living (13)

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.


There’s nothing like a well-functioning small group.

After a tough week, it’s nice to be able to go where everybody knows your name. Where they're always glad you came. Where everyone’s troubles are the same. Or so promises the theme from the old TV show, “Cheers.”

But what about your neighbors or friends who are unchurched? Do you invite them to your group?

Typically, when it comes to “bringing in the sheaves” we immediately offer invitations to strangers to visit our church. In my experience, resistance to such invitations is high. In many cases, it was a bad church experience in the past that is keeping people out of church now.

Church, for many, carries a negative connotation. The experience is viewed as ritual, formal, impersonal, and even a little weird.

Yet, when invited into a Cheers-like scenario, even sans alcohol, those outside the church are much more interested in trying it out. Mostly because a small group in their neighbor’s house doesn’t look like church!

Yet, welcoming newcomers does have its challenges.

The good group is cozy, safe, and maybe even a little predictable. Rocking the boat by adding newcomers can be resisted by the group, but it’s a resistance that should be overcome. Why? Because the group isn’t just about you or your buddies! Or any one person. Well, other than Jesus.

Exactly because small groups are cozy, safe, and predictable, they are the perfect, non-threatening place to invite your skeptical friends and neighbors for these four reasons:

1. It’s just people. Instead of an institution, the small group is basically just some folks hanging out. While some may have issues with “The Church,” fewer have a problem with getting to know their neighbors and their neighbor’s friends, enjoying some snacks, and engaging in casual discussion of the Bible or issues of faith.

2. More than a book. Engaging with people of the Word who view the Bible as God’s living Truth, makes the Bible accessible to those who view it with suspicion. Instead of being confronted with a harsh set of esoteric rules, the warmth of the Word is released through the sharing of those who seek to live it authentically.

3. Hey, this is nice! Being welcomed into an intimate, caring, loving group of people translates the Gospel into reality for those encountering it. Instead of being “preached at” in a sermon,  in a group people engage with other people who are just like them. People who have car payments, trouble at work, childcare issues, health challenges, and all the rest of the stuff of real life. Instead of ritual, they encounter reality.

4. Is there more? A good small group exhibits the attractiveness of the Gospel and, therefore, attracts outliers into the group and then into the church. Often those who object to church do so for reasons that aren’t really valid. Their fears or objections are based on misinformation or time- and location-specific incidents that are not representative of the full Body of Christ. Acceptance into a good group helps dissolve the barriers to meeting the personal God and finding a relationship with Jesus.

It’s tempting to rest in the enjoyment of the group we know and ignore those outside we don’t. But to be true to our calling to share Christ everywhere, even our cozy groups need to be open and inviting. Is yours?.


Previously in part 1: Logistics of the good group.

Previously in part 2: Leading the good group.


BlogQuestion.pngAre you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Read more…

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.

02-group.gifA small group leader training booklet lists 15 tips for leaders. Number 13 is my favorite: “You’re not Spurgeon.”

Right now, in my church, we’re wrestling with the need to grow up new group leaders. We have several small groups that are at or near capacity. This means they soon will need to split in two, with each part needing a leader.

This then raises the question, ”What makes a good leader?” To answer that requires addressing another question, “How do you lead a small group well?” And to answer that, you need to answer, “What’s the role of a small group?”

The primary role of a small group -- and in fact, of the church experience in general -- is discipleship. By that I mean helping those who claim Christ as their Savior grow into spiritual maturity. Spiritual growth, in the very simplest sense, occurs two ways:

  • Content infusing. This happens through intentional Bible study, listening to sermons, attending Sunday school, and so forth. You could label it “Christian education.”
  • Relationship building.It’s in the environment of relationships that the head knowledge of content infusing is moved into the heart of meaningfulness. Information is made practical, truth is turned into experience.

A sermon on a Sunday morning is high on content infusing while low on relationship building. This is why small groups are essential. Here’s how I guesstimate the ratios break out for various activities:

Discipleship - The purpose of the church

Content Infusing
(Christian Ed /
teaching, etc.)

Relationship Building
(Personal interaction)




Small groups



Sunday school



Doing life together



There’s no science here. Just my own guess based on several years of being in church and small groups. Doing life together, by the way, simply means believers hanging out with each other outside of church.

Given that the primary emphasis in small groups is relationship building, to lead one well means ensuring that this happens. And now we can address the key traits of a good leader with these four insights:

1. Be a person, not a Spurgeon. You don’t need a seminary degree* to be an effective small group leader. If you have a heart for God and a good study Bible, you’ll be okay. What’s most important is that you are honest and real. This means you’re going to have to be a little vulnerable, sharing your own experiences, both the good and the bad. Opening your heart to the group will encourage others to open their hearts as well.

*Caution to those with seminary degrees: You know a lot and that’s a wonderful thing. However, the small group is not a seminary classroom where you need to bring all of your knowledge to bear. Feel free to prepare like you would for a test, but dial your presentation way, way back for the group. Otherwise you risk coming off as intimidating, overwhelming the participants, and perhaps even discouraging others from considering leading a group.

2. Protect and serve. For relationships to form and grow requires a safe place. Make sure everyone has a chance to be heard. Facilitate a “no wrong answers” environment. This doesn’t mean endorsing heresy, but rather allowing people to ask hard questions and share their doubts and fears. Therefore confidentiality -- what’s said in the group stays in the group -- is paramount.

3. Keep it moving. A small group leader is mostly a facilitator. You want to keep things moving. Make sure one person doesn’t dominate the discussion. Sometimes you’re going to have to cut off a lively discussion to ensure there’s time for addressing individual needs. While it will feel awkward, everyone will understand what you’re doing and appreciate your intervention.

4. Wrap it all in prayer. A good leader prays. Seek God’s help as you lead and prepare. Pray for each member of your group when you’re not together. Make sure each session is opened and closed in prayer. Ensure when needs become known, time is taken to pray and care for the one in need.

Leading a small group is simply one way we can fulfill the Great Commission. And we are all called to be His witnesses near and far. You don’t have to be a theologian to facilitate a group. But you do need a basic knowledge of God’s Word and a caring heart that burns to see others grow in the grace of Christ. The Holy Spirit will provide the wisdom to those who step out in faith as small group leaders.


Coming next in part 3: Outreach of the good group.

Previously in part 1: Logistics of the good group.


Are you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Read more…

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.

01-group.gifIt’s the first night of your small group. Several people are now gathered at the front of the sanctuary. You begin with prayer and dive into the study.

After a few minutes, you notice Ted looking around, appearing distracted. Beads of perspiration are on his forehead and he’s fidgeting.

“Wow,” you think. “The study must really be hitting home. Ted seems under a fair amount of conviction.”

Just then Ted gets up and makes a beeline for the exit.

Was Ted’s behavior driven by conviction? Nope.

It was too hot, the room too large, and he had to go to the bathroom but wasn’t sure where it was and if he’d make it in time.

Small groups are a big deal in churches and a great vehicle for fostering biblical engagement while building relationships.

Here are six key ingredients for success that too often get overlooked:

1. Is there an echo in here? Years ago, I read Em Griffin’s great book, Getting Together: A guide for good groups (IVP). One piece of advice always stuck with me. He writes, “Meet in a room small enough to put you in touch with each other. Bank lobbies and church fellowship halls may be impressive, but the cavernous space they allow kills intimacy.”

I’ve tested this by holding meetings in very big and much smaller rooms. The differences are significant. Putting a little group in a large room makes people feel small and lost. Minds and eyes wander as every sight and sound is a distraction. A large group in a too small room is just annoying. Fit your group into an appropriate space; big enough that no one feels cramped, but small enough that it feels cozy and safe.

2. Lukewarm is okay. Thermostat battles are real! While it’s impossible to please everyone perfectly, be aware of the room temperature. An empty room that’s a little cool is a good thing -- don’t bump the heat up! The room will warm on its own when bodies arrive. Pay attention to such things as sleeves being rolled up or down, booklets being used as fans, sweaters being pulled on or off, etc. Ask people if they’re comfortable. Make adjustments gradually to avoid wide temperature swings.

3. The lay of the land. Whether you’re meeting in the church or someone’s home, let everyone know where things are, especially the bathrooms. Explain that bringing a cup of coffee to their seats is okay. Allow time for introductions. If you’re located near a quarry (as a group I participated in was) and there will be a loud explosion or two, let people know what’s going to happen so they won’t panic or become preoccupied wondering if they should.

4. Arranged for success. Yes, how you arrange the chairs makes a difference. The circle is most common. If you’re using a video, then a u-shaped arrangement allowing easy  viewing is okay. However you arrange the seating, make sure everyone can see and hear each other easily. Better Bible engagement comes through better sharing.

5. Just say no to technology. Technology is amazing, but can also be annoying. While using PowerPoint is helpful in the college classroom or sanctuary, it’s seldom useful for a small group. Dimming lights induces dozing when it’s cozy! If you choose to use a video or any technology, make sure you know how to use it. Set everything up before people arrive. Test, test, test. And if there are any glitches, be prepared to set the technology aside and go analog, just like Jesus did.

6. The reason I’ve called you together. Small groups are great for building Bible engagement and relationships. Except when the group’s purpose becomes diffused and ambiguous. Have a purpose, mission, and a goal and make sure everything the group does drives toward them. Ambiguity and loss of focus -- which happens over time with inattention -- will kill the best of groups.

Griffin states, “The good group has cohesiveness.” People know what to expect and where they fit. This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentionality and effort. The payoff is the good relationships and better Bible engagement that ensues.


Coming next in part 2: Leading the good group.

Coming next in part 3: Outreach of the good group.


BlogQuestion.pngAre you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Read more…

In Carson McCullers’ classic novel, The Member of the Wedding (Mariner Books; Reprint edition), the main character, Frankie (aka F. Jasmine) who is primed for a change in her life, wonders out loud why she can’t just change her name and be new. Her caretaker, Berenice, responds:

“Because things accumulate around your name,” said Berenice. “You have a name and one thing after another happens to you, and you behave in various ways and do things, so that soon the name begins to have a meaning. Things have accumulated around the name. If it is bad and you have a bad reputation, then you just can’t jump out of your name and escape like that. And if it is good and you have a good reputation, then you should be content and satisfied.”

All have sinned

Everyone has a history marred by sinful actions. Some were things done to us. Many, if not most, were things we did to ourselves. They were results of choices that were often poorly thought out.

There are a million ways to sin. And for each sin there are millions of potential consequences.

These real consequences are the scars we bear that, this side of heaven and unlike guilt, no amount of redemption will completely erase.

The little Pentecostal church I grew up in often had visiting evangelists pass through to conduct “revivals.” A favorite story cropped up in many of their sermons. It was meant as a cautionary tale warning us of the indelible consequences of sin. It went something like this.

There was a little boy who loved to hammer nails into wood. His father’s hobby was woodworking so there were always scraps of lumber. These the little boy was free to hammer in all the nails he wanted.

One day, the little boy was in a hammering mood. He had lots of nails but there were no scraps in his father’s workshop. So, he began driving nails into a large lovely piece of wood. He thought only a few wouldn’t be a big deal.

Caught up in his hammering, he lost track of time until he heard the voice of his father cry out, “Son! What are you doing?”

Startled, the little boy stopped hammering. “Dad! I’m sorry! There were no scraps and I only meant to hammer in a few nails! I can pull these out!” exclaimed the son.

“Okay,” said the father, visibly upset. “You pull the nails out and then come in for supper.”

Supper was very quiet that night. The little boy was afraid to say a word. After supper, his father said, “Come on, son. Let’s go out to the workshop.”

There, they stood looking at the wood. The little boy burst into tears. “I’m sorry father! I didn’t mean to! I pulled all of the nails out! Can you forgive me?”

The father looked lovingly at his son, picked him up in his arms, and spoke softly, “Yes, son, I forgive you. But there’s something you need to understand. Look at the wood.”

They both stared at the wood now filled with holes.

“Son,” said the father. “That was a very expensive piece of wood. I bought it to make your mother a special chest for her birthday. Now, the wood is ruined. Even if I fill them with putty, the holes will still be visible. Just like scars.”

A new name

When we come to Christ, confess our sins, and repent, we are promised a new name in heaven and to be washed white as snow. Both of these are true. As Christians, our names are indelibly written in the Book of Life and God sees us, thanks to the imputed righteousness of Jesus, as clean. Holy without holes!

But here and now, on this earth in this life, it’s not quite the same, as McCullers’ character Frankie was learning. When we’re a stinker, the smell often lingers. Especially when our stinkering involves others who have that annoying habit of remembering. With some, it seems like every time they see us they point, hold their noses, and cry out, “Foul! Foul!”

I know this is true because there are people who have hurt me that only have to come to mind for some reason and my heart cringes. I remember the pain, the betrayal, the lie, or whatever the foul behavior was that caused a rift. Fully forgiving is hard.

I think this is why Jesus counsels us to forgive “seventy times seven.” It’s not that the person isn’t forgiven the first time, but rather that our own hurt needs to be healed and rehealed. Our forgiving them again and again brings healing to our own hurt hearts.

Probably it should also spark in our understanding the truth that others who have been hurt by us go though the same process.

None of us are untouched by the sin of someone else. We have all been both burners and burned, both hammer and nail.

Covering the holes

Sadly, I feel more holey than holy most of the time. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

The scars -- or holes -- we bear are to serve as reminders, not accusations. It’s not about piling on guilt, on ourselves or anyone else. We must not be about ruining reputations, or getting even, or cowering in shame.

Instead of pointing at each other’s holes, we need to help fill and cover them. Instead of judgment, the borne scars need to draw out from us love, grace, and acceptance.

Toward those who have hurt us, recognizing our own capacity for wounding, we must go easy. Forgive, and when we are unable to forget, extend even more grace. And as we do unto others, we must do to ourselves.

This is not easy. It’s hard. But it’s the love that’s required.

This is not love made of emotion that we grunt and strain out of ourselves. This is true love fired by the Holy Spirit that is reflective of our True Love, Jesus. It’s love that loves even when it doesn’t feel like loving. It’s an expansive and wide love that speaks to the broadness and bigness of our God.

Recovering reputations

None who are repentant should feel the need to change their names to get away from who they’ve been or are. Instead, we must help each other move toward what we each are to become, what we are designed to be. To help the old in all of us become new.

In Frederick Buechner’s novel, Godric (Harper & Row) the main character asks, “What’s friendship, when all’s done, but the giving and taking of wounds?” This brings to mind a well-known verse about how we are often iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).

Even when our intentions are good, we hurt one another, especially those closest to us. This is the nature of sin in us. It will come out one way or another. We are all well-barbed and susceptible to one another’s barbs.

But the Godric quote can also be taken differently. We can bear the burdens of others by taking on their wounds. By standing with them in their pain and embarrassment of failure or folly, rejection or ridicule -- whatever the misfortune was or is -- and shore them up. Just as we hope others will do with and for us.

Love, not judgment

The scars we bear do not have to be badges of dishonor. If we are children of the Most High God, they should not be. They must not be. Especially when confession, repentance, and renewal are involved.

Likewise, we must not be giving out scarlet letters to all those we know who have sinned and come short of the glory of God just like us. Discernment may be ours, but judgment is not.

When the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to discern the pain in the hearts of another, our only response as Christians is to love, to forgive, to embrace, to stand alongside.

There will be holes. There will be scars. But godly love covers a multitude.

BlogQuestion.pngSee Proverbs 10:12, Proverbs 17:9, and 1 Peter 4:8. Do you feel mostly holy or mostly holey? Why? Are there things you’ve done that you regret? How have you dealt with these? Are there times when instead of accusation, others stood with you? When you stood with others? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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Politics, it is said, can bring out the worst in us. And note the “us.”

We pick sides, and this year the sides have been legion at times. Once picked, we defend “our man” or “our woman” or “our cause” with vehemence.

Fight.gifAt moments it seems like one giant virtual street fight. Verbal knives, chains, and guns are drawn. Everyone starts swinging, going for blood, or worse, in for the digital kill.

It’s at these times that I’m thankful this happens mostly in the not-so-OK corral of social media. Feelings are hurt but lives are spared. Albeit barely at times.

Thank goodness for small mercies.

It’s enough to put a lot of people off politics all together. The contentiousness is not attractive and definitely not viewed as productive.

In between the big-leap election years, bloody skirmishes can always be found in other arenas.

Beyond the brutal ugliness of politics

A couple of weeks ago, Tim Challies, a generally good guy, posted a cute little quip on his Facebook page, stating, “I never get tired of hearing about Alistair Begg’s visit to a megachurch. ‘I feel rotten, that’s how I feel. What have you got for me?’”

I never get tired of hearing about Alistair Begg's visit to a megachurch. "I feel rotten, that's how I feel. What have you got for me?"
Posted by Tim Challies on Wednesday, February 24, 2016

 The video he pointed to is this one:

In the video, Begg goes on a minutes-long rant about his on-a-lark visit to a larger, apparently well-known church. The service opened with a flourish and from there on was apparently quite rambunctious.

This, combined with the staging and perceived vapidness of the worship leader’s comments, set Begg’s teeth and more on edge. Added to this, it seems, by his own admission, Begg was already in a bad mood. (Frankly, I believe he was prepared to react as he did being biased against this type of worship.)

Like Challies, Alistair Begg is also a generally good guy (although when I listen to him speak in my mind I’m seeing Craig Ferguson). While I’ve not met Challies, I have met Begg.

While I was living in Cleveland, I was privileged to be one of a group from Metro Alliance Church who, at the invitation of our pastor, Juri Ammari, attended the 2010 Basics Conference: A Conference for Pastors on Preaching held at Begg’s church. It was a great experience.

The event included participation in a regularly scheduled church service. It was a good service but of a style that I was not drawn to. I never visited Begg’s church after that.

Nor did I make a YouTube video ranting about those style elements of the service that I was not drawn to. Ultimately, I have no issues with Begg or his church. He is a good guy and his is a good church; they are solid on substance.

I may not like your style but it's your substance that matters

To me, when it comes to my faith, substance -- the whole contextual substance -- of a service and the church that holds it, is far more important than style.

But, given that God created me (and you, and Begg, and Challies) with distinct personalities that have style preferences, I do make decisions about where I regularly worship with that preference in mind.

We all do it. And that’s okay.

What’s not okay is bashing each other over style variations. Or, just as bad, over non-essential doctrinal differences.

By non-essential I mean those finer points of doctrine that make our chosen belief systems unique and interesting, especially to us and those who agree with us, but that in no way at all determine our suitability for heaven.

They don’t add to or subtract from our salvation, sanctification, redemption, and all those central truths that make up solidly biblical, orthodox belief.

It’s when we -- and by we I mean Christians, especially those who fall into the accepted definition of true evangelical -- put style on the same level as substance that we get ourselves into trouble.

And the fights over these ephemera get absurdly bloody.

Begg’s rant is just a mild warm-up to what he really thinks of those who don’t worship as he prefers.

Put up your doctrinal dukes!

I’m not a theologian but I do enjoy reading and talking about theology. Still, I’m not an expert. But I know some stuff.

There are, as far as I can determine, two overarching theologies or doctrinal positions currently prevalent. You can label them as you wish.

One is Calvinism (aka Reformed) and the other is Arminian (which has nothing to do with Armenia).

From each of these massive limbs of well-rooted belief systems, many smaller branches have sprouted, each a variation on the theme of their limb. I’m not going to address these variegated offshoots. I’m hanging out only on the main limbs for now.

I lean Arminian. Always have, although I didn’t always know what Arminian meant. I’m still learning.

While I lean Arminian, I hang out with a lot of Calvinists of varying hues and stripes. They’re good people and I have no real issues with them. Usually.

There’s much about the Reformed way of looking at things I agree with and can embrace. But there are some finer points I’m just not convinced of, but these need have no impact on being able to enjoy fellowship with those who hold them.

Why? Because on the essentials -- those very critically important core truths that make up the heart of biblical orthodox belief -- we firmly agree.

Sadly, there are those in both camps who aren’t so amenable to agree to disagree, but insist that the other embrace everything they believe, or otherwise they are “wrong” and thus, outside of their self-drawn circle of orthodoxy.

More than once I’ve been reading a book written by a Calvinist that was good stuff. Until they suddenly started addressing, in a very much in-your-face manner, the narrow specifics of their Calvinist view while taking not-so-subtle swipes at Arminian belief.

At these points, the books are spoiled.

Can’t we all just get along?

In a previous (and relevant to today’s topic) blog post I wrote:

Francis A. Schaeffer stated that, “Though genuine Christians may, and in fact do, disagree over certain points of Christian thinking, there are absolute limits beyond which a Christian cannot go and still stand in the historic stream of Christianity.”
He agrees that there is room for variation of expression within these absolute limits, explaining “we should picture a circle within which there is freedom to move.”

Calvinists and Arminians are both well within that circle.

Scot McKnight mentions that some use the image of a “village green” while he uses the image of “a big tent”:

“The evangelical tent is big enough to welcome under its shade Calvinists and Arminians, anabaptists and charismatics, Anglicans and Methodists and Baptists, and I love it when Catholics and the Orthodox join.”

Whether circle, village green, or tent, we have a mandate about getting along within it.

Just before Jesus was crucified, he declared to his followers,

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, HCSB).

In the foreword to his excellent little book, The Mark of a Christian, which is essentially an exposition of these verses, Francis Schaeffer states,

“Christians have not always presented a pretty picture to the world. Too often they have failed to show the beauty of love, the beauty of Christ, the holiness of God. And the world has turned away.”

This is not a good thing.

The whole world is watching

Years ago, a church where I was a member was in crisis over what was essentially a stupid non-doctrine related issue. I’ll spare you the details. Things were getting heated. Emotions were out of control. It was getting personal and ugly.

Broken-hearted at what was happening, I felt compelled to write an open letter to the Board and the congregation. I quoted a lot from Schaeffer’s little book. The main thrust of the letter was, we’re not looking so good to those in the community we’re supposed to be ministering to.

My letter was ignored. The fight went on. The church split. And I’m not sure that the wounds are totally healed to this day.

The same kinds of mean-spirited skirmishes break out within the greater church on a regular basis. Voices are raised. Books are written. Sermons are preached. Arbitrary lines are drawn. And spiritual blood is needlessly spilt over thinly sliced doctrinal ephemera.

The laying on of hands is not meant to be fisticuffs, real or metaphorical!

Meanwhile, out there in the world to which we are called to be light and life, all that’s seen is ugliness and death.

And the world turns away. This should not be. There’s room at the cross for all which is where we should be leading the lost.

McKnight closes his excellent post stating:

“My brothers and sisters, because God in his mercy has made room for all of us at the cross and at the table, there’s room enough for all of us on the village green. Grace would make it so. We might not be able to agree on theology or in some of the finer points of our confessions, but the village green — evangelicalism — is covered by a big tent, and there’s room for all of us who call ourselves evangelicals.”

Yes, indeed.

As we watch in horror and decry the insanity, meanness, and downright brutal nastiness of our American political scene, let us not become self-righteous. Just as bad and worse plays out within this blessed milieu we know as the Body of Christ.

It’s neither healthy nor attractive when it does.

And yet we lament the downward spiral of church attendance and the increasing numbers of “nones.”

Perhaps the first place we need to make changes is within our own hearts and minds, avoiding even the appearance of this evil.

How about it?

Okay, I’ll agree, Begg’s rant isn’t that bad, and I can agree with some of his points. Still, was it necessary to share from the pulpit? Does this kind of thing further the Gospel of Christ? Does it advance the Kingdom of God? Does it draw people to salvation? Could there be more appropriate and less public forums for addressing these kinds of issues? Shouldn’t all churches be focused on communicating a message of salvation and fostering an environment of biblical discipleship rather than seminars on how to choose the sides among the faithful? Please share your thoughts, nicely, in the comments!


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The Psalmist tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

It’s a lovely thought.

Until I get out of bed in the morning and my knee hurts in a way it has never hurt before for no particular reason.

NoseHairs.gifThen I hobble to the bathroom and look in the mirror at the hair that’s left my head and is now creeping out of my nose and ears.

These are fearful things and I wonder why they are happening.

But I doubt that’s what the Psalmist was getting at.

All in all, I do believe we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Fearful in the sense of “very great.” Wonderful in the sense of, well, very wonderful! Or, “inspiring delight, pleasure, or admiration; extremely good; marvelous.”

I can get on board with these definitions.

As for the nose hairs and bad knee, I blame these on Adam and Eve.

The Fall messed things up for all of us in ways we can only begin to imagine. Everything is not quite what it should be. Doesn’t function as smoothly as intended. Especially as aging brings us closer to our earthly end.

Because of The Fall -- the source of “original sin”-- everything is disordered. Out of whack. Maladjusted.

The consequences are myriad.

On the lesser side of impact are nose hairs and balding. Our genes and atoms aren’t exactly what they’re supposed to be so annoying stuff happens in our bodies. As well as in nature in general, which gives rise to disease and the like.

Greater consequences are terrorism, sex trafficking, bizarre politicians, and all that’s ugly and bad in the world. All things driven by the evil, Fall-impacted intentions of sin-bent people.

Okay, that’s putting it simply, but it’s still accurate. And gets to my point.

Even in the midst of all that is dark, mean, ugly, and just downright awful, because we all have within us the image of God -- imago dei -- we are not left hopeless.

We are not the random victims of a mindless happenstance universe.

Satan slinked into the Garden with the intention of destroying all that was good about God’s amazing, perfectly designed creation.

But then, God sent His Son, Jesus, to provide solace in the midst of suffering. Hope for the broken. Light for those needing a way up and out. Salvation for the lost.

All creation still groans awaiting the full and final resolution of what Christ accomplished on the cross.

But for us who turn to Him, right here and now, we have the grace and mercy of God to comfort us, redeem us, transform us, and prepare us for the day when knees will no longer ache and hair will grow only where it’s supposed to.

Until then, I’ll wear a cap as needed, clip unwanted hairs, pray for the afflicted, advocate for the harmed, resist evil through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and worship the God by whose hands I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

He is risen!

Additional Reading:

BlogQuestion.pngWhat are you thinking about, meditating on, mulling over this Easter season? Share your thoughts and insights in the comments! 

Click here to read a sample chapter (PDF) from my forthcoming novel, “The Hungering Dark: Awakening.” To learn more about the book, go to

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Whenever the idea of Christian vocation is addressed in an article or conversation, there’s a well-known quote attributed to Frederick Buechner that inevitably comes up: “Vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Actually, according to Beuchner himself, it’s not a direct quote, as he explained in an interview. But it captures the essence of what he was getting at.

As Christians, imbued with God’s image, we all want to know why we’re here. What we’re supposed to be about. For what purpose did God create us?


And we tend to spend a lifetime seeking “the” answer to that question.

In the meantime, we live and move and have our being, going about our days, doing our best to please God and enjoy Him for now and here, longing for over there.

This we call our Christian walk.

In the process of living our lives in the light of God’s Word, we seek to be better people. To be Spirit-filled, God-shaped, Christ-redeemed creations.

We care about those around us. Go to work and do our jobs as well as we can. Give money to those in need. Do acts of service. Treat people well. Grow where we are planted.

As we do these things, our vocation and purpose takes shape through our humble, clumsy service to God.

Perhaps we even recognize that our “purpose” is not singular, but rather a series of purposes, a multiple of callings. All, of course, anchored in Christ connected by His will flowing through us.

From time to time, our thoughts turn to heaven. “What’s that going to be like?” we wonder.

Honestly, I’m not sure Christianity has done a good job of revealing what heaven and the new earth will be like.

What it won’t be like is how it is cartoonishly characterized, us sitting on a cloud wearing a halo and wings, strumming a harp. Although there are people who believe that’s the case.

While elements of this false image can be found in scripture, the Bible never describes such a scene.

The Bible does, however, in short, reference a new heaven and a new earth, our reigning with Christ, streets, cities, dwellings, all implying activity.

Frankly, I’m really hoping there will be books as I’m thinking there’s going to be a lot of time to catch up on my reading!

“But,” you object, “reading implies inquisitiveness and when we’re in heaven all our questions will be answered!”

Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure if we’re going to know all we want to know all at once.

If our inquisitiveness and appreciation of literature, art, music, and all the fun things of life will be of no use, why did God so firmly implant them in us to begin with?

Last year I read a really great book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey. I strongly recommend the book to everyone.

In it, on the topic of Christian vocation, Pearcey states, “In our work we not only participate in God’s providential activity today, we also foreshadow the tasks we will take up in cultivating a new earth at the end of time.”

As Spock would say, Fascinating!

This means we’re going to have stuff to do over there on the other side. Stuff for which we are perfectly suited, that fits to a T our created personalities, that extends our unique gifitings into eternity!

Wowza! That sounds, well, darn fun!

And how we live now, all we do here on earth in this short time we have prepares and shapes us for the rest of our eternal lives.

Holy vocational education!

Going back to Buechner, he explained, “When you are doing what you are happiest doing, it must also be something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done. In other words, if what makes you happy is going out and living it up and spending all your money on wine, women, and song, the world doesn’t need that.”

This helps sift down the possibilities for us in terms of what we’re made for. Wanton carousing isn’t something this earth or the new earth needs.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

In this we find further guidance when it comes to vocation as well.

We seek to do that which pleases God, serves Him and provides us a sense of enjoyment -- joy, satisfaction, contentment -- in the process.

Add in the context of Luke 10:25-37, where an expert in the law correctly explains the path to eternal life is found when we “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself,” and we also learn that what we do must benefit those around us.

Jesus clarifies this through the telling of the parable of the good Samaritan.

It’s not about us having our fun, doing what we want, living our truth, even if it’s not hurting anyone else.

How we live here on earth, what we do now, does have eternal consequences. For believers, these consequences don’t end at heaven’s gate.

Death for the Christian isn’t an end. It’s a new beginning to a new life and a truly glorious career!

So, how’s your on-the-job training going?

BlogQuestion.pngDoes this change how you think of Jeremiah 29:11?:“‘For I know the plans I have for you’—this is the Lord’s declaration—‘plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” Do you wonder what life after death will be like? How have you envisioned it? What do you believe you will be doing in heaven? Do you agree or disagree that what we do now is a preparation for what we will do in eternity?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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I pity the fools, uh, I mean people. Yes, people.

I pity good, sweet people who foolis..., uh, stubbornly refuse to read the Bible in any other version but the King James.

I love the King James. It’s what I grew up reading.


Many times when I’m trying to look up a verse, what comes to mind is the King James phrasing.

So, I may start with the King James, but then I branch out.

There are so many great translations and paraphrases that blow away the obscure, Yoda-like language of the King James.

Personally, I don’t believe you can really get the most from the Bible by sticking exclusively with the KJV.

There’s just too much in the KJV English that’s a tad archaic.

Gettething theeself downest hence unto the depths of the meanings

For example, take 2 Timothy 2:23.

(By the way, I don’t care if you refer to the book as two Timothy or second Timothy, as long as you’re reading and applying it.)

This verse has come to my mind a lot lately given some of the scuffles going on out in social media land over politics, religious practices, and all things trivial. Know what I mean?

In the King James, this well-known verse is rendered:

  • “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.”

Got that? Is it clear?

No, right? It’s worse than Yoda-ese!

It sounds so dainty and soft and not really a big deal. And what the heck is a “gender strife”?

Now check it out in the New Living Translation (NLT):

  • “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.”

Ha! Now we’re getting closer to a clear, blunt meaning!

But also consider these two translations:

  • Common English Version (CEV): Stay away from stupid and senseless arguments. These only lead to trouble.”
  • New International Version (NIV): Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”

Wow. This is pretty serious stuff after all.

Paul is clearly issuing a strong warning that we Christians, at all costs, are to avoid becoming entwined in dumb, senseless arguments that only serve to stir up bitter hostilities.

See what I did there? I restated the verse in my own words. This is a great way to get at the full meaning of any passage. You should try it!

Often I’ll note keywords (like those that I’ve underlined above) and look them up in a dictionary to see their complete meanings and look up synonyms.

But, like I said, I like to read in different versions.

Is that a cucumber scarecrow you’re idolizing in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?

Currently I have three different Bible versions on my Kindle: ESV (English Standard Version), CEB (Common English Bible), and HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible.)

(By the way, all of these version and more are available online at several Bible sites.)

Every day I read one chapter in each: two from the Old Testament (OT) and one from the New (NT).

In the OT I’m working through the Prophets right now.

These are great, fun books to read. They are full of poetry, sweeping language, and some great imagery and metaphors.

Not to mention wit and humor!

For example, look at Jeremiah 10:5 in the CEB:

“They are no different than a scarecrow
    in a cucumber patch:
    they can’t speak;
    they must be carried
        because they can’t walk.
Don’t be afraid of them,
    because they can’t do harm or good.”

The “they” being referenced are the idols and false gods being worshiped by the ungodly culture surrounding the Children of Israel.

The point being made is that while the created handmade idols representing false gods may appear intimidating and impressive, ultimately they are as completely worthless and impotent as “a scarecrow in a cucumber patch.”

By the way, this verse in the KJV is very bland: “They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.”

As the first part of the verse can be translated as either “palm tree” or “scarecrow” it’s important to see both renderings to get the full meaning.

Frankly, given the context, I think “scarecrow” is the better choice. But, please, go read the full chapter to make up your own mind.

The commentary on Jeremiah 10 in the HCSB (Holman Christian Standard) Study Bible clarifies the worthlessness of idols as “fog, mist, breath.”

For us, anything that replaces God in our lives, becomes more important than following Christ, or blocks the activity of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds is likely some kind of contemporary idol.

The simple point being made with flare is that giving any credence to any idol is just absurd.

Going down to the sea with oxen

One of the fun books I’m reading through now is Amos. What a curmudgeonly guy, but boy could he turn a sweet phrase.

In his book Four Prophets: Amos, Hosea, First Isaiah, Micah: A Modern Translation from the Hebrew, J.B. Philips describes Amos as “stern, austere, and uncompromising.”

He goes on to explain that Amos’ “messages of denunciation were delivered in an atmosphere of unprecedented material prosperity, accompanied by a widespread decay of moral values and a wicked oppression of the poor.”

Hmm, this feels familiar. Where have I experienced this before?

Anyway, Amos is sounding his cautionary prophecies at a time when everyone was fat and happy and pooh-poohed warnings of trouble ahead. And yet, within a few years all hell broke loose and Amos was able to say “I told you so!”

Again. Oddly familiar. Moving on...

There’s some real fun stuff that pops up in chapter 6. Look at verses 4-6 in the ESV (English Standard Version):

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
    and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
    and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
    and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
    and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
    but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!”

The HCSB (Holman Christian Standard) Study Bible commentary explains stating, “The Israelite aristocracy enjoyed what the Greeks would call a ‘symposium’ (lit. ‘drinking together’), in which participants lounged on couches, drank wine, and listened to music.”

The image this brings to my mind is a person sitting in their comfy chair, sipping wine, watching TV as the Lexus commercial laced with the refrain “I could get used to this” is on while they are posting some variation of this meme to their Facebook page:


All while thinking to themselves, “There! I did my part in fixing the war and poverty problems! Now, I wonder if I can afford a new Lexus?”

Amos has something to say about this.

In verse 12 he asks the crazy, wacky, ridiculous questions: “Can horses race over rocks? Can you plough the sea with oxen” (Philips).

Now, given that we’ve all seen the movie “Hidalgo,” to the first question we might be tempted to answer, “Well, maybe. It would be hard on the horse, but doesn’t seem impossible.”

Okay, but what about that ploughing (aka plowing) the sea with oxen?

Yeah, that’s just absurd.

And absurdity is the point Amos is making.

He’s leveling a scathing accusation at the Israelites who boast of their wealth and accomplishments, while at the same time ignoring justice.

Look at the full verse in the CEB (Common English Bible):

“Do horses run on rocks?
        Does one plow the sea with oxen?
    But you have turned justice into poison
        and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—...”

In other words, ignoring or perverting justice and exalting in self-righteousness rather than true righteousness is as stupid as trying to plow the sea with oxen.

Again, it’s simply absurd!

So what’s your point?

I’m glad you asked!

All through the Bible there are clear warnings to avoid the absurdities of stupid arguments, giving credence to idols, and indulging in self-righteousness that allows injustice.

Somehow these warnings seem especially relevant today.

And yet, just as those who were being directly warned by the prophets and Paul, we ignore these warnings and keep on doing the dumb things.

This is especially easy to do when the Bible we’re reading is written in an obscure variant of old English that allows us to evade its true, full meanings.

Hmmm, maybe that’s exactly the reason why some insist on a KJV-only devotional life. Or why some don't read the Bible at all.

Hmm, I wonder. Maybe. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it’s a lot more fun and interesting to read the Bible in a variety of versions. And a lot harder to dodge its commandments and truths.

Familiar passages yield new insights. Mistaken ways of believing are corrected. Shallow understandings are deepened.

The bottom-line is that reading the Bible in a version different from the KJV, or different from the version you are used to, can do nothing but be beneficial.

After all, “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (2 Timothy 3:17, The Message).



What is your favorite Bible version? Do you read in other versions as well? Do you read as much in the Old Testament as in the New Testament (other than the Psalms and Proverbs)? If you only read the KJV, why? Please share your thoughts and tips for enhancing the pleasures of Bible reading in the comments! (But let’s not argue. ;-)

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When I was a kid, it wasn’t unusual when someone acted badly in a classroom or any group situation, that everyone got punished for it.

This would happen because the adult-in-charge either couldn’t identify a specific bad actor, or was just too exasperated and took the easy way when it came to “discipline.”

Whenever this happened, I seethed inside my little innocent child’s heart.

RefuseRefuse.gifOften the punishment would be a withholding of something we all coveted: craft time, story time, an extra five minutes on the playground, a snack, and so on.

Even more infuriating would be the times when the group identified the do-badder(s) and the teacher or other figurehead of authority would still impose blanket injustice, I mean, discipline.


Boy, did that ever teach us a lesson, youbetcha.


Lessons learned from bad adult behavior

What it taught me is that it’s important to ensure justice to those denied it. To work hard at getting to the facts. To act on the truth and in fairness. To practice the Golden Rule by doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Okay, so these lessons crystallized a little later in my adult life.

While still young, I quite honestly held a strong childlike hatred in my heart toward those who lazily, unfairly imposed generalized punishment.

This did not endear me to those people. Frankly, there’s one who, whenever this teacher comes to mind, I still have to work at forgiving.

Even as an child, I understood that a great way to earn anger and hostility from any group is to treat them as a mass impersonal blob, assume they’re all bad actors, and enmesh them in generalized punishment or restriction.

In other words, treat them all like naughty children.

This really works well on adults.

Sort of like what’s happening with all the recent calls to block the movement of Syrian refugees beyond wherever they are now.

Everyone freeze!

Definitely don’t let them into the land of the free and home of the brave where we live! Any one of them could be a terrorist!


Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

Zero tolerance is intolerance

In my post yesterday I argued, among other things, against blocking our borders -- states or country -- to Syrian refugees.

Despite the best efforts of some who disagree, I’ve not met an argument yet that would move me one iota away from my previously stated position.

I don’t believe the blanket closing of borders to Syrian refugees wanting to legally enter our country, or any country, is a biblically legitimate Christian response.*

This doesn’t mean we let them in without some degree of vetting, just as we do with anyone wanting to come in legally.

But it does mean we will be taking some risks.

But so what? Hasn’t that always been the case?

Haven’t there always been those wanting to get into our country to do bad things?

I believe the primary difference today compared to the past is that those wanting to do us harm, instead of coming in quietly and covertly, are announcing their intentions, often and loudly. But this doesn’t automatically mean we are more at risk or that they will be successful.

As much as I abhorred as a kid the “punishing all for one” discipline approach, today I loathe nearly every expression of “zero tolerance” policies I’ve encountered.

Falling back on “zero tolerance” is the lazy, mindless, knee-jerk way to deal with any situation and avoid having to think too hard about anything.

You know, “No guns! Even if it is a half-chewed Pop-Tart. Case closed. Done. Shut up. Go away.”

Yet this is the approach many are espousing toward the Syrian refugee situation.

What’s really going on here

And, let’s be brutally honest, there are really only two motivations behind these “closed borders” calls:

  1. Irrational fear. With a dash of bigotry. Many, falsely, believe that we are living under an unprecedented threat and letting any Syrian refugees in -- even 5-year-old orphans -- will make life dangerous for us. I guess they have veins full of C-4 or something. In other words, we want to deny safety to those who are fleeing very real and present dangers to protect ourselves against the imagined potential of some unspecified harm that may or may not happen. That’s pretty selfish, paranoid, and not at all how Christ would expect Christians to behave, or think.
  2. Politics. Every Governor, Presidential candidate, or other elected official calling for closed borders is merely playing self-serving politics with the lives of the Syrian refugees. They are dehumanizing real people as pawns for political gain. Period.

By the way, these kinds of reactions have occurred before such as around the time of WWII.

Some, especially among my Christian friends, try to mitigate the harshness of what is nothing less than bigotry toward the Syrian refugees, by suggesting we do more to create “settlements” closer to their homes. Sounds nice, right?

This is more or less the argument that can be discerned in a recent blog post by Reformed Evangelical Kevin DeYoung that many are citing and sharing. I like Kevin, but here he’s off the mark.

In other words, this message goes, (a) let’s keep them in the region of the world they are fleeing (because of  imminent devastation, very real risk of death and dismemberment, starvation, rape, and worse that awaits them there), and (b) let’s send help to them but not let them “in our back yards.”

You know, let’s keep the problem “over there” where we can’t see it. Or be truly touched by it.

Out of sight, outside our borders, out of mind.

The image that is conjured listening to certain wild-eyed arguments is of an ammo-belted, machine-gun armed Jesus standing at our border proclaiming, “Keep out, you heathen!”

Not a good Christian witness. And not what Jesus would do.

A sure way to radicalize those who aren’t already

I can’t think of a better way to radicalize an entire group of people than by dehumanizing them into political pawns, pushing them away, corralling them into settlements, forcing them to stay in danger, refusing to help them, and denying them entry into a country where they can be safe and warm.

And I can’t think of a better way to enrage their countrymen already living among us than by mistreating and denying justice and aid to their husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, friends, and former neighbors who are “over there” in need.

In other words, if you think we’ve got a problem now protecting against a potential handful of bad actors, just wait.

Keep thinking “closed borders” and “containment” and it’s going to get a lot worse.

A marginalized people is not a happy people.

Doing the right think is almost always risky

Yes, open borders bring risk. But that’s always been the case. Always.

Even Jesus risked accepting a traitor into the ranks of his disciples.

Yes, Judas betrayed Christ, but Judas also paid a heavy price. And as for the cause of Christ? It has flourished despite facing many risks since. And there are a lot more to come.

The potential for risk does not relieve us from our duty to care for refugees in need.

Jesus declared, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14, ESV).

The Apostle John explained, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” (1 John 3:16-17, ESV).

To paraphrase, if we have the means to provide a safe warm place for our Syrian brothers and sisters in need, yet close our borders against them, how does God’s love abide in us?

Seriously, how?

Additional reading:

(*NOTE: I believe France closed their borders not so much to keep people out but more to prevent those involved in the Paris attacks from fleeing justice. But I could be wrong.)

Do you agree with closing the borders of states and refusing entry to refugees into the U.S.? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts -- civilly -- in the comments! 

BTW: I’m an Evangelical Christian and usually Republican-voting conservative, so I know my opinions are messing with your broad-brush assumptions about people like me and that just makes me smile.

Lest we forget:

A young Syrian boy lies in the surf near Bodrum, Turkey (Reuters)

And one last thought: The only thing worse than blocking access to all Syrian refugees is advocating for allowing only Christian refugees in. The only right decision is to mercifully extend a warm welcome to all. Period.

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Late last year, I completed the Certificate in Theology and Ministry offered online by Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS).* Along with about 120 or so other people who were scattered across the country and the world.

This past weekend, PTS invited all who completed the course to attend a special recognition luncheon and worship service at the Princeton, NJ campus. There was a substantial turnout and the program was outstanding.

While taking the course, and now even more so since completing it, the question I’m asked most often is some variation of this: “Why did you take the course? What are you going to do with it now?”

BodyQuote.gifWell, I won’t be performing weddings or funerals. It’s not that kind of certification.

But, frankly, I don’t think it’s necessary to pursue learning solely for the purpose of “doing” something with it. The value, joy, and reward is in the learning itself. Especially when it’s affordable and convenient!

When you spend time going to the movies, how would you respond to someone who asks, “So you saw Star Wars. Why? What are you going to do with it?”

I’m assuming you would be a little bewildered by such a question.

That’s sort of how I feel when people ask me about the course.

Honestly, I took the course because I wanted to.

But, since the answer, “I did it because, like Mt. Everest, it was there!” isn’t appreciated, I decided I’d take the time to provide a fuller response. After all, you asked me!

Beyond “because I wanted to” there are at least three broad reasons I took the course. These are also reasons I read books and just keep learning in general, by the way.

In no particular order, here they are:

Honing the craft with which God has gifted me

Among other things, I’m a writer. Most of what I currently write tends to be related to biblical faith.

A lot of Christian writers I know will spend a lot of time reading books on writing, learning how to better market their work, going to writer’s conferences to meet other writers and connect with publishers, and so forth.

The focus of their efforts is on the writing and the selling thereof.

That’s all well and good.

But it’s long been a pet peeve of mine that conferences, courses, and how-to books for Christian writers never include workshops or chapters on developing biblical thinking, understanding the latest trends in theology, practicing practical exegesis, writing from a biblical worldview, or anything that helps improve skills on the Bible / theology / doctrine side of things.

The closest anything comes is offering something devotional or inspirational in nature. That’s nice, but not enough.

Frankly, I don’t see how anyone can be a good “Christian” writer without also having and nurturing a good grasp on all things biblical and theological. And much of what’s needed will not come merely through church attendance, participating in a small group Bible study, or Sunday school. Which, by the way, are thoroughly worthwhile and beneficial endeavors.

A lot of what I’m “going to do” with this learning that I’ve acquired I’ve been “doing with it” through my blog and other writing opportunities. Not to mention in non-writing interactions with others.

I guess you could say that by the time I completed it, the Certificate was already “used.”

Someone might say, “But you’ve got a college degree in English and biblical studies, why do you need this?”

Because no skill, talent, or gift is a “once and done” thing. They require ongoing refreshing.

Years ago when I was an editor of a Christian magazine and living near Chicago, Wheaton College offered a series of workshops aimed at writers. One of the presenters was Peter Jacobi, now professor emeritus of journalism at Indiana University.

He used the acronym AIDA, also the title of an opera, to cover a few key elements of writing effective articles: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. What he offered I already knew but had never heard presented like this.

This “new” take on “old” information injected fresh insight into my thinking that helped me improve my writing.

The same principle holds true with ongoing, continuing Christian education.

Just as you can never eat or drink “once and for all”, the same holds true for all learning.

Studying to show myself approved

2 Timothy 2:15 states plainly that, as Christians, we need to study God’s Word and know how to rightly divide it (aka interpret and apply) to show ourselves approved.

I like the Common English Bible (CEB) that states, “Make an effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who doesn’t need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly.”

We are also instructed to “work out” our own salvation (Philippians 2:13), to understand God’s will for us (Ephesians 5:17), to stand against the devil and his tactics (Ephesians 6:10-18), to be ready with an answer for our hope (1 Peter 3:15), to be prepared “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2), and on and on.

Like learning in general, the Christian life is not a “once and done” experience. It’s a process of ongoing growth and maturity.

While some are satisfied with what they can pick up from a Sunday sermon or the Christian radio station, I’m not.

As that great raspy-voiced theologian, Bob Dylan, once said, “He not busy being born [again] is busy dying” (my paraphrase).

And so I keep reading, studying, discussing, and listening.

There is always more to learn, more understanding available, more insight to be gained.

One very useful aspect of the Certificate course was the global perspective it captured. Some of this came through the various participants located around the globe (Hong Kong, Greece, Europe, etc.).

Part came through the final module on “Understanding World Religions” which provided a gentle smack-up-side-of-the-head reminding us that our cultural experience is not the same as anyone else’s.

Well, duh.

If you don’t think that how you understand the Bible or view God is not influenced in anyway by where you were born, where you live, how you were parented, the education you received, and on and on, then you are as naive as I have been.

An amazing insight that comes through this is, despite such massive diversity of experiences, the same Holy Spirit lives in each follower of Jesus and makes the one true God alive and visible through us around the globe.


I sing the body local & so should you

An essential, yet too often neglected, element of the Christian life is being in fellowship with other Christians.

The Bible characterizes the entire fellowship of believers as “the body of Christ.”

Often, churches are referred to as the local body of Christ. However, no single church, or even denomination, embodies the whole body of Christ. Every church is a local expression of the whole body of Christ.

So, I prefer to refer to your church and my church as “the body local.”

This means that not only does each Christian play an essential role in the whole body, so does each biblically orthodox church, whether tiny rural country fellowship or ginormous city mega-thing.

The body metaphor is interesting (1 Corinthians 12). Paul posits that each true believer is a body part that (1) is essential to the body as a whole, (2) dependent upon every other part, and (3) never is dishonorable, regardless of function or purpose.

The implication is that for the body to work well, each body part (organ, limb, etc.) must be healthy and efficient.

To be healthy requires nourishment and cohesion. In other words, it must be fed and connected.

Within the body local of Christ, each of us is called and ordained -- yes, called and ordained -- to serve in some productive, life-supporting role.

As disciples of Christ, we’ve all got jobs to do.

At the most basic level, all of us are called and ordained to be present. To show up. And to give financial support to the body local where God implants us.

But that’s not enough. All that stuff I mentioned previously about working out our salvation, showing ourselves approved, and so on, is to be done within the body local, in fellowship with the other body parts.

The body local is a “Head and shoulders, knees and toes. Eyes and ears, mouth and nose” kind of thing.

So, we are to avoid “staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do” (Hebrews 10:25) and encourage each other in the faith (1 Thessalonians 5:11), even when that involves iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).

Because I take this fact of the Christian life seriously, whatever church I’ve been a part of, I’ve always sought to be actively involved. This was the example of my parents that my sister and I witnessed and inherited as their legacy. Our entire immediate family, as well as many cousins, aunts, uncles, and other relatives, were always very active in the church of our youth.

I guess it’s in our DNA!

The shape of my own involvement and how that involvement unfolds is influenced by how God has made and gifted me combined with the needs of the body local into which I have been grafted.

Over the years, these roles have included Sunday school teacher, men’s group leader, Sunday school superintendent, janitor, small group leader, board member, special projects committee member, Scout troop leader, administration support, PR and communications helper, bulletin maker, newsletter writer and editor, web designer, periodic giver of sermons, sound booth operator, graphics maker, Powerpoint manager, usher, greeter, and so on.

So, understanding that wherever God puts me I will be involved in that body local, and knowing that whatever we do we are to do well and for the glory of God (Colossians 3:23-24), ongoing training and education seems appropriate.

Show me the money!

There are those who agree and nod their heads to all this palavering, while thinking, “But when are you going to turn this training into something real? And make money? Or at least have a real title other than ‘freelance writer’?”


I understand that, for many, the whole point of any education, whether a multi-year degree at the cost of thousands of dollars, or a several month certificate at the cost a few hundred, is to “do” something specific (aka, get a job and produce income).

I get it. Although I don’t entirely agree with it. But I’m not going to argue the points here.

I pursued the Certificate for all the reasons I’ve stated. I’ve long wanted to get a Masters, preferably in Theology or something related, but the timing and the funds would never synch up.

So, when I discovered this Certificate program, I pounced.

I did not have a specific monetizeable outcome in mind then, nor do I now. If I’m never able to point to specific income derived as a direct result of investing my time and money in this Certificate program, it will not have been a waste of either.

Some will get it. Some won’t.

Those who get it should consider signing up the next time this Certificate program comes open.

For those who don’t get it, don’t worry. I’ve added this accomplishment to my Linkedin profile.

I challenge you, dear reader & you, too, institutions of learning!

One thing that I hope comes of my effort: that it serves as a positive example to you, dear reader, to pursue more and dig deeper when it comes to God’s Word, doctrine, theology, and related subject areas.

Search for local and online opportunities to take a course, even for a few weeks.

Or read books. Not sure where to start? Try these Christianity Today award-winners: “Christianity Today's 2016 Book Awards.”

Take what you already know and apply it where you are. One way to learn more is to be involved in your body local. A lot of good things can come from active small group participation.

But I also want to issue a challenge to all Christian colleges and universities.

We need more affordable, accessible, online programs like the one offered by PTS. Their program is specifically aimed at laypeople who are ministering in the body local and who are hungry for accessible, affordable training.

These people can’t afford to leave their jobs and homes, pay thousands and thousands of dollars, all to earn a degree. That’s expensive overkill.

What they need is more of what is represented in the Certificate* program I completed.

It needs to be very affordable, only a few hundred dollars. Very practical, nothing egghead or ivory tower. Very accessible, online using readily available free software and inexpensive tools. And, of course, engaging, using personable professors who can connect well in an online context.

If you represent a Christian college or university and are interested in setting up a program, contact me and I’ll connect you to the people at PTS. And I’ll be happy to share my ideas.

And that’s all I have to say about this. For now.

Aren’t you sorry you asked?


BlogQuestion.pngAre you active in a church? Do you feel adequately trained or not? What kind of training would you like to be able to access? Have you participated in any kind of continuing education program online or in a classroom? How was your experience? Do you agree with my assertions in this post, that all Christians are called and ordained to be involved in ministry? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts and reactions in the comments!

* The course consisted of 6 modules: Old Testament Resources for Faith and Life, New Testament, Forgiveness and Reconciliation, Theology for Faith and Life, Pastoral Care, and Understanding World Christianity (this final module was slated to be Congregational Leadership, but had to be changed due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict with the professor).

Over the year, there were 30 live two-hour lectures, assigned readings, and the writing of short “class blog posts” of 100-200 words, as well as six 400-600 word “final” essays for each module.

Everyone signed on, using Adobe Connect, to listen to the lectures. We could comment and ask questions in the chat box. Some students who chose to were connected to ask questions via video.

For the written assignments, we were assigned groups of around 12 or so that rotated every 10 sessions. Only those in our assigned groups saw our posts. Each of us was required to comment on 3-5 posts of other students.

While admission to the course is closed for 2016, I would encourage everyone to sign up for next year.

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When you’re a kid growing up in a small Pentecostal church, knowing God’s will is a big deal. You want to know the formula for getting it right.

Just when you thought you came across something in the Bible that might be “it,” the “anti-fleece” sermon would roll around the next Sunday to remind you that you were wrong. Again.

The “anti-fleece” was a popular sermon I heard a lot growing up. The gist was what not to do when seeking God’s will.


But that’s not the reason I’m bringing this up. The antihero of the “anti-fleece” sermon was poor, old Gideon. Gideon was characterized as a cowardly, hesitant, God-doubting wimp.

In fact, he was described the way a lot of people think of introverts.

Be honest. When you hear someone label themselves as an introvert, adjectives that come to mind probably include at least one of these: backward, bashful, cowardly, fearful, halting, hesitant, indecisive, shy, slow-witted, stand-offish, tentative, timid, wimpy, one who shilly-shallies.

While an introvert may possess one or more of these qualities, none are true synonyms for “introvert.”

In fact, there are many extroverts who are cowardly, indecisive, and more. And there are introverts who are quite courageous.

For example, Gideon.

Gideon’s story is found in the Bible in the book of Judges, chapters 6, 7, and 8.

Other than a brief mention in 1 Samuel 12:11 where he’s referenced by his alternate name, Jerubbaal, the only other notable place he’s cited in scripture is in Hebrews, but I’ll get to that later.

Introverts are cautious

The story of Gideon opens with him hiding in a winepress, secretly threshing some wheat.

And, therefore, he’s a cowering coward.

Of course, this characterization completely ignores that Gideon was hiding from marauding hordes of ruthless Midianites and their buds who “would come like locusts in number,” laying waste to the land, taking everything and anything they wanted by force.

Within the context of the story, hiding in the winepress seems shrewd and responsible, especially given the viciousness of those he was hiding from.

Typical wise introvert behavior.

Introverts tend to avoid the spotlight

As an introvert, Gideon is not shy, timid, or cowardly. His Creator doesn’t believe he’s a cowerer, either. God sends an angel who addresses Gideon as a “mighty man of valor.”

Gideon’s first reaction is typical of an introvert. He tells his angelic messenger, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold...I am the least....”

In fact, his overall response is very introvert-like:

  • He asks for more information so he can better assess what’s happening.
  • He takes time so he can process what’s happening.
  • He seeks clarification to ensure he’s heard correctly.

After all, Gideon is being instructed to go against savage hordes and save his entire people.

True to his created nature, Gideon carefully weighed what was happening before launching into action.

Introverts build on smaller victories

From what I’ve observed in extroverts, they’re response might have been to shout an enthusiastic “Yo! Let’s roll!” while grabbing a sword and running headlong into the fray to do battle, and probably die on the spot.

Extroverts act before they think. Introverts do the opposite.

Gideon’s first task was to destroy an altar and idols Gideon’s father, Joash, had built to Baal, a false god. He plans, gathers trusted helpers, and waits until the whole town is asleep to do the deed, then quietly goes to bed. He recedes until someone points the finger at him.

In the morning, after discovering his involvement, the townspeople demand that he be stoned. But Gideon escapes this close call thanks to Joash intervening.

This would have been a knee-knocker moment for Gideon or anyone; he was only inches away from being killed. But emboldened by the grace God administers through Joash, Gideon uses this success as encouragement to keep going.

Introverts are creative problem-solvers

As the Midianites rally with their allies in preparation to ravage the land, Gideon is empowered with the Spirit of the Lord to sound a trumpet-call to arms.

Following this burst of energetic enthusiasm he has a reasonable crisis of faith and needs a little more reassurance. After all, he was about to confront a godless, head-lopping mob of thousands.

With reverence, humility, and respect Gideon seeks a visible sign from the Lord to ensure he’s heard correctly and is taking the proper course of action.

He gets creative and sets out his fleece.

Some view this as “testing the Lord” and another example of Gideon’s many flaws, pointing to Deuteronomy 6:16 where God cautions the Israelites, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”

But what happened at Massah? The children of Israel had just recently witnessed the parting of the Red Sea, among other miracles, and were traveling in the wilderness guided by an ever-present pillar of smoke by day and fire at night. Now they were thirsty and threw a tantrum. Like grumbling, fussy children they demand water, claiming they were better off as slaves in Egypt! They were “testy” and impatient with Moses and God.

This isn’t what Gideon is doing. He comes humbly before God seeking one final assurance. This is a natural expression of Gideon’s introvert temperament and personality. The Lord shows no anger or impatience with Gideon.

Introverts appreciate feedback & assurance

Once reassured, Gideon asks for no more signs, but without hesitation does what is asked. And what he is asked to do next is pretty remarkable -- to trim his fighting force from 32,000 to 300!

Later, again recognizing the person Gideon was (and how He had created him), the Lord offers Gideon an opportunity to seek further reassurance even though Gideon didn’t ask.

God tells Gideon to go eavesdrop on the enemy camp. There, he hears a man reveal a dream predicting an Israelite victory, is spiritually bolstered, and without hesitation launches a massively successful assault with only 300 men.

Introverts make bad decisions under pressure & when tired

After successful conquests, with peace and safety restored, Gideon is ready to settle back into a quiet life. But the men of Israel press him to be their king, an opportunity he eschews.

I can imagine the introvert Gideon tired of having to be “on” for such a long time, just wanting to live out the rest of his life in peace. He’s fought a lot of hard, exhausting battles.

Tired introverts tend to make poor judgments, especially under pressure. And that’s what Gideon did. Instead of agreeing to be king, or suggesting everyone take a break so he could think things over, he creates an “ephod” which was a kind of idol.

While the details are sketchy, Gideon takes this ephod and erects it in the city, perhaps in the same place where the altar to Baal he’d torn down a few years prior had stood. His intention may have been to create a visual reminder of all God had done for him and his people, but instead, the ephod became an object of worship and a “snare” to those who worshipped it.

Introverts can adapt to cultural expectations

In the concluding verses of chapter 8, it’s noted that Gideon had “many” wives, a concubine, and at least 71 children. Only sons are mentioned so he probably had some daughters as well. How, you wonder, could someone with such a large extended family be an introvert?

Simple. Introverts know how to adapt to and live within cultural expectations. This ability often causes introverts to be mistaken for being extroverts.

As the influential patriarch of his family, Gideon would have had control over his environment. In his culture and his time, the women watched the children and the men did what they wanted to. It would have been easy for him to manage ample times of solitude to recharge.

Introverts are quiet leaders

Sadly, after his death, “the people of Israel...did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel” (Judges 8:34-35, ESV).

Talk about tossing the baby out with the bath water!

But God viewed his situation differently.

Hebrews 11 is known as “the faith chapter.” In it, the writer lists heroic Old Testament characters. These are extraordinary individuals whose stories serve as examples to encourage and challenge our own faith.

Despite his faults, Gideon makes the cut.

Along with others, such as David and Samson (both marked by glaring flaws by the way), they and Gideon are described as having “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”

The story of Gideon is a wonderful example of how God acknowledges different personality types, and in this instance showing how He deals patiently and encouragingly with an introvert.

The result was Gideon rising to the occasion as an exceptional leader.

He was not an extroverted, outgoing, charismatic, or flashy warrior. He was a quiet leader who faced a tremendous challenge successfully. He was not in it for his own glory. He was in it for the Lord’s glory, and to help his people.

Yep, introverts can be heroes, too. They may not be as visible as Gideon was in his day, but you probably know one.

Or, maybe you are one.

BlogQuestion.pngDo you agree that Gideon was an introvert? What other Bible characters would you view as introverts? Why? Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? How do you view those with the opposite personality style? Sound off in the comments!

(Originally posted at

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Canadian Tom Cochrane wrote and Rascal Flatts famously sang that, Life's like a road that you travel on” (Life Is a Highway).

Beloved American poet Robert Frost stated that, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.

John Bunyan dedicated an entire classic book to the life-journey of a man named Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress.


In Matthew 7, Jesus clearly alluded that faith is a walk by teaching that, at the beginning of our sojourn, we should, “Enter by the narrow gate....For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Through song, poem, allegorical novel, and scripture, we learn that life is a journey, a progress toward a desired destination, an adventure. Or, as Eugene Peterson might call it, “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Now, in The Road We Must Travel: A Personal Guide for Your Journey (Worthy Publishing), Peterson and 11 other writers in 18 pithy chapters offer useful tips for successfully navigating the path God lays out for us, His followers.

The articles have appeared previously in various print and online publications of the media ministry, Christianity Today, such as Leadership Journal and

The book is mapped into five sections, each opening with unifying introductions imbued with travel imagery.

Topics covered include the importance of self-assessment, being properly equipped, avoiding potholes of contamination, recovering from wrecks, working through conflicts with fellow travelers, getting proper rest and tune-ups, mentoring those new to the journey, and how to properly read our map (aka the Bible) spiritually.

Knowing our path can be muddy, full of rocks, pockmarked with potholes, making the trek feel like an exhausting slog, a favorite, thought-provoking quote (“If you do not go to your grave in confusion, you will not go to your grave trusting. Explanations are a substitute for trust.”) comes from Tullian Tchividjian’s rumination on Job and suffering.

Tchividjian reminds us that, while the inevitable rust of grief will try to grind us to a standstill, grace is the grease and hope the fuel that ultimately propels us forward.

The book feels primarily geared toward senior pastors and others in professional ministry positions. However, lay ministers and other servers of Christ should not be deterred from discovering real value in the guidance and sound wisdom offered. After all, as fellow believers, we are all wending the same path.

This is an excellent and accessible “travel” guide for any Christian that can be read cover-to-cover or consulted as needed.I recommend it for your spiritual glove compartment or backpack to enjoy and reference when taking a break from your travels. There’s good, encouraging stuff here.

One nitpicky point is that a collection such as this usually includes brief bios of the contributors and this one, oddly, does not. While many of the writers are well-known, not all are. So, below, for your convenience, I’ve assembled brief bios for each (the number in parentheses indicates how many chapters the writer has contributed).

  • Gordon MacDonald (4) - Author, speaker, and teacher.
  • Mark Buchanan (3) - Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta.
  • Bill Hybels (2) - Founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.
  • Nathan Conrad (as told to Matt Woodley) (1) – Nathan is a pastor at Naperville (Illinois) Presbyterian Church. Matt is the Managing Editor for and pastor of Compassion Ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.
  • Francis Chan (1) - Author, pastor, and Founder and Chancellor of Eternity Bible College.
  • Eugene Peterson (1) - Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College and writer of The Message.
  • Steve May (1) - Speaker, author, and missionary living in Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • Tullian Tchividjian (1) - Senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.
  • Ruth Haley Brown (1) - Adjunct Professor of Spiritual Formation at Northern Seminary and founder of the Transforming Center.
  • Skye Jethani (1) - Managing editor of Leadership Journal.
  • Mark Labberton (1) - President and Lloyd John Ogilvie Professor of Preaching School of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.
  • Donald Sunukjian (1) - Professor of Christian Ministry and Leadership, Homiletics at the Talbot School of Theology of Biola University.

NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255): I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.



What books have you read that have been particularly helpful to your Christian walk? NOTE: This was originally posted on my blog,, which was awarded top honors for a single author blog by the Evangelical Press Association in 2012 and 2014.

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Living in Sin--Unawares

What if I told you I thought you might be living in sin? Offended and defensive, you likely would protest, “What do you mean? I’ve been faithful to my spouse, I go to church nearly every week, and I even tithe.”

If our conversation continued, you probably would add that you don’t cheat on your taxes, lie about your neighbors, or take the Lord’s name in vain.

Congratulations on all the things you are doing right, and on all the evil things you’re abstaining from. But my question remains: Are you unknowingly living in sin?

Here’s what I mean…

God reminded me recently of this amazing statement by the apostle Paul: Everything that does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

Let that sink in for a moment. It means that even if we are trying to do the right things, we’re still “living in sin” if we’re not acting in faith and relying on God. Anything we do is sin—even if it is well-meaning—if it doesn’t proceed from an active trust relationship with the Lord.

“Sin” (Greek hamartia) basically means “to miss the mark.” And that is exactly what happens every time we trust in our own abilities and insights rather than on Christ living within us (Galatians 2:20, Colossians 1:27).

You see, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Unless we’re relying on God, our attempts to be righteous will inevitably fall short, and we’ll end up with a frustrating and unfulfilling life (Romans 7).

So let me ask you again: Are you living in faith or in sin? If you are trying to live the Christian life in your own strength, you will surely fail (2 Corinthians 5:7, John 15:1-5). Positionally, you might be “the righteousness of God” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), but experientially you will be falling dreadfully short of His plan for your life.

Entire books have been written on what it means to walk by faith. But I’m convinced that genuine faith is much rarer than we commonly think. For example…

  • We’re unlikely to get much out of the Bible if we read it merely as a religious exercise, without adding faith and a life-giving relationship with the Holy Spirit.
  • Attending church because it’s the religious thing to do is much different than gathering with God’s people in expectation of life-changing miracles.
  • Paying our tithes out of obligation or fear is entirely different than sowing financial seeds into God’s kingdom with faith and expectancy.

Be honest: When was the last time you actually took a “risk” because you sensed God leading you to do something? If you’re constantly playing it safe in life, you might want to check and see if faith is having any role at all.

The rich young ruler thought he was an exceptionally holy guy (Mark 10:17-22). But despite his commendable religious deeds, it turned out that he was living in fear and unbelief—trusting in his wealth instead of in the promises of God.

I’m praying today that the Lord will expose our areas of fear and unbelief. May He show us the areas of our lives where we’re no longer operating in faith and dependence on Him. As the old hymn tells us, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

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