Monthly Archives: August 2013

“Ask Me Anything…”

cropped-outdoor-chapel-51.jpg“Ask me anything you want about my personal, private life. You can dig as deeply as you want to dig. You can probe as thoroughly as you want to probe. No question is out of bounds. So fire away.”

With those words reverberating throughout the chapel, my role for the week or weekend as a camp or conference speaker begins.

And my, oh my, do these students ask! Anything, and everything. And all the while, under their intense gaze, I try my best to answer their every question — the good, the bad, and the ugly, of which there has been much in all three categories in my 61 years — as honestly, yet discreetly and appropriately, as I possibly can. 

Why take that risk? you might wonder. Well, there is a method to my madness. My calculation is simply this: Vulnerability begets vulnerability. If I am honest with them, they will be honest with me, with their counselors, and most importantly, with God.

And they are.

My follow-up invitation to them is this: “I’ve just handed you a 3×5 card. I want you to imagine that you could ask God anything. Anything. Anything about your life, about your world, about your relationship with Him. Anything. If you could ask God anything, and know that you would get an honest answer, what would you ask?”

Of course, through the rest of the camp, I always strive to work as many answers into my talks as I can. Often, I even end up writing a new talk just to deal with a certain question if I sense that there are many in the audience wrestling with the same issue. I’ve done this for years, and it always give me a sense of the pulse of the camp, a tremendous advantage for any camp speaker.

And my, oh my, do these students ask. Anything, and everything.

Serious questions. Heartfelt questions. Difficult questions. Nearly-impossible-to-answer questions. Rarely, if ever, do I get a nonsense question. Life is just too real, too challenging, too painful for these students to waste this opportunity on the trivial.

Here is a random sample of the questions that the students asked  of God at my last camp just a few short weeks ago. A Junior High/Middle School Camp, which included some students as young as 10 and as old as 14. If they could ask God anything, they would ask Him this…

Why don’t you listen when I need your help?

Why is the world broken?

Why did you let my father molest/rape me?  (He went to prison for  this, was tried and convicted.)  I just want to know why?  I am in pain.

Why can’t I have more friends?

rejectionWho gave birth to me?  What happened to them?

If you could have prevented sin, why didn’t you?

Why is my mom a crackhead and why does she choose drugs over me?

How did Jesus feel when He was all alone, when His friends left Him?  What should I do when this happens to me?

Why is there death?

Why is life so hard?

Just a few of the over four hundred questions that I collected and compiled that week, and those are just from Page 1; I haven’t even gotten to the 2nd page yet!

It’s enough to make you cry, isn’t it?

As I wrote a moment ago, I did indeed try to answer as many of these questions as I could throughout my 9 talks that week. But even so, I only scratched the surface. And of course, my several pages of questions do not include the dozens of questions I was asked personally as I met with and talked to many of the students during their free time.

All of this to say that I have ample material to include in this blog. In the coming weeks, I will endeavor to address several of these questions here in this forum.

My hope is that these questions, and the Bible’s answers, will strike a chord (pleasant-sounding, of course) with many of my readers.

But for now, I just wanted to give you a taste of what these students are dealing with.

The next time you see a junior high or high school student flying by on a skateboard, tagging a wall with some spray paint, or acting disrespectful, pause and pray for him or her. They’re not just kids. They are people. Many of them people in pain. Many of them wrestling with some punch-to-the-gut kinds of confusing questions that in a better world they would never need to ask.

Pray for their parents (step-parents or guardians). Pray for their siblings. Pray for their teachers, counselors, youth pastors (if they have one). And pray that through the dense fog of their pain, they will begin to see the bright light of God’s hope and healing, grace and mercy, care and compassion that He longs for them to feel.Hartlandcamp

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Egypt churchesEgypt is out of control.

As the land of the Pharaohs teeters on the brink of civil war, there are many, many dear and precious people dramatically affected by the unprecedented violence. They need our prayers now more than ever before.

Just two glimpses into what life has now become in Egypt:

Dear friends, I urge you in the name of Jesus to pray for my country as this morning at 5am, the police and the Army attacked the Muslim brotherhood to kick them out from the area around our house. At the moment, there is a war on the streets. Many people have been killed and injured. Most of the cars on my street have been totally destroyed. They are trying right now to enter our building to occupy the roof. Also all over the country, north and south, the Muslim Brotherhood is burning churches and destroying houses and shops belonging to Christians. I can not describe how bad it is all over the country. As a family, my wife is with our children leading a children’s camp. She has 75 kids and they are in Alexandrea in the north. They are safe, but they can not come back as are the roads are cut off. For me, I managed to flee from the house in the early morning. We are depending on your prayers that the peace of God covers the land of Egypt. Thank you.

Then there is this short-but-stunning tweet from Phil Tuttle, the President of Walk Thru the Bible: 

Please pray for our instructors & other believers in Egypt. Many churches are being burned by Islamic radicals. #WalkThruTheBible

Please join with me in asking God’s favor and protection over His children throughout that troubled region.

 

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The “Wonder” of It All…

Guess you’re never too young to teach an old dog a new trick.

In this case, “young” refers to my fifteen-month-old granddaughter, Nora; “old dog” refers to yours truly.

This afternoon, Nora taught me something.

She and I shared an exhilarating experience together. We were at a local park, one that boasts a series of water jets shooting sky-high arrows of H2O over the heads of all the children, the liquid laughter splashing on the ground to the delightful laughs and squeals of every youngster in the place.

To put it simply, Nora LOVED IT.

Nora Water

Nora just couldn’t seem to get over the magic of a concentrated stream of water spontaneously shooting up from the ground. She delighted in the refreshing sensations — on this 90 degree day — of having her entire body drenched in the wild wetness and coolness of the spray. She looked on in amazement as individual jets suddenly and without warning turned off, only to spring back to life as if they each were a living thing. She ran through the water with reckless abandon, totally immersed (no pun intended) in the moment. 

In a word, Nora was lost in the WONDER of it all.

And I’ll admit, a part of me looked on with envy.

Nora wasn’t for a split-second encumbered with the worries of the day which tend to weigh me down. She couldn’t have cared less about a teetering economy or the latest terrorist threats. She took no time out of her fun-filled afternoon to concern herself about her health and how the unknowns of “Obamacare” might affect her physical and monetary wellbeing in the future. She wasn’t worried in the least about the unemployment rate, or her prospects of landing her dream job, or meeting and marrying her best friend and soulmate. She didn’t even consider the possibility that the Dodgers might soon blow a 5 1/2 game lead and fall out of first place in the National League West because Hanley Ramirez jammed his shoulder after tumbling over a concrete wall while catching a foul ball in the cozy confines of Wrigley Field.

Nora just lived in the moment, singularly focused on the wonders of the world around her. Wonders worthy to behold. And in that moment, she knew no fear. She didn’t have to. I, along with her parents and my dear wife, were there watching over her. In that moment, she felt free to embrace the joys of the wonderment she was experiencing.

Something that thrilled my heart no end, because to some degree I was able to provide that for her.

Frankly, I rue the day when she will wake up a full-grown adult focused on the problems — the stresses and the strains — that life has become for most of us.

On that future day, I will be sad. Sad that she has lost something. Something precious. Something priceless.

She will have lost the wonder of it all.

I will be sad because it is a big wide world out there, filled with wonders that, even as an adult, she will have yet to experience. Sad because there is no reason that she, nor I, nor you, nor any of us must lose the wonder of it all.

Losing the wonder of it all was my own choice. A choice I didn’t have to make. A choice I never purposed to make. But a choice I made, nonetheless.

But, thankfully, a choice I can reverse. And so can you.

So with all of this talk about how exhilarated I was this afternoon to witness the exhilaration of my precious little Nora… and my lament at her someday losing the wonder of it all… and the sadness that I will feel if/when that day comes…

Do you suppose that every time I fail to see the wonder in the white puffy clouds floating across a powder-blue sky, the whistle of the wind as the leaves of our many trees kiss each other, the purr of a cat, the twitch of my little puppy as he dreams of his own wonders while sleeping securely in my lap, the rapturous refrains of a melodious masterpiece, the wonder that I am alive to see and hear and experience this wonder we call “life”… 

Do you suppose that God is sad? Sad that to some degree, I have lost the wonder of it all?

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Jesus on Trial

StoningThey were ready to kill Him on the spot.

They had the motive — Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. They had the means — an inexhaustible supply of rocks. They had the opportunity — Jesus stood before them, a sitting duck for their accurately aimed stones.

In this PODCAST, you will hear Jesus on trial for His life. And in defending His life, He will call a full complement of five witnesses to testify on His behalf. A quintet of compelling witness who will leave no doubt that Jesus is exactly who He claimed to be — God Incarnate, God in the flesh.

Your faith will be bolstered, your spiritual life strengthened enormously as you listen to Jesus on Trial.

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

HAPPY LISTENING!

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All That Glitters is Not Gold.

Asaph had it all.

But he didn’t even begin to realize that.

Asaph is anything but a household name. Yet he boasted quite an impressive résumé: as David’s handpicked choir director – first in the Tabernacle and eventually in the Temple; as a prolific songwriter (twelve of his psalms are included in the Old Testament Psalter); as a prophet; and as a good role model (evidenced by the fact Asaph’s sons followed in their father’s footsteps and became Temple choir singers).

Yet, with all of that, Asaph nearly threw it all away.

Somewhere along his spiritual journey, Asaph fell prey to a sickness of the soul that infects many people of faith. At some point in his ministry, for reasons clearly spelled out in Psalm 73, Asaph became jealous of wicked people – a hideously dark disease that, if the truth be told, has at times affected me as well. 

Has it ever affected you? Let’s find out. Check out Asaph’s astonishing admission to see if you can relate.

Asaph honestly acknowledged that “I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.” To which I say, Thank God for genuinely authentic people. People whose approach to life is, “What you see is what you get.” People who are poor performers. They cannot act. They will not pretend to be anything other than what they truly are. The kinds of spiritual leaders those in the “Millennial Generation” (see my previous post) crave.

Give Asaph credit; he knew that he was in spiritual peril, about to flush his faith. But why? What threw him into such a traumatic tailspin? Keep reading.

“For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.”

There it is. The heart of the matter. Asaph compared his life of strict spiritual discipline and denial to the wanton wickedness that the undisciplined pleasure-seekers surrounding him enjoyed. And to Asaph (not to sound clichéd about it), life seemed utterly unfair.

Was he right? You be the judge: “(The wicked) seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else. They wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty.

scrooge“These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others. They boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth… Look at these wicked people – enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.”

Except that he was wrong; dead wrong. Perceptions may be reality, but not in this case. Asaph’s view of  “the wicked” was skewed from the start, something he thankfully came to realize before it was too late.

Sure, Asaph’s life wasn’t the bed of roses he might have hoped for or expected when he chose to follow God. He lamented (a polite word for whined), “Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.” Sound like anyone you know?

Fact is, life can be tough, very tough. Tough for the righteous. And tough for the wicked, no matter how hardy they might party in order to try to dull their pain with their pleasure. But in the end, it’s all just a mirage.

As Asaph clearly came to see.

Upon reflection, Asaph arrived at four profoundly insightful conclusions:

(1) Had Asaph given in to his envy of the wicked, and flushed his faith in the process, he would have let a lot of people down. People were watching him, just like people are watching us. Fact is, we don’t go down alone; we invariably take a lot of people down with us – people who trust us, look up to us, respect us. That was a price Asaph was not willing to pay.

(2) Payday will come some day. Sure, the “wicked” may be having the time of their lives now… for a little while. But the “passing pleasures of sin” do pass. And that’s the point. And when they do, the wicked are left holding a handful of nothing, except for a bunch of fading memories, and the crushing consequences of their foolish choices.

(3) The wicked reduce themselves to living like beasts, governed only by their carnal cravings and animal appetites. Gone is their dignity, sacrificed on the altars of their depravity. Lost is their self-respect, forfeited by their disrespect of the God who made them.

(4) (And most significantly…) If Asaph turned his back on God, he would be letting Him down — the One, the only One, who never would and never could let him down. Nothing was worth that, for Asaph or for us.

As Asaph so correctly concluded, “It is good for me to draw near to God.” Yes it is, Asaph. And you know what? It is good for us to do the same.

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