Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Giving to Save Lives

At http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2009/12/29/why-i-made-a-small-year-end-gift-to-a-crisis-pregnancy-center-and-you-should-consider-doing-something-similar/, Kevin DeYoung explains why he made a year-end donation to a pro-life pregnancy center and why we should consider doing something similar.

If anyone is interested in making a donation to a pro-life ministry, I would like to recommend two possibilities:

1. Christian Services of Oklahoma (our adoption agency)

501 E. 15th St. Suite 500A

Edmond, OK 73013

Read about Christian Services' pro-life alternative to abortion at www.christian-adoption.org/Abortion-Alternative.

2. Contact Life Ministry of the Contact Church (our church)

1529 W. 49th St.

Tulsa, OK 74107

Read about this aspect of the Tulsa urban ministry at www.contactchurch.net/Contact_Life.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A New Year's Resolution

I have been thinking about making a new year's resolution. I don't do it every year, but once in a while, I like to challenge myself.

This coming year, I resolve to memorize the book of Titus.

I love the pastoral epistles. They are short in length, rich in theology, and filled with practical principles for living out my Christian faith.

Since Titus is the shortest of the three pastoral epistles--and since I have never memorized a book of the Bible before--I plan to memorize Titus.

I wonder how it will change me. Will I think and act any differently next year? Will I be closer to the Lord? Hopefully it will be a life-changing experience.

Do you have a new year's resolution?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Measure of a Godly Man

"Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness" (Titus 2:2, English Standard Version).

For many years, I ignored this verse. After all, I was not an older man. It simply did not apply to me. Then, a rather obvious thought occurred to me: I'm getting older every day. I need to get ready. God wants to see these qualities developing within me.

God wants me to be sober-minded. He wants me to see my life, my circumstances, and my opportunities clearly. He wants me to have the humility to know my weaknesses and the honesty to know my strengths.

God wants me to be dignified. While he does not want me to be uptight and unapproachable, he wants me to be respectable. He wants me to take my responsibilities to my family, employer, church, and community seriously. He wants me to think, act, and speak with a sense of responsibility and class. A dignified man is a responsible man.

God wants me to be self-controlled. He does not want me to be controlled by mood swings, the expectations of others, drugs or alcohol. He wants me to exhibit gentleness, discipline, and strength of character.

God wants me to be sound in faith. He wants me to trust him and his word. He does not want me to doubt his honesty or his ability to live up to his word. He wants me to trust in Jesus Christ rather than in myself.

God wants me to be sound in love. He wants me to care deeply about the people around me. He wants me to be more concerned about him than about myself. He wants me to open my eyes to the lonely, the disappointed, the abused, the neglected, the depressed, and the suffering people in my sphere of influence; then he wants me to do something about it.

God wants me to be sound in steadfastness. He wants me to keep going when things are not going my way. He wants me to persevere in trying to make a positive difference in this world because he has given me reason to hope for a positive outcome in the end.

God has high expectations for Christian men, but he has provided us with the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and the church to help us in meeting those expectations. With his help, we can become who he has called us to be.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Pro-Life Implications of Christmas

A few years ago, Planned Parenthood sent out Christmas cards celebrating "Choice on Earth." In doing so, the largest abortion provider in America revealed a profound misunderstanding of biblical teaching and the significance of Christ's birth.

Under the Law of Moses, pre-born children received legal protection (Exodus 21:22-25). They were protected because it was recognized that children were formed by the Lord within the wombs of their mothers (Psalm 139:13-16). As children made in the image of God, they were given the respect and legal protections due to all human beings.

The humanity of pre-born children was further demonstrated in this portion of the Christmas account:

"In those days (after Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of God's Son) Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Luke 1:39-45, English Standard Version).

At least two pro-life points are apparent within this passage:

1. During the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy (Luke 1:36), Elizabeth's pre-born son was moving and expressing emotions. Obviously, he was a human being who was different from his mother even though he depended on her nurturing for survival.

2. In addition, Mary was called "the mother of my Lord" very early in her pregnancy, a time when Jesus would have been a developing embryo within his mother. Mary did not need to wait until her Son was born; everyone knew that she was a mother long before Jesus was born.

Although Planned Parenthood celebrates "choice" as the ultimate value, the saints of the Bible upheld right choices as far more important than the mere ability to choose. Joseph and Mary chose to protect and to nurture their Son. They chose to risk their lives for him. They chose to look as if they were guilty of sexual impurity in order to care for Jesus, risking ostracism within their religious community for the sake of their Son.

On the other hand, King Herod chose to kill the little boys of Bethlehem in order to protect his standard of living. He wanted to eliminate any threat that a child would pose to his position in society.

Herod made the wrong choice. Joseph and Mary made the right choice. One was condemned. The other two were blessed.

"Choice on Earth" is not worthy of praise. However, selfless, compassionate, and noble choices on behalf of children are worthy of a celebration. Those are the pro-life implications of Christmas.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Christmas Store

For many families, Christmas is a challenge. They want to provide a few toys for their children, but their finances are too limited to buy many gifts, even at relatively inexpensive prices. Some children will receive a toy or two; others will receive nothing.

Each year, the Contact Church helps such families with our Christmas Store. Several churches and individual Christians in our area donate new unwrapped toys to the Contact Church. The Contact Church discounts each toy by 75% off the retail price. (Some people donate money and gift cards. Last weekend, my wife Janet took over $200 in donated cash and gift cards to Walmart in order to purchase toys for the Christmas Store. She loved her new shopping ministry.) Then, on a Saturday in December, the church building is transformed into a Christmas Store for people in need in our community.

By purchasing the toys at deeply discounted prices, the poor families of our city are able to retain a certain sense of dignity. They purchase the merchandise rather than receive it for free. But the discounts make a huge difference. An $8 action figure is much more affordable at $2. They are far more likely to be able to provide very nice gifts to all of their children because of the generosity of wealthier believers in our area.

As an added benefit, the money raised at the Christmas Store pays for the Contact kids to attend summer camp each year. Otherwise, the vast majority of our children would not have an opportunity to go to camp. Most of our kids come from low-income housing projects; and it would be unthinkable for their families to come up with enough money to send them.

Yesterday, the Contact Church sponsored the Christmas Store; and because of it, over 100 families in Tulsa will be able to provide their children with nice gifts this Christmas while several of our Contact kids will be able to attend summer camp.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Real Santa Claus

We broke the news to Christopher tonight. Santa Claus is dead.
Actually, we told him that several hundred years ago, a Christian pastor named Saint Nicholas lived in a small city in Turkey. He was a man who cared deeply for the poor. He was known for his compassion for people and for giving gifts to those in need. It was rumored that he would sneak into houses during the night to leave gifts for the people in their stockings. He would try to give his gifts in secret because he wanted to obey Jesus' instructions to help people without drawing attention to himself; but apparently he got caught a few times and people knew that he was helping those in need. When he died, the people respected him so much that every December near the anniversary of his death, they continued his tradition of giving gifts to the poor.

Today, when you receive a gift from Santa Claus, you are receiving something from someone who loves you, but who wants to honor the spirit of the generous man who gave to others in secret.
"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets...to be honored by men...But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:2-4).

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Losing a Son for the Benefit of Others

This is my communion meditation for tomorrow at the Contact Church.
A few years ago, Tony Dungy was coaching the Indianapolis Colts through another successful football season. Without warning, he received a call informing him that his oldest son Jamie had taken his life while attending college in Florida. Jamie Dungy's death shocked the family. Jamie had been a very good and compassionate young man, the type of son who would make any father proud.
After Jamie's death, Coach Dungy and his wife Lauren were uncertain about what to do. He wrote in Quiet Strength, "In an effort to bring some good out of this, I have tried to assist others...We began by donating Jamie's organs. Today two people can see, thanks to his corneas. A businessman wrote me after the funeral to tell me he's working less in order to spend more time with his son. A young girl wrote a letter to us, saying that although she's always attended church, she dedicated her life to Christ after watching our family at Jamie's homegoing service" (page 262).
In a radio interview a couple of years later, Coach Dungy told his interviewers about how the death of Jamie led to two people receiving their eye sight back, to families becoming closer, and to people coming to faith in Jesus Christ. But, he added, if the Lord had revealed to him that Jamie's death would have helped so many people in so many ways, he still would have asked the Lord to spare his son.
I thought about Tony Dungy's words while reading about the time when Joseph and Mary presented their baby Jesus at the temple for his circumcision. While at the temple, the small family came across a prophet named Simeon who immediately recognized their baby as the long-expected Messiah. After informing Mary that her Son would be a great man in Israel and would face strong opposition, he warned her, "(A)nd a sword will pierce through your own soul also" (Luke 2:35, English Standard Version).
The prophet Simeon foresaw the anguish in Mary's soul as she would watch her Son being executed on a Roman cross three decades into the future. Mary was cryptically warned that her Son would die for the benefit of others.
I'm not sure how much Mary understood the message, but I know that she suffered terribly as she watched her Son die for not only herself, but for people like us too.
Today, as we take part in the communion, we pause to appreciate the pain. Through the pain of the cross, we benefited. Mary lost a Son (for a few days) so that we could be saved forever.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Jesus Has AIDS

I hope it doesn't show on my face or in my body language, but I continue to be a little nervous when I shake the hand of someone who is HIV-positive. However, Russell Moore challenges me to overcome my fears at www.russellmoore.com/2009/12/01/jesus-has-aids/. Please check it out.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Eucharist

This is my devotional presentation for tomorrow's communion service at the Contact Church.

Since we observe communion every week at the Contact Church, sometimes Easter does not seem like a big deal to some of us. A few years ago, Bob Logsdon was on the stage asking the children, "What's special about Easter?" Our son Christopher responded, "It's when the Easter Bunny comes!" Our son had no idea that people associated Easter with a special Sunday each year on which we remember the resurrection of Jesus. After all, we make a point of remembering the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ during Sunday morning assemblies each week. Easter Sunday did not seem any different to him, except for hunting Easter eggs after lunch.

A few days ago, Americans observed Thanksgiving Day. We devoted some time on that day to thanking God for our blessings.

In some ways, the communion service is as much like Easter Sunday as Thanksgiving Day. In fact by the second century of the church, many Greek-speaking Christians were referring to the Lord's Supper as the Eucharist (a Greek word meaning thanksgiving). During the communion (or Eucharist), believers take the time to thank God for his goodness and his grace toward us. He has been good and gracious toward us in what he has done through his Son, Jesus Christ. Our Savior has experienced our humanity and our temptations. He has suffered for our sins. He has died in our place. He has felt the wrath of God for us. He has been raised from the dead, has ascended into heaven to rejoin his Father, and has promised to return for us so that we can enjoy eternal life with him, free from our sins and their consequences.

When we remember what Christ has done for us, the Lord's Supper truly becomes the Eucharist, an occasion for thanksgiving. As the angels proclaimed in Revelation 7:12, "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen" (English Standard Version).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Blind Side

I have seen some good movies this year. Star Trek, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Up were enjoyable; but last night, we saw the best movie of the year. The Blind Side tells the true story of Michael Oher from his days as a homeless teenager to his adoption to the beginning of his career in the National Football League. This was one movie definitely worth seeing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

If We Had Lived in the Days of Our Forefathers

My life overlapped the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by a few months. The famous civil rights activist was murdered before I learned to walk.

At times, I have wondered: Would I have joined with Dr. King in calling for an end to legal racism?

It's easy to believe that I would have taken the unpopular, but just, position. It's easy to think that I would have had the sense of justice and the courage to do the right thing. I could easily see myself marching with Dr. King in the early 1960s, hiding the Jewish people from the Nazis with Corrie ten Boom's family during World War II, or rescuing escaped slaves with the Underground Railroad in the years leading up to the Civil War. But would I have done such noble things?

Jesus had some harsh words for some of his contemporaries who held similar thoughts. He warned, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!" (Matthew 23:29-32).

Jesus' words challenge my pride in what I imagine I would have done. He is not interested in how I would have responded to injustices of the past and the needs of people in a previous generation. Christ is interested in what I am doing today. How do I respond when people are mistreated today? What am I doing today to help those who are in need? Am I willing to take risks? Am I willing to be unpopular for the sake of following Jesus Christ? Do I care about people? Or am I content to condemn a previous generation while taking pride in the fact that I did not participate in their sins?

How am I living today? Am I acting with justice, loving kindness and mercy, and walking humbly with my God?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Found a Savior (Part Four)

This is the conclusion of a Contact Church member's testimony. Previous posts may be read at:

(Part One) http://adisciplesthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/11/i-found-savior-part-one.html
(Part Two) http://adisciplesthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/11/i-found-savior-part-two.html
(Part Three) http://adisciplesthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/11/i-found-savior-part-three.html

"I began saying thank you Jesus for giving my children back and I prayed to God about a place to live. I went to Tulsa Housing and I had been approved a year prior for an apartment. I had spent all that time homeless and didn't know I didn't need to be. The day I showed up to sign my lease the apartment had not been released in the computer, so the lady said she could not do anything until they released it from downtown. While I waited for about an hour I talked to her about needed furniture. She said they had a church that was sometimes able to help with beds and stuff. After a while this white truck pulled up and she said, 'Hey that's the guy you want to talk to, he's from Contact Church.' I said, 'What? Really? I know him!' I ran out to the truck and it was Ron Babbit. I told him how I had been here, how God had helped me, how I was getting my children back, how Bill was out of the picture and how God had convicted me for not teaching my children--all the struggles and victories. He said he was glad for me and that I should come to see them down at the church. I was glad to do that anyway. Contact helped me move furniture into my empty apartment. I am so thankful to my Father in heaven and for Contact Church of Christ. I attended church whenever the doors were open. Praise God they were always there. I've been blessed with opportunities to share what Christ has done for me, those things I could not do for myself. Through this relationship with Christ, God has provided for very specific, unmet needs from my childhood. Through Ron Babbit, God has provided a father figure here on earth for me. Today I desire to know Him more, to enjoy the people he has created. I am so thankful to have friendships today with both men and women. Some relationships at this point in my life have completely changed the way I view men. Men like Joel Osborn and Randy Milam who have listened even when it wasn't easy, men who refuse to see me the way I thought every man saw me. Those men have helped me to see and experience Jesus in a way I had never experienced him.

"I celebrated 2 years on July 31, 2009 clean from crack cocaine. I now celebrate 6 months from alcohol, 6 months from sexual immorality, 1 year 4 months from co-dependency, and I surrendered nicotine 90 days ago today. I am blessed with so many opportunities to give back and to share with others by sponsoring, mothering 4 children, meeting a need for someone, and getting to pray. Some days I can't find a single reason why God chose a sinner like me but I am so glad that he chose to give me life. I found that I am far more valuable to God than many sparrows. I found peace in my inner most being. I found my prince of peace to rescue me. I found healing and restoration. I found God when I sought him with my whole heart. I found a Savior."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Found a Savior (Part Three)

This is the continuation of a Contact Church member's testimony. You may read the previous posts at:

(Part One) http://adisciplesthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/11/i-found-savior-part-one.html
(Part Two) http://adisciplesthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/11/i-found-savior-part-two.html.

"Bill and I found ourselves with nowhere to go. Wandering the streets trying to figure out a plan, I saw this church and said that we should go there and ask if they could help us. Reluctantly Bill followed and the church was Contact Church of Christ. When I contacted the church, Sarge told me the man I needed to talk to was Todd Box. When this man walked in he said, 'Hey I know you, you were my boss over at Sonic." This was amazing. I thought, 'Wow God placed this man in my path.' Just prior to going to rehab I confessed Jesus as my Lord and Todd Box re-baptized me. This time it was different. I knew without a doubt that things were going to change despite what I could see. I left my program convinced that I could keep Bill clean. But I began to self destruct and violated a court order and disappeared with my soon to be ex-husband for 4 months. Within 2 weeks I was strung out on crack cocaine again! A $500 a week job for both Bill and I, a $300 a week motel room, and $700 a night for crack. One Saturday morning there I sat broke, wondering why I was there, realizing he did not love me and that I deserved to be loved. With a motion to terminate parental rights in the proceedings, I stayed 30 more days cleaning up, then I packed my clothes. I went to work, gave my boss a change of address and asked him to mail me my check, and I finally left Bill. Basically it was just me and God and I talked to him everyday. I discovered the next court date was 1 week away before they would terminate all parental rights. I showed up, prayed and asked for my children's voices to be heard. I initiated counseling services again and attended outpatient therapy 3 days a week. I completed nurturing parenting classes, responsibility parenting, and parent education group to teach us about sexual abuse recognizing/reporting. I attended AA meetings, worked a full-time job and paid for random UAs and hair follicle tests. I did all this walking and riding the bus. I had this overwhelming fear every time I walked to court alone. I knew that this could be the moment when the courts would confirm what I had already believed--that I was not good enough."

To be continued.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Found a Savior (Part Two)

This is the continuation of a Contact Church member's testimony. Part One may be read at http://adisciplesthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/11/i-found-savior-part-one.html.

"Our family moved to Texas. On September 16, 1996 I was taken from the complex laundry mat to a storage room on the back side and sexually assaulted. I remember laying there crying and begging God to save me. Men had continued to do whatever to my body and I never had a say. Not even the all-powerful God would save me. Part of me wished he had killed me and put me out of my misery. When he took my wedding ring and my husband's class rings off my fingers that night it hurt me more than anything else. Waking Russell up to tell him what happened was hard as I had already cheated and hadn't even gotten through the pregnancy; I was eight months pregnant. Russell eventually left for another woman which only reinforced all the lies--that I was unlovable, worthless, and not good enough. I was left with myself, 2 kids, and a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics who I sure fought hard to not be like, but I resigned and figured that's exactly what I deserved. I would spend the next 10 years with a man who did every drug known to man. He was an IV drug user and an alcoholic who very much did not value women. He introduced me to a behind the scenes look at the drug world. I was at a place where I really welcomed death, in fact half the time I prayed for death. Well when that plan failed I began provoking anger in Bill___--maybe he would put me out of my misery. Bill and I would spend a lot of time arguing, fist fighting, drinking, drugging up until I got busted in February 2000. Then I would clean up, however, he would not. I began to realize that God was with me the night I was raped and that I was alive and God was working in my heart. After I cleaned up I became pregnant with my first girl. This spoke to me in awesome ways because I believed God would not give me little girls because I wouldn't be good enough, after 3 boys that was very easy for me to believe. There was this calm inner voice that kept saying leave this man and a much louder one saying no he might die without you. I wanted to leave all the time but I was terrified of being alone. I needed him to protect me. I would not cook, wouldn't clean, wouldn't try, just argue, scream, fight, and rage. Then I began rocking, abusing crack cocaine and neglecting my children. I was completely bankrupt. Imagine this, there I am on the floor searching for a crumb of crack to smoke and my 5 year old daughter bends down and says, 'Is this one momma?' I began to cry and she said, 'Momma I want you and daddy to stop fighting, stop cussing, stop smoking cigarettes and stop searching for white rocks.' I would soon discover the thing I feared the most--those precious girls that I just knew God would not give me had been molested. I was very calm and made a phone call to DHS. The judge ordered the children to remain in custody. I begged for Family Drug Court which required rehab, counseling, accountability, and responsibility. You would think that the reality of children being gone, what happened to them, and the court stuff pending would have been enough for me to get clean but it was not. Bill, myself, and my sister all shared an efficiency apartment where I helped my little sister off of her program through DUI school and strung her out on crack too! I later beat up my sister and she called the cops and the landlord."

To be continued.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Found a Savior (Part One)

I wrote a very condensed version of a Contact Church member's story on my blog last month. This time, I will let her tell her story in her own words. She wrote this for Ron and Judy Babbit's newsletter to supporters of their ministry with the Contact Church.

"I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, incest, rape, physical and emotional abuse. I am overcoming chemical addiction, alcoholism, co-dependency, and sexual immorality. I still struggle with control, anger, un-forgiveness, fear, and feelings of inadequacy. It is a blessing for me to be a light of God's grace, glory, forgiveness, and unfailing love, and how it has been demonstrated in my life.

"I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My childhood was chaotic at best. Very little consistency ever, well actually there was some. I knew there would be drinking, fighting, drugs, and yelling. Around age 8 or 9, myself and other family members were molested by a live-in babysitter who was a 28 year old male. After all the fighting and everything else in our home, it changed a lot of things. I began withdrawing and isolating myself. I went from a straight A student to a straight F student. I felt so dirty, angry, ugly, unlovable, and ignored. Couldn't my mom see, didn't she know, did she even care, and how selfish was it of me to feel that way when she was the one being beat up everyday. How could I even tell her? Nevertheless, these feelings went on for a while until one day my mom demanded to know the truth. With a lot of resistance I finally told her.

"Shortly after that my dad showed up. I needed my dad to love, approve, and protect me. When my dad began putting me in his bed I began having what I call emotional blackouts. It stopped with me and began with my sister. When she told me I called the police and had us removed. My sister and I were taken to a Tulsa shelter for children and then to DHS where my mom and dad would both exit the elevator and dad walked out of our lives. I began lying to myself about what my dad did to me. You see when I called the police I told my sister's truth not mine. I wanted my dad to be anything other than what he was or actually what his sin had made him. I still love him very much and accept all the things that have brought me right here today and made me into the woman God called me to be.

"My mom kept me for a little while longer and then gave me a choice to go live with my grandparents or she would separate all 5 of us into foster homes. Now my own mom was giving up on me. I was delivered to my grandparents. My grandpa began touching me in ways that made my skin crawl and I remember the alcohol on his breath. I began to despise the smell of alcohol especially after a 3 day drunk.

"I began seeking attention by kissing and touching, after all I could control that part or so I thought. I began trying to find love in sexual relationships. I tried to build a marriage on sexual relationship, in fact 2 marriages on sexual relationships. My first marriage took a turn for the worst when he joined the army. I felt abandoned and I didn't know how to be alone and unprotected. I cheated, got pregnant and was faced with what I had done almost immediately. I believe God had convicted me. Consumed with guilt and the fact that I couldn't hide what I had done, I called Russell and told him. While Marvin Phillips had baptized me 7 or 8 years earlier at Garnett Church of Christ, I still had doubts about his love for me. But God was working out my salvation and still is."

To be continued.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Some Secrets Can't Be Kept

Matt Hurley is one of our ministers in the Contact Church. Among his duties, he coordinates activities for youth groups from other congregations that come to help us in the urban ministry. Last night, he told us about the efforts of one youth group from a small town.

The group had been coming to Tulsa for a few years, and Matt felt that the members were ready for something new and challenging. He approached the leader and told him that he felt the group was ready to minister in one of the apartment complexes with a fairly bad reputation. He assured the leader that it would be safe. In response, the leader said, "Okay, but don't let the other parents know about its reputation. They will freak out." Matt agreed to keep it silent.

The next day, Matt addressed the youth group. Several of the Contact Church's kids were intermingled with the other church's youth group. Matt announced, "Today, we're going to Mohawk." Suddenly the Contact kids erupted with: "WE'RE GOING TO GET SHOT! WE'RE GOING TO DIE!"

So much for keeping secrets.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One Way to Support Adoption

You may not be in a position to adopt, but you would like to help Christian families who are preparing to adopt a child. One way to help would be to send a little (or a lot of) money to a Christian adoption agency. If that option appeals to you, please consider Christian Services of Oklahoma. You may find out more about this ministry by going to www.christian-adoption.org. You may call the ministry at 1-888-397-7202. You may contact them by writing to:
Christian Services of Oklahoma
501 E. 15th St. Suite 500A
Edmond, OK 73013
Thanks for considering this opportunity to help Christian families through the adoption process.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Family Man and Me

Last week, I was involved in a conversation with a few co-workers concerning our favorite movies. After mentioning The Family Man, one of my friends said, "You've mentioned that movie before. You must really identify with it."
I don't want to get carried away with her analysis. After all, I'm afraid that she may realize that I identify with Dumb and Dumber, too.
However, I think my co-worker may have been right about why I like the movie.
In the movie, Jack Campbell is a very successful businessman who believes that he has everything he could possibly want in the world. However, an encounter with an angel reveals to Jack that he may not be living the best life possible. Instead of a powerful businessman-playboy, Jack wakes up one Christmas morning as a confused family man with a modest job. Over a period of a few months, he learns that wealth and power cannot replace a loving wife and children (and a few good friends). Success cannot be defined by accomplishments alone; relationships are an essential ingredient to a satisfying life. When he wakes up from his fantasy, he pursues a renewed relationship with his old college girlfriend whom he dumped in order to gain his enviable position in society.
Like Jack in his fantasy world, I am not in a position of great wealth and influence. However, I have a loving wife and son. I have some really good friends. And they make a huge difference in the way I view life. I am a rich man.
"He who finds a wife finds what is good
and receives favor from the LORD" (Proverbs 18:22).
"Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from him" (Psalm 127:3).

Saturday, November 07, 2009

An Adoption Story

World Magazine contains a great story about the adoption of Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens (www.worldmag.com/articles/16080).

Because of his adoption, Michael Oher moved from begging for food on the streets of Memphis as a teenager to a potential rookie of the year in the National Football League. His story challenges conventional wisdom about the potential of inner-city kids, the willingness of wealthy people to get involved personally in the lives of the poor, and the potential of adopting older children.

It's an inspiring true story of love and kindness.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Ministry of a Lifetime

Some ministries last a short time. Some ministries last a long time. The ministry of adoption lasts a lifetime.

Actually, more than one ministry may be involved in adoption.

Adoption may be an international ministry. If you adopt a child from another country, you are engaged in an international ministry.

Adoption may be a pro-life ministry. By adopting a child, you are challenging the cavalier attitude toward the value of a child's life.

Adoption may be a ministry to the disabled. If you adopt a child with disabilities, you are engaged in a ministry to someone with special needs.

Adoption may be a family ministry. By adopting a child, you create a family ministry.

Adoption may be a preaching ministry. When you adopt a child, you will have many opportunities to preach to him or her. (Trust me.)

Adoption may be a ministry to the poor. In many cases, an adopted child will be saved from a life of poverty. In Tulsa, one-third of children in foster care will be homeless when they leave the system (unless they are adopted).

Adoption may be an evangelistic ministry. When you adopt a child, you will be able to share the good news of Christ with him or her (possibly for the first time in the child's life).

Of course, adoption is much more than a ministry. But it is not less. In some manner, you will serve the child that you love for a lifetime.

November is National Adoption Month in the USA. If you are a Christian, please consider adopting a child. In doing so, you will be doing something close to God's heart. "Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation" (Psalm 68:5, English Standard Version).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Adoption Story

On the radio program FamilyLife Today, Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt and his wife Katharyn tell the story of the adoption of their two children from Ukraine. You can hear the interview (or read the transcript) by clicking on the link below. (I recommend listening to it.)

FamilyLife Today - FamilyLife.com

Tomorrow, you should be able to access the second part of the interview by following a link from part one of the interview.

Posted using ShareThis

Friday, October 23, 2009

Beauty for Ashes

Last night, we attended the Contact Church's appreciation dinner for the urban ministry's supporters and volunteers.

After dinner, one of our members gave her testimony.

D.J. came to the Contact Church as a broken woman.

A short time before knocking on the church's door to ask for help, D.J. knew that she needed to make major changes in her life. As an addict to crack cocaine, her life was falling apart. She realized how low she had sunk when she was on her hands and knees desperately searching her house for a crumb of crack to smoke. Her 3-year old daughter joined her in the search, but she poured out her heart to her mother as she crawled alongside her. "Mommy, I'm tired of you and Daddy drinking, smoking, cussing, and fighting. And I'm tired of looking for little white rocks on the floor, too...Is this one, Mommy?"

Soon, D.J. and her then-husband were homeless. They could not keep up financially with a $700 a day drug addiction. As they were walking the streets, wondering what they were going to do, they spotted the Contact Church building and decided to ask for help.

Of course, they found help in the church. D.J.'s husband stayed at our recovery house for a while. However, he kept failing the urine analysis tests and had to leave the program.

D.J. was able to move in with our recovery minister's family until the church helped her to find and furnish an efficiency apartment.

She learned about Christ, confessed faith in him, and was baptized in his name. At one point in the past, she had been baptized; but according to D.J., "This time, it was different. I had changed."

She was making progress in her new life of following Jesus Christ when a major setback occurred. She found out that her daughter had been sexually abused by her then-husband in much the same way that D.J. herself had been abused as a child.

D.J. could not handle it. She left her husband and abandoned her children. The state took the children.

With the help of members of the Contact Church, D.J. slowly got back on track. She returned to the church and started the recovery process again. Eventually, she was able to get her children back.

Last night, D.J. testified to the grace of God in her life. She reported that she had been sober for more than a year, and had abstained from sexual immorality for 5 months. Because of some of the Contact Church's men, her attitude toward men in general had changed. She had seen that some men would not use and abuse her; some would treat her with respect and understanding; some could be trusted.

D.J.'s life has changed in dramatic ways because Christ has made a difference. Just imagine what her life may look like in 5 or 10 more years.

"The Spirit of the sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted...
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve...
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor" (Isaiah 61:1-3).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Halloween Hell

This is my planned communion meditation for this coming Sunday at the Contact Church.

When I was a teenager, I would go to the latest scary movies with my friends during this time of year. You could always count on being scared by movies like Friday the 13th or The Nightmare on Elm Street during the Halloween season.

In recent years, Guts Church in east Tulsa has sponsored a Hell House in the weeks leading up to Halloween. When people visit their haunted house, they see a depiction of the horrible consequences of living and dying without Christ in their lives. They get a glimpse of hell.

When you think about it, nothing is more frightening than the prospect of facing an all-powerful, all-knowing, and completely holy God with unforgiven sin in our lives. The Bible warns us, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). Jesus warns us, "I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after killing the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him" (Luke 12:5). God warns us that sinners face "the fiery lake of burning sulfur" (Revelation 21:8).

As we remember Christ's sacrifice on our behalf when we take the Lord's Supper today, we remember that we were heading toward hell at one time in our lives. As Paul wrote to Titus, "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:3-7).

Since Jesus died and rose again for us, those of us who have believed the message of the cross and have been changed by it do not need to dread hell. We can now look forward to the day Christ returns to usher in "a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13), a time and a place in which we can live forever in a state of peace with God and each other.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Little Things Count

I'll admit that my timing is awkward. Oklahomans are not supposed to write positive words about the quarterback of the Texas Longhorns on the eve of the University of Oklahoma- University of Texas football game.
However, I can't help myself. I appreciate Christian athletes who live their faith in Christ with class and dignity.

When I read about Texas quarterback Colt McCoy's friendship with Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford in today's edition of USA Today ("A brotherly bond links archrival QBs," October 16, 2009, section C, page 7), I knew I had to make a few comments.
Following the injury to Bradford's shoulder last month, the article reported,
"McCoy texted Bradford the night of his injury, saying he was praying for him. 'I know that it's tough. Anytime you're in a situation like that, you're disappointed, you're upset, because you want to be out there with your team and competing with your team,' McCoy says.
"Bradford says, 'For him to do something like that and keep encouraging me, it says a lot about who he is.'"
Sam Bradford has seen something uncommon and good in his Red River rival. He has seen a glimpse of genuine Christian faith in action.
In an interview published in the October edition of the Christian Chronicle ("A conversation with Colt McCoy", page 22), McCoy explained that he was raised in a Christian home and came to share his parents' faith in Jesus Christ.
"Most of all, my family (is the key spiritual influence in my life). Both sets of my grandparents were believers, and it was shown in all ways in their everyday lives.
"My mom and dad were my first examples of what a Christian life should look like.
"We didn't have much choice, though, when we were young. We were at church every time the doors were open--and sometimes when they weren't. It was not an option to miss church for anything...Those priorities made a big impression on me and my brothers. It wasn't always easy on my parents, but being in worship...and encouraging others was always a priority.
"...I was taught at an early age the way I was supposed to act and treat others, and there was never really any acceptance of anything less.
"My parents set high standards for me and my brothers...So I learned that people were watching and that doing things right was important--and that being helpful to others was important, too.
"So I guess you might say that I was raised with those expectations, and nothing has changed."
I like the character displayed by Colt McCoy. His kindness to a rival has made a positive impact for Christ. And all those unseen years of training by dedicated Christian parents has paid off.
The little things in life count and make big impressions.
"...always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else" (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Couple of Recommended Links

I liked Mark Driscoll's straightforward case for Christ at http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/mark_driscoll/2009/10/the_best_case_for_god_a_response_to_karen_armstrong.html.

Also, I found out about a conference on child sex trafficking to be held in Tulsa next week. Area ministers and ministry leaders may be interested in attending and finding out how to help victims of modern slavery in our area. More information may be found at http://oathconference.us/.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Silence of the Orphans

This is my planned communion meditation for this coming Sunday at the Contact Church.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a radio interview of a man who traveled with his wife to Russia in order to adopt a couple of young boys in an orphanage.

When the couple arrived, they were shocked at what they saw: a rundown and windowless building needing numerous repairs and fresh paint, packed with young children and a sparse staff. They were most surprised by the sounds of the orphanage...actually, by the lack of sounds in the institution. Despite the large number of children, there were no cries.

You see, the orphanage was so understaffed that the employees did not have time to pay attention to crying infants. Eventually, the babies had learned that no one would pay attention to their needs. So they stopped crying. They suffered in silence, growing accustomed to feeling ignored and unloved.

After spending a few days at the orphanage with the two boys they were working to adopt, the couple noticed something both surprising and refreshing as they prepared to leave. The boys started reaching out for them and crying. "At that point," the father said, "we knew that we had connected with the boys. They had felt our love. They had become our boys."

The Bible describes Christians as adopted children of God who have learned to cry out to our Father in heaven. We have learned that our Father hears our cries and meets our needs, just like those Russian orphans had learned that their new parents cared about them. As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:15, "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" (English Standard Version).

How do we know that God loves us, his adopted children? Because a few sentences later, Paul wrote, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32, English Standard Version).

He saw our greatest need, our need for salvation, and he met it. As we take the Lord's Supper today, we remember how Christ heard our silent cries and met our greatest need.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Importance of Fathers

Being a father is important. The following information is from It's Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men by S. Truett Cathy (pages 14-15):

"The Results of Fatherlessness

The United States is the world's leader in fatherless homes. The results of our actions, according to the Father's Manifesto:

63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes.
71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
85% of youth in prison grew up in fatherless homes.
75% of all adolescent patients in drug treatment centers come from fatherless homes.

Children from Fatherless Homes Are:

5 times more likely to commit suicide.
32 times more likely to run away.
20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders.
14 times more likely to commit rape.
9 times more likely to drop out of school.
10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances.
9 times more likely to end up in a state-operated institution.
20 times more likely to end up in prison."

As the apostle Paul wrote, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).

Friday, October 09, 2009

Cookson Hills Christian Ministries

Each year during this time, Federal employees (including both civilian and military personnel) are given an opportunity to participate in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), a program in which participants may send a portion of their paychecks to up to 5 approved charities. Thousands of charities are listed in the brochure that is given to each employee.

In the past few years, I have become aware of the need for Christian ministries that seek to help children who have gotten into trouble. I have had 3 co-workers who have had to place their sons in residential programs because of the problems faced by each family. Each of my co-workers was a single mother whose son had fallen into destructive behavior patterns. The boys were out of control and in great danger of ruining their lives. The mothers were determined to help their children, but they could not do it alone. One sent her son to a military school. The other two sent their sons to Christian-based children's homes. Those programs made a tremendous difference in the lives of each family.

While I hope we never need such a program, I have seen how they help families in crisis situations. I've been impressed.

While browsing through the CFC brochure last week, I found a local ministry that helps such families: Cookson Hills Christian Ministries (www.cooksonhills.org). My wife Janet knew about the ministry (which includes a children's home and a Christian school), because the church in which she grew up has been involved with it for decades.

We have decided to allocate a portion of my paycheck to Cookson Hills Christian Ministries. If you are a Federal Employee in the Tulsa area, you may want to check out Cookson Hills, too. If you choose to donate, the CFC number is 39211. If you are not a Federal employee, you may donate by checking out their Web site.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Church of Heroes

This is my planned communion meditation for this coming Sunday.

I'm not sure that I've ever mentioned it to you, but I consider the Contact Church to be a church full of heroes. Over the years, I've noticed you make heroic choices.

I have noticed when
...you have moved from homeless to homeowner.
...you have opened your homes to others who were homeless.
...you have provided rides for those who did not have vehicles.
...you have given up drugs and alcohol.
...you have not given up after a failure or a sin.
...you have moved from living in isolation to living in friendship.
...you have moved from living in the county jail to bringing spiritual freedom to others.
...you have gone from never opening a Bible to teaching the Bible.

You have become heroes because you have become followers of the ultimate hero, Jesus Christ. You have allowed yourselves to be led by the Spirit of Christ.

As we prepare to take the Lord's Supper, we remember the most heroic act in human history. We remember that "when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). He saved us by dying in our place. He overcame death in his resurrection. He changed us and gave us the hope we needed.

Let's remember Jesus' heroism as we take the bread and the cup in his memory.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Legalism, Grace, Holiness, and Service

This is an excerpt from Bob Lepine's blog on September 30:

"I'm afraid that in our desire to steer clear of legalism today, we have tuned out the call of Christ to holy, set apart living. We can and should celebrate our freedom in Christ. But we must remember, as Paul says in Galatians 5:13: 'do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.'

"Your friends, your co-workers, your children, and everyone with whom you come in contact today will be observing your conduct, your aim in life, your faith, your patience, your love, and your steadfastness. They will be looking carefully to see if your holiness and your willingness to serve others authenticates what you say you believe is true about Jesus and the gospel."

You may read the rest of Bob Lepine's post from September 30, 2009 on his blog. Please click on his name on my Blog Roll at the right to find his blog.

His thoughts reminded me of the apostle Paul's words to his friend and co-worker Titus: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good" (Titus 2:11-14).

Saturday, October 03, 2009

How Do You Want to be Remembered?

This is my planned communion meditation for tomorrow.

Have you ever thought about what you would like your funeral to look like? Would you like a slide show? What photographs would you want people to see? What kind of music would best represent your life as people watch the slide show?

Have you thought about your obituary or eulogy? What do you want people to remember about you? Do you want us to remember your personality? Your sense of humor? Your accomplishments? Your faith? Your kindness? Your character?

As Jesus faced his death, he was eating a meal with his closest friends.

The Bible describes the scene in Luke 22:

"And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.'

"In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.'"

Christ wanted to be remembered for his sacrifice on behalf of his followers. He wanted them to know how much he loved them. He wanted them to remember that he was taking on their punishment in his death. He wanted them to know that in his death, he was making a new covenant between them and God, a covenant in blood that would not be broken, a covenant that would bind them to their God forever. He wanted them to remember that he was going through a process of saving them from their sins and the eternal consequences of their sins.

Today, nearly 2000 years after Jesus' death and resurrection, we gather as a group of Jesus' friends in the Contact Church to remember our Savior as he wanted to be remembered until he returns for us.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Murder and Urban Ministry

I've been thinking about the importance of urban ministry in a violent society for the last few days.

At the end of last week, a 16-year old boy was walking home from his bus stop when a car pulled up alongside him. After an exchange of a few words, someone in the car opened fire and murdered the kid.

According to news accounts of the incident, the murdered young man was a good student with a pleasant personality and respectful attitude. Unfortunately, he lived in a "bad part of town"--a euphemism for the poor, black, and violent section of the city.

On Sunday morning, a few of the teenagers in the Contact Church requested prayers for the murdered boy's family as they mourned his death. According to the prayer requests, the criminals who murdered the boy did so after he could not (or would not) tell them the location of someone else for whom they were looking.

As I have thought about the situation this week, I have come to have a deeper appreciation for the Contact Church. The urban poor need such churches. Like everyone else, they need safe people with whom they can share their struggles. They need to be able to get together in safe places and pray for the people they deeply love. They need the encouragement of gathering with and working alongside people who share their faith in Jesus Christ. They need people who will share the gospel of God's love with them so that, if they meet a violent end to their lives this week, they will be prepared for heaven.

During times like these, I feel honored to be a part of such a church.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Is Hollywood Pro-Life?

In the recent edition of The Lookout, Dr. Charlie Starr has written an article titled How Hollywood Proves Abortion is Wrong.

When I saw the title, I was a little skeptical. After all, celebrities have not been known for being vocally pro-life. I could not even think of a handful of pro-life celebrities. I could remember only Patricia Heaton of Everybody Loves Raymond, Ben Stein of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and supermodel Kathy Ireland.

However, Dr. Starr does not argue that celebrities overwhelmingly support the pro-life position. He argues that despite themselves, the people in charge of Hollywood tell stories with pro-life themes.

Dr. Starr writes, "Stories can circumvent this tendency to self-deception. They can teach truths we all know even when we don't know that we know them. Story writing happens in the heart as well as the head. When imaginatively exploring life and the human condition, a writer pens not only the truth he knows, but the truth he doesn't know--the truth his heart knows even if his head has forgotten it. In other words, common sense often speaks up despite the fact that we've trained ourselves to think against it...Based on this understanding, I can prove that abortion is wrong and most everyone thinks so--even Hollywood."

He continues, "The proof is simple: there are no happy abortion movies."

The rest of the article may be read at www.lookoutmag.com/articles/culture.asp?id=1901.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Power of Love to Change a Life

This is an excerpt from Joseph Stowell's excellent book Loving Christ (pages 13-16):

"Ruth McBride Jordan lives in a cozy home in a lovely part of New Jersey, near Trenton. At the ripe age of seventy-six, she graduated from Temple University with a degree in social work administration. She travels widely, serves in the homeless shelter of Jerusalem Baptist Church, and runs a reading program at the local library.

"With a sense of appropriate pride, her son James tells her story in his best-selling book, The Color of Water. He relates that not only is she the mother of twelve grown children and the grandmother of twenty, but all of her children have earned college and graduate degrees and have distinguished themselves in their professions. That is an unusual track record for any parent, but it is all the more unusual because Ruth had reared her children during the tough years of the sixties in New York City, a time when racial unrest and lack of clear identity led many children to the streets and to far less stellar outcomes. Beyond that, the most amazing fact is that Ruth raised her children alone as a white Jewish woman in Harlem. Her husband, a black Baptist pastor, died early, leaving her with nothing but the resolve and motivation to do the best that she could in the midst of impossible circumstances.

"Against the backdrop of her childhood, her story becomes even more amazing.

"Ruth's father, a Polish immigrant, was an itinerant orthodox Jewish rabbi in Virginia. Her mother was a shy invalid who spoke little English and was often physically abused by her husband. Leaving the itinerant ministry, Tateh, as Ruth called her father, opened a general store in which Ruth was forced to work long hours. He treated her as a contribution to his economic success, and he also abused her sexually. Although she loved her mother deeply, she found little solace in her mother's frail and intimidated spirit.

"As a result, Ruth spent most of her adolescent years looking for love outside her family....She fell in love with a neighboring African-American boy who often shopped in the store. For the first time in her life she felt as though someone cared for her...She became pregnant and risked the wrath of the small town in which her dad's store was located. Her mom sent her to New York City to spend some time with her aunt so the problem could be 'dealt with.'

"Returning home, Ruth found that life would never again be the same. As soon as she finished high school, she ran back to New York...There she met Rocky and once again felt loved. She reveled in the warmth and affection of someone who cared for her--only to discover that he was a pimp, wooing her to become part of his harem.

"...Ruth met Dennis McBride. There was something authentic about his affections. This time she was wonderfully loved and was confident of it. Ruth felt safe and valued as he transferred a sense of dignity and worth to her lost and lonely soul.

"But the secret to her dramatic recovery from a disastrous history did not come from her husband's love, as wonderful as it was. He died, leaving her a penniless widow in a Harlem flat, overcrowded with kids.

"Her strength and resolve came from another man, a man Dennis had introduced her to.

"Years later, Ruth told her son James the secret--the secret that enabled her to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of her dad's abuse. 'I was afraid of Tateh and had no love for him at all...It affected me in a lot of ways, what he did to me. I had very low self-esteem as a child, which I kept with me for many, many years; and even now I don't want to be around anyone who is domineering or pushing me around, because it makes me nervous.'

"Ruth reflected on the harsh and insensitive slurs of those who decried her marrying a black man. 'Well, I don't care. Your father changed my life. He taught me about God, who lifted me up and forgave me and made me new. I was lucky to meet him or I would've been a prostitute or dead. Who knows what would've happened to me? I was reborn in Christ. Had to be, after all I went through.'

"James writes that during one of her most difficult times, 'Ma was utterly confused about all but one thing: Jesus...Jesus gave Mommy hope. Jesus was Mommy's salvation. Jesus pressed her forward. Each and every Sunday, no matter how tired, depressed or broke, she got up early, dressed in her best, and headed for church...

"How do the Ruths of this world manage to come through with hands held high in victory? What is the secret to rising above the debilitating effects of brokenness, burdens, bondage, temptation, and all the other things that life so often inflicts upon us?...

"The answer is clear...and the answer holds our only hope. It is a love for Christ so compelling that it drives and defines all that we do--a love that is defined by the life-changing goodness that Christ brings to our existence. When our love for Christ moves beyond a mere mental assent to a living reality, it motivates us to deal with life in unique and powerful ways, regardless of our circumstances."

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Funny Joke

I found this joke on Matt Dabbs' blog tonight (http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2009/09/25/one-of-my-favorite-jokes/).

A priest, a preacher, and a rabbi walked into their favorite bar, where they would get together two or three times a week for drinks and to talk shop.

On this particular afternoon, someone made the comment that preaching to people isn't really all that hard. A real challenge would be to preach to a bear.

One thing led to another and they decided to do an experiment. They would all go out into the woods, find a bear, preach to it, and attempt to convert it.

Seven days later, they're all together to discuss the experience.

Father Flannery, who has his arm in a sling, is on crutches, and has various bandages, goes first. "Well," he says, "I went into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him, I began to read to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear wanted nothing to do with me and began to slap me around. So I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, Holy Mary, he became as gentle as a lamb. The bishop is coming out next week to give him first communion and confirmation."

Reverend Billy Bob spoke next. He was in a wheelchair, with an arm and both legs in casts, and an IV drip. In his best fire-and-brimstone oratory, he claimed, "WELL, brothers, you KNOW that we don't sprinkle! I went out and I FOUND me a bear. And then I began to read to my bear from God's HOLY WORD! But that bear wanted nothing to do with me. So I took HOLD of him and we began to wrestle. We wrestled down one hill, UP another and DOWN another until we came to a creek. So I quick DUNKED him and BAPTIZED his hairy soul. And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb. We spent the rest of the day praising Jesus."

They both looked down at the rabbi, who was lying in a hospital bed. He was in a body cast and traction with IVs and monitors running in and out of him. He was in bad shape.

The rabbi looks up and says, "Looking back on it, circumcision may not have been the best way to start."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Hopes for the Revised NIV Bible

I love the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible. I also like the English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, the New King James Version, and The Message; but the New International Version is my favorite.

In 2011, a revised edition of the NIV will be released. The translation team is working to update the language, making it a little easier to read and to understand.

I would like to see three changes in the revision of the NIV.

1. I would like to see "atoning sacrifice" and "sacrifice of atonement" changed to "the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin." In places like Romans 3:25, Jesus Christ is referred to as a "sacrifice of atonement." Some translations call him a "propitiation" in those places. However, neither phrase or word is as easily understood as "the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin" (as the footnote in the current NIV states in an alternative reading of the verse). Such a phrase is both accurate and easily understood. It would be a great improvement.

2. I would like to see all weights, measurements, and monetary units changed so that they would be easily understood. The TNIV (Today's New International Version) had its flaws, but it did an outstanding job of making changes in translating weights, measurements, and monetary units into terms that can be easily understood by today's readers. For example, the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 was changed to the parable of the bags of gold. When contemporary English-speakers use the word "talent," we do not usually consider it to be a monetary unit. When we are teaching a Bible class to children or to people unfamiliar with the Bible, we need to stop and explain the definition of talent. With this type of change, a Bible study would not need to be interrupted in order to explain the word.

3. I would like to see gender-accurate language without the attempt to neuter the language. The TNIV never became popular because it seemed to try to neuter the language. For example, Matthew 5:41 states in the TNIV, "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles." In trying to neuter the language, the translators butchered the grammar. It should have read, "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles." I could never enjoy reading the TNIV because of the problems with the grammar. However, the revised NIV could improve the gender-accuracy of its translation by changing "brothers" to "brothers and sisters" when the original intent of a verse meant "siblings." For example, 1 Corinthians 1:10 states, "I appeal to you, brothers..." It would be more accurate to state, "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters..." Such a change would enhance the accuracy of the NIV and the ability to understand it.

Hopefully, the new NIV will contain these kinds of improvements. It's already my favorite translation, but a few changes would make it even better.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Teaching the Ten Commandments to a Child

Since our son Christopher was 2 or 3 years old, we have helped him memorize Scriptures. After our family meal, I have read a verse from the Bible and he has repeated it. After memorizing it, we have moved on to another verse.

Lately, we have been memorizing the ten commandments. I did not plan ahead, so I was a little unprepared for some of the challenges of teaching the ten commandments to a 6-year old boy.

A few nights ago, our conversation went something like this...

Me: This is your new memory verse: "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13).

Christopher: "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13).

Me: Do you know what murder is?

Christopher: Shooting someone?

Me: Yes. That would be one way to commit murder.

Janet: But murder is not just shooting someone. It's killing someone.

Christopher: Like a soldier?

Me: Well, a soldier can commit murder when he kills someone, but it's not necessarily murder when a soldier kills someone. When a soldier kills someone who is trying to kill others, he is not murdering the bad guy. He is protecting innocent people from being murdered. To murder someone is to intentionally kill an innocent person who is not a threat to anyone. When American soldiers kill a terrorist who is trying to murder innocent people, they are not committing murder. They are doing good. They are protecting innocent people from murderers.

I thought I had finished the most difficult portion of the ten commandments until we arrived at the next one a few nights later.

Me: Okay, our next memory verse is..."You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14). (At this point, I'm thinking: Great! How am I going to explain this one to a little boy? Why don't I look ahead before I read these verses?)

Christopher: "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14).

Me: Do you know what that means?

Christopher: No.

Me: It means that if you are married, you can't have another girlfriend. If a girl you like is married, she can't be your girlfriend either.

Christopher: Ten girls at school would like to be my girlfriend.

I could only smile and say, "I'm sure they would."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Pledge and the Appeal of Baptism

I have noticed a difference among scholars of the biblical languages when it comes to translating 1 Peter 3:21 from the ancient Greek into modern English.

The New International Version reads, "...and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

But the English Standard Version reads, "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

I'm not an expert in biblical Greek, but from what I have read, the Greek word in dispute could legitimately be translated as either pledge or appeal. Perhaps it could be both a pledge and an appeal at the same time, since the Greek word seems to carry some degree of ambiguity. I'm not sure.

Whatever the case may be, both definitions provide some insight into what happens during a believer's baptism.

If the New International Version is correct, baptism is a pledge of a good conscience toward God. The believer is making a promise to follow Jesus Christ. He or she is saying, "I believe in Jesus. I understand my need for him. I accept him as my resurrected Lord. As such, I promise to follow him for the rest of eternity."

If the English Standard Version is correct, baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience. The believer is asking for grace. He or she is saying, "I've messed up my life. I have sinned. I need your forgiveness, God. Please forgive me and show me grace because of what Christ has done to save me."

In reality, during baptism, the new believer is appealing to the grace of God while pledging to follow Christ. Neither definition excludes the other. Both work together in a God-honoring way.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sharing the Grace of Life for 16 Years

The apostle Peter described marriage as a husband and wife sharing the "grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7, English Standard Version). Tomorrow, Janet and I will celebrate our 16th anniversary of sharing the grace of life with each other. Happy anniversary, Janet!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Is It Racist to Disagree with President Obama?

Last winter, someone told me that people did not vote for Barack Obama simply because they are racists. He said, "They try to say that it's because of other issues, but you know it's just because he is black." I replied, "Um...I didn't vote for President Obama because I'm pro-life."

It may be hard to believe, but it is possible to disagree with President Obama without considering his race.

"...whoever spreads slander is a fool" (Proverbs 10:18).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Before You File for Divorce

...understand that the constant prayer of your children will be, "God, please bring my mom and dad back together again." Please don't give them a reason to say that prayer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

David Robinson: A Great Role Model

Last night, David Robinson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame (www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh96tCHVjC4). He was a great basketball player, leading the San Antonio Spurs to two NBA championships and the American basketball team to a bronze and two gold medals in the Olympics.

However, as good as he was as a basketball player, David Robinson is even better as a role model of good character.

He welcomed the talented Tim Duncan to the Spurs. Rather than treating Mr. Duncan as a competitor for the spotlight, he credited his younger teammate with leading the Spurs to his final championship with the team. He shifted the focus to someone who could have been his rival, but who became a great friend.
Early in his NBA career, David Robinson visited the fifth graders at Gates Elementary School in San Antonio. He offered each child a $2000 scholarship upon finishing school and enrolling in college. More than living up to his word a few years later, Mr. Robinson gave each student an $8000 scholarship upon meeting his conditions.
In 2001, David and his wife Valerie Robinson founded the Carver Academy, a private San Antonio Christian school open to all races and socio-ecomonic groups. The academy named after George Washington Carver emphasizes the development of academic and leadership skills among its students.
Recognizing Mr. Robinson's outstanding contributions to society, the NBA acknowledges a player each month for charitable efforts. The winner receives the David Robinson Plaque bearing this inscription: "Following the standard set by NBA Legend David Robinson who improved the community piece by piece."
"A good name is more desirable than great riches;
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold" (Proverbs 22:1).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Conservative and Liberal

When I was a young Christian, an older and wiser Christian once told me, "I want to be conservative in doctrine and liberal in love." His words seemed wise at the time, and they seem just as wise today.

The man who said those words has remained one of the most effective Christians with whom I have ever been acquainted. He has lived a life of rock-solid faith in Christ and love for the people around him. He has shared the wisdom of the inspired Scriptures with thousands of people over several decades. He has helped untold numbers of people with a wide variety of problems and heartaches over the same period of time. He has earned the respect of everyone who has known him.

I want to follow in his footsteps as he has followed Christ. I want to be conservative in doctrine and liberal in love, too. I want a solid and stable faith in God and what he has said. I want to be unmovable and unshakable when it comes to being loyal to Jesus Christ. I also want to be reliable when it comes to helping others, showing kindness, defending the innocent, and being available when needed. In doing so, I hope to honor my God as much as possible.

"What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you--guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us" (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Celebration of Life

The Dallas Morning News has published one of the most moving stories I have ever read in a newspaper. Please read it at:

(Part 1) www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/083009thomas_part1.11b55ace4.html

(Part2) www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/090609thomas_part2.11b5e0965.html

While reading the story, I could not help thinking about a little boy we tried to adopt several years ago (see http://adisciplesthoughts.blogspot.com/2007/06/sage.html). Every life is valuable, as the story reminds me.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Prayer for President Obama

President Obama plans on addressing America's school children this week concerning the importance of education.
At www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1986_i_hope_my_daughter_hears_the_presidents_speech, John Piper has shared this prayer for the president as he prepares to talk to the children of the United States:

"Father, the condition of our schools and families is so broken that nothing seems to be working, especially for the poor in our urban centers. Help our president to have the courage to use his amazing place of influence to speak into this situation in such a way that boys and girls would take their studies seriously and put school above sport and homework above hiphop and graduation above gangs.

"O, Lord, create a culture where it is not cool to fail. Give our president the courage to call all children, especially ones who feel hopeless about academic work, to fight for knowledge the way gangs fight for turf.

"And as the president plans his speech, help him to feel as helpless as he really is to meet the greatest needs of our children, so that he turns to Jesus who alone has the answer for the ruin and the wrongs of our cities. In Jesus' name, Amen."

I have noticed the respect that several of the kids in the Contact Church give to President Obama. They wear t-shirts bearing his image, and request prayers specifically for him during our prayer and praise portion of the worship services. They identify with him and listen to him. If other children of the inner city look to him with similar admiration, his speech could be a catalyst in turning some of them away from the temptations to drop out of school, experience drug addiction, and join gangs. I join with John Piper in praying that President Obama's influence will be used to encourage the best from our children.

(On a personal but related side note, our son Christopher faced his very first test in school this past week. He scored 100% on his first spelling test!)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Though the Chickens Die...

A friend on my job came to me with an interesting problem this morning. Her 5-year old son has been praying for their chickens. She has been trying to get him to pray for their other animals, but he has been consumed with the welfare of the chickens. Unfortunately, a wild dog killed 5 of their chickens yesterday afternoon before my co-worker could get the dog away from their property. Her son was at school, so he did not know about the fate of the chickens this morning.

Now she is concerned about how to tell her son that the chickens had died despite his prayers for them. She is frightened that his faith in God will not survive this crisis. She said, "How can I explain to a 5-year old why God said 'No' to his prayers when I don't understand it myself?"

I sympathized with my friend. I want my son to grow up with a strong faith in the Lord too. And I don't have a good answer for why God answers prayers in different ways. I tried to help her to understand that she could trust God even when his responses to her prayers were not what she was expecting. It's a hard concept to understand, but it is reality. We do not always understand why God responds to our requests in unexpected ways. We can't comprehend why he would tell us "No" sometimes. However, from our knowledge of the Scriptures and from our personal histories, we can see that God is trustworthy. He does what is right even when we don't understand it.

After our conversation, I felt like I needed to say a little more. She was still in tears, and I did not feel like I had helped enough.

I pulled out my Bible and wrote her a note, because she had left already to deliver her route. This is my note to my friend who was struggling with God's answer to her son's prayers:

"'Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior' (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

"The verse could have just as easily said, 'Though the chickens die...'. Habakkuk did not understand why things were not working out as he expected from God. But he knew the character of God and placed his faith in the God of complete integrity. He did not understand God's responses to his prayers, but he was determined to live by faith in a God who could be trusted even when his actions (or lack of action) could not be understood. He was determined to stick with God even if more difficult times came his way. Trust God's character (which you know) rather than trying to figure out the specific reasons for his actions (which we may never know fully in this life)."

I don't know whether I was able to encourage my friend, but I hope it was helpful. Her struggles with faith are not uncommon today, nor were they uncommon during biblical days (as Habakkuk demonstrated). However, like Habakkuk, she and her son can survive this crisis of faith.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Everyone's Destiny

"It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Until Jesus Christ returns, everyone will die.

I thought about that today as I attended the memorial service of a 35-year old mother who died in a motorcycle wreck last weekend.

We do not know our time. It could happen at an old age or a young age. It could happen at any moment.

So the important question arises: How will I face God?

At http://a-disciples-gospel-blog.blogspot.com, I have outlined a Bible lesson intended to help people who are interested in connecting with God. It explains our common problem of sin, our hope in Jesus Christ, and how we get to respond to his offer of a new life empowered by his Spirit. I would like for everyone to have the opportunity to know Christ in this life and to be prepared for the next. Who knows how long we have?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Our Son's First Time to Serve Communion Alone

Here is a picture of Christopher serving communion for the first time yesterday at the Contact Church. Yes, we are proud parents of a little man who is learning to serve others in the church.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Value of a Quiet Life

"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody" (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).

God values quietness in his people--not in the sense that we are to be silent, but in the sense that we are to be people seeking peaceful and calm lives. We don't need to be going through life looking for problems in the lives of others (especially when we are ignoring our own). We don't need to go around looking for arguments. We don't need to be seeking unnecessary conflicts. We don't need to be spreading gossip and offering unsolicited opinions on every subject under the sun.

Christians will face conflicts, problems, tension, rumors, and other disruptive elements in our lives--just as Jesus Christ and his apostles did. When such problems arise, we will attempt to handle them appropriately. But our goal is to lead a quiet life of responsible behavior that honors the one in whom we have placed our trust.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Worldwide Violence Against Women

Author and filmmaker Carolyn McCulley has an excellent post on her blog concerning worldwide oppression and violence against women and the Christian response to it. The post can be found at http://solofemininity.blogs.com/posts/2009/08/half-the-sky.html.

"Learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow" (Isaiah 1:18).

"But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream" (Amos 5:24).