Category Archives: My Stuff

This is material I wrote.

The Gospel: More Beautiful Than You Think – Intro

I’ve always been taught that the word “gospel” means “good news.” If that’s true, if what we Christians proclaim to the world is such good news, why is it that Christianity has developed such a negative public perception in today’s culture?

I’m sure there are many answers to this question, but I suggest that one contributing factor is that we Christians have done a poor job of communicating this good news.

Maybe that’s because we don’t even quite grasp how good this good news really is. We’ve bought into some popular notions about God and heaven that sound kind of right, but have really only served to dull the beauty of who God is and what He has done.

A survey by U.S. News & World Report in 1997 asked Americans who they thought was most likely to go to heaven.

65% said Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jackson were “very likely” to go to heaven when they die.

79% believed Mother Teresa would “very likely” make it.

But there was one person who had a higher percentage than even Mother Teresa. Can you guess who? That’s right. It was the person taking the survey.

Over 80% of the people taking the survey felt it was “very likely” that they would go to heaven.

Yes, I know this survey is 20 years old, but do you really think it’s changed much?

There are some very basic assumptions shared by many people, even many who claim to be Christians. These assumptions have become embedded in our minds. They sound right.

I’d like you to watch a short video clip. In August of 2004 a couple of my friends took a video camera down to Fountain Square in Cincinnati at lunch time to see how people would answer three questions…

Now, you should know that Cincinnati has a strong Roman Catholic heritage, and is a fairly conservative city in comparison to most U.S. cities of its size. Also, it’s hard for me to believe, but this video is 13 years old! If we were to make this video today I imagine the results would probably be fairly similar, except I think we would encounter more open hostility to Christians and Christian beliefs, even in conservative Cincinnati.

I suggest that one contributing factor to the hostility our culture has to Christian faith is our own misunderstanding and miscommunication of these very basic points.

In the video, you heard a variety of answers but three general trends can be detected:

God is tolerant.

He is the white-bearded grandfather in heaven.  He understands that nobody is perfect so he accepts people because they try hard and do their best.  Sure there are some folks that he could not accept, like maybe Adolph Hitler but if you are sincere and do your best he will accept you.

The other two go hand in hand with the first – it’s a package deal.  If you believe the first the other two tend to follow close behind…

People are basically good.

This is why God can be tolerant of our shortcomings.  This is why God loves us – because of our goodness.  Our imperfections really aren’t all that important because our basic goodness can outweigh whatever badness there might be.

People can and must earn God’s favor.

Since God is tolerant, and we are basically good, it is possible for us to earn God’s favor. In fact, if we want to go to heaven that’s what we must do.

We want to believe these things. Maybe you do believe them.

But, if you think about it, Christianity doesn’t really make any sense if these things are true. I mean, why would Jesus have to come and sacrifice His life for us if God will accept us because of our “goodness”?  If God is tolerant, why go to such great lengths to cleanse us from our sins?

In fact, I believe these seemingly good and right beliefs have undermined the church’s witness and have contributed to much of our culture’s rejection and animosity toward Christians and Christianity.

They make the “good news,” …well, not so good.

In the next few weeks I want to challenge each of these assumptions. To look at each one and compare it with what we read in scripture. This isn’t about proving people wrong. It’s about showing them how truly, and amazingly beautiful Christianity really is!

Stay tuned…


A Father Who Sings
Good Friday service at The Christian Village at Mount Healthy. April 14, 2017.

My dad can’t sing.

It’s true. He has one note. It’s not musically identifiable, but it’s low.

That never stopped him.

I remember hearing him “singing” in the shower in the mornings getting ready for work.

I remember sitting next to him in church and trying to sing a harmony part. It was hard.

But he still sang. He still sings.

When I was young I knew my parents loved me. If you had asked me I would have said so. The evidence was there. They provided for me. Sure, they punished me when I did wrong, but they always forgave me. They went to my band concerts. They put up with my immaturity. For these reasons and more, I knew they loved me.

But I discovered a whole new perspective on a parent’s love when I had my own kids. I began to understand how you can be so angry you can’t see straight, so hurt you feel like your heart has been ripped out, and so proud you could burst…all at the same time!

It was then that I began to appreciate the depth of my parents’ love for me.

Sadly, I realize that some reading this may not have had the same experience of a loving family. You may find what I’m about to tell you incomprehensible. But trust me, it’s true.

But honestly, even if you grew up with a loving family like mine, you may still find this difficult to swallow, but here goes…

How do you think God feels about you?

God feels about you the same way a good dad feels about his kid. Sometimes he’s mad at you. Sometimes his heart is ripped out by you. Sometimes he’s bursting with pride. Sometimes he feels all that simultaneously.

And sometimes he sings.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

This is a beautiful description of the way I know my dad felt about me. No, he couldn’t sing a lick, but that didn’t stop him.

And this is the way God feels about you.

In the last line of this verse is the word “exult.” This a good translation because the original word means dancing or leaping for joy.

That’s God when he thinks of you.

Can you imagine?

This idea may be foreign to you. Perhaps, like so many, you’ve come to think of God as caring more about rules and laws. When you imagine God seeing you, your feelings are more like what you feel when you see a cop in your rearview mirror.

Make no mistake, God does have a very specific way he expects us to live.

So did my dad. There were things I did, or maybe didn’t do, that I knew I would be punished for. I didn’t want to be punished so I avoided those things. Well, at least I didn’t want him to know about them.

As I matured, and grew to know my dad’s heart, I was motivated less by the punishment and more by the desire to please my dad and make him proud. I knew he “exulted over me” and I wanted to give him good reason to.

My dad lives in a nursing home now. He hasn’t punished me in decades. But I still find myself being guided by what I think would make him proud that I’m his son.

I live for his “singing.”

I will forever be grateful that he has given me an earthly example of how God feels about me.

Honestly, I don’t know if we can even talk about God having “feelings” in the same way we experience them, but this passage of scripture seems to indicate that he does.

Jonathan Edwards was a famous preacher in the early 1700s. He is most famous for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Yes, it’s true that God hates sin and punishes the unrepentant.

But my Father’s Day prayer is that, through the grace of Jesus, you can grow to picture yourself not so much as a sinner in the hands of an angry God, but more as a child in the arms of a singing Father.


Faith vs. Certainty

We all have our ways of making sense of the world. We look around at the way things are: the beauty of the creation, the goodness and love in some people, the evil and violence in others. The fact that goodness, evil, love and violence exist simultaneously in every one of us. We see how death is right there with us every day we live, just a heartbeat away. We look at all that and more, and we develop a worldview. Maybe you have spent serious effort thinking it through.  Maybe, for you, it gradually crept up on you as lived your life.

Either way, you have a world view. Something that explains most of what you see, experience, and know to be true about life.

Most, but not all.

I’m sure this is true. You have unanswered questions. There are things that still don’t really make sense.

I’ve committed my life to the belief that the Bible is true. That we humans were created in God’s image. That we have blurred that image by our own selfish rebellion from our Maker. And that, through Jesus, our Creator has lovingly offered a way of redemption. These simple but profound statements, and the rest of scripture, make sense of the way the world is. It explains most of what I see, experience, and know to be true about life.

However, I still have questions that I can’t answer.

But I’m learning to be more comfortable with uncertainty.

Certainty is ridiculously arrogant, isn’t it?

Don’t misunderstand me. I have faith. Deep faith. I trust that there is an explanation, even though I may not know what it is, or even understand it if I did know.

This has been on my mind since I read the following passage of scripture last week for my #GodQuestions devotional:

Luke 20:27-40
27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man[f] must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons[g] of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

The Sadducees have a world view. We’re told they don’t believe in the resurrection. In other words, they think this life is all there is. (Consequently, they are “sad, you see.”) Their argument here seems to be something like, “If there were a resurrection and people lived again after death there would be all kinds of problems that don’t make any sense to us. For example, there were seven brothers…etc.”

I find it fascinating that on this one occasion Jesus simply gives them a straight answer.  No riddles. No stories.

Jesus does two things: first, he tells them something about the next life that they didn’t know. New information not included in their scriptures. Then he passes by their specific spoken question and addresses the heart of their issue by explaining something to them that they thought they already knew. But apparently, not well enough.

So, what are your questions?

Maybe you don’t believe scripture at all. You think it’s all just some kind of fairy tale. You might think the same thing of any religion.  People ask questions about all kinds of stuff in the Bible. Stuff they think simply can’t be true. Because, like the Sadducees, if it were true it would raise all kinds of issues for them that don’t make any sense.

But, is it possible that Jesus would answer you the same way he answered the Sadducees? Is it possible that Jesus has access to some information you do not? Information that would radically alter your world view? Is it possible that Jesus could see right past your spoken objection into your heart? Is it possible that there is an explanation for your objections that is beyond you?

Maybe you do believe scripture and do your best to follow Jesus, but can’t quite swallow everything the bible teaches about some things. Things like morality, for example. You read what scripture says, but figure it must mean something else. Because if it were really all completely true it would raise all kinds of issues for you that just don’t make any sense.

Maybe you love Jesus but you can’t seem to make sense of the challenges this life has brought your way. You wonder how God, who has promised to meet your every need, has somehow allowed you to suffer in ways you had never imagined.

I have no answer for you. Certainty eludes me.

But, isn’t it possible that Jesus would answer you much like he answered the Sadducees? Is it possible that Jesus has access to some information you do not? Information that would radically alter your world view? Is it possible that Jesus could see right past your spoken questions into your heart? Is it possible that there is an explanation for your objections and situation that is simply beyond you?

Yes, I believe it’s possible.

In fact, I believe it is so.



Worship Together was invited to lunch by a man in my church. He had something on his mind concerning our worship services that he wanted to talk to me about. We set a time and place. I could hardly wait to get with him because these lunches are always such fun for worship leaders. (Can you hear my sarcastic tone of voice?)

Anyway, as it turns out, this one went pretty well. I’ve had worse. Plus, he paid. But there was something about our worship services that he was asking me to change. Every week, sometime during the service, I would welcome people and ask them to get acquainted with the people around them. To introduce themselves if there was someone they didn’t know. This item appeared on my service plan as “Meet & Greet.”

Creative, right?

He wanted me to stop doing it.

What I found interesting was his reason. It seems he loved the flow of our worship time. He explained to me how the music would lead him to worship. He could let the world slip away and feel truly intimate with God. But just when he was feeling close to God he would be interrupted by all the people around him meeting and greeting. It was a real distraction to his worship.

This conversation occurred many years ago. Since then we have, for many other reasons, discontinued the “Meet & Greet” time. But there is a part of me that would like to bring it back. I understand that it’s one of the most uncomfortable moments during a service for guests. I’m not excited about infecting everyone during cold and flu season. I recognize that it feels artificial and forced.

But I thought of it as a symbolic ritual of something I believe is very important to the corporate worship experience of the church. Something I believe the man who took me to lunch completely missed.

It’s this: Worship isn’t just vertical. It’s also horizontal.

Corporate worship specifically is about the body of Christ coming together to express our unity in worship. You can have your “just-Jesus-and-me” times any time and place you and he agree on. But something different happens when we worship together.

Last Sunday we were singing one of my favorite new songs. As we were singing, Kathie nudged me and pointed out a man across the aisle. This guy had a stroke just a couple weeks before and had been in pretty bad shape. But he has experienced a remarkable recovery and was standing there in the congregation singing his praises. I made my way over to him, put my arm around him in sort of “man hug” and told him how happy I was to see him here. He agreed. He was happy to be here as well. Really happy! This happened as we were singing, “This is your family, Stretching as far as I can see. I’m right where I’m meant to be once again…”

I love that song!

This small interaction was most assuredly not an interruption to my worship. In fact, it was probably the most worshipful thing I did during the whole service.

What glorifies God more than his followers loving one another?

I’ll answer that one for you: nothing.

We definitely need our private times of worship. Do it daily, hourly, every moment of every day. But not when you’re together with the rest of the church. It’s not private there, it’s corporate.

If your worship is only for your benefit, I have to ask: who are you really worshiping?

I’m not really campaigning to bring back the “Meet & Greet” time. It needed to go away.

But not because it interrupts my worship.





Satan is a liar, sin is a killer, and we only have one hope.

I met an impressive young man in 1981. He was a 16 year old high school student and I was his youth minister. He was outgoing, funny, good looking, smart and energetic. He also knew more scripture than any of his contemporaries and many of his elders. He was committed to Christ and planned to be a preacher. Actually, in many ways, he already was.

I expected that God would use him to do great things for the Kingdom.

I think he expected God to do great things with him, too.

In 1986 I relocated to a ministry in another state and I sort of lost touch with him. I would hear things about him from time to time. Some good. Some not so good.

I heard he was a natural in the pulpit. His personality was perfect for it. He was a focused leader. I believed this was true because it fit perfectly with what I knew of him as a teenager.

He could also be brash and abrasive. He alienated long-time church members and focused only on newer folks. This was also believable.

I admit that I took some of the negative things I heard with a grain of salt because I’ve encountered many of those same complaints myself from people who didn’t like changes that were being made.

Then came the discovery of immorality. I don’t know all the details, but I know it was bad. He lost his ministry and his family.

His kingdom impact would never be the same.

In some ways, I suppose it’s the same old story of moral failure in ministry. But this one hit closer to home. This one was personal. I knew the guy. I knew his wife. They were kids in my youth group. Leaders, in fact. I loved them both. I still do. My heart hurt.

I attended his funeral recently. He was 51 years old. Cancer.

Even though I hadn’t really spoken with him or his ex-wife for many years, I felt compelled to be there.

There’s something about death that puts life into perspective.

It reminds you of some basic truths. These are certainly nothing new, and they aren’t filled with subtle insights and nuances. But they are hard truths that easily elude us.

Satan is a liar.

If you’re a minister, he will tell you that you have the talent and ability to do ministry on your own. Success in ministry is dependent on your gifts, your personality, your drive, your vision. Depending on God is a cop-out. It’s a sign of weakness and a lack of self-confidence. Also, you don’t need the accountability of other Christians. They would never understand you, anyway. You can’t let anyone else know about your temptations and failings. You must keep those things hidden. People would lose all respect for you. Your reputation would be ruined. – These are just a few of the lies he’ll tell. And I can tell you from experience that they’re easy to believe. But don’t! Ministry is not like building a business. Ministry is a spiritual battle. You and I don’t have the power to win this battle on our own. Attempting it just makes us a tragedy waiting to happen.

It may seem oxymoronic, but leadership requires humility. Think about who has had the most lasting positive influence on your life. Who do you admire? Who do you want to be like? Who is someone you would trust with your deepest self? I’d be willing to bet that the person you’re thinking of is not an arrogant, prideful, self-absorbed individual. It’s more likely someone whose life is characterized by humility. Someone who doesn’t hide behind a façade. Someone who is more interested in the welfare of another than advancing his own personal agenda.

Sin is a killer.

Because it’s so universal, it’s easy to minimize sin. Everybody does it, so it’s easy to let yourself off the hook with an “I’m only human” attitude. But sin is a killer. It ruins everything it touches. It wrecks families, and churches, and individual lives. It has destroyed nations. It killed Jesus.

It’s important to remember that sin is not simply a specific act, but a condition of the heart that manifests itself in specific acts. Sin is a heart in rebellion to God. Sin is a willful decision to behave in a way that you know God hates. This is why there is no hierarchy of sins. It’s true that some acts will have heavier consequences on this life than others, but Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount is that anger and murder, adultery and lust, all stem from the same root cause. It comes from a heart that says, “I know what you said, God, but I don’t care. I’m gonna do what I want.”

That’s sin. And it’s a killer.

We only have one hope.

It’s not popular these days to make exclusive claims like this, but that doesn’t change the fact that our only hope is Jesus. Our hope is found exclusively in the wonderful, indescribable, undeserved grace that can be ours through the blood of Christ. Sin may have killed Jesus, but grace made his death our hope.

This is the gospel. This is the truth that must completely saturate our hearts and our work. Without this, what are we even doing? Why are we wasting our time? This is what keeps us humble, and it’s what keeps us bold.

Why is this so easy to forget?

Because Satan is a liar.

And he’s a good one.

As I said earlier, these are all basic truths that we all know. You’ve read nothing here that you haven’t heard before. But this stuff is easy to lose track of. It seems too basic to spend much time with.

In fact, the opposite is true. These things are so basic, so fundamental, that without them nothing else matters.

Ability, talent, personality and gifts all matter. They do. But a career in ministry built on these things is a building with no foundation. It might look great for a while, but it won’t last. And when it falls, it could be disastrous for anyone in it or close to it.

Anyway, these are some of the things that have been on my mind since my friend’s funeral.



Empty Tomb = Living Jesus

I love Easter. love the smell of Lilies when I walk into the worship center early on Easter Sunday. I know some folks whose allergies cause a much different reaction, but still…

I love the energy of the larger than normal crowd. I love the way we always try to put our best foot forward on Easter: we kick the creativity up a notch, our musicians work overtime getting it right, our guest services teams are on the alert to make sure all our guests have a great experience.

Mostly, though, I love what it is we’re celebrating.

Jesus rose from the dead!

He told his followers over and over that he was going to do it, and he did! He pulled it off! Death, the universal enemy of every single human throughout all time, has been defeated! No one had ever done it before, and no one has done it since. It is a unique event in human history.

This fact deserves to be celebrated in every way we can possibly imagine.

Sometimes, though, I’m afraid there is one aspect to this that we have a tendency to overlook.

It’s so simple and obvious, I’m a little embarrassed to point it out.

But here it is:

If he rose from the dead, he’s still alive.

I came face to face with this simple but powerful fact several years ago in one of the most powerful Easter services I’ve ever experienced. Our church had recently launched a new ministry to help those who are dealing with “hurts, habits, and hang-ups” called Celebrate Recovery. We wanted to raise awareness of this much needed ministry. The decision was made to feature it on Easter Sunday morning. In fact, we ended up devoting a large block of time in the service to personal testimonies from a few of the participants. Yes, we figured that some of our more traditional folks would complain that Easter Sunday wasn’t what they were expecting. But we also thought that this ministry, and the message of hope for those dealing with addiction that it provides, was worth absorbing a few complaints.

This may sound odd coming from me, but I have no memory of what music we did that morning. What I do vividly remember is listening to people, real people, tell stories of deliverance. Deliverance from addictions. Deliverance from abusive relationships. Jesus was working in their lives. He really is alive!

This is what Easter is all about!, it’s important for us to look back to the events of over 2,000 years ago. Let’s do our Bible drama reenactments. Let’s try to imagine the astonishment of Peter and John as they ran to look into the empty tomb. Let’s put ourselves in the humbling position of Thomas who repented of his doubt and knelt before the risen Christ proclaiming, “My Lord, and my God!”

But the best way to imagine that astonishment is to come face to face with the living Jesus ourselves. Today.

That’s what I experienced that Easter Sunday morning.

We were prepared for a few complaints about this service from our most traditional folks. But I was dismayed by the reaction of so many who seemed to miss the point. Were they at the same service I was? How could they not encounter the risen Lord when his presence was so obvious? How could they be so disappointed about not getting to feel nostalgic about Easters past that they miss the living Jesus?

To be honest, I’m still a bit puzzled by it.

But I think the problem stems from separating Jesus’ resurrection in history from his life today.

If he rose from the dead, he’s still alive.

The tomb is empty. You can go and look. In fact, you could search every tomb and every grave site around the world and you won’t find him.

Which only begs the question:

Where is he?

I’ll tell you where he is.

Just look around.

He’s in the home of a young family doing their best to raise their kids in a culture that seems to fight them every step of the way. He’s helping a man who is struggling with all his might to NOT take another drink. He’s giving comfort to that old woman whose husband of many years recently died from a horrific battle with cancer. He’s working in the messy lives of everyday people who give their time, energy, and talent serving you and your church.

Don’t get distracted by the past. Jesus isn’t there.

He’s alive.

He’ll be in the pew next to you at church on Sunday.

Will you see him?



The One Thing That You Can Do To Encourage More Congregational Singing leader, is congregational singing a priority to you? Do you actively encourage it?

I ask because I understand that it may not be, and that’s ok.

I have attended churches where it was obvious that the leader did not expect me to sing. The service was moving, powerful, and well-planned. The sermon was engaging and challenging. The music touched me deeply. I worshiped.

But I didn’t sing.

Congregational singing was not a priority, and that’s ok.

It’s not my preference, but worship isn’t about my preferences. that’s why I asked the question. Because if congregational singing isn’t important to you, you needn’t read any further. This post isn’t for you.

However, if congregational singing is a priority for you and your church, as it was for me in my ministry, then I have a suggestion.

It’s more of a plea, actually.

Please put the songs in a more singable key.

That’s it.

Now, I want you to know that I don’t agree with most of what I read about why congregational singing is waning. I don’t think projecting the music along with the words will help. I don’t think the answer is to stop doing new songs. (I responded to one article which touches on many of these complaints. You can read it here.)

But I do believe this one thing with all my heart…

People won’t sing with you if you deliberately exclude them.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but the recordings of most popular music (including popular worship music) is pitched in a low range for female singers and a high range for male singers. The result is that the vocals end up in approximately the same range. It’s a range we like to listen to. Now we may let loose and do our best to sing along in the car when no one else is around, but we know we sound awful. Because the songs are in a range most non-musicians and inexperienced singers are uncomfortable with.

The thing is, most of our worship leaders are experienced musicians who are comfortable singing in the pop music range. In fact, they prefer it because it allows them to be more expressive.

But it doesn’t encourage congregational singing at all. In fact, it does the opposite. It discourages participation. People may even want to sing, but they won’t be able to.

I know this because I really, really want to sing. I want to belt out my praise at the top of my lungs. I’ve been around the musical block a few times. I know what I’m doing. So sometimes I can find a harmony that feels right, or an octave that works. But there are many times when I simply can’t participate. I’m motivated. I try. I know what I’m doing. But many times I still can’t find anything that I can sing.

I guarantee that most of the people in the congregation who aren’t motivated, who have to be encouraged to try, and who don’t know what they’re doing, won’t participate.

Now, because I’m a man, what I’m about to say isn’t known through experience, but it seems to me that the women in our congregations are somewhat more flexible in their vocal range than men. What I mean is, if a male worship leader is singing in a very high range a female congregation member can generally sing with him in her lower octave, in a prime unison with the leader, and it can sound awesome! The men of the congregation, on the other hand, must either choose to sing in a high falsetto to stay with the leader (which will feel silly to him), or resort to a lower octave which, for a man, just isn’t going to be as expressive because it won’t have enough power for him to really even hear himself.

The third alternative is that he simply won’t try to sing at all. When you factor in the cultural bias that singing isn’t a very manly thing to do anyway, you can see why so many will choose option 3.

So, how do you determine what key to use?

I’m glad you asked.

A congregation will feel most comfortable if you keep the melody of the song in a range from about Bb below middle C to the D in the staff. You can go a little lower in quiet times and a little higher at big musical moments. Locate the highest and lowest notes in the song and find a key that puts the melody closest to this range. (This would be easier if worship leaders would use lead sheets instead of just lyrics and chords, but maybe that’s another blog post.)

I realize that many younger worship leaders will likely pooh-pooh this advice, but before you do I challenge you to try it. Consciously pitch your songs this way for a couple of months. You might not feel good about it because it may not be in your own sweet spot, but yours isn’t the sweet spot you’re aiming for.

Is it?

Please remember that our congregations are not filled with trained musicians or singers. We do them an extreme disservice when we expect them to sing along with a song that is completely out of their range.

They won’t do it, and I don’t blame them.

I plead with you to let us sing!



Pretty Good at Bad Decisions

I lead a charmed life.


I can’t explain how good my life is. I certainly don’t deserve it.

I hesitate to use the word “blessed,” although that is how I feel. I hesitate because I know there are good people whose lives are difficult to the point of seeming impossible. It doesn’t seem fair to me to say that God has “blessed” me, when the same God hasn’t “blessed” them.

They deserve it as much as I.

Probably more.

If the book of Job has taught me anything, it’s that there is no simple explanation for why some people seem to have everything coming up roses, and others can’t seem to have even one thing go their way.

However, I do think our decisions can make a big difference.

I admit that it’s easy for me to get sort of judgmental toward some folks who haven’t been as fortunate as I have been. People who seem to be in desperate situations.

“Well, that’s what happens when you make bad decisions.”

This judgmental observation is easy because it contains a nugget of truth. Bad decisions will often have bad consequences. But here’s the thing: I’ve also made some colossally bad decisions. If you’re honest, you’ll recognize that you have, too.

I’ve come to two conclusions about bad decisions:

The 1st is that we’ve all made some.

Some may not make a big difference: “Yes, I believe I will have that last piece of pepperoni, Italian sausage and banana pepper pizza.” Then follow it up with about four scoops of ice cream just before bed. I know the consequences of this one very well. It can be pretty uncomfortable, but it’s temporary.

Others may be career ending and family destroying: “I know she’s married, and so am I, but she has made it clear that she’s available. We are two consenting adults. If no one else knows, who are we hurting?”

The 2nd is that, along with God’s grace, our lives are defined by the smart decisions we make before and after our bad decisions.

As I said, I’ve made some colossally bad decisions in my life. I won’t go into the details here, but believe me when I tell you that I deserve literally none of the good things that have come my way. None.

But I made some very smart decisions long before the colossally bad ones.

I decided that my life would be lived for Jesus. I am committed to him for the long haul. That doesn’t mean I’ve always been consistent, or that I’ve never let him down. I have. But my decision to follow him remains. Just like a child who seeks approval in the eyes of his earthly father, my life goal is for Jesus to find pleasure in me. This is an overarching decision that keeps me coming back to him, even after I’ve failed him. This is a smart decision that can guide you through, and past, the consequences of the bad decisions that you will most certainly make.

I decided very carefully and prayerfully about the woman I proposed to. It was a smart decision. (She decided to say, “yes.” She’ll have to be the one to say whether that was a smart decision or a colossally bad one.) We’ve been married for almost 43 years. We remain as committed to one another as the day we said our memorized vows. I don’t see that ever changing. The bad decisions I made could have had devastating consequences if I hadn’t been married to someone who took our vows as seriously as we both do. Other than your decision to follow Jesus, your decision concerning your marriage partner will have the biggest impact, for good or ill, on your entire life. Don’t be afraid of this decision. With the right person, it’s a good decision to make. But, don’t take it lightly.

There are probably others, but you get the idea. If you are smart about the big, over-arching decisions concerning what you want your life to be, it will help you navigate through the bad decisions.

Whenever I have made a bad decision, I always did my best afterward to make it right.

This is seldom easy, and it is sometimes simply not possible. But, if you’re ever going to recover from a colossally bad decision, you have to give it everything you’ve got.

When I’ve made my colossally bad decisions, in order to make it right I had to put my fate in the hands of another. You will, too. It might be the person you harmed, or cheated. It might be your employer. Whoever it is, if you’re going to make it right, you have to do it on their terms. They get to decide how you will make it right, or even if it’s possible. It may take a long time of rebuilding trust. Do it. Don’t short-change it, and don’t take it lightly.

This is where it becomes clear just how important those earlier decisions were. Decisions about who you marry, and who you work with and for.

If you made smart decisions before your colossally bad decision, and you make smart decisions afterward, then your life will not be defined by your bad decisions.

So, as I said earlier, there is a nugget of truth to the belief that “that’s what happens when you make bad decisions.” But it’s really not as much about the bad decisions themselves, as it is about the good decisions you’ve made before and after the colossally bad one.

You can get pretty good at bad decisions.

At least, that’s how it has worked for me.


Singing In Church

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This is a picture of people singing in church. The church is in Sidlaghatta, India. The band was playing, the people were singing, the song was repetitious (even though I couldn’t understand the words) and the volume level was easily 120db. It was awesome!

Last summer there was one of those snarky “bash-modern-worship” posts making the rounds. I share the author’s concern about congregational singing and have some of my own thoughts about why it seems to be declining (I may share those in a future post), so, I read it. It made me mad. It just rubbed me the wrong way, so I just let it be.

Then one of my friends sent it to me and was interested in hearing my response to the article. I don’t like the article, but I like my friend, so I decided to read it again and jot down a few quick responses and send it to him.

I came across that document today.

It seems many of these same complaints (along with the same condescending attitude) still persist, so I decided my response to my friend might make a worthwhile blog post.

What follows is a slightly edited version of what I wrote for my friend…

Some thoughts and responses to Jonathan Aigner’s article, “Why WOULD Anyone Sing in Church These Days?”

“We began by changing our understanding of corporate worship. It’s not for the church, it’s for those who aren’t part of the church.” admit that this has been a struggle throughout my career. Who do we plan Sunday morning for? Where I’ve always landed is that we plan the service as a time of worship for believers, but with the knowledge that unbelievers will always be there. Consequently, we do everything we can to help them understand what we’re doing and saying. We use new music, and modern art forms and references, not to appeal to unbelievers, but simply because we’re planning services for believers in the 21st century, not the 17th.

“…we’ve decided that the singing alone is the “worship,” followed by preaching or teaching time (NOT worship)…”, I admit that I’ve heard the music set referred to as “the worship time” (I’ve even caught myself doing that) and that’s a mistake. But it’s simply not true to say that we teach that “singing alone is worship.” Every week we participate in the Lord’s Supper, give material gifts in the offering, listen to scripture preached and taught, sing together, listen as others sing, watch a video, celebrate baptism and more. We teach that everything in the service is worship and try to explain how that’s true.

“So, while music was once simply a way to add dimension to our sacred storytelling, we began to exploit its emotional appeal, suggesting the feelings it could evoke to be authentic spiritual connection.”

Seriously? I would suggest that music has always been used for its “emotional appeal.” And, why not? Certainly, worship is far more than an emotional experience. But how can worship ever not involve your emotions?

“Our cultural ability to make music has decreased steadily since the dawn of commercial recorded music…Now, most churches have given in to the cultural decline of music appreciation. Instead of training many of our own, we hire a few to stand up and perform from the stage.”

I think I know what he means by “make music.” It’s the music he likes and approves of. Anything else doesn’t even deserve the term, in his opinion.’s the thing: We have a whole generation of young people who do know how to “make music.” Their notation style is not that of the classically trained musician. They may not be able to read notes on a musical staff, but they’ve learned to improvise from a lyric sheet and chord chart, and play by ear. Most classically trained musicians struggle with all these things. How is this not “making music”? The accusation he makes above about not training our own strikes me as absurd. Training our own is exactly what we do. And, in order to “make music” the way he describes, it would necessitate exactly what he decries: “hiring a few to stand up and perform from the stage.”

I suggest that the training of our own should also involve retraining some of our musicians to be able to hold their own with these young musicians who are improvising from a chord chart. Sadly, most of these folks are either unable, or unwilling to do this. In fact, many would consider it beneath them to do such a thing.

Most churches have trouble putting both types of musicians together in one team. I believe (in all modesty) that this has been one of my strengths. I have worked over the years to combine these people and train them to work together. It hasn’t always been easy, but I believe it has been worthwhile.

Also, as an aside: since when was the church’s mission to foster “music appreciation”?

Oh, and one more thing: he uses the word “perform” intentionally as a negative term. This really gets under my skin because it’s all performance. What we have to teach (and maybe don’t do well enough) is that the congregation is expected to “perform” as well. If the leaders (musicians, singers, preachers, tech crew, ushers, greeters, etc.) don’t “perform,” they’re not doing their job. We’re all there to perform worship.

“We have a rich history of hymns and songs dating back centuries, set to beautiful, singable melodies with a rich harmonic framework, a group to which each generation added their best. Then we decided we didn’t need these anymore.”

What about this generation? He can’t have it both ways. Either each generation gets to add their best or they don’t.

“So, we stopped empowering those among us who do read music to use those gifts. And we stopped expecting anyone else to learn.”

See my thoughts on reading music notation above.

“We used to have these majestic and beautiful instruments, with infinite musical palettes…”

“Majestic and beautiful instruments” that could only be played by a single, classically trained musician hired to perform.

“What’s more, few of these leaders it seems are capable of just plainly, accurately singing the melody. Some of them croon with a whiny, closed-mouthed tone, turning every vowel into an ee-ended diphthong.”

Ok, crooning? Really? For that I just offer you 3 words: George Beverly Shea. Also, I think his musical arrogance and bias really comes through in this paragraph and I would just stop reading here…



Let’s Go for a Drive

Has God ever spoken to you?

Would you recognize His voice if He did?

Some say that God no longer speaks.

Don’t you think it would be terribly difficult to have a living relationship with a God who won’t talk to you?

I believe God does speak. He speaks through scripture. He speaks through the counsel of other brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe He speaks through circumstances – opportunities and closed doors. He speaks through His Spirit working on our consciences, convicting or correcting or comforting. I also believe that what He has to say will always be consistent with scripture. He would never violate or contradict His written word.

A.W. Tozer said: “God is forever seeking to speak Himself out to His creation. He is, by His nature, continuously articulate. He fills the world with His speaking voice.”

Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Well, God has never spoken to me.” But here’s the question: What have you been trying to hear? For whose benefit have you been listening? Let me suggest that hearing from God begins with a desire to hear for God.

I find that I often go to God with pretty specific expectations. Maybe I want to hear from Him about a particular subject. I’ll be looking through the Bible for a verse somewhere that supports what I already think. Or maybe I’ll go to one person after another asking for advice until someone tells me what I want to hear. I go to God way too often with my own agenda. When I talk to God it’s all about me!

Have you ever stopped to consider the possibility that God may have something specific on His mind that He would like to talk about? Too often I don’t give Him the opportunity because I’m too busy talking about what I want to talk about.

We don’t have a silent God. He is always speaking. We just need to learn how to listen.

I think maybe we need to begin with a different understanding about what prayer and Bible reading is all about.

I know many people who have done some type of reading through the Bible in a year program. I’ve attempted it myself – but I confess I’ve never succeeded. I think this type of Bible reading has its place. It’s like flying across the country in an airliner. You get to your destination in good time – you can look out your window and see some beautiful things even though there are parts of it that are completely clouded over – but you can end up with a general overview and a real appreciation for the vastness of the land.

However, if you’re really interested in what this land is all about, I would suggest something a little slower. Take the time to drive it sometime. Stop and spend the night in a few small towns. Get out and walk around at some particularly interesting spots.

Or, how about prayer? Suppose, for a moment, that you talked to your spouse or a close friend the same way you talk to God. Maybe you start the day by saying something nice to them. You mention how great and awesome this person is and what a privilege it is to know them. Then you start asking them to do things for you. You ask nicely. Maybe it even sounds like a plea. “Dear beloved Spouse, please, if you could find it in your heart to vacuum the floor…if it’s your will.”

What if you then write down a list of all the things you’ve asked your spouse to do, and then checked them off as they are accomplished? Do you think that’s a healthy relationship?

I heard David Roadcup say something once that has stuck with me for many years. He said, “The purpose of prayer is not to get your prayer list accomplished. The purpose of prayer is to get to know God.”

So what I’m suggesting is that we begin to think of Bible reading and prayer as a conversation.

It’s a 2-way conversation between you and God. And as in every conversation, it’s extremely helpful if both parties are talking about the same thing. Sadly, I confess, that most of the time God & I talk only about what I want to discuss. Then I wonder why He seems so distant. Maybe I ought to let Him begin the conversation.

Perhaps prayer should begin with listening instead of talking.

Consider this: reading the Bible is reading God’s mind. It’s not just a book of history, of how God did things in the past. It also tells us how God does things in the present. The scriptures are the primary means we have of hearing God’s voice and discovering His will. The scriptures are the starting points of our conversations with God.

Let me suggest that we start reading scripture for depth, not distance. I believe that if we do this we’ll experience the “transforming of our minds” that Paul refers to – and we’ll better be able to “test and approve what God’s will is”. (Romans 12:1,2)

So let me give you a word picture that will help explain how to do what I’m talking about…

I really enjoy driving. It’s not just the control thing. It’s more the desire to see what’s around the next bend or over the next rise. I love seeking out roads that I’ve never driven before.

Three of my all-time favorite drives have been:

For our 25th wedding anniversary we went to Bar Harbor Maine. We drove a northern route through Lake Placid, New York and crossed Lake Camplain on the ferry at sunset. Then we drove through Vermont & New Hampshire, all on 2-lane roads.

Another was driving the coastal highway along the Pacific. Route 1 – between San Francisco through Monterrey to Big Sur.

One more: driving the “million dollar highway” – Rt. 550 – from Durango to Montrose CO – passing through the mining towns of Silverton and Ouray.

The purpose of those drives had very little to do with arriving at the destination. It was all about what we might encounter along the way.

There are 6 steps to taking this kind of drive…

1. Fill your tank.

You can’t go anywhere if you’re out of gas.

2. Choose your road.

Maybe it’s a road you’ve enjoyed before or a new road you’ve never noticed before.

3. Slow down.

Take in the beauty of your surroundings. Look at the colors, notice the plants and wildlife, feel the breeze, notice the scent in the air. Listen.

4. Pull off the road at a scenic view point.

Stop the car, get out and step into the scene. Look around you.

5. Take a selfie.

How do you look in this setting?

6. Send home a postcard.

Tell the family where you went today. Tell them about the things you saw there.

So, when it comes to reading scripture we should:

1. Fill your tank.

Take a few moments to settle yourself. Ask God’s Spirit to help you hear what God wants you to hear. 1 Corinthians 2:11-12 says: For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

2. Choose your road.

Select a passage of scripture. It could be one you’ve read many times, or maybe one you’ve never noticed before. Either way, I’m not suggesting that you just randomly flip through the Bible. Give it a little more thought and prayer than that. Work your way through a specific book or maybe you re-read a passage that was the subject of a sermon or lesson.

3. Slow down.

Take your time. Remember this is not for distance, it’s for depth. If you go too fast you miss too much. What else is going on in the surrounding verses? What does this passage teach you about God? Are you seeing anything you hadn’t seen before? You might even want to turn around and go back to get a closer look at something you read earlier.

Try reading aloud, as if you were trying to communicate the truth of this passage to someone.

Martin Luther said: “I study my Bible as I gather apples. First, I shake the whole tree that the ripest might fall. Then I shake each limb, and when I have shaken each limb, I shake each branch and every twig. Then I look under every leaf.”

4. Pull off the road at a scenic view point.

For an example let’s consider what there is to see in Col. 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…

Let those words sort of sink in for a moment. What happens when you read them aloud and emphasize different words?

Let – you have a choice

Dwell – not just stop by for a visit or a quick hello, let it take up residence.

After you’ve re-read it several times maybe you could try to re-write the passage in your own words. That is a very helpful technique to use in conversations with people when you want to make sure you really understand what they are trying to communicate. You just say something like, “If I heard you right, I think I heard you say…” Try doing the same thing with scripture. Take the thoughts of the passage and put them in your own words and say back to God, I think this is what I heard you say…

5. Take a selfie.

How do you look in this setting? Reading scripture is often like looking in a mirror. What do you see when you look at yourself in view of this passage of scripture? Is God pointing out some things that maybe He’d like to do some work on, if you’ll allow it?

6. Send home a postcard.

This is your prayer. This is where you tell your Father where you’ve been today; what you’ve seen, and what you’ve learned. This is where you respond to God. He has started the conversation, now you respond. Maybe it’s a confession. Maybe it’s a prayer of thanks. Maybe this passage has caused you to think of another person that you bring up to God in prayer. Or maybe you just respond in a song of praise.

The point of the whole thing is that God is the one leading in prayer. He is directing the conversation. Some days you might not get very far. Other days you may cover a few chapters.

But, I really believe that if you do these things as you go, you’ll find that it will stay with you longer, and that your conversations with God will be way more meaningful than just working through a list of requests.

Try it sometime. I’d love to hear about your experience.

You can use the comments section here or you can email me at


I owe these thoughts to Buddy Owens and his little book called The Way of a Worshiper, which I heartily recommend.