Tuesday, August 26, 2014

All those ugly, useless stars and galaxies!!!

Last year I made a video for my church in response to a question from our congregation entitled "Does God Exist?". It hasn't blown up. It hasn't started a firestorm of controversy. It hasn't gone viral. But today I got a challenge in the comment section and I enjoyed responding to it so much, I thought I'd share the exchange with ya'll. (The video is at the bottom if you want context)

CHALLENGE: "The Big Bang needs a big banger." If your proposal is that God is that big banger, then what created God? Your argument hinges on the concept that everything has to be created by something, so that must hold true for God as well. Also, if the universe is so finely tuned, why is 99.99999999% of the universe uninhabitable by any life as we know it? In fact, over 80% of our own planet is uninhabitable.

RESPONSE: My argument is not that every THING must be created, but that every effect must have a cause. God, by definition, isn't an effect, and therefore needs no cause.


If a cordless drill is finely tuned for drilling holes, how come only the tiniest surface area of the drill (on the tip of the drill bit) can actually...drill holes?

If an airplane is so finely tuned for human transportation, why is only 20% of a plane conducive to human transportation? (I freely admit I totally made up that percentage)

There are plenty of design features for the Earth (just like the drill and airplane) that take up a large percentage of space but that are required for the thing to function as it's designed. The Earth's molten core and polar ice caps are both unfavorable for human habitation, but the rest of the Earth would be equally uninhabitable without them. (see "The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards for details on the the finely tuned Earth and universe)

However, I believe that God is more than a pragmatist, he is an artist. I certainly wouldn't begrudge him a few extra billion stars on the edge of space even if it had no bearing on the survival of humanity or the habitability of their planet.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Thanking God for Jesse

Last Sunday night, if you had looked in section 255 of Bank of America stadium in downtown Charlotte, you would have found two homeboys sipping a Pepsi, taking selfies with their phones, laughing at some crazy fans, and basically just having a great time together. My son had given me tickets to the preseason Panthers game with the Chiefs, and we were cashing those in. We had a blast, the team won, I was able to stay awake way past my bedtime and drive us home without incident. What can I say? It was a perfect evening. But there was something a lot better than the game. It was an opportunity for me to spend eight hours with Jesse, my fifth child who will turn 21 in two days.

One of our favorite home movies includes a two-minute solo of Jesse belting out “Bare Necessities” in his pajamas one evening when he was 4 years old. It’s a classic, including his inventive re-scripting, as Jesse sang, “the simple bare neh-whessipees.” We knew then that this little boy loved music, and when he asked for his first guitar at age 8, we did not hesitate. Here we are years later, and through diligence, dedication, and the Lord’s blessing, Jesse has become a skilled craftsman with his instrument and his pen. His song, “Truly Dear” is garnishing attention from music lovers across the nation, and his band, “Love and Valor” is being blogged about by people as far away as California. As we drove to Charlotte for the game last week, I asked Jesse what he thought about all of this and he said that he couldn’t believe he could write a song that people on the other side of the country would be interested in.

I am not surprised. Jesse has always been a keen observer of what is going on around him, and can quickly articulate a response, usually a funny one. He has made us laugh until we are struggling to breathe at the dinner table. I can remember on more than one occasion at a family meal being thankful that there is a bathroom just a few steps away. Most of us have had to run there after a crack by Jesse threatened to turn our mouthful of tea into a family shower.

But Jesse is more than a comedian. He also is the one we could always count on at church or community events to befriend the little boy that everyone else seemed to be ignoring. He cares about people and relationships, and that comes through loud and clear in his music. “Truly Dear” is a love song that already one newlywed couple has used for their “first dance” at their reception. It is simple, sweet and pure, with words and melody that fit together just right. Jesse’s guitar work and vocals, Matthew’s violin, Koehna’s harmony and Darren’s lead guitar move the song past your ears and into your heart. Hey, what do I know about music? Not much. But I know that I love this song and the young man who wrote it.

As Jesse fell asleep on our drive home from Charlotte Sunday, I thanked God for the 4-year-old who shared his love for music with his family, and who still does. I thought about the verse I have on Jesse’s prayer card, the notecard that has things I pray about for him every day: “Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy.”

I am excited to see how God will keep answering that prayer.

You can see and hear “Truly Dear” and read about the band at loveandvalormusic.com

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gaining strength from one another

The ship Paul was sailing on made three stops before it finally docked for seven days in Tyre. When it did, Paul and Luke and the others traveling with them “sought out the disciples” and stayed with them. There is no mention of Paul preaching in the synagogue or in the streets, though he may have done that. What Luke emphasizes in this section is not seed-sowing, but relationship-building. Paul was strengthened on this difficult journey by the fellowship he shared with other believers. So are you and I. God made us for relationships and when we are in right relationship with Him, He puts us in relationship with others. That’s why John wrote, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

When it was time for the ship to sail again, the whole group of disciples walked with Paul and the ministry team to the shore. It was a family-integrated prayer service as men, women and children knelt on the beach and prayed with Paul and the team. And then they “said farewell to each other.” It is a simple truth, but a significant part of our growth as people is learning how to say both hello and goodbye, and to do it well. Relationships matter because every person is precious to God. We are made in His image, not “made” in His image. Our countenance communicates clearly. We are also made in His image, not “afraid” in His image. A friend of mine told me the story of taking a man from his church on a mission trip to Africa years ago. The man would not shake anyone’s hands, and he wore gloves during the whole trip. He also wore a surgical mask.

Let’s learn to greet one another with at least a smile and a hello. Not a grunt, or even worse, a turned-up nose. A few weeks ago when Cindy and I met with several young couples to talk about marriage, we confirmed to them what they already knew: One of the things that communicates to both a husband and a wife that they are loved is when they are greeted with warmth and a smile when they come home from work. It’s true in marriage and it’s true in any relationship. We love to be greeted with a smile and hear our name called when we’re not in trouble.

It’s also important to learn how to say goodbye. Did you know that a group of German researchers discovered that a husband who kisses his wife each morning when he leaves for work lives longer? And men who kiss their wives before leaving have fewer automobile accidents on their way to work than men who do not kiss their wives. Not only that, but the good-morning kissers miss less work, and earn 20-30 percent more than non-kissers do. So, kiss her, men! And young people, this applies to you, too. Greet your siblings with a smile (probably not a kiss) and a warm hello, and you may be amazed as you watch the relationship grow. Greet your parents with a warm smile and a hello and they will be amazed even more, maybe stunned. You may even need to use smelling salts the first time you try this.

Let’s practice good hellos and goodbyes. We never know which time we say goodbye will be the last time we get to say anything at all.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Don’t end up worshipping the wrong thing

As a group, we paid off more than $18,000 in debt. We cut up more than 30 credit cards. We trashed hundreds of offers received by mail that would have amounted to more than 1 1/2 million dollars in debt, had we accepted the cards and maxed them out. We got on a budget. We learned about earning, saving and giving, and how we can honor God with each practice.

What am I talking about? Financial Peace University, a course by Dave Ramsey. Nearly 30 families and singles in our church completed the course several years ago and are excited about what we learned and are putting into practice.

“Your biggest problem is the guy you shave with every morning,” says Dave Ramsey, America’s favorite financial counselor. Ramsey teaches that personal finance is 80 percent behavior and 20 percent knowledge, and that Americans are in trouble financially because of some very basic facts. We spend more than we make. We don’t save. We borrow money. Lots of it. We practice self-indulgence like it’s our job! The average American family saved minus-.5 percent last year. That’s not new math, folks. That means that the average American family spent more than it took in, so it had negative savings. I don’t know about you, but negative savings just don’t make any cents. Sorry.

In 1981, the typical American family saved 11 percent of its income and owed 4 percent of its income to credit card companies. By the year 2000, the savings rate was below zero, and the average American family owed 12 percent of its annual income to credit cards (Shira Boss, “Green With Envy: Why Keeping Up With the Joneses Is Keeping Us in Debt”). Anybody want to bet that those numbers have gotten worse, not better, in the last 14 years?

In Dave Ramsey’s class, we learned about using a budget that really works (“telling your money what to do, instead of the other way around”), how to bargain wisely, how to invest, how to use a debt snowball to get rid of unsecured debt, and more. We heard it many times: you cannot have financial peace if you don’t practice self-control and learn delayed gratification. Most of the purchases we regret are impulse-spending. A simple rule of agreeing with our spouse that neither of us will spend more than $250 on any one thing until we have “slept on it” would save us money and remorse.

Some of you might be thinking, “I thought this was a religion column. Did I stumble into the finance section of the paper by mistake?” No, this is the religion page. Let me assure you, however, that how we handle money is determined by our worldview: what we believe, how we live, who we worship. Everybody worships something or someone, and perhaps the saddest individual in the world is the “self-made man” because he worships his own creator.

That’s why Jesus said more about money and possessions than He did about any other subject. He knew we would struggle in this area. More than two-thirds of His parables deal with the stuff that threatens to own us unless we see ourselves as managers, as stewards of something that ultimately belongs to God. Jesus even said that how we deal with money and possessions is an accurate indicator of our spiritual maturity and our readiness for leadership. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much … if then you have not been faithful in (money and possessions), who will entrust to you the true riches?”

So … how is your budget working for you?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Free ebook alert! Replant by Darrin Patrick & Mark DeVine

Authors: Darrin Patrick & Mark DeVine
Publisher: David C. Cook

Price: FREE (July 28-29)

Audible Deal: N/A

Grow Where You’re Replanted

Today’s spiritual landscape is littered with churches on their last legs, forcing us to reconsider how we keep the Body of Christ alive and strong. The solution, according to visionary pastors Darrin Patrick and Mark DeVine, is to infuse new blood into the body and by seeking God’s presence and guidance. Avoiding cookie-cutter steps or how-to formulas, Replant describes the story of a church resurrection, a story that offers a multitude of divinely inspired, and practical possibilities for church planters. The result is a harvest of inspiring ideas on how to inspire new church growth. Discover a new openness to churches merging with other congregations, changing leadership, and harvesting fresh spiritual fruit—inviting us all to re-think how churches not only survive, but thrive.

Here's one way to bless your spouse

Cindy and I shared some ideas about building a strong marriage with younger couples in the church recently, and I told this story from Gary Smalley:

One of the things that I appreciate most about my parents is the honesty of their marriage. They’ve never claimed to have a “perfect” marriage and aren’t afraid to disagree. At one point, my parents got into a huge argument. They were so frustrated that they each ran off to a different part of the house. I let the situation calm down for a few minutes before I knocked on my father’s office door.

“Come in,” he reluctantly replied.

As I walked into his office, I found my dad sitting behind his computer reading a document titled “Why Norma Is So Valuable.” (My mom’s name is Norma.)

“What are you reading?” I asked.

“Well,” my dad began, “a number of years ago I started a list of why your mom is so valuable. So when I’m upset with her, or when we’ve had a fight, I’ve learned that instead of sitting here thinking about how hurt or frustrated I am at your mother, I need to make myself read through this list.”

The document contained literally hundreds of words and phrases describing my mom’s value.

“When I first start to read through the list, I’m still upset,” explained my dad. “I usually get to the first three or four items and think, ‘What was I thinking?’ or ‘This one is no longer valid!’ or ‘I’m definitely going to erase that one.’ But then the farther down I read, the faster I realize that you have an amazing mom.”

This is the best idea I’ve ever heard for recognizing someone’s value. Talk about creating safety. It’s also what my father does to get his heart back open. Jesus explained why it is so powerful when He said, “For where your treasure is, so there will your heart be also.” In other words, your heart will be open to what you value. One way to keep your heart open and your spouse feeling safe with you is to focus on her value.

We can create this honor list for our spouse as well. Take several minutes to list all the reasons why your spouse is so valuable. For example: a character trait, faith pattern, values, morals, parenting skills, spirituality, the roles he or she plays that you appreciate, etc.

And don’t keep the amazing list to yourself – share it with your spouse. Let her know that you recognize her value. (Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage, Smalley)

As I think about my wife’s birthday coming up in a few days, I remember the column I wrote in 2011 entitled, “Fifty Reasons Why I Love Her.” I normally ask Cindy to proofread my columns before I send them to Madison Taylor, but not that one. I sent her a decoy that week, and on her birthday, which happened to be a Saturday, I cut the column I had written about her out of the paper and brought it to her at the breakfast table.

“Look,” I said. “The Times-News printed a different column this week.” Cindy gave me a funny look but after she had read the first few sentences, she started to cry.

It was one of the best presents I have ever given my wife. I encourage every person reading this column to do something similar. Then keep that list in a place where you can read it often when the marriage is going through a storm.

Monday, July 21, 2014

As leadership goes, so goes the church

When Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, he stopped to meet with the elders of a church. Not just any church: it was the one in Ephesus, where he had stayed longer than in any other city. There are some vitally important truths we can learn from this meeting that is described in Acts 20. Truths that impact the spiritual health of our churches.

A lot has changed since then, but the strategic necessity of leadership hasn’t changed. That is truth number one: as leadership goes, so goes the church. Paul knew that. We know that. It’s true on a sports team. It’s true with an orchestra. It’s true in a congress or in a college. It is most certainly true in the local church, and I would venture to say that most of the time when a church disintegrates into chaos and confusion, you could trace it back to defective leadership.

Truth number two is that the leaders of the church are called elders, overseers and pastors. The three titles are interchangeable. These are men who have been called by God to lead, feed, and care for the church which He purchased with His own blood.

Truth number three is that it is clear from this passage that Paul is meeting with a team of leaders, not a solo pastor, for whom there is no biblical support. John Stott calls him a “one-man-band, playing all the instruments of the orchestra himself.” Imagine that kind of concert; it would be novel, but not satisfying. It might be entertaining to watch one musician run from tuba to violin to kettle drums, but there’s nothing fun about watching a pastor burn himself to an ember while trying to keep all the plates spinning by himself. There is also no biblical support for a “CEO pastor” who sits atop the organizational chart and holds all power and authority in his hands. The churches Paul planted were led by elders, and these men shared the responsibility for the spiritual needs of the flock. There may have been one or two in each church who were more gifted to preach than the others, but they led as a team. You will notice that when Paul and Barnabas went back through the towns they had visited in their missionary journey, they appointed elders, plural, in every church, singular.

If there is a singular reason why a church will be healthy and productive in every biblical sense of that word, I believe that reason is that the church is led by a team of godly elders. Of course there are other reasons why a church is or is not healthy. My top three would be, a commitment to a plurality of godly elders, a commitment to expository preaching, and a commitment to equipping men to be spiritual leaders in their homes. Expository preaching gives the flock the whole counsel of God by taking the church through books of the Bible, rather than bouncing from one topic to another and using Scripture as a springboard. Expository preaching trains believers not only in the truth, but in understanding how to study and interpret Scripture correctly.

I think if you take any one of those three legs of the stool away, the church suffers. It might grow and even have big numbers because of its programs or because of a charismatic topical speaker, but the spiritual growth of the members will be affected if those three commitments are missing. Of course, having those three legs of the stool does not guarantee success. Only God can build a healthy church.