Saturday, July 30, 2011

In Praise of Oak Ridge Church

Tomorrow concludes my ministry at Oak Ridge Church after nine short years of being their pastor. Being their pastor has been a wonderful, healing experience for my family and I.
I came to Oak Ridge after leaving a congregation of more than five hundred. I was burned out. Church and family issues had taken everything I had.  I had no idea where I was going to go or what I was going to do.  I was not sure I wanted to be a minister any more. 
Then I got a call from a pastor who asked me to preach at his church while he was away candidating at another church. The week following  that Sunday,  he left the church, and Oak Ridge invited me back to fill the pulpit.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Today I finished packing up my church office--twenty  boxes containing books and mementos of thirty-six years in church work. I am leaving my fifth church and my sixth church office.  It is I think the seventh time I have moved those books in the past ten years. 
When I left  my last church,  there were thirty-five boxes. That was after I had already given away at least forty percent of my library. I have come to realize that books are for reading, not for collecting dust.  That's easy to remember when you are toting thirty-five boxes in and out of your car. 
God was good to me, though. Oak Ridge called me to be their pastor.  I unpacked my boxes in the study of our new home--only the second home we owned in thirty-six years of marriage and eight moves.  Space was a problem so I unloaded twenty- four boxes onto tightly packed shelves in my small home study.  

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Pursuit of Pleasure

I just finished reading a book by Christian psychiatrist Dr. Archibald Hart, entitled Thrilled to Death. The book dealt with one the most prevalent psychological disorder in modern society that we have never heard of. it is called anhedonia, which means the inability to experience pleasure. People with anhedonia no longer enjoy the little pleasures of life. Hart's thesis is that almost everyone today is experiencing a measure of anhedonia. We just don't enjoy life the way our ancestors did. We don't even enjoy it the way we did as children. The problem, he said, is getting worse all the time.
Do you remember the taste of ice cream when you were a child? Didn't it seem to taste better then? Do you remember the thrill of your first kiss, the feel of grass under your toes, the laughter you experienced watching cartoons? Why don't the things we set out to enjoy feel the same way to us now?
Hart lists five causes of anhedonia--depression, physical ailments. anxiety, addictions, and over-stimulation of the pleasure centers of our brain.
Are we overstimulated for pleasure?
Let me give you an example.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A New Door and a New Adventure

In nine days I will begin my new job as Director of Pastoral Studies at New Life Seminary.  It's an exciting new challenge, personally, intellectually, spiritually, and financially.  I relish the challenge, and look forward to beginning with my students.  
It is a wonderful feeling to know that at my age, I can still start a new career.  For thirty-one years, I have walked through the halls of ministry, only to find a brand new door and a new hall behind it.  Beyond that,  who knows?  Maybe this is only one of a succession of doors for me yet to enter, each one leading to another, until I swing open the final one and step into the light in my Father's House.
I am blessed to be teaching practical ministry subjects. I am not a scholar in the the traditional sense, nor do I want to be. I admire people who are true scholars and respect their precision of thought, but for my part I would rather focus on holy practice than holy intellect. When I was younger, I wanted to be smart.  Now I would rather teach wisdom.  Wisdom and knowledge are not the same thing. 
 I pray that my God will help me to make them sufficiently challenging and helpful.  I know that they will teach me as much as I will teach them.  More than that, I pray that what I do and say among them will point them to the Great Teacher, before Whom we are all just mediocre students.

"Dear God, who teaches us all things,  let we who teach be reflections of Your glory, so that our students will see You in what we say or do. May we drink our fill at the well of knowledge, but lead us to share what we know with wisdom and with love.
 In Jesus' name, Amen."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Call To Prayer

This church is about to embark on one of the most difficult tasks any church can do—finding a new pastor. It is a time of danger. Not only can you choose the wrong pastor, but you can go astray in other ways. You can turn against each other. False shepherds can enter and do great damage. You can become obsess ed with internal matters and give up your witness in the world.
On the other hand, it is also a time of great opportunity. The church can pull together in a way that it has never before. You can find greater purpose and direction, become better focused. You can be fed good pastors and preachers who can add new depth and insights, above what I have given you in the past.

One thing, however, must be understood, and understood clearly. You are not without a shepherd. You have the great Shepherd of us all, our Lord Jesus Christ. Neither do you lack shepherds on earth, since you have elders, deacons, and teachers who will step up to the task of being leaders. Too often a congregation sees an interim period as a hold time. If you take the initiative to continue to do the work of the ministry, it can be among the finest days of the church.
Recently, I heard of an experiment to determine the difference between wolves and dogs. All dogs were once wolves but millennia of breeding has produced different traits. Scientists took some food and placed it at the end of a strip of cloth in a cage, in sight of the animal but out of its reach. Both the dogs and the wolves figured this out almost immediately that they could pull on the cloth and get the food to come to them.
Then they tied the cloth down, so it would not budge. The stalked around the cage, trying all kinds of way to get to it. The dog tried once and gave up, looking instead to its master to solve the problem for him. The dog expected humans to find the answer.
Are you a dog or a wolf? That is the question you must decide. Will you wait till someone else arrives to solve the church’s problems, or will you take the initiative as a congregation and work together to arrive at good solutions?
Fortunately, you do not have to solve your problems by yourselves. You have a Shepherd, your Father in heaven. He will provide you to the solutions you need, defend the church against false prophets, and will provide good teaching and many blessings for the congregation. This is a time when the church can draw near to God, and discover what He has for you. Even so, you must take the initiative to seek His guidance until you find it.
Jeremiah 29:13 says it best “You will seek Me, and you will find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Now is the time to really search for God.
I have seen some churches make a mess of a pastoral search. I have also seen some churches who have done it very well. I think I know what makes the difference.
Those who have done it well have had two characteristics. First, they have not been in a hurry, because they trusted God. Almost immediately people have been asking me for recommendations for pastor. I could tell the hurry in their voices, a desire to get it done. But it is vitally important that you not hurry. Thoroughly investigate every candidate, and carefully read their resumes. Interview them more than once.
One option is to work with the presbytery to find an interim. Things do not have to stop while you are looking. You can go on with the ministries of the church. You can find temporary shepherds who can help you in the process. But whatever you do, do not hurry. Remember that the Lord is your true shepherd. He is the One who does all things. Wait upon the Lord, and trust His timing.
Second, the churches which have been most successful have made prayer their highest priority in the process. I strongly recommend that you begin now praying and fasting for a new pastor. Come together regularly, at least weekly with no other purpose in mind but to pray for a new pastor.
Our church has not often risen very high in the field of prayer. Often, I have heard our Wednesday Night Bible study called “prayer meeting,” even though it is not a time of prayer, but teaching. We have tried to gather together at 9:30 for prayer, until interest in it fell off. Since then, my wife and I have been the only ones coming. So now, this church has no time of group prayer. You need to get together and pray.
Let me tell you about the prayer you don’t need, though. You don’t need a time for coming together and sharing local gossip. You don’t need a gathering time for the super-spiritual. You don’t need a prayer meeting where the people there get resentful and run down people who are not there. You don’t need an “organ recital”—a prayer meeting that focuses on everyone’s ailments. Those prayers are better kept in another meeting, or shared on the prayer chains. You don’t need a time when one person prays where everyone else listens. You don’t formal, repetitive, ritualistic prayers. You don’t need prayers where people think they must speak to God in stilted, unrealistic tone.
You need prayer that is a crying from the heart. You need a time of sharing your grief and joy with God. You need a time when you all listen together to God, and expect God to answer you. You need time of seeking the face of God--really seeking Him, not just going through the motions. In most churches today prayer meetings have died, not from lack of attendance but from a lack of passion among those who attend. The church may be grounded in the Word, but it moves by the Spirit. It may be anchored in truth, but its sails are filled with passion. This church has not lacked for the word, but it has and does lack for the Spirit of God to fill its sails and drive it on to glory.
This is your opportunity to gain that passion. Now is the time experience the winds of the Spirit, and not to let go, until you find them. This church has become becalmed in complacency, adrift on a calm sea with no land in sight and no compass or chart to tell us where we should be. You need to appeal to God for passion and direction.
I do not need to tell you that you need to seek God and to do His will. You already know that. But how? For what purpose do we seek Him and to what depth and dimension should we go to find him? Can casual praying really be expected to change the world?
There are three levels of experience in a quest for God. The first is the level of obedience. Most seek to be obedient to God. Obedience is important. But being a believer is not a matter of obedience, nor is it a matter of morality. Being a Christian is not about doing right or wrong. That is a byproduct of the faith, and not the source of it.
Obedience produces servants, not sons. If all we do is tell people they should go to church meetings, tithe, be nice to each other, and be good citizens, we have not told them anything that is particularly Christians. The Muslims, Mormons, Jews, and even the atheists can do all these things, or their equivalent, and feel good about themselves. Communists, Nazis, and the ancient Romans all valued obedience being public-spirited citizens, and supporting their country. I wish to God they had not! Think of the lives that would have been saved if the Germans or the Russians had not been quite so obedient to their national authority.
We must be more than obedient to the Law. We must also be followers of God’s Spirit. Jesus said “Follow Me.” He did not say “Stay in Galilee and be the best fishermen you can be.” Jesus called them to risk and danger. We who serve the Lord full time know what it means to be called to a ministry. That means sometime in our lives we perceived that God was calling us to do something that others did not. It was a dangerous, difficult road He calls us to do, but the church would not be here is those who were called to the Ministry or the mission field did not go.
Do you think that God only calls some people to ministry, and the rest to be ministered to? Does He call only some to the danger and scandal of the Cross? Are only a few called to seek His unique will for their lives? Or did He not say to all of us “forsake your father and mother can follow me?” You are not exempt from this call. Each of you is called to the ministry.
The greatest weakness of the average church is prayerlessness. The second greatest weakness is the idea that the pastor is the primary worker. Some of you may think that the pastor must do all the visiting, all the preaching, all the counseling, and all the teaching. If you think that, then this church will forever be small and weak. When you become the shepherds, the teachers, the counselors, comforters, and the evangelists, then the church will grow—it cannot help but do otherwise.
Following Jesus is not enough, either. He does not call us just to be followers, but friends. He wants us to be in communion with Him, and experience His presence always.
Many people say they love the Lord, but I say many who say this do not. If we say we love our wives, but we want to lives separately from them, can we truly say to love them. If we love our children, yet choose not to visit them, do we really love them? Love involves a desire to be with them.
Three or four times in my life, I have had the privilege of visiting in A Trappist monastery—once in Kentucky and at least twice in Georgia. It is an amazing thing to meet these monks, who live most of the day in silence, attend worship five times a day, and pray at least four hours every day. The rest of their time is work and sleep, usually without the fellowship of other people. They never marry, the never leave the monastery, they do not watch television or attend sports events. The rarely read the newspapers. But these men are happy—often filled with indescribable joy. If you ask any of them what makes them so happy, they will all say the same thing—it is their freedom to be with God every day, and all day. Even when going about their chores, they have a deep sense of being with God. They practice His presence as the wash dishes, clean toilets, and cook meals. The one thing these men seek from their lives is the opportunity to spend time with Jesus.
These men are Catholic, which means as far as you or I are concerned they live in serious doctrinal error. But can we not concede that they know something about Jesus we do not? Can we not admit that we live in our own particular error—that is, the delusion that we can be a Christian and not spend any time with Jesus?
The pressures of the world have led us away from Him--as individuals and as a church.
The world is looking for God. How can we expect the world to find Him here, if we do not? How can God be here for unbelievers, when we believers ignore Him? God brings difficulties in our lives to bring us to prayer. Let me encourage you to let this difficult time in the church’s life be an opportunity for seeking God as He would be sought, with our whole heart and our whole souls. Let this be a time for prayer. Wage total war on the powers of darkness, until God’s light shines through this place in a constant, steady beacon. I cannot be here to lead you in this, but your officers can be. More than that, God will be with your wherever you go.

Courageous Grace

What constitutes courage? It is not the absence of fear. The absence of fear is stupidity. Instead, courage is the willingness to ignore fear. If there is no fear, there is no courage.
What constitutes tolerance? It is essentially the same. Many people think that tolerance is the same as being non-judgmental. But real tolerance is a kind of moral courage. It is not the absence of judgment, but we willingness to love in spite of our revulsion at the behavior of others.
Worldly tolerance is based on the belief that there is no right or wrong. Worldly tolerance teaches that we should see nothing wrong with alternate lifestyles, other religions, or other political views. Worldly tolerance is intolerant only with intolerance. The Ten Commandments are therefore “intolerant.” There is no judgment of anything or anyone.
That is not tolerance. It is stupidity.
The so-called “tolerant” are intolerant have a different list of sins than the religious do, but they have a list. Intolerance comes first, but it also includes being polluters, homophobes, chauvinists, racists, etc. The standards by which they judge these things would make the Salem witch hunters seem tolerant. Any deviation from the politically correct norm is to be labeled “intolerant.” The Bible has another kind of tolerance. Our tolerance is based on grace--which is moral courage. It is not the absence of judgment, but a commitment to love in spite of their sins. It does not deny the sin, but it does love the sinner.
Our pot-modern world doesn’t understand it. How can we oppose homosexuality and still support AIDS research? How can we oppose Islam, and still send charity relief to an Islamic country? They don’t do it for us! How can we believe we are the only true religion and still support freedom of speech? How can we insist we have the right faith, and still treat all faiths in our hospitals? We do not love on the basis of what others believe or do, but on the basis of what we believe and do. We are sinners saved by grace. We love others because of what Christ did for us.
This is moral courage, because we do it in the face of our own fear of sin. It goes against our deepest instincts and emotions to love sinners in their sins. Our nature is to judge as other do, to treat others according to our judgment of them. If we love Christ, we must love as He loved. We must live according to the mandates of divine grace. Believing people are sinners, we love them anyway in spite of their sins. This is the highest form of moral courage, and requires a deep moral discipline.
The worldly person sees our disapproval of sexual promiscuity and homosexuality and thinks we must alse be in favor of the practice of stoning homosexuals. He hears us say that Jesus is the way, truth and life, and thinks that we must be in favor of sending everyone else to hell. We are not. A Christian is one who loves the sinner as he loves himself. Judging the individual according to their behavior or their beliefs is consistent with their values, not ours. It is easy to love people we agree with, but to love those with whom we disagree is real grace. Our treatment of others is not based on what they say or do, but on what Jesus did for us.
Christian Grace colors everything we do. It is the basis for the three great relationships of our lives.
First, it is founded in our relationship with almighty God. Romans 5:6-8 states.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Any grace we may show in our lives is based upon God’s grace. God does not approve of sin, but He sent His Son to die for sinners. He did it to fulfill the letter of the law, so that through the Law the power of the Law might be broken.
Let’s put it another way--why should God love you? There is no reason, any more than there is a reason we should love a fundamentalist Muslim who wants to kill us, or a secular humanist who thinks all evangelical Christians are toothless idiots. We have committed offenses towards God that are every bit as abhorrent to Him as these people’s words and deed are offensive to us.
Paul grew up in an Orthodox Jewish environment. This world committed grave offenses to God. They reduced God to a caricature of His true self—a malevolent, legalistic, moralistic, being who kept the world in bondage. The religious leaders worshipped such a God so that they could maintain power over others and prove themselves superior. If you were God, what would you do with people who so badly represented who He was?
But the Pharisees of Paul’s youth were not the only offenders. Others did not believe in Him at all. Most who do not believe in Him do so out of convenience, not conviction. They rebel against the idea that there is any objective moral standard in the universe. Others believe in Him, but have nothing to do with Him. It is a sad fact that between eighty and ninety percent of people believe in God, but that only about a third regularly worship Him. How do you think God feels about a person who says they believe, but does not worship?
Paul understood something about God that His contemporaries did not. In spite of our sins, God loves us passionately, completely, and sincerely. His love is not based on our performance, neither is rooted “everything is good” mushy morality. His love is rooted in the sacrifice that God Himself made on our behalf. He overlooked His justifiable anger at us and gave us the free gift of grace. He did this so not only to give us freedom from our sins and a way of reconciling to Him, but also to set an example of how we should treat others.
Second, grace is expressed in our relationship we have to ourselves through redemption.
There is a legalistic streak in every Christian, which is primarily displayed in the way we look at ourselves. They believe deep down what growing up in this world has taught them--that their self-worth is based on what they are able to do. Some base their self-esteem on worldly success, others on the opinions of others, and still others on their moral performance. When we succumb to temptation, are rebuked by others, or fail at our jobs, we become worthless.
But God sees us differently. Our sins and our failures, need not define us in our own eyes. We are better than what we do or say or what others think because God has forgiven us.
(If you have never experienced the forgiveness of God, I urge you to stop immediately and turn to Him now. Ask Him to forgive your sins in Jesus’ Name. You will find a new, neither is free relationship to Him.)
Third, grace is expressed in our interpersonal relationships through forgiveness.
As we said at first, grace is not the absence of judgment, but exists in spite of judgment. We do not love others based of what they do, but on what Christ did for them.
There is a story in the Bible that expresses this. It is the story of Hosea and his wife Gomer. God told Hosea to marry a woman who was a prostitute, and who did not love him back. Over and over Gomer cheated on him. Time and again Hosea took her back. He did this to prove a point—love does not depend upon the other person’s actions but ours. God used Hosea’s relationship to his wife as a picture of His relationship to us. He keeps loving, keeps forgiving, keeps blessing, even when we don’t deserve it.
God’s patience is not infinite. but it is long. God will not forever protect us from the consequence of our actions. But even so, He does not love us on the basis of our actions. He continues to love the sinner, and wants us to do the same.
There is a growing trend of godlessness in this world, which is another way of saying that there is a growing hatred of us. But this is what we were created for—to love those who do not love us. We have the privilege of loving as Jesus did—being aware of the sins of others, but courageously loving the world regardless of what it may think of us. This is the way of moral courage—to love in full knowledge of our sins and the sins of others, as we have received that love from others.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Visit to Hell

Now for something completely different.

I am a fan of Google Earth. It's about as close to a world tour as I'm ever going to get. Sometimes I like to type a random word into the search line on it to see where I go.
Today, I typed in "hell."
Naturally, it took me to Michigan.
It was quite an interesting place. After viewing it on Google Earth, and reading up on it on Wikipedia, I know now why so many people have suggested I go there.
Hell, Michigan is nestled in the woods of Livingston County, about thirty miles northwest of Ann Arbor (home of the University of Michigan) and about sixty miles from Detroit. Somehow, it seems appropriate that both these places should be located so close in proximity to this little town. Though it is not a large place, it does have an official post office and a weather bureau site. The people who live there call themselves "hellions."
There are three theories as to how it got its name. The most flattering explanation is that a pair of German immigrants stopped nearby. One said to another the German phrase "so schon hell!" which means "So beautifully bright!" locals heard it and liked it, so the name stuck. Another explanation is that early settlers gave named the town in honor of the weather conditions in January, when there are many cold days in Hell.
That may be, but I prefer the third explanation. A man named George Reeves settled there in 1838. He set up a sawmill, store, and gristmill. Farmers brought their wheat and corn to the mill. The wheat wound up as flour, but much of the corn was turned into distilled whisky. Many farmers would bring their grain to Mr. Reeves mill, and return home in an inebriated state. When neighbors asked their wives what happened to them, they would reply "Ah, he's gone to hell!"
So it was that in 1841 when a mapmaker came through and asked Mr. Reeves what his town should be labeled, he replied "'Call it hell, for all I care. Everyone else does. "So it became officially the only Hell on earth.

There isn't much in Hell, I'm afraid. But here are a few of the local attractions:
  • There is a highway to Hell. It is County Road D32, also called (oddly enough) Darwin Road. It is paved with asphalt, not good intentions.
  • There are no churches in Hell, which is unusual for a town that size. The house of worship closest to Hell is Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah's Witness. (Didn't you always know it?)
  • Hell's playground has a swing set, a slide, and monkey bars.
  • Screams Ice cream parlor is one of two popular eateries in town. The other is the Dam Site Inn, which overlooks an artificial lake. It is filled with water, as not (so far as I know) fire.
  • The official Hell website,, has a store, which sells Hellish merchandise--T shirts, horn coverings (hats), and mugs that say "One Hell of a drink." There is a special section for items that are $6.66 and under.
  • You can become mayor of Hell for a day, for a reasonable price. One woman was given this honor on her birthday for her husband. She was unable to visit the town in person to claim her honor, but her husband assured her that this was all right. That day, he would make her feel as if she were there herself.
So the next time someone tells you to go to Hell, be assured that the local townspeople will give you a warm welcome there. I know that Joy and l plan to visit Hell on our next trip to Michigan, so we can say we've been to Hell and back.
Come to think of it, that pretty much describes our last trip to Michigan.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Grace and Tolerance

What is courage?

Courage is not the absence of fear. Anyone who is fearless is clueless. The world is a dangerous place, and anyone who knows no fear is liable to have a short lifespan. Anyone who is not afraid of God's wrath is a fool, too.

Courage is not fearlessness, but having fear and doing what is expected anyway. It could be argued that courage is only possible in the presence of fear, since it takes more courage to do the right thing when you know full well the hardships and dangers it may entail. It is that ability to face our fears that is true courage.

This article is not about courage in general, though, but about that particular kind of moral courage we call grace. Grace is the ability we share with God to show mercy to those who do not deserve it--including ourselves. Grace is the willingness to overlook a person's sin and love them anyway.

Courage is not being fearless, but what we do in spite of our fear. Grace is not being non-judgmental, but being willing to recognize the sin in others, and love them anyway. Grace is something we give in spite of our feelings and opinions, not because of them.

Our culture is unique in being the only one to regard tolerance as its highest virtue. No one who exists in Western culture can miss the constant drumbeat of tolerance. This is not true of the cultures that are less pluralistic. Muslims certainly do not understand our worship of tolerance, neither do the Chinese or Russians. Even so, there is not a single place in this world that has not been exposed to the cry of nonjudgmental tolerance. Our movies, television shows, books, and even news programs proclaim it loudly. In fact, the only sin our society recognizes is being judgmental. We condemn racism, sexism, homophobia, and exclusive religion wherever they exist, and often where they do not. Modern society cringes when someone says their religion is superior to others, even though any thinking person must regard their opinion to be true, and others false. We do not tolerate intolerance.

This is a lie, of course. We are all judgmental to some degree, whether we like it or not. If we aren't, we need to be. Should we tolerate murder, theft, racism, or addiction? We were created to have judgment about what is right and wrong. Moral conscience and moral discernment are part of who we are.

Jesus did not just say "judge not," as most people think. He actually said that we should be judged with the judgment we judge others. We all judge, but Jesus warns us to be careful how we do it.

That's where grace comes into the picture as a kind of moral courage. Grace is the ability to love others despite our judgment of their opinions and actions. A person who lives by grace does not deny what is good or bad, but does not treat others according to whether they are good or bad. A grace-filled person can look at people with whom they sharply disagree or disapprove and recognize the image of God in them. Their sins and their errors are real, but we love them anyway, as God loves us.

This simple concept is all but forgotten in our modern culture. The world seems to believe that to love the sinner, we must also love the sin. Tolerance means accepting everything. Those who think this way  become incapable of real grace when they encounter an idea or action which they cannot stomach. Christian grace, however, is not so restrained. We are capable of separating the sinner from the sin, of loving accepting the former without accepting the latter. We love the sinner in their sins, while they are still sinning.

The so-called non-judgmenalism of the world gives us only two options. Either we must accept everything everyone does perfectly normal and acceptable, or we must shun him. If we don't agree that the gay lifestyle is normal, we must hate gays. If we don't agree with a man's politics, we want nothing to do with him. If have a friend who is promiscuous, we must either shun him or accept his alternate lifestyle. It's all or nothing with them. The intolerantly tolerant, project their own inadequacy of grace on Christians, because they are incapable of accepting them without stereotype or caricature.

Grace, however, is much more flexible and practical. It allows people the freedom to have opinions or to live lifestyles which we do not agree with, without our ceasing to love them. We aren't perfect, just forgiven and neither is anyone else.

Grace is demonstrated in the three great relationships in our lives.

First, it is demonstrated by God. "For God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8. Jesus was not tolerant of our sin, but he was tolerant of us. He denied the revulsion that must have risen inside of Him every time he saw the way people lived, and still sacrificed Himself for us. He did not wait until we were perfect. He did not tolerate sin, but he did love the sinner.

Second it is demonstrated by ourselves towards ourselves. Many Christians live under the mistaken impression that God cannot love them if they sin. They think that if they were ever to lose their sin, then God will start loving them. Nothing could be further from the truth. God loves us now, in spite of our sin. Furthermore, He expects us to love ourselves in the same way.

Third, it is demonstrated in our love to others. The story of the Good Samaritan illustrates this beautifully. The Good Samaritan did not have to know or approve of what the man who was beaten on the road did. He didn't know if he was straight or gay, Jewish or atheist, a law-abiding citizen or a criminal. All that mattered was that he was broken and bleeding. This is not to say that if the Samaritan knew what the man did or what he believed, that he would have approved. It's just that the Samaritan saw a person hurt, and had to help.

No one said it is easy to love in the face of sin, any more than it is easy to have courage in the face of fear. But that difficulty is what makes it grace. It takes no love to love the lovely. It takes divine love to love the ugly. That love is called grace. It far better than mere modern tolerance. It is far more honest, too.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Change of Life

Now it can be told.

I am going to start next month as the Director of Pastoral Studies at New Life Theological Seminary in Charlotte.

It has been a long, agonizing decision-making process to decide. It is a real change of direction for me. I am going from a full-time job to a part time one, from pastoring to teaching, and from rural ministry to urban ministry. But I know that God is going with me. He has confirmed over and over during the past two months that this is the direction He wants me to go.

I told my church this morning. It was a both a tearful and joyful experience--tearful, in leaving a church that has been our home for nine years now, but joyful because I know that this is the direction God is leading, and it promises to be an adventure.

We have nothing but love and gratitude for the people of Oak Ridge. They have given us a home and a productive ministry. My two grandchildren were baptized in that sanctuary, and two of my daughters were married there. It will always have a special place in our hearts. But if we do not follow the call of God, we will be doing a disservice to God and the church.

We do not know what is in store for us as far as a church is concerned. I am hoping that we may have opportunities to minister somewhere. Fortunately, we have time to sort all that out later. For now, we will continue to minister at the church for a few more weeks at least.

There is nothing like a new challenge to make you feel younger. This will be challenging spiritually, intellectually, and financially. We would appreciate your prayers for the future. We are optimistic though, and looking forward to the days ahead.

Keep Oak Ridge in your prayers as well. This is a challenge for them, and a new beginning. I have every confidence that God has a plan for them.