I Am a Christian: A Confession and 15 Personal Principles

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(Note: This list of principles isn’t something I sit around and study, pour over daily, or even consciously consider, but rather an articulation of words expressing practices that have come naturally over time. Sometimes, in my own spiritual journey, I find it’s important to write these things down. That’s really all this is. Nothing more, nothing less.)

A general distaste for labels aside, I am a Christian whose identity is in Christ. I claim it without pride, superiority, self-righteous indignation, guilt or shame. I claim Christ as my only saving grace and aspire to follow Him. We communicate in words and so Christian is as good a word as any for what I am. I’ve found none better.

I’d also wager that because of a growing movement in my own tribe I’m considered by many as a soft, weak, even an unpatriotic Christian. The juxtaposition of those latter two words doesn’t even really work, but that’s where we are today – an entirely different topic. “Libtard.” “Moron.” Suffering from “cranial-rectal syndrome.” Those are a few things other Christ followers have called me, or said about me lately.

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35

Haha.

It’s possible during the last couple of years I’ve had upwards of a hundred conversations with non-Christians. Atheists. Agnostics. People of other non-Christian faiths. Frankly, they’re among the most constructive conversations I’ve enjoyed, and in many cases the quality of these people’s character is unsurpassed.

If you’re a Christian who’s never entertained a deep conversation with a non-Christian, you should try it. What non-Christians see in the “Christian” community, and the conversation they’ll engage you in as a result might just test you more than you know. Try, without judgment, to explain Christian evangelical support for some high-profile things non-Christians have seen in the last two years. Imagine, without emotion, how you might explain your belief system in those various contexts.

I’ve done it dozens of times, and will do it dozens more, and I’m okay with it, but it ain’t easy. I had one such conversation last night with a couple that I adore and care about as much as family.

Consistently, non-Christians express three ideas about this distaste for the faith. They say:

  1. That we almost never practice what we preach;
  2. That we claim forgiveness without repentance. (Those aren’t the words they use, but that’s what they mean.) and;
  3. They say that we rub God in their faces with language such as “God did this, or God did that,” as if He micromanages the minutia of our daily lives. Did God really cause you to find your keys? Then he also caused you to lose them, right?
This morning's sunrise over the foothills of the Andes mountain range is as good a visual as any to pop in here for some variety.

This morning’s sunrise over the foothills of the Andes mountain range is as good a visual as any to pop in here for some variety.

Because I’m frequently in these situations (and welcome them) it’s been more important than ever to find the clearest ways to articulate the who, what, where, when, why, and how of my Christian belief. It begins with knowing those things myself, not only how to express them, but how to live them. Witness is how it might be best described.

And here’s an uncomfortable confession: While I’ve never been more at peace with my beliefs based on bible study, church attendance, and the guiding of the Holy Spirit, I often tell non-Christians that I’m not the “typical” Christian. And I don’t even know if that’s really the right thing to say, or even if it’s good or bad, but it’s surely how it feels. Ah, the struggles of imperfection. Some things we’ll never understand on this side of the realm.

Since life is less about what we say (although, yes, words do very much matter) than it is about what we do, the following are some guiding principles I try to practice in being the kind of Christian I believe God wants to see in me. I fail at these things, yet try, … in no particular order of importance:

  1. Know what you believe, and why you believe it. Period.
  2. Be quick to apologize.
  3. Listen without judgment and never, never, never condemn.
  4. Understand every person you see is wounded and in need of a friend.
  5. Avoid “we vs. them” language and move through conversations slowly.
  6. Know that doubt is a part of faith and ultimately causes growth.
  7. If you remain inside four walls, the only thing you’ll ever see or know is the same four walls.
  8. Don’t be a hypocrite. Keep convictions and actions consistent and be hyper vigilant about it. It’s that simple.
  9. Be charitable, but low profile. Don’t shout your good deeds from the mountaintop.
  10. Remember, someone is always watching. See #9 above.
  11. Create for yourself a mission-field mindset the moment you walk away from the bathroom mirror each morning. This mission begins after you brush your teeth.
  12. Have a world view, and lose the false notion that God has some kind of special fondness for your homeland.
  13. In the emotional valleys, remember that the vine dresser prunes the vine so new and better fruit can grow.
  14. Be the cheerleader you always needed. We’re at our best when we’re cheering for others, plus, everyone needs a cheerleader.
  15. Jesus is the model. Live like Him. How I live like Jesus is determined by how I learn about Jesus and how I learn about Jesus is entirely up to me. But live like Jesus.

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Selah…

se·lah/ˈsēlə/

Exclamation:
(in the Bible) Occurring frequently at the end of a verse in Psalms and Habakkuk, probably as a musical direction.

As a “re-dedicated Christian” sometime in the summer of 2004, I first became familiar with the word in a secular sort of way.

The “Christian” music genre became one of my favorites and I came upon the works of a group by this very name. The track “Oh, Draw Me, Lord,” from Selah‘s 2002 Press On album is still high on my song list today. It has only nine words, and it’s a song to which I often just close my eyes and get lost.

From its Hebrew origination, the word is one not easily translated. Scholars say some simple possibilities may be:

  • “stop and listen.”
  • “pause and think of that.”
  • “so be it.” (my favorite interpretation)
  • “forever.”

“Selah,” is found 73 times in the book of Psalms and another three times in Habakkuk. I think about the word a lot. These are 10 things to which today, I say, “Selah.”

1. Today, the church I attend, Fellowship Bible Church in Jonesboro, AR, will dedicate a new church plant, 25 miles down the road in Paragould. Through an intentional approach to reaching out to others through missional communities, the new church will likely begin with a bigger numerical membership than its parent. Not that numbers have anything to do with the price of beans, but it’s a great thing. Selah.

2. I’m thankful for all the things I’ve “unlearned” about the Christian faith over the last couple of years. I’m thankful that none of us, on the day of judgment, will be asked to present our resume, and that our transcript’s already been torn apart. I’m thankful we’ll be seen through the eyes of the Son, who’s completed a finished work. Selah.

3. I’m thankful for the recent opportunity and vision to gather a group of leaders from our “white” and “black” church community … to bring us together and reach

black churches and white churches

With my friend, Pastor Ray Scales of New Mt. Zion Church in Jonesboro, AR.

out across the lines of discomfort … to talk about unity … and see how we might all make a difference together. Selah.

4. As I write, the sun’s coming up in the east, and it’s a new day full of mercy and forgiveness. Joy cometh in the morning. Selah.

5. We don’t have to perform and seek anyone’s approval. I don’t have to wonder about so many things. We are already stamped with the seal of approval, and we are in right standing with God. Selah.

6. The ailing, failing body my dad left earth in seven months ago is no more. It’s perfect, and I hear him laughing with joy every day now. Selah.

7. Among all things, God designed us to have relationships. I have so many great ones all over the world. Selah.

international relationships

Dana and I with our Peruvian friends, Ceasar and Maggie in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador.

8. There’s no such thing as second chances. Our “chances” are infinite. That’s hard to comprehend, but it’s true. Selah.

9. God has given us all so many special gifts. For some unknown reason, He allowed me to be a writer and He encourages me to use that gift more each day. Selah.

10. Each of us is charged with noble ambassadorship, a charge, a mission and purpose. Wow, and Selah.

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Dreams and Visions: Is There a Difference?

I just began wondering about this.

I’d search the internet for a profound quote, but here’s what I think:

“A dream is something hoped for. A vision is a dream pursued.”

For years “in church” I heard people talk about having visions. I never put much stock in it until I had two of my own over the last couple of years. They were so profound and personal, I’ve never shared them with anyone other than my wife, and I’ll probably keep it that way. But they were true visions from God, and I believe that.

But beyond that realm, I’ve dreamed about a lot of things and had visions for certain dreams. A realized vision is a dream come true.

I dreamed about running a 26-mile race one time. Then I envisioned its possibility and pursued its reality.

As a kid, I dreamed about adventures in foreign lands. Not until I actually pursued an adventure in Ecuador four months ago did I envision its possibility, and now we

Dana with some young friends we made in Puerto Cayo.

are actively pursing that dream. I could see it the moment we arrived and now I realize it in the weekly photos I receive from 5,000 miles away.

Four years ago, I never dreamed my vision for a small publishing business would fail and leave me dead broke, busted, but it happened.

Truly, I do dream about a day when racism and segregation will be wiped off the face of the planet, but stories like this http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/30/us/mississippi-black-couple-wedding/index.html don’t give me the slightest vision for it happening or what I can do about it short of the rapture.

For many years, I dreamed my dad would know his forgiveness and I’d see him in Heaven one day. Now, to the best I of my comprehension, I envision him basking in God’s light every day.

Many years ago I dreamed I’d have kids who lived out their God-given potential and become all they were meant to be. Now, I get to see them live that out every day, and I’m so proud.

My daughter, Sophie, second lane from right, helping her team to a conference championship.

So this is my prayer for today:

Lord, You are the dreamer of all dreamers,

You give us the gift of dreams to live out, and visions to pursue.

Thank you for the gifts you give us. Encourage us to pursue the light of your holy truth;

Enlighten us with your dreams for us,

And grant us grace to see things through.

In the name of the  Son of Light,

In the name of your Son, Jesus, we pray.”

Amen.

An additional post on my primary blog today may be viewed here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-ui

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Prologue to “Light Wins!”

(Blogger’s Note: The following text is the draft prologue to my first book: “Light Wins! …and the darkness is defeated forever.” This non-fiction work is now about 50% complete. After a two-month book-writing drought, I’m ready to get back on the keyboard and finish the manuscript with a target publishing date of Easter 2013. The book will be printed in hard copy and will also be available electronically on Amazon.com I’d surely welcome your fair comment and criticism.)

PROLOGUE

“The only book that should ever be written is one that flows up from the heart, forced out by the inward pressure. When such a work has gestated within a man, it is almost certain that it will be written. The man who is thus charged with a message will not be turned back by any blase’ consideration. His book will be to him, not only imperative, it will be inevitable.” ~ A.W. Tozier.

Oftentimes, a book is, in fact, judged by its cover. If you saw this cover on a bookstore shelf, would it draw your attention? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For the moment, this isolated workshop where I write is a place of intentional seclusion.

I’m in self-eclipse mode for the next three days.

And there’s a surprising irony that I’ve done the very thing so many others about whom you’ll read in this book have also done at different points in their lives. I’ve gone away to be alone.

Like them, I have come to this place to tie all the loose ends together. To make sense of it all. To draw conclusions, and to share with you something of benefit. And yes, to shed some light on the places where we all see, feel and perceive the darkness.

This workshop is a special place. The very place where the story begins.

My dad, in one of his finest moments.

Little more than seven weeks ago, this workshop was my dad’s refuge, and it’s now a place where I’m surrounded by his lingering tangible memories.

Sitting now before his desk in a well-cushioned chair, I see his personal handwritten notes on last year’s calendar. His collection of hats on the top shelf now collects dust. There are enough tools in this place to build a fortress. And just beyond reach are the dozens of remaining oxygen inhalers that provided his temporary relief from chronic COPD which ultimately took his life.

The memories are here, but no longer is he. Though he feels close, he is yet just beyond my reach on the other side of a thinly-veiled realm we call Heaven, basking in newfound light.

There was a valuable lesson learned in this place six years ago. On December 5, 2005 I woke up in a panic wondering what I would get dad on his 65th birthday. I wanted it to be something meaningful, and so I sought something that might offer ultimate discernment in his life. Randy Alcorn‘s Heaven, jumped out as I walked down the aisles of a local bookstore. If he could be convinced to read that book, I thought, maybe it would lead to a deeper conversation that I so longed to have with him.

When I found him in this workshop later that morning, he was thankful for the gift and asked me to stay around a while and talk. I shared with him my personal takeaway from Alcorn’s work, and told him how many things it helped me understand.

“I just hope I’ll be able to go there one day,” he said, “but I’ve done so many bad things.”

God didn’t care about the past, I told him. All he wants is for you to ask him into your heart. Don’t make it more complicated than it is, I said. It’s a simple thing.

Dad had a hard time letting go of the past. Alcoholism, bad choices and a sense of self-worthlessness born out of a dysfunctional childhood were things he could never seem to release. When he told me that day that his father actually threatened to kill him on more than one occasion, I could only try to understand.

The “diamond effect” of a solar eclipse, a theme used throughout my book.

Do you believe in Jesus, I asked. And do you believe he was God’s own son who died on the cross for your sins, I went on…

Yes, I do, he said. Well, it’s that simple dad.

That day he prayed with me and asked Jesus to become the lord of his life. We laughed, cried, hugged and two hours later I left so happy. Dad had embraced the light.

I had done it, I thought. What a magnificent thing to share God’s forgiveness with your very own dad. I was so proud. Things would be different now.

But the lesson was yet to be learned.

God showed us all several weeks ago that He is the one who ultimately performs the most magnificent of works. He’s the one who issues the invitation and sheds light into every man’s heart. It’s his perfect timing that created the heavens and the earth, and in his time, he will offer the light of his truth.

Saul had a profound experience along the Damascus road. The light of the truth forever changed him. We all travel down the similar paths Saul experienced. The unknown twists and turns leave us searching for the right way en route to a given destination, when all we need to do is search out the light.

It’s always there. Always has been. Always will be.

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You may check out my secondary blog at: http://wp.me/2tJ80

Let’s Pray About It (or just do nothing)

Keenly aware of his own shortcomings, Jack still liked to think of himself as a decent enough man.

Complex by nature and misunderstood by most, Jack walked around most days with an invisible guard that only few could permeate. Very few.

He didn’t necessarily like that about himself, but the circumstances of his every-day life reinforced his intrinsic nature. At least that was his excuse.

But made aware of an injustice against a brother or an urgent need, he could be provoked to radical 360-action in the blink of an eye.

Jack lived a busy life with a good day job and lots of peripheral interests. His phone would ring dozens of times during the day and he was selective in the calls he took, and the ones he let go straight to voicemail.

When his phone rang at 9:14 that morning, he only vaguely recognized the number, but it was familiar enough that he decided to take the call. On the other end was a welcome voice – an old friend wise in years and experience that called every couple of months just to check in on Jack.

He did it because he was a good man, and he cared.

“How ’bout a cup of coffee with old friend,” Simon asked, “… say around 9:45?”

It was impossible to say no to Simon, the man who had counseled him through tough times and even conducted the wedding ceremony for Jack and his wife Diane almost three years ago.

“See you then,” Jack said, knowing any visit with Simon was a time to treasure.

Simon arrived three minutes late whipping into the parking lot at breakneck speed. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, “I had three people come into the church and wanted to talk and I just told them I had an important meeting.”

Simon was an elder-emeritus at a church that over the past year had been on the brink of chaos. A split in the congregation had created deep wounds that compelled Simon to action and take the reigns to lead the healing process. It had become his full-time job. And it was beginning to wear on him.

Jack and Simon exchanged the normal pleasantries and talked about the important things happening in their lives, and Jack noticed an unusual burden on the man he so loved and respected.

“Are you okay,” Jack asked.

“I’m fine, just tired. I’ve made a commitment to the church to see us through until we find a new pastor and then I’m going into hiding for a while. I’m tired,” Simon said.

Jack shared with Simon his plans for a vacation adventure on his schedule in the coming week and Simon’s eyes lit up with curiosity.

“Boy, I wish my wife and I could do that. I need a break,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to live vicariously through you. Will you send me a postcard?”

Jack reached across the table and grabbed Simon’s arm. “This is what I want you to do,” he said. “Think about yourself today, forget everybody else, go and make a reservation to somewhere tropical and get out of here tomorrow.”

“Well you don’t understand, I’ve made this commitment and I’ve got to see it through, and I don’t think we could pull it off anyway.”

And Jack’s wheels started turning.

The conversation continued, the two parted ways, and as Jack drove away he determined to respond to call he believed came straight from God.

“It would only take about $2,500 to send Simon and his wife away on a surprise and well-deserved vacation,” Jack thought to himself. “And we could have him in Bermuda shorts within a week sitting on some Caribbean beach. I’ll chip in my share,” he thought, “and make a few calls to friends who love Simon the most and we’ll have him on his way before the sun goes down. Everyone would surely understand and be compelled to help.” He just knew it.

Over lunch Jack made a quick list of a half-dozen people to whom he could call and make the case. How exciting! What a great surprise for this wonderful man. A few calls here, a few calls there, start the chain call for the cause and the deal will be done.

Jack, the naive dreamer. Oh, the humanity.

“It’s a great idea and well-deserved, the recipient of the first call responded. My first thought is it would be better to do this later, but we’ll pray about it and see what happens.”

“I don’t really have time to give this the thought I’d like too, but it’s something we ought to do,” the second call recipient responded. “The timing may not be right for the church to pull something like this off. I think it’s something we’ll just have to pray about.”

“I’m glad you’re taking the initiative,” the third call recipient responded.”I want to pray about this.”

Let’s pray about it.

Jack saw the writing on the wall. He tried not to be angry, but it was hard.

“The timing’s just not right,” … the message from those he called kept running through his mind.

Maybe we’ll pray about it for another six months and Simon will be so spent that it’s too late.

Maybe instead one day we’ll spend thousands of dollars on flowers for his memorial service and talk about what a great man he was. “We sure did appreciate and love him. He was a great man,” we’ll say with our posthumous honor and glory.

“Let’s pray about it…”

Or just do nothing. That works.

Not.

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What Would it Look Like if …

… we shattered our categories?

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

How do we get to the “secret heart” of Christianity? Many are finding it difficult in today’s church.

It’s the battle of two extremes – we are wayward sinners or moral insiders – or we seek one of two journies – the road of moral comformity or the path to self-discovery. Is there room for any of us who may find ourselves somewhere between the two extremes without people thinking we’re rebellious troublemakers?

The fact is, it’s easy to alienate ourselves from God by going either way for too long. Proof can be found in the well-known story of the prodigal son, in which most readers of the Word focus on the wayward son. That side of the story is easy enough. But what about the older son, the one who obeyed the rules, the one who conformed, and yet refused to attend the grand celebration hosted by their father upon the younger son’s glorious return?

The two extremes … where is the middle ground, and if there is one, is it the right place from where the Holy  Spirit wishes us to operate?

Isn’t it interesting in so many Bible stories that the people who were most intrigued by Jesus were the ones who were estranged from religion, as opposed to those who were immersed in doctrine and dogma? The rule followers tried to trick Jesus into a corner. Who is this man, they wondered?

I am one of those who finds myself in the middle – probably further to the right side of self -discovery than rule follower, but yet fascinated by what God’s Word speaks to me each day. In this position, it’s easy to become an outcast. Church friends wonder what happened to you. Why are you rebelling? What’s wrong with you? Do you still know Jesus?

Maybe it rings true with you.

Actually, I feel pretty good. I feel freedom. The sun and stars look different to me now. The North Star visible each night from my back yard reminds me that I do have a fixed point of light and a direction. I’m learning, discovering, hearing.

If it does ring true with you, then I believe we are not alone. I believe we are in the midst of the winds of change. God appears to be changing the conversation He is having with His church. Yes, God can actually “change” the conversation if He so chooses.

Less than a year ago, leaders from a dozen megachurches across the country came together for: “Exponential 2011: On the Verge Conference.” The church leadership in the conference represented some 80,000 members.

The church leaders, you see, were at a high level of satisfaction with their “attractional” strategies. And why not? They had grown exponentially. They were in “high cotton.”

But somewhere along the way, the “missional” aspect of service was lost. Too many people, too many programs and services, too much budget, too many decisions and too much baggage.

They had become “missionless.”

An interesting observation/prediction by two church strategists who helped facilitate the meeting is this: The prevailing church growth approach (or market strategy, if you will) will have appeal to about 40% of the U.S. population over the next 10 years.

So if the strategy continues to dominate, where does that leave the other 175,000,000 or so of us who aren’t drawn to that approach?

What if church looked not so much like a building, but a movement?

What if church looked apostolic rather than institutional?

What would it look like if we created demand, rather than competed for it?

What if we were On the Verge of something?

What if…

(Blogger’s note: Many of the ideas, language and concepts posted in this blog come from two well-written and thoughtful books: On the  Verge by Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson; and The Prodigal  God by Timothy Keller.)

You Can’t Handle the Truth!

An exchange from a great scene in the movie: ” A Few Good Men.”

Judge Randolph: *Consider yourself in Contempt!*
Kaffee: *Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?*
Judge Randolph: You *don’t* have to answer that question!
Col. Jessep: I’ll answer the question!
[to Kaffee]
Col. Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to.
Col. Jessep: *You want answers?*
Kaffee: *I want the truth!*
Col. Jessep: *You can’t handle the truth!*

It was one of the few mornings when I woke up not knowing exactly what I would post today.

Then I reflected on my day yesterday. I had the opportunity to have lunch with the pastor of a local church and dinner with a man from the church I attend most regularly.

It was great. We met. We talked. We shared.

And it caused me to reflect on the last year and the great opportunities I’ve had to come across “a few good men” in my life.

There are some wise men from my church whose widsom and sage advice I value. It’s a privilege just to watch them and be in their presence.

There are some great men in my workplace who are among the best I’ve ever come across. They are brilliant, visionary, entrepreneural, real and deep. It is my honor to work with these men. And if you read this blog, you know who you are.

There’s a guy who was my best friend in high school and for a period of 20 years or so we lost touch. We’ve recently been reunited and it’s as if time never passed. He’s the kind of man who would cut out his heart for me if I needed it and he knows I would do the same for him. More than a brother, I consider this man to be.

Through sheer circumstance arranged by God, I was recently reunited with my junior high basketball coach – a man who helped shape a young 14-year-old in ways that would last forever. We now stay in regular contact and have an upcoming adventure together that I know will make more memories that will last a lifetime.

All these men are the type that can handle the truth. I can share with them. I can be transparent with them. I can be MYSELF with them and they pass no judgment.

There was a time in my life when I shut myself off from others for reasons that are too complex to explain. But never again.

I know have a few good men in my life. Thank you Jesus.