A new report from Barna Group lists the top 100 most “Bible Minded Cities.” My location, Des Moines/Ames, IA, ranks number 56. Where does your city rank? Find out HERE.

Categories : Barna Group, Bible
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The Last Car Ride

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About five years ago, after a heartfelt, written request by my middle child, we piled into our vehicle and drove to the Perry rescue shelter to look at a dog. The dog we went to see was a reddish colored Golden Retriever, who looked more like an Irish Setter than any Golden I had ever seen. Once he was free from his kennel, he ran round and round the fenced area as though he’d never been free.

Then there was a second Golden. He wasn’t on the website, the woman explained, because he’d just been seized by the local police department after several complaints from neighbors. This one simply came over and sat in front of us. As we deliberated over which one to pick, the dog picked up his paw and put it on my daughter’s leg, a habit we would come to adore, and I said, “I think this one has picked us.” After more conversation and $100 changed hands, we loaded the dog into the car and headed home. By loaded I mean literally. He wouldn’t get into the car and we had to lift him in.

As we drove home we discussed possible names. I’ve always thought dogs needed goofy names, and we went back and forth, no one willing to give an inch. When we got home my son walked through the living room. He was the one dissenting vote on getting a dog, reasoning that the energy and expense would be great. Hearing our conversation, my son simply said, “His name is Jackson.” And so it was.

Those early days were exhausting for sure. Within a couple of weeks he had destroyed two pieces of furniture and, if memory serves correctly, at least one pair of shoes. He was scared of his own shadow, refusing to go down that dark, dangerous hallway that led to the bedrooms or down the long, steep set of stairs that led to the basement. It would be months before he would jump into the back seat of a car without being hoisted in. Most of those fears would diminish over time. Though he still barked at any non family member that came into our home, he would would go down the hall, down the stairs, or jump into the back of the car.

Today Jackson took his last car ride. Jackson was dealt a crummy hand, and when we got him we had no idea how hard his life had been. He was blind in one eye from blunt force trauma. He had Addison’s Disease from being beaten across his back. His anxiety was so profound he took Prednisone to help calm him down. In December he was diagnosed with severe diabetes, and our Vet even suspected cancer of the liver, due to the increased enzymes in his blood system. Last night we agreed enough was enough.

Its funny the way memories flood back as you wait in the exam room…things you’ll never forget…like the way he carried my wife’s shoes through the house when he wanted attention or how no steel kennel cage could hold him. We’ll never forget the long night of force feeding him canned spinach after he ate razor blades or how he could hear a jar of peanut butter being opened from across the house. I’ll miss him following me around the house and lying about needing to go outside at night so he could get a treat.

Even more, I’ll miss the things he taught me about unconditional love. That’s one of the great things about a good dog. They love because they love. No strings attached and no performance standards to be met. And I’ll miss that the most. No matter what kind of day I had, Jackson was always Jackson. Though we didn’t have him all that long, I am comforted that we gave him the kind of life he deserved all along.

I would like to thank and acknowledge Dr. Robert Foss of Ashworth Road Animal Hospital for five years of great care and for his compassionate counsel regarding our pet’s health and well being. I would also like to thank Dr. Jessica Merk, whose compassion and care for Jackson this morning was exemplary. Those of you who knew Jackson know the stories I’ve alluded to in this post. And what stories they are.

Categories : Uncategorized
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You Never Know

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My wife and I recently went to a local diner for dinner. It was just a normal evening without any particular agenda or demands. Honestly, neither of us felt like cooking. As I casually glanced through the menu I became aware of some tension in the booth behind my wife, who was sitting across from me. I could only see the back of the woman’s head but I could hear her demeaning, cruel words to the server. “This is NOT what I ordered. It didn’t come out right. The menu said it would have this item and it doesn’t.” Her dinner partner, who I assumed was her husband, spoke in hushed tones, trying to de-escalate his wife. The server said, “Ma’am, I’m so sorry. I’ll take this back to the kitchen and we’ll fix it.” “It’s too late,” the woman snapped. “My dinner is ruined. I don’t know how you stay in business.” The server quickly turned and left, visibly devastated by the harsh words of the patron.

I continued to listen to the conversation between the couple. The woman began to describe how difficult her year had been, especially following her father’s suicide. She added that the recent change her doctor had made in her medication for her bi-polar disorder had made it even more difficult. Her husband continued to speak in soft, assuring tones, trying to compassionately understand her struggle.

A few moments later, the server returned with the corrected order and apologized profusely. She told the couple that the manager had agreed to make the meal complimentary and offered a gift card for yet another meal so they would give the diner another chance. The woman simply looked away while her husband thanked the server profusely. The server turned and walked away, never knowing what was really going on.

I considered going to the server privately and explaining the situation, but I didn’t. I thought to myself that the insights I had overheard would take a bit of the sting out of the verbal assault that blindsided her. I regret not speaking up. As I reflected on that event, I came to the realization that we all encounter people from time to time who, on the surface appear cruel, insensitive and rude concerning what many would consider minor mistakes. Like the server, our first response may be to take it personally, as though we are actually that inept. But I’d like to offer that sometimes people treat us as less than human because of some hidden difficulty going on it their life. It has nothing to do with us or our simple mistakes. While it may sting or leave us frustrated, most of the time the old saying is true: “Hurting people hurt people.” And those of us who are strong enough can see those moments as opportunities to serve.

Categories : Relationships
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The latest Barna report is out and lists ten facts about the churchless in America. You can find the report HERE.

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To Those Unnoticed

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The Sunday prior to Thanksgiving I selected an obscure yet helpful text for my sermon. The Book of Romans is often referred to as “the gospel according to Paul,” and it is true that his epic work has been among the most influential sections of the New Testament. All the way through the end of chapter 15.

Chapter 16, however, is unfortunately overlooked. It is the New Testament equivalent to the “fly over states” of the upper midwest. In the first 16 verses Paul names 27 anonymous people who are mostly Gentiles and slaves. Ten of the 27 people are women. Only Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul mentions them individually and concisely, with each statement reading like an epitaph on a tombstone.

I could have gone into the detail about the meaning of each name and offered some speculation regarding how these names fit into the puzzle of Paul’s missionary journeys, but I didn’t. I chose to simply point out the obvious and remind our congregation to remember that whatever we have or have achieved in life has come with the help of others, many of whom go unnoticed to the world. Perhaps a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a friend, or a relative have spoken into your life at a critical point which helped to shape you into who you are today.

Each of us stands on the strong shoulders of someone else. Don’t forget to thank God for them. And if they’re still alive, be sure to thank them for the meaningful contributions they have made to you. But don’t stop there. Consider the possibility that you could pass it on to the next generation.

Categories : Thanksgiving
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Hello Again!

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Some of you have inquired where I’ve been for the last month and a half. Like anyone else, things have been very busy for me both personally and professionally. But I’ve taken some of this time to rethink what I want to do with this blog. So bear with me, and don’t give up. Regular posts will resume soon! Thank you for your support!

Categories : Uncategorized
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Here is a helpful article by Frank Viola published at ChurchLeaders.com. I think he’s spot on! You can read it HERE.

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Overcoming a Bad Sermon

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Every pastor has had one or more Sunday worship service they would like to forget. The crowd was down, the room was hot, the music was blah, you name it. But for me the worst is when I drive off the parking lot knowing that the sermon just wasn’t great. Not even good. The content was weak, or the delivery was flat, or both. What do you do following a bad sermon?

1. Be honest about your preparation.
In my experience, content issues are directly tied to the amount of time spent in preparation. It can be tough to have a consistent block of time to do the necessary preparation because ministry needs are inconsiderate. You can’t choose whether or not your week will be free from a funeral or a hospital visit or any number of congregational emergencies. But its not just the content that suffers from lack of preparation. If you’re not confident in your content, you’re not going to be confident in the delivery of the content.

2. Face the music.
I have found that it is helpful to go back and listen to the audio or watch the video of the sermon. Taking time to evaluate the sermon gives one the opportunity to make improvements for the next week. And who knows? It may not have been as bad as you thought!

3. Resist the temptation to seek affirmation.
Every pastor knows who he or she can turn to for a needed word of affirmation, especially after a rough pulpit outing. Seeking affirmation from the fan base doesn’t solve the issue, it provides a false sense of security. Besides, deep down every preacher knows the truth about the sermon at the end of the service.

4. Get back on the bicycle.
If the sermon were an annual event, it would be tough. But you have 6 short days to have an opportunity to “make up” for it. You can’t wallow in embarrassment or disappointment. You’re on the clock!

5. Most importantly, don’t forget the role of the Holy Spirit.
My friend Gary Taylor used to say that God hits straight licks with crooked sticks. Just because you don’t feel great about a sermon doesn’t mean that God didn’t use it in a transformative way. If preaching was all up to us, we’d be standing in front of empty rooms each week. But its not about us. God’s spirit is actively involved in the sermon, and his promise to us is that his word will not return void. We have to trust that his Kingdom purposes do not hang on our sermons.

Categories : Preaching
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So is the virgin birth that important? Can a person believe in Jesus without acknowledging it? I believe the virgin birth is important four at least four reasons.

First, it made possible for Jesus to be truly human, yet without sin. I affirm that the Scripture teaches that we are all sinners by nature and by choice. What that means is that we have inherited Adam’s original guilt from the beginning. Its in our nature. Because of our nature, we make behavioral choices to commit acts of sin. Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Christ stands outside of Adam’s guilt. I affirm that though Jesus was fully human, he neither possessed Adam’s guilt nor committed sin in thought, word, or action. The virgin birth provides for a sinless Christ.

Second, the virgin birth affirms the eternal pre-existence of Christ. One of the earliest opponents to the virgin birth was called adoptionism. Simply stated, adoptionism proposed that Jesus was the natural born child of Joseph and Mary, and that upon his birth he was adopted by God to be his son. The only problem with that misguided theory is that is disallows the eternal pre-existence of Christ. I affirm that Jesus has always existed as the second member of the trinity, without beginning or end.

Third, the virgin birth allows for the incarnation. He would be called, “Immanuel, meaning, God with us.” Jesus came into the world fully God as though not man at all, and fully man as though not God at all. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to think of a man wearing a suit. Suppose the white dress shirt illustrates the divinity of Christ. Everyone can see the white shirt. But suppose the man then puts on his suit jacket, representing the humanity of Christ. Does the suit jacket render the white shirt null and void? No. Just because the man puts on the jacket doesn’t mean the white shirt has disappeared. You can still see some of it, though in a limited form. This is what Paul expressed in his Hymn to Christ in Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus emptied and condescended. Why? He came to be with us to identify with us in order to save us.

Finally, the virgin birth is important because it speaks of our spiritual need. Our salvation must come from the Lord. There was no human means possible for us to save ourselves. An intervention was necessary. On one hand we usually get warm fuzzies thinking about the Christmas story. We imagine the nativity with the baby in the manger surrounded by the adoration of those who gathered. But we need to remember that the reason Jesus came was because we were dead in our trespasses and sins, under the wrath of God. The Christmas story is at the same time humbling yet hopeful.

So yes, it matters!

Categories : Jesus, Matthew
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Skye Jethani has written an incredible piece titled, “The Rise and Fall of Celebrity Pastors.” Its thoughtful, well written, and worth your time. You can find the article by clicking HERE.

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