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The Greatest Game I Ever Coached

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I swallowed yet another cup of water as my players took the floor for the third round game of the state basketball playoffs, a game that everyone knew we had no business playing.  For over a decade, this basketball program resided in the cemetery of the dead and could be considered the laughing stock of the sport. Not only had a winning record eluded them for over a decade, the last three years were abysmal.  Four total wins in those three years combined.  With that kind of background, some had even questioned why I would take such a job.  “You can’t win there,” I had been told on more than one occasion.

However, as I stood in that gym, only seconds before the third round of the playoffs tipped off, I took a moment to realize that not only had we done the unthinkable by having a winning record and making the playoffs, we had done the improbable by actually winning playoff games.   Having watched our rise from the ashes throughout the year, charging into the playoffs, the entire community had rallied around our team.   Signs and posters began to appear in store fronts and house lawns proclaiming that this team was Back From the Dead.  By doing the unthinkable and the improbable, this team of high school boys had become the fresh water stream in an athletic program that had grown stale.

 However, now I was asking my team to do the impossible – to beat a state ranked opponent, a team that had not lost a game in nearly three months and had averaged 88 points a game for the season.  It did indeed seem like an impossible task for my team who could not even average 50 points a game.  Everyone knew that our great run that season would come to end that night.  Earlier in the day, at a school Pep Rally, I had chosen to play into that belief that the end was going to come that night.

“Tonight, we face our biggest challenge yet,” I had addressed both the student body and many community leaders who had packed our gym for the Pep Rally.  “If you ask anyone, they will tell you that we do not have a chance to win tonight.  And you know,” I had slowly emphasized, “they are all probably right.  We don’t have a chance.  Tonight may very well be the last game of this season.”

I could sense the uneasiness in the crowd that had gathered in the gym.  What is he saying?  This is no way to fire up his team and get us all excited about the game tonight.  He can’t be admitting defeat!  I didn’t think he was that kind of coach!

“Tonight we play a basketball powerhouse that anyone in their right mind would pick to blow us out of the gym,” I continued.  “They are one of our classification’s giants in the state when it comes to basketball.  Just look at their starting lineup.  Six -seven, Six-seven, six-five, six-three and six-one.”

I now had the audience right where I wanted them.  I wanted them to feel the impossibility of the situation before I changed gears.  “But, I want to tell you a story,” my voice slightly rose.  “It’s the story in the Old Testament of a man named Gideon who took 300 untrained men without weapons and completely wiped out the enemy army that stood with over 100,000 fighting men.

“And then one time there was this little scrawny shepherd boy named David who took five stones and a sling shot and defeated the single greatest giant of a man the enemy had.

“Moving through history, we see the American colonists taking up arms to defeat the highly trained British army.

“In 1980,” the speed and excitement of my delivery grew, “the United States Olympic hockey team had no chance of defeating the older, wiser, and better team from the Soviet Union.  But some of you might remember the call made as the game’s final seconds ticked away, ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ and that underdog U.S. hockey team won that game.

“I could go on and on and list more of the major upsets that have happened throughout all of history,” I continued, “but I think you see my point.  I don’t care what the experts say about how great of a basketball team we are playing tonight.  And don’t misunderstand me, they are great.  But that doesn’t mean that we are going to hand them a victory.  Tonight, just like David did a few thousand years ago, we are going to gather five stones, five players on the floor, and we are going to take it to the giant.”

The crowd now sounded like a horses stampede as they realized my tactic.  However, I wasn’t finished.  “But we cannot do it alone,” I shouted into the microphone in order to be heard above the roar.  “We need each of you there with us, cheering for us and giving us strength. If we are going to shock the world tonight, we can’t let up for a minute.  We have to play a full 32 minutes of great basketball.”  I raised my hand and pointed throughout the crowd.  “So when we start to get mentally and physically tired out there, we need to rely on you to give us that energy we need.”  The crowd cheered again.

My voice rose.  “Together, tonight, we are not only going to win this game, we are going to shock the world.”  As if on cue, the band began playing the school fight song as I shouted again, “We are going to shock the world.”

However, now, hours removed from being that confident coach in that Pep Rally,  as I stood in front of the bench watching my five starters line up for the jump ball, I knew all those words I had so boldly spoken earlier that morning were nothing more than hype.  Winning this game really was an impossible situation.  I turned towards my assistant coach, a man much older and wiser than me and muttered, “Coach, I just don’t want to be embarrassed tonight.”

“You’ve done everything you could do,” he reminded me as he placed his hand on my shoulder as a father would do to comfort his son.  “If there was ever a team primed to shock the world, this team is it.”  His gruff, yet assuring voice resounded in my ears as he reminded me of my words in the locker room as I addressed the team before we took the floor.

“There is an old saying in sports,” I had told my team, “that you don’t have to be a better basketball team than your opponents to beat them.  You only have to play better than they do for 32 minutes.”  I drew each player into me by placing my clinched hand in front of me.  Each player closed their fist and joined my fist in a tight circle of arms connected at what was now one central fist.  “But I don’t want you guys to worry about playing better than them for 32 minutes.  I want you to outplay them the first four minutes of the game.  That’s all I am asking right now.  Four minutes.  We’ll talk about the rest of the game after that.  Just give me the first four minutes of more heart than they have.”

As the ball soared into the air signifying the start of the game, my heartbeat must have looked like a bar graph tracking the daily ups and downs of the New York Stock Exchange.  It might have even flat lined for the first ten or so seconds.  Was it even possible to play better than them for four minutes?

As if to answer my question, my team played harder and smarter than any team I had ever coached.  Our defense, the part of the game that had carried us all year long, became an impenetrable stone wall, never allowing our daunted high flying opponents to even get off the ground, much less soar.

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“That is what I am talking about,” I gathered in my players during a timeout around the four minute mark of the first quarter, much like a mother hen would gather her chicks.  Throughout the year I had grown to think of them exactly that way.  These were my kids.  We had laughed and cried together, experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and had quite literally not only united together as a band of brothers, but had also united the entire community.  This was my family and I realized, as I locked my eyes onto each one of their eyes, that it didn’t really matter if we won or lost this game. We would forever be united because of what we had accomplished this year.  We had emerged out of the ashes and were back from the dead.

“You guys did exactly what I asked,” I continued.  “You outplayed them for four minutes.”  I paused so that my next words would have the impact I desired.  “Now I am going to ask you to focus on playing harder and smarter than they do for four minutes.  Let’s end the first quarter with the lead.”

Any doubts that we could play a second segment of four minutes as well as we played the first four minutes were quickly put aside as we did not miss a single shot nor give up an offensive rebound the remainder of the first quarter.  I will never forget not only the look of confidence in my players’ eyes as they sprinted to the bench at the end of the first quarter leading 11-4, but the gaze of confusion written on each of our opponents’ faces, staring at the scoreboard in disbelief, as they began their discouraged meander towards their bench.  They were a team that had had averaged 88 points a game during the regular season and somehow our defense had held them to only four first quarter points.

The second quarter was almost a repeat of the first quarter as our defense continued to stymie our opponents’ offense while my point guard, like a skilled conductor, orchestrated our offense into a symphonic masterpiece of efficiency.  By halftime, we still held onto a slim six point lead.

As we readied to take the floor for the second half, I turned towards my assistant coach with the words, “Remember when I said that I just didn’t want to be embarrassed in this game?”

He flashed a grin and nodded.

“Forget that,” I laughed as I downed another cup of water.  It must have been my fifteenth cup of water I had swallowed since the game started.  My mouth always feels like the Sahara Desert when I am nervous for a big game.  “Well, forget that!” I exclaimed, tossing the empty cup into the trashcan.  “Let’s just win this game.”

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That is exactly what my team set out to do in the second half.  Despite my fear that our first half had awakened the sleeping giant we were playing, we continued to play outstanding basketball, led by our defense and seconded by the fact that we missed only one free throw the entire game.  During that pivotal third quarter, every time our opponent even dreamed about taking the lead, we would answer it with a perfectly timed three point shot that would deflate their sense of confidence before it had inflated enough to take control of the game.

As my players took the court for the final quarter of the game, I wandered aimlessly down to the end of the bench to gulp down yet another cup of water.  Can we really win this game? Everything has gone right for us the first three quarters of the game, but can we really hope to stop their high powered offense for four quarters?   God, give us strength! 

However, as the fourth quarter began, our practically perfect play began to fade as our opponent slowly began to seize control of the game.  Despite our brilliant game plan and outstanding performance, we simply could not hold down one of the most explosive teams in the state.  With their season on the line, our opponent finally began to demonstrate signs of why they had averaged 88 points a game that season.  By the time the scoreboard clock clicked under four minutes remaining in the game, our lead stood at only two points, 39-37.

“We gave them that four minute block,” I exhorted my team.  “We cannot give them the last four minutes.  We can’t even really tie them.  We have four minutes left and I beg you to play your best basketball you have ever played for four minutes.  That’s all.  Play better basketball than they do for only four minutes and our season will continue.  Every single possession on both offense and defense is going to count.”  I forced myself to smile in order to help calm my players’ growing anxiety.  They needed me now to be their calming influence.  However, the smile was doing nothing to calm my nerves. At this moment I realized that a good coach must also be a great actor.  “Guys,” I added through my forced smile, “this is the reason we have worked hard all year.  This is the reason why we have focused so much on defense.  This is the reason why we have insisted that we be disciplined in running our offensive sets with patience and precision.  We have practiced and worked hard all year for exactly this moment.”

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As we trotted back onto the court for the final four minutes of the game, I could sense the hype and anxiety in the hundreds of fans that stood behind me on our side of the court.  I recalled the words I had spoken at the Pep Rally when I had begged them to be the extra energy the team would need to stay focused and full of energy.  The sound of hands clapping, feat stomping, and voices cheering echoing behind me screamed into my heart that they were heeding my advice.

Tracy Mixon began the momentum change when he swiped the ball from one of their guards before bouncing the ball ahead to a breaking Kole Weberfor a layup.  A defensive stop led to another Kole basket to open our margin again to six points.

Moments later as Kole drove around his man once again lofting a shot into the air, I felt my feet lift to my tiptoes, hoping to give Kole that one extra amount of lift he needed to get the shot over the hulking defensive center.  It wasn’t enough as the defender blocked Kole’s shot towards the baseline. However, before I could even groan, Kenton Stridde snatched the ball out of the air and went right over that defender, who was now off balance, for a score.

kenton

However, despite our few minutes of greatness, our opponent could not be denied as they quickly battled back cutting our lead to 43-42 with a minute and half remaining. Was it really going to end like this?  After playing almost perfect basketball for the entire game, were we really going to succumb to our opponent’s greatness in the final 90 seconds?

Following a time out, our highly favored opponent took the court poised to take their first lead of the ball game, with their point guard at the foul line.  Lord, let him miss, I pleaded.  My prayer was answered.  As his shot missed, it bounced off several hands before Kole Weber scooped the ball on the dribble and sprinted down the court.  Although I had learned throughout the year to trust my point guard, I couldn’t help but cringe as I watched him challenge the same big center that had just blocked his shot a few minutes earlier.  However, just before Kole committed to shoot over him, he passed the ball back out to Tracy who calmly knocked in a three point basket.

On the next defensive possession, needing to stop our opponent once again, James Stroleny, just as he had done countless times all year, anticipated a pass to their post, knocking it away before chasing the ball down.  As he fed ahead to the breaking Tracy Mixon, my mind raced backwards to a time much earlier in the season when Tracy had forced a three point shot on the run instead of slowing the game down, causing us to lose that game.  However, this time, having learned from his failure earlier in the season, he did not force the shot.  After driving towards the basket to draw the defense towards him, Tracy pitched the ball back out to a wide open Kole Weber who, in perfect rhythm shot the ball.  As Kole’s shot arced towards the basket, from the corner of my eye, I could see dozens of fans also shoot their arms skyward, willing the shot to go through the net.

That three point basket forced the opposing coach to disgustingly call a time out.

As my team huddled around me, smiles showing on each face, I knew they believed they had just won the game.  However, in my coaching career, I had witnessed some very strange endings to games so I would not allow them to celebrate, despite a 49-42 lead with one minute remaining in the game.  “We know how quickly they can score points,” I reminded them. “We cannot relax on defense and we cannot turn the ball over on offense.”  I pointed to the scoreboard.  “We don’t have to score another basket to win this game.  We simply need to run as much clock as we can, hit all our free throws, and play great defense without fouling.”   I stopped so I could lock in my eyes on each of my players, on each member of my basketball family.  Harking back to the motivational strategy I had used throughout the entire game of winning small segments of the game, I smiled one last time, hoping to give them the last bit of confidence they needed.  “We have to play better than they do for only one minute.  That’s all.”

As confident as I sounded to the team in the huddle, I felt far less confident.  A turnover here and a few missed free throws there, then we could easily lose this game.  God, please calm the nerves of each player that shoots free throws the rest of this game.

In the bleachers behind me, and the bench around me, it seemed that everyone’s excitement was on the verge of exploding from their body onto the floor as the clock ticked under a minute to play.  However, I didn’t care about the crowd.  I could not bring myself to enjoy the moment.  Despite what every fan and player seemed to feel, I could not yet believe we were actually going to win this game.  As a result, I continued shouting instructions to my players between swallows of water as my parched throat and desert mouth still felt every fear and nervousness I had felt throughout every single second of this ballgame.

As I continued to make substitutions, bringing my best free throw shooters and ball handlers in on offense while putting in the best combination of defensive players on the floor when our opponents had the ball, I stayed focused on doing everything I could to secure the victory.  I paced the floor and downed cups of water that my manager faithfully kept refilling for me, all the while respectfully shaking off any congratulations that were coming from my players on the bench.  I watched in wonder as my players on the court paraded to the free throw line making an impressive eight for eight free throws in the final minute.

With ten seconds left, as Kole Weber sank his last free throw to put us ahead by eight points, I finally burst into a smile and gave my assistant coach a high five before going down the bench slapping the hands of each of my players who were not in the game.  At that moment, I finally allowed myself to believe we were going to win the game.  At last I could relax and try to savor the moment.

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Ten seconds later, the final buzzer made it official as we officially pulled off the single greatest upset of that year’s playoffs.  Fans poured onto the court in jubilation, embracing each player, as I stood alone and tossed an empty cup into the trashcan.  I no longer felt the desert, but had found my oasis moment.

 

 

 

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How the 21st Century Church Has Lost It’s Focus on God

Every Sunday morning across this nation, people wake up to go to church.  Some do it out of ritual and some do it because they feel it is their responsibility as a Christian to go to church.  Still others go because they simply love going to church.

I am now starting my sixth decade of being involved in church.  I was raised in church and have always gone to church.  In my 51 years of life, I have been involved in many different churches and many different styles.  But in recent years, I have come to the conclusion that we in 21st century America have simply lost sight of what Christ ordained when He began the church.

For those of us who have some biblical background, we know in our head that the church is not a building and it is not a methodology.  We know there are two definitions of church.  There is the universal church that encompasses all Believers everywhere and there is the local church which in the New Testament is a gathering of Believers.  The church was not a building nor was it a corporation.  The Greek word translated church is Ecclesia which simply means, “The called out ones”.  We are called out to be disciples of Christ – to make a difference in our world by being a light that shines God’s love.   But sadly most of us look at church more as the place we go and/or the corporation that runs it.

To prove this, we simply have to look at phrases that we use almost every week.

  • We GO to Church – Every Sunday we “go to church” We go to a building.  We are never called to go to church.  We are the called out ones, not the ones who are called into a building.  If we were truly focusing our lives on Christ, we would be more concerned about being the church on Monday through Saturday to our world around us than we are going to church on Sunday.  It does no good to go to church is we aren’t being the church.

 

  • We HAVE Church – This is perhaps the phrase that bothers me the most. You sometimes hear this phrase uttered from the stage by the worship leader right after a rousing song when he says, “Now we are having church.”  Or perhaps the pastor says something like that after he makes a particular strong point.   My friends, a rousing song or a strong point is not having church.  I sometimes want to stop them right after making that statement and ask, “What does it biblically mean to ‘have church.’”  What if we focuses more on “being the church,” of doing those things Christ did and what He told us to do?   Does singing a rousing song mean we are having church more than when we feed the hungry or give to the poor or evangelize the lost?  Please pastors and worship leaders, turn our focus on Christ and His commandments and not to the emotion of a rousing a song or strong point.  Emotion does not equal having church.

 

  • We PLAN Church – We plan how to get the people in and out of the auditorium. We plan each moment of our service.  We plan which songs to sing, when to pray, when to make announcements, and when to preach.  There is nothing wrong with planning the Sunday morning service.  In fact, I believe we should plan the Sunday morning service.  Otherwise, we run the risk of producing chaos.   But here is the danger to planning church.  We start to focus on the plan of the day and we forget to focus on Christ.  I’m not even going to talk about how so many churches have become the church version of multi-million dollar corporations, complete with CEO’s and a Board of Directors.  I am going to simply focus on the Sunday morning plan.

 

Worship time is perhaps the biggest culprit in replacing a focus on Christ with a focus on the church.

I am not going to debate whether or not a contemporary type style or a traditional style is better.  They both have their merits.  Truth be told, if I had to choose, I would choose a contemporary worship service as long as it does not become a production or a show.  Unfortunately, too many churches have now created a production each Sunday morning rather than a true time of worshipping God.   Allow me to explain what I mean.

  • In many churches, the worship leader is an official position or office at the church.  I have no personal problems with that idea on its own.  However, in many cases, the position of worship leader has been elevated to such a high position that we forget that biblically, there is no such position listed in the church.   Ephesians 4 tells us that God gave different roles to Christians within a local church for the purpose of training each person to works of ministry.  If you look carefully at the positions God ordained for the church, worship leader is not one of them.  He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors, and some to be teachers.  In Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3, we also see deacons given to the church to help people who are in need.   I do understand the value of worship and I am not saying we should not have a time of worship in our Sunday morning services.  I am saying though, that churches should be very careful on the emphasis they have on a person leading worship when worship leading is not even an officially God-ordained position for the church.  Unfortunately, often times people choose a church based on its worship leader or worship style. That is replacing Christ and Bible focus with church focus.

 

  • In our society, “good” worship leaders are said to “usher us into the presence of God.” Most good worship leaders even believe that it is their responsibility and the responsibility of their team to “usher us into the presence of God” or in some cases they even say they are there to invite and usher God’s presence into the auditorium.

 

  • Friends, this is such an unbiblical thought that even borders on the level of heresy.
    • Matthew 18:20 tells us that when two or more are gathered together in Christ’s name, He is there in the midst of them. So if the Sunday morning church service has people who are there in Jesus name, then there is no need to “usher us into God’s presence.”  He is already there.  No worship leader can bring God there.

 

  • So why do worship leaders think they need to usher us into God’s presence? Quite simply, it is the fact that subconsciously (if not on purpose), they believe that being in God’s presence must be accompanied by certain emotional reactions.   And somehow they believe that if those emotional reactions are not visible, if people are not raising their hands or swaying or clapping their hands, then they must not be in the presence of God.  And what better way to stir the emotions than through music?  That’s why we have music.  Whether we are talking rock, pop, blues, country, or Christian, music by its very nature is designed to stir the emotions.

 

  • The truth of the matter is that good worship leaders can manipulate the emotions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even take God in the midst of us to stir our emotions.  Years ago, I used to make a season highlight film of my basketball teams after the season was over.  At the end of each season’s film, I would choose a song and pictures that were specifically designed to stir an emotional reaction.  I knew that if I could make the moms cry in those closing moments of the film, I had pulled it off successfully.  That is the power of music done at specific and designed times.   “Good” Worship Leaders are masters of this craft.  Let me give you an example.  At a certain church, I can predict exactly when “God is going to move” every Sunday.  After singing a few songs, the worship leader has the audience sit down as the worship team and a few hundred member choir performs a particularly rousing and moving song.  They are usually great songs.  But without fail, I can tell you exactly when the majority of the audience will “spontaneously” stand to their feet and raise their hands.  It happens every week.  It’s either planned and by design or God moves at the same time in the same way every single week.  Believe me, I know what they are doing.  Its by design.  I am not saying that performing these songs are wrong, but let’s call it what it is.  It is designed on purpose to stir the emotions for a desired response.

 

  • 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us that there is only one mediator between God and man and it is not the worship leader. It is Jesus Christ Himself.  The only way to be in the presence of God is through Jesus Christ.  A man, a band, an orchestra, or a choir cannot bring us to God.  Only Christ can do that.

God is not waiting for us to sing a certain song or reach a certain volume level or have enough people raise their hands, etc. before He comes.  In fact, God is already in the room.  To think that God waits for our invitation and waits for some man or some band to usher Him in is relegating God to the status of what we call false gods in other religions.  These “worship” rituals we go through are nothing more than a new face on the same thing the prophets of Baal did in Elijah’s time to usher in the presence of Baal onto the altars at Mt Carmel.  It didn’t work for them, yet we try to do the same thing.  Instead, maybe we should simply do what Elijah did and pray.

Does God need rotating spotlights that fade from color to color combined with smoke machines that give the stage the ambiance of a concert in order to bring His presence into a room?  Or is this simply a tool we use to trick our emotions into thinking God is now closer to us than He was before the music started.  Or heaven forbid, is to something we do simply to enhance the performance?

Many churches sing songs claiming that it is all about Jesus all the while demonstrating that it is all about the people on the stage.   If it is truly all about Jesus, then why are we bombarded with images of the band on the big screen?   If it is all about Jesus, why is it that we have to see the masterful hands of the guitarist as he runs through an electric guitar solo between verses in a song?  Does that draw our focus to Christ or the talent of the musician?     Why not just show the words on the screen so that we can focus on both the words of the song and the one to whom the song is about instead of seeing people performing?  Why do we need to focus on the people who are performing?

 

Preaching or Teaching Time

In addition to worship becoming a performance on the stage, often times we see people focusing on the pastor, his personality, or delivery style.   We all like to hear preachers who make it easy to listen to.  No one wants to be bored in church while listening to a preacher.  But let me ask a few questions to help us examine whether we are focusing more on the church or on Christ and the Word of God.

  • Is the focus on the message or on the messenger?
    • If we leave church feeling good about the message because the pastor kept our attention, but we don’t really learn anything new or are motivated to walk deeper in our relationship with Christ we are probably focused more on the messenger than the message.
    • If the pastor spent more time telling personal stories or making us laugh (as entertaining as that might be) than he did talking about a passage in the Bible and how it applies to our lives then we are focusing more on the messenger than we are the message.

 

  • Is the message from the Bible? Most people’s first reaction to this question would be to quickly answer, “Of course it is from the Bible.  He even had verses to prove it.”  But truly, there are many pastors out there, even good and godly pastors who do not really preach from the Bible.   Let me explain this further.

 

  • There are different types of messages you hear in churches. In fact, in any one given church, it is quite possible that you will hear on different Sundays any variety of these kind of messages.  They are as follows:
  • Unscriptural messages. These are messages that though sound good are actually teaching something contrary to Scripture.  Many of us could point to churches who teach unscriptural things.  Some do it on purpose and actually believe things that are directly contrary to Scriptures.   Those are churches we should completely avoid.

 

  • Extrascriptural messages. These are messages that though they may be true and good (ie 12 step programs, 5 love languages, financial advice, time management, etc.) are not specifically taught in the Bible.  There may be nothing wrong with the truths that are presented in the message, but due to the fact that they are not something found in the Bible, they have no place being taught in the church.  Save it for a seminar.  Only the Bible should be taught in church.

 

  • Scripturally based messages. These are messages that have a point to be made and the point is loosely based on Scripture.  These messages start with a point and then bring in verses, often hopping from passage to passage to help support the point.   This is often done in topical type teaching.  The pastor chooses a topic to talk about and uses various Bible passages to help make his point.   For instance, the topic might be on relationships and within the message are a variety of good things to do to ensure good relationships.  Hopefully, each point has Bible verses to directly correlate to each point.  However, this style is quite susceptible to what is commonly known as prooftexting.  When finding verses to try to back up a point, these verses are often ripped out of context and they literally do not mean what they are being used to mean.

 

  • Scriptural messages. These are Messages that start from the Scriptures and expound from there into application.  The main difference between Scriptural messages and Scripturally based messages is that Scriptural messages start with the Bible where Scripturally based messages start with the topic.   The Scriptural messages do not deviate from the Scriptures.  They do not hop all over the Bible to try to prove a point, but they start with a passage of the Bible, explain it, and give application to it.

 

  • The first two types of messages puts the focus on the message and not the Bible and the God of the Bible. The second two are more biblical focuses.  But the third one runs the risk of talking only about what the pastor wants to talk about, whereas the fourth one starts and ends with the Bible.  To truly and consistently put our focus on God and His Word, pastors should more often than not, practice teaching Scriptural messages.

In closing, I want to reiterate that I am not for one style of church and against another style.  I am not pro or con mega churches or small churches.  The truth of the matter, neither are run from the same model that first church had.   Last summer, I had a 13 week podcast from the book of Acts on exactly what I believe the church should look like.  You can find the entire series on itunes at Time Out With Coach B.  However, my purpose in this blog is to hopefully open eyes to the fact that so many churches are inadvertently focusing more on what they do at church than they are the God of the church.   My prayer is that churches across this world will not worry so much about their performance that draws attention to the stage, but rather began to focus much more on the Bible and the God of the Bible.

 

 

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A Very Modern Application to the Story of the Good Samaritan

forgiveness-bible-verseA VERY MODERN DAY VERSION OF THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN IN LIGHT OF THE LGBT PEOPLE IN OUR LIVES

The recent Supreme Court ruling over Same Sex marriage has sparked heated debate among many Christians.  I know through many conversations, I have seen that in so many Christian eyes that they see things only on one end of the pendulum or another.  We can either stand for truth or we can show love.  One side would say that “we are not really showing love if we don’t tell them the truth.”  And the other side would say, “we aren’t speaking the truth if we just accept them the way they are.”

Although both approaches are biblical, they do not have to be mutually exclusive.  The problem is that so many Christians can’t see past their own paradigm and they think they are balanced.  “I will speak the truth in love.  I hate the sin and not the sinner.”  Or  “God wants us to love the sinner and win them to Him through love and acceptance.”   The real problem is that there is truth in both sides.  But we often fail to show the whole truth because of our focus.  Although many Christians think they speak the truth in love, the only thing that is seen by the lost world is venom and hate.  Though we think we are showing God’s love by accepting the sinner, we never stand for truth enough for them to be convicted of their sins and see their need for a Savior.

The other night, I began to pray for wisdom as to how we as Christians should react to the LGBT people we may come in contact with.   I am not talking about how we should react to the SCOTUS ruling.  If you feel called to fight that ruling based on the United States Constitution then please do.  However, the gist of this blog post is about how Christians should react when we talk to our LGBT friends.

While in prayer, God reminded me of the parable of the Good Samaritan and in my mind I immediately began to see a parallel here.   So here is my modern day version of that great parable that Jesus told.

A same sex couple entered into a local bakery all happy that they were now legally able to get married.  “We want to talk to you about making the wedding cake for our upcoming wedding,” they told the owner of the bakery.

The owner of this bakery, a devout Christian with strong beliefs and an immense hatred of sin, especially this particular one, furrowed his eyebrows as his face glowed red from anger.  “I WILL NOT,” he practically shouted, his finger already pointing towards the door.  “I don’t care what the Supreme Court ruled, marriage is between a man and a woman, not two men or two women.  I do not offer service to such depraved and awful sinners.  God will judge you for your evil and despicable ways and I will not take any part of such a sinful practices.  May God have mercy on your soul for you are surely going to burn in Hell for all eternity for your actions.”

“But all we want is a cake,” the couple pleaded.

“And all you will get is hell fire and damnation.  You will spend eternity in the lake of fire where the worm never dies and there will be forever weeping and nashing of teeth.  A punishment that is even too good for the likes of you.”

The couple couldn’t bolt out the door fast enough as they felt the venom of this devout Christian attacking them.  “Is this what Christianity is all about?” one asked the other.  “I grew up hearing that God is love.  But it sure doesn’t sound like it to me.  I am glad we aren’t getting married in a church.  Christians are evil people.”

“Let’s try the next bakery on our list,” the other suggested.  “Hopefully, they will be a little nicer.”

They made their way to the next bakery and noticed the symbol of the fish on their doorway with a sign that said, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”  They also noticed that they were closed on Sundays.  “It looks like this one might be just like the first one,” the one said.  “Let’s not even go here.”

“We are here,” the other responded.  “Maybe they aren’t so bad.  We can leave right away if they are.”

They held hands as they entered the bakery.  The owner of the bakery was standing behind the counter, giving them a glare that could not be interpreted any other way but disgust.  “Let’s get out of here,” the one said.

“Not yet,” the other responded.  “I heard they make good cakes here at a very good price.”  He pointed over to the counter where a teenage girl was taking inventory.

“Dad,” the girl called out.  “We need to make some more of those snicker doodle cookies that everyone loves.  We are almost out again.”

“I’ll get right to it,” the owner of the bakery responded, his judgmental stare still gazing at the couple standing in his store.  “Honey,” the owner spoke to his daughter, his piercing glare never wandering from the customers who stood before him holding hands.  “I need you to go in the back right now.  Make sure we have a fresh pot of coffee brewing.”

The girl scampered to the back, stopping only for a second to recognize the couple in the store.  But in that second, the glare of judgment was evident on her face.

“Can I help you?” the owner addressed the couple.

“Yes,” one spoke, a feeling of relief spreading over his face.  Maybe this guy wasn’t so bad after all. “We heard your wedding cakes are really good.  We are getting married and would like to talk to you about doing our wedding cake.”

“I’m sorry,” the owner responded.  “I cannot participate in such an unholy matrimony.  God clearly states that same sex marriage is an abomination to Him and that all gay people are going to Hell.”

“We aren’t asking to join your church,” the other man responded, his frustration starting to grow.  “We simply want a wedding cake.”

“Then perhaps you should find one of your gay friends to make you a cake,” the owner responded.  “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  Joshua 24:15.”

“That’s nice that you and your house want to serve God,” one of the men responded, “but can’t you serve us, your customers too?”

“No,” the owner responded.  “What fellowship has light with darkness?  2 Corinthians 6:14”

One of them men felt his face flush in frustration and even growing anger.  “Are you going to stand there and quote the Bible to us as a reason why you want to violate our civil rights?  Doesn’t the Bible say something about “Judge not and love everyone and stuff like that.”

The owner smiled and nodded.  “I am not judging you.  You are free to live like you want to live.  But I am free to refuse to take part in this.   My family and my business are under God’s laws, not man’s laws.”

At that moment, the owner’s daughter popped her head through the doorway.  “Dad, mom is on the phone.  She wants to know if I can stay with her next weekend because she wants to take me shopping.  She said I can stay with you this weekend if its okay.”

“That’s fine.  Tell your mother, I will call her back later.”

“I take it you are divorced,” one of the men asked the owner.

“Yes, three years now,” the owner answered.

“Doesn’t your Bible that you love to quote say something about God hating divorce?”  the other man quickly spoke up.

The owner’s tone rose as he asked the men to leave.  He had business to take care of.

“So you are not going to make our wedding cake because we are gay,” one man concluded.

“I am not going to make your wedding cake because your lifestyle is against the Bible and the Holy teachings of God.”

“And your lifestyle of being divorced is not against those so called “holy teachings of God?” the man countered.

“That’s different,” the owner responded.  “God may not like divorce, but He has forgiven me for it.  Whereas your sin is unnatural and is cursed.  God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of that very sin.”

“And your sin is okay now because God forgave you?” the man skeptically looked at the owner.

“Yes,” the owner smiled confidently before adding, “I am sorry that you have chosen to live a life of sin that does not honor God.  I urge you to reconsider your lifestyle and repent of your sin before it is too late.”

“I know, I know,” the man responded.  “God hates me because I am gay and so do you and I am going to go to Hell.”

“I don’t hate you,” the owner responded.  “I hate your sin.  It is an abomination to God and I cannot have any part in it or God will judge me for not standing for the truth.”

“So you are afraid of God?”

The owner nodded.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Proverbs 9:10.”

“And what about love?” the man shot back.  “How do you explain your lack of love towards people who do not agree with you?”

“I do love all people,” the owner responded.  “But because I love people, I am compelled to speak the truth to them.  And your life of sin has no part in the Kingdom of God.  And you are right.  You are going to die and go to Hell because of your sin.”

“Let’s go,” the other man interrupted, “He isn’t going to make our cake.  He cares more about making a statement than he does about serving people.”

“I care more about standing for the truth of God’s Word than anything else,” the owner called out to them as the exited his bakery.

“Cross that bigot off our list,” the men grimaced to each other as they looked down their list of other potential bakers.

“Next time we see a sign of a fish or cross or any other religious symbol on their door, let’s not even go in.”

“Agreed,” the other responded. “Christians are the last people who want to help us.”

Several minutes later, the couple arrived at the next bakery.  There was no sign of a fish or cross on the door.  They entered, hoping that they would find their baker here.

“Can I help you,” the owner called out as the two men entered his bakery.  He couldn’t help but notice that they were holding hands.  In his mind, he uttered a quick prayer for wisdom.  From the moment he heard about the Supreme Court ruling, he knew this day would come.   How was he to react?  He had wrestled with this thought for days.  As a Christian he did not condone their sin, but

“Yes,” one of the men called out.  “We are getting married and need someone to bake our wedding cake.  So far all we have run into are Christian bigots who refuse to help us.”

“Sit down,” the owner smiled.  “Let’s talk.”

The two men gladly sat down to talk to this owner.   Because of his genuine smile, they immediately were set at ease.

“I know you two must be excited,” the owner began.  “I remember when my wife and I were engaged and trying to iron out all the wedding details.  It was exciting, but stressful.”  He laughed as he recalled the time.  “Finding that perfect wedding cake was especially stressful on my wife.”

The men smiled as one of them responded, “You got that right.  It has been especially stressful today because so far no one is willing to make our cake because we are gay.  One even just threw out Bible verses to us to explain his reasoning.   So hopefully, you can help us.”

“I am sorry that you have received such hostility from other Christians,” the owner shook his head.  “I know they are trying to do what they think is right, but they just aren’t coming across the right way.”

“You can say that again,” one of the men laughed.  “Why would I even consider becoming a Christian when all Christians do is spew hate and judgment.  I mean what does a cake really have to do with their religion anyway?”

“Well I understand what they are thinking,” the owner carefully began to speak.  “We Christians are put in a very tough situation here because we do have certain convictions and yet we are also expected to love people – including people who are getting married to the same sex.   And it is not our job or responsibility to condemn you for it.”

“Then you will make our cake?” one of the men looked up anxiously.

“I’d love to,” the owner began.  “But unfortunately,  I can’t.  It’s not because I don’t love you and it is not because I don’t want to help you.  It has to do with my personal relationship with Christ.  Believe me, this is something I have wrestled with for a while.  As much as I want to help you, and can tell by talking to you that you are both good people who are wanting nothing more than to find happiness.  I am not mad at you for wanting to get married.  That is something between you two and God.  But as for me, I know this is not something God wants me to be part of.  It has nothing to do with you.  It has everything to do with where I am in my relationship with God.  It is about me and God.  It is not about me and you.”

“I’m not sure I understand what God has to do with this,” one man interjected.  “I have Christian friends and they are happy for us and support us.”

The owner thought carefully and offered up a quick prayer before he spoke.  “I want nothing more than for you to find the same love, joy, and peace that I have found through Jesus Christ.  I am not judging you for the choices you have made.  God knows I have made some very bad choices in my life and yet I found God’s love and forgiveness.   Yes, I believe that the Bible teaches that same sex marriage is against God’s plan for our lives, but you know so is a lot of other things that we do.  That I do.  I am not perfect.  In fact, I am nowhere near perfect.  I am a sinner just like you are and just like everyone else – including the pastors of all the great churches in our city.  The Bible tells us that everyone has sinned and we all fall short of God’s standard for us.  And as a result of that sin that separates us from God, everyone was destined to spend an eternity in Hell.  I was destined for it.  You were destined for it.  We all were.”

“Well that is one of the big problems I have with Christians,” one of the men interrupted.  “You talk about God being love.  But nothing about Christianity shows love.  The church doesn’t.  We aren’t even welcome in many churches.  Christian people don’t.  We are often shunned by people, looked down upon, made fun of, stared at, and even refused service to.  And then you tell me that the God of the Bible, the same one that you say is all about love, just sends people to Hell.  No thanks.  That is not what I want out of my life.”

“I understand what you are thinking,” the owner replied, his voice softening even more and his eyes searching for a way to be filled with compassion.  “I thought that way one time too.  God, Christians, love.  They just didn’t seem to all fit together.  And as a result, for much of my life I was, as the old song lyrics go, “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

“What changed your mind?”

The bakery owner smiled.  “God did.  Believe me, it was not His people.  But I finally got to the end of myself.  I realized that I could not find that love, joy, and peace that I was looking for in any earthly relationship.  And that is when God reached down and changed my heart.  He showed me that despite everything that I had thought about Him and His people was from the wrong perspective.  Yes, people were dying and going to Hell.  And, yes, I was on a collision course to that as my destiny.  But I saw that God in His very love, provided a way out of that destiny.”

“And that is when you became religious,” one of the men surmised.

The owner smiled.  “No, I am not religious.  Not at all.  Jesus spoke very directly about religious people.  When He walked on earth, that was the one group of people that He wasn’t very nice to.  He enjoyed talking with all kinds of sinner.  Cheaters, swindlers, liars, even prostitutes.  That’s why He came to earth.  To touch, love, and offer forgiveness to all the people who knew they needed it.”

“Well, the way I look at it,” one of the men offered.  “Christians aren’t being very much like Jesus if they aren’t willing to love us enough to bake a cake.”

The owner folded his hands and leaned forward.  This was going to be the difficult part.  “I totally understand what you are saying.  It is confusing.  And I know you have run across many Christians already who seem to have pat answers.  They want to stand on the truth of God’s Word.  So do I.  So Does every Christian who is fully dedicated to Christ.  And believe me, this is one of those issues that is very difficult.  I believe that the Bible is very clear about same sex marriage.  It is something we should not take part in.  But it is also very clear that we are to love people.”

“Well all those other bakery owners sure understood that sin part of the Bible,” one of the men interrupted.  “But I don’t think they understood that love part.  We sure didn’t feel it.  We only felt judgment and condemnation.”

“At the very least,” the owner spoke, “I pray that you sensed at least a little bit of God’s love in me.”

“Oh yeah,” the other man smiled.  “You are real.  You are more like what I expect Christians to be.”

“But that still doesn’t solve our cake issue,” the other man reminded them.

“No it doesn’t,” the owner replied.  In his mind, he quickly said a prayer asking God for wisdom as to how to finish off this conversation.  He never ceased to be amazed at how quickly God gives wisdom when asked.  “And I am truly sorry that I cannot bake your cake.  My Christian convictions will not allow me to.  But here is what I can do.  I have other great baker friends.  Let me make a few phone calls and see if they can fit you into their schedule.  Once you meet with them, I think you will be happy.”

“And what if they won’t do it either?”

“Then come back to me and we will figure out plan B.”

“Thank you,” one of the men said as they both stood to their feet.  “Even though you aren’t going to make our wedding cake, we do appreciate your kindness.”

“And we appreciate the fact that you aren’t looking down on us and passing judgment on us either,” the other man added.  “I haven’t met too many Christians like you.”

“And I am truly sorry about that,” the owner stated.  “I just try to be like Jesus.  John 3:17, the verse that comes right after the famous one John 3:16 that you have probably seen at football games, tells us that Jesus did not come to the world to condemn the world, but He came so the world might be saved through Him.”

“I like that,” one of the men smiled.  “Thank you for not condemning us.”

“Remember that life of love, joy, and peace I talked about?” the owner reminded them.  Both men nodded.  “Jesus offers you that same life.”

From there the owner went on to lay out the plan of Salvation to the men.  Both were interested, but neither made a commitment to Christ that day.  However, before they left, the owner got their contact information so he could follow up with them later.

Before I ask you, the reader, which of these store owners are you more like, I do want to point out that there are other Christian bakers these men could have visited.

Baker #4 – Two blocks over from this last shop, was the Christian baker who, after spending much time in prayer over this issue, decided that his reaction when faced with this dilemma would be very much like that third baker.  But he would take it one step further.  He would actually go above and beyond.  He decided he would use his bakery as an evangelistic took and after presenting Christ’s message, he would agree to make their cake.

Baker #5 – Though he personally did not agree with the idea of same sex marriage, this Christian baker lived by the motto, “live and let live.”  It wasn’t any of his business how other people lived.  He wouldn’t ask any questions or make any judgments.  He would simply make the cake when asked.

So now I ask you, dear reader, which baker are you most like?

#1 – the one who demonstrated disgust and hatred towards the LGBT

#2 – the one who may say that he loved them, but his attitude of superiority and glares of disgust show what is really in his heart.  He loved to throw out Bible verses to support his beliefs, but offered no real attitude of love.

#3 – the one who stepped into the circle with the men, got to know them, talked gently to them, offered them love, joy, and peace as well as Christ’s forgiveness.   But could not compromise and make the cake.

#4 – the one who loved them, presented God’s truth to them, and made the cake for them.

#5 – the one who didn’t seem to really care about their salvation nor making a stand for truth.

Examine yourself carefully.  Which one are you?   And finally, if you were to be honest with yourself and with God, which one or ones do you think most pleases God?

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How Christians Should React Over the Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Ruling

To all my Christian and conservative friends ( I am one of you), I know that many of you are angry and dismayed over the recent Supreme Court ruling, legalizing gay and lesbian marriages in all 50 states.  But this is not the time to vent and bemoan how terrible things are in our country.  This is not the time to stand up in both social media and even the pulpit’s of churches and declare that the gay and lesbian lifestyle is an abomination.  This is not even a time to fear, as so many are apt to do.

Am I scared and worried after this ruling? Yes. I am very scared.  But not for the reasons you think. I’m scared that Christians will now only confirm what so many already believe us to be. Intolerant, judgmental, haters. I’m afraid we are going to put an even bigger wall up between us and the rest of the world by our reactions and attitudes to today’s ruling. And I am afraid that by what we say and do, we will never demonstrate God’s love to people – all people.

Christians, we have an opportunity right now to show everyone that we are not what they think we are. We have the chance right now to show and speak to people in a way that Jesus would have and did while He walked on this earth. This is not the time to fight a war. This is the time to show God’s love.   Put down your verbal weapons that are attacking those we do not agree with and try fighting a battle the way that Christ did.   Love them.

What an opportunity we have right now to be what Christ wants us to be. I quote again the verse that God has been hammering into my heart for months now.  I recently did a three week series based on this verse.  You can find the podcast (as well as all my messages) on itunes by clicking on this link   You can also find these three messages on youtube at this youtube playlist link.   Galatians 5:6 says “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Try reacting to people that way instead of freaking out about a Supreme Court ruling.

In talking to many Christians and seeing their posts and rants on social media, most are more concerned about the court’s ruling than they are the lives and souls of the people we rub shoulders with every day.  For some reason, they are using this Supreme Court ruling to draw the battle lines for a war that is not the one we should be fighting.

The war is not against flesh and blood.  It is not against the gay community.  It is not against the government.  If it were, then it would be time to take up our verbal weapons and go to battle.  But that is not the battle that we have been called to fight.  We are in a battle over people’s lives and for lost souls.  And to win that battle, we must fight in a very unconventional manner.  We cannot assault them with our words, attitudes, and actions of disapproving negativity.   Those are great weapons to use if we want to argue and “be right.”  Those are great weapons to use if we want to try to win A battle that makes us feel better about ourselves because we are right and they are wrong.  But they are lousy weapons to use if we want to win the war – the war for the souls of people.  We can only win that war through demonstrating with words, attitudes, and actions the love of God.

Christians love to hide behind phrases like “hate the sin, but love the sinner” and “speak the truth in love.” If we could truly do that in a way that the world sees God’s love in us then, yes, I agree.  We must speak the truth. Unfortunately, the world sees Christians as nothing more than judgmental haters because we scream and cry about their sin without showing them the love of God.  I do agree that we are to stand against sin, but that stance is in our own lives and the lives of other followers of Christ. Not the world. They are not followers of Christ. They do not have the power of the Holy Spirit to help them. They sin because they are sinners. That’s what they do. Our ranting about a sin is not going to bring them to Christ. Our love and showing love the way Christ did on earth will

When Christ walked this earth, He did not go around yelling about the atrocities of people’s sins. He loved them and accepted them where they were. He offered them hope and forgiveness. He gave them healing and restoration BEFORE He told them to go and sin no more. We do it backwards today. The church is not at all what Jesus was. He told His disciples that the world will know they are His Followers by their love. Not their words of condemnation.

I know that Jesus did at times speak very directly and harshly to some people. But look who they were. They were the religious people of the day. He was harsh to those who were religious and self-righteous. Those who judged the sinners for not following their ways. Those are the ones He laid into. But for everyone else, those who needed His love, forgiveness, and restoration, He spoke only words of love.

I know that if Jesus were physically walking on earth today, then He would be hanging out with those very people that so many Christians judge and stay away from.   He would be eating dinner with the gays and the lesbians and as a result of His love and acceptance of them as people, many would come to Him.   So why are so many of us today living the opposite way that Jesus did?   Do we truly think we know better than Jesus how to win the war for lost souls?

So we have a choice to make.  We can either feed the idea that we are intolerable haters or we can offer them God by being Jesus on earth. We can’t do both. As for speaking the truth in love, we earn the right to speak the truth when they see the love inside us.  One might make us feel good about ourselves for “standing for righteousness” while the other might actually show that God and His people are loving and will draw people into His kingdom.  Which one do you think God wants you to do?

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Why I No Longer Want To Be Called a Christian

No ChristianI recently made a decision that I am sure is going to be controversial.   For those who will be offended by this decision, I am truly sorry.  However, I urge you to read this post in its entirety so that you can better understand why I made this decision.  After 44 years of calling myself a Christian, I have decided that I no longer want to be associated with what the term Christian entails.  No, I am not renouncing my faith in Christ.  That faith and love for God is as strong and present as ever.  In fact, it is partly for that reason why I no longer want to be called a Christian.

I know I can hear many of you mumbling right now in confusion as to what I am saying.  That is understandable as over the past few weeks, I have battled within my own heart whether or not this decision is strictly a reaction to the fact that I have once again seen Christians, under the pretext that they are acting in accordance with their church belief, do things in a way that is unChristlike or is Christ Himself leading me towards this decision.

As I struggled through that decision, I decided to do what is always the best thing to do.  I went to the Bible itself.   When I started examining Christ’s teachings and the writings of the Apostles, I began to realize something very disturbing.  Not only did Paul never use the word Christian in any of his writings, not only did Jesus never refer to His followers as Christians, but to my surprise, the word Christian is only used three times in the Bible.  But more surprising than the number of times it appears, is the realization that this term was used as a derogatory term by those outside the faith.  In other words, those who were opposed to Christ, called the followers of Christ Christians.  It was meant as a put down.

Okay, I know some of you are probably thinking, what’s the big deal?  This is just semantics.  But I want to propose to you that in today’s western world, it goes way deeper than semantics.  Christians today are NOTHING like those followers of Christ in the first century.  How do I know?  Quite simply, if you were to ask the people in your office, neighborhood, or those you run into at the grocery store, a high percentage of them would call themselves Christians.   And if you were to ask each one of them what a Christian is, you would probably get at least a dozen different answers.  The term Christian is not clearly defined in our world, therefore a high majority of people in the western world consider themselves Christians.  Yet, since the Bible never gives a definition for the word Christian, we have no argument to support the way we want to define Christianity.  In other words, people define it anyway they want and they act in accordance with their own thoughts as to what a Christian is supposed to be like and supposed to do.

Oh, but my reasoning for no longer wanting to be called a Christian goes much deeper than the fact that in the first century, that term was used by the pagans in a derogatory way.   One look at history will give you more than enough evidence to show that Christians are not the greatest of people.  All you have to do is look at things like the Crusades or all the times Christians have burned people at the stake because they didn’t believe the way they did.   Somehow, I just can’t see Christ condoning that.

But honestly, I don’t have to look at history to convince myself to renounce the term Christian.  All I have to do is look at people in our western world that claim to be Christians.  I’m not even talking about those who bomb abortion clinics or those who are part of the Westboro Baptist Church and all their antics.  I am talking about the average church goer that sits in the seats each Sunday morning in the churches that we attend.   Oh they love to talk the talk and tell people how much they care, but yet they turn on people in a heartbeat and in the name of the church and in the guise of Christianity, they cast judgment on people.

I understand that I am about to stir up a hornets’ nest because I am going to hit some people right between the eyes.  But quite frankly I am tired of Christians acting so unlike Christ when it comes to not only dealing with the lost world, but also how they deal with other Christians.    Christians are the most judgmental people around.  They judge the world based on the standards they believe the Bible teaches.  And they may be right in that the Bible does teach that.  For instance (get ready here), I do believe the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin.  However, so many Christians become absolutely homophobic and in a very real sense make it very clear that they do not want to associate with such a sinner.  Is that what Jesus would have done?  Not the Jesus I know from reading the New Testament.  That Jesus went to the homes of sinners.  That Jesus loved the sinners.  These Christians hide behind the phrase, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner,” and they think that covers them.  But do they truly show love?  No, the message that they so clearly demonstrate is that they hate the sinner as much or more than they hate the sin.  Their very words and actions show they do not separate the sin from the sinners.  They are so far from the way Christ lived that it is appalling.

Where did Christians get the idea that the lost world, the ones who are without Christ, must live according to the standards that they who call themselves Christians have?  Even when those standards might be good and Godly standards, we cannot expect those who do not have the power of the Holy Spirit inside them to live like those who do.  Let’s face it.  They are sinners.  They are supposed to sin.  They can’t help it.  That’s who they are and what they do.  The only power they have to not live a sinful life is when God takes control of their lives.  So Christians, you do more harm than good by trying to hold the world to God’s standards.  The world simply cannot hold itself to God’s standards.  So why do Christians judge them when they do not live according to the standards that they cannot possibly live up to?

But my beef with Christians goes even deeper than how so many view and treat those who are not part of their belief system.  My biggest complaint about Christians is how they treat their own people.  I am appalled at how often Christians blast other Christian leaders for something they said from the pulpit (sometimes it is even taken out of context).  I have seen and heard Christians call other Christian leaders heretics and blasphemers because they said something that did not entirely fit into their neat little doctrinal package.  I’m not saying that these things the leaders had said were always good or even benign.  They may have truly been totally off base.  However, to publically execute them with your nasty words is uncalled for and is a terrible example to the rest of the world.  Yet, so many Christians do this out of the guise that they are standing for truth.

But what is truth?  What is the truth about what Jesus expects from those who claim His name?  As I mentioned earlier, Jesus NEVER referred to people as Christians.  He called them His disciples.  The term disciple means nothing more than being a follower of Christ.  Now before you go and once again accuse me of splitting hairs and just making this a matter of semantics, let’s look at how Jesus says people will know who His true disciples are.  In John 13:35, Jesus Himself says that our love for one another will prove to the world that we are His disciples.  It’s not what we know, how often we go to church, whether we tithe faithfully, or if we speak in tongues or anything else.  Love is the key that demonstrates that we are His disciples.  That’s it.  Love.  Undying, life-changing, undeniable, unconditional, self-sacrificing, love.  Anything less, according to Jesus, then we are not a follower of His.   We may call ourselves a Christian – whatever that means – but we are not following Christ.   Followers of Christ consistently demonstrates love to the world, the Christians, and other followers of Christ.

Yet love is all too often absent from those who call themselves Christians.  Oh they sometimes put on an air of love in order to either impress someone or make themselves feel good, but the true love that Jesus demonstrated when He walked the earth, that love that says “I am going to step into the circle with those who are hurting or down and out, and I am going to encourage them, offer a helping hand, and help hold them up” is absent from most Christians and as a result most churches.  Instead, Christians are notorious for shooting their own wounded.   They don’t love.  They hurt.  It is the way of Christianity.  It has been through all of history and it is still the way of the Christian church today.  It is not the way of a follower of Christ.

For me, I have been let down and hurt by Christians one too many times.  So many of them are just a more civilized version of those who were part of the crusades or even the Salem witch trials.   Instead of demonstrating true love and reaching out to those who are lonely and hurting, they ignore them and hope they go away.  At times, they even push them away.   After all, that is what Christians have historically done.  Today’s Christian is just like Christians of past eras.  They wound more than they heal.

So I no longer consider myself a Christian because that is a term that really has no meaning.  People define it however they want to.   And most those who call themselves Christians do not live a life that truly follows Christ example.   Instead, I want to be a disciple.  I want to be called a Follower of Christ.  I want to learn from His example and live the way He lived.  I want others to see His love in me, and by that love, they will know that I am a follower of His.   Let the Christians continue to be whatever they want to be.  Let them continue to be judgmental hypocrites who care more about their doctrines and beliefs than they care about showing God’s love.  I no longer want to be one of them.  I want to offer hope and life, not condemnation and pain.

Yes, I will fail at being a follower of Christ.  I will fail miserably.  I will not always live the life of love and there will be times that people will think I am a Christian and not a follower of Christ.  But my desire and my goal is follow Christ’s example and not live by the ways of Christianity.  I do not want to be judgmental and aloof to the needs of others.  I don’t want to go to church and occupy a seat on Sunday and tell others I care about them and then don’t think about them the rest of the week.   I don’t want to ignore the hurting people in my life without offering hope and encouragement.

And I pray that I am not alone in this exodus from Christianity.  I pray that many will stop living, acting, and speaking like a Christian and will become a true follower of Christ.   I pray that churches will begin to spring up that will emphasize following Christ by exhibiting love to both their world and to those who are part of their fellowship.   That is the only way that we can make a true difference in our society.  That is the only way the world will know that we are followers of Christ.  It’s time to change.  It is time to stop being a Christian and acting like a Christian.  Instead it is time to live like Christ lived, do the things that He did, and love the way that He loved.  It’s time to start a revolution and revolt against Christianity in favor of becoming people who follow Christ.

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In Memory of Leonard Nimoy – Spiritual Life Lessons We Learned From Spock

SpockI am not ashamed to admit that Star Trek has always been my favorite television show.  My earliest memories of television was watching Star Trek and a few years later when it went into syndication, I became the biggest fan a ten year old boy could be – collecting models, toys, buying every Star Trek novel available, and even dressing up like Spock for Halloween.  Spock was my favorite character in my favorite TV show and even as I grew older, my fandom and my appreciation for the character would never wane.

So when the news of Leonard Nimoy’s death hit the newswires on February 27, 2015, my heart sank.  As illogical as it might be to shed tears and mourn the loss of someone I had never met, it could not be helped.   Nimoy’s death felt like the end of an era for me.  He and the character of Spock that he had made so famous was a link to not only my childhood, but to many other decades of my life and the inspiration and wisdom he gave me for almost 50 years of playing and reprising his most famous role cannot be measured.

As I sat and mourned the loss, I was reminded of the words spoken by Dr. McCoy after the character of Spock died in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (before being brought back to life in the next movie).  “He really isn’t dead as long as we remember him.”

As hard as it is to face the fact that Nimoy will never reprise the role of Spock again and the dream of seeing Shatner and Nimoy one last time together as the beloved duo of Kirk and Spock will now never happen, I am choosing to remember the logic and the life lessons that Nimoy, through Spock, taught us for almost 50 years.   Today I am posting some of those gems that he gave us and as I look at each of these Spock quotes, I realize that there are indeed life lessons we should all take to heart.

  1. Change is the essential process of all existence.” Going through life is all about adapting and changing. Every day, every situation, every stage of life is different and if we are not growing and changing, then we are losing ground. We cannot expect to handle today’s situations in life just like we did yesterdays. And tomorrow will bring a new set of circumstances that will require us to change and to grow. Although God never changes, we do and we must. If we are not changing, if we are not growing, then we are in essence ceasing to exist as an effective person in our world.
  1. “Insufficient facts always invite danger.” How often do we jump to conclusions or make assumptions about someone or situations? We assume we know their motivation or reasons behind certain statements or actions and we react accordingly to those assumptions. Or perhaps with a limited or even wrong set of facts, we make decisions that come back to haunt us. Spock’s words of wisdom warns us not to assume something about someone or something when you do not have ALL the facts, or perhaps when your emotions are clouding the facts. That will ALWAYS invite danger.

 

  1. “Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.” When Spock spoke these words in the mid 1960’s, no one had a clue that things like social media and texting would be such a big part of people’s lives almost 5 decades later.  But now, in 2015, many people are so addicted to their smartphones, tablets, or home computers that they have in a sense become a slave to them.  We spend more time on social media than we do interacting personally with other people.  If we are ever without our phone, we feel totally hopeless and lost.  Many times our technology has kept us from doing other things and those important things in life begin to slip away.   May we all heed the words of logic from Spock and make our technology our tools and servants, not our masters.

 

 

  1. “Without followers, evil cannot spread.” With the rise of gruesome beheadings by ISIS as well as other hate crimes happening right here in our country, it is easy to despair about the evil in our world.  However, it is important to note that evil cannot have any power if there are no followers.  Unfortunately, the different evil factions are gaining followers all the time.  Evil is spreading in this world because we allowing people to follow it.  We allow compromises here and there, we overlook small things, and in the name of freedom and liberty we allow people to follow their selfish desires and little by little the compromises become greater and greater and eventually evil is spreading through the followers that we watched compromise their way to evil.

 

  1. “Logic is the beginning of wisdom…not the end.” At first glance, this is one of those famous Spock quotes that I do not agree with. The Bible tells us that the fear of the Lord, not logic, is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of God is understanding. Another passage equates wisdom with knowledge when it says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.   Spock lived by the code of logic and he thought those who did not follow logic were foolish. So in a sense, Spock was right after all. If the opposite of foolish thinking is logical thinking, then it would only make sense that seeking wisdom is the right thing to do. It is the logical thing to do. Therefore, if the fear of the Lord produces wisdom, then it is only logical to learn to fear the Lord. Making the logical decision to fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but logic itself is not the end. It is only the beginning.

 

  1. “You may find that having is not so nearly pleasing a thing as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”   What profound wisdom Spock offered to Ston with this quote. How many people have wanted something so bad and they went out and got it, no matter what the cost, only to find out that once they got it, the happiness was fleeting and did not last. The Bible tells us to set our affections on the things of God, not the things the world has to offer us because those are the only things that will truly bring happiness. If we set our hearts on those things that are not of God, then Spock is absolutely right in saying that gaining those things is not as pleasing as we thought it might be.

 

  1. “In critical moments, men sometimes see exactly what they wish to see.” As humans, it is natural to see only those things our minds and hearts are really looking for. If someone has hurt you, then often times you can only see the negative side of that person because your natural human heart doesn’t want to see the positive things. On the other hand, if you truly love someone, then you can overlook their faults and see only what your love tells you to see. Neither is a perfect sight. Both see only what they want to see. It is not logical, but it is true. However, which way serves for the better good.   In the critical moments, is it better to see the positives in people, in situations, and in life, or the negative?

 

  1. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few….or the one.” What would this world be like if we all lived with this Spock motto? What would our families be like if each one of us looked more to fill the needs of the other people in our lives than we do our own?   Jesus taught throughout the Gospels that we are to serve other people and only in that serving will we find true joy.   Jesus, Himself, served as the greatest example as He did not look after His own needs, but instead voluntarily suffered a gruesome death so that many would have eternal life. If you want to affect your world and even your family, then the best place to start is by following Spock’s motto and Christ’s example. The needs of your family and your world outweigh the needs of you, the one.

 

  1. “I have been, and always shall be, your friend.” Part of Star Trek’s appeal has always been the friendship between Kirk and Spock. From the outside, it might have seemed a friendship that could not endure, but as we watched their friendship grown through the decades, it could not be denied that they were the best of friends and brought out the best in each other. Kirk’s passion impulse was always balanced by Spock’s calm and logic. Their friendship endured throughout time and became legendary. They are an example for us all to aspire, that no matter the circumstances, true friendship must endure. Circumstances and even hurt feelings must never stand in the way of true friendship.

 

  1. “Live long and prosper.” Along with the split hand salute that is taken from a Jewish blessing, this is perhaps Spock’s most famous quote and it rings with such truth and blessing. Who doesn’t want to live a long, prosperous life? Yet so many people live a life of stress and struggles as we seek to merely make ends meet in our lives. However, this famous Vulcan salute gives us the secret of a prosperous life. The hand gesture that goes with the greeting comes from the Hebrew letter that in English translates in the Sh It is the first letter in the Hebrew word for God, Shaddai, the word for God’s glory, Shekinah, and the word for peace, Shalom. When the Jewish rabbi gives this hand gesture while pronouncing a blessing over the people in the synagogue, he is invoking a blessing, “may God and His Glory give your peace.” The peace that God and His Glory brings to our lives when we fully walk in His ways is the only way to live long and prosper.

Leonard Nimoy, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for helping take us for nearly 50 years where no man has gone before and for teaching us such great truths to live by. You may be gone from this earth, but your logic and wisdom will live as long as there is Star Trek on this earth.

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When God Touches Our Lives – A Christmas Message

jm_200_NT2.pd-P17.tiffWe all know the Christmas story and most of us are familiar with the events that led up to that wonderful, blessed, and holy night.  We know how the angel Gabriel appeared to a young girl named Mary and informed her that she would be the earthly vessel that God would use to bring His Son into a lost and dying world.

We are told in Luke chapter 1 that this confused Mary.  How could she become a mother when she was still a virgin?

Some of you may have a similar story where you knew God was directing you to something beyond what humanly made sense.  As a result of following God, you became a first hand witness to God’s amazing love, grace, and power

However for many of us, we have only witnessed that life of faith and obedience from afar.   We have, to this point, remained comfortable in our Christian life, not ever doing something drastic that did not make logical sense.  Sure we exhibit a measure of faith from time to time and we occasionally are witness to God’s supernatural provision.   But how often do we step out in faith and trust God for the impossible?

That was part of a discussion we recently had in the small group that I’m a part of. And that left me wondering how do we know when God is asking us to step out of our comfort zone and believe Him for greater things?  On the one hand, it is easy to say that God always wants us out of our comfort zone and relying on Him.   Not only is that very spiritual sounding, but it’s very true.  However, I think we all agree that this is not the same for every person.   For some, it might be selling everything and moving to a third world country. For others, it might be leaving a job they have been comfortable in to pursue something else.  It may be starting your own business, always a risky endeavor. Or perhaps for you, it is beginning a new ministry. Whatever it is, my question has always been how do you know if it is God calling you to step out in faith or if it is merely an emotional ideal or something we think we are supposed to do as our next step in our spiritual maturity.

I’ve always marveled at God’s Word, the Bible.  It is almost uncanny how that each time I go through some questioning in my life, the answers are found in whatever part of the Bible I am studying at the time.  Or on this case, being only a few days before Christmas, in the story that everyone is hearing at this time of year.

As I once again read Luke 1, I tried to imagine what Mary must have been feeling. Here she was a young woman with her whole life in front of her.  I’m sure she had her plans all laid out. She was going to marry Joseph in a great traditional Jewish wedding feast and they would settle into their life and live unobtrusively in the house that maybe Joseph himself had built.   They would have kids and friends and live a life of peace and relative comfort.

But all that changed the night Gabriel came to visit.   “You will conceive and give birth to a son.  But not just any son.  He will be God on Earth.  Mary, not only is your life going to be turned upside down, but the whole destiny of the world is about to be rocked.”

When God steps in and wants to alter our destiny, it is for reasons that are far bigger than just ourselves.  Too often we get caught up in an introspective view of God’s will and we miss the bigger picture of what God is doing.  I hate to be the one to break the bad news to you. But quite simply, when God does ask you to do something big and drastic, stepping out of your comfort zone, it’s not primarily for your happiness, security, and prosperity.   In fact it might not even lead to any of those.

It surely didn’t do that for Mary.  Do you think in her time and her culture that Mary’s pregnancy before she was married was an easy, happy, secure, and prosperous time?    Not a chance.  She was shamed, scorned, and ridiculed.  Yet she endured it all with joy in her heart because she did not focus on herself, but the greater good that was being given to the world.

What about us?  How do we know when God wants to use us for the greater good?  Mary had the constant reminder in the ever growing baby bump that God was at work.   But we don’t have that constant reassurance in the form of a baby bump that God is working.  How do we know that we didn’t fabricate the idea to step out on faith in any particular area.  We don’t have that same constant reminder that Mary had.

Or do we? Whereas Mary had God the Son living inside her as a constant reminder that God was doing something special through her, those of us who are followers of Christ have God, the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us as a constant comfort and reminder that God is working inside us.

However, as we examine Mary’s encounter with Gabriel, I believe we learn some deeper truths that help answer the questions as to how we know when God is asking us to step out on faith and move way beyond our comfort zone.

“How can this happen?” Mary asked Gabriel. “I am a virgin.”

We often ask God that same question. We feel that He is asking us to do something out of the ordinary, to step out of our comfort zone of life, and step out on faith. Sometimes that step we feel God is asking us to take just doesn’t make sense. “God how can this happen? How can I do what you are asking me to do? How can my family survive when we are giving up a guaranteed income? How can I step into this ministry when I don’t have the background or the training for it? How? How? How?”

In Luke 1:35, Gabriel responded to Mary’s question with the same answer that centuries later God is giving to us. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

When God calls you to step out of your everyday life and do something uncommon that humanly speaking doesn’t make sense, that call is always followed by the Holy Spirit touching your life in a way that cannot be denied.   We learn from Mary that when God touches our lives, He changes our plans, our passion, and our purpose.

Mary’s plans for her life changed drastically when God touched her life. Now she was pregnant and in many ways became the outcast of her society for getting pregnant before she was married. Her plans for a happy, comfortable, normal life changed the instant God touched her.

Many of us struggle with stepping out of our comfort zone to do something radical for God because it goes against the plans we have made for our lives.   That’s a natural reaction and a natural reason to question whether what we think God is saying is actually what we are supposed to do. There is nothing wrong with being sure about something before you change your lifelong plans. However, once we know this is what God is directing, then we must accept the fact that God is changing our plans. However, just as Mary’s plans were changed so that the Son of God would come to Earth to save the world, God has a greater plan to accomplish by changing our plans.

When God touches our lives, He changes our passion. When Mary heard everything that Gabriel had told her, she responded by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” In that instant her passion had changed. Not only did she now know what God wanted from her, but she now wanted it too.   When we get to the point in our lives that we are willing to take that step and get out of our comfort zone, it will not be something we do begrudgingly because God will have changed our passion.  We will now want it too.  Those things that excited us before, those things that we took comfort in, and those things that we held on to for security, will fade away in the midst of a new passion.

Some of you have experienced what I am talking about.   You have taken that step of faith and though there may still be at times some apprehension (don’t think for a minute that Mary did not have her moments of apprehension and feelings of inadequacy), you have felt that assurance that you were doing the right thing and you had an almost unexplained passion and excitement for what God was going to do. I know my family is going through those feelings right now in an area we believe God has called us to step out in faith. For those of you who know me well, you also know that this is a complete change in what I have believed in (not talking about a doctrinal thing). Yet, I feel a new passion and assurance that this step of faith is exactly what God wants us to do. As a result, I am excited to see how God is going to move and provide.

Finally, we learn from Mary, that when God touches our lives, He changes our purpose. No longer was she only going to be Mary, the wife of Joseph the carpenter.  She was now going to be Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. Her whole purpose in life took a drastic change and her destiny would never be the same.

What is your purpose in life? Is it just to exist from day to day, not really making a difference in the world? God doesn’t call everyone to be a preacher or a missionary, but I do believe He calls everyone to make a difference in some positive way in their world.   I know many of you are making that difference. But I also know for some of us that God is directing us to get out of our comfort zone, take a step of faith, and let God change, redirect, or focus our purpose in life.

What is God asking you to do? He asked Mary to be the instrument He used to bring His Son into the world. As a result, her plans, her passion, and her purpose were completely changed and the destiny of the world fell into God’s plans.   If God is asking you to step out of your comfort zone and take a step of faith, then you don’t have to worry whether or not He is directing your or not. He will touch your life in a special way and your plans, your passion, and your purpose WILL also change.   Are you ready to fall into line with God’s direction?

In closing let me leave you with the same words that Gabriel left with Mary. Luke 1:37 says, “For the Word of God will never fail.”   Dare to trust God and take Him at His Word. He will not fail you.

Have a Merry Christmas and in these final days of the year may God surround you with His love, fill you with His grace, and capture your heart.

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