Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Brokeness Speaks

Ministry is not about what I can do for you, but sharing from what Christ is doing in me. I love this quote from Ian Cron's book Chasing Francis.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Elections That Matter: Why My Second Grader's Campaign for Presidency Matters to You

Today my second-grader runs for President...of his class. He told my wife this morning, "I can't wait to vote for myself!" As part of the campaign process he will give a speech in front of his class. No big deal, right? Not for me. I love giving speeches. It makes me feel alive, but Pierson has a speech impediment. Speech Pathologists have worked with him since the age of three because all he ever said was, "Bagaw" (Yep, kind of like a bird). A few years ago he tested in the 1% for kids his age. He has come a long way but there is more work to be done, and he does work.

I don't want you to feel sorry for him because he doesn't feel sorry for himself. In fact, he does not even seem aware of how his talking troubles might affect his second-grade oration. He is not afraid, but eager and excited. Part of his lack of hesitancy is just Pierson. He is that way...tenacious, courageous, optimistic and eager. But more of it is that people speak value and confidence into his person. Grandparents, people at Church, his mother, teachers, therapists and even his brothers encourage him, root for him, build him up, celebrate his victories, and cheer him on. They speak words of strength and courage and he believes them. His impediment does not define him, your love does. This is the power of YOUR words!

Pierson may not win the Second Grade Presidency today. I don't really care because he has already won! Today, I celebrate not election results but people who build up my son.  I pray he never loses the courage, the eagerness, and the hopefulness he shows today. As my wife said, "I wish I could be a fly on the classroom wall!" He's got my vote!

[He recently told me he wants to be a preacher so he can tell people about God! That is the majesty of God, taking a kid with a speech impediment and using him to declare his glory. That's what God does!]

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Hey friends! I've entered a new blogging endeavor called AfterWORDS. Although I will continue to post here at charltontaylor, it will be less frequent. I'm giving more attention and time to AfterWORDS because it fulfills a specific ministry purpose: to keep the Sunday message fresh, alive and practical. Weekly AfterWORDS' posts build on the previous Sunday's message and offer an audio link to the message. If you have enjoyed this blog, I would encourage you to give AfterWORDS a try. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 3, 2013


This is my favorite scene in all of media this year! It makes me go, "Ye-Ah! Let's do this!" 


That's all!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

K-Dawg Devo: Guest Blog Post (My 12-Year-Old Son)

Twice a month the TYM (Trenton Youth Ministry) gathers for Momentum- a Sunday evening with food, relationships and a devotional. Several weeks ago, one of the group leaders reported that my 12-year-old (7th grader) asked if he could lead the next Momentum devotional. I hadn't put him up to it. He is not an out-front-draw-attention-to-himself kind of kid. He is a thinker, a reader, a gamer. There was only one reason he would ask to share from God's word...God had convicted him with a message.  He has given me permission to share. This is his message as he wrote it. My comments are in purple.

I'm proud of my son simply because he is my son, but I'm also proud because I see God at work in his heart.

Reaching the Lost

Intro: Before I begin talking, I need three volunteers who can read well and they also need to have a bible with them. First _________, you will need to look up Matthew 28:18-20. _________, you can look up John 4:39-42. Finally, _________ (He is leaving space to insert it) will look up Acts 2:41. Okay, as they are looking that up, I will ask you a question. How many people do you think you can change? The reason why I asked that is because this devo is about reaching the lost.

Passage 1: I know some of you want to do something huge for God. Yet, you think you are too young to help. However, there is a simple way to help God's kingdom and it is to reach the lost. You can go into your schools and tell people about Jesus. We will get into that more later. As I was saying, you can make a difference! I know a scripture that can show you what believers can do, if we tell people about Christ.  Before I have _________ read John 4:39-42, I need to tell you the context because context is very important (I say that a lot when I preach). Jesus is walking on the way to Galilee and he must go through Samaria. The Bible actually says he has to go through Samaria. If you knew geography back then, then you would know he could actually take 2 different paths, but he has to go through Samaria. Then he meets a woman and asks her for water. The woman asks Jesus why a Jew is asking a Samaritan for water. Then they start a conversation and Jesus tells the woman one part of her past. Soon enough the woman finds out he is the messiah and that is where the story picks up. ________, read John 4:39-42.

39 Many of the Samaritans from the town of Sychar believed in Jesus. They believed because of the woman’s witness. She said, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.”
40 Then the Samaritans came to him and tried to get him to stay with them. So he stayed two days. 41 Because of his words, many more people became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said. We have now heard for ourselves. We know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

As you can see from the scripture, the woman got many people from the town to see Jesus. Jesus then saved almost the whole town! This is why Jesus had to go through Samaria; he needed to save the town! There is also one more thing. Her testimony wasn't accurate. She said, "He told me everything I ever did." That is not true! Jesus only told her one sin she had. You don't need to know much. You only need to know that Jesus Christ is the son of God, he died to save us, and he isn't dead anymore!  (This is his interpretation without any help from commentaries or me. I love the insight he offers. He definitely presents a close reading of the text). Therefore, if one person can save a town with little information, then what can TYM do with 5 times as much information?

Transition 1: Jesus wants us to reach the lost, as you can see. He tells us how to do that in Matthew 28:18-20.

Passage 2: Before I want ________ to read Matthew 28:18-20, you need to hear the context again. Jesus has just risen from the dead and is about to rise up to heaven. He gathers his 11 disciples together to watch him ascend. This is his final command. ________, read Matthew 28:18-20.

18 Then Jesus came to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 So you must go and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And you can be sure that I am always with you, to the very end.”

Jesus' last command to his disciples was to reach the lost. This is what the church was built for, telling people about Jesus. Jesus once said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick." We must be able to reach the lost. How are we able to do that? We go into the nations and make disciples. As teens today, it might be a little hard to go into the nations, so I have an idea. We should go into our schools and make disciples. It may be a little scary or frightening but we can change people.

Transition 2: Think about how many people we could change if we just tried. Peter, who denied Jesus, changed many people.

Passage 3: ________, before I want you to read Acts 2;41, I need to again tell you the context of the story. Many of the disciples had just received the Holy Spirit, talking in tongues and whatnot (Yeah, and "whatnot"). Then Peter steps up to the stage and explains everything that happened. This passage shows how any people were saved. _________, read Acts 2:41.

4Those who accepted his message were baptized. About 3,000 people joined the believers that day.
This sermon was only a month from when he denied Jesus. If Peter, who just denied Jesus a month ago, can save 3000 people, what could Jesus followers today do?

Transition 3: I know TYM could change Detroit for the better. My mission is to reach those who are far from God.

Point 4: I have not told anyone this, but I think God is calling me to reach the lost. For those who don't know, I was baptized May 27, 2012. For the first 7 months, I was praying for a mission (He never told me he was praying for a mission. I love how God is at work in his heart). Then in January, God started speaking to me. Not in my head, but through other things (He is C of C and doesn't want you to think he is too charismatic...haha). I realized in May that God wanted me to tell people about him. However, I was too scared and I couldn't do it. God didn't stop there, however. He kept leading me and this video made me turn around and accept the mission.

Watch Video HERE.

Isn't that amazing? If everyone in the group did that, then 1,073,741,824 people would be committed to Christ. That, not the sermon, changed my point of view. Now, I am happy to announce that I will pledge to change one person every 30 years.

Conclusion: I would like for some other people to try to do this too. If we each did this we could change the world! As you can see, Jesus calls us to reach the lost. There is but one question.
 Will you accept his call?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Once Upon A Time

This summer I taught a message series entitled Once Upon a Time, four words that alert you of an impending story. The series explored various parables of Jesus. Although his stories were deeply engaging, Jesus did not tell them to entertain. His purpose wasn't to inform. Jesus told stories to change the way his hearers saw Life and by Life I mean, "the essence of existence." In each parable, Christ adjusts the way you see God, the world, yourself, and his Kingdom. If you pay close attention to what he says, (if you have ears to hear and eyes to see) the scales will start to crumble from your eyes and you will begin to see the world as Jesus sees. In each message I offer a Perception Alteration: one way Jesus wants to adjust your vision. I restate the 12 Perception Alterations in this post. If any of them peak your interest you can find the entire messages HERE.

"...There was a Treasure" (Matt. 13:44-46)
Perception Alteration: The only "good life" is "God's life."

"...There was a Net" (Matt. 13:47-52)
Perception Alteration: The presence of evil does not mean the absence of God, his love, or his power.

"...There was a Slave" (Matt. 18:21-35)
Perception Alteration: Forgiveness is not a religious practice; it is part of the Christian DNA.

"...There were Two Boys" (Matt. 21:28-32)
Perception Alteration: It's never too late to follow Jesus.

"...There were Renters" (Matt. 21:33-46)
Perception Alteration: Jesus did not come to save you from hell but to make you into a certain kind of person.

"...There was a Banquet" (Matt. 21:33-46)
Perception Alteration: The Kingdom of God extends an open invitation with high expectations.

"...The Master Took a Journey" (Mat. 21:33-46)
Perception Alteration: You do not simply belong to the Kingdom of God; you participate in it.

"...A Man was Beaten" (Luke 10:25-37)
Perception Alteration: God calls his followers to BE the neighbor.

"...There was a Party" (Luke 15:1-32)
Perception Alteration: Jesus calls his followers to engage the world rather than protect themselves from it.

"...There was a Clever Manager" (Luke 16:1-14)
Perception Alteration: Invest the temporal in the eternal.

"...There was a Persistent Widow" (Luke 18:1-8)
Perception Alteration: Live in the present as if it is the future.

"...There were Two Prayers" (Luke 18:9-14)
Perception Alteration: Being right with God is not about getting it right.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Samaritization: Jericho to Metro Detroit

Perhaps Mr. Rogers had it right...sporting the cardigan before Hipster was hip and singing about neighborliness.

A couple of weeks ago while sitting in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport awaiting my return flight to the Motor City (Wadup Detroit!?), I cracked open the gospel of Luke and began reading the story of the Good Samaritan. As I read the words of Jesus, I was struck again, at how relevant his teachings remain after 2000 years.

Jesus launches into his Good Samaritan tale as a response to the question: Who is my neighbor? A never more relevant question. To my left sat an African-American couple. To my right an Eastern Indian family laughed together. A Vietnamese group stood at the ticket counter awaiting some information, and I overheard some people behind me speaking Spanish.  Oh yes, and there was this Caucasian guy reading his Bible (Bible Thumper!). Good question, "Who exactly IS my neighbor?"

Not only was I about to board an eclectic plane ride home, but it was the same week the media broadcasted the George Zimmerman verdict - a trial fueled by an incident that wreaks with the question, Who is my neighbor?

The Good Samaritan is as relevant today as it ever was...Who is my neighbor?

Jesus answers the question in his typical genius style. He lures you into the story, gets you looking to the right and then out of nowhere he comes at you with a hard left: SMACK! In this short story, Jesus lets his audience know that Who is my neighbor? is the wrong question. It draws boundaries, it's exclusive, it seeks to determine who is "In" and who is "Out," and it nurtures discriminatory love. Jesus uses the story to make the point, "Quit wasting your time trying to figure out who is your neighbor and just BE A NEIGHBOR!"

Who is my neighbor spends time drawing boundaries; being a neighbor spends time finding ways over, through, under, or around boundaries. Being a neighbor wakes up everyday and asks, "How can I extend love to everyone I meet today?" Who is my neighbor asks, "Who should I give my love to today?" Who is my neighbor says, "I don't get those people!" Being a neighbor asks, "How can I understand those people?" Who is my neighbor thrives on"Us" and "Them." Being a neighbor only knows "Us."

Okay, so we are clear. Jesus wants his followers to be a neighbor, but how do you be a neighbor? The story of The Good Samaritan not only challenges you to be a neighbor but it provides a practical approach to neighborliness.

In the story, thieves beat a man and leave him to die. A priest passes by and offers no help. A Levite does the same and then the Samaritan comes along and...

When he SAW the man, he FELT SORRY for him.  He WENT to him, poured olive oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them. (Luke 10:33b-34a)

The actions of the Samaritan provide us with a Neighbor Template: 

1.  "He saw:" Be Aware of Those Around You. The first thing he does is see. You can never offer help or extend loving-kindness if you are not aware of what is going on in people's lives. Many of us fail to stop and help the nearly dead guy on the side of the road, not because we don't care, but because we never see him. We never see him because we are too focused on our destination. We never see him because we walk down the road staring at our iPhone calendar. We never see him because we don't travel by road. Our schedules demand we fly.

If you want to be a neighbor, you must slow down enough to see. Have you slowed down enough to know what is going on in your coworker's life? In your neighbor's? In the Starbuck's barrista who always takes your order? To realize there is a kid in your child's class who has a rough home life? To notice that your child's teacher is struggling? Have you slowed down enough to even be aware of the needs of the person in the church pew next to you?

If you want to be a neighbor, you have to see.

2.  "Felt Sorry:" Resonate with the Pain of Others. Seeing is not enough. Both the priest and Levite saw the man and yet did nothing. The Samaritan acted because he "felt sorry" for the man. He had compassion. Compassion is different than pity. Pity is to feel bad for someone but compassion is pity that drives you to action. If you have ever watched television after midnight you likely have come across the commercial with animals in gutters, under old wooden crates, hiding under boxes, and piercing you with their giant puppy-dog eyes. Inevitably some Willie Nelson song is playing in the background. Likely, you will feel pity as you finish off your bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos, but you probably won't go out to the animal shelter the next day and adopt a zoo. The Samaritan felt more than pity. He had compassion. If you want to be a neighbor you need compassion.

3. "He went:" Moving Toward. I think most of us stop with pity. We discover a need; we become aware of situation; we see the dying man on the road and we feel horrible about it, but then we never "move toward." Yes, the Samaritan saw. Yes, he felt sorry for the guy, but it was the fact that he moved toward him that made a difference.

How many problems in our world could be solved with the simple act of moving toward rather than away from? How many marriages could be saved? How many wars would never start? How many friendships rekindled? How many acts of violence never initiated? How much hatred curbed? How much ignorance enlightened? How much woundedness healed? 

The key to making a difference? The key to seeing the dying revived? Move toward...

Maybe Mr. Rogers did not have it all right. Perhaps he should have changed his lyrics..."Let me be your neighbor!"

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Smells Like Vienna Sausage: A Mini Adventure

On July 25-27, I packed up the backpack and headed north to hike the HCP (High Country Pathway), an 80 mile loop in the northern part of lower Michigan.

The HCP trail head. The beginning and the end!
Everyone has to carry their own stuff. Well, that's the idea! That lasted about 12 miles. My dog ended up limping so I got to carry his dog food!
Lunch stop on Day 2. This chair was just waiting for me!
Dinner stop Day 2. It was perfect! Wish I could have stayed but had another 6-9 miles to go!

Lunch stop Day 3. Highest point of hike! Beautiful!
Free thought we were staying - WRONG!
Free food in free shelter, if you like rice from June 2012.
Black River
The sun greeting me on Day 2.
A town once lived here.
God is the best artist!
Came upon the remains of an old forest fire. Still looked aflame!
God continues to amaze me.
Do you see the trail? It's there...underneath.

Lots of water in Michigan!
This was supposed to be the "Man Hike" picture but I ended up looking like an old turtle.

Lots of marshlands...a.k.a., swamp!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Gospel as a Pistol: A Confession

In the third season of Prison Break (2005-2009 Fox television series), the main protagonist finds himself locked-up in a ruthless South American prison, a prison so dangerous guards refuse to serve inside the walls. Instead, military sharpshooters, crouched on watchtowers, "take out" anyone attempting an escape. Periodically, military convoys drop off food within the prison walls but what happens inside is much like Vegas: what happens there stays there. As a result, the prisoners developed their own system of government, one that is a far cry from democracy. It's a dictatorship. The "baddest hombre" gets to call the shots.

In one of the episodes, a subordinate manages to acquire a pistol. In a community where shivs are atop the weapon pyramid, a pistol means one thing: POWER! With gun hand, the inmate must decide how he will leverage this new acquired power...create equality, democracy, justice or seize the opportunity to get on top. Whether you've seen the series or not, you know the answer. He removes the current dictator from power and assumes his "throne."

Human nature tends to leverage instruments of power for self-gain - including the gospel!

A couple of weeks ago I ran into the social media hubbub surrounding a letter from a Senior Pastor in Houston, TX. Take a look:

I felt disgust when I first read this letter, "How could a pastor prey upon believers by leveraging the influential power of the gospel? How could he use it for his own personal gain at the expense of his congregation?" I was angry!

But then, as God often does, he shoved my anger and disgust in my face! The gospel is powerful. It fuels hope. It promises that evil will not have the last word. It speaks to the deep recesses of the human heart. It persuades. It convicts. It transform. It changes individual lives. It changes communities. It has left a lasting legacy on the world. It is powerful, but as is often the case, we I leverage the gospel for personal gain.

No, we don't have an Aviation Department at TCOC. We don't even have a bathroom in our Teen Center...but we have a Teen Center (you get the idea). Honestly, I do not struggle with leveraging the gospel for money. Money annoys me (although I do like having it). But I AM guilty of leveraging the gospel for personal gain. Confession time:
  • I have leveraged the gospel to boost a ministry career.
  • I have leveraged the gospel to try and build a "fan base" for my preaching.
  • I have leveraged the gospel to foster a respectable reputation.
  • I have leveraged the gospel to secure employment. 
  • I have leveraged the gospel in search of notoriety.
Fortunately, but in the most unfortunate of manners, I detonated a nuclear bomb on all of my gospel-exploited ventures. That does not make me immune from gospel exploitation. I still plead guilty (nearly daily), but it has given me a greater awareness of those moments when I do leverage the power of the gospel for self-gain.

Bishop Hilliard's exploitation of the gospel might be easier to see, but I am guilty of the same crime.  I struggle daily to leverage the gospel for the Kingdom of God rather than for personal gain. Perhaps you do too.

My prayer is something I tweeted recently: God, I want to close the gap between my desire for the Kingdom of God and my understanding of it.  I have studied and dissected the Kingdom of God. I believe I have a decent grasp on what the Kingdom looks like. I pray that my desire for God's Kingdom match my current understanding of it. I invite you to pray this prayer with me so that we might leverage the gospel for God and God alone!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Call Me Jonah: Reflections After a Year of Re-preaching

Just over a year ago, God resurrected my preaching ministry. Before he did, I had to find peace in never preaching again, and so 18 months ago I gave up on my preaching dream.  In that moment of surrender God said, "My broken, failed child, I think you are finally ready to begin to learn to preach." God put the Trenton Church of Christ in my path, an authentic and grace-filled community who managed to see Jesus in my scars when so many others only saw disfigurement. I am so grateful for this amazing church and their invitation to preach again. THANK YOU, TCOC!

I also have to thank Tim Woodroof, who saw Jesus in the mess. I heard Jesus calling me back to ministry through his gentle and honest words. Thanks Tim!

I have so much to learn and so much to change, but after my first year back I want to share a little of what I have learned, some things I do differently, and some things I try to practice.
  1. Every Sunday I am aware that I preach from God's grace and not ability, education, or experience.  It is a gift.
  2. I try daily to choose HOPE over CYNICISM. Churches can make you cynical and I know many ministers who are. I was one.
  3. I see Jesus in and owe my ministry to church members who work 40+ hour weeks at their regular jobs but then give their passion, time, and energy to the Church. They are the lifeblood of the Church, and TCOC has an amazing team of "owners" (rather than "members").
  4. I take Fridays off, and I mean completely off: no Twitter, no Facebook, no texting, no checking emails, no answering the phone. I try not to think or talk "Church." It breathes life into my soul.
  5. I give my time to people who are hungry for Jesus, new to faith, and have skin in the game rather than those who simply sit back, complain and object.
  6. I am learning that I tend to underestimate the power of preaching but overestimate my importance to it.
  7. Fridates! WIN! With the three boys in school, Mary Beth and I take Friday mornings to date each other. And yes, I still try to make-out with her every chance I can get. It has been wonderful for our marriage.
  8. Life is so much more than ministry.
  9. People are not as bad as we often make them out to be and not as good as they pretend to be.
  10. Be like a duck. There is a lot of water in ministry and if you don't let it roll, you will drown.
  11. I'm more convinced than ever that the Gospel really is good news and people do want to hear it.
And Jesus said, "Feed my lambs..."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lessons from a Prostitue (Part III): When Good is Bad

This is the third part of series on Rahab and what she teaches us about goodness and faith. You can read Part I (HERE) and Part II (HERE). Thus far in the "Lessons from a Prostitute" series, I've unpacked two main thoughts:
  1. Faith rather than goodness is the foundation of your relationship with God.
  2. You will never be good enough, but a little faith is good enough.
In this post I will explore how...

Faith focuses on God but goodness focuses on you.

 If your goal is "goodness," then you tend to focus on yourself:
  • Your reputation: what others think of you.
  • Your ability: your talent, discipline and effort.
  • Your stats: keeping track of how many "right things" you do.
  • Your standing: evaluating your "goodness" as compared to the "goodness" of others.
Goodness is often self-centered but faith is always God-centered: focused on his power, his sovereignty, his love, his ability. Goodness says, "I can do this!" Faith says "God has promised to do this." In the story of Rahab, she hides enemy spies (Israelite spies) on her roof in order to make a deal with them. She saves their life hoping they will return the favor when Israel sacks Jericho. She betrays her own people to save her family's life. She is not an Israelite. She does not worship Yahweh, but she has heard about his victories, how he fights on behalf of Israel. Although Rahab has an elementary understanding of Yahweh, she puts her faith in him. Faith is simply: believing God is exactly who he says he is. As she talks with her enemy house-guests her faith comes to light:

"...the LORD your God is God in heaven above and the earth below." -Rahab

She doesn't claim Yahweh as her God, but she does acknowledge his sovereignty. She believes he is who he claims to be and as a result has confidence Yahweh will hand her city into Israel's hands, so she bargains with the enemy.

Rahab had no Intel on the Israeli army: the number of infantry, their training regiment, the sophistication of their weapons, but she was not making her decision based on the army's training or ability nor Jericho's lack thereof. Rahab acted based on what she believed about Yahweh!

Faith focuses on God but goodness focuses on you. 

But that begs the question, "Does goodness have a place in the divine-human relationship?" The short answer: absolutely. The Apostle Paul lists goodness as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Goodness is part of the Christian life but it is a byproduct of faith! Goodness is the offspring from your intimate relationship with God. As he works in you, goodness becomes a part of the fruit of your new existence, but it was never the goal.

Two dangers exist when goodness is the goal of your Christian life:
  1. BURNOUT. Chasing goodness is an act of futility. It is chasing the horizon, a dog chasing his tale, the Cubs chasing the World Series. You will never catch it. You will never be good enough, and eventually you will collapse on the floor panting in exhaustion. If you are reading this and you find yourself exhausted by the Christian life, take a step back and ask yourself what you are after. Are you striving to prove that you are good or are you chasing a God who is wholly good? Chances are you are chasing something you cannot catch.
  2. GIVING UP.  If you don't burnout, you'll give up. You will realize that goodness is unattainable and so "What's the point?" You may be reading this and have already given up. You know you are not good. You may play the church game. You attend worship services to ease your family's mind. You bring your kids because, although you are a hopeless cause, they might be young enough to have a chance. You may call yourself a Christian but go home and live as if God doesn't exist, because "What's the point? You'll never be good."
So, if you are burned out or if you have given up, there is good news. You are chasing the wrong thing. Christianity is not what you think it is. Quit chasing goodness. Stop and recalibrate your compass. Just stop. Breathe. Sit in God's presence. Sit there a long time... focuses on God!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Lessons From a Prostitute (Part II): You'll Never Be Good Enough!

Recently I started a blog series on the most popular prostitute in scripture, Rahab, and the insight her story shares regarding our notions of faith and goodness. In the first post (you can read it HERE), my main point was:

Faith rather than goodness is the foundation of your relationship with God.

Scripture commends Rahab for her faith, and here is why:

Rahab lived in Jericho, a city of The Promised Land. That's key, because Israel sat primed to pounce on Jericho as their first target. Joshua, Israel's leader, sent a couple of spies on a recon mission to Jericho. Upon entering Jericho, they headed to Rahab's home, a perfect camoflouge for a couple of Jericho's enemies. Of all city dwellings, strange men entering a prostitute's home would arouse the least amount of suspicion. Also, Rahab lived in the city wall. The window to her house opened to the escape route. Why Rahab? It was a strategic move.

While the spies were hiding out at the prostitute's, informants advise the King of Jericho on the spies arrival and whereabouts. He sends S.W.A.T. to drag the spies out of Rahab's home for a game of Truth or Torture. As the soldiers arrive to arrest the Israelite spies, Rahab lies, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from...they left. I don't know which way they went." She knew. They were hiding on her roof! She hid them there.

Why would Rahab protect the enemy? Why bet against your King, your army, your own people, the famous walls of Jericho? She believed the God of Israel would grant them victory. She had faith in his power! She says it this way:

I know the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you...everyone's courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and the earth below.

She had heard what God had done to Egypt and what he did at the Red Sea. She had faith in his sovereignty and she was scared! Fear led her to self-preservation. She hid the spies so she could bargain, "Your life for mine. When you come to destroy Jericho, save my family and me!" The spies agreed.

Scripture commends her for acting in faith and saving the spies, but when you read the text closely, Rahab's faith was IGNORANT and IMMATURE!

Her faith was IGNORANT because she had  an incomplete and faulty view of God. She saw God as a warrior: defeating the Egyptians and the two Amorite Kings. She did not know this same God was a God who loved his creation, who had a plan to restore all things, who wanted Israel to be his light to the Gentiles, who would eventually wrap himself in flesh and die for her. She only saw a general who could not be stopped. Her faith was ignorant.

Her faith was also IMMATURE. She clearly had not grown up in church. She did not know the Ten Commandments. She had never done a Beth Moore Study. She had never screamed a Chris Tomlin song as she drove down the highway! She didn't have a fish sticker on the back of her donkey. She didn't know the books of the Bible. She was unaware that the Duck Dynasty guys were Church of Christers. 

Her faith was immature! It was shallow. She did not hide the spies because she loved them or because she loved God. She didn't lie to the King of Jericho because she saw herself as "The Lord's Servant." She did not view herself as an ambassador of Yahweh. She saved the spies because she was scared to death. Her faith was motivated by fear. But faith is simply believing God is who he says he is, and all she knew at that moment was that he claimed sovereignty, and she believed it.

That's the point! God uses immature and ignorant faith:

You will never be good enough, but a little faith is good enough!

You will never fully understand God. You will never fully mature. You will doubt. You will misunderstand scripture. You will have bouts of feeling unspiritual (usually based on how much you are praying and reading your Bible compared to others). You will sin. You will feel like you do not have "It" together (I'm still not sure what "It" is). Some of you will have horrible views of God because of what you will experience and what others will teach you. You will feel like you don't know how to pray. You will feel like you don't understand the Bible...

As a result you will believe the lie that God cannot use you:
  • I can't serve in a ministry.
  • I can't teach anyone.
  • I can't invite someone to church.
  • I can't make a difference for good.
  • I can't be a good father/mother.
  • I can't have an impact on the Kingdom of God.
  • I can't help anyone.
  • I can't share Jesus with anyone.
Rahab dispels the notion that God only uses strong faith. God uses ignorant and immature faith. God only needs to get his big toe into the door of your life in order to change the world. He can use what little faith you have, however immature or ignorant. Your part is to pray the prayer of the Father who wanted Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son:

"I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!"

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fifteen: An Ode To Her

Society has bleached love, taken out its complexity and sacrifice, turned it into a pastime. Writers and filmmakers exploit it for box office success. Pop music strips it of all its substance leaving us with a toy by which to entertain ourselves. We've insulted love, categorizing it as a mood, and putting it on the shelf alongside Happy, Sad, and Hungry. We use it to scratch our needy places, and when the itch appears to subside we are not sure what to do with it. We misunderstand love, or at least I have and still do.

That's why God gave me Mary Beth. Today we celebrate 15 years and for 15 years she has taught me about love. She loves 'til it hurts, pours her soul into my soul. My wounds become her wounds and my fears become her fears. Love compels her to be a part of me.

She loves me because it is rational: I take care of her, I'm kind (most days), and I try to serve her. But rational love is just that: it makes sense. Big deal. It is like math, "Of course 2 +2 = 4." We all get the rational side of love. We exhaust ourselves attempting to prove that "loving me" is rational. Mary Beth didn't have to teach me about rational love.

She teaches me about the irrational side of love, the love every human being craves but so many seem incapable of giving. It is a love that finds you in your darkest place, a place where your secrets no longer have dungeons in which to camouflage their shame, a love that finds you standing there empty-handed with absolutely nothing to offer: not a scrap...and says without hesitation, "Yes! You! You right there! I love you!" Such love speaks more about the Lover than the object of love.

After 15 years she is still teaching me about love. We have had the best of times. We have had the worst of times but her love is constant. I love Mary Beth! She is a precious gift and deep soul. She shows me the heart of God. She is fiercely loyal. She is still beautiful, and I'm so thankful for the 15 years of her life she has given to me.

I would put our marriage up against any marriage, not because it is perfect but because it is just the opposite: imperfect, blemished, and scarred. Because of its fault lines, we refuse to be roommates. We refuse to play house. We refuse to pretend. We have had to look past each others' eyes and into the deep recesses of the heart. And, it is in the scars that our souls have learned to touch.

I love you Mary Beth!

I'm thrilled about the next 15 years!

Happy Anniversary! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lessons from a Prostitute: Don't Be Good

Last December, my family made it from Trenton, MI to Ft. Worth, TX in 18 hours. We might as well have driven in separate cars, because we spent most of the trip deepening our relationships with "Steve Jobs" and "Satoru Iwata" on our iPods, iPhones, and 3DS's. (Warning! Old Man Moment...nostalgia). When I was a child there were no uphill-both-ways-to-school routes, but we did spend long road trips interacting through "car games," which always ended in a family feud.

Password was one of our favorite games. The game consists of two pairs of teams. A member from each team selects a secret word and then provides clues to the other member to help her identify the secret word. The teams alternate giving clues until one of the team members guess the secret word. Here's an example:

Secret word: "Chicken"
Possible clue: "Colonel Sanders"
Possible clue: "Crossed the street"

Got it?

Let's play a game of Password. I'm going to give you a clue and you try and guess the secret word. Here we go. The clue is, "Prostitute!"

I don't know your guess but I bet it wasn't the word "Good," and my online thesaurus would agree with you. It suggests synonyms like "betrayer," "deceiver," and "cheater." And yet, scripture commends a prostitute as a hero of the Christian faith!

Hebrews 11, the Who's Who chapter of the New Testament, lists Rahab the prostitute alongside the all-star characters of the Old Testament. She is listed alongside Abraham, the original B-I-G P-O-P-P-A; alongside Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the Patriarchs; and alongside Moses, the stud prophet!  In fact, Rahab gets more screen time than David... the boy wonder, the giant-slayer, the KING, the man after God's own heart! The Hebrew writer says this about the Lady of the Night (Heb. 11:31):

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

But he is not the only one who holds Rahab up as an example. Jesus' own brother shines the spotlight on Rahab too (James 2:25-26):

Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?  For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

If you have grown up hearing Rahab's story, what I just wrote doesn't shock you. Your familiarity has desensitized you to its messiness. Perhaps I can rekindle the awkwardness of this story by asking you a question, "Have you explained what a prostitute is to your child?"

"Well...they are too young?"
"Oh, not yet. They don't even know about 'sex.'"
"Ummm...not sure how to do that."

Precisely.  It is a grungy story and yet Rahab is held up as a Christian example attention: not GOODNESS but FAITH.  God used her because she had faith and not because she was good. The story of Rahab dispels some false Christian notions about faith and goodness. In upcoming posts, I will explore further what Rahab teaches us on this topic of faith and goodness. But I want to begin with this statement: 

Faith rather than goodness is the foundation of your relationship with God .

Christianity is about faith rather than goodness. It may be easy to nod and say, "Amen," but it seems so many Christians and non-Christians are obsessed, not with being good, but with being seen as being good. We spend vast amounts of energy and time shaping the perception of others. We speak, act, and hint so that "he" or "she" will think I am good. 

A preacher-friend of mine ministers at a congregation where they provide envelopes in which to put your tithe. He says they receive empty envelopes EVERY week. Why would you take the time to put an empty envelope in the offering plate? One reason: the appearance of generosity. You want others to think you are good. 

If we stood you up in front of 300 people who knew you and asked, "By a show of hands, who thinks [insert your name] is a good person?" and only two people raised their hands, you would be devastated! You would probably lose sleep. You might even slip into a depression. 

We want others to think we are good, and as a result we often make Christianity about goodness. "He who looks the most like Jesus in the end wins. He who has the most Fantasy Christian points is the 'goodest!'"  We even use church as a badge of goodness. How many times have you heard or said, when vouching for someone's character, "She goes to church!" as if to say, "She's a good person."

Trying to be good...well...trying to look like you are good is exhausting. Chill! Your relationship with God is about faith, not goodness. So...for today, quit trying to be good.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Yes, JT for Background Music!

"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed."
Matthew 5:16

Since 2004, I try to yearly vanquish into the wilderness for 24-hours: just God and me (and usually some kind of camping equipment). I do not take vacation time. I consider it ministry. There is a part of me that always feels guilty, but that part of me needs to "shut up." Western society lives at a dizzying pace, to our detriment. Culture considers slowing down a weakness, but Jesus found it necessary. I've decided I need more SOLO RETREATS rather than less...even once a month. It makes me a better minister, a better father, a better husband, and a more peaceful human being.

There are four necessary components to my solo trips:
  1. Wilderness. I feel closest to God when I am surrounded by his natural world: trails, rivers, mountains, lakes, trees...
  2. Scripture. I always meditate on or memorize small sections of scripture. This trip I centered on Psalm 146-147.
  3. Silence. I always go alone.
  4. Exercise. God designed the body to move. Exercise relieves stress, calms my body, and clears my mind.
This week, I took a 4 hour road trip to Western Michigan, the Manistee National Forest. The whole trip took 18 hours. As I lost myself in God's beautiful creativity I asked him to teach me, to speak to me. Although I have never heard an audible voice, I do believe his Spirit works on my heartI medidtated on two key ideas during this retreat:

 Psalm 146:3-4 reads:
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing. 

I like to plan for the future, whether that's retirement, health, growing my career, building a church. As a result, I spend a lot of mental energy living in the future. The Psalmist says, "There may not be a future."  When I die, all the planning, all the striving, all the effort is pointless. Many of us are so focused on and planning for "When..."
When I graduate...
When I get married...
When I get the job...
When I get the bigger job...
When I retire...
When I...

...that we miss the "Now." Life is fragile. Don't waste today simply planning for tomorrow. Today may be your only tomorrow: savor it. Don't spend your life planning for a day that may never come. Today is a gift. Celebrate it!

As I kayaked down the Manistee River I moved in rhythm, in harmony with God's creation. I felt peace. Shalom (health, harmony, peace, wholeness) defined God's intent for creation, but our sin shattered his shalom into a billion still does.  Sin always undoes God's shalom; and busyness does as well. Busyness pushes against harmony; it drives the human being faster and harder than its engine was designed to endure...which leads me to "work."

Work is a good thing. God created it. He designed us for it. But work and the modern notion of career are two very different things. Work in the OT is better understood as "caring for and tending to." Man's original job was to care for creation, not to oppress it and conquer it - to work in harmony with it. Work moves in rhythm with God's shalom, while careers are often characterized by busyness. Work is a matter of finding food, constructing shelter, and clothing your body: basic needs. Careers are a matter of reputation, increasing/maintaining your standard of living, and achievement: luxury. Work focuses on the "now." Careers focus on the "when." Work breeds contentment. Careers are never satisfied. Rest is a friend to work. Busyness boosts careers.  Time to get to work!

***All photos and videos shot with the stellar iPhone 3GS. Shut up! Yes, I know there is a iPhone 5. Anyway...the cheesy video is best watched without enlarging it, since enlarging it greatly diminishes its already poor quality.