Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A New Direction

I’ve been thinking about this blog and how to make it as helpful as possible.  To be honest, I’m not sure if anyone actually reads it.  (If you do, whether you are a regular or just passing through, leave the occasional comment or send me a message and let me know what you think.)  I guess this is one of the great values of blogging—this can be just as much for me to process in a digital journal, thus making public what has often been private. 

I heard someone say once that good writers write for themselves.  And, to be honest, that’s all that I really want to be.  There are some great blogs out there.  If you want some great insights into ministry and leadership, you should really check out Jim Martin’s blog “A Place for the God Hungry.”  Interested in daily spiritual growth?  Check our Chris Altrock’s “True North” blog for his “Ten Minute Transformation” posts.  Want to read about the intersection between faith and culture?  There is probably no one better guide in the digital frontier than Josh Graves.  These are some of the blogs that I read that I find helpful, and I think you will enjoy them as well.

So, here’s what I am thinking: Instead of trying really hard to make this blog deeply profound and come with daily devotionals, I think I am going to alter course just a little.  Mondays are now going to be known as “Meditation Mondays.”  I will offer a devotional for the week that will hopefully give you some encouragement.  Wednesdays will be known as “Writing Wednesdays,” and I am going to just write.  Who knows what will come up?  It may be personal.  It may be profound.  It may be profoundly personal.  It may be personally profound.  The point is that Wednesdays will be about writing.  Then Fridays will be “Fun Fridays.”  I think the name says it all here.  It may be a movie review or a funny story.  Yet it will be within the context of faith, life and ministry.

I say this now because I will be taking the month of October off from blogging.  I am doing this to open up my blog to one of my preaching classes.  They will be posting original pieces of their own.  So, come by and say “Hi.”  I really do appreciate the support.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lessons Learned from Daniel

Note: This is an edited version of my final sermon preached at the Westmoreland Church of Christ on Sunday, 15 September 2013.

The prophetic book of Daniel is a fascinating book for a number of reasons.  There are the stories of profound faith in a secular society.  There are the apocalyptic visions that continue to plague the minds of scholars.  There are the unique historical comments that give both validity and texture to the narrative.   Yet, as is often the case with prophetic literature, we often miss the lessons related to spiritual development and leadership that are present in Daniel.  As we walk through the text, it seems to me that there are four lessons that Daniel teaches us:

1.      Take advantage of opportunities (Daniel 1-2)

Daniel and his friends were stellar young men, spiritual and political leaders in the making.  However they soon found themselves being carted across the sand to the massive capital city of the Babylonian empire.  Daniel and his friends were quickly enrolled in a leadership training program, preparing them to be governors and administrators.  Yet, part of the training meant eating food from the king’s kitchen.  This was unthinkable for Daniel and his friends.  They chose instead a kosher vegetarian diet and were ultimately judged “better than all the magicians and enchanters in [the] whole kingdom” (1:20).  As a result of his faithfulness, Daniel was granted the opportunity to interpret the king’s dream.  Daniel’s words were so pleasing that Daniel was promoted all the way up to the king’s chief advisor.  What opportunities are being presented to you that you need to take advantage of?

2.      Stand up for your convictions (Daniel 3)

How strong is your commitment to God?  It’s a question that all of us think we know the answer to.  “I would be willing to die for you,” and, “I swear that I do not know Jesus!” came from the lips of the same person.  This same man, the apostle Peter, would late write that we must be confident in our commitment so that we can answer those who challenge us about our faith (1 Peter 3:14-17).  This happened to three of Daniel’s friends.  The king set up a big statue of himself that could be seen for miles around.  When music played, everyone was to bow down and worship the statue.  Daniel’s friends, however, did not.  When questioned, they stood firm in their convictions and told the king they only worshipped God.  Upon failing to bow a second time, they were tossed into a scorching furnace.  However, an angel was sent to protect them.  When the king saw this, he asked for forgiveness from Daniel’s friends and made a proclamation that their God would be worshipped instead of the king.

3.      Endure Suffering (Daniel 6)

And while worshipping God was allowed in Babylon, it would not last forever.  Eventually a new king came to power who did not recognize Daniel’s God.  And although Daniel served this new king as faithfully as he had the previous king, he was once again forced to worship God in secret.  Well, sort of.  Some of this new king’s advisors knew that Daniel was religiously different.  They came up with a plan to remove Daniel from power.  They would propose that the king sign a decree that states that people can only worship the king (sound familiar?).  If they did not, they would be thrown into a den of hungry, angry lions (again, sound familiar?).  The new king agreed, and Daniel was arrested almost immediately.  The king’s hands were legally tied.  Daniel must die for his faith.  Yet, during the night, Daniel was protected from the lions.  When the king discovered this miracle the next morning, he proclaimed that Daniel’s God was the only true God!  Jesus said that we should count ourselves blessed when we are persecuted for our faith (Matthew 5:10-12).  It is not fun.  Yet, in enduring suffering, we proclaim our faith.

4.      Stay Faithful Until the End (Daniel 12)

The book of Daniel ends with a prolonged report from an angel that reminds the reader that “mortals are not in control of their destiny but God, who alone determines times and seasons.”[1]  This report ends, as does so much of the Old Testament writings, with a hopeful message regarding the future.  We often miss it amongst the chaos and crisis that we often see.  Yet it is there.  “Blessed are those who persevere. . . .But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days” (12:12-13).  The theme of reward and resurrection are interwoven throughout Scripture.  It is a comforting reminder that all of this stuff that we endure is worth it.  We may never face a furnace or a firing squad, yet we are still commanded to remain steadfast in our faith.

[1]C. L. Seow, Daniel, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2003), 167. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Brimstone or Love?

When Mary Shelley wrote her horror classic Frankenstein, she wrote it as a dare.  She, her husband Percy and two other friends were telling stories one evening while on vacation in Switzerland.  Up to that point, Mary had only published a collection of travel letters and was not known as a storyteller.  However, she had been suffering from a dream that had haunted her for weeks.  She told her friends of her dream as if it were a story.  She won the contest and was challenged to pen the dream into a novel.  Later Mary wrote these words about her monster and the monster he created: “What terrified me will terrify others.  I need only describe the specter that haunted my midnight pillow.”  It would be her only truly memorable writing, yet it is one that had influenced philosophy, religion, art and literature for nearly 200 years.

How do you imagine God?  H. G. Wells, the author of such science fiction novels as The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds, once said of God that “He and His hell were the nightmares of my childhood.”  Do you imagine God as a monster that haunts your dreams?  Do you imagine God sitting on the throne in Heaven waiting for you to mess up so that you can be punished for your crime?  Do see imagine God as one holding you over a cauldron of brimstone taunting you with searing pain and torment? 

Or do you imagine God who cares about you and is waiting for you to return home?  I firmly believe that many people unfortunately share Well’s concept of God or believe that God “haunts” their dreams as Frankenstein’s monster haunted Mary Shelley’s dreams.  They have missed the true nature of God.  It is true that God has rained down wrath upon those who deserved holy judgment.  For example, Genesis 19 records the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, destroying them because of their immense sin and violation of God’s sovereign reign over life.  The anonymous author of Hebrews reminds us that “our God is a consuming fire” (12:29, NRSV).  And Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Psalm 68 presents a God that makes “heads roll” and splits “the skulls of the enemy” (68:21, MSG). 

Yet, we also read of a God who offers a sacrifice to atone for the first sin (Genesis 3:21), and the aged apostle John reminds us over and over again that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, NRSV).  Remember that image of God walking around the battlefield smashing the skulls of the enemy in Psalm 68?  David sets up that grisly image with a word of praise, for he has been rescued by this warrior God who showers love on the faithful: “Blessed be the Lord—day after day he carries us along.  He’s our Savior, our God, oh yes!  He’s God-for-us, he’s God-who-saves us” (68:19-20, MSG).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


What is important to you?  All of us have values.  All of us ideas and attributes that are important to us and that provide our lives with meaning.  These values are often how we define our life mission to ourselves and how we are defined by those around us. 

How do you communicate those values to others?  In his book on digital ministry, David Bourgeois argues that “We are no longer in the broadcast era.  We are in the digital era. . . .This powerful ability to connect people as never before should draw us, as followers of Christ, to the Internet.  It is not about the latest gadget; it is about relationships.”[1]  We are more connected to each other than ever before. 

Therefore, what message are we sending when we send that text or that tweet?  When I send out a tweet, I have the opportunity to expand my influence rather than my image.  Priorities make up our “platform,” that concept that defines who we are.  Michael Hyatt argues that two of the principles of a platform are to have something to offer people and to be willing to generously give it away to others.[2]  In doing so, we will connect with more people who can, then, spread our influence.

I noticed recently that when I use a hash-tag with my tweets, I regularly use the same three.  When I use all three in a tweet, then I have probably had an epiphany (or my head popped off and flew around my office).  These three hash-tags are more than that, however; they define who I am and what I do.  And if you follow me, they will tell you what I am about:

·         #PresenceBeforeProclamation—This is who I am.  This is how I live.  You will not care how much I know until you know how much I care about you.  This is who I am.
·         #Preaching—This is what I do.  This is what I teach.  This is the channel through which I trust that God will continue to expand the borders of the Kingdom.  This is what I do.
·         #Productivity—This is what I am about.  This is how I define success.  There is an old proverb that asks how we can define a person unless he or she makes the world a better place.  This is what I am about.

What are your #priorities?  What is your platform?  What influence do you have on others?

[1]David T. Bourgeois, Ministry in the Digital Age: Strategies and Best Practices for a Post-Website World (Downers Grove, IL: Praxis/IVP Books, 2013), 18-19.

[2]Michael Hyatt, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 202-203.