This picture is from a youth mission trip taken to Chang Mai Thailand. The missionaries we were with offered to take us to this beautiful waterfall set in the midst of the Thailand jungle. The stones and rocks over which the cascading water fell were covered in some sort of mineral deposit that made walking on the rocks extremely easy. It almost felt like your feet would stick to the rocks. It was an experience that I’m sure I and everyone else on the trip will never forget.

Another thing we will never forget from that trip are the faces and smiles of the children at Care Corner Orphanage. We spent a little over a week living at the orphanage and ministering to and being ministered to by these children. At that time I would say they were probably somewhere around 60 to 70 kids in the orphanage. There was even a special ward for AIDS kids.

I cannot begin to explain to you the blessing it is to spend time in a place like this. I asked Ricky Tan the founder and director of this orphanage what would happen to these kids if  the orphanage was not there. He told me that, in Thailand, an orphan has very little chance of escaping the drug trade or sex trafficking. Thailand is a popular destination for pedophiles seeking gratification. It is heartbreaking to look in the face of a beautiful little six-year-old girl and realize that she could’ve ended up in that world.

I will admit that I was very apprehensive when I was told that there were AIDS children at the orphanage. As a youth pastor I was concerned about taking young people, for whom I was responsible, into direct contact with those kids. I talked with my wife who is a nurse and asked her what the dangers might be. She explained to me the necessary precautions and I felt that we would be safe. I felt horrible when I got to Thailand and saw these beautiful children stricken with the disease through no fault of their own. I was embarrassed that I had been concerned to reach out and love these kids. The orphanage does a fantastic job getting the kids their meds and providing for all their needs. They seem like healthy happy kids.

One evening I sat with one of the AIDS kids on my lap. As I sat with her, attempting to communicate through smiles and tickles and funny faces, my eyes welled up with tears to realize that this child had a disease that, barring any unforeseen circumstances, will take her life. Indeed she would most likely already be dead had it not been for Care Corner Orphanage.

As pastors we lead mission trips with the intent of changing lives in the mission fields to which we go. But I’ve come to realize that the lives that are truly changed by those who go on these trips. As American Christians we take so much for granted in terms of what we have and the freedoms we have to worship and live. When we get out into a Third World country we realize what we have been given and how selfish we can be.We see people living in what we would call poverty, in a state that we don’t believe we could possibly exist. Without flatscreen TVs, without computers, sometimes without electricity. And yet these believers seem truly happy and content.

As I look back at the mission trips that I took with young people I see that it is on those trips that God worked most deeply in their hearts. Is there, in a foreign country, that many a young person and adult came to grips with the superficiality of their faith and, casting that superficiality aside, decided to pursue a deeper, stronger, more faithful relationship with their Savior.

I encourage you go on a short-term mission trip. Go with an open heart and an open mind but be prepared… Your life may never be the same.

left to right... Me, Al Sturgis, Robert Lozada and John Hunt

It’s true! Everyone has a nerd quotient. So what do I mean by that? Everyone has something that they like that is not ultra popular. This photograph taken in 1977 or 78 is a picture of the barbershop quartet in which I sang when I attended Forest Hill high school in West Palm Beach Florida. (That handsome guy on the left is me. I still look pretty much the same. As long as you consider pretty much the same to mean I still have two arms, two legs and hair. Oh, and my hat is that far back in my head because my head doesn’t fit in hats.)

I love barbershop music. Thanks to music sites like Pandora and Groove Shark I can listen to barbershop quartet music all I want. The problem is no one else in my family wants to listen to it. I have tried to illustrate the beauty of the tight cords and ringing harmonies to my family. Alas, to no avail. They seem to think that barbershop music is pretty dorky. And you know what? They are right.

Does this mean I’m going to stop liking barbershop music? Of course not. I just need to learn (and have learned) that not everyone likes my style music. And that’s okay. I can listen to my music on my time. But when I’m around others who don’t share my passion for barbershop music I compromise and listen to music that is mutually accepted by the majority of people in the room.

I wonder if the church could apply the same principle to the worship wars that take place in many churches. I met an old man one day who told me he didn’t like the way new churches were doing music. He didn’t like those 7/11 songs. 7/11 songs? Those are the songs that have seven words  they repeat them 11 times! This old gentleman had his mind made up on what type of music he wanted to hear in church. Now I’m not just picking on him. We all do that!

If we are older we want to hear “Just a closer walk with thee” or “… I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God”. If we are younger we only want to hear the newest music by Hillsong or whoever else is hot right now.  And the people in the middle are still wanting to hear Stephen Curtis Chapman and Sandy Patti.

I wonder if everyone could stop fighting for what they want and realize that the church they attend is God’s church. Our worship services are meant to be…

Ready for this?…

Worship services!

We are to be worshiping God not our personal preferences. There is no right or wrong music. There is definately something to be said for music that appeals to larger groups of people thereby making our churches more appealing for those seeking to know more about our God. But seriously, can we all just get along?

Oh, one other thing, I’d love to know what makes up your nerd quotient. Drop a comment and let me know.

In Luke chapter 10 starting verse 25 Jesus tells the parable we now know as the parable of the good Samaritan. This parable is given in response to a question asked by one of the religious elite. As I read the Bible and as I teach and preach, I try to find ways to bring myself and my hearers into the word of God. Now I know I’m not the first person to do this and I’m definitely not the best at doing it but here goes anyway.

Now verse 25 starts with an encounter initiated by an expert in the law. This would be a member or at least a close associate of the Pharisees that made up the Sanhedrin. Well, who would that be today? I truly believe that the Pharisees most closely resemble the conservative evangelicals in our church today. Conservative evangelicals make a lot of noise about wanting to protect and defend God’s word from the onslaught of the world and spurious teachings that would weaken or destroy our foundation of truth, the Bible. When you look at the Pharisees you see a very similar passion, they wanted to protect the word of God, the laws in which that they had been so deeply trained. Their desire was to see people following the truths they taught. Now I know that there was a deep level of self-deception and self-righteousness embedded in the Pharisees mindset. But they were seeking to defend their understanding of God’s word. So in this modern parable I will give the part of the expert in the law to an evangelical pastor.

Jesus will play himself, the man on the road can still just be a man on the road and the only other character we need to identify is the Samaritan. Now let’s see, in the world that Jesus walked, in the minds of the Jews to whom Jesus came there was no lower-class group of people than the Samaritans. A good Jew in Jesus day would sooner see a Roman soldier as a hero of the story than a Samaritan. They were the ultimate dregs of Palestinian society. So, who can we use in this modern parable to illustrate properly the shock and awe Jesus accomplished by giving the hero part to a Samaritan? Well maybe we could use a liberal Democrat! After all Jesus was a Republican. (JK) That might work. But I don’t think it carries quite enough shock. But I think I have one. So here goes.

One day the pastor of the large evangelical church stood up to test Jesus and he asked “Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Well what does it say in your Bible?” Jesus asked, “What do you think it says?”
The pastor answered “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”
“What a wonderful answer,” Jesus replied. “You do that to you’ll live.”
But the pastor wanted to make himself look better so he asked Jesus, “Yeah but who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied with this story,

“A man was traveling on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and when he stopped at one of the rest stops he was assaulted, robbed and beaten severely. His attackers left him bloodied and lying in a heap in a corner of the men’s room.
As the man lay there fighting for breath a pastor came in to use the restroom and saw the man lying on the floor. Horrified by what he saw he decided quickly that he no longer needed the restroom and turned and walked away.
Soon another man, this one a seminary student, came in to use the restroom he too saw the man, recognized his need but quickly took care of his business in the restroom and left.
Not long after this a young man came into the bathroom. This young man  was used to this bathroom. You see he used this room as a hookup spot. This young man was a gay prostitute. He made his living selling his body and sexual services to other men.
This young man saw the bloodied heap lying in the corner and he felt sorry for this man. Carefully moving to the man, he slowly moved him into a sitting position against the wall. He went over the sink, wet some paper towels and came back and began to wash the man’s wounds. He took a clean shirt out of his backpack and used it as a bandage over the biggest gaping cut on the man’s head.
He took out his cell phone and called 911 and patiently waited with the man, comforting him, until the ambulance and police cars arrived. When he heard the sirens of the rescue vehicles he could have left. It would’ve been easier to not be involved but his concern was to see that this man received the medical attention he needed. And so he stayed. He even gave his name and phone number to the investigating police officer even though he knew that the officer could use this information to arrest him because of his ‘profession’.

Having finished his story Jesus looked at the pastor who had asked him who his neighbor was and then asked his own question, “Now, of the three men, the pastor, the seminary student and the gay prostitute, which was the real neighbor?
The pastor responded, not able to that it was  the gay prostitute by name said, ‘the one who had compassion on the wounded man’.
Jesus answered, “Go and do the same.”

You see a parable needs a zinger. A sudden turn that takes you off guard and forces you to deal with the truth the parable is trying to teach. For some reason in the evangelical community,but well at least among white evangelical community, being gay is the unforgivable sin. And that is why this parable, revised as it is, speaks strongly as it does.

Go and Do the Same

The American Soldier

Posted: December 29, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Today I watched a little bit of the history channels the Vietnam War in HD. Watching this documentary has sparked thoughts that I meant to write down for a long time.

Before I really get going on this you need to understand that I am sentimentally patriotic and in awe of the American Soldier, Marine, Sailor and airman. My father, a World War II vet, raised me on a healthy diet of John Wayne and George C Scott. It is one of my greatest regrets that I never served in the military. I went to enlist in the Air Force in the spring of 1978. I passed all my tests and was ready to enlist when my recruiter told me that I needed to lose 35 pounds. I was a proud 18-year-old young man and I stubbornly refused to even look further at getting into the military. I regret that decision.

The Minuteman in our Revolutionary war suffered and paid dearly for the freedom from tyranny that our nation was seeking. They faced superior firepower. They faced brutal winters. They faced deprivation of every kind and yet somehow they refused to quit. This dogged determination led to the defeat of the British Army and the freedom for which they paid so dearly. The soldiers in the war of 1812 fought bravely and determinedly to maintain our freedoms. These men formed the initial backbone of what has become the greatest military force this world has ever seen. (In my never to be mistaken for humble opinion.)

The soldiers who left their homes, their families and their jobs to fight for the freedom of humans trapped in bitter slavery are a further tribute to the fortitude of the American soldier. During the first few years of our Civil War the American soldiers, and by that I mean the soldiers fighting under the American flag, suffered defeat after defeat. They saw the horrors of war firsthand. They watched as their friends and sometimes even their brothers were torn to pieces in the conflagration of battle. They saw their enemies winning the battles. The battles, for the most part, were lost not due to the ineffectiveness of the soldiers but due to poor leadership and politically guided generals. It is to be noted to the credit of these soldiers that when the war was over they reached across the barriers of four years of brutal conflict and accepted their enemies, Americans again, as their comrades.

When the world plunged into war in World War I once again the soldiers, Marines, sailors and now airmen were called on to fight a war on another continent in defense of other countries freedoms and safety. These men and women lived up to the standards set by their ancestors. Enduring the horrors of trench warfare and chemical weapons the American soldier was the turning point to bring peace back to a world at war.

Once again the world plunged into war in World War 2. Once again American soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen were asked to fight a brutal enemy bent on conquest and destruction in lands that were not their own. From the hedgerows of France to the beaches of South Pacific islands, in the air and on the seas these men gave all they had to purchase freedom for the world.

A new threat loomed in the form of communism. Once again our Army, Navy and Air Force were asked to fight. This time in Korea. In an effort to stop the spread of communism they stood tall and strong even when the politicians who were trying to run the war made foolish decisions that cost lives. These men and women who served in Korea have often been forgotten and that is to our shame.

If the treatment of the men and women who served in Korea was shameful, the treatment of the Vietnam vet was reprehensible. Young men, forced into service for the most part, went where they were told and fought a vicious enemy. They fought to protect peasants from the threat of brutal dictatorship. They fought valiantly in spite of the vitriolic voices at home here in America calling them, the soldiers, baby killers. They endured the hardships of war, the horrors of war just as their predecessors in all previous wars but this time they came home to ridicule and hatred. They did not deserve that.

The wars and conflicts that our country has been involved in the Middle East have once again demonstrated the tenacity and bravery of the American soldier. Once again our young men and women have been asked to go overseas and fight not to protect our land but to protect the land and freedom of those who cannot protect themselves. And they have lived up to the legacy that is the American soldier.

The men and women who have served in peacetime are no less to be honored. They were willing to serve knowing that they might be called on to pay the ultimate price. They stood tall to say to anyone who would deprive us of peace and freedom that they would be resisted.

I would like to challenge you when you see a soldier, a Marine, a sailor or airman take a moment to shake their hand and thank them for their willingness to serve. When you see a man or a woman with a T-shirt or a hat that identifies them as a veteran take a moment shake their hand and thank them.

The shadow of the American soldier is a shadow in which all Americans can take comfort. Thank you for your service.

Bill Maher vs. Tim Tebow

Posted: December 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

Bill Maher made fun of Tim Tebow?! Really? I can’t believe it! He said something mean about Tim’s faith? Wow, I didn’t see that one coming!

Seriously? Christians are organizing boycotts of Bill Maher. They are upset that he would say something negative about Tim Tebow’s faith. What exactly did they expect Bill Maher to say about someone’s faith? Did they forget his wonderful(cough) movie Religulous? You know, the one where he was so supportive of religious beliefs. (Cough)

As believers it is important for us to remember the relationship Jesus told us we were going to have with the world. Listen to his words in John 15:18 and following.

If the world hates you keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: “no servant is greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. (Emphasis added)

Do you think that Tim Tebow is surprised that Bill Maher is not impressed with his faith? Do you think that Tim is surprised that people are mocking his outward expression of thanks by “Tebowing” around the world? I bet he’s not. And neither should we.

If we are cruising along in this world and everyone likes us, everyone respects us and everyone says wonderful things about us (I’m talking about believers here) then I would have to suspect that we are not living a life that demonstrates we belong to Jesus.

But shouldn’t we do good things? Of course we should. Jesus did. And the world hated him.

Shouldn’t we be kind and loving? Of course we should. Jesus was. In the world hated him.

Shouldn’t we reach out to the lonely and broken hearted? Of course we should. Jesus did. And the world hated him.

How about we, as believers, not worry so much about what someone like Bill Maher thinks of us? How about we concern ourselves with what God thinks of us?

So what do you think?

PS. And this is my personal opinion… Christians might be paying attention to the wrong authorities if they can boycott Bill Maher because of his statements. My question, for believers anyway, is “Why are you watching him anyway?”

Okay so maybe this is a weird post for this time of year. But I’ve never been accused of being normal. I’m not even sure why this is come to mind at this time but I’ve been thinking about it a lot so here goes.

First of all I need to identify the characters involved in this post. When I talk about the world I mean the unchurched corporate mentality that has brought sex to the forefront in every aspect of life. Obviously porn, both paper and digital, is the first thing that comes to mind. But it doesn’t stop there. Sex is everywhere. Sitcoms, dramas, commercials and paper advertisements all are saturated with sex. There are even restaurants that use sex as a drawing card. That’s the world.

When I talk about the church I mean the worldwide congregation of born-again Christians. Not any one denomination but the church but is referred to in Revelations. I believe the term that was used in Bible college was the universal church. (That sounds sort of New Age so I don’t like to use it.

Okay, so how has the church been affected by the portrayal of sex in the world. Well the world portrays sex is the ultimate, indescribable and unmatchable human experience. It is steamy. It is perfect. The world also portrays sex as the main goal in every relationship. It says sex is an experience unlike any other experience in human existence. The world of porn has made it even worse as staged scenes and make-believe excitement push the experience of sex to new (Albeit unattainable) levels.  The church, at least the American church, in many ways has bought this view of sex.

In a time when the church is putting out tons of printed material aimed at helping married couples enjoy a better sex life and offering the goal of a better sex life as a way to keep marriages together the church is, in reality, losing marriages to divorce at a faster rate than the world.

I guess this came to mind recently when I was doing premarital counseling with a young couple. I was looking for some books to give them to help prepare them for marriage. I had heard of a book that was supposedly very helpful in preparing couples for a healthy sex life. I ordered two copies of the book and I gave one copy to this couple. Bear in mind here I had not read the book. I know that is a me problem. *Slap hand on forehead.*

During the week I decided that I should read through the book I began reading and was immediately uncomfortable with how graphic the author was in describing sex. I was, however, appalled when I reached the pages that had pencil drawings of naked couples in various positions. Not stick figures but well drawn explicit drawings. Really? Bear in mind this is a Christian publication!

There is not a church in America that has not had to deal with men involved in pornography. I would be willing to bet there’s not a church in America is not adult with the couple’s divorce due to either dissatisfaction with sex life or the introduction of a new sex partner. And yet we have bought into the world’s view of sexual nirvana.

Should the church teach anything about sex? Certainly!

  • The church should teach that sex in a married relationship is a gift from God meant to be enjoyed.
  • The church should teach that sex is meant to draw a couple closer together.
  • The church should teach that sex is never to be used as a weapon or a tool to accomplish a goal.
  • The church should teach that sex is meant to stay between the man and the woman in each marriage.

Does the church need to be teaching about orgasms? Sex positions? I don’t think so.

Okay, I needed to get that out. Let me know what you think.

I Have A Confession…

Posted: December 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

With an ominous title like “I have a confession”, you may be  reading this with some trepidation. Well fear not it’s not that kind of confession. It’s about not fitting in completely in the man club. You see in male circles there are certain expectations as well as limitations in behavior that affect your good standing. Let me explain.

When a baby is born the doctors, the nurses, the parents and basically everyone in the room immediately looks to see if the baby is a boy or girl. When the evidence proves that boy has been born his name is immediately recorded in the man’s club list of members. Along with this membership come certain expectations. We must act manly! We are not given a rulebook. There is no website clearly stating the do’s and don’ts. But we are expected to know them.

Here is an example; for the first three or four years of life a dear little boy enjoys the comfort and warmth of his parents love. When he falls, or bangs his head on a coffee table he begins to cry. His parents quickly rush over scoop him up in their arms and comfort him through his tears. As this continues to happen our young hero learns that tears can get him attention.  When his feelings the are hurt he uses tears to get the soothing his ego needs. Then comes kindergarten! The first day goes well, as does the second day but on the third day of school he gets tagged out in a game of duck duck goose. Following the pattern he has learned at home he begins to cry. But what is this?  Instead of getting attention the other boys start to mock him. And he learns a painful lesson straight from the man book, big boys don’t cry.

See what I mean? There are tons of these rules.

Okay back to my confession. One of my favorite movies is “You’ve Got Mail“.  A clear violation of the men don’t like chick flicks rule. I quit football in high school to sing in the chorus. I used to collect women’s perfume bottles. I priss and fuss over my hair and beard more than any woman. I just finished reading the Twilight series. (And I really like it. Edward is so much more likable in the book!)

So, that’s my confession.

I wonder if I’ll ever get my man card back?