and understanding. The gospel knows no depth of forgiveness when human hearts cry out for mercy. We also have to minister to those in need. Food, water, and the gospel.

PURE HEARTS– We HAVE to be willing to lovingly confront sin in the church. We must demand a pursuit of holiness in our own lives first. We need to cling to one another and inspire one another to hunger and thirst for righteousness…. not morality per se…. loving obedience to Jesus.

AUTHENTIC FAITH– We cannot just be in love with the message- we have to love the ONE WHO IS THE MESSAGE. We cannot honor God with our lips but secretly crave the idols of this empty world.

GOSPEL SATURATED DISCIPLESHIP– What I have learned about this is … less is more. We think we want big crowds of people excited about Jesus… but it is better to pour into a few…. it is long and often very messy…. but the fruit of that effort is someone who goes and makes disciples themselves.

Take a few guys and start today…… share Christ with just 1 person…. read the Scriptures…. and pray…. we don’t have to change the world… we just want to be found with our hand on the plow and faithfully building… when He returns.

By the way.. how do you know if you are doing it right?

Sadly, it is when you are finding a lot of criticism from the home team…..

But you need to love them too! Never let the response of others rob you of your hope and joy!

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Laugh and Call Me A Fool.. But What If I Am Right?

I believe in God.

In our modern culture of reason, sophistication, and science- this is at the least a silly notion  OR , at worst, a delusional evil!…. or is it?

In light of the atheists getting bolder and colder and sensing the growing antagonism to religion in general, I feel it is time to publicly explain “the reason for the hope that is in me”.

My model begins with the existence of God. I believe that all arguments begin with, “Is there a God?” If we begin with man, we start at the wrong place. A lot of people base their whole world view within their own existence, what a mistake!

I answer the question in the affirmative. There is a God. There is too much order, too much beauty, and too much notion regarding good and evil to explain it away to natural, random occurrences. My own inner life points to mystery beyond me. The world under the microscope is too wonderful for me to accept blind chance and the expanse and beauty of the heavens is too majestic to cynically attribute it to uncoordinated randomness.

General revelation also points to a life beyond this life. Are the seasons merely a coincidence? The life cycle of a butterfly points to rebirth. I was praying one day to see God and as I drove into work on a foggy morning and I saw hundreds of spider webs inside the hundreds of openings in a chain-link fence. They had been invisible for months, but now their design and beauty were clearly seen.

The visible world does point to the invisible God.

IF THERE IS A GOD… HOW CAN WE KNOW? What type of deity?

And what we find is that God has taken the burden to communicate to us on Himself. We are limited, so He takes steps to reach out to us….

That leads to my next question: “Is there revelation or evidence of specific communication from this God to man?” Again, I believe there are two that give credence to the other. (Jesus Christ and the Bible). Jesus Christ is a clear manifestation of God and His nature. He did make that claim. He gives support of both the New and Old Testament. Is there valid support of these two revelations? The answer is yes. History supports both in spite of an entire system bent on destroying this precious truth. A seven day work week has been handed down to us from somewhere. The disciples died for a myth? The Bible survives? How?

And no other purported revelation holds water. They are all imitations from a constant enemy.


So there are always the attacks. I’m simple-minded, poorly educated, and have committed intellectual suicide to shake hands with faith. How do you respond to this?

I feel like when someone discounts God on the basis of reason, they are doing the most foolish thing of all. When the Bible speaks of the ‘unforgivable sin’ and ‘blasphemy of the spirit’- it has to be this.

I am rejecting any offer of salvation because…. and then a lot of excuses follow.

When someone says, “There is no God, no angels or devils, no heaven or hell” they are lifting their life experience and powers of reasoning to a god-like status.

 ‘I must become God to kill God’, Nietzsche understood this. But it comes at a price!

I’m thankful that I am under-educated enough to keep a healthy self-suspicion of my intellect. Is reason trustworthy enough to gamble on eternity?

What does the Bible say about our ability to reason?

Romans 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

I Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

2:1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. [6]

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

If you are raising your fist against God, please reconsider. The promise is that those who repent and believe will be rescued. Cry out to Him before it is too late!

I challenge anyone reading this to step back and read the Bible- not with the cynical heart of skepticism… but one that asks God to show Himself to you.

Why are you so mad about a God not being there that you don’t believe in anyway?

Something happened in Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago that turned cowards into martyrs, swept the globe, changed the calendar, and changed the world….. don’t laugh it off as foolishness until you research it thoroughly for yourself.

And that means a willingness to worry that a darkened heart may be leading you astray…..

“The riddles of God are more comforting than the answers of man”

G.K. Chesterton
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