Friday, September 22, 2017

Psalm 119: Pure Devotion

At the age of 82, my father died, and my mother, bound to a wheelchair, was left on her own.

Plenty of people had ideas about how should take care of my mother. Send her off to a nursing home, move her in with my wife and I, and so on.

Instead, I ignored all those people and left Mom to live on her own in her mobile home. Some people whispered that I was neglecting her.

This lasted about a year and a half, until her health took a turn for the worse and she wound up in the hospital and then a nursing home.

During that time i heard more grumblings that I was neglecting my mother. I didn't visit often enough. I didn't give her everything she wanted.

Most of those people who thought of me as neglectful had no idea what I was or wasn't doing, and certainly not what I was thinking. Few asked me why I made the choices I did.

If they had, I would have told them that every choice I made was for her well-being, even when she didn't agree with me. The fact that she died within weeks of entering the nursing home was vindication to me that I'd made the right choice to put that off as long as possible. (I've written more about the decisions my mother and I made during that time HERE.)

Neglect, to my understanding, is to abandon focusing on the person or object and leave them untended, un-cared for. Sometimes all the proper focus in the world can still end up looking like neglect, simply because things go wrong.

I delight in your decrees STATUTES; I will not neglect your word. 
Psalm 119:16
Pure devotion doesn't always mean perfection. We are fallible people, living in a fallen world.

Pure devotion means maintaining a pure focus on not only the words of the Word, but on the over-arching purpose and mission God reveals to us.

I used to think godly purity meant that I'm pure (and so are my people), while those other people aren't pure. Purity was a way of defining ourselves as the ones who aren't like the impure people of the world.

There is some truth to this. We're told to be careful to remain unstained by the world. We're supposed to set ourselves apart as a holy nation.

But that "setting apart" is not only for the purpose of personal purity, but to set ourselves apart as the people who will pursue the purposes of God. And those purposes, the pure mission of God, is to reach out to the people of the world, the ones who don't know God's sanctifying and purifying blessings.

When I was younger, neglecting the Word was when someone refused to live according to the pure morals and doctrines as we interpreted them from the scriptures.

I see now that neglecting the Word is when we neglect God's mission as described in the Word.

Pure devotion sometimes might look to others like we're neglecting certain parts of morality or "right thinking" as we're trying to become all things to all people.

Focus on the 1 road God has laid out before us, not on all the people who are trying to tell us where we should be making our stand.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Psalm 119: Pure Training

I picked up a guitar at the age of 15 because I was frustrated.

I only ever took one formal guitar lesson.

I taught guitar lessons for a few months at a music store in Moberly, Missouri. The one requirement the store manager set down was that I had to use the guitar lessons books that they sold, thus forcing my students to buy from them. The book was terrible, I hated teaching lessons that way, and I've never taught regular guitar lessons since..

When my foster son Cooter was a young teen, he wanted to learn to play guitar like the country music stars he listened to. I sat with him for about an hour one afternoon and taught him about the chord chart, about how to play in the proper rhythm, and a handful of other basic things. And then I left him to find his own way, occasionally answering a question now and then. Because that's how I learned.

And, of course, today he's a better guitar player than I am.

The actual true truth, though, is that I've had countless guitar lessons over the years since I first picked up that cheap K-Mart guitar.

I learned rapid chord changes from Jim Croce, or at least from listening to his greatest hits album over and over again, with a dog-eared chord book of all his songs in front of me.

I learned how to play along with other guitar players from David and Jane Schwartz, college students who were part of an eclectic small group my family stumbled into when I was in high school. I've since lost the ability to play well with others, due to decades of solo playing and fine tuning my unique style of haphazard strumming.

I learned a bio-mechanical trick to reset my inner metronome in mid-song from Steve Henness, in my fourth decade of rhythmically challenged guitar playing.

And from Cooter I rediscovered the sheer joy of playing guitar and helping people worship God. Just by watching his face up on the stage Rocky Fork Fellowship.

Some Christians seem to think they can take formal training to learn a catechism or a system of theology and they'll know how to be a good Christian. But, just like learning to play guitar, formal training can only go so far.

Formal study produces people educated in the religion they've studied. Knowing God requires something entirely different.
I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. 

Psalm 119:5
The Psalmist says he not only meditated on God's precepts, but did so for the purpose of considering God's ways.

Considering God's ways requires a lifetime of pure focus on the God who has been practicing His ways for eternity.

Consider the way God thinks. How does His mind work? Is He focused or frivolous? Is He reliable or reckless?

Consider the way He makes decisions. Is He driven by the feelings of the moment or by the strength of His character and convictions? What directions does He choose and which options does he decline?

What does God love? What does He hate?

One of the reason God sent His Son to walk this earth as a man was so we could consider the ways of God as lived out in a human lifetime. God’s ways are Jesus’ ways.

That's why there are four books telling the story of his life, so we can get the nuances to His ways as we consider them. The gospel writers act s four teachers, showing us the ways of Jesus from their individual perspectives.

From Matthew I've learned that God's way is to take the long view rather than the short-sighted way of most of the people I know. Matthew presents Jesus' mission as the culmination of plans that were worked out for several thousand years. The Jesus I see in the first gospel is knee deep in history, carrying the weight of God's covenants upon His shoulders.

From Mark I've learned that God's way is that of a skilled storyteller. Jesus spends 90% of His life on earth in almost complete obscurity. Even when He begins his active three year ministry, we see Him continually telling His disciples and the people He heals to not go running around telling everyone about Him. He knows the value of not rushing the climax of the story, because He has much He wants to accomplish before the final, sacrificial event. All of this is because His way is to stay focused on His purpose.

From Luke I've learned to see God's empathy for the downtrodden, the suffering, the oppressed. Luke shows us the Jesus who publicly lays claim to the prophecy about Messiah early on in His home town, but does so by quoting the one Messianic prophecy that most closely describes His mission as focusing on the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the poor. God's way is to defy expectations. Instead of strutting around like a king who deserves all the kingly perks and adulation, He eagerly becomes messily involved in the messy lives of messy people.

From John I learned that God's way is to pull off the amazing trick of being both the King of Kings as well as a loyal friend and servant. Jesus repeatedly describes Himself as "I AM" during His teachings and His debates with the Jewish leaders, laying claim to the highest title possible as the King of Kings. And yet John also shows Jesus willing to sit by a well to carry on a conversation with a Samaritan woman. We see Jesus "eager" to share the family-centric Passover meal with His closest friends and followers, while also taking on the role of foot-washing servant for those same people.

Knowing God requires considering His ways more than simply studying doctrines. Study to know Him.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Meditation Metaphor: Slow Burn

The unseasonably cool weather in early August made me ready for Fall days and weinie roasts over a campfire. I can almost smell the woodsmoke.

Campfires remind me of Christian camp in the summers when I was a kid. Every day would end with everyone around a campfire, while we supposedly listened to a campfire talk from one of the staff.

I don't remember anything they ever said.  I was always transfixed by the fire. Given the emotionally charged atmosphere that builds up during a typical week of Bible camp, it's not too surprising that when I looked into that campfire, I saw the face of the devil staring at me from the fires of hell.

My mind would always find the glowing embers deep in the fire that looked like a pair of eyes. There might even be a mouth, as well. It would be either whispering to me or laughing at me.

I know. It's creepy stuff. But that's the kind of thing that percolates in the mind of a kid at camp. The whole experience feeds the mood swings of a growing boy.

By the end of a typical camp day, I'd been warned about the fires of hell and exhorted to get on fire for Jesus. To top it off, the day would always [always] conclude with me once again being depressed because I didn't have a campfire date.

A universal truth about a campfire, though, is that if you stare at specific embers (or satanic eyes) in the middle of a fire long enough, they will slowly be devoured by the flames until they become more pure flame than burning ember.

That's the nature of a campfire. At first, the heat from the kindling dries out and warms up the logs and sticks. The chemicals within the wood begin to burn and produce gasses. The burning gasses produce the active tongues of flame that characterize the campfire at its peak.

While the gasses burn, the cellulose fibers in the wood begin to break down in the heat. Even after the gasses have mostly burnt off and the flames are no longer high, the broken-down fibers continue to burn. This is the process we're watching when we see embers that are constantly changing. They grow in size and intensity as the fire finds fresh cellulose to ignite, then they shrink down and wink out as the fuel is consumed.

Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord... (Jeremiah 23:29)
When I meditate on the Word it both ignites my spirit in sudden flame and also begins a slow and steady chain reaction of transformation deep in my heart.

It's tempting to put the greatest value in the "soul on fire" excitement that reading the Word sometimes gives me. Some verse or story I've read many times before suddenly sparks something in me and sends me charging into the world like a fox with a firebrand tied to its tail. It's a giddy feeling and one to be cherished and turned into productive work for God.

I've learned, though, it's the slow embers that sustain me. If I feed the fire with a daily infusion of fuel from the Word, my heart is constantly being changed. The slow burn provides the energy I need to continue the long walk and work of faith.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Psalm 119: Pure Obedience Produces Pure Joy

Right actions produce right feelings.
That's a quote from . . . well, several of my mentors have said the same thing in slightly different versions. I heard both Wayne Kessler and Roy Weece repeat it frequently.

Jay Adams said something similar in his 1970 book, Competent to Counsel:
One very important passage is found in Genesis 4:3-7. When God rejected Cain's offering . . . Cain became angry and upset "and his face fell" (vs. 5). God then rhetorically asked Cain, "Why are you depressed?" and pointed the way toward overcoming it: "If you do right, will it [your face] not be lifted up?" Here, God sets forth the important principle that behavior determines feelings. 
There are other scriptures that teach the same idea, including Psalm 34:12-13 and I Peter 3:10-11.

I can remember the first time I heard this biblical principle in a counseling class taught by Mr. Kessler at Central Christian College of the Bible. It rocked me back on my heels. Blew my mind. Opened my eyes. Filled me with metaphors.

Ever since then, I've been doing my best to put this statute of God into practice.

It tells me what to do when I'm depressed or down-hearted. Get busy doing what God wants me to do!

It instructs me in counseling others who come to me brimming over with their negative emotions. Don't get the cart before the horse: Focus on their actions rather than on the feelings.

It gives me a swift kick in the gumption whenever I just don't "feel like" doing what I ought to be doing. Do it anyway! God doesn't tell us to feel like obeying, he just tells us to obey.

This one teaching of God has transformed my life. It has blessed me over and over again through the years.

David spoke of this same idea in Psalm 119:4.
I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.
Follow the statutes and joy will be the result. Obedience first, then the feelings.

I chuckled when I realized the one act of obedience to a statute that has brought me the greatest joy is the very statute that promises I'll rejoice as a result of obeying God's statutes.

Give it a try. You'll be amazed at the number of concrete ways this simple statute applies to your life.

“Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don't complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don't bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!”

― Bob Marley

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Psalm 119: Pure Speech

At least 80% of a typical crowd of women in the Monday evening prison chapel service are incarcerated because of some form of addiction.

For some, the addiction was a direct cause. They were charged and convicted of possession or dealing of marijuana, meth, cocaine, opiods, or other controlled substances. Others are there because they committed a crime either while they were under the influence of their drug of choice (often alcohol) or they broke the law in order to obtain drugs or the money to buy them.

By the time they're in our chapel service, however, they've been forcibly separated from the supply of their addictive substance of choice.

And yet they still struggle with other impure habits.

For many, it's their addiction to nicotine. In the absence of their preferred drug, it's hard to resist the lure of the cigarette. Or of food, another frequent struggle in prison.

Over and over again, though, when we ask the ladies in the chapel what impure habit they're battling most, they curse their addiction to foul language.

For a large number of prisoners, swearing is the only form of communication they've ever known. Since birth they've heard profanity from their parents, expletives from their grandparents, cussing from their siblings, and blasphemy in the streets. The walls of their community are covered with dirty words. They're inundated with conversations laced with lewdness and crudeness.

For the women who want to sanctify their thoughts and words, the task is daunting. In prison there's no place to hide, no way to block out the onslaught of unwholesome speech.

They've encountered the God of holiness in the most unholy of places, and their newly cleansed hearts are beaten down by unwashed filth. The onslaught weighs heavily on them, not only because the words are constantly entering their minds, but because of the continual reminder of their own continued impurity of thought and speech.

Isaiah felt much the same when he "saw the Lord, high and lifted up." The seraphim cried out, "“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

In the face of such holiness, Isaiah's tender heart was wounded, consumed by his own purity.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)
The Lord's response to Isaiah's impurity of speech is a prescription for those who would clean up their own unhealthy habits of speech.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-8)
Is it your tongue that drags you into impurity? Burn it out!!
How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. . .
. . . With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. 

Psalm 119:9 & 13
When you meditate on the Word it will ignite your spirit in flame and begin a slow and steady chain reaction of transformation deep in my heart. A daily habit of time in the Word will feed a slow burn that purifies your heart, your thoughts, and, inevitably, your words.

It's not enough to get rid of the impure cuss words, rude words, and harsh words. When you allow God's Word to transform your heart, your speech will develop a purity of focus, creating a habit of seasoning your conversation with the salt of God's laws and God's ways.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Psalm 119: God in the Grooves

When I'm on the Mizzou campus I see legions of collegians walking to and from class, listening to the music coming from their electronic appendages. Their heads bob and their stride synchronizes with the digitized rhythms.

In the "old days", when I was considerably younger, we would have called this "grooving" to the music. I suspect that may have been partly because we weren't listening to data bits but to the sound of actual grooves, cut into a vinyl (later a polycarbonate) disc.

Don't expect me to explain how a tiny spiral pathway of cut grooves and pits produces music. The science of such things has always been beyond my grasp.

What I do know is that the grooves and pits do not actually produce music. Musicians make music, with their voices, hands, and other instruments. The record or disc delivers a representation of how the sound waves from the original performance engraved physical grooves into a physical format.

That's why thousands of music-lovers will pay exorbitant prices to attend live concerts, when they can buy the record albums for considerably less. With one format, they're experiencing the actual performance, with countless variations, both rehearsed and impromptu. With the other, they're experiencing a static representation of a past performance.

The Hebrew word hok or hukka originally meant to engrave, to inscribe, to hew, to cut in. The ancient Hebrews, of course, weren't engraving vinyl or polycarbonate, but stone.

Those words then came to also be used for a statute or decree,  no doubt because of the physical cutting required to record those decrees. The word occurs 22 times in Psalm 119.
Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.

Psalm 119:12-14
Few people today will ever read the Lord's statutes in an actual engraved form, except for archaeologists or antiquities scholars. Most will read those decrees as written in ink on paper, or digitized as part of a website or app.

Whatever the format, the image of words on a page are not actually the decrees of the Lord.

God makes decrees. He establishes statutes, the verbalized expressions of His divine nature and His intentions for the people he created.

To focus on the written Bible as the statues and decrees of God is to miss out on the incredible blessings of using the written scriptures as a pathway to knowing the Lord Himself.

You may think I'm parsing these ideas too finely, drawing semantic distinctions that are meaningless in real life.

Consider the vinyl record album again. If you're old enough - or enough of an audioophile - to have experience listening to vinyl records, you know they are not perfect. There are pops and clicks among the reproduced music, caused by tiny imperfections in the cut grooves and by dust. All those carefully engraved grooves are no longer conveying the pure sounds of the original performance.

For those of you who have never heard the pops and clicks of a vinyl phonograph record, check out Vinyl Crackle FX on YouTube (you'll want to turn up the volume) or Scratched Vinyl Before & After Restoration. There are people who greatly prefer vinyl records to more modern

Now consider again the written Bible. It can also develop pops and clicks that alter the original intent of the Lord's decrees and statutes.

Some of those clicks come when good-hearted people become too focused on organizing the words and verses into a framework of teachings and doctrines to suit their own way of thinking. The result is similar to what happens when a hip-hop DJ moves a vinyl record quickly back and forth to produce rhythmic sound effects. This scratching and sampling can sound fantastic when done by a skilled DJ, but the resulting music only vaguely resembles the original performance.

Other pops and clicks occur when we study the Bible if we're not diligent to keep our minds clear of the dust of the ideas and philosophies of the world we live in. It's easy for our hearts to become so clogged with extraneous bits of post-modern culture that our spiritual ears can no longer hear the clear voice of God as represented by the words on the page.

The best reproduction of the Lord's decrees and statutes happens when we open our minds to allow Him to teach us, allow him to engrave those decrees and statutes on our hearts, and then become - through our own words and deeds - the best representation of His character.

Like the vinyl records, like the printed page, we will bear a flawed version of his statutes. We travel the 1 road of life from dust to dust, accumulating pops and static, quirks and defects. But if we focus on His perfection, our imperfect lives will glorify Him.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Psalm 119: Hiding the Word

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11
Over a year ago one of my foster sons, now an adult with a family of his own, sent me this text, unexpectedly:
Thank you mom and dad for what you gave us, so long ago. Though I was lost for awhile, because of you both, my faith in God feels stronger now than ever (and growing), and I want my family to have the same relationship that you worked so hard to instill in us. We are so blessed to still have you all in our lives, and thank you. Love you both so much! 
I not only haven't deleted that text, but I've copied it into one of my Google Docs, where I keep all sorts of things I don't want to forget.

If this had been even a decade ago, the note would probably have been on paper, written in his hand. And that paper would be filed away somewhere special, perhaps between the pages of my Bible. More than once I've looked through the bible of a loved one who passed away and always discover treasured memories tucked in among the treasured scriptures.

When David says I have hidden your word in my heart, he uses a term for a treasure that is hidden away.

David didn't say, I have filed away your word in my brain, so that I might an encyclopedic knowledge of your Word. There's a place for studying for theology or studying for outlines. But the Word is meant to transform your heart, not just educate your mind.

He also didn't say, I've hidden your word away so I don't have to share it with anyone else or let them know how much I treasure it. The Word isn't meant to only be kept in a place of reverence, rarely opened and seldom shared. The large family bible on the coffee table or bookshelf may be beautiful with it s plush cover and gilded pages, but it's just another stack of flattened wood pulp if it's never used or shared.

The best purpose for treasuring the word in your heart is that I might not sin against you. That requires more than just storage.

Memorization is the topic usually associated with this verse, but it goes beyond that. It's not just recommending the filing words and phrases away as though your brain were a filing cabinet, but memorizing the meaning and intent of the words as well – Memorization with Meditation.

Studying and meditating on the Word is about absorbing the words, pondering their intent and implications, and actively allowing them to transform your heart.

With the Word of God in your heart, your path will be straight, your focus pure.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Psalm 119: 1 Road Traveled

“A man of my acquaintance once wrote a poem called "The Road Less Traveled", describing a journey he took through the woods along a path most travelers never used. The poet found that the road less traveled was peaceful but quite lonely, and he was probably a bit nervous as he went along, because if anything happened on the road less traveled, the other travelers would be on the road more frequently traveled and so couldn't hear him as he cried for help. Sure enough, that poet is dead.”

 ― Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope

“Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason”

― Jerry Seinfeld

Friday, September 1, 2017

Psalm 119: Pure Direction

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.

Psalm 119:9-10
David begins the second octet of his trip diary with a question nearly everyone has asked at one time or another.

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?

When we think of purity, we generally think about sexual purity. Or maybe pure thoughts and purity of our speech.

Each of those is a different aspect of life where purity comes into play. But they are only the outward sign of inward purity.

Purity is single minded focus. It's about focusing on one thing, unpolluted by distractions.

Purity means not letting the uniqueness of my own way, my identity, and my interests, overwhelm the purity of God's way. There is only 1 Road, and it is God's road, not mine.

Jesus answered, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me." 

John 14:6
No one comes to the Father through focusing on pure doctrine -- no matter however good and beneficial proper theology may be.

No one comes to the Father through focusing on morality - although the Father certainly expects righteousness from his followers.

No one comes to the Father through focusing on politics. Or the politics of morality.

No one comes to the Father through focusing on works -- even though he has recreated us for the purpose of doing his good works.

No one comes to the Father through focusing on engaging with culture - no matter how integral that might be for effective evangelism in the 21st century.

No one comes to the Father through focusing on anything except by focusing purely on Him.

Put his Word in your heart and treasure it. Meditate on it. Delight in it. Breathe it in deeply. Wallow around in it. Absorb it in through your pores.

By meditating on the Word you'll be getting to know the Word who is God.

The key to purity isn't found in focusing on God's commands as a list of rules, but  in God Himself. Purity comes through seeking a pure relationship with Him. David says, “I seek YOU with all my heart”

My heart seeks God’s heart. I seek to understand the heart and mind that produced His commands. I seek to line up the direction of my heart with the clear direction of His heart.

The reason police officers ask drivers to walk a straight line is because a drunk person has difficulty keeping their mind focused on the right thing. They'll either focus on the officer's directions to walk "a straight line", and thus look down at their feet and the imaginary straight line, or they'll be looking all over the place at whatever is a momentary distraction. A person in their right mind knows to just focus on something in the distance, along the path you want to walk, and just begin walking.

The pathway to purity is the pathway to God.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Psalm 119: Pure chance?

Sometime in the late 1950’s, the administrator of Methodist Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, was interviewing candidates for the job of Purchasing Agent. Among the men he interviewed was a young man in his upper 20’s.

A veteran of the U.S. Navy, this fellow showed up with a greased back pompadour atop a long and lean body as thin as a rail. He had managed a PX in Florida during the Korean War and had parlayed that into a job in the purchasing office of the local Swift’s Meat Packing plant.

He knew nothing about hospital supplies, but Jim Dack and the young man hit it off in that interview. Like Dack, the young man had a young family. He knew from experience how caring for his own wife and pre-school sons and daughters motivated him to work hard, and suspected this young father would be equally driven to provide for his children: three boys under five, including a newborn.

The job was offered and accepted. As Jim Dack and Gale Robertson, my father, shook hands that day, the path of my life was forever changed.

Mr. Dack, as I knew him, left Sioux City for another administration job at a larger hospital in Columbia, Missouri. A year or so later, in late 1964, he found himself in need of a purchasing agent at that hospital, and called the young man who had become his good friend.

Dad moved us all to Missouri in 1965.

Have you ever thought about the decision points that forever changed the direction of your life, even before you were ever born?

I suspect I might still be a writer if I had grown up in Sioux City, Iowa. Like most writers, it seems to be something that comes from deep within me, not a choice I made consciously.

I would have grown up in the church in Morningside Church of Christ in Sioux City, rather than W3stside Christian Church in Columbia. The Sunday School teachers and preachers who influenced me early would have been different people, but would have taught me to believe similar doctrines.

Given the family in which I grew up, I would likely have chosen to go to Bible college after graduating from an Iowa high school, just as I did in Missouri. But in Missouri my family wsa heavily involved with Central Christian College in Moberly, Missouri. In Sioux City, the church had a close relationship with Nebraska Christian Colelge, in Norfolk.

And that different choice of where I would go to college is where the change in my life would really accelerate. It was at Central Christian College that I was greatly influenced by one professor in particular, Wayne Kessler, who introduced me to an entirely different perspective on scripture. And I was taught by Dan Schantz, who encouraged my interest in being a writer.

And, more importantly, it was at Central that I met – and married – Karen Ward, who has been my wife ever since.

Because of her cousin, Lora Hobbs, we decided to become foster parents, a decision which would come to dominate our lives for decades. Because of my experience with the Christian Campus House at Mizzou, we quickly became involved there after we moved to Columbia. And because of that connection, we eventually wound up leading the CCH prison ministry.

None of which would ever have happened if Jim Dack and my dad had not hit it off during that job interview.

Every day we make decisions. Every decision affects our journey on the one road.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

Psalm 119:9-16

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Psalm 119: Upright Rebar

I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:7-8
My friend Steve invited me on a mission trip to Mexico about three years ago. We were taking a group of 30 college students to a town called Villa Union, where we would spend five says doing a construction project for a small congregation.

Steve told me up front that what he needed most from me was to do a lot of driving (24 hours one way), and to help corral the students and keep them on task. He knew that I wasn't going to be a big help in terms of my construction skills. He'd seen first hand why I said I would be scared for my family to live in a house that I built myself.

While Steve, who had extensive experience in construction, supervised what had turned out to be TWO separate construction projects, I got put doing things that I couldn't hardly mess up. Twisting wire. Moving rocks. Straightening rebar.

It's that last one that turned out to be the most difficult. The Mexican preacher quickly showed us how it was done, turning out three perfectly straight bars in just a couple of minutes.

A day later Steve put me together with three students who were as un-handy as I am, and told us we needed to straighten out some of the supposedly-straight rebar that looked more like a herd of snakes in motion.

I knew that Steve, who could do a job like this in his sleep, was working hard not to be impatient with us. I'd heard him grumble on more than one occasion, back in our real lives, about students who wanted to help but only made things more difficult.

But he patiently took a few minutes that he did not have to give us a few tips.

After he moved on to another task, one of the students in my charge looked at Steve's retreating back and then at me, and said, "We don't know how to do this. He could do in half an hour what it's going to take us the rest of the day to do, and a lot better."

He was right. The thing is, Steve knew that too. But he still didn't take the job away from us. He was counting on us.

"You're right," I told the young man. "Problem is, he doesn't have time to do it. Everyone else is doing other projects. The four of us don't know how to do much of anything on this construction project, but we're the only ones to do this job. So let's do the best we can, even if it takes us all week."

It only took us about three hours. I kept my little team working at it until we had that pile of rebar a little bit straighter than it was when we started.

God could fulfill his mission much more efficiently without having to use a mess-up like me. But he doesn't give up on me. He lets me learn; he lets me grow.

He doesn't expect me to do things as well as he would.

He just expects me to do.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Psalm 119: Shame

Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. Psalm 119:5-6
As a dedicated follower of Jesus, Bill knew that he should read his Bible and pray. And so he would set aside time each evening to open up the scriptures and spend time with God.

At first his young wife thought this was a wonderful idea. Bill, a former drug addict, was prone to moods, and perhaps this daily time with God would help him.

But when Bill read the Bible, all he could see, over and over again, was his sin. He compared himself with what he read and understood just how wretched a person he really was. And when he compared his wife to the Bible, he came to the same conclusions.

His nightly devotional time would turn into a nightly bout of ranting and raving, keening and moaning, frightening his wife and their infant daughter.

Another friend of ours, Nicky, was just a baby Christian, with no church background whatsoever.

She wanted to know more about the Bible, so she began to read. But she confessed to us that reading the Bible made her extremely afraid.

"I read the Bible and all I see is how much God must hate me."

That's the flip-side of the Bible. It can bless us so much, but one of the blessings is that it's also a two-edged sword, cutting right to the heart of the matter.
I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead.  Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

Romans 7
Bill and Nicky both properly saw their sin more clearly because of God's Word. We all need to be forced to acknowledge the horror of our lives.  That's the starting place for changing our ways.
What a wretched man I am!
Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Psalm 119: Trying & Training

Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!

Psalm 119:5
Our friend Susan lives and works in a place where she is constantly surrounded by people whose mouths are filled with foul language and foul smokes. Their greatest priority in life is to satisfy whatever desire or lust rises up to demand attention at any given moment.

No wonder then that Susan has struggled mightily as she tries to give up smoking, tries to clean up her language, tries to be a different person than she had allowed herself to become.

She has become a Christian and wonders why she still struggles to live a better life.

And then she grasped hold of a concept from John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted:
"Spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely."
David echoes this in Psalm 119. He understands that if his "ways" - his habits, his disciplines, his 'rule of life' - are steadfast, then he will naturally be the kind of person who obeys the decrees of God.

Susan began focusing more on the Word of God than on the words coming from her mouth. She became addicted to her daily regimen of Bible meditation and prayer, and stopped worrying about her addiction to nicotine (and other things even more deadly).

The more she becomes consistent and steadfast in her new spiritually disciplined way of life, the easier it is to feed her hunger for fellowship with God and for his righteousness. And the less she feels compelled to satisfy every other desire and hunger that nags at her for attention.

Obedience, with the life of discipline it requires, both leads to and, then, issues from the pervasive inner transformation of the heart and soul.

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Psalm 119: Rules to Live By

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8
It's fashionable among many preachers today to say that Christianity is not about following a bunch of rules.

I've said it myself.

But David was not very fashionable. All through Psalm 119 he insists on using a bunch of rule-like terms to describe the scriptures and our relationship to them.

You have to blind to not see that there really are a lot of laws, statutes, ways, precepts, decrees and commands in the book God gave us.

And it says we're to walk according to them, keep them, follow them, fully obey them, consider them and learn them.

I think we're absolutely correct that it isn't about a bunch of rules. But it isn't NOT about a bunch of rules either.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Psalm 119: The Journey

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.
They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways.
You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

I read those words today and I wonder, how did I, for so many years, miss the point that is so clear? How could I read words like way, walk, observe, and seek, and think they were talking about a fixed point? A place where we had already arrived?

The Word, the law, the statutes, the ways, the decrees, and commands – those aren’t delivered to us in a user’s manual. They’re nestled into what can only be described as a road trip diary.

When I first began dating a girl named Karen Ward, now Karen Robertson, she took me to meet her family in rural Pike County, Illinois. We turned off the main highway and headed down a gravel road. Along the way we passed farmhouses and fields.

She had me pull over and stop at what she called the Big Spring. This consisted of a metal pipe sticking out of the side of a large hill. From the pipe flowed a steady stream of water, pouring into a barnyard trough, where the water lapped over the edges. She stuck her face down into the steream of water and took a deep drink, much to my astonishment. To a city kid, drinking water coming from a pipe in the dirt seemed more than a little risky. I took a quick drink, though, not wanting her to think poorly of me.

We continued on about a quarter mile and came to a spot where another road curved off the main road. Since she didn’t give me any directions otherwise, I continued straight ahead, on the main road.

“Stop! Stop!” she cried. “Where are you going? I didn’t tell you to turn off here!”

While I did a neat three-point turnaround, I pointed out to her that I hadn’t turned off at all. I had driven straight ahead. To her it was obvious that the main route followed the curve and not the straight line.

“That road takes you to Uncle Richard’s house, not ours.”

Back on the correct route, we continued, going up the hills and down the hills for what seemed like forever. I began to wonder if we would ever arrive at her parents’ house.

“I didn’t know,” I admitted, “that anyone lived this far out in the middle of nowhere.”

She laughed at that and informed me there were people who lived much farther out that they did.

As the years passed and I met more and more of her friends and neighbors, I discovered this to be true. I rode with her father one Sunday morning as he drove to pick up a young man for church. We wound around the hills and drove through more than one shallow creek until we finally stopped at what seemed a random spot among the hills.

I waited a moment and looked at my father –in-law, who smiled and said to wait.

Suddenly a young man in overalls stepped out of the darkness of the trees on a steep hill and walked to the car and climbed in.

Several months later I was given the task of driving to their home on my own, to pick her up and bring her back to college. I confessed that I was unsure I would know how to find my way.

She and her family proceeded to give me the directions I would need.

After the Mississippi bridge, turn right at the four-way. Once you arrive in P-Hill, turn at the church and drive up the hill and keep going past the end of the asphalt. Make sure you make way for oncoming vehicles at the Lewises’ crossing. Make sure you stay on the road to Martinsburg and not the road to the Hobbses – you’ll know that curve is coming when you pass the Big Spring and the Joneses house. And if you get to Martinsburg, you’ve gone too far.

Of course I got lost, because I didn’t know the landmarks and the history of the people inhabiting the hills and hollers of rural Pike County.

All of us have a tendency to get lost, even when we think we know the way.

In Psalm 119, David is describing a journey, and he's marveling at how wonderful it would be to have figured it all out and be done with taking wrong turns and stalling out.

Verses 5 and 6 are a lament. He knows the words of the first four verses don't describe him. He has the directions right in front of him, but he still has trouble staying on the right path.

That’s the problem with looking at the Bible like it’s a road map or a GPS. Everything you need is there, but most of it is parceled out as part of the endless stories about how other people have gone down the road before us.

Adam and Eve were given pretty basic directions on how to walk with God in the garden. The serpent, though, showed up like a back seat driver, saying surely that can’t be right.

Samson and David and Solomon all dedicated themselves to following God’s heart in the direction he had laid out for them. Every one of them let themselves be distracted by women and took their eyes off the road.

Saul of Tarsus gave his life over to reading and interpreting the law and disciplining those who fell short of his expectations. It was only when he was on the road to Damsacus that he met the author and finisher of his faith and discovered that he and the rebels he was persecuting were all on the same road together.

With them, David cries out to the Lord, I will stay on track. I will, I promise I will. But we all know he won't. We know, because we’ve failed again and again ourselves.

If we’re honest with ourselves we all cry out in anguish with David: Please don't forsake me utterly.

In spite of his failure, David wrote Psalm 119 to express his love for God and for His Word, a love earned and strengthened during the hard journey.

Many people look at the Bible and see all those laws and rules and decrees as a list of requirements for being right with God. That viewpoint doesn’t encourage them to love the Word.

One young woman came to our prison chapel service one Monday night and raised her hand in the middle of my teaching to ask a question. The question had next to nothing to do with my lesson plan, but that’s not unusual for that crowd. I’d always rather answer the questions that spring from their lives than to teach them something that sprang from my brain.

She told us she had found Jesus shortly after arriving in the prison and she’d been reading the Bible a lot.

I commeneded her, told her that was great, and asked how it was going.

“It’s not going very good,” she said, with a deep sigh. “The more I read, the more I just see so many reasons why God should be mad at me.”

After a few more questions we discovered she had begun, like many uninformed new believers, in Genesis, and had bogged down in Exodus and Leviticus. We redirected her toward the gospels and the Psalms.

I also told her that she needed to stop seeing the Bible as a list of rules, but as journey to discover the heart of God. All those rules are there to help you know how to stay on course toward him.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Psalm 119: People of the Book

I learned to love the Bible in that church the same way a fish learns to learns to love the water. The preaching, the teaching, the Sunday School lessons, even the VBS crafts were all aimed at one thing: to totally immerse us in the scriptures.

Our church was part of the Restoration Movement, a non-hierchical “non-denominational” collection of churches devoted to restoring the church – and its doctrines and practices – to the way it was in the first century church. This emphasis grew out of and nurtured an exalted view of the authority and importance of the scriptures.

I learned to view the Bible as as the handbook containing the “pattern set forth”. It was described as the user’s manual for the Christian and for the Church.

“Where the Bible speaks, we speak; Where the Bible is silent, we are silent” was the oft repeated motto of our non-denominational denomination.

The children of the church were taught sound doctrine, as defined by the church, and we learned to swear allegiance to sound doctrine – the doctrine as taught by our group, that is. It was always clear that our church was in sole possession of that true truth.

If the Truth was a place, we were already there. Our task was to bring people to the same place we were.

The doctrine of other denominations was suspect. Actually, it was more than suspect. It was flat out wrong.

I remember hearing from the pulpit that the only way people could possibly speak in tongues was through the occult.

Failure to partake of the Lord’s Supper each and every week – and only on Sundays - would make you guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

The most renowned evangelist in the world, Billy Graham, was not considered a hero of the faith in our church. He was guilty of misleading thousands of people to believe they could be saved just by reciting a non-Biblical “sinner’s prayer”, whether or not they were ever baptized by immersion.

I grew up with the sure knowledge that I was blessed to have born into a family that went to the right church and knew the right things.

Sometime during those years I discovered Psalm 119 and fell in love with it. First of all, it’s the longest chapter in the Bible, which made me feel like it must be one of the most important. Also, the 119th starts off talking about the people of the Bible, which made me feel quite satisfied with myself. I had no trouble equating my knowledge of the Bible with the phrases expressed by David.

TR’s personal paraphrase of the first few verses would have looked something like this:
1 Blessed are they whose interpretations are blameless, who teach according to the law of the Lord.
2 Blessed are they who respect his statutes and study them with all their heart.
3 They misinterpret nothing wrongly; they talk in his ways.
4 You have laid down precepts that are to be fully digested. 
Blessed. That is what we were. Our understanding of the Way was blameless.

How wrong I was.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Psalm 119: Picture Perfect

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart — 
they do no wrong but follow his ways.

Psalm 119:1-3 Aleph

Do you know anyone who fits the description in those verses?

I'v found it easy in my life to look at other Christians and believe they're the next best thing to perfect. They seem to have it all together. No spiritual valleys. No hidden sins.

The thing is, the closer I get in my relationship with those people, the more I see the chinks in the armor, the weaknesses. And they see mine.

The two most "spiritually together" mentors in my life were Wayne Kessler and Roy Weece. I learned so much from both of them about how to live a focused life for Christ.

And, from both of them, I learned the lesson that no one is perfect. As I got to know them not just as mentors but as friends, I saw the sins that so easily beset them.

Turns out, their flaws taught me as much as their faith did, because it enabled me to see through them to Christ, whose grace upheld them.

While it's good to have people we can imitate, people to learn from, we shouldn't delude ourselves into putting them up on a pedestal of perfection.

When they fail - and they will - what happens to our faith?

It's much better to see them wholly, for who they really are. Their way of dealing with their sins and imperfections can teach as as much as their shining virtues.

And when they fail - and they will - we can learn how to fail in our own lives without letting failure be what defines us.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Now in Print: Yes...And

When we jump to conclusions based on appearances, it’s generally because we’ve already made a judgment about people before we even get to know them. Our preconceptions are based on the story we’ve come to believe about “those people” who do “those things.” We’ve bought into the narrative that no, what they’re doing isn’t right, but it’s OK for me to turn my back on them personally instead of seeking and saving the lost. 
We may have blinded ourselves to our no-but approach to people, but those same people most assuredly see that we’re not only saying no to their sin, but to them as well. 
If you’ve fallen into that narrative, try improvising a bit. When we dismissively say no to getting involved in the lives of certain people, the story of their potential salvation comes to a screeching halt. Try listening to where they are in their life story and, with a heartfelt yes-and, nudge their plotline toward faith.
Read more here:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Psalm 119: Love Letters

Would you be able to write 176 statements about your love of God’s Word and your dedication to it?

The Bible has been out of style lately.

There was a time not too many decades ago when most people, even those who weren't really "religious", treated the Bible with respect. They knew a few popular verses and held it in high regard.

Now it seems more in vogue to treat the Bible like a waste of ink and paper.

The really sad thing, though, is that a lot of believers have gotten into the habit of disrespecting the scriptures. Obeying laws is something churches emphasized back in the day, back when theology was king and rules were made to be idolized.

It would do us all good to spend time inhaling the perfumed fragrance of David's love letter. Or should I say letters?

David alphabetized this Psalm. It's as though he was saying, 'How do I love the Word? Let me spell out the ways . . .'
Great peace have those who love your law,
and nothing can make them stumble.
Psalm 119:165

Monday, July 31, 2017

1 Road Traveled

I shall be telling this with a sigh
  Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
  I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

from The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

With apologies to Robert Frost, the journey isn’t about taking the road less traveled.

My road was laid out before I was born. I was fearfully and wonderfully made, and God had a plan for me. He already had the road laid out ahead of me.

He laid out a road for you, too. He sets everyone on a road. Even those who don't know Him. Or don't want to admit they know he’s there.

The thing is, there is only one road. One course set out for our lives. It's the same course for all of us.

It's in our DNA. It's in the “image of God DNA” that he breathed into Adam and breathes into each of us when we are born. We were made for a purpose and set out on a journey, just as a car is designed to drive down a road.

My own journey on the 1 Road began before I even knew it was a journey. For years, though, I thought my God-designed road was a place, and I thought I was already there.

This blog is my own road trip diary, with a few stories about the experiences of other people I’ve met along the road.

One of those people is David, who wrote Psalm 119 as his road trip diary. I’ve learned a lot from his story that has helped me in my travels.

You may be asking yourself: So what is the destination? Where does the one road go?

David will tell us that toward the end of his long road trip diary. But we can flip a couple of pages over and take a peek now, so we know where we’re headed.

Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.

Psalm 119:175

What is certain is that it is a long way, and from either end it is not easy.

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Eugene Petersen: Bringing out the God-flavors & God-colors in the world

NOTE: Since this was posted, new information has come out:

Christianity Today: Actually, Eugene Peterson Does Not Support Same-Sex Marriage

My thoughts still stand as I wrote them earlier. And I'm not at all surprised by this quote from the newer piece today:

Peterson’s followup warned against pastors “getting clouded by controversy and cluttered with loud voices” rather than focusing on the specific needs of their congregations.

“I regret the confusion and bombast that this interview has fostered,” he said. “It has never been my intention to participate in the kind of lightless heat that such abstract, hypothetical comments and conversations generate.”

Eugene Petersen, ever the subversive is once again stirring up the waters around him and forcing believers and seekers to think outside the box. And some Christians would rather reach for the tar and feathers than to welcome the opportunity to stretch their minds.
Among the controversial quotes in the article, Petersen responds to a question about homosexuality and same-sex marriage:
I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.
Petersen went on to confirm that, if asked, he would indeed perform a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple.

In response, Petersen's books, including "The Message" may be disappearing off some shelves.

“LifeWay only carries resources in our stores by authors who hold to the biblical view of marriage,” a spokesperson for LifeWay, a Southern Baptist affiliate, said in a statement to CT.

I don't agree with everything Eugene Petersen said in his recent interview with Religion News Service.  Truth is, I've found an increasing number of things with which to quibble in his books of the past decade.

But if I only were to read books written by authors with whom I agree 100%, I would never read another book. I even have some quibbles with some of what I read in the Bible (although I submit to it's Author's wisdom in those matters).

Eugene Petersen has been one of the two two or three authors whose books I have recommended to others, over many years. His books on the Psalms (including Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction have driven me deeper into the Psalms and enlivened both my teaching and writing.

His books on spiritual life and pastoring (Subversive Spirituality ,The Contemplative Pastor, and The Pastor: A Memoir ) are among my most treasured, even though I've never been either a paid professional preacher nor an elder/pastor.

His book Reversed Thunder taught me to love and appreciate the book of Revelation, rather than avoiding and fearing it.

As for his best known work, The Message, I've never recommended it as a substitute for other actual translations for study and exegesis, but it is a valuable resource as a poetic "commentary" on the Word. His take on Matthew 5:13-16 changed the way I live and teach. And for new believers with limited literacy skills (including many of the prisoners Karen and I work with), The Message is an invaluable entry ramp to faith.

So, I'll continue to enthusiastically recommend Eugene Petersen's works. Almost none of them, by the way, touch on homosexuality or same-sex marriage. They do touch on what it means to be a Christian whose life inhabits both the depths of God's Word and the breadth of God's Mission in the world.

Monday, April 10, 2017

With Jesus on the Road to Calvary: Exploring Imaginative Prayer

My latest article in print, With Jesus on the Road to Destiny, appears, at first glance, to be a creative re-imagining of Jesus' final week leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection. Certainly an appropriate Palm Sunday piece.

But while it is that, my main point is about using creativity and your imagination in your spiritual disciplines.
Imagine the conversations Jesus and the disciples had during all those long walks. That’s exactly what I do when I pray, using my imagination to chat with them about what they—we—are seeing, doing, and hearing. As we sit around a campfire in the evening, I ask Jesus questions about the people we encountered and the things he said during the day.
I've used this imaginative method of prayer frequently since I first got the idea from Richard Foster

In Foster's book Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, he talks about "sanctifying the imagination" in the chapter on Meditative Prayer.
The simplest and most basic way to mediate upon the text of Scripture is through the imagination . . . This is a wonderful aid as we come to the text of Scripture. We are desiring to see, to hear, to touch the biblical narrative. In this simple way we begin to enter the story and make it our own. We move from detached observation to participation. 
In Celebration of Discipline, Foster talked about another application of imaginative prayer, one that I've taught to people in church, in campus ministry, in counseling, and in the prison
Let’s play a little game. Since we know that Jesus is always with us, let’s imagine that he is sitting over in the chair across from us. He is waiting patiently for us to centre our attention on him. When we see him, we start thinking more about His love than how sick Julie is. He smiles, gets up, and comes over to us. Then, let’s put both our hands on Julie and when we do, Jesus will put His hands on top of ours. We’ll watch the light from Jesus flow into your little sister and make her well.
Obviously, this is only physically happening in your imagination. You're not actually controlling Jesus and his hands.

I often, when I'm praying for someone in need, picture Jesus giving them a hug or standing by their bed with their hand in his. It helps me to focus, and it's a way of specifically communicating to God what I'm praying for.

Some have criticized this form of prayer as too new-agey. I like this explanation by Greg Boyd in
CTPastors: Learn Imaginative Prayer:
Differentiate imaginative prayer from the New Age movement. Imaginative prayer is focused on biblical truth; whereas New Age uses the imagination to go on shamanistic journeys. This is simply thinking about God in concrete and vivid ways. It's rooted in the biblical tradition.
Some won't like this type of prayer simply because their personality isn't constructed that way. Some of us learn and interact better in very concrete, black and white ways. Others, like me, always see the abstract and the imaginative even in the midst of real world events.

If this helps you in your prayer life, I'm glad. If not, I sincerely hope you're still praying.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

In Print: Do Not Call Conspiracy Everything This People Calls Conspiracy

“And then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).  
Now that’s a conspiracy theory that can change the world, if only we keep our heads about us and stay on message. 
My article, Do Not Call Conspiracy Everything This People Calls Conspiracy, is in the April 2017 issue of Christian Standard. When I wrote the article, shortly after the November, 2016, election, I had no idea how timely it would remain.

I highly recommend reading a book I referenced, Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, by Rob Brotherton (Bloomsbury USA; November 17, 2015).  If you read it with an open mind, seeking truth, it will challenge you to question why you believe the things you believe, and to resolve to be more diligent in "taking every thought captive."

A few quotes:

When it comes to conspiracy theories it’s tempting to think that our belief - or disbelief - is based on fair assessment of the facts. But the reality is that our beliefs are shaped by our overarching worldview more often than we might like to admit. As I said, the conspiracism is a lens through which we view the world - and we all have a different prescription. Few people credulously accept every theory, and few staunchly reject every suggestion of conspiracy. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, mildly skeptical of conspiracy theories across the board, but unwilling to write them off completely. (page 97) 
More than three quarters of the students [in a study] admitted to having one or more paranoid thoughts on at least a weekly basis. Around a third of the students admitted to having a paranoid thought more frequently.
 . . .
Paranoia goes hand in hand with conspiracy theories, but conspiracy theories aren’t exclusive to the fringe, because paranoia isn't exclusive to the fringe.
. . .
Likewise, there’s an element of truth to the idea that conspiracy theorists tend to feel relatively alienated and powerless. But this, too, is a more universal experience than the stereotypes would have us imagine. Psychologists have long understood the importance of feeling in control, and it’s not a desire exclusive to people on the fringes. We all want to believe that we understand our circumstances and are master of our own destiny. (page 109) 
By painting conspiracism as some bizarre psychological tick that blights the minds of a handful of paranoid kooks, we smugly absolve ourselves of the faulty thinking we see so readily in others. But we’re doing the same thing as conspiracists who blame all of society’s ills on some small shadowy cabal. And we’re wrong. Conspiracy-thinking is ubiquitous because it’s a product, in part, of how all our minds are working all the time. (page 243)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

In Print: Uphold the Cause

I am the alien.

Scriptures describe us as sojourners, refugees, and aliens. Our biblical identity as a peculiar people and the “set-apart ones” doesn’t put us in a class above others. We’re not better because we know the King. Quite the contrary, our status carries with it the promise that we can expect to be among the outcast, the odd ones, and the oppressed.

If I believe I’m an alien, I won’t easily choose political options aimed at protecting my own status, whether legal, financial, or societal. I have no status, other than that of a pilgrim temporarily on mission in a foreign land, looking forward to going home.

My alienated status will lead me to identify with others who are strangers in my adopted country. Whatever my opinions about the legal and political issues surrounding immigrants and refugees, I’ll choose to show them kindness and to uphold their cause along with the Lord.

If I choose to believe I’m among “the least of these,” it will change the way I approach political issues.

Read the rest at Uphold the Cause in the March 2017  issue of Christian Standard .

Sunday, February 12, 2017

In Print: Small Churches With a Big Impact

In towns and cities all over America, small churches are known for more than their Sunday morning services. We asked the leaders of several small (under 200) congregations to share how their church serves their community. Their answers prove it doesn't take a big congregation to have a huge impact. The results are in this week's Lookout magazine, entitled "Small Churches, Big Impact."

Ashland Christian Church's Back to School Festival

Monday, February 6, 2017

In Print: The Church of Mirrors

From The Church of Mirrors, in the February 2017 issue of Christian Standard magazine:

A congregation that has embraced the intentional diversity Jesus designed into his church will be eager to welcome yet another square peg into the mix.

I tell prisoners the church needs them just as much as they need the church. Every congregation needs committed newcomers who bring something different, something a little out of the ordinary to the personality of the church. Just imagine the people a former prisoner will be able to attract to Jesus; they are likely to be the kinds of seekers who might not feel comfortable in a middle-class congregation.

The church was designed to be a widely diverse collection of oddballs, nonconformists, straight arrows, and free spirits. What better way to be equipped to serve as a reflection of righteousness to a world filled with oddballs, nonconformists, straight arrows, and free spirits?
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