Excerpt from My Upcoming Book

Sometimes, like Abraham, you have to leave Ur before you can see Canaan.

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I am almost finished with the book I promised months ago. It will be available on Amazon in January. It is a book about dreaming, failing, persevering, friendship, and seeing the unthinkable. The book consists  of my journal entries over the past three years. It chronicles my journey (and my family’s) from pastoring, becoming extremely unsettled, walking way from jobs with nothing on the horizon, moving to Washington, and then ending up where we are now. It is very raw and honest and quite often feels like a roller coaster. Depression, fear, anger, and other emotions marked the path.

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My heart is to encourage people to follow Christ into the unknown places that he is calling. Sometimes, like Abraham, you have to leave Ur before you can see Canaan. Frequently, God only gives you bits and pieces. He wants trust. He is jealous over your trust. He hides information so that in the end, you must look into his eyes and take the leap because his “yes” trumps the pending uncertainty.

The following excerpt is from September 1st, 2015. After pastoring for over 10 years, this was my first full day after stepping away. Yet, no door had opened.

“…this means that there is now nothing for the Fall. Now what? We have believed that it was Fall all along. I gave up both jobs. I am so far behind in academics because of the years that you had me pastor. And now, you are going to drag your feet and toss aside a semester of my life? I was hoping with all of my heart that you were going to show me great favor and even accelerate this part of my calling. I “feel” so far behind academically, yet you are not allowing me to move forward. Nothing? No job, no income, and no philosophy? Nothing? And if you don’t open a door, how am I to see your face and be confident that you will speak when the reason we are where we are at is that we thought you did speak. It so looks as if we were wrong. Why are you going to waste me?”

I will keep you updated.

PhD Reflection: Surround Yourself with Better

I am experiencing a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment knowing that the people around me are going to make me better over the next few years.

I am supposed to be working on my PhD thesis. However, I just finished a meeting with my doctoral supervisor and wanted to jot a thought or two.

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In the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, it doesn’t take long to realize that you are just one of many. I had to quickly face the fact that I am not one of the smartest people here (understatement!). You don’t come to a place like this to rule the roost. But I find that there is great peace and joy in confessing this truth. I am here to learn. I am here to grow. I am here to get better. I am here to make connections. I am here to prepare for what God has planned. Besides, being the best is not what this is about. Rather, I want to maximize the abilities that God has given me. This is about faithfulness and preparation.

Regarding intelligence, you may think that I am referring to various professors and lecturers. I am, but my comments are not restricted to that group. I have met several PhD candidates that are several steps ahead of me from a theological perspective. Because my past education is in psychology and philosophy, I have some catching up to do. On the other hand, all of our projects are different, so there is nothing wrong with having different areas of expertise.

Today my supervisor sat with me and discussed my work for over an hour. It always amazes me when he takes this much time to discuss my research. The dialogue is always challenging, stimulating, and enjoyable. It is also humbling. I told my wife the other day, “If I studied the next ten years, I don’t think that I would know as much as this guy.” He is that intelligent and articulate. But this brings me to the main point of this blog: I am experiencing a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment knowing that the people around me are going to make me better over the next few years. To get better (no matter whether you are speaking of a skill, virtue, intimacy with God, etc.), you need people around you that are better than you in that specific area. Now, I could feel insecure and threatened. If I let insecurity rule, it would steal the opportunity to glean from those around me. And notice I said, “If I let insecurity rule…” I chose this wording on purpose. When you step out of your comfort zone, of course you will experience insecurity at times. But who cares. It is not the end of the world. The question is not, “Will I experience insecurity?” but rather, “Will I let it take control of me or will I set it aside and move forward?”

The bottom line is this:

Better people make you better. 

You can apply this to motherhood, fatherhood, pastoring, teaching, studying, playing a sport, learning a language, starting a church, cooking a new recipe, repairing a car, getting better at your job, etc. You fill in the blank. So you can hold on to your pride if you want. Or, you can put a little humility in your pocket and glean and grow from other people’s strengths.

Denzel Washington On Fatherhood and Family values

Make it easy for your child to believe, love, and obey a good God.

So, anytime someone in Hollywood says something that makes sense, it should be memorialized. Furthermore, if the statement contains wisdom, then we should probably scream it from a rooftop.

All jokes aside, after I finished my Bible reading (Psalms and Acts today) and prayer, I glanced at the news. I like to scroll through headlines and read a few articles. Most of the time, you can scan headlines to keep up with current events (a tip to leaders who need to stay up on what is happening in the world). Today, an article about Denzel Washington caught my eye.

Denzel Washington stars in ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.He has always been one of my favorite actors. Granted, I have not watched every film he has been in, but I enjoy his work. He has just recently starred in the film, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” written and directed by Dan Gilroy. In what is called a “press junket” (language I borrowed from the link), he made the following statement about fatherhood:

“It starts at the home…It starts with how you raise your children. If a young man doesn’t have a father figure, he’ll go find a father figure. So, you know, I can’t blame the system. It’s unfortunate that we make such easy work for them.”

The sentence, “If a young man doesn’t have a father figure, he’ll go find a father figure,” is one of the most powerful statements I have ever read or heard pertaining to fatherhood.

The article where this quote is found ends with the statement, “Traditional family values, the left has long said, are racist, sexist and chauvinistic.” He is right. Of course, this will not be a popular view among feminists and the lesbian community. In an overreaction to male chauvinism over the past few decades, the feminist agenda quite often swings to the other extreme, claiming that the male presence is not needed. It is superfluous. A woman can do the job of a man.

I don’t agree.

Let me flip this around as well: A man cannot do the job of a woman. Now, of course there are jobs and roles that both can fulfill. I am not denying this. But I don’t believe this is possible in the home. My main point is that both genders offer something unique to children and society at large. It is a sign of ignorance and superficiality that on one hand, our society trumpets the message of our uniqueness and value as individuals while on the other hand attempting to eradicate gender lines that contribute to this uniqueness. Essentially, our society preaches, “Select the gender that you want to identify with in order to express your true self.” Self is central. Self is God. Therefore, self-expression takes precedent over all else. Arrange everything else accordingly. A byproduct of this movement is that gender becomes arbitrary and thus motherhood and fatherhood can now be fulfilled by anyone no matter their biology.

Being married to someone of the opposite sex and having kids truly opens your eyes to the distinctness of each gender. When I am playing rough with my son, my wife always says to me, “A boy needs a daddy. He gets things from you that I can’t give him.” This truth goes both ways. I also cannot give him what she provides. Together, he is given fullness. He is offered the opportunity to see a more complete and complex picture of who God is. I do not mean to imply that the categorical lines are thick. Different men and women have different temperaments. Some men will be strong in areas that women typically are and vice versa. But my point is that in general, both genders were created to mirror the person, wisdom, and beauty of Christ in different ways.

Back to fatherhood. If you are father, read these words and take them to heart. You may be living under the same roof as your children but be totally absent. This kind of fathering can hurt children just as badly if not worse than an absentee dad. You are there and won’t even look at them. At least the child of an absentee father can make up reasons why the absentee dad is not present.

The bottom line is this: A child will find a father. If you are a dad, you are in position to be that person. With your time, laughter, silliness, wisdom (taking advantage of teaching moments), money, worship, acts of kindness, words and tone, and the way that you treat others (including your spouse!), shape your child. Make it easy for your child to believe, love, and obey a good God.

As a parting thought, I believe that there is something to the fact that some of the most significant, anti-Christian philosophers in the Western tradition did not have a father-presence in the home during their childhood. Arthur Schopenhauer lamented the loss of his father when he was 17. He spoke of the negative impact this had on his life. Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously wrote, “God is dead,” lost his dad at age four. And Jean-Paul Sartre, the philosopher in which Atheistic Existentialism reached its peak, also grew up without a father.

Remember, fatherhood counts. If you will not be the dad of your child, someone else will.

You can find the quote from Denzel Washington along with a short article by clicking on the following link:

Denzel Washington on fatherhood, family values – Washington Times

Mike Pence and How to Protect Your Marriage

During my 11-12 years of serving as a pastor, I also strove to abide by this rule. 

 

The following link will direct you to an article in USA Today. The rule that Mike Pence lives by regarding his interactions with the opposite sex is a rule that my dad (a senior pastor in Northeast Texas) has lived by for decades. During my 11-12 years of serving as a pastor, I also strove to abide by this rule.

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I have never met anyone that regretted living by this rule. However, I doubt there is enough space to list names of those who wish they had (including spouses, children, and friends who were hurt).

The rule that Pence lives by is not morally right or wrong. Rather, it is wise. Quite often, the question, “What is wise?” transcends the moral right-wrong divide.

Whether you are a pastor, educator, business owner, manager, or whatever else, I hope you will click on the link below, read, and consider this for yourself.

After Weinstein, consider Pence rule to protect your heart and marriage

Colin Kaepernick vs. Martin Luther King Jr.

What I find disappointing is that after kneeling and becoming the face of this movement, he [Kaepernick] is now demanding his rights.

maxresdefaultOh my, have my thoughts been swirling of late. First of all, let me address President Trump’s (as well as most Republicans) attitude toward NFL player’s taking a knee during the national anthem.

He has called for boycotts and even threatened tax adjustments in response to NFL players kneeling in protest during the national anthem. This practice started when Colin Kaepernick, then the quarterback for the 49ers, sat during the national anthem on August 14th and August 20th. It wasn’t until he knelt on August 26th that his actions began to receive attention (timeline).

Once his actions were noticed, he was front and center in the national spotlight. Other players began to join. When interviewed, he responded with remarks such as “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” For people who died for this country and for Americans who take great pride in their flag, this was highly offensive. After all, haven’t we made  great progress? Did we not elect our first black president in 2008? And aren’t acts of injustice and violence perpetrated against white officers as well?

Though I seriously question the effectiveness of such a strategy besides getting other NFL players to kneel, I don’t mind it. After all, we allow people to burn the flag, right? Of course, those who have a problem with this are the ones that have a problem with Kaepernick.

For me, their kneeling is yet another manifestation of the great freedom that people gave their life to secure. Of course, there will always be people who use this freedom in ways that we deem inappropriate and even outright offensive. But, the way I see it (which is limited of course), NFL players are utilizing their freedom just as those who are boycotting the NFL in protest of their protest (it is all so exhausting) are utilizing theirs.

Moving on.

My main issue with Colin Kaepernick is that as the poster child of this kneeling protest, he has now filed a grievance against NFL owners for collusion against him. In other words, he believes that the only reason that he is not playing in the NFL is that owners have secretly agreed behind closed doors to not allow him to play. Whether this is true (I suspect that it is) is not my concern at the moment.

What I find disappointing is that after kneeling and becoming the face of this movement, he is now demanding his rights. Really? If you are going to take a stand, you are going to be persecuted. This is true both in and outside of religion. But what does it say about you that rather than suffer the loss in the name of justice, you are demanding your right to play in the NFL?

It struck me as odd when I thought of Martin Luther King Jr. Though I am not a history buff, I don’t recall Martin Luther King Jr. demanding his rights. Granted, he rightfully called for justice, equal citizenship, and true liberty for all of Black America, but he didn’t go around demanding what he had lost personally for taking such a stand. 

I suppose my thought is, “So what will it be Kaepernick? Will you truly care about justice or now fight for what you lost for taking a stand?”

Kaepernick is no Martin Luther King Jr. He took a bullet on behalf of others. Kaepernick is demanding he not lose anything. If you are going to take a stand, you better count the cost.

28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ (Jesus’ words in Luke 14; ESV)

The Texas Mass Shooting and the Longing for Eternity

I bet the reason that some elderly people do not fear death and talk freely about heaven is that they have seen and experienced enough.

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My heart was grieved when I read the news. A young man with a gun opened fire from outside a small, local church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. According to some reports, he then walked inside the church and kept shooting. Afterwards, he fled the scene and died in a car crash.

26 dead.

Among them, the pastor’s daughter. What also hurt my heart was that the pastor wasn’t there. That may seem like an odd thing to say, but any pastor worth his weight would probably have wanted to be there. Experiencing this moment with his people would somehow position him, at least in his own mind, to be more qualified to help his people in the weeks and months to come. Assuming that he is a good and caring pastor, he is probably dealing with an odd amalgam of emotions for not being present at the time of the tragedy in addition to the unimaginable personal grief. After being a pastor for over a decade (though not a senior/lead pastor), I know that he probably wishes he was there so that he could better relate to the fear and horror that his people must have felt in that moment. This might seem like an odd reflection, but I could not help but think about the pastor. May the Lord give him the assurance that he is more than qualified to minister because these are, at the end of the day, his people. And, even as I write this paragraph, I remember that he lost his daughter. Of course he can identify. I can’t imagine.

How could this happen again? Another man with another insanely powerful gun. More lives.

When will this stop? I don’t think it is going to.

Let’s be honest. Whatever side of the gun debate you stand, people are going to kill other people. Senseless crimes are going to occur. Whether or not legislation can curb the tide is another issue. But salvation will not come through systems of morality, the right politician, a certain political party, or a new piece of legislation. I am not at all arguing that Christians should not be concerned with such matters. Rather, I am simply making the point that apart from the redemptive work of Christ in the human heart, we are capable of anything. The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah wrote,

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

In the past, I have told my wife, “I bet the reason that some elderly people do not fear death and talk freely about heaven is that they have seen and experienced enough. They have buried loved ones. They have suffered tragedy.”

I think the reason many Christians don’t long for heaven is either they are too young or haven’t suffered. There must come a point that though you enjoy life and cherish all that God has bestowed, you begin to long for an existence that is characterized by the following:

“He [Christ] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  (Revelation 21:4)

As I scrolled through Facebook today, my friend Brandon Smith commented, “How long?” Though I am not sure exactly what he meant, this resonated with me. Lord, how long until you come? How long until this madness stops? How long until…

“The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.”

(Isaiah 11:6-9)          

May we long for eternity. May we not lose sight that time really is passing, that life on this earth will end, and that in the end, all that will matter is whether we loved Jesus Christ and other people with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

So don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is all there is. Read a good dose of Ecclesiastes. Talk with an elderly Christian. Look for ways to remind yourself that the some of major obstacles to faithfulness to God on this side of the grave are “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:18-19). Get rid of your idols. One thing matters.

When we read God’s Word, interact with Christians, read horrible headlines, pray, serve, listen to someone who is hurting, share your money and/or goods, or whatever else, may our longing for eternity grow.

In the meantime, may the God of all comfort help our brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

“Why did you give me a discount?”

In a world intoxicated with speed, progress, efficiency, and productivity, go the other way.

Edinburgh, Fringe on the Royal Mile 2One of the joys that I have several times a week is walking the Royal Mile to New College. It is a beautiful stretch with shops, statues, and an overall nice atmosphere. I study here at the college on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays. The other two days I study from home.

In making this walk, there is a little coffee shop I like to frequent. One of the main reasons is that their Americano is a pound cheaper than anywhere else. I am a PhD student, after all.

One of the reasons I like to buy items from the same place is that sometimes you get the chance to actually learn names and give the city more of a “village” feel. As a Christian, I am convinced that this type of living can result in more authentic connections that hopefully, at some point, result in an open door for sharing the Gospel.

Today on my way to the school, I made my usual stop (coffee is in hand as I type). Over the past few weeks, I made a point to learn the name of the young man (from a country in the EU) who is there every morning. His name is “Niko.” He is very kind and has a cool accent (I wonder what he thinks of my Texas accent?). Last time I was in the shop, he felt bad that he could not remember my name. Today, when he saw me, he said, “Is it J.B.?”

“Close,” I replied. “You got the letters right, and that is the hardest part.” I then looked at him and addressed him by name. I have come to really enjoy this moment and appreciate that in some way, this is our way of acknowledging that we do not merely exist as a means to complete a commercial transaction. We are humans.

As he stood at the register, he said, “I am giving you a discount.” I then asked the reason. He immediately responded, “Because you know my name.” Just like that, my coffee was cheaper.

For some, this might seem to be much ado about nothing. But for me, especially in this large city, there is a young man named Niko that I enjoy seeing. Considering how long I will be here studying, who knows what may come of this connection. I know that ultimately, my heart is that somehow, a spiritual dialogue ensues. We shall see.

If you are a Christian, slow down a bit today. Look people in the eye. Ask their name. Try to remember it. In a world intoxicated with speed, progress, efficiency, and productivity, go the other way. Take the narrow road. See people. Look at people. How else will the second greatest command of Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40) ever have a chance of being fulfilled in your life?