“That ‘Nones’ May Not Perish”

Click on the picture at left to listen to my interview with Melanie Cogdill of the Postmodern Realities Podcast about who the “nones” are and how we can think about trying to reach them.

Date: September 10, 2017
Appearance: “That ‘Nones’ May Not Perish”
Outlet: Postmodern Realities Podcast #49
Format: Podcast

Taking Payne Stewart Seriously

A Salute To Fatherhood

Stewart and Mickelson – June 20, 1999

This month, one of the biggest stories in the sporting world is about something that one of the world’s most talented and successful athletes won’t do. Recently, golfer Phil Mickelson announced that he will not be playing in this year’s U.S. Open. To some, this comes as a shock. After all, at age 46, Mickelson is still one of the best players on the planet (currently ranked #23 in the world), and has never won a U. S. Open — even though he’s finished 2nd a record six times. With that kind of history, and being as competitive as he is, you would think Mickelson would want to take advantage of every opportunity to finally win the thing. Realistically, those opportunities are fading fast.

The thing is, Phil Mickelson really, really does want to win a U. S. Open. But he’s skipping this year’s event for only one reason — his oldest daughter, Amanda, is graduating from high school on the Thursday that the U.S. Open begins. Phil Mickelson is choosing to be at an important event in the life of his family and daughter over pursuing his own personal fulfillment. These days, that’s pretty admirable all by itself. But the background to the story also makes it a touching memorial to a man and an event that probably made Mickelson’s decision a very easy one to make.

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The Key To Less Stressful Decision Making

How To Avoid 'God Will Hunting'

It is not uncommon to hear fellow Christians, as they ponder a difficult life decision, agonizing out loud about their sincere desire to “find God’s will for their life.” Their consternation is understandable, especially in an environment where “seeking God’s will” has become the standard method of decision making within the Christian culture. The process can be confusing and terrifying. After all, what if they make the wrong choice by picking the wrong place to live, the wrong job, or, most dauntingly, the wrong spouse? If they marry the wrong person that means that their spouse should have married someone else who in turn also married the wrong person – and the string of wrongly chosen spouses soon multiplies exponentially. Something must be awry in a view that allows the possibility that one wrong decision could lead to consequences of such catastrophic, ungodly proportions. How do we prevent the calamity and avoid the uncertainty? Is decision making really supposed to be this daunting?

Making decisions is hard enough. We certainly do not need to add to it the burden of evaluating our options against a false understanding of whether or not we have properly uncovered the Divine Plan. The simple fact is that any of us can assess our alignment to God’s Will with clear assurance. To understand why this is so, we need only evaluate this commonly accepted way of thinking against a biblical understanding of the nature of God’s will.

“If there really is a perfect will of God we are meant to discover, in which we will find tremendous freedom and fulfillment, why does it seem that everyone looking for God’s will is in such bondage and confusion?”
~ Kevin DeYoungJust Do Something

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Abraham And Easter

Those of us who share the conviction that Christianity is actually true, believe that a reset button got pushed on the first Easter Sunday when the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth. No argument about that here.

But, as a result of that mindset, many Christians seem to take that view to mean that the Old Testament was therefore rendered invalid, overridden, or somehow not applicable to how we understand our faith. Beyond citing the creation story or the 10 Commandments once in a while, we seem to have disconnected the Old Testament from the New. But doing so strips the overarching story of the relationship between God and man of much of its meaning. The history we see in the Bible has always been leading somewhere. It’s all about the same God. It’s all one story — and it’s a rich story that gets even richer when you take the time to see the unmistakeable connection between Old and New.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the life and mission of Abraham and the covenants God made with him that foreshadowed everything that would happen thousands of years later. In the story of Abraham we see all there is to understand about The Plan God put in place from the very beginning to save humanity. In Genesis 12:3 we get the biggy — “… all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

All the peoples.

The nation of Israel was a “chosen people” only insofar as from that nation, and from the House of David within that nation, would come the Messiah for all the peoples. Israel was never meant to be the only nation God would save. It was simply the nation through which He would make a way to save Israel and everyone else.

The way He would do it was through a covenant relationship like nothing anyone had ever imagined before. It would be a covenant of law and love that was both conditional and unconditional simultaneously. If that sounds weird, it is. It is “weird” because the God who fashioned it is like no other God and the way in which He offered to save mankind was unlike what any other god could offer. He demonstrated it to Abraham in Genesis 15 when God showed Abraham the meaning of Easter.*

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Fast Food

A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about his own personal tradition of fasting during the Lenten season leading up to the celebration of Easter. He said that the impact the experience had on him the first year he attempted it was powerful and had led him to continue the practice every year since. He didn’t tell me what he meant by “powerful” but he challenged me to give it a try.

Coincidentally, I had been considering doing exactly that, though on a much smaller scale than he suggested. My friend had researched the issue and found that the original practice of the monks who instituted Lenten fasting was to fast every day except Sunday for the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. The monks apparently believed that Sunday, being a day of rest, should also include resting from the practice of fasting. So, though he was not in any way Catholic, my friend had decided to do the same thing. He suggested that instead of going directly to a full-blown fast, I should wean my way into it by eating only fruits and vegetables for the first week. He told me this on the day before Lent began.

The next morning (after breakfast), I decided that instead of just teaching and talking about the spiritual disciplines (you will find a good summary of what they are in a blog series by Ken Boa here: Spiritual Disciplines, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), I might actually try putting them into practice. And so, almost on a whim, I vowed to give it a shot. I had no idea what I had signed up for.

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The Disturbing Sound of Silence

I can only recall a few movies that have left me speechless. Silenceis one of them. The film makes you live up to its name while you are experiencing it because the intensity is overwhelming at times. When the action goes silent, the theater you are sitting in also feels like a tomb. No whispering. No shuffling of feet. No rustle of people moving in their seats. But it also leaves you in stunned silence days later when you can’t get it out of your mind. It is a movie that makes you contemplate some of life’s most serious questions. Is God out there? Does He know I exist? Why all the suffering?

Silence is a movie that doesn’t give answers to those questions; it only makes them more real. There are no clichés thrown around. No neatly wrapped conclusions. This movie will not make any religious believer feel better about the topic of doubt but it will make them less prone to dismiss it.

Without spoiling the plot, or trying to pontificate on the profound topics this film explores, here are some practical takeaways I think are worth mentioning

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Please, Give Them An Answer

Recently, I saw the following quote offered as one reason that its author, Richard Rohr, should be considered a “go-to guy” if you are interested in demonstrating the story of Christianity to the world around you:

Jesus is asked over 183 questions in the Gospels and only answers 3 of them. We are not meant to be answer givers.

~ Richard Rohr

I saw the quote on a public forum. Plenty of people were commenting about it’s wisdom and relevance. I chimed in and questioned the legitimacy of the quote. I asked for an explanation as to why anyone would consider the quote so wonderful … but nobody would give me an answer.

See what they did there?

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Empty Nest, Full Hearts

Our youngest son, Jon, starts college today. His brothers will say he has gotten away with gross transgressions of The Rules they all had to follow. Sorry guys, but it just ain’t true. Actually, he has probably been more scrutinized — and many times, rightfully so — because he has been tail-end Charlie, the unfortunate victim of us knowing all the ways the other four found to get in trouble. But, whatever the case, the nest gets emptied today. This is supposed to be a time to do one of two things: Rejoice at our new found “freedom,” or slide into a depressed funk about the sadness of it all.

We choose neither.

Our goal has never been to raise good kids. Our goal has always been to raise grounded, responsible adults. Like their parents, our boys have all made plenty of bad decisions. Like our parents, we have done our best to make them suffer the consequences of those decisions. So, while we are not thrilled about some of the things they have done, we could not be more proud of the young men they have become. Jon is no different from the other four in that respect. So, it is with bittersweet anticipation of the future that we watch him leave the nest. Maybe the departure of the previous four has dulled the sense sadness that comes with this day. We are hardened veteran parents now so the trauma of it all just rolls right off our backs.

No, that’s not it.

We will still shed tears.

But we will also be happy. Not in the way the culture likes to portray it — leaping for joy because they’re finally gone — but with a sense of anticipation about seeing the fruits of our parenting labor. We look forward to celebrating their successes with them from the back of the room, watching them from behind their own future families and friends. We look forward to consoling them in their disappointments, knowing that those disappointments will make them stronger, even if they won’t want to hear it from us. We look forward to offering our advice, but only if they ask for it.

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“Time To Move Along”

Joseph F. Vincent West Point Class of 1955

Joseph F. Vincent
West Point Class of 1955

The first concrete memory I have of Joseph Fraser Vincent, Sr. was on the day after the night I brought his daughter home from a date an hour and a half after her curfew. In my “defense,” both he and his wife, Fran, were out of town until Sunday night — this was on Friday. Who comes home from an out-of-town trip three days early, anyway? Beside that, Mary assured me that if we had called and asked permission to stay for the second movie of the double feature, her parents would have been fine with it. I mean, it wasn’t our fault they wouldn’t invent cell phones for another 20 years. It seemed like a perfectly legitimate rationalization to me.

I slowed to a rolling stop and dropped Mary off at the curb behind her house. The next day is when I first remember being introduced to the giant of a man whose physical stature was rather slight. He told me how he had trusted me with his daughter and that I had disappointed him. He told me that he expected more of me than that. As he talked to me, I shrank ever more deeply into the shag carpet at my feet. He never raised his voice above a calm, conversational tone that day or any day over the next 38 years that I knew him.

He didn’t have to.

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Throwing Cold Water On The ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge”

I really don’t mean to be a killjoy. I love the fact that millions of people are engaging in the latest “Ice Bucket Challenge” to elicit donations for finding a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease). I’ve seen the moving story on ESPN about the gutsy baseball star (Pete Frates) from Boston College who initiated the whole movement. I pray that the almost 1000% increase in donations to the ALS Association as a result of this “Ice Bucket Challenge” phenomenon will accelerate the finding of a cure that cannot come too soon.

ALS is a heartbreaking, debilitating, evil disease. I know this because I’ve been watching my father-in-law suffer with it for almost 8 years now. I hate ALS.

But I hate the willful and selfish destruction of innocent human beings more.

The “Ice Bucket Challenge” has become a cultural phenomenon that only the modern social media monster could create. But those who engage in it need to know that the ALS Association’s search for a cure includes their own unapologetic support for Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR). Stem cells offer an exciting area of research that may prove to lead to the most powerful cures for some of the most horrendous diseases mankind faces. But we all need to distinguish betweens Stem Cell Research and Embryonic Stem Cell Research. When it comes to ethics and how we all value human life, the differences between them couldn’t be more stark.

I and others at the Life Training Institute have written about the failures and ethical issues surrounding ESCR before (here, here, here, here, and here among other places). The moral issue centers on only one thing: From what source do you derive the stem cells? ESCR destroys frozen or cloned embryos of a small, defenseless human beings for the benefit of others. The simple fact is that the clinical promise and moral superiority of adult stem cell and induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC) over ESCR is undeniable and avoids the destruction of innocent human beings. We don’t have to resort to barbarism to seek a cure for diseases.

So, what to do?

You can begin by reading a short news story on “What’s Wrong With The Ice Bucket Challenge?” It gives a short overview of the issue and a couple of solutions:

1) There is an alternative research group that does not engage in ESCR, the John Paul II Medical Research Institute. Feel free to dump a bucket of ice water on your head if you are so-inclined, but then send your money to an institute that respects the value of human life at all stages.

2) Alternatively, if you want to donate to the ALS Association anyway, include with your donation a stipulation that your funds are not permitted to be used in any ESCR program. The Association’s Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Carrie Munk, has made a public commitment that they will not use your funds to support ESCR if you do so.

To be fair, the ALS Association does support a wide array of alternative research programs. I don’t want to disparage an organization that is doing so much to try to find a cure for ALS. But please, if you choose option 2), do so with great trepidation because Ms. Munk also claims that “under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future.” Seeing that there are no “very strict guidelines” that are strict enough to allow for the destruction of innocent human beings, this doesn’t seem like an acceptable risk to take.

Let’s end ALS, but let’s end it the right way.