Monthly Archives: May 2013

A Pastor’s Highest Calling

67959_10151334109778447_380269708_nSPOILER ALERT: Dave, if you are reading this, STOP!!! (You’re not allowed to read this until after Sunday.)  😉

This coming Sunday morning, my son, Dave, will be ordained as a pastor. I have been invited to bring to him the charge, or the challenge — an unspeakable honor and privilege.

If you had five minutes to offer one challenge to your soon-to-be senior pastor son — not so much a father-to-son chat, as a pastor-to-pastor discussion, what would you say?

THIS is what I will say. A challenge that goes far beyond pastors. A challenge that is most appropriate for EVERY.ONE.OF.US.

Dave, I cannot begin to tell you how proud your mother and I are of you. We are thrilled for you as you embark upon this new chapter of your ongoing journey. And the thought that Pastor Guy would allow me the privilege of bringing to you a brief charge, or challenge, is beyond words. Thank you, Pastor Guy, for this opportunity.

The Apostle Paul was a father-type-figure to two younger pastors by the names of Timothy and Titus. 

He had so much to tell them, that it took him a grand total of 3 letters, 13 chapters, and a full complement of 242 verses to share with them everything that was on his rather sizable heart and in his brilliant mind.

Paul had access to pages of paper, an endless supply of pens, and a whole lot of time to write it all down. I have 5 minutes. So I am going to limit my charge to the very first challenge that Paul wrote down in this trilogy of truth-filled epistles.

Since it came first, some could argue, and I will be so bold as to suggest, that this was the principle about which Paul felt most passionate. A principle that I fear we, in our evangelical circles, have been far-too-quick to forget or ignore.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, and then reminding Timothy that — despite the many problems rocking and rolling his church in Ephesus — quitting was not an option, he wrote this in 1 Timothy 1:5-6 (NLT) — “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions.”

In the words of the time-tested and trusted New American Standard Bible, “The goal of our instruction is love.”

May I humbly suggest that too many of us evangelical pastor-types have rewritten that verse to say, The goal of our instruction is sound doctrine? And that as a consequence, love has become an endangered species, even on the verge of extinction in terms of the tone and tenor of our discourse with one another?

Now let me hasten to say that I am all about sound doctrine. For over 40 years of ministry, I have been guided and goaded by one driving force in my teaching: Get the passage right.

You know me well, Dave. You know that I am haunted by the words of James 3:1, “Dear brothers, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Believe me, I understand that.”

And understanding that, I will NEVER minimize my sky-high responsibility to get the passage right. 

God help His Church, and God help this troubled and tortured world of ours, if we who handle God’s truth every single week don’t teach sound doctrine because we fail in our duty to get the passage right.

But hear this: Sound doctrine was never intended by God to be an end in itself. Sound doctrine is only the beginning of the process, not the end of the process. Sound doctrine is a means to an end. And that end is love.

Because at the end of the sermon, if we don’t love each other a little more, and love God a whole lot more, what’s the point?

I do not want, and will not be, a part of a church where, at the conclusion of the sermon, the people smugly walk away with hands-full of carefully-crafted notes of all the things they learned from the pastor that day. And who therefore think that they are some how superior to others because they have a corner on the market of truth.

Give me a church where, at the end of the sermon, its not about hands-full of notes, but rather arms full of hugs, hands full of compassion, for broken people who are just trying to get through one more day in this desperately hurting world of ours.

It’s not about listening to each other with the goal of finding out what’s wrong with each other. 

It’s not about judging or attacking or confronting someone because he or she fails to dot their theological i’s just right, or cross their doctrinal t’s the way that we think they should.

It’s not about sending forth from our church services armies of Study-Bible-brandishing “Christians” who believe that their highest God-given virtue is to correct one another because he or she disagrees with us concerning some theme of theology.

It IS about us — every one of us — internalizing the truth that we teach in a way that makes us — and the members of our flocks — humble lovers, not prideful correctors. It IS about us — every one of us — bringing hope and healing to pain-filled people, not finger-wagging, verse spewing, and Bible thumping, as we are ever on the lookout for someone to confront or correct.

When sound doctrine becomes the end in itself, rather than the means to an end — that end being love — churches, and the “Christians” within those churches, invariably become proud and judgmental. “Knowledge puffs up,” so wrote Paul. And then he quickly added, “Love builds up.”

As a pastor, I would much, much rather build people up than puff people up.

So my challenge to you, my beloved son Dave, is that you — to the very best of your God-given ability — you make sure that before you ever stand on this stage and dare to open your mouth, you do indeed get the passage right.

But then, having gotten the passage right, never, never, never forget that getting the passage right is not the end in itself. It is only the means to a far greater end. Because as Paul wrote Timothy, at the front-end of his first letter, “The purpose of your instruction is that all believers would be filled with love.”

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Who I am and How I Feel, in One Random Photo…

Summarize my life in one simple photo and it would be this:


In case you are wondering, that is a picture of my granddaughter, Nora, during her first visit to the Portland Zoo.

For one brief moment, she sort of wandered off by herself. And my dear wife, Rebecca, always at the ready to snap a photo — of which we now have hundreds!!! — caught this Kodak (Are they still in business?) Moment. An ever-so-brief moment in time, forever frozen on her cell phone.

What do you see when you look at that picture?

Know what I see? I see me.

I see someone standing all alone, a crazy world — not unlike a zoo — spinning around me. (Think about what could happen if some of the animals successfully breached some of the fences. Not to mention the human animals roaming free, some of whom — as we are often reminded — capable of committing unspeakably barbaric atrocities against other human beings.)

I see someone looking so very alone, looking so very VULNERABLE. Sucking madly on a binky to try to feel some sense of security in the midst of this hostile and dangerous place.

I see me.

You see, if you’ll permit me just a brief moment of transparent self-disclosure, there are times — more than I would like to admit — when I feel so alone. So vulnerable.

Life can be so cruel. People can be so cruel. “Christians” can be so cruel. And in the midst of the carnage of cruelty, like the little girl in the photo, Yes! I feel so alone. So vulnerable. 

Can you relate to what I’m saying?

But here’s the thing. What is not shown in that photo is that at that moment that this picture was snapped, Nora was surrounded by five individuals, standing just out of camera range. Five LOVING individuals who were watching her every move, and who were ready to rush to her rescue and to hold her close if any sort of peril were to befall her.

Surrounded by love. Just like me. And just like YOU.

Truth be told, we are not alone. We are never alone. We too are surrounded. Surrounded by God’s holy, protective angels. And surrounded by God Himself. “Where can I flee from Your presence?” the psalmist cried. Implication? He will not, nor cannot, ever be removed from God’s blessed presence. My question to the Psalmist, Why would you want to (flee from God’s presence)? I don’t. I can’t. Most importantly: I WON’T. EVER. BE. SEPARATED. FROM. GOD’S. PRESENCE.

And neither will you.

The point is, camera’s do lie. Nora was not alone. Nora was never alone. Even though in the photo she looks all alone. Even though at the moment my wife took the picture, she might have felt all alone.

Vulnerable, but never alone.

Just like me. And just like you.

For God has made this promise to me, and to YOU, one to which I cling often: “I will never leave you. I will never abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5).

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A Pain Unlike Any Other


REJECTION: Have you ever felt its pain?

REJECTION: A word loaded with searing memories, deep scars, and jaded emotions.

REJECTION: Is there anything more painful than rejection?

REJECTION: Is there anything more devastating than loving someone who who spurns your love?

REJECTION: I can hardly bring myself to say the word sometimes. 

May I get personal with you for a moment? May I have your permission to ask, Have you ever felt the betrayal of rejection? Have you ever loved someone or someones, only to have him/her/they walk out of your life, perhaps forever? Have you ever loved, only to have your love spurned? Loved with what the poet might call an unrequited love?

Trust me: You are not alone. As you will be both reminded, and comforted, by clicking HERE.

Welcome to a day in the life of Jesus. No Saturday in recorded history ever began so wondrously. And no Saturday in history ever ended so tragically.

And no Saturday in recorded history has ever had so much to say to so many of us, including you. And even including others about whom who care so much.

May these simple words, offered in humility, be a continual blessing in your life. 

Please note that depending upon your web browser, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

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Shalom! Shalom!

I make people cry. 

It’s a gift.

It seems like all I have to do is to walk up to someone and simply say, “Hi!”and then watch as he or she BURSTS INTO TEARS. 

Tell you what. After awhile, that does something to you. 

Know what it does to me? FREAKS.ME.OUT!

This is but an indication of what life has become in our wobbly world. People who are desperate, struggling just to hold themselves and their families together. People who are in pain. People who are one sincere “Hi!” away from bursting into tears. 

Precious people in need of God’s peace! And we can give it to them!

That’s where this whole idea of what Jesus called “peacemakers” comes in.“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). A “peace-maker.” Someone who brings a sense of God’s peace to other peoples’ lives.

Jesus even pronounced a special blessing on those who bring His peace to others. Namely, “They will be called the children of God” — a pretty lofty title, one that conveys the soaring reality that from God’s point of view there is no greater calling.

Come with me to Israel and you will hear the word Shalom used repeatedly, endlessly, upon every encounter with every person you meet. They say it when they greet you: Shalom! They say it when they depart from you: Shalom! And when they truly want to confer upon you God’s peace, they double the blessing: Shalom! Shalom!

As I think about this, maybe instead of greeting each other with an utterly insincere, “Hi. How are you?” we could start a new trend by greeting each other with a truly sincere, two-word Hebrew blessing: “Shalom! Shalom!”

I know of one apostle who would agree. Every one of Paul’s 13 New Testament letters begins with the words, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Shalom! Shalom!

Peace. When you think of  peace, think of the pieces of the puzzles of our lives coming together to form a grand and glorious masterpiece, one that depicts a soothing scene of rest and repose. Think of all of the discordant notes in our lives somehow coming together in perfect harmony, resulting a symphony of serenity. 

By God’s touch of peace, He transforms our brokenness into beauty, our questions and confusion into a quiet composure, the parched desert of our distress into a cool oasis of refreshment. A calming contentment that floods our souls. His peace that no one can completely understand… His peace that controls the way we think and feel (Philippians 4:7).

By way of contrast, what is the opposite? You know the answer: Chaos, pandemonium, upheaval, tumult, conflict (within ourselves or with others), turmoil, confusion, distress, disorder, uncertainty, insecurity, fear, stress, anxiety, depression – the stuff that makes people cry when all I do is to say to them, “Hi.” 

The thing of it is, bringing a little peace to people is not that hard to do. It takes very little time, just a smidgeon of effort, and zero money. All it takes is a smile, a word of encouragement, a note of comfort, an email of thanks, a text message of love, a Facebook message that says, “I thank God for you.” A gift, a card, a phone call just to see how someone is doing. A heartfelt hug when a person you care about cries.

OK, be honest with me now. Did you, or I, do any of these simple (or similar) things for anyone today? Did you, or I, bring peace or discord into the lives of the people with whom we interacted today? Because the raw reality is, we did indeed bring one or the other.

Shalom! Shalom!

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Exclusively Inclusive

I am about to get myself into big trouble with my more — shall we say — theologically conservative brethren. Curious thing though: I really don’t care.

Since nothing any writer or speaker writes or says comes out of a vacuum, let me begin by telling you from where these thoughts are coming.

Almost exactly one month ago, Matthew Warren, son of mega-pastor, bestselling author Rick Warren, took his own life. I blogged about it. And when I did, I began those thoughts with this statement (if I may be so narcissistic as to quote myself): “Rick Warren’s youngest son, Matthew, went to Heaven on Friday night — tragically killed by his own hand.”

An avalanche of responses resulted, most of which I approved for publication as comments to my blog entry, but many of which I did not.

The ones I did not approve all basically said the exact same thing: How can you say that he went to Heaven when the Bible says that he went to Hell? Yet, curiously, of the spate of Scriptures offered by my many respondents to prove their point — that suicide is a one way ticket to Hell — none (as in, not one single solitary verse) addressed, let alone contradicted, my opening comment. Quite the opposite. No one made a compelling, let alone convincing, argument that suicide is the unpardonable sin. Because you know what? It isn’t. NOT so says Dewey, No! So says Jesus!!! According to Matthew 12, there is only one unforgivable sin. And guess what? It ain’t suicide.

By every measure, Matthew Warren loved the Lord, served the Lord, worshipped the Lord, and heroically battled his demons of depression. I have no doubt that I will meet him in Heaven. If fact, as a depression sufferer and survivor myself, I look forward to it. We’ll have many-a-story to swap, I am sure.

But this is not a post about suicide. It is a post about God.

And the theme of this post, the central thought, the major thrust, the takeaway of this blog post is this: While many of our ilk sound as if we look for every reason to exclude people (as far as Heaven is concerned), it is the character of God to look for every reason to include people. (Reread that sentence please. And as the psalmist so often likes to say, Selah — pause and prayerfully ponder that.)

Or to put it another way, while many of our evangelical ilk pride ourselves on being exclusive — You know, the old “Us four and no more.” (“And frankly, I’m not sure about the three of you.” Ahem.) — God is exclusively inclusive.

Not quite sure about that? Then check this out. One of the most dramatically moving scenes in all of the Bible. A picture, a Scriptural snapshot of our God who demonstratively declares that He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

A God who readily admits, “I drown in grief. I am heartsick”… because of “the cry of my dear people reverberating through the country” (Jeremiah 8:18-19). Never mind that God’s “dear people” were in an unrepentant state of rebellion against their God at the time that that was written.

A Jesus who “wept” as He looked over the city He loved and a people He loved. Who convulsively cried because of the suffering they were about to experience, even though they were only days away from nailing Him to a cross.

Here’s the picture, found in Revelation 20. This is how the Bible ends, one last lingering image of God: “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books… And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

Do you see there what I see there?

This is the picture of God as Judge presiding over a throne-room-turned-courtroom. Where all of the dead of all time who have rejected Jesus – His amazing grace, His matchless mercy, His absolute forgiveness, His free offer of a glorious salvation, His priceless sacrifice, His shed blood, His unconditional and boundless love – are assembled. Standing before the God of the Universe, they are guilty as charged. Deserving of God’s judgment. Having broken God’s laws. Just like us.

But God takes no delight in their inexorable demise. Unlike us, having rejected His offer of an unconditional pardon and a suspended sentence — His own Son having paid their penalty in their place — God is left with no alternatives.

Fact is: God loves them too much to force His love on them.

Fact is: God loves them too much to force them against their wills to live with Him forever.

Fact is: God knows that to drag them kicking and screaming into Heaven would make Heaven a Hell for them.

So fact is: They leave God with no other options.

Yet, God demurs. He recoils from the task at hand. He hesitates before pronouncing their deserved and, I might add, desired judgment. 

The evidence has been presented. It is all there for all to see. Exhibits A, B, and C, recorded in the “books,” now become a part of the official record. Damning testimony that has been admitted into evidence before the just Judge of the Universe.

And still, before lowering His gavel, torn between His righteous justice and His boundless love, God desperately orders one more book to be opened, the “Book of Life.” The book that records the names of every one of us who did indeed say “Yes” to, and humbly received, God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness — the salvation purchased by the blood of His only begotten Son.

This book is opened, its pages are searched — all the while God hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe, perhaps, somehow on some day each individual standing before Him now did indeed turn to the Savior and pray a simple, yet sincere prayer: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” 

But if his or her name is not found written in that book – the “Book of Life” – God’s hand is forced. His judgment is rendered. His justice is fulfilled. His wrath is decreed.


Yes, it’s true. While some of us Christians talk and act as though we are in the exclusion business, God is and ever shall be in the inclusion business. To which I shout, Hallelujah!

Let’s thank God together that He, by His nature, by His grace, by His mercy, by His love, and by the sacrifice of His own Son, chose to include us!

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Want to Know the Heart of God? Look Where You Least Expect It

Have you ever wanted to know the heart of God? I mean to really, truly know it – deep down where it counts, in the hidden depths of your sizable soul? To know what He thinks, what He feels, what He experiences every day of His life?

I have. And the answer came from the unlikeliest of places.

For the longest time, the picture of Jesus that dominated my thoughts was that of a happy-go-lucky, spirited young man sprinting through the countryside with a smile on His face and a spring in His step. A man beaming with blazing optimism, brimming with boundless joy. A guy on top of the world. Because, after all, He created the world. He owned it. So of course, He lived to enjoy it.

But try as I might, I could not find that Jesus in the New Testament. Nor, for that matter, did He appear in the Old.

In his place, I discovered a very troubled Jesus. Someone who bore the weight of the world on His sagging shoulders. Someone who every day encountered everyday people – people just like you and just like me. People whose challenges seemed overwhelming. People whose difficulties were difficult even for the Son of God to understand.

The deeper I dug into the Scriptures, the more this alternate picture of a melancholy Jesus began to emerge. The Jesus about whom it was written, “He was hated and rejected; his life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering” (Isaiah 53:3 CEV).

That didn’t sound very happy-go-lucky to me.

“He suffered and endured great pain for us” (Isaiah 53:4 CEV). An intense, unrelenting suffering that He carried not only during His trials and crucifixion, but throughout His life and His ministry as well.

For instance, did you know that Jesus apparently lost His adoptive dad, Joseph, at a relatively young age, and was therefore raised by His single mom, Mary? While this desperate situation doesn’t get a lot of press, we do get a glimpse into Jesus’ household when He stopped dying on the cross just long enough to assign to John the care of His beloved mom. Add to that that Jesus’ brothers all rejected Him. His enemies hounded Him. Even His disciples deserted Him. None of which makes for a spirited young man to my way of thinking.

“He was wounded and crushed because of our sins” (Isaiah 53:5 CEV). Wounded and crushed don’t sound like the attributes of someone sprinting through the countryside to me.

How about a smile on His face with a spring in His step? I don’t think so. Not when I read, “He was painfully abused, but he did not complain. He was silent like a lamb being led to the butcher” (Isaiah 53:7 CEV).

“Who could have imagined what would happen to him?” Isaiah asked, as a thoroughly appropriate, if unsettling, question. 

Who could have imagined the unimaginable? Who would have anticipated the unthinkable? Who should have expected the unexplainable?

There is a reason we read in the Gospels that “Jesus wept.” Yet, nowhere do we read that Jesus laughed. Think about that for a minute. A smile on His face? A spring in His step? Guess again. 

This theme, the seeds of which are planted in the Old Testament, comes into full bloom in the New, with such confessions such as this: “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”

Yes, Jesus admitted that in Matthew 26.

Rather than beam with blazing optimism, Jesus daily discovered the depths of despair that darkened the souls of the people He loved. And this all-pervading sadness clouded His countenance with heart-rending compassion and never-ending concern.

There is a reason that Isaiah made a point to highlight the raw reality that Jesus’ “life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering.”

Gaze into His eyes and I think we’d see much more dejection than delight. 

All of which means this: Our worst times might be our best times to know, to experience, to feel the heart of God.

Yes, it’s true. There are some lessons, perhaps our most profound lessons, that can only be learned in the classroom of personal pain. 

So much so that you can take this to the bank: Our worst times might indeed be our best times…

Our darkest days might indeed be our brightest opportunities… 

…to truly know, to genuinely experience, to actually feel the heart of God.

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