Monday, December 29, 2008

Fantasy Frustration vs. Real World Happiness

(Disclaimer: this post is about sports).

Anybody else struggle with the balance of emotions between fantasy football and real football? Let me explain.

You would think that since 3 of the 4 fantasy football teams I manage made the fantasy playoffs that one of them would have won the fantasy football superbowl, right? Wrong. In one league, my team lost in the first round. In another league, my team made the fantasy superbowl (which is week 16 of the regular season) and lost. I had one hope left this week. Its a league that takes the point totals of your players from week 16 and 17 of the regular season and combines them to determine the superbowl winner. I went into week 17 with an 11 point advantage...and still lost. I think its easier on me to not have a team make the fantasy playoffs than it is for a team to go to the fantasy superbowl and lose.

That last sentence does not apply to real football. While all four of my fantasy football teams have let me down, the Panthers are the source of real world happiness. No matter what happens in the post season, I'm proud of the Panthers. 12-4in the NFL is a huge accomplishment. Second place in the NFC behind the superbowl winners is a perfect place for the Panthers to be. First place comes with a lot of pressure, second place is a position where you can play with a lot of pride, confidence and a chip on your shoulder. Right where the Panthers like to be! I have a good feeling about the Cats in the post season this year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent (Part 5)

This week at our church and at other churches around the world the Joy candle was lit.

Most of you know these lyrics to the popular carol:

Joy to the world
The Lord is come
Let earth receive her king

Something about joy makes me twinge with cynicism. Even when I'm careful to remember that joy isn't just a sentimental emotion, there's a part of me that thinks joy is overrated. Then I remember, maybe happiness is what I'm thinking of.

Happiness is fleeting. It comes and goes. As the circumstances of our lives change, so does our happiness. I once argued about this with a girl in college. She believed we could always have joy and that we couldn't always be happy. In my naivete, I argued that we could always be happy, because happiness is a part of joy. I was wrong. I don't say this very often, but she was right.

Joy is something that can coexist with any other emotion because its more than just an emotion. Its more than a sentiment. Its more than a feeling that comes and goes as it pleases. Jesus says in John 15:11 "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." What did he tell his disciples? That they can remain in his love by obeying his commands. He also told them that he is sending the Holy Spirit to remind them of everything he taught and commanded them. So it is by obeying Christ that his joy becomes our joy.

What's interesting, is that there are plenty of examples in the Bible where joy and another emotion (whether positive or negative) exist. When the two Mary's discovered that Jesus was not at his tomb in Matthew 28, they "hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy..." I love that phrase "afraid yet filled with joy." We can be full of fear and joy at the same time.

Its like I tell grieving people whose loved one was a Christian, joy and pain can coexist. Its often confusing, frustrating, tiring and strange...but its true, its natural, its necessary and its normal.

That's why the carol "Joy to the World" can be true even in a world where poverty, hunger, Aids and homelessness abound...because pain and joy can and often does coexist.

May your joy be real this advent season, even if its seasoned with pain.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Advent (Part 4)

We lit the Peace candle this week. When I think of peace, these lyrics from U2's song "Peace on Earth" immediately pop into my head.

Heaven on Earth
We need it now
I'm sick of all of this
Hanging around
Sick of sorrow
Sick of pain
Sick of hearing again and again
That there's gonna be
Peace on Earth

I think this song sticks in my head because it resonates so close to home for me. I'm sick of sorrow, sick of pain, sick of hearing that there's going to be peace on earth. I'm sick of cancer. I'm sick of poverty. I'm sick of abortion. I'm sick of suicide. I'm sick of depression. I'm sick of peace on earth being a future hope, why can't it be a current reality?

If Jesus is Lord and Jesus is the prince of peace, then where is it, where is peace? Honestly. This is just one among a long list of questions I wrestle with. Now, I know what I would tell people if I were asked this question: that a relationship with Jesus gives us the peace we need now and that the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God is what will ultimately lead to peace on earth in the future.

The answer may be theologically correct (and I'm aware its just scratching the surface)but it just seems like there should be greater peace on earth than there currently is. I mean when is the human race ever going to get "being human" right?

Peace, there seems to be such a huge gap between the "now" and the "yet to come." I don't like the gap and there's only so much I can do about it. I guess that's the good news, that there is something I can do about. What if all the churches in the nation, no, in the world, were to rise up and do something about the lack of peace on earth? What would it look like for millions of Christians to say "I don't like the gap between what is happening now and the way things should be, so I'm going to do my part to fill in the gap?"

May you be sick of the way things are and do something to bring peace on earth during this advent season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent (Part 3: The Hope Candle)

This Sunday we lit the Hope candle. At one time in my life I thought hope was not important. I thought it was overrated. I thought that there was no substance to it. Looking back, I see how foolish I was.

So many people see hope as only a future possibility. I see hope as so much more. I see hope as having substance now because Jesus is not just waiting passively for us on the other side, he's passionately engaging us now. The substance of Hope is not just a future possibility, its also a present reality. Our hope has substance now, because God is at work in our lives and in the world around us. Jesus made it clear that once his physical life was done on earth, we would not be left as orphans, but that the Holy Spirit would come to guide us into all truth.

The Holy Spirit living inside us now is our hope for our present reality. The fulfillment of the Kingdom of God in Christ is our future reality. The substance of hope is not just something to be longed for, its something to be grasped now.

May your eyes be opened to the hope that is now and to the hope that is to come during this Advent season.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Advent (Part 2)

The first candle lit is the love candle. Its appropriate that we as a church are coming out of our four week series called LOVED. As we leave the series behind, we move forward in the truth that we are loved. We look forward to what Christ's love means for us personally and for our church corporately.

God didn't just tell us he loves us, he demonstrated it, he proved it. His demonstration was a torturously gory and bloody death of His son Jesus Christ. It was a beautiful mess. Isn't love often that way?

Jesus became a beautiful mess to prove his love for us. He lived a sinless life, had the power to save himself from the cross, yet chose to willingly lay down his life for a bunch of ungrateful, ungodful, undeserving, mean spirited and blatantly incredulous people. Us. Jesus became a beautiful mess for us. Beautiful because he chose to love us, a mess because His love for us meant he had to endure deception, scandal, mockery, excruciating pain and ultimately a torturous death.

The love candle reminds us that God's love for us wasn't easy. It reminds us that God's love for us involved a huge sacrifice. It reminds us that God's love for us was a choice. It reminds us that God's love for us doesn't make sense.

It doesn't make sense because its supernatural. Its beyond what any of us can comprehend.

I'm glad it doesn't make sense, because if it did make sense, it wouldn't be supernatural, it wouldn't be mysterious, it wouldn't be awe inspiring. You are your own beautiful mess and you are loved. God knows all about being a beautiful mess and is calling you to join him in loving other beautiful messes. Will you accept his invitation this advent season?

May you know that you are loved by God and may you carry that love to other people this advent season.

Check back next week for my thoughts on the Hope candle.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Advent (Part 1)

If you attended Good Shepherd this Sunday, you saw Talbot light the first Advent Candle. Advent is a season of waiting, longing and hoping for the return of Christ. The Church has a history of celebrating advent four weeks prior to Christmas day using five candles that represent love, hope, joy and peace. The center candle is the Christ candle and will be lit at our Christmas eve service. Each candle reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world.

One of the issues I have with so many people who celebrate advent is that they see this waiting, longing and yearning for Christ to return as a passive endurance. Like they can sit back, do nothing, be nothing, become nothing and God will take care of everything. Its the reason so many Christians are ineffective (the phrase "ineffective Christian" should be an oxymoron).

If you have become this type of passive and ineffective Christian in advent seasons of the past, I challenge you to be different this year. One way to get involved in God's work is to ask yourself this question: If I could make one change in the world around me, what would that change be? The follow up action is to become that change. May this advent season be your time to let the life and power of Christ live through you by waiting and yearning for His return with active effectiveness, instead of passive endurance.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Advent blogs where I talk about the first candle being lit, the love candle.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Counter Conditional Love

I preached this past weekend on Counter Conditional love. You might ask how it is different from unconditional love. Well, I'm glad you asked. If uncondtional love says "I love you no matter what," counter conditional love says "I love you even if its going to cause me pain."

Because counter conditional love is not based on a response, its based on an object: us. We are the object of God's counter conditional love whether we like it or not. We are the object of God's counter conditional love and there is nothing any of us can do about. We are the object of God's love and there is nothing any of us can do to make God love us less than he does right now. Nothing in our past, nothing in our present and nothing in our future. His love is available to us becuase he chooses to love us regardless of what we do.

If God's love for us was based on our response, then his love would be a one chance love. That would be like God saying "I love you and you can accept it or reject it, this is your only chance." God doesn't say that, God says "I love you and I desperately want you to receive it, therefore it is always available."

We are God's prized possession, thank goodness there's nothing we can do to change that.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Men's Retreat Teaching (Part 2)

Later that evening on the men's retreat I taught on Numbers 11. The Israelites complain that they don't have meat to eat and say they are tired of the manna. They also claim that they were better off in Egypt.

So God declares that he will give them quail, so much so that it comes out of their nostrils. He gives them more quail than they know what to do with. It ends by God sending a plague on those who had craved meat. They name the place this happened Kibroth Haatavah, which literally means Graves of craving. Their cravings led to the grave.

Often times, when we follow our desires, our cravings, our lusts (lust isn't just about sex) we find death awaits us. It may not be a literal death, but it could be the death of a relationship, the death of our integrity, the death of our identity, the death of a family.

The progression in Numbers 11 goes like this. Their Cravings lead to complaining, complaining leads to self-pity, self-pity leads to trivializing God's blessings, trivializing God's blessings leads to rejection of God's blesssings, which leads to death.

The Israelites voice their complaint about the manna, which means they trivialize this provision from God. The also claim they were better off in Egypt which is a slap in God's face since they were slaves in Egypt. When they trivialize God's blessing of Manna and God's redemption of them from slavery, they trivialize God.

So, there are two applications. First, what do you do with your cravings? Do you simply give into them? That leads to disaster. Do you repress them? That can lead to disaster as well. The right answer is to submit them to God and allow God to direct them to the right places in your life.

The second application is to ask ourselves how we have trivialized God's blessings in our lives. Namely, the relationships that matter most to us. Whether it is our spouse, our children, our friends our co-workers, how have you trivialized the blessing they are in your life. Another way to think of this is to ask this question: how do you treat the people that matter most to you? Do you speak words of truth and blessing and good, or do trivialize them and take it for granted that they are a part of your life. We should bless the blessings God has given us. The best way to avoid trivializing God's blessings is to be thankful for them and treat them for what they are...blessings.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Men's retreat teaching (part 1)

Just got back from a Men's retreat and thought I would share what I learned from the first talk, then in my next post what I learned from the second talk.

The theme of the retreat was Into the Wild: Messages from the book of Numbers. Talbot (the pastor of Good Shepherd UMC) talked about how the enemies of God could not defeat the men of God in Numbers 22-25 by conventional means. So the enemies of God defeat the men of God with distractions. Specifically distractions of sexually immorality and food.

Isn't it true that most Christian men try to live for God and that the enemy cannot steal their heart. So what does the enemy do, the enemy steals their eyes. He distracts them and takes them down a path that meets their greatest cravings, namely, sexual cravings. Its so easy to go down that path, especially when our culture normalizes sexually explicit behavior.

What is distracting you from living the life God wants you to live today? Ask yourself what that is and ask God to give you the wisdom to name it and strength to remove it from your life.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


In a Sunday school class I'm teaching we have started a study called "Decisions." We are looking at different people in the Bible and the decisions they were faced with what happened and why.

The first week we looked at Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. It sparked a pretty interesting discussion. With a story like Adam and Eve its easy to bring our preconceived notions to the text. The first question I asked is what do we know about the serpent. Someone immediately answered that its Satan. And I asked, from just this story, how do you know that? They knew what I was getting at, its not clear just from reading Genesis 3 that the serpent is Satan. Its something that we know based on the unity of the scriptures, but its not something we know from that particular text alone. What we do know is that the serpent was crafty. We also know that this particular serpent was somehow different from all the other animals because its the only one we have a record of that spoke. I wonder how eve reacted to a talking serpent?

Anway, this is just to say that when you read or study the bible, try to remove the preconceived notions you have and look at the text in its context. Once you ask about what the text meant to the original author and audience, then, you can ask what the significance is for your life based on a correct understanding about it in its correct context.

Monday, October 6, 2008

New Shoes

Over the weekend I got two new pairs of shoes....and their hip. This is a huge deal for me. I don't think I've bought new shoes in 8 years...literally. The last pair of shoes I bought were the cheapest black shoes I could find and they were for a catering job. I've worn those shoes same black shoes for like 8 years.

I felt so good Sunday wearing a new and hip pair of shoes. Its amazing how much better I felt about myself. Maybe image isn't everything, but it sure means something. I'm hoping to get a hip haircut and some hip clothes to go with my hip shoes soon.

I could spiritualize this whole image thing and say that the book of Genesis tells us we are created in the image of God and that the book of Romans tells us to conform to the image of Christ. Whoops, I think I just spiritualized it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Best Moment of the Day

Yesterday I was home with my two sick daughters because my wife had to work (she works part time and does not get sick pay). They both have the flu. In some ways it was a rough day: both the girls were not themselves, I had to wipe and suction noses every few minutes, they didn't eat much, I probably caught their flu and my 8 month old just wouldn't sleep (when she finally did sleep she slept over 2 hours, but it took that long to get her down). In other ways it was a really good day: I spent quality time with both of them, my 4 year old was cuddly, we relaxed most of the day, we watched a movie (a rare event in our house) and it felt nurturing and purposeful to be home taking care of my two sick daughters.

The second best moment of the day was when my wife came home from work. It was a huge sense of relief to have her home to help with the girls. Plus, there's a certain nurturing a mother gives her children that no matter how hard I try, as a dad, I can't provide.

The best moment of the day was just after the 8 month old went to bed for the night and I had just gotten out of the shower and walked into the living room. My wife and 4 year old were cuddling on the couch and reading a book. I laid down on the other couch and just stared at them. It was such a beautiful moment. I thought about taking a picture, but I'm glad I didn't, because the experience would have been lost. I've seen them read and cuddle before, but this was different. It was a holy moment. I felt so fulfilled and thankful to have the family that I have (even when they are sick). Its easy to claim that praying and reading the Bible are holy and spiritual things, but I believe this moment was just as holy and just as spiritual. Perhaps moreso because it wasn't planned or just happened.

May you never miss a holy moment God has for you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

One thing

Can you guess who this is? He's extremely important to his team, yet he's not very well known. He is one of the best at what he does, but what he does goes highly unnoticed by the casual fan.
His name is Rhys Lloyd. He's a kicker for the Panthers and all he does is kickoff. He doesn't kick field goals, he doesn't punt, he only kicks off. He does one thing that most teams take for granted. Why would the Panthers allow a player who does one small thing take an extremely important roster spot? Because he does what he does really well. If you can find a guy that gives you ten yards everytime he touches the ball, you want him on your team. That's what Rhys Lloyd does, he kicks the ball in the end zone on almost every kickoff. Which has given the Panthers defense an approximate average of 10 less yards they have to defend against for the opposing team to get in the end zone. He's a small part of why the Panthers are 2-0 this year.
What does this have to do with anything spiritual? Glad you asked. If you can do something really well, you should develop it even further. Some people will tell you to focus on improving your weaknesses. I recently learned it is just as important (perhaps even more important) to work on your strengths. As John Maxwell says, on a scale of 1 to 10 the highest you can get if you work hard at a particuar thing is 2 notches. So, if you are a 3, the highest you could probably get if you worked really hard is a 5, which is still mediocre. However, if you are a 6 or 7 at something and your work really hard at it, you could possibly raise that level to an 8 or a 9, which is getting close to being one of the best at what you do. The point is, if you can do one thing really well, you should focus on growing that gift or talent into something of excellence. God has gifted each one of us with something, are developing that gift? Are you building on your strengths and gaining confidence in yourself and in God, or are you focusing on your weaknesses and hoping to improve something that you might not be able to become excellent at anyway? I hope you will think about it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

I recently watched Kung Fu Panda...I thoroughly enjoyed it. Its an animated kids action movie that has a pretty simple point. I've learned that a simple point is often a good point. The point of the movie is "believe." Told you it was simple. Here's a synopsis of the movie:

Po is a lazy, irreverant slacker panda, who is also the biggest fan of Kung Fu around...which doesn't exactly come in handy while working every day in his family's noodle shop. Unexpectedly chosen to fulfill an ancient prophecy, Po's dreams become reality when he joins the world of Kung Fu and studies alongside his idols, the legendary Furious Five -- Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey -- under the leadership of their guru, Master Shifu. But before they know it, the vengeful and treacherous snow leopard Tai Lung is headed their way, and it's up to Po to defend everyone from the oncoming threat. To do that he has to learn Kung Fu quickly so he can take hold of the dragon scroll and fulfill his destiny as the dragon warrior. As others start believing in him, he starts believing in himself and is able to pull of a miraculous defeat of Tai Lung.

Throughout the movie anticipation grows as to what will happen when the scroll is opened by the one chosen as the dragon warrior. The anticipation is strong, yet the event is well...uneventful. Po opens the scroll and there's nothing there except a reflection of himself. The point is that he must believe he can be the dragon warrior and defeat Tai Lung. A major part of the journey is that someone else must believe in him first.

No deep theology here, I just think we all need someone to believe in us. Someone who is for us. Someone who has our best interest in mind and thinks we can be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We all need someone who belives good things for us and is a part of our journey towards those good things. And I don't just mean God. I mean, theologically I believe God is for us and wants us to be faithful to the calling he has for us. But I mean in our relationships here on earth. God created us for relationships and even though this next part may be cheesy, I believe it. It reminds me of one of the lines from the book The Shack: "I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships so will our healing." Nobody believes in Po at first and he's hurt by it, but as people start believing in him and he starts believing in himself, he finds he can do amazing things.

If hurt and healing comes through relationships, then we should all take inventory of each of our relationships and ask ourselves whether they are causing hurt or bringing healing. Do you believe in the people you are in relationship with? Are you a positive or negative part of their life? Is there healing in your words, or is their venom? Are you the kind of person you want to be around? What is it like to live with you, work with you, play with you, eat with you? These are hard questions, but I hope you will ask them about yourself and become a more loving person because of them.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Shack

Its time to give my personal comments on the popular book by William Young called The Shack. Its been a couple of weeks since I finished it, but I still remember enough to comment on it.

The book is a collection of both tragic, cheesy, mushy and profound moments. Yes, there are cheesy and mushy moments...I even found myself in tears at times (over the mushy and tragic moments, NOT the cheesy moments). Something terrible happens to the main character's daughter (his name is Mack) and he somehow gets to spend a weekend with God (the trinity).

Instead of giving a review of the book, I thought I would offer a few of my favorite quotes instead. So here they are, with a brief comment about each one.

"I don't want to be first among a list of values; I want to be at the center of everything."
-Jesus says this when Mack asks him about making God first in his life. I like the idea of Jesus being the center of everything. It sounds so much easier than making God first. I've never been good at making God first and honestly I don't know that I ever will. Making God the center seems so much more doable.

"I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships so will our healing."
-This is said at the beginning of the book by the narrator. Isn't it so true!

"Love that is forced is no love at all."
-God says this to Mack to answer one of his questions about why God allows people to make decisions that are harmful to others.

"Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn't mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don't ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purpose. Grace doesn't depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors."
-A theodicy (a fancy word for the question of why evil exists if God is all-loving and all-powerful) that I agree with.

After Jesus talks about a diversity of different types of people who love him and follow him, Mack asks: "Does that mean that all roads will lead to you?" "Not at all. Most roads don't lead anywhere, what it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you."
-I actually like this notion that Jesus can travel any road to get to us. It reminds me of prevenient grace, which is the idea that God is pursuing us to have a relationship with Him. I didn't read it as universalistic, even though it could be seen that way. I read it as Jesus' willingness and power to reach us anyway he can.

"Honey, there's no easy answer that will take your pain away. Believe me, if I had one, I'd use it now. I have no magic wand to wave over you and make it all better. Life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship."
-Yes! Isn't it true that so many people are quick to offer trite sayings and meaningless cliche's when someone is feeling pain. I love that God was not presented as a magician, but as a physician that heals through relationship.

"What happened to Missy was the result of evil and no one in your world is immune to it."
-I often tell people that good things happen to everybody and bad things happen to everybody. We aren't immune to evil, but we aren't immune to goodness either.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

2 Reunions

I was a part of two reunions this weekend. They were both excellent. One reunion was Saturday evening. My wife and I used to attend this church where we led a small group for the people who lived in Rock Hill, SC but drove to Charlotte for church on Sunday. Its been at least 6 years since the group has met until Saturday evening. My wife and I hosted a reunion for the group and most of the people came. It was nice to reconnect and just hang out. I experienced in my own home what I learned this year from a book about creating events as a church leader: Create a space to hang out and just let it happen naturally. It was so cool to see people laughing and cutting on each other and just having fun like we used to do. A part of me wishes I could go back to when the small group started and do things would've been an even better group than it already was.

The second reunion was on Sunday. It was the Tuttle family reunion. For those of you that don't know, my biological father died before I was born. Which means I had lost touch with much of that side of the family. To show my ignorance of that side of the family, when I asked a man if he was a friend of the family, he said no my name is so and so Tuttle. At which my uncle said everyone here is family. It was a strange and wonderful experience. Since I didn't know my biological father, it was really cool to hear a few stories about what he was like as a kid. Even though we got lost and it took 3 hours to get there, I'm glad I went.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympics and Spirituality (Part 2)

One of the reasons I love the Olympics is the level of competition. Its incredible to watch the talent of these athletes. But its not just their talent. Its their commitment to the sport. Their work ethic. Their drive. Their passion. And money's not involved. Its all about competing for the sake of competition.

I believe this is what makes people want to watch the Olympics. We are witnessing the very best in the world compete against one another.

I find myself wondering what it would be like to be that good at something. Then I think, unless your a superhero, it doesn't just happen. It takes practice, training and talent. So even if I wanted to compete with Michael Phelps (after all, I'm 6'6" and he's only 6'4"), I seriously doubt I have the natural talent that he has in the pool, so all the training and practice in the world would never get me to where he is. So, I have to ask myself, what can I train in, what can I be the best at.

You know what I came up with? Relationships. If God is calling me to be good at anything, its at relationships. Including my family, my friends, my co-workers, my acquaintances and so on. I can practice being the best husband I can be to my wife by learning from other husbands who are doing things right. I can train myself to be a good parent by paying attention to other parents that have gotten it right and by reading good books on parenting. I can be a good friend and co-worker by relating to them the way I would want them to relate to me.

The sad part is we don't get a medal. The good part is we have more than one chance every four years to love well.

So, how's your relationships? Are you working on them? Just like an Olympic athlete, the best way to work on your relationsihps is to work on yourself. Remember, the only person you can change is yourself.

Olympics and Spirituality (Part 1)

IS anyone else watching and keeping up with the Olympics? The Olympics are a big deal in our household. My wife and I both enjoy watching them. I fell asleep last night while we were wathcing them and one of my first questions to my wife this morning was "how did the US team do in Gymnastics?" "They got Bronze." She said excitingly. I didn't understand. Until she explained that no one gave them a chance to even get a medal. She said they were so proud to get the Bronze and were all smiling and cheering and celebrating on the podium.

I thought, what if Michael Phelps received a bronze? That would be considered a failure. The expectations are so high for him, that anything less than a gold is considered a failure. So as I thought about this, I asked myself what is the difference?

I think the difference is a simple matter of expectations. Nobody expected the US men's gymnastics team to even medal, so they were as proud of the bronze as the Chinese were of the gold (probably moreso). Everyone expects Michael Phelps to get gold in every competition he's in, anything less is considered a failure to meet expectations. There was one exception to his gold medal run, the 400 meter medley. Why? Because it was a team event. The announcer, a supposed expert, basically proclaimed France as the gold medal winner before the event started. The US team pulled a miraculous upset to win gold. Guess who was cheering more than anyone else...Michael Phelps. When he wins an individual gold he's happy and smiles, but when the team one the gold medal he took celebration to a whole new level? Why? Because the expectations were lower for the team than for him as an individual.

What do you expect out of life? What do you expect out of relationships? What do you expect from God? Make the expectations high and work hard to meet them. If you expect a healthy and happy marriage, that's what you will aim for. If you expect to have loving and disciplined children, then that's what you will work for. If you expect to be successful in your career, then you will strive for excellence in what you do for a living. Healthy expectations help us move towards good things. What are you moving towards?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Out n About

I just returned from an event with the Good Shepherd Out N About group. The O&A is a group of men and women over 55 years old who accompany each other on field trips almost every month. Today we went to Discovery place to see the "A Day in Pompeii" exhibit, watched an Imax film titled Greece: Secrets to the Past, ate at Brixx and rode the Lynx. It was a nice trip, I find myself sleepy and I'm not sure why.

The exhibit focused on the city of Pompeii and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. The eruption allowed the city to be preserved for many years. In fact, the tag line of the exhibit is "what nature destroyed it also preserved." The last part of the exhibit was a room with eight body casts, or plaster molds of the cavities left by the victims' bodies, depicting the people of Pompeii in their final moments of life.

It felt like sacred space. The presentation seemed so matter of fact. I suppose that's because its easy to accept the death toll of a natural disaster almost 2,000 years ago. It still felt like sacred space and a part of me grieved for these people. The hardest one to see was of a man and a woman lying down. It looked as though the man was trying to protect the woman.

While I'm glad I went, I felt like the Pompeii presentation and the Imax film on Greece failed to be totally accurate. They did not mention either culture's obsession with sex. They do have a section on religion in the exhibit that has Bacchus and Diana and they do mention Athena in the film, but their failure to talk about their cultic rituals and practices bothered me for some reason. I'm sure it was intentional because they knew kids would be there, it just seemed like a huge part of their culture was completely ignored.

I still enjoyed it and would recommend it to those of you who are interested in world history.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

August Thickness

The air in the Carolina's seems thicker in August than at any other time. The humidity and heat make it feel like you're walking into a heaviness that clings to your body as soon as you step outside. Then, the heaviness penetrates your skin and makes you sweat. I often wonder why I even shower some mornings. If you've never lived in the heat and humidity of the Southeastern part of the United States, just know that it is often an overwhelming experience.

I'm one of these people that have lyrics to songs pop into my head quite often. Conversation just catalyzes (is "catalyzes" a real word?) this phenomena. I think there are a lot of people that experience this, they just don't talk about it much. Its not forced at all, it just sort of happens. As I was talking to someone this morning about how thick the air is outside, I was reminded of some lyrics to this song by Flyleaf called "All Around Me":
"I can feel you all around me
Thickening the air I'm breathing
Holding on to what I'm feeling
Savoring this heart thats healing."

I love it when something in music reminds me of something in nature that reminds me of our relationship with God (I'm sure there are countless reminders in music and nature). As uncomfortable as the thickness of the Carolina air can be, it can also serve as a reminder of how God wraps himself around us and penetrates our skin. Sometimes we need a God who reminds us of His presence, even if it its an uncomfortable and overwhelming experience. I believe God speaks to us and teaches us about Himself through the beauty, spontaneity, restlessness, overwhelmingness, uncomfortableness, power and mystery of nature.

So...may you you be reminded of God's wrapping and penetrating presence the next time the thick Carolina air wraps itself around you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Imago Dei

While I was visiting my friend in Oregon, we were able to attend a church called Imago Dei (in case your wondering, "imago dei" means "image of God"). I first heard about Imago Dei by reading Donald Miller (if you don't know that name, go read his book Blue Like Jazz right now). Two years ago I was at a leadership conference where I heard the pastor (Rick Mckinley) and Donald Miller have a conversation about Imago Dei and its impact in the community. Unlike some churches in Portland, Imago Dei is liked by the city. Its hard for a church to get liked by a city that has a politically liberal bent.

Needless to say, I was excited to attend this church. I was not let down, it was an excellent experience. They meet in a high school theatre. A really nice high school theatre. The music was excellent and Rick Mckinley gave a solid sermon. Both the music and the sermon were uncompromising in their worship of Jesus. Rick talked about Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1. Here are four random things I liked about the sermon (quotes may not be exact):

1. He talked about the difference in our inhereitance and God's inheritance (Eph. 1:14 and 18). Ours being this incredibly just and loving God and God's being a bunch of screwed up people. That's grace.

2. He called Paul's words in Eph. 1:3-14 "theological missiles exploding in the air." There's something about putting theology and missiles together that I really like for some reason.

3. He said "If all you believe in is this life, then you will live in hopelessness, if however, you believe in something more than just this life, then you have hope." An excellent way to share truth without condemning or sounding judgmental.

4. After talking about the difference between "knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus" we had communion. He introduced communion by saying "this table is our initiation into a relationship with Jesus, come if you are tired of knowing about him and want to know him." I like the idea of communion being an initiation into a relationship, I think I will steal it for the next time I lead communion.

Still in Oregon

I'm still in Oregon. I will be heading home tomorrow. I've tried to savor every moment, its been a lot of fun. My friend and I have done all the things we love doing: we've played board games, video games, tennis, seen some movies and gone bowling. Its amazing how well we hang out when we do these things. We have had focused time to just talk about things and "hang out" and those moments are priceless, but we also have this knack of "hanging out" even when we are doing something together.

I think God wants our relationship with him to be a similar thing. He definitely wants us to have times when we just "hang out" with Him, but he's smart enough know that most humans are busy and have things to do. So the key isn't not doing things, its remembering Him even when we do things. He understands that we can't have specific focused, one dimensional "hang out" time with Him every second of every hour of every day. His hope is that whatever we are doing, we are close enough to Him to still "hang out" regardless of what we are doing.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I'm writing from Oregon right now, to be specific, Milwaukie, OR (near Portland). The wife of one of my best friends flew me out as a suprise present for his graduation. I really wanted to write on the anticipation of this trip earlier this week, however, I thought my friend might read my blog which of course would've given away the surprise. So, I will write on it now.

Isn't it amazing what anticipation does to us. I mean, I could barely sleep Thursday night because I was so excited. And while I was excited for myself, I think I might've been more excited for my friend, because I love suprising people with good things (bad suprises suck, but good surprises are one of the best things in the world). It was really hard for me to be at work Thursday because in my mind, I was already here. I was so excited about the trip that I found it hard to concentrate on my work.

C.S. Lewis said that the anticipation of something is often more powerful and exciting than the actual event (my paraphrase). I can relate to that sentiment, even though I do love being here and hanging out with a friend I rarely see.

As I think about anticipation, I wonder how excited God is about the return of Christ. I don't think we are nearly as excited about it as God is. As a Christian, its so easy to live outside of that anticipation because of the daily grind. God doesn't have a daily grind. I think he's so excited for us (us meaning followers of Christ) and just can't wait to fulfill his promises and bring the entirety of His kingdom into our lives. I'm pretty sure God's excitement outweighs any of ours. I'm also pretty sure that if we new how great it was going to be, we couldn't function at all in our daily lives because the anticipation and excitement would keep us up at night and flood our mind to the point we couldn't concentrate on much or do much. I think that's why God has to keep some of it a mystery. He knows us better than ourselves.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Greatest Question Ever

In a class I teach at this church we recently watched an Andy Stanley sermon titled "The Greatest Question Ever." It was brilliant. The greatest question ever is this: what is the wise thing to do? Not: what is the right thing to do (sometimes its blurry)? Not: what does God want me to do (Christian language that sounds good but is often a mask to prove to someone that your Godly)? Not: what is immediately gratifying (the question culture wants us to ask)? Not: what will get me what I want (often what we want is what we don't need)? But: What is the wise thing to do?

He's goes on to apply the question to our past, present and future. First, in light of my past experiences what is the wise thing to do? Knowing that what we've done in the past often robs us of our future, what is the wise thing to do right now that will keep me from regretting my past? Second, what is the wise thing to do based on what is going on right now? I may someday want to join a bowling league and it might be fun and something I enjoy. But right now, with two young children and a wife who also works, it isn't the wise thing to do for me. Third, based on my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do? For me to get to where I want to be, what is the wise thing to do now? As Mark Beeson puts it "the foundation you lay today determines what happens tomorrow."

This question (what is the wise thing to do?) asked in light of your past, present and future can change your life. I hope you will ask it and find God blessing you because of it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Birthday Party

My daugther had her 4th Birthday party on Friday. Of course, it was a princess party. Its just amazing how much work goes into a party. My wife and I spent so much time, money and energy on it and during it that we were completely worn out. I'm just asking myself why we never spend that kind of time, money and energy on ourselves and our marriage. Don't get me wrong, it was worth it to have some of our favorite people there and to see Mikayla having so much fun. I just wonder why its so much easier to spend our time, money and energy on our children than on our marriage.
When I think of some good answers, I'll post about this again.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Blind Sight

Someone recently sent this youtube video to me. Its probably one of the coolest things I've ever seen (its less than 4 minutes and worth a viewing):

I'm amazed for several reasons:

1. The kid's ability
2. The kid's mother's attitude
3. The kid's attitude (probably has something to do with the mom).

The ability itself is very cool, but its the attitude that makes me love the mom and kid.

Next time you face a challenge, just remember that you're the one who decides your attitude. There's many things in life we can't control, but there's also many things we can...and attitude is one of them.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pornography Statistics

Did you know that 47% percent of families said pornography is a problem in their home (Focus on the Family Poll, October 1, 2003).

Did you know that the Internet was a significant factor in 2 out of 3 divorces (American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in 2003 -

Did you know that 4 out of 10 hits for pornographic material on the web is done by women 21 years of age and younger?

Did you know that 9 out of 10 of children between the ages of 8 and 16 have viewed pornography on the internet, in many cases unintentionally?

Did you know that according to some studies, the average age of first exposure to pornography is 9 years old?

Did you know that more than 70% of men between the ages of 18 and 34 visit a pornographic site in a month?

What does it all mean? Why does it all matter? Come to this and find out.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Provocative Ilustrated Blog

I really like this blog(link below), in fact, I like it so much that I have added it to my side panel. I also like it so much that instead of writing about it later, I decided to blog about it now. Before you go to it, however, you need to know that it is intended to be provocative and create a conversation within yourself. At least that's what it does for me. Most of the illustrations are great, some aren't so great, but they all make you think and will probably mean something different to you than to me. I think 494 and 497 are two of my favorites.

So, here it is:

Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

Rethink Sex Seminar

I'm excited about this seminar. Its happening on July 9th at Good Shepherd. Ryan Bailey, who is the founder, president and primary counselor at the Rivendell Center here in Charlotte will be leading it.

I'm excited for three reasons:

1. Ryan brings both a theological and psychological approach. He's a graduate of Gordon Conwell's Master's in Counseling program which balances the Bible with the DSM-IV (DSM=Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Desorders). He doesn't bring a one sided approach: either too Christian (yes, I believe counseling can be too Christian...a good topic for a future blog) or too secular.

2. Sex is a fun, serious, mysterious topic to talk about. Its relational, spiritual, physical, emotional, social and cultural all at the same time. Its a topic everyone's familiar with but few are experts at (even if you think you are you probably aren't).

3. The seminar will launch into something else. You have to come to find out! Lets just say I believe God wants to something through what happens that Wednesday evening and following.

Interested? If you want more details and want to register online go here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sex, Spirituality, Dog Food and a Halo

If you were there Sunday for the sermon, you know exactly what the subject is about, if not, then let me explain.

In Rob Bell's book Sex God there is a chapter called Angels and Animals. In it, Rob Bell discusses two extremes in how we treat sex. The first extreme is to treat it like we're animals. To just let our natural cravings control us. To just give into to our animal like urges. Obviously, when we treat sex like we are animals, we are failing to recognize that we bear the image of God.

The other extreme is to treat sex like we are angels. Angels do not have a physical body, five senses or sexual desires. So the angel impulse is to deny and stuff our sexual desires. To either ignore sex or simply claim that sex is evil.

He goes onto to say that to deny the spiritual dimension to our existence is to live like animals and to deny the physical and sexual dimension to our existence is to live like angels. Both extremes are dangerous becuase God made us human.

As I talked about in the sermon, from God's perspective, the truth about sex lies in the space between animals and angels. I even ate "dog food" from a dog bowl (they were actually cocoa puff knockoffs) and soon after that I wore a Halo to illustrate the two extremes. I degraded myself in hopes of making a point stick. That point is that sex the way God intends it is a physical represenation of a spiritual reality. Much like bread and wine (or juice) used in communion are physical representations of the spirituality reality that Christ gave his body and blood on the cross to free us from sin. And much like water used in Baptism is a physical representation of the spiritual reality that God has cleansed us when we claim Christ as lord and savior.

In the same way, sex in marriage is a physical representation of a spiritual reality. That reality is connected to our relationship with God. Just as sex creates a oneness in marriage, God wants us in union with Himself. Just as sex in marriage involves trust and faithfulness, God wants us to trust in His faithfulness. Just as sex in marriage involves vulnerability and nakedness, God wants us to be open and vulnerable and "naked" in our relationship with Him. Just as sex in marriage involves serving one another, God wants us to commit our lives in service to him. Just as sex in marriage involves pleasure and joy, God wants us to live lives full of joy and celebration. Just as sex in marriage often involves waiting and anticipation, God wants us to anticipate and look forward to the future He holds for us. Just as sex in marriage sometimes involves procreation, God wants us to remember and live as though we were created in His image.

I'm sure there are other connections. If you can think of other ways sex from God's perspective is a physical representation of a spiritual reality, please post it in the comment section of this blog and I will share some of them in my next blog entry.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sex and Spirituality

In our series titled Confessions of a Pastor at Good Shepherd, I'm preaching this Sunday and my confession is: "I have to work hard to stay sexually pure." For preparation, I stole ideas from several different books. Mainly Rob Bell's Sex God and Gary Thomas's chapter on sex in his book called Sacred Marriage. I highlyl recommend both books.

The sermon would've looked quite different if I would've read the sex chapters in Richard Foster's Money, Sex and Power before I had written the sermon out. His chapter titled Sex and Spirituality is really what I wanted the sermon to look like. In three chapters, Foster writes a Biblical theology on sex and he does an excellent job. I highly recommend his book as well.

Anyway, I've been amazed at how difficult it is to put the connection between sex and spirituality into words. I'm still praying that God would bring clarity to my understanding and verbage so that the sermon will be clear to those who hear it.

I don't want to give anything away before I preach, so I will write more about the connection after the sermon. I hope many of you will come this Sunday and explore the connection with me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rapture Website

Good Shepherd, the church I'm a pastor at, just finished a series called Numbers that focused on the book of Revelation. One of the sermons was on "0" raptures. So, with that context I want to share a website I found.

You ready...check this out:

It has to be a has too! Just click on the evaluation bar and you will see that it can't be serious. There's even a pet sitter Barbie available in the products. This can't be serious, can it?

If its not serious, then its witty and hilarious. Even if it is serious, its funny and sad at the same time. Sad because whether or not someone adheres to a rapture theology, Christians should be more focused on sharing the truth about Jesus than on finding petsitters.

The website even suggests a prepayment plan in the Planning tab. I'm available as a prepaid petsitter in case of rapture if anyone needs me!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Annual Conference

For those that don't know, every year, United Methodists of a particular area (conference) gather together for a few days to do things like vote on policy, nominate delegates, worship together and ordain pastors. This past weekend was the second annual conference I have attended. This year was special because I was commissioned as a probationary elder. Yes, I'm on probation. Sounds bad, but its actually a good thing.

The bishop hovered over me with his arms raised (as he did with each of us) and prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide and direct me in ministry. I usually don't like formal stuff, but I must say that it was a special moment. So, I am now officially on probation. I don't feel any different and I didn't get a raise or anything like that, but it was the next step for me in my career as a professional religious person.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 6...Final Part)

We now turn to one New Testament reference of homosexual behavior. While the New Testeamnt contains three references, for brevity, I will only cover the biggie. If you want to check out the other two passages, they are 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:10. In both passages homosexual behavior is a part of "vice lists." Check it out for yourself. I now turn to the passage in Romans.

In Romans 1:26-27 Paul writes:

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received themselves the due penalty for their perversion."

Again, what seems obvious has been challenged by revisionists. Similar to their argument regarding the Levitical prohibitions, most revisionists will say something like this: Paul's initial comments on pagan idolatry form the context for his comments on homosexual acts and therefore his focus is not on the homosexual acts per se, but rather the idolatry in league with which the homosexual acts are performed. For some revisionists, the sin is idolatry, not homosexual behavior. Other revisionists suggest that Paul is referring specifically too pederasty, not all types of homosexuality.

As one traditional scholar Guenther Haas suggests, "Paul's point is not that God's wrath is only directed against idolatry. It is that all three representative phenomena - idolatry, homosexuality and social strife - elicit the wrath of God in human culture." Another traditional scholar inisits that God punishes them for acting contrary to the knowledge they already have: knowledge regarding the sins of idolatry and same-sex intercourse. It is interesting that Paul observes the trading of natural acts for unnatural ones, it seems that for Paul there is an assumed norm for the way God created humans to act sexually. This is not surprising since Paul was an educated Jew. He was just reiterating what all Jews already knew.

As far as the argument of pederasty goes, why would Paul include women in the pericope if his discussion was limited to pederasty. Also, N.T. Wright discusses proof of Paul's knowledge of the possibility of a loving and lasting relationship between two men, which means his cultural scope of awareness of homosexuality was not limited only to the practice of pederasty.

While I could say more, it is obvious that Paul condemned homoerotic behavior. While I haven't read all arguments that favor a revisionist interpretation, it is hard to believe that any revisionist interpretation would supplant the modern scholarship that places this text in its context.

Honestly, I've gotten kind of tired of writing about homosexuality and look forward to broaching a new subject. Hmmm...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 5)

The Holiness Code found in Leviticus urged all Israelites to keep themselves and the land unpolluted through holy obedience to the commands. In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 we find explicit references that prohibit homosexual behavior:

With a male you shall not lie as though lying with a woman; it is an abomination.
- Leviticus 18:22

And a aman who will lie with a male as though lying with a woman, they have committed an abomination, the two of them; they shall certainly be put to death; their blood be upon them.
- Leviticus 20:13

Most scholars have long assumed an obvious meaning of these verses, however, revisionists (biblical liberals) have come along an tried to suggest a new understanding of these verses. Their argument rests on the interpretaion and object of the word "abomination" (in the Hebrew "Toebah"). Revisionists will suggest either or both arguments that the "abomination" referenced in each of these verses is 1, in relation to ritual purity (not sin) and/or 2. idolatrous cult practices (not homosexual practice as we understand it today).

1. Revisionists will suggest that "abomination" points to homosexuality as something unclean and against the purity laws on par with eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation. They would argue that the "abomination" is being ceremonially unclean, not inherently sinful. There are three good counter arguments to this suggestion.

First, for the jew ceremonially unclean was synonomous with inherently sinful. The two were not separated in the minds of the Jewish people. One of the major reasons Leviticus exists is to show that God is holy and humanity isn't. Even through ceremonial purity, the Jews (and the rest of humanity) could not live up to God's standards.

Second, the fact that homosexuality is singled out as a form of sexual misconduct that is particularly worthy of the designation "abomination" suggests a seriousness to it that not all sins carry. It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 6:18 where Paul writes "Free from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside of his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." Its not that sexual sin is worse than any other sin, but it is in a class of its own.

Lastly, the punishment of death found in Lev. 20:13 demonstrates the significance of the degree to which homosexuality is abhorrent.

2. The second argument revisionists use is that the "abomination" is a reference to the way homosexuality was practiced in the culture around the Israelites. They suggest that "abomination" in this context relates to Canaanite idolatry and the rituals - sexual or otherwise - practiced in it. They relate the sin not to homosexuality, but to the diety being worshipped while the sexual practice was engaged upon. The natural application is that the context does not speak to homosexuality as we understand it today: as two loving men or women who consensually engage in homoerotic behavior.

The majority of biblical scholars give this argument very little creedence. It is obvious from the text that it is not the cultic or idolatrous element that makes homosexual practice an "abomination" it is the sexual element. All one has to do is look at the context. These Levitical prohibitions fall within a greater pericope of all types of sexual prohibitions. Also, in the Ancient Near Eastern Culture, to ban cult prostitutes was to ban all homosexual intercourse. It wasn't just the sexual misconduct of prostitution, but also the type of prostitution practiced. One scholar (Robert Gagnon) wisely observes "the Levitical rejection of same-sex intercourse depends on Canaanite practices for its validity about as much as the rejection of incest, adultery and bestiality."

It is clear that these two verses clearly name homosexual practice as an abomination and against God's will for humanity.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 4)

I'm going to speed up our discussion a little bit and look at two New Testament verses that reference Sodom and Gomorrah.

1. In Luke 10:10-12 Jesus says:

"But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 'even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town."

With these words, Jesus prounounces a greater judgment on any town that is unwelcoming to his messengers (and the message itself that the Kingdom of God is near) than that incurred by Sodom. So why wouldn't Jesus talk about homosexuality in his mention of Sodom? First, as we have seen, homosexuality is just a symptom of a greater sin. It is likely that if Jesus were to speak of a sin of Sodom, it would be the "disease" of idolatry, not necessarily the symptoms of that idolatry.

Second, Josephus and Philo (two first century historians and writers) assume that Jesus' reference to Sodom is a reference to an awareness of the homoerotic dimension of their sins. I'm well aware that this is a weak argument, however, as with Ezekiel, just because homosexuality is not mentioned doesn't mean it wasn't associated with the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

2. In Jude 7 we find this reference to Sodom and Gomorrah:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrouding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

In the original text, that phrase "sexual immorality and perversion" is literally "prostitution and going after strange flesh." "Sexual immorality" can mean any type of sexual misconduct and "going after strange flesh" denotes homoesexual behavior. It is explicit in this example that part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was homosexual behavior. It is unlikely that Jude's author was the only first century writer to assume homosexual sin as part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. He was most likely naming something that was already obvious in the minds of his readers and hearers.

In my next post I will write about Homosexual sin in the book of Leviticus.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 3)

In Ezekiel 16:49-50 we find a list of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

49Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

In chapter 16 of Ezekiel an allegory comparing Jerusalem to that of an unfaithful wife (an allegory often used for idolatry throughout scripture) is employed. This is the context. Also, it is interesting that the word "detestable" is used in verse 50. This is the Hebrew word toebah and literally means "abomination." It is the word used in Leviticus regarding homosexual sin. A male lying with a male is called toebah (an abomination) in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

While there is no explicit mention of homosexuality in the list of sins of Sodom and Gomorrah in Ezekiel 15:49-50, one scholar, Robert Gagnon states "On the level of allegory, Jerusalem's 'abominations' are sexual sins; on the level of reality, Jerusalem's 'abominations' are idolatrous practices." Gagnon connects toebah from Leviticus and states "in all of the Holiness Code (the book of Leviticus is often referred as the Holiness Code) only homosexual intercourse is singled out for special mention within the list of 'an abomination'." He concludes by suggesting "In Ezekiels view, the overarching rubric for the sin of Sodom is not inhospitality or homosexual behavior but human arrogance in relation to God. The focus is theocentric."

As I wrote earlier, the attempted homosexual rape found in the account of Sodom and Gomorrah is a symptom of a greater sin, that sin being idolatry. Their idolatrous practices naturally led them away from Yaweh and towards other sins (another theme in scripture) including social injustice, inhospitality and homosexual behavior. While it isn't crystal clear that verses 49 and 50 of Ezekiel 16 reference homosexuality as part of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is curious that the word toebah is used as a description of the things done before God. Would Ezekiel's readers make a connection between the word toebah (abomination) and homosexual sin since homosexual behavior is singled out for special mention as an abomination in the Levitical prohibitions? It might be a weak argument, but it is a very good possibility that the connection would have been automatic in the minds of Ezekiel's contemporaries.

Lastly, just because homosexual sin is not explicitly named as part of the list in these verses does not mean it wasn't a part of the reason for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Obviously, Ezekiel was more concerned about the sin of idolatry than the individual sins that resulted as part of the symptom of idolatrous practices. An explicit absence of a word does not necessarily mean that the idea isn't present.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 2)

While there are many references to Sodom and Gomorrah throughout scripture, four texts that stand out for our purposes are: Isaiah 1:10-17, Ezekiel 16:44-50, Luke 10:8-12 and Jude 7. I'll spend time on each in the following blogs.

Isaiah 1:10-17
10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 "The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies. 14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah relates the impending destruction of Judah to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. In verse 10, he explicitly references Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah then proceeds to label their offerings and incense as an abomination and accuses them of having blood on their hands because they have not given justice to the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow. While there is no explicit reference homosexuality, there is an obvious notion that Sodom and Gomorrah has a negative connotation in Isaiah's mind and in the mind of his contemporaries. Is it possible that attempted homosexual rape in the Sodom story is just a symptom of a greater evil? That evil being more general than even social injustice or inhospitality. In this passage, the focus seems to be idolatry. Isaiah's point is that the sins committed have a theocentric focus. God is the one sinned against. Biblical liberals are accurate to point out that in this passage, Isaiah fails to mention homosexuality as part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, however, failure to name a specific sin is not reason enough to assume the sin is not inferred. While I know this is a weak argument, it is just as weak as saying the primary sin was social injustice or inhospitality, when clearly, in Isaiah's mind the primary sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was idolatry.

While it is possible that homosexuality is assumed as a part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah from this text, it is not explicit. If you just read this without any knowledge of Sodom and Gomorrah you would not know that attempted homosexual rape was a part of the story. While Isaiah's contemporaries would have probably been familiar with the Sodom and Gomorrah account including the attempted rape, it just isn't obvious to us. However, we will see that there is clearer implicit and/or explicit references to homosexuality as part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in the next three texts.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 1)

The first occurrence of an explicit reference to homosexuality in the Bible is found in Genesis 19:1-29. Its the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is a popular story because of why it was destroyed: attempted homosexual rape as the height of their sinful behavior. However, biblical Liberals (generally those who affirm the practice of homosexuality) will claim that homosexuality is not a part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah that led to its destruction, they will claim their sin was inhospitality and social injustice. The debate rests on the meaning of the hebrew verb yada. Yada means "to know," it can either mean "to get acquainted with", or "to have sex with." The quetsion is wether or not it shouldbe interpreted specifically "to have sex with" in Genesis 19:5. Context should always dictate how a word is translated in a particular passage of scripture, so lets look at the context of the story.

Lot is hosting two angels in his house, after providing dinner for them, men from the city surround Lot's house and say "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can know them ("have sex with them" or "get acquainted with them.") (Gen. 19:5). Lot goes outside to meet them tells them no and offers his two virgin daughters who had never "known" (yada) a man (Gen. 19:8).

Obviously, the men of the city are not just asking to "get acquainted with" the two angels. They are wanting to do more than just hang out with them. The context here is clear: Lot offers his virgin daughters who had never known a man to the men of the city in order to protect the angels. Obviously, the meaning of yada here is sexual. The men's motivation for the angels was more than just shaking hands and having a conversation. The men wanted to rape the angels; and these aren't the standard female angels of pop religion, their men!

Also, biblical liberals are quick to point out that yada is used in the OT 943 times and it means "to have sex with" in only 15 of those occurrences. What they fail to mention, is that 6 of the 15 times it is used in a sexual connotation is in the book of Genesis. Also, for Lot to use the word yada in reference to his virgin daughters dictates the sexual meaning in that instance. If Lot meant to offer his daughters so that the men of the city could "get acquainted with them," first: why did he specifically mention they were virgins and second: why did he feel it was necessary to protect the angels if the men of the city just wanted to talk? Context clearly dictates the sexual connotation of yada in this account. It could be said that inhospitality was part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, but obviously, part of how that inhospitality manifests itself is attempted homosexual rape.

To be fair, biblical liberals will also use other texts of scripture that refer to Sodom and Gomorrah to support their claim that social injustice and inhospitality are the sins of the cities, not homosexuality. This will the topic of my next couple of posts.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Homosexuality and Methodism

Well, I haven't posted since April 7th. I know its not smart to start a blog, then not post anything for over 3 weeks. I do have an excuse, I was writing a paper for the Methodist class. The good thing is that the class was a Methodist class and the paper is on homosexuality. So I get to write about a hot topic.

The governing book of the United Methodist Church is the Book of Discipline. Under the Social Principles, there is a statement that says "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." This has come to be known as the "incompatibility phrase." Notice that the practice is what is not condoned. This is an important point. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with someone having a homosexual orientation or even homosexual temptaions. Its homosexual practice that's the issue. Homosexual behavior is one among many other practices that are incompatible with Christian teaching. While the majority of Methodists (lay people and clergy) support the "incompatibility phrase," many Methodists do not agree with it and are trying to change the wording.

I oppose homophobia and "gay bashing." I agree with the Book of Discipline when it claims "Homosexual person no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth." The prhase often applied to homosexuality (and many other sins) is: "hate the sin love the sinner." That prhase is an unwelcoming, overused and unhelpful platitude. The main reason is that the person saying it never says it about themselves. Shouldn't we hate all sin, including our own? Orientation is not the sin, but "hate the sin love the sinner" implies that it is.

A Homosexual orientation creates temptation in certain individuals that can lead them into sinful behavior, but it does not have to. Any temptation can be resisted. Genetic or social presupposition to sinful behavior does not authorize that behavior. Someone presupposed to drinking too much alcohol can choose whether or not guzzle down too many beers to get drunk. Someone presupposed to theft can choose whether or not to steal that candy bar at Walmart. A heterosexual male can decide whether or not to engage in sexual sin (before, during or after marriage) just as a homosexual person can decide whether or not to engage in sexual sin.

Over the next few blogs, I'll share more about what the Bible says about homosexuality.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Plundering the Egyptians - Why I'm Methodist - Part I

I just finished my last class on United Methodism. While at times the class was quite boring, there are some distinctives of Methodism that are quite brilliant. These distinctives are what make me proud to be Methodist.

One of the coolest concepts in Methodism is "plundering the Egyptians."

The day Moses set the Israelites free, an ironic twist took place. The Israelites had the audacity to ask the Egyptians for jewelry and clothing...and the Egyptians obliged (Exodus 12:35-36). The last part of verse 36 is great: "so they (the Israelites) plundered the Egyptians."

The father of Methodism, John Wesley, used this phrase as way to express the importance of using the best of what culture has to offer to grow in knowledge and faith. Wesley made himself aware of current events, recent scholarship, scientific discovery, medical breakthroughs, new technology and pop culture by reading, listening and being available. He thought it was essential to know what was going on around him so that he could grow in knowledge of God's truth. Scripture was always primary and essential for Wesley and that's why he was not afraid of "contamination" by the cultural "texts" in which he engagned. Wesley gleaned everything he could from the best of the culture around him because he believed God could speak in more than one way. Wesley "plundered the Egyptians" without fear, because he did not have to question the source of ultimate and timeless truth.

As a Methodist, I will proudly carry on Wesley's practice of "plundering the Egyptians," not just for the sake of relevance, but because I believe God can and does speak through the cultural "texts" of today.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Sometimes whatever decision we make is the right one. As I grow in Christ, I often find myself having to make a decision not between right and wrong, but between good and wise. For example, say I have an evening free and it comes down to spending it either with a group of friends from the church or with my family. Lets say I've had a long week and need the fellowship, however, because I've had a long week I also haven't spent quality time with my family. So, while it would be a good thing to spend the evening hanging out with church friends, the wise thing would be to spend it with my family.

How about money. I could surprise my wife with something nice (good) or I could put that money toward paying down our debt (wise).

How about food. I could save some money by getting a burger, fries and drink for lunch at Wendy's for just over $3.00 (good) or I could bring a salad or buy a salad and eat something nutritious (wise).

This concept applies to so many decisions we make in life. So instead of asking yourself if you are doing the "right" thing, why not ask yourself instead if you are doing the "wise" thing.

Friday, March 28, 2008

When to say...

The popular Boundaries curriculum is based on the wisdom of knowing when to say "no" and when to say "yes." Its an excellent study that gives people permission to set appropriate boundaries for themselves in order to live a healthy life.

The problem is that sometimes we have to say "yes" when we don't want to, or we have to say "no" we don't want to. Most of those times is when we have to submit to authority.

Most people don't like authority. They distrust it and want to do things their way. Sure, they want guidance, but they don't want to be told what to do after being given the guidance.

I always want to understand the "why" of the task assigned to me by an authority. If I don't know the "why," I ask. Not in a spirit of cynicism and rebellion, but in a spirit of a willingness to learn and understand.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Easter Eeriness

This Easter didn't feel the same to me as it has in the past. I'm not sure why. We had an Easter egg hunt with our daugther, I was at church all weekend, we visited with family from both of our sides, I ate Jelly Beans the day before...I'm not sure what was missing. Maybe it was not getting an Easter basket for our daughter. Or maybe it was the nonverbal communication between my wife and I not to get anything for one another for Easter and then sticking to it. I heard three messages on Passover, Freedom and the Resurrection. Maybe its not just Easter, maybe its my disconnect with God.

I really stink at practicing the spiritual know...reading the Bible, praying, worshipping and having fellowship with other believers. What's odd, however, is I've always stunk at those things. So why would this year feel any different. I don't know, I just felt an eeriness to Easter this year. I can't pin point, but it really did feel different.

Did Easter feel different for anybody else this year? Any thoughts...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How's yourself doing?

My 3 year old daugther recently caught me talking to myself and asked me why I was whispering. I said I was just talking to myself. She wisely asked "How's yourself doing?" I laughed and told her how funny that was.

I thought about it later and have come to the conclusion that it is an excellent question to ask. "How's yourself doing?" I mean I spend most of the day asking people how they are doing or helping people with their problems, that I often forget to check in on myself. The question "How's yourself doing?" is a simple way to assess what you are doing, thinking and feeling and why your are doing, thinking and feeling those things.

Its also helpful to ask ourselves this question because more often than not when others ask us how we are doing they don't really want to take the time to listen. They just want people to think they care when really they are just asking because it has become a cultural norm in society to ask without caring or being willing to listen to a response other than "good" or "okay" (I don't think I'm the only one who has done this and had this done to them).

So let me ask you this morning, "How's yourself doing?"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Moment of Truth

I guess its a little too easy to blog on something I just talked about on Sunday morning, but I needed a topic so here it is:

The show the Moment of Truth is an interesting way to make people lean into to their own ugliness. I like the show because it forces people to face truths about themselves and about their personal relationships. Its interesting that the motivator is money. I guess that's the irony of the show: they use people's greed to get them to expose other vices in their lives. Its like one vice is the motivator for other vices. Some contestants are smart and stop with only minimal damage done to their relationships, others however, take chances and walk away with no money and damaged relationships. If your going to risk important relationships, at least win some money!

The latest contestant I saw was a married woman with four children. She said "yes" when asked if there were any secrets in her life that would break up her marriage. Ouch. The husband didn't want to know the secret. I would want to know, because even if the truth hurts, the best thing we can do is lean into it. Its only by leaning into it the truth that the path of healing begins and real relationships develop. Their marriage now faces an undisclosed secret that is already a seed of discontent and if left alone will grow into a tree bearing divisive fruit.

We don't like to lean into ugly truth, but sometimes its the best thing we can do. Most of us don't have money to motivate us to lean into our own ugliness, so we have to find something else that will drive us. Often, a hidden ugliness will create problems for us and those problems become too hard to face alone and become our motivator. I think often our motivator for facing our own junk is the result of not facing the junk in the first place. For example, I've talked to people who are depressed because of something they have done that they know is counter to living a life opposed to God's truth. So they get tired of being depressed and confess their damaging behavior to someone they trust in order to get free from it.

I don't think its necessarily a bad thing to be motivated by the results of a vice in order to face a vice. There's this idea in the Bible about good fruits and bad fruits. If the results of bad fruits in our lives (the results of our vices) lead us to pursuing good fruits in our lives (joy, peace, kindness) then hopefully we will eventually be smart enough to give up the bad fruits altogther so that we can live the kind of life we all want...a life full of hope, joy, peace, beauty, forgiveness and grace.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Magnets Continued

I remember Gary Haugen, the president of IJM (International Justice Mission: talking about identifying bodies after the Rwandan genocide. He says "When people ask, where was God when this happened, it hit me. The real question isn't where was God, its where was God's people?"

With a few exceptions, Christians have failed in their part to bring God's healing to people in the world around them. While not all of us can be Mother Theresa, we can all do something to make God's kingdom of grace and mercy known in the world around us. I think the key to God's goodness in the midst of so many evils is us (at least those of us who call ouselves Christians)! We are the ambassador's of what God wants to do in the lives of people who are hurting and suffering. Maybe God's goodness is supposed to come through something you or I are supposed to do. When Christians decide not do anything about all that opposes God's kingdom in the world, they might as well not call themselves a Christian. A stagnant Christian is like a a cure for cancer in hiding...both are just ridiculous!

In the midst of all that one person can do, why is it we hear so much about what one person can't do. There are so many local, national and international organizations doing God's work (whether Christian based or not) that one person can find something they are passionate about and find a way to participate in bringing God's light to a dark world. My question is: What are you doing?

Friday, February 15, 2008


I know of so many people who just seem to be avenues of bad luck, bad karma, disfavor (or whatever you want to call it). Its like they are a magnet for disaster. Its like no matter what they do, there's a challenge in front of them. And I don't just mean the daily challenges we all face. I'm talking about big things: like cancer, or the death of a loved one, or a car accident or filing for bankruptcy. Now, to be fair, there are a few things they can control, however, what I'm talking about is the circumstantial disasters that are outside of their control.

As a pastor, what do I say to this kind of person? How do I speak of God's blessings and goodness to them when their reality is an established pattern of hardship, tragedy and struggle. I usually try to offer them the hope of good things to come. I believe life is a series of seasons. Now, the hard part is when the season of disaster lasts like 10 years. That's more than a season, that's a decade!

I think the answer lies in the notion of God's goodness. What does it mean that God is good? If our circumstances aren't good, does that change God's nature? I don't think so. What we experience in life is not always a refleciton of who God is, because we live in a fallen world. Part of being a Christian is seeing who God is no matter what is going on in our lives. My heart just goes out to people who are magnets for disaster. I know bad things happen to everyone, but some people just seem to be exist as perpetual harborers of bad luck and disfavor.

More to come on the next blog.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

First Blog

This is my first blog. Hopefully I'll get better at this the more I do it. At a church conference last year, I was told that each of our pastors on staff should have their own blog. I agreed with almost everything else that was said at the conference, so why not try it out?

Here it goes:

My wife and I have two girls...a 3 1/2 year old and a 5 week old. We use to think being married was challenging. Then we thought having one child was hard. Now that we have two children, it's like our time and energy are sucked right out of us. Actually, I have the better end of the deal. My wife is the one home and having to operate on very little sleep with very little access to the outside world. I still get to go to work and interact with people, and my amazing wife usually lets me sleep while she gets up several times a night with the baby.

Recently, I have been thinking about some aspects of our marriage. We share the same faith and the same love for each other and for our children. At the same time, we are very different people with almost opposite likes and dislikes. I like to relax by being entertained. I enjoy movies, music, and video games. My idea of relaxing is playing Madden 08 via Xbox Live until I win a game. If I lose two games in a row, I want to play until I win so I end a good note. My wife's idea of relaxing is calling up a friend and talking for an hour or more if they can't meet in person. While I enjoy calling my friends sometimes, it's not relaxing, it takes energy. We live very close to a $2.00 theatre (it used to be a $1.50, which reminds me, do $1.00 theatres exist anymore?) To me, it's like the opportunity of a lifetime to go see a movie for $2.00. My wife doesn't think much of this opportunity. When it comes to household chores, I'm ready to stop helping by 10pm and think its time to relax. My wife gets a second wind and goes on a cleaning spree (lately she's been too exhausted to get the second wind, but once our 5-week-old starts sleeping through the night, she will probably get that second wind again). She's a vegetarian, I'm not. She's an idealist, I'm a realist. She's very outgoing and almost always interested in the lives of the people she meets. For me, it depends on the person and the day and the circumstances as to whether or not I'm interested. She looks forward to babysitting a family member's baby. I'm more interested in finding a babysitter for our children. She feels the most loved in our relationship when we have a long conversation where I'm very present and focused on her. I feel most loved...(well, that's private!)

Despite our differences, our marriage is still a happy just takes a lot more effort on both of our parts. We don't always get along well with each other, but we are committed to making our relationship work.