Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tony Dungy on Character

I especially liked this section from Coach Dungy's The Mentor Leader (pages 69-71):

"Coach (Cal) Stoll was the first person I can recall who made the connection between the quality of our character and our success on the football field. He was talking about success in life as well, but what was new to me was the emphasis on character and success in the short-term, on the field. Once I learned that lesson, making the connection to success in life was easy...

"Much of what we hear today about football players and good character has more to do with their not embarrassing themselves or their school or team than it does anything else...

"Coach Stoll made the point that how we did things affected our results. He further believed that the kind of people we had on our team would affect our ability to get the results we wanted, and that the people we were around would have an impact on us. To follow his thinking, then, the kind of people we spent time with affected our character, and our character affected our performance on the field.

"I had never looked at it that way before. I never thought that my personal life, or that of my teammates, would have any impact on whether we won or lost games. In my mind, winning games was simply a matter of talent and teamwork. So whenever I played pickup basketball on the playground, where the rule was win or sit out--and of course I wanted to win and keep playing--I didn't give any thought to character, just to who could help me win. Or so I thought.

"After hearing Coach Stoll, however, I began to think about the decisions I had made over the years and the types of guys I always picked. It hit me that I hadn't necessarily picked the most talented players to be on my team. Some of those guys never passed or didn't play defense. Rather, the guys I picked were the ones who had a burning desire to win and who would do the kinds of things--such as rebounding, defending, or passing to the open man--that would put their team in a position to win. If it meant they didn't score at all in the game, fine. If it meant they scored every point, that was fine too. I realized that, without even thinking about it, I gravitated toward the guys who had character. I began to see that the people I wanted to associate with were people of character both on and off the court or field.

"Coach Stoll made it clear that the guys who went to class, who treated other people with respect, and who were responsible in the little things on and off the field were ultimately the ones who gave us a better chance to win...

"Ultimately, Coach Stoll showed us that players who weren't reliable off the field would eventually demonstrate those same shortcomings in the heat of battle. If they weren't responsible in other settings, we wouldn't be able to count on them at crunch time. And he was right...

"Surprisingly for some, research conducted by the Leadership Research Institute had shown that in times of crisis, people gravitate toward the person of highest character, not necessarily the person who is 'in charge' or even the person they believe to be the most competent. Rather, people will tend to build a relationship with and follow the person they view as the most trustworthy, who cares the most, and who is willing to always do the right thing.

"In a crisis, people crave character. But there's no reason to wait for a crisis. You can continue to cultivate your character along the way, and it will contribute to your team's performance long before a crisis ever comes. Character is the glue that bonds solid and meaningful relationships."

Whenever I think about good character, I think of honesty. While it's a key ingredient of character, it's not the only element. Tony Dungy has correctly pointed out some of the relational elements of good character (such as caring about others and being reliable).

Coach Dungy's books are available at all major bookstores and amazon.com. I always buy one when it's published. You can find a link to his blog on my blog roll at the right side of my blog. You will find some wise advice and encouragement posted frequently.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Terry, Janet, and Christopher

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why Do You Want Me to be Surrounded by Poor People?

As we were preparing to go to our regular Tuesday evening prayer meeting tonight, our son Christopher asked me, "Why do you want me to be surrounded by poor people?"

In some ways, it struck me as an odd question. When did he discover that most of the people in our congregation were poor? He has been attending the Contact Church all of his life, but only recently has he mentioned the poverty of our members. How does he understand poverty? Has he noticed the condition of the apartment complexes that we visit? Does he remember the homeless man that we used to pick up and bring to church with us when he was younger? Have his friends at church mentioned the violence that they have witnessed and experienced? Has he noticed the prayer requests dealing with drug abuse, gang violence, and suicidal thoughts? Does he feel inferior to his friends at school because he worships with an urban ministry? Does he feel superior to his friends at church because he lives more of a middle class lifestyle?

I plan on exploring those questions with my son over the next few days, but I thought it would be good to answer his question about why we are raising our son in an urban ministry.

First, Janet and I want Christopher to be exposed to modern heroes of the faith. Many members of the Contact Church (including many poor members) are true heroes. They run to help people whom others would rather avoid. They are willing to cross the yellow tape of a crime scene in order to take the good news to people who need it. They will deal patiently with the struggling drunk or drug addict. They will comfort the victim of childhood sexual abuse. They will counsel a struggling couple to remain committed to each other. They will keep showing up for the woman with emotional problems. They will provide the food, clothing, and furniture needed by someone who is struggling financially. They will tell the hard truths of the gospel in a gracious manner to someone who would rather not hear them. They will encourage others to do good while quickly forgiving them for doing wrong. They do not give up. We want our son to see such men and women in action. We want him to admire their good qualities and to try to emulate them.

Second, we want our son to be exposed to the ugly side of sin. If he learns about alcohol, drugs, and sex outside of marriage from the media alone, he may never see the consequences of living outside of God's standards until it is too late. In urban ministry, he can see the consequences all the time. He can see how difficult it can be to be controlled by alcohol or drugs. He can hear the prayers of the men and women who cry out in despair. He can see some of the problems faced by our members who have not adhered to biblical sexual ethics, from emotional problems to single parenthood to incurable and deadly diseases. While he will see God's love and forgiveness extended, he will see how sin can take its toll on men and women even after they have been forgiven. We want our son to learn to see beyond the temptations of sin to see the consequences of sin.

I understand that risks are involved in our strategy. We could fail. But we could fail by avoiding the poor also.

I pray that we succeed. I want nothing more than to see my son become a genuine follower of Christ. I want to be able to echo the words of the apostle John someday: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 4).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why Should I Pray "Lead Us Not Into Temptation"?

"And lead us not into temptation" (Luke 11:4).

When I pray for God to lead me not into temptation, I am reminded of my potential for failure. Based on past experiences, I'm aware that I can place myself in situations in which I am likely to be proud, to boast, to lie, to lust, to slander, to mistreat others, and to commit other sins that dishonor my Savior. I can hurt the people I should be loving. I can harm myself.

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Proverbs 16:25).

I need to pray for the Lord to lead me not into temptation, because I can destroy myself by going my own way. I am prone to find the destructive temptations around me.

I need to humble myself and seek the leading of the Lord. Then I can avoid temptations and honor my God.

"He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake...Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psalm 23:3, 6).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why Do God's People Turn to Idols?

Throughout history, the people of God have abandoned the Lord for idols. But why? Why would people who have experienced the grace of God turn to idols?

Part of the answer can be seen in the response of the rebellious men of Judah to the prophet Jeremiah's warning to them. They told him, "As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine" (Jeremiah 44:16-18).

The ancient Jewish people refused to turn from idolatry back to the Lord, because at some point in their history, they had experienced comfort and prosperity in their idolatry. They had noticed the apparent success of their pagan neighbors. When times had become tough, they had decided to imitate their successful pagan neighbors. After all, if idolatry had worked for their neighbors, why would it not work for them?

Pragmatism, unbelief, greed, and envy combined to lead God's people away from their Savior. Unfortunately, it did not end well for them.

Since modern Christians often face a similar combination of temptations, we remain vulnerable to falling into idolatry, too.

In order to fight it successfully, we must be diligent in checking our motives, always remembering the apostle Paul's warning that "covetousness...is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5). If we can avoid envy, greed, and doubt in God, we can protect ourselves against the temptations of idolatry.

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday, December 03, 2010

A Quiet Life of Courage and Faith

In 1962, for the first time in American history, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against prayer in public schools in the Engel v. Vitale case.

However, I had no knowledge of the prohibition against prayer in public schools when I entered first grade at Catoosa (Oklahoma) Elementary School in 1973. Each day, my teacher opened the school day with a prayer. She would ask a student to lead the prayer. If one declined, she would ask the next student in line until one wanted to say a prayer.

My first grade teacher wanted her students to have the opportunity to seek God each morning. Without fanfare, she defied the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings because she had always allowed her students to pray, and it was a matter of conviction with her. She wanted her students to have a chance to know the Lord. More than 10 years after it became illegal, my teacher continued to allow her students to seek God in a public school classroom.

At the time, I did not know enough to appreciate what she was doing. I did not know that she was engaging in civil disobedience. But I knew that she was a woman of faith and conviction. She may not have been an activist, but she was active and courageous in living out her faith in Christ.

She was a "Daniel" in government service who continued the habit of prayer after it had been forbidden by the highest authority in the land. She was my teacher. She was my role model. And, most importantly, she was my grandmother.

Thank you, Granny Laudett. You have been gone for a decade now, but I still appreciate your life of quiet courage and faith. In my own way and in my own circumstances, I want to follow your example.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Project Hopeful for HIV Adoptions

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27).

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Day Rosa Parks Changed the Nation

Fifty-five years ago today, Rosa Parks resisted injustice and sparked a movement that changed the United States of America. Justin Taylor recounts her story in the link below.

55 Years Ago Today: Rosa Parks Refuses to Move and Sparks a Movement

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


A strong and loving family, perseverance in hard work, and faith in Jesus Christ can go a long way toward alleviating poverty. (I found this video on Mark Merrill's blog.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

How a Gentle Soul Talks About Hell

"Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near" (Philippians 4:5, NASB).

Converted to Jesus Christ shortly after the Civil War, T. B. Larimore started preaching a few years later and did not stop until his death in the late 1920s. During that time, Mr. Larimore was instrumental in bringing thousands of people to the Lord.

Although T. B. Larimore was known as an eloquent speaker, he was even better known for his character. He was a careful Bible student, a devoted family man, and a man of integrity who obviously cared about people. In an era when religious debates were popular, he avoided arguments. (He only engaged in one debate, in which both participants treated each other with deep respect and courtesy.) Even when insulted from the audience by a potential opponent, T. B. would thank the antagonist for his comments and move on with his biblical message.

Several years ago, while reading In Step with the Spirit by Rubel Shelly, I came across this paragraph:

"A while back I was reading of a man who was led to Christ by a gentle soul named T. B. Larimore. The man in question had been to hundreds of church services and dozens of evangelistic meetings before Larimore came and preached in the town. So someone asked him, 'Why did you respond to the gospel under Brother Larimore's preaching when you hadn't before?' His answer is a rebuke to some of us and our methods. 'From other preachers I'd learned I was going to hell,' he said, 'but they seemed pleased that I was. From Larimore I learned I was going to hell, but I could tell it broke his heart to have to tell me so.'"

I would like to be like T. B. Larimore...faithful to the biblical message (even the hard parts) while caring about the people who hear it. I believe that was the key to his effectiveness. Obviously, the Spirit of Christ lived in T. B. Larimore.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Can We Learn Anything From the Mistakes of Westboro Baptist Church?

Kevin DeYoung made some very good points on his blog today about what Christians can learn from the hatred of the church that has become well-known for protesting at the funerals of military personnel. Click on the link below for his post:

Can We Learn Anything From the Mistakes of Westboro Baptist Church?

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Glimpse of the Contact Church

I found this video on YouTube this morning. Ministers Ron Babbit and Joel Osborn talk about the ministry of the Contact Church as the church hosts a cookout at one of the apartment complexes in Tulsa this past summer.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"I Do Not Wish to Have a Coward For a Husband"

A couple of weeks ago, we bought Growing Together in Courage by Barbara Rainey. The book is a seven-day family devotional intended to encourage the development of courage. We have been reading it at the dinner table.

This is an excerpt:

"To be countercultural means to go against the flow. It means doing what is right and true no matter what others are doing. When you go against the flow, you recognize that just because something is popular doesn't necessarily mean that it's right.

"Courage is countercultural.

"In 1945, an assembly of pastors and priests gathered in Bucharest, Romania. The meeting had been organized by the new Soviet-controlled Communist government, which had recently replaced Hitler's Nazi government in Romania. Neither government allowed true freedom of religion. The Romanian people had suffered under Hitler and were about to suffer under a new, equally cruel leader, Joseph Stalin.

"Richard Wurmbrand and his wife, Sabina, were at the 1945 gathering. They knew that a primary intent of Communism was to destroy religion, so they were shocked to hear many of their fellow religious leaders actually declaring a belief that Communism and Christianity could peacefully coexist. Because of fear, these men set aside their faith and spoke with lies and flattery.

"Deeply troubled, Sabina whispered to her husband, 'Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ.'

"'If I speak,' Richard explained, 'you will lose your husband.'

"Sabina replied, 'I do not wish to have a coward for a husband'" (page 19).

The book is available only from FamilyLife. I do not know about another devotional book designed to build courage in children. It's a very good book, and may be ordered at http://www.shopfamilylife.com/growing-together-courage.html.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Fatherless

"Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation" (Psalm 68:5).

Last Sunday, many churches around the United States observed Orphan Sunday, a day to reflect on the needs of the more than 140 million orphans around the globe and a day for each Christian to consider what he or she can do for these children in need.

Before engaging in my normal Sunday morning routine of preparing breakfast for my family (which consisted of driving to Quik Trip to buy donuts), I checked my Facebook account. Southern Baptist Seminary dean Russell Moore's status update on that morning has been in my thoughts ever since. He wrote, "Today is Orphan Sunday. Remember the fatherless, and the Fatherless, in your community and around the world."

The needs of the fatherless are overwhelming. More than 140 million children live without parents around the world. Nearly 500,000 American children are in the foster care system of the states. Many of these children grow up on the streets. Many starve to death or die of easily preventable illnesses. Many end up as victims of human trafficking in a world of forced prostitution. Many find their only solace in illegal drugs. Many are lured into gangs. Many are kidnapped and forced into becoming child soldiers for lawless militias that terrorize many nations around the world. They grow up without hope, without love, without guidance, without discipline. They are heading toward a tragic end. They need parents who will love, nurture, and protect them.

The needs of the Fatherless are overwhelming, too. More than 4 billion people around the world do not have God as their Father. They are trying to make it on their own. Sometimes they are following a false god who misleads them into an abusive situation. Sometimes, in efforts to protect themselves in a harsh world, they hurt others and themselves. Sometimes they merely wander through life, surviving in the best manner they can, but never knowing the security of the Father's love. Their lives are heading toward a great tragedy. They need the Father who will love, nurture, and protect them.

Christians are children of the Father. "In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:4-6). As children of the Father, we have been called to care for the fatherless (James 1:27) and to seek out the Fatherless in the world whom our Father wants to adopt as his own (Matthew 28:18-20).

As John Piper said a few weeks ago at the Lausanne Conference in South Africa, "Christians, in the name of Christ, care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering." We care about the physical orphans of the world. We care about the spiritual orphans of the world. With God's help, we will do something positive about their situations.

Monday, November 08, 2010

How a White Man Should Talk About Abortion to a Black Audience

Last week on his blog, Thabiti Anyabwile criticized the way white people approach the topic of abortion in front of black audiences. In a comment, I asked him how a white man like myself should approach the topic. This link is his excellent response:

How I Would Talk About Abortion and Slavery to an African American Audience Were I a White Man

Saturday, November 06, 2010


Since it's the month of Thanksgiving, I'm listing a few blessings for which I'm thankful today. I've been thinking about how much God has changed my life in the last 20 years in ways that I would not have imagined...but in ways for which I'm deeply thankful.

I'm thankful for my great wife. Janet and I have been married for 17 years. She has been my greatest encourager. She has been my best friend. She has been a wonderful partner in the joys and pains of life. No one could ask for a better wife.

I'm thankful for my outstanding son. Christopher is my 7-year old son. Before we were married, Janet and I talked about our dreams of adopting a child someday. We did not know that Christopher would be our only child, but we could not have asked for a more enjoyable little boy. It has been one of the honors of my life that God has entrusted me with the responsibilities and blessings of being Christopher's father.

I'm thankful for being a part of the Contact Church. Janet and I have been participants in the Tulsa urban ministry for 10 years. Eight years ago, the Contact Church was formed as a result of the urban ministry. Many people dream of being able to be a part of a church that reaches the urban poor. We have been blessed to experience it. We have been able to be a part of something very special.

I'm thankful for opportunities to share my faith. Nearly every day, I am asked by a co-worker, a friend, or an acquaintance about my faith in Jesus Christ. That was not happening until recent years. I have never had such opportunities fall into my lap so frequently. I can see God moving in the lives of others in my life every day. Also, I could not have imagined 20 years ago the opportunities that God has given me to share my faith through the internet. In addition to being able to reconnect through Facebook with friends and classmates from 25 years ago, I've been able to share my faith on this blog with people on every continent (except Antarctica). (I've been blown away when I have seen some of the countries from which I've seen visitors to this blog--especially those from closed Communist and Islamic nations.) It's hard to believe that God has entrusted me with such opportunities.

God has been very, very good to me.

"Make a joyful noise to the LORD,
all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

"Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of
his pasture.

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

"For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations" (Psalm 100).

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

That's My King!

This video was played at the Contact Church a couple of days ago.

"Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).

Friday, October 29, 2010

Can Someone Who Has Messed Up Her Life Be Used by God?

A friend has had a difficult few months. In July, his wife left him and their children after committing adultery. He has been sharing his problems with me. We have been praying for reconciliation. A few weeks ago, she returned to him.

Today, he came to me with a question. He told me that his wife feels terrible about what she has done. She is depressed, feeling like the Lord cannot accept her and use her in his service anymore. My friend asked me, "Does the Bible say anything about God being able to use someone who has messed up her life?"

Immediately, I told him about the time that King David messed up his life. One night when he had little to do, King David caught a glimpse of a beautiful young woman. He decided to seduce her. They committed adultery. Not long afterward, they discovered that she was pregnant. After failing in a scheme to cover it up, King David arranged to have her husband killed. Then he married the young woman. (See 2 Samuel 11.)

Eventually, a prophet confronted the king about his sins (2 Samuel 12). David was humiliated by his sins. He repented and confessed his guilt. Although he lived with some awful consequences, he was forgiven by God.

In fact, he was not only forgiven; God continued to use him in writing portions of the Bible. After he had repented, King David wrote Psalm 51.

"Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

"For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment...

"Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

"Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you...

"O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise...

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God,
you will not despise" (Psalm 51:1-4, 10-13, 15, 17).

God used a messed-up, forgiven man in amazing ways. He can used messed-up, forgiven people today in amazing ways, too.

My friend's wife is in an excellent position to be used by God. He does not despise her broken and contrite heart. He loves her.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lessons in Urban Ministry

I've been involved in an urban ministry for approximately 10 years now. As I've been thinking about the last decade, I've been thinking about how naive I was when my wife and I first volunteered. Although I continue to have much to learn, I thought it would be a good time to write down a few of the lessons I've learned over the last several years. These are personal observations. They may or may not reflect the findings of social scientists or the views of others with experience in urban ministry.

1. Serve the children for their sake, not in order to reach their parents. Most children will come to the church's activities and worship assemblies without their parents. They will be attracted to a safe and fun environment in which they are supervised and guided by caring adults. They will be open to biblical teaching that can serve as the foundation for lives devoted to following Christ. They deserve attention simply because they bear the image of God, not because they can be used to lure their parents to the church.

2. Teaching a man to fish is not enough. Years ago, poverty-fighting ministries discovered that providing the necessities of life to the poor accomplished little long-term good. Such aid is always necessary, especially for children and the mentally and physically disabled; but those ministries discovered that they needed to connect the poor with jobs if they ever hoped to enable them to overcome poverty.

In many cases, however, the lack of employment and necessities of life are not the causes of poverty. They are the results. More often, poverty finds its roots in:

1. Drug and alcohol abuse. Addicts can have a hard time finding and maintaining employment. Many companies require drug tests before hiring a new employee. No company can afford to keep an employee forever who fails to do an adequate job because of drunkenness and drug-induced highs.

2. Family disintegration. Fornication, adultery, and divorce lead to multiple children born to young mothers who cannot support them. Fathers--and sometimes mothers--abandon their roles and responsibilities. Familial violence, physical abuse, and sexual abuse can scar a child for life. He or she will grow up without developing healthy social and coping skills. Anger and other negative emotions can control this individual, making it difficult for him or her to get along with others. He or she will have a hard time submitting to the authority of an employer, making steady employment an elusive goal. Even worse, he or she is likely to pass down these same problems to the next generation.

Urban ministries can do a great deal of preventative good by teaching the importance of self-control and sexual integrity.

3. Friendships are crucial. Broken people cannot simply be told to get their lives together. Like every one of us, they need the emotional support and encouragement of good friends as they make positive changes and learn to follow Christ. We need to be patient with each other. We need to challenge each other. We need to enjoy time with each other. We need our Bible studies and prayer meetings. We need to be able to confess our sins and to seek help from each other. Good friends give us the support we need to become what we were intended to be.

4. Good theology is essential. An accurate view of God, oneself, and others goes a long way in prompting us to make good choices. We need to see God as omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, holy, just, merciful, and sovereign. We need to see ourselves as flawed and in need of God's grace. We need to respect the completely justified wrath of God and the completely gracious gift of salvation through Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. We must recognize that we are in over our heads in a mess of sins--our own sins and the sins of those around us. We can't really make any progress of any lasting value without faith in the God worthy of our trust.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


This is a guest post from Kayla Bilby, a student at Oklahoma Christian University and a fellow member of the Contact Church. It first appeared as one of her notes on Facebook. I thought she did a great job of capturing the spirit of the Contact Church.

"During fall break my college group participated in a mission trip to Contact. We went out to both Edenwood & Parkview. It was such a huge blessing to have my college group here experiencing the ministry that I love so much!

"After being at Contact for over a year I have had to learn that often times I will meet children once. They will share their life story, and as my heart breaks I will tell them goodbye, knowing that I may never see them again. This is not always the case. There are also times when a mission group comes to help us & I meet kids that will start coming to Contact & I will get to develop a lasting relationship with them. But more often than not it is the prior scenario.

"Friday I had an experience with a girl that I will probably never see again. Her name was Makayla & she was 9 years old. She began to tell me her life story. Her 9th birthday was this past August. She said that she had stayed the night with her Dad. He acted as though her birthday didn't even exist! She didn't even receive so much as a happy birthday from this man. He cussed her & took her back to her Mom in the middle of the night. Spending a birthday like this had to be unbearable! She went on to say that when she got home her Mom had one cupcake for her. It had very little icing & was just the way she likes it. Her exact statement was, "My Dad was a jerk, but I'm so grateful that my Mom got me a cupcake & made me feel special!" Grateful? How in the world is grateful an emotion you feel when you are so mistreated & devalued by the man who is supposed to love & protect you? This nine year old little girl is stronger then I have ever dreamed of being!

"Hearing her story absolutely broke my heart! I had no idea how to respond to this situation. All I could say was, "Makayla, God is our Daddy that never messes up! HE has never forgotten your birthday & even better then that, you are special to HIM every single day, not just on your birthday." She went on to tell me that she would be moving this coming Monday. I gave her my phone number, hugged her, & walked away. I have no idea what good that will do. I have no way to know if she will ever call me or if I will ever see her again. What I do know is that God was at work during our brief encounter. I am finally figuring out that my job in inner city ministry is not to "fix" the problems in their lives. My job is also not to get them out of their situation. And it certainly is not to minimize the influence that one encounter could have on his or her life. My job is simply to point these kids to the one who CAN. My God CAN and WILL sustain HIS children through whatever life throws at them! Because of this today I am grateful for the opportunity HE has given me to be in ministry. I am grateful for a family who is involved in Contact. I am grateful for a boyfriend who doesn't only support my ministry, but does it with me. I am grateful for all of the kids that I have been blessed to meet through Contact. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet Makayla & I am grateful for what HE will accomplish through these relationships.

"Lord, never allow me to belittle the work that you have began. Help me to remember that you are not finished yet..."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pure Religion

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27).

James 1:27 is our family's latest memory verse.

As we have been working on memorizing it, we have had a few conversations about its meaning.

As I have looked at the Scripture, I have been struck by its first word: Religion. It refers to a devotion that ties one to God. James mentions that it can be pure and undefiled before God, implying that some religion can also be impure and defiled. It's been popular in recent decades to say, "Christianity isn't a religion. It's a relationship." I understand the sentiment, but I prefer James' way of looking at it. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he sees Christianity as a religion that can be pure and undefiled. He sees the Christian faith as something good and wholesome...something that connects us to the Father in a very positive way.

Then the verse focuses on what makes this religion pure and undefiled.

First, it asserts that pure and undefiled religion cares about people in need, especially orphans and widows who have no one to care for them. An impure and defiled religion would ignore or minimize the needs of people who are suffering. But Christianity, in its purest form, is a faith that takes the needs of people seriously. We follow Christ when we visit someone in the hospital, adopt an orphan, make a phone call to a widow, spend a day with a disabled man, read the Bible to a child whose parents do not believe, or sponsor a child in a poverty-stricken country. Pure religion prompts us to care about people who are suffering to the point that we will take action.

Second, the Scripture states that pure and undefiled religion motivates us to keep ourselves unstained from the world. We can do this in a number of ways:

~By accepting the word of God with humility (James 1:21)
~By eliminating our prejudice against the poor (James 2:1-13)
~By putting our faith into action (James 2:14-26)
~By controlling our words (James 3:1-12)
~By replacing envy and selfish ambition with a godly perspective of peacefulness, gentleness, reasonableness, mercy, impartiality, sincerity, humility, fairness, patience, and good conduct (James 3-5)

This kind of religion is not only pure and undefiled; it's compelling.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Loving Our Muslim Neighbors

This is a fascinating discussion about how Christians can reach out to Muslim neighbors among us. Thabiti Anyabwile and J.D. Greear are involved in the discussion at the recent Desiring God Conference.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What About People Who Have Never Heard?

My friend on my job asked another good question today: What happens to people who have never heard the gospel?

It's an uncomfortable question on many levels. On the surface, it calls into question the justice of God. On another level, it calls into question the commitment of Christians to fulfill the Great Commission and to love their neighbors.

Some churchgoing people have adopted universalism in response to such questions. They believe that eventually all people will be saved. Others have adopted inclusivism, the belief that a sinner does not necessarily need to believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved as long as he or she has never heard of Jesus Christ.

I can't accept either view. Jesus warned about the dangers of hell far too often for his followers to dismiss those warnings for universalism. Christ and his apostles emphasized the need for faith in Christ far too often to dismiss it for inclusivism.

As for God being unjust in requiring faith in Christ, I sympathize with those who find it difficult to accept. However, it remains the way by which we are brought into a right relationship with God. "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:1-2).

The hard truth is: sinners are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). No one deserves salvation. I wish I did, but I don't. It's to God's glory that anyone is saved at all.

The more disturbing aspect of my friend's question centers on what it says about me. Do I really care about people who don't know about Christ and are heading to an eternity without hope? Do I really care about fulfilling the Great Commission ("Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you"--Matthew 28:19-20)? What am I doing to help people to know Jesus Christ? Am I sharing my faith? Am I praying for those who have never heard the gospel? Am I supporting Christians who are trying to reach unreached people around the world?

In this video, atheistic entertainer Penn Gillette challenges Christians who believe that unbelievers are in danger of hell to love them enough to share their faith with them. It's one of the most convicting videos ever made by an atheist. He "gets it" better than I do sometimes.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why Did God Command the Complete Destruction of Some Nations?

Last week, a co-worker was reading Deuteronomy 20. He came to me with an important question: Why did God command the Israelites to completely destroy some nations?

This is my attempt to deal with this difficult question. (And I acknowledge that my response may not be completely adequate, but at this time, it's my best response.)

As the text states, the Israelites were commanded to completely destroy some nations as they were entering the Promised Land so that "they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 20:18). Leviticus 18 describes the total corruption of these societies. They tolerated and practiced incest, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and child sacrifice in service to their false gods. Evil was celebrated. Selfishness, brutality, and narcissism ruled the land.

"(W)hen God directed the Children of Israel to go in and conquer the Promised Land, He told them to destroy the peoples who lived there. This command was necessary because of the vileness of the pagan religions practiced in that good land. The most brutal worship of all was that demanded by Moloch. This cruel demon was represented by an iron idol with hollow belly and with both arms bent in front in a cradling position. A fire was built in the hollow belly, and each mother was required to sacrifice her first-born by placing him in the idol's arms to be burned alive. During this horrible ceremony, the priests and priestesses of Moloch beat drums which reached a deafening crescendo as the mother laid her baby in the idol's arms. The purpose, of course, was to keep the mother from hearing her baby's screams" (Drums of Moloch, Herbert C. Casteel, pp. 94-95).

Two factors made matters worse for the inhabitants of the Promised Land: 1. They had a knowledge of their sins and of the true God who expected better from them. 2. They had been given centuries to repent.

Like all people, they had a basic understanding of right and wrong. However, they chose to "suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18). "Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (Romans 1:32).

Although easy to overlook, we should also recognize that the pagan nations were well aware of the Lord's judgment long before destruction came upon them. In fact, Balaam was an internationally-known prophet of the Lord from a pagan land (Numbers 22). The true God was known in lands far away from the Israelites; and they did not have exclusive access to his prophets. Furthermore, as Rahab the pagan prostitute testified before her city was destroyed, "I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt..." (Joshua 2:9-10). For at least 40 years, the people of Jericho knew that their judgment day was coming, but they expressed no interest in changing their ways as the people of Ninevah would several centuries later (Jonah 3:6-10).

In addition, it should be noted that the nations inhabiting the Promised Land were given 400 years to repent (Genesis 15:16; Deuteronomy 9:5). Their destruction came fairly quickly, but it was only after God had waited patiently for centuries for them to change their hearts.

Also, different rules of warfare existed against the nations within the Promised Land than against the nations outside those boundaries. The nations within the Promised Land faced total destruction (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). They were facing the judgment of God. More conventional standards of warfare applied to enemy nations outside the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 20:10-15).

Finally, it should be noted that God's grace was extended to individuals even as their societies faced total annihilation. The prostitute Rahab and her family found grace. They were spared from God's judgment because they placed their faith in God and followed the instructions that they were given (Joshua 2-3).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Conditional Forgiveness---Unconditional Love

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Colossians 3:12-14).

On my job today, the subject of forgiveness came up. A couple of my co-workers were discussing whether forgiveness is conditional upon a change of heart or whether it is completely unconditional. They were talking about the concept of being like God in forgiving people. Then one of them asked about my thoughts on the subject.

As I understand it, I explained, God loves unconditionally, but he forgives conditionally. God wants what is best for us, but he wants a change of heart before he forgives us.

One of my friends objected. He pointed out that Christ prayed as he was being crucified, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). He argued that Jesus was demonstrating unconditional forgiveness on the cross.

However, Christ was actually demonstrating unconditional love rather than unconditional forgiveness in his prayer. Out of love for his killers, Jesus was seeking their forgiveness. He did not want them to suffer hell for their sins, but he was not granting forgiveness to them yet.

A few weeks later, however, many of the people directly responsible for the Lord's crucifixion received God's forgiveness.

When the apostle Peter preached his first sermon after Jesus' resurrection, he addressed people who had crucified Jesus (Acts 2:36). When the people discovered what they had done, "they were cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). At that point, Peter offered them God's forgiveness: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). On that day, three thousand of them received the forgiveness for which Christ had prayed a few weeks earlier (Acts 2:41).

They were unconditionally loved by Christ; but they were forgiven only after a change of heart. God is "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Francis Chan on Humility

This video features Francis Chan's challenging sermon at the recent Desiring God Conference. He spoke from the text in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3.

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

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Few Biblical Principles for Voting

"Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" (Jeremiah 29:7, NIV)

These are some biblical principles that I keep in mind as I prepare to vote:

1. The government exists in order to protect innocent people from those who would harm them (Romans 13:1-7). In a democratic republic, ordinary citizens are more responsible for their government than are the subjects of a dictatorship. We are responsible for seeking good leaders and just policies.

2. God's people have an obligation to seek the good of their communities, even if they are a minority within it (Jeremiah 29:7). We may not win every battle--in fact, we may lose most--but love for our neighbors will prompt us to continue our efforts to benefit them.

3. Many political decisions are matters of applying wisdom to differing circumstances. For example, sometimes wisdom demands that taxes be raised (Genesis 41:28-36). At other times, it requires that the burden be lowered (1 Kings 12:1-17). We need humility and wisdom from God to know the best course of action. Also, we need to be gracious toward those who do not see things as we do. They may not have as much information as we do, or they may have more. We need to be open to learning from those we see as our political opponents. Sometimes they are right.

4. On most political issues, God's people can remain silent. However, when an issue involves an unjust threat to innocent human lives, we cannot keep quiet (Esther 7:3-4). We will speak up for them. We will use our influence on their behalf. They need people who will defend their right to life; and we cannot remain aloof.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Courage and Love of a Shepherd

This is an excerpt from The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungy:

"As I continually looked for examples of what it meant to be a good leader, I found a great one in John Thompson, the Hall of Fame basketball coach of the Georgetown University Hoyas. Coach Thompson was a crusader in many respects, having become the first African American coach to win the NCAA Division I national championship, two years later.

"Along with his success, he always seemed to find himself in the middle of controversy--probably from a combination of his fiery temperament and his willingness to be a trailblazer for individual rights and fundamental fairness for everyone. He took a stand on everything...His protectiveness of his players was seen in a negative light by many in the media, spawning the term 'Hoya Paranoia.'

"But despite his reputation as a rough, gruff coach, one demonstration of Coach Thompson's 'paranoia' made a profound impact on my attitude as a coach and what it meant for me to care for my players.

"During the 1980s, Rayful Edmond III was one of the most notorious drug dealers in Washington, DC. His network was thought to be responsible for numerous murders, and he reportedly was one of the first dealers to introduce crack cocaine into the District of Columbia. Unfortunately for Coach Thompson, Edmond became a big fan of Georgetown basketball and their great success.

"When Coach Thompson learned that Edmond was fraternizing with some of his players, including star center Alonzo Mourning, he sent word to Edmond through them, requesting a meeting on the Georgetown campus. Coach Thompson was well aware of the rumors linking Edmond and his organization with violence and murder, but he quickly got to the point when Edmond arrived: Edmond was never again to wear Georgetown gear, and he was to have no further contact with any of the Georgetown players...

"I tried to put myself in John Thompson's shoes. I simply couldn't see myself confronting Edmond directly. I probably would have started by meeting with Mourning, explaining to him the dangers of being around a drug dealer like Edmond, or maybe instituting a team rule limiting where players were allowed to go. Or maybe I would have gone as far as to approach the police, explaining the situation and looking for guidance and help--in other words, get someone who was trained in that environment to handle it. I was pretty sure I wouldn't have stood face-to-face with a reputed killer.

"But then it hit me. I immediately thought of Jesus' parable of the sheep and the shepherd in the Gospel of John, chapter 10. There, Jesus speaks of the difference between a hired hand and a shepherd. When a wolf comes and threatens the flock, the hired hand runs away, leaving the sheep--someone else's sheep--to fend for themselves. The shepherd, on the other hand, rises to the defense of his sheep. He will die for the sheep, if necessary, because they are his. I knew that Coach Thompson cared for his players--he had long had that reputation. But by putting himself directly in the middle, between his players and danger, he showed me just how much he loved them.

"It wasn't that he knew Alonzo Mourning and the others were talented players who could help Georgetown win games. That wasn't the point. Coach Thompson had told the players and their parents that he would watch over them as if they were his own. He did that, even to the point of placing himself in harm's way" (pages 93-95).

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Caring for Orphans

Churches across the nation will be observing Orphan Sunday on November 7, 2010. For more information, please visit www.orphansunday.org.

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27).

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Inspiring Lives

I am constantly inspired by the lives of fellow members of the Contact Church.

Today, I discovered another example of someone quietly making a difference for Jesus in this world. One of our members volunteers to help children at a local hospital. She shows up to demonstrate a little kindness and compassion to children in need.

Last month, she showed up to hold a 10-month old little girl who had been severely beaten and abandoned by her parents. The baby had broken bones, bruises, and a nasty injury to her head. Even worse, she had no one to care for her.

Our friend from the church held the child gently while praying for her.

This week, she found the little girl in the hospital again. But things were very different this time.

The child was continuing to recover; but beyond that encouraging news, she was in the care of Christian foster parents who were in the process of adopting her.

Our friend and the Christian foster parents are quietly making a real and positive difference in the world...while inspiring me to look for ways to honor God with a similar commitment to doing good for others.

"And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need,and not be unfruitful" (Titus 3:14).

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Gianna Jessen's Challenge

Gianna Jessen survived an abortion as a baby. Because of the attempted abortion, she lives with cerebral palsy today. In this video, she tells her story and issues a challenge to protect the weak among us. (Gianna is speaking in English, but the subtitles are in a language unfamiliar to me.)

"If you falter in times of trouble,
how small is your strength!
Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, 'But we knew nothing about this,'
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?" (Proverbs 24:10-12, NIV).

Friday, October 01, 2010

Everyday Songs of the Faith

Yesterday, I was reading the devotional for the day from Our Daily Bread after dinner. Written by Cindy Hess Kasper, it began like this:

"Several years ago, my husband helped to lead a work crew of high school students on a short-term missions trip to a Christian school in an urban community. Unfortunately, Tom had broken his foot shortly before the trip and was supervising the work from a wheelchair. He was discouraged because he wasn't able to get around as he had hoped.

"While he was working on the ground floor, a few of the girls were painting on the third floor. He could hear them singing praise choruses in harmony as their voices echoed down the wide-open staircases..."

At this point, our 7-year old son Christopher interrupted the reading. He mentioned, "They must be Christians!"

He knew they were Christians because they were singing praise to God outside a church service. It was simply a part of their lives that they did not leave behind when they exited the church building every Sunday.

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Walking in the Light (Without a Spotlight on Them)

One of our church members came forward after the sermon last Sunday.

He wanted to apologize to the church for his sins and to ask for our prayers. He has been in prison 5 times and in jail even more often. He has been in numerous fights, has stabbed people, and has been stabbed. He has consistently battled the allure of crack cocaine and alcohol.

He also wanted to thank fellow Contact Church members for saving his life a couple of weeks ago. Four of our members had been concerned about him. They went to his home to see how he was doing. When they found him, he was semi-conscious. He had overdosed on drugs in an attempt to commit suicide. Immediately, they called for the medical attention that saved his life.

Even though he was so ashamed of his sins that he felt like never returning to the church, he knew that members of the Contact Church loved him and had saved his life. He recommitted his life to following Christ. The church welcomed him back with warm embraces.

Something stood out to me about this incident: I never knew about our 4 members who had saved his life just a few days before. They had not mentioned anything about what they had done. (Knowing them, I doubt that they ever would have.) They were following Jesus' instructions: "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:1).

They were walking in the light without a spotlight on them. They were doing good without drawing attention to themselves.

It makes me wonder: How much more good is being done today by Christians who are not seeking attention? I have a feeling that it's much more than I can imagine.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What is a Man?

From The Atlantic to Newsweek, popular American magazines have been focusing on the definition of manhood this summer. It's a subject worthy of consideration, especially for parents of boys.

What is a man?

Maleness is determined at conception. When the egg and sperm cells combine, the mother contributes an X chromosome; the father contributes either an X or a Y chromosome. If the father contributes an X chromosome, the baby is female. If the father contributes a Y chromosome, the baby is male. Nothing changes after conception. A person with X and Y chromosomes is a male for his entire life.

Of course, a male may or may not develop into a man. It takes more (but not less) than X and Y chromosomes to become a man.

A man accepts responsibility. He accepts responsibility for himself and those under his care. He will take care of his family. "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). He will do his work so that he can provide for his family and for those in need in his community. "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need" (Ephesians 4:28). He will love his wife. "However, let each one of you love his wife as himself..." (Ephesians 5:33). He will discipline and teach his children. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).

A man takes initiative. When he sees a problem, he works toward a solution. He does not merely complain. He is not passive. He tries to help. When Boaz discovered that the widowed Ruth and her mother-in-law were in need, he took the initiative to make sure that they would have enough to eat and that his employees would not abuse a vulnerable widow (Ruth 2). Ultimately, Boaz married Ruth.

A man shows courage. When the giant Philistine Goliath challenged the army of Israel, the young shepherd David stepped up to the responsibility to repel the threat to his people. He took initiative. He saw Goliath as both a physical threat and a theological threat to the people of God. With faith in the Lord and courage in his heart, he attacked Goliath (1 Samuel 17). A man will show courage when the people whom he loves are threatened. It may be by killing a snake in the backyard; or it may be by challenging a religious leader who is telling the church that the Bible cannot be trusted, that faith in Christ is unnecessary, or that God does not know the future. Whether the threat is physical or theological, a man will do what he can to protect the people he loves.

Men are different from each other. Some men play football; some men play the piano. Some men are boisterous; some men are quiet. Some men enjoy physical challenges; some men enjoy intellectual challenges. But those attributes are unrelated to manhood. At the core, a boy needs to develop a sense of responsibility, initiative, and courage in order to become a man.

"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Heart of Christianity

"Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8, NIV).

Christians can be passionate concerning many things. We love worship music. We are passionate about Bible study. We are driven to help the widows, the orphans, and the poor among us. We are passionate about pursuing justice, righteousness, and high ethical standards.

But above all, we are passionate about Jesus Christ. We love to hear about what he has done for us. We love to think about his character, his words, and his actions. We love to let other people know about him. And we look forward to his return above all other expectations.

Jesus Christ is the heart of Christianity.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Titus 2 in Action

Titus 2 in Action is one of my favorite blogs. Sonya Thompson, Kelly Combs, Sharon Sloan, Warren Baldwin, Heather Beals, and Stephanie write a variety of articles based on themes from this passage:

"But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us" (Titus 2:1-8).

The blog may be found at http://titus2inaction.blogspot.com/. (I'm sorry, but I cannot figure out how to create a link to the site.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What Do Muslims and Christians Have in Common?

What do Muslims and Christians have in common?

Love for their families
Loss of loved ones
Relationship problems
The need for Jesus Christ to take away their sins and to give them hope

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."--Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Need to Mentor Boys in the Church

In this video, Darrin Patrick talks about the need to mentor boys so that they become mature Christian men. As I have mentioned before, I want to raise my son to have the qualities of a biblical elder. It's an overarching goal for the way I approach parenting my son. This video encourages me to keep the goal in mind.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Subtle Power of Respect

Last night, I was watching the Boise State-Virginia Tech football game. As the game progressed, I became increasingly interested in seeing Boise State win. On the surface, my feelings made no sense. After all, I'm an Oklahoman. I remember a few years ago when Boise State upset the University of Oklahoma in a bowl game. I should have been wanting to see revenge taken out on the team that destroyed a good season for a good Oklahoma team.

So why was I cheering a team that I should have despised? As I thought about it, I realized that it was because of one man whom I respect from our congregation who became a fan of Boise State when he lived and worked in Idaho. This man works in the insurance business, but he teaches classes and preaches for churches in the area when they are in need of teachers and preachers. He is a great family man. He leads a Tuesday morning men's Bible study at the Contact Church which draws men from as far as an hour's drive away. He and his wife have been pillars in the Contact Church since the beginning, even allowing homeless men to stay in their home with them as those men tried to get their lives together. He has led a lifestyle of helping others. When he speaks, people listen, because he has something worth hearing.

It would have been difficult to have been against a team that he liked.

That's the subtle power of respect. It's the power of influence. And it makes more of an impact in the lives of others than merely which football team to cheer for.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Inspiration of Scripture

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

As I have studied the Bible over the years, I have noticed at least three ways that God has used in inspiring the Scriptures.

1. Sometimes God dictates the words. For example, see Exodus 20:1-17.

2. Sometimes God communicates his message in dreams and visions that are recorded by prophets. For example, see Daniel 7:1.

3. Sometimes God leads the author of a biblical book through careful research. For example, see Luke 1:1-4.

God has chosen different methods, but still "all Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Timothy 3:16). Those who gave us the Scriptures "were carried along by the Holy Spirit" as they communicated God's message to us (2 Peter 1:21). And those Scriptures can be trusted because they came from a God "who never lies" (Titus 1:2).

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Son's Love

The best way my son has ever said that he loves me: "Daddy, if you were a baby, I would adopt you."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

James Brown: An Uncommon Celebrity Sports Broadcaster

This is an excerpt from Tony Dungy's latest book, The Mentor Leader:

"I've seen examples of adding value time and again...most recently by my broadcasting friend James Brown. In 2009, he and I stayed at the same New York hotel as we fulfilled our weekend broadcasting duties. Early in the season, JB called to invite me to a Bible study he was hosting. When I arrived at his room, I found him surrounded by members of the hotel staff--a bellman and people from maintenance and food services.

"JB explained that he had become friends with these people over the last year, talking in passing about things that mattered to each of them. Eventually, they decided to get together more formally when JB was in town to broadcast, and they began a Bible study.

"It didn't matter to JB that he wasn't in a direct position of leadership. What mattered was that he could build into other people's lives, one on one.

"And in the process, they could build into his life as well" (pages 197-198).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Contact Church's Summer Interns

This is an excerpt from Contact Church minister Ron Babbit's latest newsletter to supporters of his ministry:

"Every year at Contact, we have been blessed with great servants to walk alongside and to serve in whatever area in order to be a blessing to others. We continue to be blessed with an apprentice, 'Big Mac' Kaytie Jo. She shines with the darlins, both young and old, and shines mighty with the LORD. Occasionally she can't sleep at night because her heart is filled with concerns for her girls and their families. I will never forget a visit we made to a very uncomfortable, anger-filled house. I had tried to comfort the wife and two children who were cowering in the kitchen...afraid to breathe because of a clown shouting obscenities, put-downs, and nasty negatives. Big Mac immediately walked into the kitchen and started calming the two children, while I was reading the WORD to a very troubled man who didn't care that I was reading from GOD'S WORD. Big Mac...has a heart for the LORD.

"We also enjoyed the leadership of our interns: two other darlins and one hoss. All are students in college spending their summer with us at Contact. Yes, they raise their own money for their individual needs. Their responsibilities were teaching Bible classes on Sundays, running the van routes, and leading CBC (Contact Bible Club). That role is filled by 'ER' Kayla, who did a great job in leading, writing skits and lessons. It was a joy to watch 47 kids crawling all over her bones!

"Another God sent was Q or Quesie. She fit in immediately and lived up to the reputation from one of her elders. He said that she was very dedicated to the LORD, loves people, a hard worker, and very dependable. I loved watching her grow in her walk, and the way she touched the children. She continually reminded me when we needed to go visit and seize opportunities to encourage families so that we don't let them drop out of the race.

"Another intern was a hoss from Houston, Texas. His name is Ezequiel, but I call him 'Houston.' Houston is an IT-man, sharp with computers. He is the main computer hoss for Impact Inner-City Ministry. He was very kind and a great song leader. He taught some exciting songs to our children. He never turned down an opportunity or challenge to reach another heart. Houston was raised by his grandmother. When he was 3 years old, he saw his dad for about 10 minutes and hasn't seen him since. He has never seen his mother. He has a great heart of compassion.

"We have been blessed by this great team of servants who were fun, heart-caring, cross-motivated, and never concerned about who was in front. They just stepped up to get the job done. With this team, we were very busy, the evangelism kind of busy, reaching hearts."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tough Joy

I've noticed a special quality of joy in the Christians of the New Testament.

"But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised" (Hebrews 10:32-36).

These early Christians were characterized by joy when they faced ridicule, cutting remarks, imprisonment, and the theft of their property. They were being persecuted for believing in Jesus Christ. But their joy could not be taken from them, because they had sincere faith and hope in the promises of God's word. They trusted their Savior and his word. Their joy was tough because their faith and hope in Christ were solid.

Their tough joy was a product of the Holy Spirit in their lives (Galatians 5:22). I want to see him produce it in the lives of all of us who follow Christ today as well.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Life That Matters

I liked today's reading in the devotional Our Daily Bread. Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version. It was written by David Roper. More devotionals may be found at http://odb.org. This is today's devotional:

"Remember those...who have spoken the Word of God to you, whose faith follow" (Hebrews 13:7).

"Isaac Hann was a little-known pastor who served a small church in Loughwood, England, in the mid-18th century. At the close of his ministry, the membership of the church numbered 26 women and 7 men. And only 4 of the men attended with any regularity.

"In this age of mass media and mega-churches, who would consider this a successful work? In our world today, Isaac Hann would be considered one of those pastors who never quite 'made it.' He certainly wouldn't have been invited to speak at pastors' conferences, nor would he have written articles on church growth.

"Yet, when he died at 88 his parishioners placed a plaque on the wall of their meeting house that remains to this day. It reads in part:

Few ministers so humble were, yet few so much admired:
Ripened for heaven by grace divine, like autumn fruit he fell;
Reader think not to live so long, but seek to live as well

"First Peter 5:5-6 comes to mind: 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.' Reverend Isaac Hann 'made it big' in a way that matters--humility before God and a reward in heaven. We can too.

"Humility is the recipe for success."

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Was Jesus Silent About Homosexuality?

In recent years, I have read this argument from those who urge followers of Christ to accept homosexuality: Since Jesus was silent about homosexuality, Christians should recognize it as being acceptable to God.

While it's true that the Scriptures never quote Jesus using the term "homosexuality," it's not exactly true that he did not address the topic.

Jesus affirmed the view that sexuality is properly expressed only between a man and a woman who are married to each other. In answering a question about divorce, he took his listeners back to the original purpose of marriage. "He answered, 'Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?" (Matthew 19:4-5). Marriage was designed so that a man and a woman would become "one flesh." They would become intimate.

Apart from a marriage between a man and a woman, Jesus referred to all other expressions of sexuality as "sexual immorality" (see Matthew 5:32 and 15:19).

Jesus never deviated from that standard. In fact, he raised it. He prohibited even the intent behind sexual sin. He taught, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28).

However, it should be pointed out that Christ died for those of us who have failed to live up to his standards...and that includes all of us. He has always welcomed everyone who has been changed by the message of his death and resurrection into his church. He has been forgiving our sins and changing our lives since the earliest years of the church. "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Jesus condemned homosexuality along with all other forms of sexual immorality. But he also died in the place of the sexual sinner. Christ wants to free him or her from the guilt of the past.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Refraining from Profanity

This is an excerpt from The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungy:

"Leading through your words and actions--whether someone's watching you or not--tells the world who you are, and more important, who you believe God created you to be. It not only is true in times of turmoil, but is woven throughout the very fabric of our lives.

"James also reminds us of the destructive potential of our words, when he talks about the fickleness of the tongue:

"'Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?

"'Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can't draw fresh water from a salty spring.'
James 3:9-12 (New Living Translation)

"In March 2009, Chicago Public Schools administrators proposed a new rule prohibiting high school coaches from using profanity while performing their coaching responsibilities. To my amazement, I was asked to go on a national radio show, not to debate whether this was a good rule, but to discuss whether it was even possible for coaches to comply. I assured the interviewer and the listeners that it certainly was possible and that I and many members of my staff were able to do it without need of an ordinance. I pointed out that the school board would be very disappointed if they went into the classrooms and found teachers cursing nonstop at the students and that I didn't understand why it should be any different on the playing field.

"I believe that coaches, especially in high school, should be held to the same standard as classroom teachers--if not a higher one. I agree with the idea behind the proposed rule in Chicago, but I must say it's sad they would have to legislate such an obvious standard of leadership to those in powerful positions of influence with our youth. What message does that type of language send to those young people? That it's okay to demean someone if you're in charge? That it's okay for me to disrespect an official because I think he made a mistake?" (pages 126-127)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Christianity Challenges Every Culture's Heroes

Last night at the dinner table, my family was discussing the challenges that missionaries face in different cultures.

For example, the cannibals on one South Pacific island had difficulty accepting Christ's gospel because they saw Judas Iscariot as a hero. Their culture promoted betrayal as a virtue. If you could make someone believe that you were his best friend and then betray him, he would become the choicest morsel.

In one area of Asia dominated by an oppressive regime, missionaries experience difficulty in persuading new believers to confess their faith publicly because of fear of persecution. In their culture, a hero is synonymous with anyone who survives, whatever the cost. Cowardice is a virtue.

As we discussed the situation, we came to realize that Christianity challenges our culture's definitions of a hero, too.

In government, a politician can become a hero despite his support of the unnecessary killing of pre-born children. Apathy, neglect, and malice become virtues.

In entertainment, a rap artist can become a hero by performing songs advocating murder and the abuse of women. Hatred becomes admirable.

In business, a man can become a hero by being ruthless and dishonest with his competitors. Selfishness, greed, envy, and dishonesty become our values.

In video games, one can take on the persona of a hero by becoming a virtual rapist and cop-killer. Senseless violence and ruthlessness become virtues.

Christianity challenges every culture's heroes. The Holy Spirit tells Christians, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Receiving the Gift of the Holy Spirit

This is an excerpt from Forgotten God by Francis Chan:

"A multitude of people had gathered. Peter preached a powerful sermon, and when they heard his words, they were 'cut to the heart' and asked how they should respond. Peter answered, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself' (Acts 2:28-39). The text says that on that day around three thousand people became part of God's kingdom and accepted the gift of the Holy Spirit.

"...When I was preaching through this passage at my church, my seven-year-old daughter, Mercy, understood. She came to me afterward and said, 'Dad, I want to repent of my sins and be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.' I loved the simplicity and greatness of her faith. She didn't need to debate the finer points of how and when, exactly, the Holy Spirit would come. She just wanted to obey the passage to the best of her ability. I realize Mercy doesn't have the biblical knowledge many of us do, but I wonder how many of us have the faith she has.

"Is that your response to the Word? Is it clear to you that you're supposed to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit? If so, have you done it? If not, what keeps you from doing it today?

"Why do we sometimes feel that we need to debate this endlessly, running through every possible hypothetical situation and answering every theological question first? When will we simply respond to the truth we have heard and then work through our questions from there?" (pages 68-69).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Contact Church Prays

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

During our Sunday morning worship assemblies, the Contact Church devotes a part of our time together to praising God through prayer. We take 5 to 10 minutes to thank God for what he has done for us and to ask him to help us with our needs. (We also have a Tuesday evening prayer meeting in which we spend some time in a study of the Bible. Then the men and women separate from each other into different groups in order to pray.)

This month, I have been leading the prayer and praise time on Sunday mornings. I stand in front of the congregation while other members let me know their reasons to praise God and the concerns that they want to take to God.

This is a taste of what is on the hearts of members of the Contact Church from this morning's prayer time.

We praised God for:

*Waking up
*Our homes
*Our clothes
*Our food
*Wisdom to live life
*Being clean and sober
*Being able to be with the church today
*A baby boy to be born in the next few months
*God being a refuge, a shelter, and our help in times of trouble
*Members who are celebrating birthdays

We asked for:

*A co-worker's successful heart surgery
*God to comfort the heart of a member's daughter who is facing difficult times
*Reconciliation between three girls who were involved in a fight last week
*Healing of a member's injured nose
*Comfort for a member whose friend was murdered last week
*Repentance and conversion of the murderer
*A member's brother to change his life while in jail
*Comfort for a member's friend whose mother died last week

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Euphemism of Taking Up One's Cross

This is from Forgotten God by Francis Chan:

"'Taking up my cross' has become a euphemism for getting through life's typical burdens with a semi-good attitude. Yet life's typical burdens--busy schedules, bills, illness, hard decisions, paying for college tuition, losing jobs, houses not selling, and the family dog dying--are felt by everyone, whether or not they follow the Way of Jesus.

"When Jesus calls us to take up our cross, He is doing much more than calling us to endure the daily, circumstantial troubles of life. The people in Jesus' day were very familiar with the cross. Having witnessed crucifixion, they understood the commitment and sacrifice of taking up a cross.

"It is a call to radical faith.

"Jesus is calling us to be willing to suffer anything and forsake everything for the sake of the gospel. His call is to love those who have cheated us in business; those who have spread nasty rumors about us; those who would kill us if they could; those who disagree with us politically, practically, and fundamentally. His call is to consider everything a loss for His sake. His call is for total surrender. He calls us to give up our lives as a living sacrifice. His call means realizing that His power is made perfect in our weakness, that when we are weak we are also strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10)" (Pages 124-125).

"And he said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me'" (Luke 9:23).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Inerrancy of Scripture

The ESV Study Bible contains several very good articles. This is an excerpt about the inerrancy of the Bible from the article "Biblical Doctrine: An Overview."

"The doctrine of inerrancy means that the Bible is entirely truthful and reliable in all that it affirms in its original manuscripts. Another way of saying this is that the Bible does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. Because God is the ultimate author of the Bible, and because God is always perfectly truthful, it follows that his Word is completely truthful as well: He is the 'God who never lies' (Titus 1:2). It would be contrary to his character to affirm anything false. God is all-knowing, always truthful and good, and all-powerful, so he always knows and tells the truth and is able to communicate and preserve his Word. 'O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant' (2 Sam. 7:28). 'Every word of God proves true' (Prov. 30:5; cf. Ps.12:6; 119:42; John 17:17).

"Inerrancy does not require twenty-first century precision or scientifically technical language. The following quotation from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy summarizes what inerrancy does not mean:

"'We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture. We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage and purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations' (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Art. XIII).

"The inerrancy of Scripture gives the believer great confidence in the Bible as his sure foundation for understanding all God wants him to know and all that he needs for godliness and eternal life."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Frogs, Tadpoles, and Righteousness

"A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal,
but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel" (Proverbs 12:10, NIV).

A few days ago, I was going to empty my son Christopher's outdoor toy box after a rain. As I was about to tip it over, I saw something make a splash. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that a couple of frogs and a number of tadpoles had made the outdoor toy box into their new home.

I called for Christopher. Immediately he asked me to allow the frogs and tadpoles to keep the water, since the tadpoles would die without it.

Of course, I agreed. There was no need to kill the tadpoles. In addition, it became a practical way to apply the principles of one of Christopher's memory verses.

Now Christopher checks on his frogs and tadpoles several times a day as he lives out Proverbs 12:10.

In the picture above, Christopher is holding one of the frogs in our backyard.