Doubtful Preaching

“Don’t preach your doubts.” Someone once said that to me and it’s always kind of stuck. His point was we should aim to preach or teach with periods and not question marks. It worked for him and in my little corner of ministry it’s always seemed to work out for me. I say that because it may not work for everybody. Some people feel called to make us think- to stir the pot- to preach with question marks. That’s ok too. Jesus stirred the pot. He also asked questions.

However, Jesus didn’t ask questions which led others to doubt God. His questions were asked to induce self-doubt. The sorts of questions which challenge the veracity of God are in the realm of the devil. Ask Eve.

God declared Himself in the garden. He uttered a series of declarative sentences. You may eat from any tree you desire. Except you may not eat from that particular tree. If you do eat the fruit from that tree you will die.

There were no ifs, ands or buts. Nothing was left to chance. Adam and Eve did not have to work themselves into a spiritual frenzy in order to understand the will of God. Prayer- not necessary. Worship- not required. Exegesis- a waste of time. Just obey. Their obedience was an expression of trust in certain assumptions (givens) in regards to the Lord. He was asking them to assume He was good. He was asking them to assume He would take care of them. He was asking them to assume He was telling the truth. He was asking them to assume He could be taken at His word.

The devil challenged those assumptions. He did so by asking a question. A question which caused them to doubt God’s honor. It changed the world. Not for the better.

Sometimes I feel like we are being asked to believe that the the will of God is best expressed in question marks. Questions for which there are no definitive answers. In order for me to accept that then I must assume God is not everything He’s made out to be. How awful of Him to leave us hanging. That’s not so good. Personally, I think the Scriptures have plenty of sentences which end in periods. They are simple declarations of truth. They are to be believed – not doubted. To doubt them is to doubt the basic goodness of God.

When I’ve just concluded a sermon or a class I hope that I’ve left certain basic assumptions about God intact. I hope that I’ve left periods ringing in the air instead of throbbing doubts. Not that I think it’s wrong to ask questions or to cause others to think. To evaluate. To draw their own conclusions. However, teaching and preaching go hand in hand with leading. I want to ask myself- Where am I leading my audience?

Generally speaking politicians understand the difference between question mark leadership and period leadership. At least the successful one’s do. Ronald Reagan, JFK, FDR, Abraham Lincoln were about we can – we will – we shall – we are going to… They offered hope – belief – conviction – we can do-ism – They are considered great leaders. Did they have doubts? Of course. Did they ever wonder if we were gonna make it? Yes. But in their public sermons you would have never known it. They understood there is a time and place to ask questions- to voice doubts. For them that time was almost never from behind their pulpits.

Jimmy Carter expressed his doubts in front of the entire nation. The membership of his church, as it were, shrank significantly in the election of 1980. By a land slide. No one calls him a great president.

I’m lucky. Week after week my preacher persuasively, pleasantly and with passion presents what I can know. This is good for me. Lord knows I have enough trouble living the plainly knowable.

“Don’t preach your doubts.” I think that’s good advice.

I know Whom I have believed…

Random Dis-connected Thoughts

The Workshop is off and running. Wednesday night was incredible. Mostly we sang. It was heavenly. The lesson was outstanding. And challenging. Today I visited a bit with two superstars of the blog kingdom. Trey Morgan and John Dobbs. I felt as if I was in the presence of blog royalty. But I didn’t bow. I don’t want to go to hell for worshiping men.

Hillary Clinton’s near death experience at the hands of non-sniping snipers causes me to believe she has a lot in common with the inventor of the internet- Al Gore. Let’s just say they have a “unique” way of recalling non-history. Either one of them would have made a great TV evangelist. In fact, if this president of the United States gig doesn’t work out for Hillary someone should tell her the presidency of Oral Roberts University is up for grabs.

Speaking of the Clinton’s. I don’t think Bill really wants his wife to become president. According to both friend and foe he has had a series of affairs since leaving the White House. And he hasn’t had to live in the same house as his wife during the last eight years either. Does anyone believe he wants to give all that up? And what if Hillary is better at being president then he was? Many of the same friends and foe claim  Bill has a massive ego. A successful Hillary administration just might kill him.

“You can’t have your cake and it too.” I just don’t get it. Yes,  I know if you ate the cake you wouldn’t have it anymore. However, if you are not planning on eating the cake why would you have one in the first place? What else are you going to do with the cake? Are we to save our cake so that we can wheeze on our death bed, “I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life but gosh darn it I never ate that cake.  I never ate that cake!”

And then do we expect Jesus say, “Well done good and faithful servant you have brought me my cake.”

The Plot to Kill Hillary Clinton

So, Hillary flew into a sniper zone while they were sniping. Consequently after the plane taxied to a stop the welcoming ceremonies were canceled and the first lady of the United States had to duck her head and run for cover. Actually, I’m not surprised. It was probably a part of the vast right-wing conspiracy that dogged the Clinton’s while they were in the White House. Those Republican radicals are probably cursing the day their snipers sniped over there and missed. (Or did they?)

One thing is for sure- the Secret Service had every reason to be in on the killing. They despised the first lady. More than likely this is why they agreed to let the first lady (and her young daughter) land in a known sniper zone, while they were sniping, in violation of all previous protocol for protecting the president and his family. Even rent-a-cops aren’t that stupid (I should know- I was one). Is the Secret Service that stupid. (Or were they up to something?)

Yeah, the Secret Service and Hillary had a running battle beginning “on day one” and lasting the duration of her first two terms. She didn’t like them trailing so closely to her personage. So she employed the f-word to instruct them to remain at a certain distance. Contrary to their mandate from congress. (What a perfect set up for Bosnia – “Hey, she ordered us to stay back!”) Are you catching my drift?

Then there was the baggage issue. See, while Hillary lived in the governor’s mansion she was used to receiving protection from the bodyguards/bell boys provided by the Arkansas State Highway Patrol. She never had to carry her bags as first lady of Arkansas. She delegated that irksome task to her personal security guards. I guess that had it’s own upside.   Hillary’s security detail  could have clobbered the bad guys on the head with her luggage…or used it to deflect incoming fire. (Please tell me the bags were armor plated.)

In any event she survived to be elected president…I mean first lady…in 1992.  In that position do you think she was about to begin hauling her own briefcase or bags? No way! She had the Secret Service.  She asked them to carry her bags.  They demurred.  She then demanded them to do it with a colorful vocabulary. They refused to do so.  All that was left to Hillary was to then threaten their careers.  And she did.   All along the Secret Service kept asking her, “How can we protect you if our hands are full?”

Evidently the Secret Service, for all its vaunted reputation, is not skilled at multi-tasking as is the Arkansas State Highway Patrol. God forbid the worst from happening in Bosnia. But when it did Hillary had already provided a plausible cover for the Secret Service. Bad news- the first lady is dead. Good news- her luggage survived the attack. Intact.

Then there was the matter of the president’s safety. As almost everybody knows the Secret Service maintains a list of potential assassins. You write a death threat to the president and your name goes on a file folder. No one’s file was thicker than Hillary’s during the Clinton years. For example she was known to have thrown a lamp at the president. Another time she used manicured nails to gouge his skin. (Which defeated the purpose of having others carry her bags.) Not to mention the verbal abuse she heaped on the president from time to time. Therefore, dropping Hillary off in the midst of an active battle must have seemed like the perfect opportunity to remove at least one threat to the president. (Maybe her file folder got so thick the Secret Service just didn’t have room for any more threats.)

So, why did the plotters fail? Well, I can tell you that…What’s that? Hmm! Really?

Never mind folks.

Apparently Hilliary mis-remembered an event that never took place. She misspoke. I’m gonna go one better and give her the benefit of the doubt. I think she lapsed into a severe case of pre-survivors guilt while she was still on the plane. This in turn led to amnesia. So kudos to her therapist for enabling her to recover lost memories.

I bet the possibility of Clinton II makes the White House a more prayerful place to be than any church in the land.

By the way I still think she will find a way to steal the nomination.

Confidence in Grace

The boy was at a church camp for leaders. Only the best were invited to attend. He participated in the classes. He sang the songs. He led prayers. But he was dead on the inside. So he wept.

After one of the evening lessons, in privacy, he confessed to another what was for him unspeakable shame. Then he braced himself for the imagined reaction that had held his heart captive. The boy was a prodigal who still lived at home.

The young man had been in training for several months. He was going to the mission field. He was an excellent student. He had a gift for people. Everybody loved him. Except himself. So he wept too.

One day he told another, in privacy, of his guilt over an event long past. He felt disqualified to serve on the mission field. Sadder still- he felt distant from God. After his confession he steeled himself for the imagined reaction that had stolen his peace. Even as he continued to serve the Father – the young man was a prodigal.

I wonder how many prodigals we sit with Sunday after Sunday? I know I’m one. It’s just so hard for me to accept that the Father will forgive me of my sins. Which are the same sins over and over. Try confessing the same sin to a person over and over and they may get tired of hearing it. Or they might think you are insincere. Better to remain silent. And die in pieces on the inside. While we’re sitting on a pew. Singing a song. Saying a prayer. Reading a Scripture.

I’m so glad to know the Father of the prodigal waits by the road. He is facing the horizon. His arms are already outstretched. He is ready to welcome home. The Father of the prodigal has never refused to welcome someone back – has never refused to hug – has never turned his back…except…

A man hung in the sky. From there he called to the Father of the prodigal. And he was met by silence. He looked down the road that led home. And the Father of the prodigal turned his back.

However, his arms are still outstretched. He is still ready to welcome home. He is still ready to hug. If only we will come.

I say “we” because when He turned His back on Jesus He was facing me. And you.

When I can’t get it through my head that His grace is sufficient I think about the prodigal’s Father. Jesus Christ is the light of God’s eye. He couldn’t be prouder. So,   if He turned His back on Jesus in order to face us – He must really love us.

Surely that is something we can be confident of

A Tale of Two Gardens

That the resurrection took place in a garden is a scrumptious morsel of poetic justice.  It goes down sweet.  A Hollywood screenwriter would be hard pressed to author a drama wherein the conclusion was so richly satisfying for the audience.

However, this time it is not the dialouge which satisfies the viewer but rather what is splashed across the screen.  If you know what to look for.  For me one of the way cool things about God is His flair for the visual.    If we were to examine His pictures in a gallery they would speak volumes- without the need for captions.  Take for example the story of redemption- the tale of paradise lost then regained.  It is a story which begins in one garden and ends another.  Those two gardens serve as bookends for everything that means anything to mankind.

Consider two snapshots of the Devil.

In the first He is obviously in a garden.  If you examine the picture close enough you will see the remains of a piece of fruit near his coiled body.  Yet it his face which commands attention.  His countenance is flush with dark triumph.  The look reminds one of a psychotic killer who has just satiated his bloodlust.  The smile is mirthless but there nonetheless.  He is now King of the Jungle…er…garden.  Smug.  Haughty.  Untouchable.  It is evident that whatever preceded the picture played out excactly as he wanted.  The picture captures the devil in full bloom.  And it strikes fear in the heart of mankind.

Yet…another snapshot exists. 

In the second snapshot, once again, the Devil is obviously in a garden.  But that is the end of any similarity with the first image.  Noticeably in the second picture the body of the Devil  is blurred at the edges.  The devil is fleeing.  His back is turned to a gaping hole.  However, it is the  Devil’s face which commands attention.  His mouth hangs open.  His eyes are frozen at their widest.  He looks for all the world like he’s just seen a ghost.  A ghost with substance.  When compared with the first picture triumph has become terror – a coup has taken place and the king of the garden has been de-throned.  He has been bested…and he knows it.  The second image captures the devil in full flight.  And it strikes hope in the heart of mankind.

The two images also reveal much about God.  To begin with He’s pretty smart.  And creative.  While the devil rejoiced over his victory in one garden the Lord planned his undoing in another.  That is poetic justice at it’s purest.  The pictures also declare that no one has a greater sense of irony than God.  It makes the story of salvation that much more delicious for believers.  Or it does so for me.

The tale of two gardens is a brilliant saga which causes me to have great confidence in the Creator.  Over the course of centuries He out-manuevered… out-flanked…  and out-thought the devil.  Even in the first garden He must have been thinking, “Boy, have I got a surprise for you…in another garden.”

That just makes me smile.

Happy Easter.

Jesus 0’Clock

Living long term for Jesus can be daunting.  Even exhausting.  Believers live in a state of near constant  tension.  Any war is hard but how do you deal with an enemy who never surrenders, who never tires and who only retreats for tactical purposes?  And when you are tired of fighting how do you run away from an enemy who lives within you?

As I’ve said before – humans are the only creatures on earth and in heaven who simultaneously inhabit two dimensions of reality.  We are so of the earth – yet we are also endowed with a part which is so completely otherworldly.  We ARE flesh.  We ARE spirit.  At the intersection where these two realities cross paths the resulting collision can be shattering.  And in defiance of the laws of physics it is a shattering which never seems to reach the the end point of resistance.  Consequently there is a perpetual inner impact or point of tension.

Obviously many people are either not aware of the reasons for their interior condition or they choose to ignore them. Most sad of all are those who are aware of the something else and choose a life of defiance.  All of these have something in common.  They live in a closed system.  Their thinking is flat, earth-bound and wholly tied to the here and now.  They are one dimensional.  They are lords of their own fate.   The best of human intelligence and art and creativity and imagination and invention are their high water marks.  They are a law unto themselves.

Believers live in an open system.  God is Transcendant.  Over and beyond.  Under and through.  Up and down.  Wherever He wants to be.  His voice penetrates the human dimension.  He speaks into the earth bound reality of humanity to import knowledge of the really real.  And the things He has to say are not always easy to bear.  Perhaps this is why Solomon said in knowledge one will discover much grief.  Believers are noble, beyond compare,  because they bravely embrace the grief on a daily basis.  And what grief is that?  It is the grief which comes from knowing the difference between who we are and who we should be.

Brave as we may be – living in a constant state of grief or tension can be exhausting.  That’s why so many have surrendered to the seeming ease of one-dimensional living.  Afterall, doing whatever you want to do seems to be less wearisome than not doing what you want to do.  There’s no fight.  No resistance.  No collision.

First Peter was written for folks on the cusp of quitting.  It was written for those who were tired of asking themselves, “What’s really real?”  It was written for people for whom the permenantly shattering nature of the collision within was too high a price to pay.  It was written for believers who were tired of believing.  It was written for me.

The people Peter addressed were geographically scattered, politically alienated and socially reviled.  They felt themselves to be dis-banded, rag-tag, inferior, picked on, irrelevant.  Not to mention their own personal struggles and temptations.  They looked around them and saw a world largely un-concerned with spiritual matters –  living care-free lives.  They began to waver.  They wanted to be care-free again.  They began to remember their pre-Jesus days as being much better than their current condition.  They were so rattled…so tired of the struggle…that even the vomit of their past lifestyle began to look appetizing.

I love the Holy Spirit.  He’s a Genius.  In this instance His FOREVER words will penetrate the fog of their NOT-forever current realities to illuminate courage and hope.  To show the way home.  To reveal the real.  First Peter is about time.  How we percieve it.  How we view it.  How we answer the question – Is now forever?   In five short chapters Peter exposes the titantic clash between warring world views.  It is the here and now (earth-bound) verses the then and later (forever with Jesus.)

As I mentioned in a previous post,  “at the revelation of Jesus Christ” is repeated five times in First Peter.  With these words the Holy Spirit is placing His fingers under our chins to gently nudge our faces heavenwards.  He yearns to re-direct our gaze.  Our eyes have been cast down far too long.  He longs for us to see something else – prime reality – the really real – Jesus. 

He’s saying to us who grow tired from time to time – “It may be three o’clock right now but when the clock strikes (and it will) Jesus o’clock you’ll be so sad if you lived as it would always be three 0’clock.”

Yes, living a lifetime for Jesus can be daunting – even exhausting.  However, the real clock is ticking and when it strikes Jesus 0’clock seeing Him will be so worth it.

Adventures In Missions.

A week from Friday I will be at a mini-reunion of former AIM students (after the Friday night speaker at the Tulsa Workshop).  I can’t wait.

If you don’t know AIM, based in Lubbock, Tx., is a program made especially for young men and women who want to help Jesus save people around the world.  They spend eight months in Lubbock where they are trained and equipped.  Afterwards they live for eighteen months or so on a mission field.  It is an incredible experience.

I moved to Lubbock on August 13th 1985 to be a part of AIM.  I am ever so glad I did.  After my training period was complete I moved to Staten Island, New York, with five of my classmates, to work with a small congregation of believers.  My life was irrevocably changed because of my experiences there.  Because of AIM.

It truly was an adventure – seeing the Statue of LIberty for the first time – being bored out of my wits in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (I was young and dumb) – getting lost in Manhattan (by myself with only a quarter in my pocket) – standing on the roof of the World Trade Center with my teammates (I’ve still got the pictures) – living on Governors Island for three days to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty (This was by invitation only…required a security clearance by the secret service/FBI and was THE place to be in the whole world during that Fourth of July weekend…We were surrounded by world famous celebrities, politicians, astronauts, and athletes…I think I made Bob Hope mad as I followed him because he’s giving me a dirty look in the pictures I took and John Denver refused to sign autographs…on the other hand,  the Fonz is way cool in real life except he prefers to be called Henry…best of all I got to see President Reagan.)

– I’ll never forget the day I backed the church van into a Lincoln Continental either.  The church house was in a neighborhood and when I backed out of the driveway I hit a neighbor’s car.  He was a hit man for the mob.  It was his daughters car.  He was “retired.”  Thank God.  (This is a true story.) – we also ate lunch with a lady whose husband was in the mafia.  We didn’t see him because he had a “hit” put out on him for stealing from the “family.”

– While living there I also got to take part in my first and only (so far) exorcism of a demon infested house.  This was a little difficult because we didn’t cover this subject in Lubbock.  I guess we didn’t have time.  Steve Stamatis (the missionary we worked with) got the call and took me with him.  I did learn some stuff about demons that day.  For example,  according to the woman who called us, demon powers especially like bathrooms.  Steve and I had to go into every room in that multiple story house, but especially the bathrooms, and pray the demons away.  They didn’t like it either.  Before we left we gathered the family together to pray.  While we were praying the woman began to groan, yelp and twitch.  It finally got to be too much for us so Steve stopped praying to ask her if she was okay.  She told us the demons were mad and instructed us to continue praying.  I only prayed I wouldn’t start laughing out loud.   She probably thought my silent convulsions were the products of demons too.  Anyway we failed.  Later we found out she called the pros at the Catholic Church to deal with her infestation.  I told Steve we needed smoke and water to throw around.  Yep, that WAS an adventure.

Above all though AIM is a mission.  During our first three weeks on Staten Island we distributed twenty thousand and five hundred fliers door to door.  It was an invitation to a seminar on the family our little mission church was hosting.  I hated every minute of the distribution process.  It was hot, muggy and hilly.  Lots of dogs too.  We did it for hours a day for three solid weeks.  I’m sure I complained incessantly to my fellow missionaries.  What kind of mission is this?  This is cruelty.  This is not what I signed up for.  We’re nothing more than slave labor.  (I already told you I was young and dumb.)

20,500 fliers + three weeks intensive labor = three measly visitors.  They were a family.  Mom, dad and teenage daughter.  Until recently they had been four.  Brother died one night, at home, from an asthma attack.  He was fifteen or sixteen.  Their grief was evident.  They were disillusioned with their church.  They were seeking…something.  Much to my surprise when I asked them if they wanted to study the Bible they said yes.  So one night Theresa Wilson, Art Rocco and myself began a little Bible study with this woebegone family.  What followed is one of the best experiences I have ever had in my entire life.  I won’t bore you with the details so I’ll end by saying…

20,500 fliers + Jesus = one family born again on the same night.

The AIM reunion is gonna be great.  If you have any young people interested in service like this and they are coming to the Workshop they’d be blessed by eavesdropping at the reunion.  Send them.