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

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 (

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 ( 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)


While reading the story, I could not help thinking about a little boy we tried to adopt several years ago (see 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, 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, 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?