Category Archives: Blogroll

Walking with a Giant

I’m working on a post about lies people believe about pastors…  but feeling the crunch I thought I’d share this one I wrote a while ago.

He was frail and hunched over his cane as he walked.  His steps were small and deliberate, the toil of years in each motion.  He griped the pew at his side for support and I reached to support his arm as we walked to the stage.  Every step seemed to be a struggle, as if he had carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, as some great colossus who had raised the staff in the wilderness providing pathways, water, bread, and victories.  I walked by his side privileged that I was permitted to walk next to him and aid him in the baring of his cup.

When we reached the front, his legs were weary and his eyes near pleading.  “I’m going to need to sit down” he said, almost in an embarrassed tone.  The long walk from the back to the front of the sanctuary was hard on his frail frame.  Quickly I arranged a bench for him to sit on, and he waited his turn to scale the mountain and intercede for those being ordained.

The chairman of deacons and I helped the elderly prophet climb up to the pulpit stage.  At the top, I placed a stool behind him and whispered, “there is a bench if you would like to sit, we’ll move it in front of each man while you pray for them.”  As if he could not hear me he reached his hand out and laid it on the back of the first candidate’s head.  He pulled the man close and prayed with tears pleading for God’s spirit to rest on the man.  Then he would repeat the action for the wife.  Six men in all, he prayed for each in this manner.  I could not hear all that he said, but as he left each man, they seemed acutely aware that some great work had just transpired in front of them.  All six men wept.

The prophet finished his blessing and began the trudge back down the stage heading back to his seat.  As we walked back, I began to realize why this man was so frail.  He had been holding the staff of God in the air for years while the battle raged below.  The evidence of a power beyond the hand of man was upon him and the Spirit of the LORD full in him.

Someone said to me afterwards, “that was a good deed you did helping [the elderly pastor] up there.”  My only response, “no mam, that was a good deed he did, letting me walk with him.”

I can’t help but wonder if Joshua felt this way about Moses toward the end.  Did Joshua stand beside him as he climbed themountainofGodto see into the promised land?  Was he privileged to hold the arm of an ancient warrior of God?  Did he realize the gravity of Spirit that lived in the man he stood next too?  If he did, he had one of the most sobering experiences any man has ever had.

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Paper Tigers

I’m at seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Havard Campus in Houston. I spend my day off each week working to study the various languages, and histories, and theologies, and missiologies, and all the other logies you can imagine (hahaha I just said I go to school to study logies). It’s a fun but exhausting experience each week. (I am blessed to be at the Havard Campus, they have FANTASTIC faculty who work there and brilliant pastors who attend there. What follows is in no way a critique of the school. Good? Good.)

As a young seminary student (I’m 30, so I’m no longer the youngest, but still young even though I am often the veteran minister in my class.) I have great conversations about the “church world.” Gregory Boyd, John Piper, Shane Claiborne, N. T. Wright, Mark Driscole, Rob Bell, Voddie Baucham, T.D. Jakes, and the like are constantly set up as examples to build up or tare down.

Now, there is an ease to attacking a celebrity pastor. You don’t have to get to know them, you don’t have to listen to them, and you certainly don’t have to read their books first. You can just assume that they are what you have made them to be in your eyes, or the eyes of the other person from whom you stole your rant. My favorite one to hear people talk about here is the good brother Claiborne. People who claim to have known him will say things like, “that guy talks about living like Jesus, but he is really just self righteous. He is incredibly arrogant!” or “Yeah, I know Shane Claiborne, he’s a nice guy, but he gets a lot wrong.” It’s a bit ridiculous to say things like that, isn’t it? Aren’t you being self-righteous in making the statement? Beside the fact that he is not in the vicinity to defend himself. (The good brother Claiborne is one of the founding members of “the new monasticism, the simple way community in Philadelphia. You can find out more here: www.thesimpleway.org.)

So, I wanted to take a moment to talk about paper tigers…

To be fare, the concept of “paper tiger” is something I learned from my brother while eating lunch. He confessed to setting up one such theologian as his own paper tiger and then proceeded to tear the poor little tiger to pieces. (For the record, while someone may do this occasionally, it does not necessitate them as wrong, it just weakens their argument.)  In further fairness, I set up a lot of paper tigers myself.  I’m trying to do less of that.

To define a paper tiger: A paper tiger is someone who is in a seemingly exalted position who is well known, unable to defend themselves against you (often because of your obscurity), and who your listeners often don’t know personally.

So, if you want to make a paper tiger you need a few things.  One: a theologian/celebrity pastor who is well known but not personally known by your hearers.  Two: a point of view that makes this theologian/celebrity pastor seem frightening and maybe like a three headed monster.  Three: a few quipy cynical remarks that alleviate tension.  Finally: You’ll need a seemingly solid argument, presented against a loose explanation of the scary paper tiger! Throw in there exclamatory statements like, “Really!?” and “That’s just goofy!” for emphasis and humor. It’s also helpful if you can rip quotations out of context to prove your point. (The more ambiguous the quote, the smarter you’ll sound.)

All in all, paper tigers are horrible ways to prove a point. While they make you look and sound smarter than everyone else, one day you’ll have what happened to my good friend at school who shall remain nameless.

STORY TIME:

My friend had masterfully set up his paper tiger in perfect rhetorical style. He spoke with such majestic ambiguity that everyone was trembling in fear of this particular theologian, each one of us trying to imagine how we could defeat the tiger.  My friend made a mistake when he climaxed his argument by using a quote out of context.  I noticed a young man pull out his cell phone and walk away from the conversation for a moment. A few minutes later he came back he quietly ushered my triumphant friend, who was in the midst of receiving the accolades due a man for killing a tiger, off to the side and handed him the phone.  Honestly, how could he have known that one of the guys he was ranting to knew this pastor/theologian personally and would subsequently pull out his cell phone to verify the rant.  Never mind the likelihood that this young defender of the tiger would, in the kindest manner possible, offer to let the young ranter have an opportunity to talk to the real tiger on the phone!?  I watched my friend squirm and respectfully apologize for not understanding.  All in all, it was about 20 minutes of awkward, “uh… well… yes sir… no I didn’t mean it like that… Oh, I hadn’t understood it that way… etc…”

Moral of the story, don’t set up paper tigers, it’s just not smart.  Someday the real tiger might bite you.

The Modern Moses

Throughout history there men who echo the voices of the prophets…  Men who call for freedom, men who proclaim the Word of the Lord, and men who stand for truth even when it is not acceptable to do so.  This is my favorite speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He gave it on the night before his death.

It’s three parts and it’s about an hour long…

Enjoy the voice of the prophet.

 

 

The River vs. The Deep

Did you know, in the book of Revelation, there is no sea?  A quick observer would object… “Nuh Unh!  The Crystal Sea John!  The Crystal Sea!”  However, if you’ll look in 4:6 you’ll see that John is using metaphor: “ and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.”  The first statement is using the metaphor to describe the transparent glass floor, then the second is a simile describing the metaphor.  So, I restate my first claim.  There is no “sea” in Revelation. 

Why?  Why is there no sea?  I think the answer can be found in an examination of the river.  In Genesis we are told that a river flowed out ofEdento water the garden and then divided into 4 rivers.  These rivers are examples of God’s intended direction to expand the garden and take God’s life to the world.  (I’d love to explain that more, but that must be four or five posts… maybe sometime.)  These rivers flowed out of the Garden into the great unknown.  Flash forward a bit and you have Balaam’s oracle comparingIsraeland their relationship to God to a garden and its river.  This theme gets carried through in the Psalms when God is the refreshing spring, when He is the river with which we are refreshed, when He is the still water by which we rest.  The river is refreshing, it is comforting, it is a place of resting and restoration.  The river is a place of joy.

In direct contrast to the river is the “deep.”  In the Bible, only God knows the deep.  It is a terrifying place for the Hebrews.  The deep is where the leviathan lives, where Jonah is cast, where sin is condemned, where death is certain, and where nothing is known.   There is an odd juxtaposition: God is the Lord over the deep.  The deep… the very thing that terrifies us.  And at the same time, God is the river. 

In Ezekiel God speaks of how He swallows up the enemies of God in the deep.  Then he leads Ezekiel to a vision of the temple in which the altar has a trickle of water coming from it.  The water grows into a great river with fruitful trees on both sides.  Ezekiel ends up swimming in God’s river.  This great river then flows into the sea (the deep).  Flash forward, Jesus sits by a well with a woman who is not a Jew and His response is that He is the living water.  Then again just 3 chapters later Jesus says whoever believes will have rivers of living water flow from within him.  In light of the consideration between the deep and the river, Jesus is stating that the unknown will be overcome by the life of Christ in our soul. 

Finally, there is no sea in Revelation!  At the end of Revelation we see that the river of life has overcome the deep.  The sea has been defeated and there is no longer anything that is unknown!  The river remains at the end of the book with the tree of life growing on each side!  Its amazing. 

So think about this.  All that is terrifying, all that is unknown, all that is wicked, all that is evil will be overcome by the river of life.  How great it will be when we know as we are fully known.

Sometimes I’m Overcome

Sometimes I am overcome by the mercy of God.  Other times, I am a moron. 

A few days ago I was tired when I came home to my AWESOME family.  My hyper-active two year old wanted to play outside and my wife looked like she could use some house time, so I took Julia outside (she’s not really hyper-active and I always feel like the hero when I get to do these kinds of things). 

She bounced and giggled.  My feet hurt.  She told me to swing her, then scolded me for swinging her too high.  “No, Daddy!  I don’t like higher!”  I had a slight head ache.  She pushed her little puppy down the slide and then tried to make me go down it.  (The physical properties of her plastic play slide cannot withstand the 215 pounds of Daddy.)  I was annoyed.  She then wanted to see the horses…  so we walked down and watched our neighbor practicing roping with his horses.  She wanted to see the bull and the donkey, so we walked the other direction to see the donkey.  I wasn’t wearing shoes that were good for walking… my feet hurt more.  I was tired, remember?  So when she wanted to go swing again, I told her, “Daddy’s tired, let’s go inside and get some tea.”  She threw a minor fit, but acquiesced quite quickly to the change in plan.  As I walked her into the house I was feeling tired and a little frustrated that I had not sat down to breathe, so I began to complain to God in my head. 

“Lord, I’m so tired!  Can’t you just calm her down for a few moments and make her play by herself!?  And why is her nap between 1 and 4!?  While I’m at work!?  And I know I’m going to have to cook dinner tonight!?  And my wife is tired!?  Why did You wake me up last night!?  I know it was You!  You woke me up and said nothing!” 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone on the street… when I saw him a pain hit my chest and I realized, I was being a moron.  I don’t know if he was real, or if God just let me imagine him.  The strained and haggard look on his face rocked me at my core.  I watched as the man was struggling to move his wheel chair down the street.  He clearly had one bad hand and was carrying some groceries home from the local grocery store. 

It suddenly occurred to me: I can walk.  All this time, I’d been able to walk and pick up my daughter.  We played in a yard that I own, on a swing that I was able to hang between two trees that are mine.  We played on a slide that I own, in the back yard of my house… that I own.  I’d led her about 50 yards down the street to watch the horses and then back 70 yards to see the big long horn bull and donkey!  Who else lives next door to a veritable free zoo!?  (Seriously, occasionally there are peacocks, raccoons, armadillos, and other odd creatures around our house. And we live two blocks from a grocery store and ten minutes from the mall!) 

When God woke me up the night before, I had not tried to listen.  I did not take out my Bible, I did not pray, didn’t even ask Him to help me go back to sleep.  In frustration I rolled over muttering something about needing more sleep.  In my selfish state, I had missed out on all the joy that was lavished on me.

I think this describes me more often then not.  I am a man who God lavishes mercy on and most of the time I don’t even notice.  We should always be overcome by His mercy.

I remember a story a missionary told me once.  He said he had been robbed while in an African country and they had taken his shoes.  The ground was mostly dirt and rock roads and shoes were a necessary commodity for him.  He began to complain to God about the shoes.  He didn’t realize he was complaining out loud when he passed a beggar who yelled, “at least you still have feet!”  He spun around in anger ready to berate this arrogant buffoon who would dare to speak to him this way!  Then he saw the beggar… he had no feet.  Holding his cup up, he said, “at least you have your feet.”  My missionary friend put some money in the cup and walked on… ashamed. 

I walked inside and my wife had prepared dinner.  I still have my feet.

Baltimore Reflections: cleaning dumpsters at the school

        Working in the school, we spent our days: moving furniture, cleaning up trash, pulling nails, and building a few shelves.  Our joy was to serve.  There were numerous displays of the love of Christ from our students to that school, perhaps the most humbling one for me was the rearrangement of trash dumpsters.  You see, when people hire contractors, it is much like hiring a bull to build a china cabinet.  They will certainly get the job done, and they’ll do it well, but what they deem inconsequential may be disregarded.  Such was our experience with the dumpsters.  There were three dumpsters outside.  Red for steel, blue for recycle, and green for all other trash.  As the summer had progressed, the workers that were hired and volunteered at the school simply used whatever was convenient for trash.  So we were given the task of pulling trash out of the red and blue dumpsters and putting it in the green one. 

            My beloved brother Jeff gave me this assignment to move trash.  At that moment, a thousand excuses shot through my mind, but Christ would not let me speak any of them.  You see, Jeff gave me the assignment in front of my students and I remembered something I was told when I objected to a similar request as a teenager,

 “Christ left heaven to be born in a stable, walked on this wretched earth, touched lepers and dying people all the time, and then died on a cross: and you can’t clean up trash for a few hours?”  -my youth pastor

 So, my objections were instantaneously removed.  (Thanks to the youth pastor that told me that… I can’t remember which one it was, but clearly you made an impression.)

             I chose one of the hardest working students I know to work on it with me (pretty much all my students are hard working so this was easy).  We tried to smash down the trash in the green one first.  While we were smashing, another few members of our crew (there were 10 of us) walked out of the building with a trash can that had been filled with rocks, soured milk (not in a container), and some other food that had obviously been sitting in a hot building for a few months.  They struggled to lift it up over their heads and pour it into the dumpster.  The smell struck me first.  Have you ever smelled something so noxious that you nearly fall over?  This was worse…  It was as if we were standing over a sewage outlet.  But we persisted.

             Having firmly compacted the green dumpster as best we could, we moved to the red one to remove all non-steel items.  The student (who will remain nameless) climbed into the dumpster without hesitation leaving me on the ground to carry trash from one container to another.  I remember being struck by his immediate humility.  He had no thought to his pride or sanitation.  He merely dove into the task of cleaning trash.  As he cleaned, he would pick trash out and pass it to me to put into the other dumpster.  We removed rotten food, broken plastic items, bits of wood, waste bags, and even toilet waste.  Smells, heat, and the shear volume of trash were overwhelming.  I felt sick several times.  Then I realized something, my student, who was working so hard in the dumpster, had not said one word in complaint.  He was even taking the worst trash and was throwing it from one dumpster to the other himself in order to spare me the smells and disgust. 

            My young student had showed me Christ (it’s always a humbling experience when your students give you grace you don’t deserve).  You see, Christ comes into our lives in the same manner.  He doesn’t complain about you or how much you’ve messed everything up or what smells He encounters.  He merely dives in and gets to work.  Occasionally He hands us some trash to dispose of properly, but He keeps the worst for Himself to remove.  Christ takes the waste that we have allowed to rot inside us and removes it.  He includes us in His work of sanctification as we pursue holiness and righteousness in Him and through Him.  Occasionally we smell something of ourselves that overwhelms our senses.  These are the times that drive us to our knees in repentance from our pride.  Then, He disposes of it for us.  These are the times of victory we reach during our spiritual journey. 

              There are countless stories from the week of work at the school.  I watched our students live out Christ’s love for people who will most likely forget they were there.  I worked with them moving furniture, cleaning trash, and weeding and planting gardens.  I saw the resurrection power of Christ move into a culture that has largely been forgotten by this world and work to display a beautiful, humbling love that will remain working power long after we are forgotten.  Praise Jesus, may His glory grow through the work of Valley Baptist Churchand FBC Brazoria.

The Chasm

REVIEW OF The Chasm: by Randy Alcorn

The Chasm  is an abridgement of Alcorn’s book The Edge of Eternity.  In this abridgement Alcorn focuses on one of the many portions of this magnificent allegory.  There is a chasm that must be crossed to reach the city of ”Charis” (heaven).  Ultimate joy lay on the other side of the Chasm and deceit and falsehood lay in the shadow-lands behind.  We follow Nick Seagrave as he travels the red road to Charis.  The characters that Alcorn writes about are vivid and powerfully relatable.  We’ve all met the crazy saints that seem so terrifyingly obsessed with Christ.  We’ve all met the false messiahs who look great and promise life and only deliver death.  We will all see the woodsman who can make away.  The Chasm is a powerful allegory that will encourage any reader.  It is short and easy to read. 

However, due to the nature of abridgement, much of the detail is passed over in The Chasm.  Alcorn strives to catch the reader up to the middle of the larger work The Edge of Eternity, yet the details of the first work are so paramount it is difficult to grasp the second without it.  If this is your first introduction to Alcorn, it is a worthy read.  However, if you are an avid reader, I would recommend finding the larger work and digging deep into the allegory.