Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas awakens my longing for the world I was made for.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Just had a community development meeting at the Samms house. Can't wait to see what God does next!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I just had a great meeting about home redemption in Elyria. We have a house to flip! Who wants to help?

Monday, September 5, 2011

What if we increased abstinence by encouraging teens to get into Star Wars and Star Treck. badidea

Saturday, September 3, 2011

John 5, former Marylyn Manson guitarist says he still has a Styper Bible. awesome

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The last 40 minutes of 8 hours of driving w 2 infants is a lot like the end of Mad Max; lots of driving while turning around to battle.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I was blessed to baptize 9 people from the same LifeGroup today! greatcommission

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Update on my precious pewter request. He is doing a little better. Was able to minister to his family today. God is moving. Keep praying.
A young man who recently surrendered to Christ is in the hospital and unresponsive. Please pray.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

Is it possible to put a babysitter on retainer like a lawyer?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

If they went to bluelikejazz I will be jealous. If they didn't, I will have to resist judgement.
Just heard about a bluelikejazz screening at a conference some of out staff attended.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Prayer needed. I'm about to go into a meeting to ask for several thousand dollars to feed people through Family Garden Initiative.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I love the Irish cultural festival!
I found out there are 50 kids waiting on the Big Brothers Big Sisters list. I think Open Door should be able to cover that. Anyone want to sign up?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Not yet sure if it is the coffee or the Holy Spirit, but I am getting really excited about the sermon for this Sunday.
My wife is beautiful.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Action

New post with practical tools for helping the hungry, fatherless and widowed. http://roaringshepherd.com/

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Website


You may be wondering why I haven't been posting as much at this site.  It's because I'm posting now at roaringshepherd.com. It would be great to have you follow my blog there!

Dan

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Roaring Shepherd Website

My apologies for the recent web silence.  It has been a very busy time since we have added to the family.  Not to mention the fact that I have been working to launch a new website!

Have a look at http://roaringshepherd.com/.

It is a website dedicated to Reformation, Belief and Action.  My hope is that it will be helpful to Christians, skeptics and anyone who needs to live the adventure of surrender to Christ.

Follow me there!  I will begin posting there regularly soon!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Garden Delivery Correction

Correction!  We are delivering the last of the gardens tomorrow (June 4th) at 8:30am.  I had posted it incorrectly before.  If you want to join us, meet us in the Washington Avenue Parking lot at 8:30am.  Bring a truck if you have it.  If not, we still need a lot of people in cars to help.

Thanks Tom for catching that!

Dan

Friday, May 27, 2011

No Thanks

This past Saturday we gave away about 500 gardens to families in the community.  The idea was to help families in need experience the love of Christ with nutrition and education.  It was a great day.  We had a wonderful time distributing gardens and blessing families.  Almost everyone who received a garden thanked us immensely...almost everyone.  

It's amazing how people can get angry at you for not meeting their standards while doing a free service for them. Several of the addresses submitted to us had errors.  People had either not given us their apartment numbers or moved and didn't tell us or something else.  We had to hold off on delivering about 200 gardens until we could settle the list.  So, that night we sent out a phone message apologizing for the inconvenience and asking for address confirmations.  No problem, right?  It's free.  It's going to be a little late.  Hope you understand.  

Our phones started ringing off the hook.  Many were happy to confirm addresses, but just a few weren't.  In fact a few were really upset that they had waited all day for a garden that didn't come.  I felt bad, but we had no control over the situation.  Our volunteers, many of whom sacrificed money, time and gasoline to help stayed out hours past the time they had committed.  We did everything we could, but in the end we had to stop to correct the incorrect addresses we had received.

Keep in mind that most people were completely understanding and just happy to be getting a garden.  Then there were those few who got upset with my assistant who was taking the calls.  Some people were just down right mean to her (Which, by the way really upsets me. Picking on Teresa is a lot like talking bad about my mom.  I start to get defensive.)  Of course, Teresa is awesome and maintained a tone of kindness and respect regardless of how she was being treated.  In fact, she was even kind to one woman who complained that we were delivering the gardens during "prime Saturday time".  As if to say, "You expect me to stay home from partying to receive this free stuff," forgetting that the volunteers were giving up their "prime Saturday time" too.  

I just couldn't fathom how selfish someone could be as to complain about charity.  When I thought about how our church members had sacrificed to pay for these gardens and given up their time to make the project happen, I got a little discouraged.  

Are people really experiencing the love of Christ if they react like that?  Are we really making a difference or just getting ourselves into a lot of work?  

Sometimes I forget why we serve.  Believe it or not, blessing people is not why we serve.  Sure, it should be a part of it, but it isn't the reason.  Ephesians 6:7 says "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men." While my acts of service benefit people, they are done to the glory of God.  I serve people, not because I want to deserve their thanks, but because God deserves glory.  When I start looking for thanks, I lose sight of the One I am really serving.  

When I really think about it, the fullest extent of Jesus' servanthood was not recieved with thanks but with violence and mockery (Phillippians 2).  

We are going to distribute those last 200 gardens June 6th (Let me know if you want to help).  It makes me feel good to know that every garden given (whether the recipient is overwhelmed with thanksgiving or callously unthankful) will bring glory to God.  That's why we do it, and its worth every phone call, every smile and every sunburn (which we had a lot of last week).  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Serve Elyria and Surrender


Serve Elyira is one week away, and I'm getting excited.  A lot of people tell me they are coming.  I never can tell what the turnout will be like, but I'm praying for over 1,000 volunteers.  We are going to need about that many to cover the projects we have set up in Elyria.

These past few weeks have been full of conversations about projects, volunteer requirements and materials.  It seems like every day a new need for materials comes up.  What makes it all so exciting is that every time we commit to a project or get someone to donate materials I remember that we have to have volunteers.  It hit me recently that I really can't know for sure how many people are coming.  I can estimate and encourage people to sign up.  I can even call up friends and remind them, but I won't know how many are coming until we all arrive at Ely Square on May 21st at 8:30am (Yes, I just slipped in a reminder about when you need to be there.).  I also have friends reminding me that there is a 30% chance of rain that day.  Every time someone mentions weather, I ask them to pray.  Pray for conducive weather.

Do you know what I'm learning from all of these things?  I am learning that I am not in control of Serve Elyria.  Yes, I'm planning it.  Yes, I've worked hard to delegate to leaders and get volunteers.  But, there are a myriad of things out of my control that could completely change the plans I have in place.  I am not in control.  I have stepped into that frightening and yet exciting realm where I am simultaneously obeying and relying on God.  This is surrender.  This is adventure, and I love it!

You might be waiting on something to look safe or planned before you step.  I talk to a lot of people who are waiting until they have enough money to pay for college before they enroll or are waiting until they have their debt paid off before they tithe.  We want to wait for safety before surrender, and it never comes.

If you want a guarantee that you will not get your heart broken before you ask the girl of your dreams out, then you will never see her fall in love with you.  If you wait until you have your life in order before you surrender to God's call, you will waste your life.  And, (shameless plug coming) if you are waiting to see if something else comes up before you sign up for Serve Elyria, then you will miss out on the opportunity to lead your city as a servant (Mark 10:35-45).

I can't control the weather or how many people will be there May 21st, but I can tell you that God does Great things when His people serve.  I hope to see you (and 999 other people) in Ely Square May 21st.
Pray for great weather to serve and for 1,000 volunteers!

So, are you coming? Sign up here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Shouting Louder

Where: My living room with my baby girl (who got up early)
Listening to: Daylight is Here by David Swidrak
Drinking: Really weak coffee.  (We ran out!)  

Read: Luke 18:35-43
35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
 38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
 39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
 40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”
   “Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.



Pray:
God, help me to honor You with my heart before I honor you with my actions.  Then, let my actions bring you glory and draw me closer to you.


Think:
(Ask, Analyze and Apply)

Write:

I noticed something about this passage I have not noticed before: "he shouted all the more."  This blind man didn't just call for help from Christ, he went against what Christ's followers saw as proper decorum.  He asked for help and was called down, possibly because he was a beggar or maybe because he was interrupting something.  But, he didn't let anyone stop him.  He didn't mind being embarrassed or even being improper.  He wanted to be healed.  



I think I have a problem in that I let my fear of embarrassment stop me.  I don't always share my thoughts, because I'm afraid I will look foolish.  Sometimes I don't even share concerns, because I don't want to have conflict.  While attention to decency and order is very biblical, so is communication.  I need to keep this in mind.  


Do: 
I have a lot of errands to run today.  In the process,  I'm going to go one step further to share what is on my heart with God.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Hypocrisy and Influence

The Church in the West is losing influence.  


We can pretend like we don't see it happening, but we all know it.  The American Church is largely seen as an archaic institution whose time has passed.  "Christian" characters in movies and television are usually depicted as out of touch and judgmental.  Christian ethics are largely dismissed as old fashioned and oppressive, and "Christian" products are considered second-rate and uncreative.

When I speak to other Christians about our rapidly decreasing influence on culture, they consistently blame things outside the church: media bias, political bias, secular prejudice, etc.  Their answer to the problem usually relates to voting.  "If we could just get Christians to vote right..."  Every now and then they blame other Christians for not seeing more Christian movies (I'm sorry.  I'm just not that interested in Kirk Cameron movies.), but usually they blame "non-Christians" for acting like...well...non-Christians.  It's like we are surprised or something, as if we are the victims and the entire human populace is the perpetrator.

At first the logic makes sense.  Not that many Christians + whole bunch of non-Christians= no one cares what Christians think.  However, it seems that in every other culture the more the Church is ostracized by media and government, the more influential it becomes.  The church in China is booming.  The Church in Vietnam is growing so quickly that the government has done a complete 180 and wants to take credit for it!  Can you believe that?!  The church is growing so quickly there that the government wants on the bandwagon.  Missionary friends of mine in other undisclosed countries are seeing the gospel spread.

So, why in this country of religious freedom are we losing ground?  I have a few thoughts:
  • We have mistaken control for influence.  Somehow we fell into the notion that the only way to influence culture was to be "in charge".   However, the Church in the first century had no political control and very little media influence.  Few Christians held office in the Roman regime that persecuted them.  Yet, the gospel spread rapidly.  Acts 2:47 refers to the favor Christians had with the people.  Back then, Christians were good neighbors who cared for people outside of the Church.  If you needed food, you probably didn't have to ask the Church, because they were already there with help.  
  • We have mistaken hypocrisy for obedience.  How hard do we work to vote in pro-life candidates?  We fight hard, spend money, debate, candidate and vote to stop this horrible atrocity.  I'm not saying we shouldn't fight hard for the life of the unborn.  But, have we thought about why it isn't working?  I have a theory.  68% of all abortions are received by women who consider themselves to be Christians. (Don't believe me?  Click here) If Christians would stop having abortions ourselves, we would nearly eliminate the problem in one fell swoop.  No politics, just obedience to our own standards.  Ironically, we are spending millions of dollars and political clout to fight a problem that we are causing. 
  • We have mistaken legalism for sanctification.  We have a tendency to think that if our actions are "right" our motives must be too.  I think this topic deserves more time than I can give in a sub-point in the blog.  
So, how about you?  What do you think has contributed to the decline in Church influence and how do we turn the tide?  I'd like to hear your thoughts.  

(By the way, I'm starting an interesting book on this topic called The Church of the Irresistible Influence.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reconciling in the Real World


(This photo comes from Photographer Greg Kemp.  He is a great artist right here in our church!  Check him out at http://www.gregoryjkemp.com/.)

Since the sermon Sunday, I have been hearing about a lot of lively discussion in Life Groups. One good way to ignite conversation is to deal with a touchy topic.  I'm glad to know that the sermon got us thinking!

I wanted to take this opportunity to answer a few of the questions that I keep hearing, but couldn't address in the limited time Sunday.  

  1. What is the difference between "forgiveness" and "reconciliation"?  Forgiveness has to do with the condition of your heart.  Mark 11:25 indicates that you can forgive a person without going to them.  It means not counting their offense against them or wiping their slate clean.  Reconciliation is interactive.  Mathew 5:24 indicates we have to "go" reconcile.  It is when you go to them to ask for forgiveness or when you let them know they are forgiven.  It is the outward communication of the condition of your heart.  
  2. Does reconciling mean that the relationship goes back to the way it was?  No! In fact, the relationship has to change.  Chances are, the relationship was not healthy before the hurt.  Whether you are closer after the reconciliation or not, the relationship must be different. Reconciliation means the slate is clear and everyone knows.  No one is holding grudges.  It doesn't mean forcing a close relationship.  In some cases (abuse especially) the danger of returning to a toxic relationship may require limiting the relationship in order to avoid temptation.  However, the purpose must be avoiding temptation, not grudge-holding.  It all comes back to motives.  A good test of motives is to ask yourself: "Do I want good things for this person?"  If not, you may be holding a grudge.  
  3. What about abuse? I don't want to sound uncaring, but 1 John 4:20 still applies.  I cannot pretend that forgiveness is easy when abuse is involved, but it is possible and it is necessary.  I can't say I know what it is like to be abused, but Christ does.  If we refuse to forgive based on the severity of the offense, its like saying that God's grace isn't big enough to cover it.  I have known of some who keep citing how bad the hurt is.  At some point, we have to forgive, otherwise our relationship with God and our healing will be stunted.  Forgiveness here is a long and painful process, but it is what God has called us to do, and He is there to carry us through.  In these circumstances, I highly recommend counseling.  Feel free to contact me for a referral if this is where you are.  Forgiveness and healing is possible.  It just isn't easy.  
  4. Does forgive mean forget?  I don't know that we can completely "forget" our hurts.  In fact, usually the deeper the hurt, the harder it is to forget.  However, we can choose not to remember it.  In Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17 God chooses to "not remember" our sin.  This doesn't mean that all-knowing God forgets it. It means he doesn't bring it up.  The same word for "remember" is used in Genesis 9:14-15 to refer to God remembering a covenant.  It wasn't that he forgets the covenant and suddenly remembers.  It has to do with His intentional act of remembering.  We can do the same thing.  When we choose to remember or intentionally bring up (in our minds or in conversation) the hurt, we aren't really forgiving.  That's a problem.  (By the way, some translations say God casts our sins into a "sea of forgetfulness"--Micah 7:19.  God is all-knowing.  He doesn't "forget".  The phrase is actually to be translated "depths of the sea" as we see in the ESV and NASB).  Not remembering means not ever intentionally bringing it up.  However, forgiveness is a process.  The deeper we are hurt, the more our memory is triggered by the things we associate with the hurt.  It's like a broken bone.  We may forget that it is still healing until we bump it and feel the pain again.  We can forgive, but when the hurt shows up (different than us bringing it up), we have to forgive and put it away again.  This is a process that could happen in a moment or again and again over years.  Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting.  
There are three very important things to remember in reconciliation.  First, it is possible.  Second, it is a process.  This is why counselling is so valuable.  When in doubt, go to counseling.  I've been.  It just helps as you walk through the forgiving/healing process.  Third, reconciliation doesn't mean abandoning all relational boundaries.  I can recommend a classic book here.  If you are working through how to interact with a person you have forgiven and don't know how to maintain the relationship in a healthy way, I recommend Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  You can order it below.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

God Wins (Part 2)

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedPopular Christianity seems have moved closer to ambiguity lately.  Questions, doubt and unknowns seem to have replaced truth, certainty and answers.  Doubt has become the new truth.  The growing opinion is that certainty=pride.

I have certainly known my share of arrogant theologians.  Blind certainty is no virtue.  None of us are comfortable with an unyielding debater who wants us to agree with him "because I said so."  But, does uncertainty really fix the problem?  I could be arrogantly walk off a cliff because I can't see it and refuse to believe it is there.  Or, I could stumble around in ignorance until I fall off the cliff I still didn't know was there.  The results are the same, regardless of my level of pride.  

The truth is certainty can be humble, because humility acknowledges the truth.  In this way, only the humble can be justifiably certain, because they submit themselves to the Truth rather than place themselves at the center of knowledge.  From the beginning of creation, man has wrestled with this fundamental question of surrender.  Have you ever thought about the fact that in Genesis, the Serpent begins his deception with the question: Has God really said...?

The Enemy's first step in bringing every sin, every death, every atrocity into this world was to make uncertain what God had made certain.  

He didn't stop there.  He followed his question with a statement: "You will be like God, knowing good and evil."  Satan invited Eve to jettison her certainty in God's revelation, so she could make herself the center of knowledge.  The lie that ushered sin into the world was that we could choose what is right for ourselves.  the Serpent says, "God's Word is uncertain. You must choose for yourself what is right and wrong."  Have you ever thought about what the world would be like if we didn't try to make unclear what God has made clear?

I am not so naive as to believe that everything is clear, that we should never  be uncertain.  The fact is there are a myriad of issues we cannot know with certainty.  There is no imperative to make certain what is uncertain.  It really doesn't matter that much if Adam and Eve had bellybuttons or if the army from the east in Revelation is China or Russia or some other unknown country.  What matters is a few fundamental and clearly revealed truths about God and our relationship with Him. 

Put simply, what matters is Jesus Christ and everything that is necessary to know Him.  These are the things that are quite clear in Scripture.  A face value reading with no re-interpretation of parables or poetry, with no effort to translate Greek words outside the context they were written in will give you the basic fundamentals of the faith (The Deity of Christ, His Resurrection, the Truth of Scripture, etc.).  The existence of Hell is one of those clear principles.  God says there is eternal punishment for those who don't know Christ (Matthew 25:46).  If we ignore this, we allow people to think that they will be okay even though they reject Christ.  It is a serious offense to let a man on his way to an eternity in Hell think that he is safe.  

The same can be said of the exclusivity of salvation in Christ.  Jesus said, "No man comes to the father except through me" (John 14:6).  It's a clear statement, one with eternal consequences.  There is no room for blurry lines here.  Gandhi did some good things, but if he never surrendered his life to Christ, he went to Hell.  Nice guys who love their families but don't know Christ still go to Hell.  Our good works get us nowhere (Isaiah 64:6, Ephesians 2:8).  God is clear about this.  

Certainty blurred to uncertainty has eternal consequences in this regard.  

Having read Love Wins, I can confidently say that Rob Bell never takes a universalist stance.  The reason I can say this with confidence is that Rob Bell does not take a confident stance on much of anything.  I could say that "Rob Bell strongly hints at poetic imagery that probably suggests that universalism is probably a better story that really, really seems to probably be what Rob Bell thinks he might probably believe."

On the one hand, I appreciate that he seems somewhat open on the topic.  On the other hand, if he wasn't going to say anything, he could have saved me $11 and not written the book in the first place.

Uncertainty is no virtue.

In a recent interview Martin Bashir confronts Rob Bell with some hard questions, uncomfortable, unpopular questions about God and human suffering.  (You can watch the video by clicking here.)  Some have argued  that Bashir was a little bit hostile in the interview.   I'm not sure it matters.  The world never guarantees us easy questions or comfortable settings.  In fact the hard questions almost always come with a bite, because the questioner is hurting and needs an answer, a certain one.  Rob Bell didn't have a certain answer for Martin Bashir.

My intention is not to attack Bell or to state all the things he should have said.  The fact is, interviews are difficult.  You usually finish thinking about all the things you wished you'd said.  Don't judge him for not being quick with words under pressure.  It's not easy to take on the biggest apologetic question in history on national television.

The point here is not Bell's mistake.  The point is that a certain answer would have been a lot better than an uncertain one.

Bashir wanted an answer.  The viewers wanted an answer.  The world wants an answer. I think even Bell wanted an answer.

Certainty has its place.  It is evidenced in our disappointment when we can't think of the right thing to say.  It is evidenced in the poignant questions of reporters.  It is evidenced when the bomb squad technician says "green wire."

We want answers.  We need the truth.  

We embrace uncertainty when we lose our source of truth and place ourselves at the center of knowledge.  We are afraid to have to defend our opinion, because we can't back it up.  So, we keep saying "I'm not sure about this" in one way or another.  It's not an effective way to handle a debate, and it's not an effective way to speak the gospel to a desperate world.  

There is some good news.  God never puts us in a situation to have to defend our opinion.  Our role as believers is to simply point to what He says, and let His Word stand.  It really is that simple.  I don't have to go in circles.  I can speak the Word of God with certainty, knowing it is true.  God said it.  I can certainly show my evidence for why I believe it is His word, but I don't have to defend it with explanations.  I don't have to prove God according to a limited, human definition of love.  I simply speak His Word and let His truth stand.  

God doesn't want us to be uncertain.  He wants us to be humble.  Humility, in the context of truth means putting God (not one's self) at the center of knowledge.

If you are interested in digging into this topic of revelation at an academic level, have a look at Has God Said? by John Douglas Morrison.  Great book on the topic!



Monday, March 21, 2011

God Wins (Part 1)

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedA lot of people are calling out Rob Bell for his new book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  Many of them are calling him a universalist and a heretic.  Plenty of other people are calling out the people calling out Rob Bell, calling them pharisees and slanderers.  It's a calling out fest that has turned into a calling out calling out fest.  Let's hope it doesn't go any further.   It will be like when they came out with radar detector detector detectors (no joke).

Very few of them have read the new book.
I have.

 Now that I've read it and have an educated response, I'm in a difficult position.  The climate is hostile.  There are pre-concieved notions.

If I so much as compliment the cover art, there is a whole camp of theological snipers waiting to label me an emergent heretic.  "Ge the matches and the lighter fluid!"  On the other hand, if I so much as hint that I have concerns about Bell's theological method, there is another camp waiting to label me intolerant and narrow-minded fundamentalist.  "Bring your latest Brian McLaren book.  It's time for a Generous Beat Down!"

What has happened to the theological climate of the Church when we are known by out alignment or disagreement with a popular Christian author?  Half of us have created a climate that lashes out at the most insignificant theological miss-step.  The other half labels as unloving all legitimate attempts at biblical correction.

We have lost our way.  We have no more True North, no more standard.  We don't know Christ's palm Sunday transportation from a hole in the ground.

What if we approached this topic from a whole new (or very old) direction?

What if we actually formulated our opinion on a theological matter based on God's redemptive self-revelation in Scripture?  What if we actually started there?

I'm issuing a challenge on the comments board.
Answer this question: Will people suffer eternal punishment in Hell?

Here are the rules:
  • You can't call a friend to ask their opinion.
  • You can't reading a popular author on the topic. (no Rob Bell, no John MacArthur, no Ronald H. Nash--scholarly lexicons and translation tools are acceptable)
  • No statement can be made without a reference to an contextually applicable biblical reference.  
  • Make a genuine effort to put aside your pre-conceived notions about the topic. 

So, will people suffer eternal punishment in hell?  Tell us what the Word says.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Feeding People

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat... --Matthew 25:34-45a


This passage made me uncomfortable several years ago.  It is one of those passages that gently nudges me again and again, reminding me that living surrendered is about more than showing up at church on Sunday.  


I can't get over the fact that while Scripture is clear that we are saved by grace, it is also clear that we are known by our works.  Jesus fed the hungry, clothed the naked and healed the sick.  Becoming like Him means I should too.  


That verse is one of the passages that has motivated Open Door to launch Garden Initiative, a volunteer ministry that gives food gardens to families in urban settings.  Each garden can be placed on any surface and will feed a family of four for a year!  


On May 21st, Church of the Open Door and several other groups that have rallied behind the cause will meet in Downtown Elyria to distribute gardens to 1,000 needy families.  We are going to feed 4,000 families for a year!  


In order for this to happen, we need you to support the project.  Each garden costs us $20.  That covers everything (Gardensoxx, compost, plants and a watering can)!  Every $20 we receive feeds a family of 4 produce for a year.  


It get's better!  We just launched a fundraising program that will allow donors to get the garden experience too.  If you donate $40 to the Serve Elyria Garden Initiative, we will give you a garden and give a garden to one of our needy recipients.  


Will you help feed families in Northeast Ohio?  Click here to donate.  


For more information visit serveelyria.gardeninitiative.com.    

Friday, March 4, 2011

Born this Way

Ever since Lady Ga Ga arrived at the Grammy Awards in a giant womb, propelling her single, "Born this Way" into the Pop Billboard Stratosphere, the internet has been ablaze with enough gay conversation to make Elton John look tame enough to sing with Jerry Falwell Ministries.  Given that a lot of people ask me what I think on the issue (Homosexuality, not Elton John singing for Thomas Road Baptist Church), I thought it was time to start a discussion here.

Growing up in a conservative Christian home meant the issue of homosexuality was something abstract, something that existed only as a political or religious (not a personal) issue.  I didn't know any homosexuals, and the only person I knew who knew one was a woman whose husband left her and her 3 kids to pursue a extramarital homosexual affair.  I can't say that I hated homosexuals, but seeing my friend hurt didn't help me like them.  All I knew was what I had heard the Bible said about homosexuality and the few bad experiences my friends and family had endured.  The issue of homosexuality was easy to either ignore or take a radical stance on, because I had no personal connection to it.

That was going to change.  Will (not real name) served with me in a young men's ministry several years ago.  It's hard to explain how I could tell, but I was pretty sure that Will was gay.  It wasn't that he fit into a lot of the stereotypes, though he had a few of them.  He liked dance and paid attention to style, but a lot of us were into style.  It was the dawn of the "metrosexual" and we were all trying to look nice for the girls.  It wasn't a stereotype thing that gave Will away.  There was something else about him.  It was like being a man didn't come naturally to him.  It wasn't that he didn't fit in.  He just didn't seem comfortable being a guy in the way the rest of us were.  While we all liked him, I think all of us knew he was different.

Regardless of the signs, in a conservative Christian ministry everyone assumes that everyone is straight.  So, everyone assumed Will was straight, no questions asked.  From a social perspective, Will fit in almost perfectly.  In fact, he and I had a lot of good conversations about spiritual matters.  We even had a talk about a hot girl once (This was before I met my wife who is hott with two t's, trumping all others in my eyes).  I remember the conversation about the girl, because it was the one thing that made me think Will might be straight.  The fact that I had to look to find one thing should have told me something.  Over time, it became clearer that Will was struggling, but I don't think everyone noticed.  Not knowing Will's struggle, a well-meaning friend hoping to give a well-meaning jab to what he thought was a heterosexual friend said something like, "Will is like having a woman around."  I think he was talking about Will's caring manner.  He might have even meant it as a compliment (in a tough guy joking kind of way), but I think it cut Will pretty bad.  Time passed and Will pulled away from the group, not because people didn't want him around but because (I believe) he was afraid to tell us what he was going through.  I watched Will dissolve or distance his relationships over the course of a few years before coming out a year or so after he left the ministry.  I still wish I'd sat down with him one day and just said, "Will, I love you no matter what.  What's going on, brother?"  I didn't, and I wish I did. (As soon as I typed this paragraph, I sent a message to will saying this very thing.  Will said that it meant a lot to him.)

Watching a person deal with homosexuality doesn't necessarily change your view of an issue.  It makes the issue less important than the person.  I look back on my friendship with Will and my heart fills with compassion.  Here was a man with plenty of friends who loved him, but was afraid to tell them what was going on.  He struggled alone.  Sometimes I wonder how we would have responded if he told us he was gay. Would we have tried to start him on some program to change?  Would we have freaked out and treated him differently?  Would we have just loved him?  Would we have been at a complete loss?  I think the fact that we all loved him already would have kept anyone from having any extreme reaction, but we would have had no idea how to react.  We probably would have still cared for him, but would have felt awkward and had no idea what to do.

I think as believers, and brothers and sisters in Christ we should know what to do.  We should know how to react when any person opens up to us about something they have been afraid to tell us, especially if it has some social stigma attached to it.

Maybe God had that in mind when He brought me to Open Door.  I remember hosting in our Ralph Neighbour Service when we first started.  A man came up to me and I could almost instantly tell he was gay.  He asked to talk to me and shared the struggle he was in.  I don't know that I was any practical help, but I was able to affirm that God loved him and so did this church.  Somehow, the memory of my friend Will, the love I had for him filled me up and made it easy to love this hurting man who needed to know that God loved him. I had a small ministry to a hurting man, a ministry God had equipped me for years before.

A few weeks later I got a card from him saying thanks for the prayers.  "That was one of those rare ministry moments," I thought "probably won't run into many other homosexuals while in ministry."  Ministry naiveté is a funny thing.  Since that day, God has continually brought homosexuals across my path looking for the love of God and spiritual support.  I even hear of word getting around to "Dorothy" that Pastor Dan is the guy to talk to if you have questions about God and homosexuality.

I have to say that I have grown to love the outcasts of our society more than I ever imagined I would.  It is a joy to live Christ's love to people who (often) don't expect to get it from the church.

Now, I can guess what many of you are thinking right now: Does Pastor Dan ever call out their sin?  Has he become so accepting that he doesn't care about what the Word of God says about homosexuality?  

If you know me well, you know that I care deeply about the revealed truth of God in Scripture.  And, all of my homosexual friends know where I stand on the issue.  Here is how the conversation usually goes:
  • They ask me what I think.  (Strangely, I don't ever bring it up.  They often want to know where I stand or what the Bible says about the issue.  I see this as God opening the door to conversation.)  
  • I tell them that God loves them and I love them, and that is the most important thing they need to know.  Really, the rest is details.  
  • I clarify some important points.  Most importantly, I differentiate between their same-sex desire and the action of homosexual sex.  I learned from my gay friends that they aren't bluffing when they say they were "born this way."  Like the rest of us, they see their sexual orientation as a part of their identity.  It is a dangerous thing to say "God hates homosexuality" when a gay man really believes God created him gay.  What he hears is "God hates you."  There needs to be a defining of terms.  
  • Specifically, I point to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which refers to homosexuality as a sin.  In fact, it get's pretty serious and says that homosexuals (among others) will not inherit the Kingdom of God.  That's a scary thing for a gay man to hear when he sees his homosexuality as a part of who he is.  I dig into the passage and talk about how it is referring to continuing in the action, not the orientation.  In other words, having same sex desires is not a sin.  You are not disqualified from heaven because of your desires.  However, God takes it seriously when anyone continues in sin unrepentant, having no concern for how God feels about it.  (This is also the point where I tell them that if I am somehow misinterpreting the passage, I'd love to know.  They know I mean it.) 
  • I usually reiterate that this is referring to continuing (unrepentant) in sin.  The idea seems to be that it is a choice to continue in the action that is a problem, not the fact that you sometimes sin or continue to be tempted.  
  • I also remind them that homosexuality is not some kind of uber-sin that somehow is worse than all the others.  I often use this as my opportunity to apologize on behalf of a lot of us Christians.  For some reason we all got really upset about this one.  I don't know why.  1 Corinthians 6:9-11 also calls out adultery, greed and slander (among others) and seems to consider them just as bad as homosexuality.  I think I would wager that slander (gossip) is far more prevalent and causes far more damage than homosexuality.  If we scared gossipers enough to stay "in the closet" about that sin, American churches could evangelize the entire continent of Asia with all the extra energy not spent on dealing with church conflicts.  I seriously hate gossip.  
  • I often mention that my goal is not to make them straight.  My goal is to see them become like Christ.  I know of some who saw God change their desires.  I know of others that continued to have same-sex attractions.  Orientation change has nothing to do with my goals as a pastor.  My goal is to see people become like Christ.  If their homosexual desires leave them, great.  Their life just got easier.  If not, great.  God is going to use their struggle to make them more like Him.  Either way, it is for their good and His glory (Romans 8:28-30).  I know this is easy for me to say, but it is true.  
  • By the way, communicating to a gay man or lesbian woman that God is asking them to surrender their sex life to Him is essentially like asking them to commit to a life of celibacy.  God doesn't promise to change their sexual desires.  He might, but He might not.  I usually point to the fact that we can't overcome sin on our own.  We have to trust the Holy Spirit's work in our lives.  It is an interesting thing.  We can't not sin (regardless of what our personal sin is).  However, we have to act on faith to obey God.  When we do, the Spirit of God empowers us to obey and we don't sin.  It is a terrifying, exciting, wonderful, and painful experience.  This is why we call it an adventure.  
  • I also affirm that regardless of how they live their life, they are welcome in this church and will be loved.  
  • Usually, they thank me for my openness and stick around the church.  We have a growing number of gay men and women attending regularly.  
  • The Holy Spirit continues to do His work.  I avoid doing His work for Him.  
Here's where things get tricky.  Gay men and women love our church!  I think this is great.  However, it puts me in a position to make a hard decision.  What does a person do when they love their church?  They want to serve.  Homosexuals are no different.  Many of them have not repented of homosexuality, but may be working through other sins.  They love God and the church and want to serve.

So, what should I do?  If I allow them to serve, am I condoning their life choices?  Are there certain things I should allow them to do and certain things I shouldn't?  If I tell them "no" do I need to go about asking gossipers and adulterers to step down? (By the way, historically we have done that.  We don't allow gossip to continue unrepentant without being dealt with.)   What do I do about the new Christian or pre-Christian who is in a heterosexual relationship outside the bonds of marriage and wants to serve?  The reality is that God doesn't deal with all of our sin at once.  He seems to convict us of just a few at a time.  What do I do about the person who continues to repent of sin and grow, but God hasn't dealt with their gossip or homosexuality yet?  They are moving toward God, should I tell them they have to wait until they are fully clear before they can serve?  Serving is how many of us grow and are convicted of sins in the first place?  Should I let gossipers and thieves serve in hopes God will use their service to convict them?  There is a lot to figure out here.

Here is my open invitation to anyone who feels like an outcast from the Church:  I love you, and you are welcome at my church.  There is a lot to untangle here, and I'm sure we will have plenty of misunderstandings and offenses.  But, let's walk through this together.  We are an imperfect church that is here to love imperfect people as we all become like Christ together.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Heaven, Hell and Rob Bell

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedThe internet is buzzing with controversy as Rob Bell (prominent pastor and writer) has released a teaser video to promote his new book, Love Wins.  As is usually the case with Christian controversy, trenches have been dug.  Some are writing off Bell and doing everything short of preparing kindling at the base of a stake.  Others are vehemently attacking any brother or sister who so much as gently questions Bell's theology.

At the center of the debate, Bell's questions about sin, salvation and eternal punishment.  As believers, we can't deny the importance of the issues in question.  Regardless of where Bell lands on the issues, he isn't talking about worship styles or the use of certain gifts.  These are not fringe issues.  Bell is addressing the central doctrines of the Christian faith.  Have a look at the teaser, which by the way is very creative:



Since the book isn't available until the end of March, I don't know what Bell is going to say about heaven and hell.  It certainly seems that by questioning the love of a God that condemns people to hell, he is implying that (because God is loving) He will not ultimately send everyone to hell.  Bell is known for implications.  Is he teaching universalism (everyone will go to heaven) or inclusivism (everyone who believes in something will go to heaven) or just sparking controversy to sell books?  Until I read his book (and knowing Bell probably even then) I can't speak with certainty about his belief on the subject.

However, in the teaser video Bell models a prominent theological method that I'd like to bring into question today.


Bell is right to say that our view of heaven and hell reflects our view of God, and our view of God is absolutely central to our faith.  I would argue that there is another "question behind the question" namely, "How do we know God?"  Historically, there have been two methods: 
  1. We define Him according to our own understanding.
  2. We know Him as He reveals Himself to us.
With brevity, let's have a look at each method.  


According to our Own Understanding:
Bell's question: "How can that God be good?" reflects a theological method that puts the knowing subject at the center of knowledge.  Since the Garden of Eden, humanity has defined or judged God according to our own perception of what is good.  During the enlightenment, theologians applied Rene Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" principle, which puts oneself at the center of knowledge, to the the study of God.  The epistemological (study of knowledge) method of the Enlightenment and Liberal theology was to reject all authoritative truth claims, except ones that come from one's own questioning.  In other words, I am the only person who can know anything about anything, and I know things because I question.  I trust no one and no thing to give me answers.  This means ruling out God's own revelation about Himself in favor of human reason.  

As He Reveals Himself:
In contrast to human tendency, enlightenment philosophy and liberal theology of the Schleiermachrian ilk, stands God's redemptive self-revelation.  Each of us have the choice to make our own speculations about God and His nature or trust His revelation of himself.  This is not to say we suspend rational thought.  It does mean putting God at the center of truth about Himself as opposed to ourselves.  

Our Choice:
There is one vital reality to know as we consider our theological method: God is not of this world.  He is infinitely beyond it.  Human knowledge is inherently tied to four-dimensional space-time.  Our logic is limited and bound to it.  Consider this: God created space and time.  He is not limited to it.  He is outside it, and therefore outside the limits of human knowledge and reason.  The only way we can know anything about Him is if He reveals Himself in our space-time universe.  This is why Christ came (Matthew 11:27John 1:18).  It is why the Word of God was written (Luke 1:1-4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 1 John 5:13).  We only know God as He reveals Himself.  Everything else is just an earth-bound guess.  

Don't believe me?  Try making a statement about God absent of any of His revelation: no Christ, no Bible, no universe.  I would say that you would only be left with yourself and your guesses, but since you are created in the image of God that rules you out too.  Without God's revelation, we have nothing.  

God's self-revelation does not always align with our limited views of love and justice.  The question is: What trumps?  Does God's revelation top my mortal opinion, or do I think I know love and justice better than God? Let's have a look at some of Bell's questions in light of God's revelation:
What makes this hard is that our perception seldom lines up with God's revelation.  This is the crux of the matter.  I readily admit that it doesn't seem loving that Ghandi might be in hell despite all his good works, because he didn't surrender his life to Christ (Isaiah 46:6, John 14:6) .  However, the reality is that my view of love is broken and His is perfect.  

We are really dealing with two issues here: 1) Heaven and Hell and 2) How we know God.  So, I recommend we give Rob Bell a chance and read his book.  But, first let's answer the question behind the question.  If you are ready to address the issue of truth, have a look at Has God Said by John Douglas Morrison. 

Questions for the Week:
Where do you get your truth about God?  Is there something about His revelation of Himself that makes you uncomfortable?  What do you find hard to believe about God, and how do you reconcile that with what seems true? Let's discuss this.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Small Things

Lesser MenWhere: In a comfortable chair next to a window while watching the snow fall.
Drinking: Starbucks Vienna
Listening to: Abel -Lesser Men

Pray:
Father, today is a day of hope and still there is grief.  I have concerns and hopes.  Do I live in obedience?  How much of my day is spent in surrender?  I do what comes before me, what I believe You want me to do. I don't ask what you want enough.  Don't let me waste time, let my moments be unto Your will and for Your glory.  Speak to me through Your Word.  Make this a day of joy as I delight in you.  Let Your peace come over my house and my family.  Glorify Yourself today.  Just let me watch and obey.  In Christ, Amen.

Read:

Mark 4:21-41; Psalm 27:7-14

Think:


(Ask, Analyze, Apply)

I'm intriguer by the investment language in Mark 4.  In these parables about the Kingdom, Jesus seems to reflect themes of disclosure and multiplication.  I get the idea that part of Kingdom living is investing by obeying.  We do what God asks of us when it seems insignificant and unpopular.  We may even be tempted to hide our Kingdom obedience.  God will bring what is secret into light.  He will multiply our obedience for a Kingdom harvest.

Write:

In the Kingdom of God, small things are never small for long.  He makes the widow's penny into all that is needed.  He is the God of multiplication and hope.  Nothing good is small in His eyes.  I look forward to the wonder of His harvest.

Do: 

Today, I am looking to do very small things with very great purpose, knowing that every moment must be to His glory.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Psalm 24

Where: My living room
Listening to: Mumford and Sons Sigh No More
Drinking: Twinings Earl Grey


Read:

 1 The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
   the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it on the seas
   and established it on the waters.

 3 Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD?
   Who may stand in his holy place?
4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
   who does not trust in an idol
   or swear by a false god.

 5 They will receive blessing from the LORD
   and vindication from God their Savior.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
   who seek your face, God of Jacob.

 7 Lift up your heads, you gates;
   be lifted up, you ancient doors,
   that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
   The LORD strong and mighty,
   the LORD mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates;
   lift them up, you ancient doors,
   that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?
   The LORD Almighty—
   he is the King of glory.

--Psalm 24



Pray:
God, you know the things that trouble me, the conflicts, the tasks, the opportunities.  I wish I was powerful to make all things new, but I am weak and broken and foolish.  I cannot make things right.  I can only obey.  The earth and everything in it belongs to You, that includes my troubles and fears.  You own my fears.  You have beaten them.  They fear you.  If I am to come close to you, I must forsake the idols of my own abilities and comforts.  You are the only One in whom I can trust.  Today, I'm going to seek You and let You accomplish Your will.  Anything that you don't do today is simply something you don't need done.  I just want to obey today.  So, I am going to lift up my head today, not in my own confidence, but having confidence in You.  Miracle my life today.  Miracle my work.  Miracle this community and all You want to touch today.  


Think:
(Ask, Analyze, Apply)


Write:
I seem to have a common them in my devotions of late: I want to trust in myself.  I work so hard to be productive, creative and interesting...I fail on my own.  The truth is, trusting in my abilities apart from daily reliance on God is idolatry.  Today, I'm seeking Him.  I am lifting my head in great expectation of His miraculous work.  


Do: 
I'm going to go to some meetings, share what God gives me, and hopefully write some plans for Serve Elyria 2011!  

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Parenting and The Book of Eli

"Because I said so" only works as long as you are bigger or stronger than the person hearing it, and even then its a mixed bag.  I'm learning first-hand what it means to discipline and shape a child, and I'm acutely aware of the fact that everything I do influences my son.  He watches my reactions, sees my moods and mimics my behavior.  Things that I do now will affect him for his whole life.  The weight of this reality scares me a little bit.

As is the case with all new parents, my wife and I are magnets for unsolicited advice.  "He shouldn't be doing that" is a favorite thing to hear when my one year old throws a tantrum.  I'm tempted to say,"Really!? I had no idea that tantrums were bad.  I was going to video and auto tune his screams in order to market them as worship music."  Move over Antoine Dodson!  They seem to think that I should have absolute control of my son's moods, thoughts, actions and intentions at every moment.

This has caused me to notice two distinct categories of parenting: Control and Influence.  I know people who subscribed to both philosophies, and I've watched their kids grow up and exhibit the long-term effects of both methods.  This has led me to a few non-scientific, observational conclusions.

Influencers use discipline, but make it a point to tell their kids why their behavior is wrong.  They often ask questions like "Why did you do that?" or "How do you think Susie felt when you hit her?"  Sometimes, unknown good or bad intentions surface, changing the nature of the punishment at times.  Children of influencers aren't perfect.  Sometimes their parents even take flack for not having better behaved kids.  These are the kids that hit their stride after 18, sometimes with a few bumps in the teen and pre-teen years.  They have direction, initiative and relational grace.  This is not the case with "controlled" children.

Controller parents tend to use phrases like "because I said so" or "the Bible says..."  Their children are rigidly well behaved and in Christian circles, quote more Bible verses than Denzel Washington at the end of The Book of Eli.  There are extra rules, ones that go beyond good behavior.  To break said rules is seen as willful disobedience and is met with severe consequences.  No checking is done to ascertain the child's intents or feelings.  Perhaps the most telling mark of the controlling method is that no purpose is given for rules or punishment.

As a child, I used to look at "controlled" kids and feel intimidated.  I never knew as many Bible verses, did as well in school, or had as many measurable successes in athletics. The tables turned later in life.

As an adult, I spend significant time meeting with controller parents who want me to control their now adult children.  The story is the same every time: "He was such a smart boy, always well behaved.  He always did what he was told, because we weren't afraid to discipline in our house."  Of course, to them "discipline" meant rigid punishment with little explanation.  They can't figure out why little Johnny did a behavioral 180 at 18.  These are the young adults who graduate high school and fall apart.  They seldom finish college, often squander relationships, and never seem to have any direction.  Their parents never have any idea what happened.

Usually, these are the twenty-somethings who will sit down with me once over coffee, sometimes just to get their parents off their back.  When speaking of their upbringing, they use a lot of catch phrases like "religious oppression" and "looking for authenticity."  They have been controlled their whole lives.  Now all they want is to be out of control.  They have a hard time thinking of Jesus as a person who wants to know and love them no matter what.  These are my addict friends, my transvestite friends, my dealer friends, my agnostic friends, my heartbroken friends. After these coffee meetings, I always give some thought to calling their parents to tell them it is their fault their kids are a wreck. I always knew that would be pointless, since the deed is already done.  They can't go back 2 decades and do it over again.

Instead of attacking them, I'm taking this opportunity to tell myself what I wish I cold tell them.  So, here I am, the young adult pastor am speaking to me, the new parent:

Dan, 


You have great kids, but they aren't perfect.  There is nothing you can do to make them perfect.  They will make mistakes, some of them with great intentions, others with purely selfish motives.  You can't stop them from making mistakes.  You can't make them into sinless people.  You can't make them fall in love with Jesus.  You can't make them get good grades, learn piano or go to college.  


You will be tempted to control them.  You could set exasperating expectations on them and physically force them into obedience...for a while.  Eventually, they will be grown and out of your hands.  Don't waste this precious time trying to control, use it to influence.  Discipline with reason and integrity.  Tell them why you are disciplining them, what they have done wrong and how to do right next time.  Teach them how to make decisions, how to discern right from wrong.  Let them make mistakes and experience consequences while you can still catch them when they fall.  Let them know they are good kids who are going to do well.  Speak blessing.  Show them what it means to love Jesus.  Show your sons what it means to be a good man and show your daughters how a good man should treat a woman.  


Defend them, love them and influence them.  Pray for God's hand on their lives.  


Love,
Dan