Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Modern Day Slaves and Future Abolitionists

Three days ago I received an email from Samson, a friend of mine in Kenya. He was writing to regretfully inform me of a tragedy that had just taken place in their small town. Jane, a young girl that I had met while on a trip to Kenya a few months ago, had lost her father. He died of an illness that probably could have been prevented if good medical care was available.

Jane is 13 and she is one of the young people who has been helped through the Taveta Children’s Assistance (TCA) program. I remember when I first heard of the TCA’s efforts to help feed and educate orphans and impoverished children in Taveta. One of the things that caught my attention was a praise report in one of Samson’s monthly newsletters. He said “Praise God that since we began helping, there have been no cases of girls engaging in immoral behavior to earn a living as was previously the case.” The “girls” he is speaking of are all under the age of 16.

When children have nobody to protect them, they are very vulnerable. Prostitution, slavery and human trafficking is a much larger issue among at risk children than many of us realize. Children who are orphans and or homeless are among those with the greatest risk of being trafficked. According to statistics compiled by the Polaris Project, 1 million children enter the global commercial sex trade every year. Take a moment and try to wrap your head around that number. One million!

As I think about Jane, I think about a young girl without a mother and father. I am so thankful that she is a part of the TCA and that we have the opportunity to help in her situation. She will be fed, taken care of and educated. However, many children like her are much less fortunate.

What can we do to make a difference? First, it is important for us to be educated on the issue. This is a real problem affecting not only those on the other side of the globe but it extends right here to our own city. It was only months ago that the police arrested a man who was holding a minor against her will and prostituting her to men here in Jacksonville.

According to the organization Force4Compassion “Human Trafficking is the second largest crime in terms of dollars transacted and is the cruelest form of crime against humanity. It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them”

Through organizations such as Force4Compassion, Transitions Global, Shared Hope International, Meet Justice and Shop to Stop Slavery (just to name a few), you can be educated and start making a difference.

Recently I was given a "freedom chain" from Robin Rossmanith of Shop to Stop Slavery. The bracelet was actually made by a survivor of human trafficking. Not only is it a cool bracelet, it is also a chain that reminds you of the bondage that people all around the world are suffering. The chain came from Force4Compassion and can be seen here. At first glance it may seem like any other piece of jewelry, until you put it on and allow yourself to engage the thought that a real person who experienced the real horrors of this issue, created it with their own hands.

The issue is personal.

It is personal to God and should be personal to us.

Jesus said “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

How can we read passages like this and think that we have no responsibility in the matter? It is reprehensible to think that those who follow Jesus and are aware of such injustice, can simply sit by and do nothing. I fully understand that there are many worthy causes in the world and that every person cannot be involved in everything. However, I am convinced that all of us can and should do something!

We need to stop believing the lie that says "I can't change the world".

Yes we can! We can all do our part in changing the world one person at a time.

Scripture tells us that Jesus lives in and through His followers (Col. 1:26-27). As we read in Luke 4, He desires to bring good news to the poor, proclaim freedom to prisoners and release the oppressed. How do we expect Him to do this?

If not us, then who?

I believe that He is simply waiting for everyday people like you and me to make our time, resources and talents available to be used by Him to accomplish great things.

I encourage you to consider these things and seek God as to what part you can play in helping those who are hurting.

Let's join Him in bringing healing, deliverance and hope to those who find themselves in desperate need.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Steeple Envy

I recently completed my first book, Steeple Envy - Losing My Religion and Rediscovering Jesus. Although I hope that people will read it and be encouraged and challenged by the message, this was never intended to be a money making venture. This book was the result of many sleepless nights where I simply felt compelled to write about my thoughts and experiences concerning Jesus and His Church. Being a pastor for more than 18 years, I have seen and experienced a lot from the inside of the American church. To be honest, I wrote the book as much for me as for anyone else who might read it. It was a therapeutic exercise of sorts. :)

The church in America is an interesting thing. It often looks very little like the Church described in the pages of the New Testament, and to a large degree it is consumer driven and corporate run. The Church in the book of Acts seems to be much more organic. It is defined by people, not places and it doesn't seem to have the top down structure that we see in a lot of churches today. As a result we have pastors that achieve rock star status and labor week in and week out to put on a great show in order to keep the crowds coming.

In the book of Acts we read about this group who were on the move. Sure they came together and met in the temple courts but they spent most of their time in each others homes, as well as sharing the love that they had found, with anyone and everyone who would listen. It's actually quite beautiful. The Bible talks about a group where people were even willing to sacrifice for each other, so that there were no needy among them.

James, defines pure religion this way: "Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." (James 1:27) Somehow we have gotten to a place where this is a sidebar at best in the life of the "church".

The reality is that the church in America has fallen out of favor with most people and we either don't realize it or we scratch our heads and wonder "why? " Maybe it's because it is time for some much needed change. Maybe it is time for the church to take its eyes of itself and to spend more time looking at a world that is out there dying without Jesus. Our beautiful buildings, best gimmicks, bright lights and great music aren't going to be what draw most of them in. It is going to take us going out, IN LOVE.

The world needs to see a people (the Church) who care. They need to see a group of people (the Church) who are not fake and who love people right where they are. What the world really needs to see is Jesus, and too often the church doesn't look a whole like like Him (see the book UnChristian by Lyons).

Now, I don't claim to have it all figured out and I certainly don't have all the answers. However, there seems to be a huge disconnect between the life of Jesus, his early followers and the current life of the the church in our country today. All I am suggesting is that we become more like Jesus and begin to lift Him up, above our institutions, programs and agendas. In fact, we are to lift Him up, even above our very lives.

I think there are people all around us who are just waiting to see the love Jesus on display in a way that they can relate to. Jesus was good at relating to people and we should be as well (think woman at the well, woman caught in adultery, story of the good samaritan etc.). We are told that when He is lifted up, He will draw people to Himself (John 12:32).

Therefore let us be a people who above all things, lift up Jesus and show His love to those around us. It doesn't appear that we need the latest and greatest "next thing" in the church. What we need is to love God with all our hearts, love our neighbors as ourselves and lift up Jesus, then watch the Spirit work in miraculous ways as He draws people.

Love always and



Monday, October 31, 2011

In His Presence

I have a friend in Guatemala named Cesar. He is one of the strongest men of faith that I have ever met in my life. I will never forget the times that I have sat with him and listened to him speak of the wonders of God. He always shares about how much God has blessed him and how he can’t wait to one day see Him face to face, to run on streets of gold and to be in His presence. Cesar knows God in an intimate way. He has experienced His presence and power in such ways that there is not a shadow of a doubt in his mind that on the day he breathes his last breath, he will be with him for eternity.

Cesar is very sick and barring a miracle, he will soon find himself in the presence of his Maker and Friend. I appreciate your prayers for him and his family.

In my book, Steeple Envy, there is a chapter that is written by Brock Johnson, a friend of mine and missionary in Guatemala. He’s the one who first introduced me to Cesar. In the chapter that he wrote, he tells Cesar’s story so I thought I would share that with you today.

“Cesar is a friend of mine who lives in a shack in the middle of a
beautiful Guatemalan forest. He is a husband and a father. When he
was 26, he was enjoying a normal life. Cesar had a beautiful wife and
was starting a family. He had a pretty good job (any job in rural Guatemala
is a good job), and he was a star in the local men’s soccer league.

Suddenly, his back began to bother him. For three years, he continued
working his manual labor job, but with each year, the back pain
grew worse. Soon, he couldn’t bear the pain to even get out of bed.
With limited resources, Cesar and his family began to seek medical
help. What they discovered was terrifying. Cesar had an incurable and
fatal degenerative bone disease. He was told he would not live much
longer and that he would be bedridden for his final months or years.

By this time, Cesar had three beautiful young children. As Christians,
Cesar and his wife believed God for healing. But they also began
to accept the reality that God’s will for their life may be drastically different
than anything they had ever imagined.

After enduring three years of deterioration, the pain and suffering
grew to its worst. In the most excruciating night of pain that Cesar
can remember, he was surrounded by doctors and family. His doctors
advised him that he would not make it through the night. A wife
prepared herself for life without her husband, and young children
prepared to say goodbye to their daddy.

Cesar slipped into a coma. He recalls the story beautifully. “I looked
down and saw angels at my feet, their beauty indescribable. Each one
took the weight of one of my legs in their arms and gently caressed
them. As they comforted me, a distinct voice whispered into my ear.
The voice was very clear and very close. When I turned to look for
the person, no one was there. But three times the voice said the same
thing: “Read Matthew 9:12.”

After three months, Cesar awoke from the coma. That was several
years ago. Today, if you have the privilege to visit Cesar, you will
leave his home blessed beyond measure. He has the majority of God’s
Word memorized. He preaches God’s power, grace, mercy, love and
mystery better than any trained evangelist I have ever heard. Weighing
next-to-nothing and fighting through severe head, jaw, throat, back
and leg pain, he shouts worship songs to his Heavenly Father with
heartfelt depth and passion. He looks you in the eye, asks you questions,
listens intently, and longs to know you.

It’s hard to explain, but I always come away from hanging out with
Cesar feeling deeply loved. Yes, I am always challenged, convicted and
awed at his committed life of steadfast faith. Everyone who meets
him is. But as I walk home from his house—every single time—I
come away with an overwhelming confidence in the fact that he loves
me and cares for me. Without a shadow of a doubt, I know that he
prays for me, for my wife and for my kids. I cherish those prayers because
I know that God hears the prayers of a righteous man. 34

My point goes much deeper than sharing a heartwarming story
about a sweet Guatemalan family. The point is that I have never seen
a greater expression of life, hope and joy than I have through the life
of a man who happens to be suffering through a long, painful, terminal
disease. It simply defies logic. It destroys the false teachings of the
prosperity gospel, extinguishing its flames with the refreshing Living
Water of Jesus.

Today, a new home is being built for Cesar’s family through the
“12x12 Love Project.” This one is unique, being constructed throughout
with wheelchair accessible sidewalks and with lots of windows so
he can see the beautiful Guatemalan forest and wildlife from his bed.
While Cesar is very thankful for his family’s new home, he always reminds
us that his real home is not here.

“In my eternal home,” Cesar said, “I will run on streets of gold
with a new and perfect body. I will be in the presence of my loving
Heavenly Father. I will run, jump, and play soccer again. But until
then, I will give thanks to God for the life that He has given me, for
my family, and for my sickness. I ask Him every day to glorify Himself
through my weakness.”

Cesar’s testimony reminds us that true victory is not found in this
life and its temporary gains. It’s not found in comfort, security or even
in friends and family. It’s not found in a career, salary, home, education,
vacations or retirement. Rather, it is found in making the name
of Jesus famous, and this is done as we give ourselves away completely
for His sake.”

May we all experience the fullness of life that Cesar has come to know and experience!

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:18

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Slow Down and Simplify

As Americans we have a tendency to complicate things. Let's face it, our lives are complex and very busy. We are doers. We run around from one thing to another at an exhausting pace. However if we were honest, I think many of us would admit that when it is all said and done we often feel like we have accomplished much, but very little that really matters. It's almost as if we are afraid to slow down.

What would happen if we made an effort to simplify our lives? What if we chose to do one less sport with the kids this fall? What if we decided that we were OK with driving an older car that was paid off, rather than working longer and harder to pay another $300 car payment? What if we stopped trying to please people who are virtually impossible to please? Maybe we would find ourselves with more time, energy and emotional bandwidth to invest in things that really matter.

Life is simple. We make it complex. That is our tendency, to complicate things.

We do this in life and we do it with our relationship with God. When I read the Bible, the gospel seems very straightforward and simple. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." According to this verse, there is only one thing that we must do.


God has done the rest.

He loved us so much that He gave His one and only Son. Jesus lived a life that we could never live, died to pay a price that we could never pay and rose so that we might be able to experience eternal life.

It is finished.

He did it all.

However that's not good enough for many of us. It doesn't feel right because it is too simple. Therefore we must complicate things. Believing is important but is it really enough? Can we rest in what God has already done? Isn't there more that we must do? This is where we step in and create our man made religions that are centered more on us and what we do, than on God and what He has done.

The gospel is simple and beautiful. Religion is complex and burdensome.

Jesus left us with one or two simple commands to guide us into a life full of meaning and purpose and free us from the complexity and shackles of religion.

He said "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus takes something that is very complex and makes it very simple. So what does this mean to us? What must we do?

Slow down and simplify.



Love Him.

Love others.

Live to the full...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Losing My Religion

I know a lot of religious people and for the most part they're no fun to be around. Not to mention that some of them are flat out weird. They use words that many people don't understand and they think that anything that resembles fun is sin. I used to be a very religious person. If you knew me back then, I'm sorry. Really, I mean that.

Often times religious people think that they are superior to others who aren't quite as "sold out" as they are to their faith. The sad reality is that according to the apostle Paul, many of these people are actually "sold in" to slavery and they don't even realize it.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
Galatians 4:8-11

Through Christ, God fulfilled the requirements of the Law and as a result He gave all of those who would believe in Him, the right to become sons and daughters of God. Heirs to the promise that was originally made to Abraham. This means that we have been adopted into the family.

I know some people who have adopted children and those children are a part of their family just as their biological children are. The adopted children are not required to do specific things in order to maintain their status as family members. They are simply a part of the ______________ family.

Family relationships are based on love, not law. I love my children and they are my children because of who they are and there is nothing that can change that. They have no need of proving themselves in order to be accepted as a family member. Family relationships are based on love.

Religion on the other hand is based on law. IF you do certain things, then you will be accepted. In this system there is an inherent need to work in order to feel loved and accepted. It is burdensome and unfulfilling and in the end it leads to destruction, rather than life.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1

So what does this mean? Does this mean that a person can be a family member and live however they desire? Well, not exactly.

The relationship is founded in love. Although one receives love and is accepted on the basis of love, there is also an expectation that love would be reciprocated in the relationship.

I love my kids and accept them, period. As a result, they have the freedom to be themselves and to enjoy the things that bring them joy and happiness. However, if they truly love me, they will desire to live within the boundaries that I have given them. If they choose to step outside those boundaries, there is no love lost, but there are consequences. These consequences are also based in love. Because I love them, I have given them boundaries that are ultimately in their best interest, whether they fully realize it or not.

I know this is a human example and can break down, particularly if parents are overbearing etc. But our heavenly Father is perfect and His love and Law are perfect.

All that to say, our obedience is based in love. Jesus said "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching" John 14:23. We love Him because He first loved us. It is not burdensome and it is not an issue of measuring up in order to be accepted. It is actually the freedom we have in knowing that we are loved - period! As a result, those of us who are family members and know that we are loved, honor Him because we love Him and have come to know His love.

The Law no longer hangs over our head and we are not a slave to religion. Therefore, we should live within the freedom of God's love and share this "good news" with any and all who will listen!

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23

Monday, June 20, 2011

On death and dying

Death is not something that many of us like to think about. That's kind of funny because it is inevitable for us all. The reality is that we will all breathe our last breath sooner or later and none of us know when our day will come. But we still live from day to day like we are invincible, never thinking that today could be our last day on the earth.

My dad lives with our family and was recently diagnosed with fourth stage colon cancer. He is 83, so he has lived a long life. Nonetheless it is still difficult to stare death in the face. On Father's Day I wrote him a letter to let him know how much I love him and how much God loves him. I remembered a poem that I saw in one of those Daily Bread devotional booklets almost 20 years ago and included it in the letter.

What Cancer Can't Do
It cannot cripple love
It cannot shatter hope
It cannot erode faith
It cannot eat away peace
It cannot destroy confidence
It cannot kill friendship
It cannot shut out memories
It cannot silence courage
It cannot invade the soul
It cannot reduce eternal life
It cannot quench the spirit
It cannot lesson the power of the resurrection

Whether it is the result of cancer, a car accident or a long life that ends by natural causes, death awaits us all. However, those of us who know Christ are not without hope. Jesus said "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies" (John 11:25) In other words, we will all leave our earthly bodies behind one day, but those of us who believe in Christ will live.

The apostle Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:54-58
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Paul seems to have a healthy view of our lives on this earth and eternity. He realizes that "Death has been swallowed up in victory" and as a result we can stand firm, living out the rest of our days with purpose. He goes as far as to encourage us to always give ourselves "fully to the work of the Lord." Why? Because our labor is not in vain. We have the opportunity to join God in what He is doing on this earth and that is the main reason why we are still breathing.

Rather than fear death, we should live in such a way that when our time comes, we will be left with no regrets. Lately I have found myself aksing this question "If my last day were tomorrow, would I have any regrets?" As a result, with God's help, I am trying to live in such a way that the answer would be "No".

"Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins." James 4:13-17

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I have had two things happen to me recently that have helped me to be more thankful. A few weeks back I took another trip to Guatemala and as usual my eyes were opened to the burden and blessing of poverty. It's a burden for sure and you can see that as you visit people. Like when we sat with this beautiful family and heard the struggle of a mother trying to take care of her son who had a cyst on his brain. They sold everything they had of value, including their beds, to get tests done and buy medication. She had nothing and could do nothing. Her desperation was tangible.

And the blessing? The blessing was seen in the beauty of simplicity. We met families who lived in shacks and had very little, yet possessed a joy that escapes many of us who live in the land of plenty.

Then I had surgery this past week. Nothing too major, but not fun either. Sometimes it isn't until you are on your back for a while that you begin to realize how much you take for granted. Just being in bed for a few days helped me to see how blessed I am to be able to run and play with my kids. My wife was great and took good care of me, but by the third day I was feeling like a burden. You know, there are things you want to do and should be able to do for yourself, but you can't. So you have to rely on others for all of those things.

I thought of Cesar, a man we met in Guatemala who can't get out of bed because he has a rare disease that is causing his spine to fuse together. He has a wife and 3 beautiful kids. I thought for a moment what it would be like to be in his situation. In thinking about that, I was convicted of the fact that I am not as thankful as I need to be for the many blessings that I have. Not only am I pretty healthy (aside from the 10lbs or so that I could afford to lose), but I also live in extreme wealth when compared to the rest of the world. I have so much, yet say "thank you so little". And Cesar, who has very little and cannot even get out of bed on his own, is full of thanksgiving! I sat in his house for 3 hours listening to him tell of the goodness of God, expressing thanks to Him over and over again. Shouldn't he be the guy who is struggling with bitterness and anger?

Life is way too short to sweat the small stuff and God is way too good to allow the things of this world to pull me away from Him. This is all passing away. True joy is found in living for something beyond what this world has to offer. So I am going to make a more concerted effort to be thankful. I have been reminded of how blessed I am, so I will try to say "thank you" more.

Thank you to the many beautiful people that God has put in my life. You encourage me more than you will ever know.

Much love on the journey,

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Love Wins

When I read the scriptures I am reminded of the fact that "God is Love". It is out of His great love for us that while we were sinners, with our backs turned toward Him, He stepped out of His world into ours to pay the price for our sin.

That is love.

God then invites us into a relationship where love is exchanged. He extends His love to us and asks us to love Him in return. We are also commanded to love those around us. When this exchange of love takes place in a person's life, it changes everything. It not only affects them, but the rest of the world as well. When God's love is displayed through His people it is a beautiful thing.

In this sense, I believe that love wins.

Recently there has been a firestorm of debate over Rob Bell's new book with this title (Love Wins). From John Piper tweeting "farewell Rob Bell" to Joshua Harris saying that Bell is "teaching a false gospel", everyone seems to have an opinion. With that being the case, I figured I would add my two cents to the mix.

Let me begin by saying that over the past 5 years I have been challenged and encouraged by the teachings of Rob Bell. I also had the opportunity to meet him and interview him a few years back when I was going through a transitional time in life and ministry. God used Rob in a significant way to help me during that time and for that I will be forever grateful. Over the years, Rob's ministry has been challenged and criticized by a number of people, so when I heard the latest I wasn't too surprised. I believe that it is always important to go to the source, rather than taking what other people are saying at face value. With that, I decided to read "Love Wins".

I finished reading the book this morning and I have to say that I was more than a little disappointed. While Rob is masterful at asking questions, I don't think he does a very good job of supporting some of his conclusions with solid scriptural evidence. I was surprised by the number of single verses used to support his viewpoint as well as his willingness to make speculations based on these verses. Rarely does he go into the context of the verses cited, rather they are often used as proof texts to support his views. Also, there are verses and whole passages that would challenge his conclusions, which are completely ignored.

It is not my goal to go through and point out everything I disagree with in the book. I simply don't have the desire, nor the time or energy to give to such an endeavor. A simple google search will give you a slew of opposing viewpoints, if you desire. However, I do want to make it clear that Rob has come to some conclusions that not only leave me uncomfortable, but that I would stand in direct opposition of. For instance, I can find no solid biblical support for the idea that people will have the opportunity to turn to Christ after they die, and Rob certainly implies this in the book.

Is he a heretic and does this discredit his previous body of work?

The bottom line is that Rob does a pretty good job of covering his bases. He would unequivocally say that he is not a universalist and that he believes that Jesus is the only way to the Father. He would also say that he believes in heaven and hell. However, his definition of what these things mean may be a little sketchy.

Personally, I have a hard time with labels, particularly when they are selectively used by individuals. Heresy is a strong word and I would hesitate to apply it to what I have read in Bell's latest book. Are his views any more heretical than John Calvin's view regarding infant baptism, Luther's view of baptismal regeneration or the way catholics view the eucharist? I would say no. Do I find some of his views troubling, as I do these others? Absolutely. So before we start a witch hunt or burn anyone at the stake I think we must be willing to extend grace and love. That being said, there is always room for correction based on biblical truth.

I would also say that although Love Wins would not be a book that I would personally recommend to people, I don't think that nullifies his previous body of work to this point. God has used Rob and his ministry to reach countless people and I believe that He will continue to do so. All of us in the evangelical stream of Christianity have gained much of our heritage from the likes of Luther, Calvin, Wesley and others. We would do well to remember that there are things that each of these men taught that would not sit well with many of us and in fact would probably make most of us cringe.

With that, let us always extend grace and mercy. And when we feel there is need for rebuke and or correction, may it all be done in the Spirit of Christ and for the cause of His Kingdom.

For what it's worth, that's my two cents,