Of Sailboats and the Hearts of Men

img_20190725_063650.jpgOur family vacationed in Oceanside, California this week. We stayed at a very nice hotel right on Oceanside harbor and went to sleep every night after a gorgeous sunset and woke the next morning with sounds of the surf.

While waiting for my family to wake up one morning, I walked around the marina. Boats…lots and lots of boats.

On this particular morning, I saw a beautiful sailing boat a few rows away from me and started walking in her direction. She drew me in with her varnished wood on her clean, white decks, her blue canvas covering her boom and sails, and her black hull.

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When I got closer, I noticed that she looked good from far away, but closer inspection revealed a new truth. That truth was that the varnish was peeling away in many places, the blue that seemed so clear far away had fading where the sun drenched it, and the pristine deck was anything but.

It was then that I Samuel 16:7 struck me. “…For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

And I stopped walking. I’ve been a fool, trying to keep up appearances so people wouldn’t see how fragile I am, while God sees the stripped varnish and sun-drenched stains. His magnified eye can see all of me. All that I’m hoping you won’t see.

IMG_20190725_194435I’ve wondered, as someone trying to become a known author, if you’ll ever know the whole me…the one with the emotional scars, the horrible sins, the ruins of past relationships. I wonder if knowing that will make you not want to know me.

Seeing that sailboat, and seeing it again close up, made me realize that it’s not you I should be worried about. I’ve been hoping, all this time, that my far away appearance might just fool God. That maybe he won’t get close enough to me to see my heart, my past, my scars…all of it. And I’m humbled.

He has seen it for eternity, yet he has loved me and loves me still. God is good.

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American Easter

IMG_8908This Easter holiday, I’m in a country that doesn’t celebrate the Risen Christ. In fact, they don’t celebrate Easter at all. There are no church slogans posted on billboards, no Easter bunny’s hopping on plastic signs, and no eggs to buy in stores. No peeps either, but I’m ok with that.

There is no Easter here.

That’s to be expected when only 4% of the population ascribes to a form of Christianity. That includes Catholics, Reformed, non-denominational, etc. The whole kit and caboodle. Only 600,000 protestants and 300,000 Roman Catholics out of a total population of 23.5 million people.

IMG_8913I should back up a little. Having visited a church in Taipei, I know for a fact that 600,000 Protestants here celebrate Easter. I’m sure that the 300,000 Roman Catholics celebrate as well, however limited its form in this culture. What I mean to say is that the holiday does not permeate culture like it does in America.

On the other hand, there is something refreshing about not being inundated with what Easter is in America. The fact that many churches start the week with children waving palm branches and muddling through a few songs on Palm Sunday annoys me, frankly. And that it culminates often with Easter egg hunts on Saturday morning or after services on Sunday is just shy of sacrilegious.

Cue the defensive responses from American Christians…

“We are just raising up the children the way they ought to go…”

“We are trying to bring more people to church on Easter so we can present the gospel…”

“We have to engage our culture…”

No. You only haveto get the gospel message out. If you’re doing that differently on Easter Sunday than you do on any other Sunday, you’re doing it wrong in one of those situations, probably both.

Alas, there is none of that in Taiwan, or at least not so openly produced and paraded about. Even in the hotel where I’m staying, which caters to Westerners, it’s not visible. I’m the only person wearing a pastel color, and that’s by happenstance. I did see one child dressed in a pretty white dress today. I say that in the spirit of full disclosure.

By the same token, there is no mention of the blood of Jesus Christ, which cleanses us from sin. And I saw a person today who looked incredibly down, and I had no words for them because I don’t know the language, and I can’t simply say, “There’s a church right down the road…” Taipei is largely a first world, materialistic city. As such, there is no thought of where the nearest church might be and there usually isn’t one “right down the road.”

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So, where does this leave me? It leaves me hoping that the scattered congregations on this island do what God has called all of us to do, in order to reach as many Taiwan people for Christ. It leaves me praying for the individual I saw this morning at breakfast.

In all of the pageantry that is an American Easter, I hope you will find some time for reflection as well. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday, will you pray for those you come across? Will you pray for the hundreds of millions of Americans who only know this Sunday as Easter egg hunting and the one day a year they go to church? Will you pray for the billions around the world who do not know our savior? And have no hope of redemption without someone telling them the good news? Will you pray that God sends more laborers into his harvest?

Or are you content with colored eggs and a church service?

 

IMG_8904I’m grateful for the folks at Grace Church Taipei. The church was welcoming, friendly, and simple. There was no pageantry…no special song by half-interested toddlers, no egg hunt after service. Only the message of a Righteous God displaying his Mercy through Christ’s sacrifice.

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An American Christian

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This is a special message to followers of The Navy Christian Report, now titled, An American Christian.

For the longest time, I’ve tried to make an impact in the world as “The Navy Christian.” I had hoped that I could encourage Americans to pray for the military, and specifically for believers in the military, and thereby be part of God’s plan to reach the military. This seemed like a natural extension of my on-again, off-again ministry to military seekers and believers as a lay leader on various ships and shore stations.

The problem is that I greatly overestimated God’s call on my life regarding the military. I had always thought I was called to lead some great, self-perpetrating revival. Each successive generation would reach more people. This was going to obviously spill out into the surrounding communities, first in Navy cities, and then others as well.

Wow! So full of myself. So willing to assume I knew the will of God. Instead, what I learned was that God was going to use me to reach specific units, and inside those units, individual seekers and Christians. Despite my arrogance and misguided assumptions, God did use me to reach several people. I’m grateful for that.

The Navy Christian Report began, once upon a time, as Military Prayer Week, which was supposed to be my natural outcropping of my “The Navy Christian” blogging ministry. After several years of trying to make that work, it became increasingly clear that, once again, I had misunderstood God’s plan for my life. So Military Prayer Week became The Navy Christian Report, because I thought my commentary might resonate with people.

It has. Several articles, such as my article on visiting a black church, my take on the Nike ad campaign, and persecution in the military in particular, seemed to hit a nerve.

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Photo from Nike as published in USA Today.

Unfortunately, these aren’t navy issues. They are American issues. The thought occurred to me that, instead of being “The Navy Christian,” it should be called “The American Christian.” It didn’t take long to realize that I was being arrogant once again by calling myself “the,” so I quickly changed it to “An American Christian.”

What can you expect with this change? Much of the same commentary and theology, but designed in a way to use the American context as a lens in which to view our response. I will utilize interviews, commentary, and other resources to help you become a stronger Christian. Most importantly, I will not subvert the Bible.

Two points you should know:

  1. I am not perfect. Won’t be perfect. Can’t be perfect (in this life). I write as a flawed man trying to reach other flawed individuals. You don’t have to be perfect either. I will write assertively, with active language, in order to present an idea that we need to make changes to the way we do things. Also, we need to learn the Bible better. But I will not judge you. I promise that. My goal is to encourage you and me in our walks.
  2. I am a contrarian. This means that I tend to naturally fall on the opposite side of an argument. You want to talk about the political reasons for a border wall, and I’m going to take you to the spiritual implications of almost ZERO ministry and outreach going on in Mexico. You talk about how homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible, and I will agree, even to the point of wondering why churches allow divorcees to lead ministry positions when they are guilty (in almost all cases) of adultery.

Where does this leave us? Simply put, some are not going to be happy with the new face of The Navy Christian Report, just as many were not happy with the change from Military Prayer Week to The Navy Christian Report. I totally understand. I don’t want to cause you undue strain or stress. This simply better reflects my actual calling from God, as well as my gifting.

I hope you’ll stick with me in this process, even to the point of sharing this page with your friends and loved ones and, when a particular article strikes your fancy or encourages you, share that as well.

You are welcome to sign up for my mailing list as well, and receive monthly updates about my writing, particularly my Christian fiction. You can sign up HERE.

Death’s Sting

d70s-longline-ll13-108542-hI’ve lived just long enough on this earth to have responded to death in most of the imaginable ways. The recent death of a former shipmate has brought many of those responses back to the forefront. I must deal with them, and so I write.

One way that I’ve never been able to respond to death is with joy. When people say, “They’re in a better place now,” I want to throw something. “Oh death, where is thy sting” trips me up every time I hear it. I feel stung by death, or the thought of death, often, and so I respond by glossing over the words. I recently felt that sting again when my former shipmate, Navy Chief Andrea Washington, died (She’s third from the left in the back row).

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I had the day off on Guam when I found out she was most likely murdered. I drove around the island that day, processing the recent death of a person I hadn’t gotten to know well enough to grieve and found myself grieving anyway. In my last sermon on the ship, Andrea had raised her hand to rededicate her life in Christ. She had always supported my efforts to share Christ on the ship, and I wish I had both shared him more and better taken advantage of her faith while I was stationed with her.

I spent some time remembering how angry I had been when my friend Chris died. It took years for me to get over his death, and even now I feel there are conversations with God I haven’t had yet that I’ll need to have someday before I, too, fall asleep in the Lord.

I’ve learned that hope is a tough thing to have when death arrives. The emotional venting that often takes place saps hope like a suction pump. Yet hope is all I had to work with when my little sister died, just a few short days before her 16th birthday. And it’s all I have now, when I think back to a woman who meant so much to so many on our ship.

Despite all of my confusion and pain, my faith COMPELS me to believe that God is in control. It FORCES me to consider that he is in charge of every situation…that Andrea’s death didn’t catch him by surprise. It fences me in as I struggle through varied emotions. All of them are acceptable as long as they lead me back to the same conclusion: God cares.

I am drawn to the book of Matthew now, even as I was when my sister passed: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

And in this my hope is restored. It is in these verses that my anger, frustration, and confusion melt away in the knowledge that God is sovereign over all things. That he will see to justice, even if we never see it here on earth. That somehow, Andrea, Meghan, Chris, and all of the other deaths I’ve responded to poorly meant something in the grand scheme of things…his grand scheme. It is in these verses that death loses some of it sting. It hurts less when I trust God with my loved ones.

I am humbled by this. And I am grateful.

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Of Nike and Chick-fil-a

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Photo taken from Chick-fil-A site.

Do you remember, in 2012, that all liberals were going to boycott Chick-fil-a? Remember how all of the conservatives went to their local restaurant in droves to support the chain? Fast forward six years and the shoe is on the other foot (see what I did there?). Now the conservatives hate Nike and the liberals can’t heap enough praise on them. Guess what? Nike isn’t going to go down either. Just like Chick-fil-a, supporters will march into those stores and buy Nike shoes like they’re going out of style.

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Photo from Nike as published in USA Today.

News flash, white people don’t buy as many Air Jordans as minorities. Oh, and here’s another newsflash, conservative people love Chick-fil-a and Hobby Lobby. And by conservative people, I mean people like me.

Meanwhile, conservatives get riled up by Colin Kaepernick and liberals hate Trump. Here’s another newsflash…they both love the hate and the love. Both of them, and all of the other people stirring up controversy, get to keep hearing themselves talk.

If I may delve a little more into this current controversy…

Nike paid Kaepernick who knows how much money to be in their ad campaign. That ad campaign will spur shoe sales, undoubtedly buoyed by minorities (my son wears Nike running shoes for cross country, BTW). The ad suggests that Kaepernick gave up “everything” when he began taking a knee during the national anthem.

I wrote a huge post on that protest. I even walked away from football for a while. It was ugly (my brothers and father can tell stories of heated text exchanges). And Colin hasn’t had a football contract since. Now, I was mad at him since he took Alex Smith’s job away from him, so my disdain goes back a ways. Never mind that for now.

A lot of social media attention focuses on whether Nike should have gone with someone like Chris Kyle or Pat Tillman (the NFL connection). It is true that these men, and so many thousands like them, made the ultimate sacrifice. As a career Navy Chief Warrant Officer, I am the first to want to put one of our military folks above an athlete.

But could it be…just could it be…that Colin Kaepernick did actually sacrifice a lot when he started taking a knee? All of the extraneous issues aside, such as whether he started it for the purist of reasons or not, could it be that he did make a sacrifice?

And couldn’t it be that all of those who have given “the ultimate sacrifice” also…well…sacrificed?

I wouldn’t compare Colin Kaepernick to the likes of Rosa Parks and MLK, but I wouldn’t compare my “sacrifice” to that of anyone who passed in the line of duty, whether that was military, police, fire, etc.

And most of all, I hope that good-natured, intelligent folks on both sides of the arguments realize that we have to treat each other with more respect or this is all going to fall apart at some point. I do actually think that America’s future depends on this, though I am encouraged to know that the real America doesn’t exist like the America of Facebook.

I interact with people of many races each day. We have civil conversations and we keep things at a reasonable distance. Real life isn’t the anonymous firefight that Facebook is. I’m grateful for that.

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My Multisite Church Problem

This post is a companion piece for an article I wrote for Evangelical Free Church of America. You can read it here.

I thought they were all egotistical megalomaniacs bent on making Outreach’s 100 fastest growing churches list, to be quite honest. I didn’t think there could be any way that a pastor at a multisite church could possibly be interested in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Surely they had to water down the gospel in order to have more than one site!

This became a problem for me in 2017. When my family moved back to San Diego to take a new position in the Navy, I tried to focus on churches that only had one location. I was bound and determined to avoid multisite churches like the plague.c56772_dd97dfecd68f4d7aa4d67d22dc37278f

One by one, the churches we visited just didn’t seem to quite fit. While checking around, I did begrudgingly go to two multisite churches in my neighborhood. One of these visits was to Legacy Church in Tierrasanta. Much to my dismay, both of them were very good.

I went back to other single-site churches, hoping that one of them would be our match. They weren’t. Instead, the multisite churches were great, meaning that they preached the true gospel. I started to change my thinking on the issue. Could multisite churches be more than just ego boosts for their pastors?

As I learned more about Legacy Church, I came to realize that the pastor usually travels from the first location to the second location and back to cover all three services. In many ways, Legacy Church was emulating the Methodist circuit riders of old. Instead of covering miles of a frontier or a set of rural communities, however, Legacy covers La Mesa, CA and the Tierrasanta neighborhood of San Diego.

Then I thought: “This is not how I thought multisite churches worked. I wonder if there are other models as well.”

That thought officially launched my research into multisite churches, followed quickly by a query to the editor of EFCA Today, Diane McDougal. She ok’d the project on the understanding that final approval would come after it was complete. I began my research with Dr. Larry Osborne of North Coast Church in San Diego. Dr. Osborne was great to work with, as was his administrative assistant, Amanda Hoffman. She worked out a schedule that met both Dr. Osborne’s needs and mine as the writer. Our talk lasted about a half hour.

First question: What is the Gospel? I figured…hey, if they weren’t about the gospel, then I’d know my research could end. The gospel is the most important thing, as far as I can tell, so I started my questions with that.

He answered with I Corinthians 15, which encompasses the death, burial, and resurrection. When I asked him why he started there, he replied, “I figured that what the apostle Paul describes as his gospel is good enough for me as a working description.”

Ok, so far so good. Turns out one of the site pastors for North Coast also had a solid definition. Jay Foulk, who oversees the San Marcos/Escondido campus, said the gospel was, “the good news that through Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we can be saved from our sins through faith in Him.”

Wow. So maybe this is not only, not bad, but maybe good. My shell was beginning to crack. I still didn’t want to go full bore, but around this time, Alicia and I were regularly attending a multisite church (Legacy), so I figured I needed to get to the bottom of it soon.

I reached out to Nathan Miller, who oversees the site pastors for Christ Community Church in the Kansas City metro area. Nathan was likewise easy to talk to and a gracious subject. As we talked about the definition for the gospel, he added, “No matter what we’re preaching, we ask, ‘How do we get to Jesus?’”

Whereas North Coast Church utilizes a single preacher each week who preaches to all locations via video, Christ Community Church utilizes a model wherein each site’s pastor preaches each week on an agreed topic with agreed-upon points. They meet each week to talk about the upcoming sermon in order to provide a consistent gospel message. In both models, local worship leaders provide the musical leadership to their respective sites.

The rest of the interviews went very well. I was more than satisfied by the answers given. By the time I had finished my first draft of the article, I had become comfortable with joining Legacy Church.

We are now a part of Legacy’s Tierrasanta campus, growing as a family under the leadership of Curt, Todd, Troy, and the rest. And I’ve come to learn just how impacting multisite churches can be in the multiple communities they serve in. I’m probably not ready to go to a service where the only interaction I have with the pastor is on a video screen, but I am comfortable with the model we have at Legacy, and I’m comfortable with telling people about North Coast Church (for my San Diego friends who aren’t in my neighborhood). For those I know in Kansas City, I highly recommend Christ Community Church as well.

As a final note, I turned in my final draft to the new editor, Abby Farson Pratt, at 750 words. Diane liked the articles tight and economic. Abby, while appreciating tight writing, also wanted to explore the issue more, giving me a set of questions she wanted answered for the next draft. I went back to the pastors I had worked with on the project and, ever gracious, they answered the new round of questions. I turned in the new article at approximately 1200 words. That just goes to show that it’s vital to know what your editor wants when he or she wants it.

I would love your thoughts…and as always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

Christians can’t give up on North Korea

The summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator is off, as in, not going to happen. Well, maybe it will. Trump seemed to leave the door open in a recent news conference. North Korea’s official response seemed to leave the idea of a summit on the table as well. Unfortunately, no one knows for certain, except maybe some diplomats in SecState Pompeo’s department. Obviously, you and I are not privy to that information.

It’s easy to get discouraged as a Christian when it seems like everything is headed back to status quo. If you’re a regular reader of mine, you know I’m interested in this situation (I actually wrote about this as early as late 2010). I believe that a peace accord and normalization of relations between Washington and Pyongyang would produce fruit in the kingdom. In fact, I believe that a well-executed summit, and its subsequent deals, could mean a world-wide outpouring of the Spirit.

North Korea, in being one of the absolute worst places in the world to be a Christian, is a linchpin in future kingdom growth. I don’t mean kinda-Christians either. I mean actual believers in Jesus Christ who live for God through the Holy Spirit every day. I mean the kind of Christians that I could only hope to be. The kind we find in many persecuted countries around the world. Back to the point: If North Korea accepts terms, even some of them, and the United States accepts that we’ll have to give in on some measures, then we might just see the kind of real growth that would spur the next revival in the world.

I believe this like I believe that David killed Goliath with a small rock. I believe it like I believe that Noah built a big boat and outlasted a flood. I believe it like I believe Jesus Christ rose again on the third day.

My hope is that you believe it too. If you don’t, please think it over.

We cannot give up on the idea of peace between the Koreas, even if it never leads to reunification. I understand that it’s not all Trump’s fault that the summit was called off. I understand that it isn’t all Kim’s fault that it was called off. Both are to blame and neither are to blame. This is a game that has been played for over 60 years.

That shouldn’t stop us from praying for North Korea, or the freedom of her oppressed people. It shouldn’t stop us from having empathy for the downtrodden. We have to break through the idea that North Korea is the enemy and focus on the fact that North Korea has millions of people who have never heard the gospel.

Pray for North Korea and for peace between Pyongyang and Washington. And then pray that our mission agencies have a plan for getting more evangelistic efforts into the country and that they enact them.

Please read a little about efforts to reach those in North Korea with the gospel by going to this great article in the Atlantic.

I would love your thoughts…and as always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.