At a Loss

It was raining when I got up today.  The sky would have been just a little bit darker either way.  Late last night, a man I respected greatly died.  Ron Dunwoody was a saint.  He was a father and a mentor to so many people.  His quick wit and down home charm made him a guy that everyone seemed to gravitate toward.  And now he’s gone.

It’s hard losing people we love dearly.  I cried a lot last night.  I thought mostly about Ron’s wife, Judi, and my heart was broken for her.  They have been married for 48 years and now her best friend is not here.  I imagined what it must be like to look around the house and be reminded of him everywhere.  I pictured how lonely I would be without my own spouse.  And I cried.

I am reminded of the shortest verse in the bible: John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.”  This is the description the “disciple that Jesus loved” gives us of Jesus’ reaction to the death of his own friend.  Lazarus had died and when Jesus showed up at the home of Lazarus and his two sisters and saw the gathering there he wept.  Jesus saw the pain and anguish of the crowd and his heart was broken for them.  They were weeping over the death of their brother or friend and it caused God the Son to cry.

Why do we cry at the loss of others?  We miss them.  We want them back.  Innately, we all know that death isn’t supposed to be how it all ends.  In the verse before John documents Jesus’ tears,  Jesus has a different reaction.  Most English translations say Jesus was “deeply moved,” but the Greek word used actually means to snort like a horse.  Jesus was angry.  He looked at death and the effect it has on his creation and it made him snorting mad.  Jesus knew that this death was not the end of his friend Lazarus.

The sun broke through for the first time about three hours after I awoke.  The dreary rain had relented and the sunlight was bright.

Ron was a believer.  He trusted Jesus for his salvation.  Ron was masterful at relating the faith to his childhood on a farm, his appreciation for his father, and a trip to the general store.  He was able to tell a story in such a manner that I was enthralled every time the man started talking.  Ron was always interesting, and ALWAYS able to bring it back to what Jesus Christ had done for him.

Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

I miss Ron already and he has not been gone 24 hours.  Because of Jesus, I know I will see him again.  Death is not the end.  Because of Jesus, it is the next chapter.  In true Ron fashion, allow me to bring it back to what Jesus Christ has done.  Jesus lived the perfect life I do not, in my place.  He died on the cross for the penalty of my sins.  He rose victorious from the grave for my justification.  Trust him.

Not many know the end is coming, but Ron did.  He made peace with the reality early on.  Ron still fought hard and suffered greatly.  Cancer was a gift for Ron.  If it were not for cancer, many who loved him deeply would not have known to tell him.  I did.  I hugged Ron every time I saw him.  I told him how much he meant to me.

Tell those around you how much they mean to you today.  Write a letter to your loved ones in case today is your last.  Make peace with those you need to.  And please… I beg you… Trust Christ.

– Shawn


How Socialism Helps Christians

Socialism has lost it’s sting.  In a story that ran in the Wall Street Journal this week, it was noted that young people are flocking to Bernie Sanders.  Sanders’ greatest support is among millinial voters. Where Barak Obama spent the final days of his 2008 campaign explaining comments about “spreading wealth,” Sanders has not felt anywhere near the same pushback.

The Journal article explained that the term socialism has lost its  among people “too young to care about socialism’s Cold war stigma and who came of age during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.”  Another report in the Boston Globe, polled New Hampshire primary voters and found that 31 percent said the term socialist described them. The reporter goes on to note that Sanders is liberal that he  refuses to join the Democratic Party. Yet he represents a “substantial swath of this party’s left flank.”

I’m not one to get into deep into politics or punditry, but it’s hard to read this without noting that, despite admitted bias of the report (it’s the “On the Left” column), the article states the reason people don’t mind socialist label is that they didn’t experience Russian communism. You know, when more people lost their lives for not agreeing with Stalin’s ideology than in the holocaust.

Without getting into economics and whether socialism is financially practical, it is important to note that its basic tenet is governmental control.  As we have seen in the recent past in America, increased government control and influence has meant decreased morality and religious freedom.

Here is where this may actually be a good thing for Christianity.  The faith has always flourished in persecution. Communism didnt eradicate Christianity in Russia and it hasn’t stopped the spread in China today. In fact, underground house  churches flourish in these situations. Evangelistic efforts become intentional and calculated.

In a country where the terms American and Christian seem to have synthetically overlapped for so long, maybe it will force faith to mean something. Possibly, those who claim Christ would be confronted with the cost of discipleship.

“The Christian ideal has not been found tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.” – GK Chesterton


The Gospel According to Cowherd

I almost never listen to music.  If it weren’t for shows like The Voice and American Idol (which, if questioned, I’ll blame on my wife), I would be oblivious to anything musical outside of worship service.  I’m not writing to put extra pressure on those who serve in the music ministry.  I just don’t bother with music.

I do however listen to people talking ALL THE TIME.  I currently subscribe to 13 podcasts including sermons, apologetics and mixed martial arts.  While I’m I’m driving, I listen to cowherdsports talk.  I could give you a list of ESPN Radio personalities I love.  One of those at the top of said list (that you didn’t ask for) is Colin Cowherd. His program is a mixture of sports, pop culture and societal commentary that shoots straight to the heart of the matter.

Imagine my surprise when Colin led off his program recently with the following observation on heaven and hell:

“I gotta start with this, and this is going to seem kind of weird.  Because, I’m not really a religious guy.  I’m agnostic and stuff.  But, I always had kind of this feeling that the difference between heaven and hell was that heaven has like rules and restrictions.  Not everybody gets in to heaven.  You have to be kind.  You have to be caring.  You can’t be totally selfish.  Like, not everybody gets into heaven.  Like, ‘No, I’m sorry.  You’re card doesn’t work.  No credit here.’

Hell is the opposite.  Hell… they have no restrictions.  It’s a big con job.  It’s a sales job.  ‘Come on in! Sex, drugs, rock and roll everyday!’  You don’t have to be nice.  You don’t have to treat anybody well.  It’s kind of hard sometimes to figure out who in society is going to end up in heaven… and hell.  Because, if you end up in heaven – I always thought – sometimes you’re unpopular and you tell people unpopular things like, ‘you can’t do that, and you can’t do that, and you can’t do that.’ And there’s rules and guidelines to being a good person.  ‘Whoa!’

But the devil – if he existed – the devil’s like, ‘Hey! Free meth everyday!  Wake up and pound the sauce.  Girls, do what you want.  No rules.’  You gotta be careful.  And that’s why I’ve always really believed, that people that go to heaven – of all their qualities – they’re authentic.  They do tell you what you want to hear.  They tell you what you need to hear.  The devil tell’s you what you want to hear.”

His point was to set up a segment he was doing on recruiting.  In recruiting, he said some coaches will (like the devil) tell you anything to get you to come to their school or team. While other coaches are marked by their honesty and authenticity.  Listening, I was struck by two things.  First, the prevailing thought in our society that ‘good people’ go to heaven. And second, that the most endearing quality he saw in ‘good people’ was authenticity.

Good People

Colin expresses the general notion of our society: good people go to heaven.  He also presents a problem, though.  It’s really hard to tell “who in society is going to heaven… and hell.”  Why?  Because, in Colin’s worldview, there is only his own subjective standard.  We can all look around and find folks that are ‘worse people’ than us.  Hitler comes to mind. But, we can also look around see that there seem to be some that are doing it better as well.

Colin chooses authenticity and truthfulness as the mark of the ‘good people’.  But why is it better to be truthful? Wouldn’t we personally be better off lying to get what we want?  Isn’t it better that we keep the truth from those who might be hurt or offended by our honesty? And what about the standard of ‘goodness’ someone else has?  Is it better of worse than his standard?  Won’t we all choose a standard that puts us most closely in line with whatever ‘good’ is in our opinion?  Is there any objective standard that we should appeal to?

Confronted by a man addressing him as “good teacher,” Jesus responds by saying, “No one is good – except God alone.”  Jesus reveals that when it comes to weighing the lives of human beings on the scale of goodness, a Holy God will find us all wanting.  No rule keeping, no checklist, just God, or not God.  That’s the standard.  That is unwavering and, if you are reading this blog, it should lead you to realize you cannot be counted good in the eyes of the only Judge that matters by your own effort.

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) 

Good News

But the gospel of Jesus is that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  That through trusting that Jesus died the death I deserve, in my place, on the cross (Sacrificial Atonement), Jesus takes all my sin, and grants me His own righteousness before God (Imputed Righteousness).  So when God looks at me, He only sees Jesus’ obedient life on my behalf.  That is why the gospel is good news.  Because of an objective act (Jesus living, dying, and being raised to life outside of me), the objective standard (set by God and not me) has been met.  And this is accepted as Grace (unmerited favor) for those who believe.  Now that’s Good News!

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22)


While, Cowherd whiffed on heaven and hell, I think he was on to something with his assessment of ‘heaven-bound’ folks.  Authenticity should mark the life of believers in Christ.  We have so much room for improvement.  Think of the safe haven churches would be for worn out people if Christians lived authentically.   No need for hiding struggles behind a toothy grin on Sundays.  No need for the pat response of ‘good’ as people ask how you are.  You’d be able to answer authentically, and expect an authentic ear.  Or, maybe, you’d be able to look every single person in the eye and say “I’m blessed,” realizing that in Christ we have already received more than we can ever hope for or imagine.

And, as authentic believers, we must get past the need to be liked and non-offensive.  As Cowherd suggests, part of authenticity is telling others what they need to hear and not just what they want to hear.  Paul called it speaking “the truth in love.”  We should always be willing to speak the truth, and never be willing to offer it absent a true love for the hearer.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)


i hate runningIn an effort to drop some of my winter weight, I have begun running in the morning. I have slowly progressed to the point that I run three miles four or five times a week. On a day that I feel really good or motivated, I run four or five miles.

Every morning is a fight. I have to wake up really early to get it in before the kids get up. So the battle in my mind actually begins a when I hear the alarm. I want to stay bed. “Just fifteen more minutes,” I think to myself. “Can’t I fit it in some other time today?” I want to quit before I even get started.

After emerging from my bed (a small victory in itself), I get dressed and begin running. I hate running. From the time I start to the time I stop, I only have one thought: “How long until I can stop.” Usually at about the one mile mark I start to think, “Okay, I want to quit now.”

From this moment on, running consists of mileage, time, and “When can I quit?” I talk myself into continuing stride by stride, moment by moment. I tell myself “Just get to 15 minutes. You can go two miles. What’s another five minutes.” And on and on it goes: the inner dialogue of a would-be quitter.

This morning as I ran (and distracted myself from endlessly obsessing with quitting) I thought about how running is a metaphor for life. So many times we feel like quitting. We feel like walking away.

Your marriage isn’t what we’d hoped it would be? Quitting would be easier. Not getting the recognition at work you deserve? Walk away. Do something else, or do it somewhere else.

Quitting is always an option. 

I’m not first guy to catch on to this whole running analogy. Paul as he was addressing the elders of the Ephesian church in Acts 20 says, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

So this one is for the quitter in all of us, and that God might grant us the strength – stride by stride, moment by moment – to continue to run the race set before us. To stay the course. To outlast hard times. And, most importantly, to testify to the good news of God’s amazing grace!

naked truthI usually find that the best illustrations come from the absurd. That said, there is a church on the campus of the White Tail resort in Ivor, Va.  This story gets strange when you find out that the White Tail Resort is a nudist vacation destination.

The White Tail Chapel welcomes everyone to “come as they are.” Some may worship clothed while others are completely nude.  Under the pretense of joining together in Christian “freedom,” they “meet with nothing hidden from each other.”

Right? Wrong? Who am I to say? There just expressing the freedom they share in Christ… aren’t they?

Illustration 2: A recent survey revealed that 61 percent of self-identified Christian respondents are willing to have “casual sex without being in love.” Let me emphasize that this is not people saying they had sex before marriage. No, these are “Christian” people saying that having sex with whoever, whenever is just fine.

The survey also reported just eleven percent of participants where waiting for marriage.

So what do we do with stories like these? How do we lovingly speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:14-16) to those around us who have been deceived by culture and our own sinful nature into believing a lie.  The lie for the people in the White Tail Chapel is that Christ died on a cross so that we can “except each other the way we are.” For the folks taking the sex survey, the lie is that our Christian freedom includes doing whatever we want, whenever we want, with whoever we want.

The simple answer is: we can’t… without the Word of God. Apart from Scripture, Jesus is just a self-help guru and not the sinless substitute that died the death we deserve to give us the gracious gift of eternal life we don’t.  Without a God-breathed, Holy Spirit inspired revelation we might as well give each other helpful tips based on Aesop’s Fables or an episode of House, M.D.

The beauty is we do have such a message from God. We do have 66 books that expose (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself) the character and nature of the God of Creation.

The real question is: do we submit ourselves under the authority of Scripture or place ourselves over it as the judge of what deserves our attention and what does not?

How to Hear God

Communication is an important part of any relationship. We hear this all the time.  If a husband and wife don’t talk to each other, that’s a bad thing. If only one person in a relationship is doing all the talking this is not a healthy relationship.

Recently I heard a sermon by Rick Warren about hearing God speak. The author of “The Purpose Driven Life” taught from the parable of the soils found in Luke 8. Warren reinterpreted Jesus’ interpretation of the parable to give “five keys to hearing God speak.”

In the end, Warren lands on the idea that God speaks to each of us in our minds and not audibly. Warren then explains the things that block us from hearing God, going as far to say “You can not hear God if you don’t…”

The biggest problem I have with this (aside from the fact that it is a man made idea passed off as scripture) is that Jesus gives us an interpretation of the parable. Jesus says that the soils represent different hearers of the Word. Don’t miss this: they ALL heard. They didn’t need to unlock any key to hearing Him in their minds.

So what about you and I? How do we hear God? This is a very important question because communication is integral in our relationship with God.

Luckily there is just one step to hearing God speak: open your bible. We do not serve a God who has left us without explanation of who He is, who we are, or how we can be found in right relationship to Him (through faith in Jesus’ substitutionary atonement).

So open your bible and hear God speak. Listen. Let His Word govern you life, thoughts, and attitude. And if you think God is speaking to you in your mind measure it against the revealed Word of God. I’d hate for any of us to attribute our ideas or worse a demonic temptation to God.

Quitting Christianity

ImageSome of you may know the name Anne Rice.  She is a wildly popular author who has written books such as “Interview With a Vampire.”  Far less know that Rice was raised a Christian before leaving the faith and becoming an atheist.

Rice rejoined the faith in 1999.  Her journey back to her religious roots was an academic one.  While researching the temple destruction in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., she decided to search the New Testament accounts for information on the siege of the city. 

Rice was astounded to find that there is no mention of this historical event in the Bible.  She started to wonder how this could be.  Why would these writers not mention such a astonishingly tragic event.  Rice was left with one explanation: that the books of the New Testament must have been written before the Temple’s destruction. 

And if the books were before the temple’s destruction there wasn’t enough time for legend or fable about Jesus to be built up.  The events in the New Testament must have been true because of the proximity in time to the actual events that took place.  The eyewitnesses would have been living and if the accounts were not true they would have been dismissed as fiction. 

So Anne Rice, now in her fifties, once again became a Christian.  Now fast forward ten years.  Ten years of being a born-again Christian caused Anne Rice to post the following on her Facebook account in July of 2010:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian.

I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed.”

Wait a second… are we allowed to do that?  Can we quit Christianity and keep Jesus?  Are we allowed to follow Jesus and choose not to be called a Christian? 

Ten years of seeing Christianity from the inside of churches and community supposedly based on Jesus teachings had left Anne Rice with such a bad taste in her mouth that she felt forced to choose between Jesus and Christianity.

Can I tell you, I have never heard expressed so well some of the feelings I have had as a “Christian” that sometimes resents what that word has come to represent.  I think part of what Anne illustrates is this idea of fan versus follower we have discussed over the past two months. 

Far to often Christianity is labeled “anti” by all the things that it is against.  Fans sit on the sideline and play Monday morning quarterback.  They talk about how awful this world is and offer no solution.  Worse, fans do nothing to improve the situation or become the solution.

Followers have a solution: Jesus.  A follower’s answer to Jesus is always “yes.”  He or she is asking Jesus, “How should I react?”  “Lord, what should I do?”  But a follower already knows that when they find the answer to those questions, there is only one right response—To do it. 

Today I quit being a Christian and decided to be a follower.  Tomorrow, I’ll do it again.