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.

Praying for the North Korean Summit

I’ll be honest, I want a peace deal with North Korea. I think it’s in our best interest as a country and I think it’s definitely in the best interest for the gospel moving forward in the North. As an American, I’m not at all for giving in to Kim Jong Un. But I am for praying that peace actually happens.

Sometimes it’s difficult to separate my feelings for America and my feelings for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t know if you have that problem, but I do. Sometimes I equate the two, sadly, and I have to remember that the two are not the same. The gospel should always trump loyalty to my country.

In this case, however, what is good for the gospel is good for the country. An agreement between the United States and North Korea would signal the eventual end to the saber rattling that distracts American service men and women, provides some stability in that region of the world, and would encourage the North to join the region’s trading partners. While I suspect that they would never become the former foe-turned-trading-friend like Japan or Germany, I do believe we could at least get to an Iran type situation. Yes, still rattling sabers and making threats, but not a belief that all-out war may break out at some point.

It would also allow America the opportunity to press upon the North the importance of religious freedom. Even if this never got more real than what happens in China, I believe that it would be good for the gospel message. Christianity could stop looking like an American religion to the leaders in the North, which would hopefully equal less persecution and more freedom of expression for Christians and would-be Christians in that country.

Do I think that either of these things is a sure bet? Not at all! We have a very self-assured leader in America who is honestly liable to say anything at any time, and often that equals saying the very thing that upsets a particular partner (in this case, the North). We are facing a leader who believes that he is an equal because of his nuclear arsenal (an inaccurate and inflated belief). This understanding doesn’t even account for the fact that an accord between the North and America wouldn’t automatically equal freedom of religion.

So we pray. We pray for the very reason that this is still a long-shot. We pray because we’ve been down this road before, and North Korea balked when it last had a chance to do the right thing. We pray because this would be another way for the Lord to get the glory (as long as we evangelicals don’t give the glory to Trump if it’s successful). We pray because the gospel is more important than any national barrier; the salvation of souls more important than any patriotic position.

Some ways to pray:

  1. Pray that the summit will happen, and that it will be successful. Both of those things are far from guaranteed as of this writing.
  2. Pray for an official end to hostilities on the Korean peninsula.
  3. Pray for people on both sides of the table. Pray that their egos are softened, and their hearts open to change.
  4. Pray for Christians currently living in North Korea. Pray for an end to their suffering and for freedom for them to live as Christians in the open.
  5. Pray for a revival in both North Korea and America.

If you pray for one thing each day this week, then by Saturday morning, you’ll have prayed solidly for North Korea all week! Join me in this effort, and we will all see great things happen.

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

Sailors in trouble for the Bible

Navy Investigates Sailors Imposing Christianity

IMG_0024In case you missed it, our old friends at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a complaint on April 6 alleging that Sailors are proselytizing in Japan by having a Bible on the POW/MIA memorial table. According to the MRFF, that amounts to pushing Christian beliefs onto unsuspecting persons. The seven-page complaint was filed on behalf of 26 service members and DoD civilian employees who were offended by the display. They suggest that the Bible present (representing the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded one nation under God) forces people to agree with the display.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported on the story. This is probably a slam dunk. While I found several instances of the Bible being present in the display, including the Navy Live website, I doubt it will remain that way for long. Makes me wonder if anyone from the MRFF will come hunting for my rank because my daughter put a Bible on our display in Navy housing (the irony here is that my daughter used an “Apologetics” version of the Bible). I don’t know the legal ramifications for that, and I’m not particularly interested to learn them. Nevertheless, I’m sure we’ll learn soon that the Navy has decided to officially remove the Bible from this display and update the protocol.

I want to make three points about the complaint.

  1. The MRFF is a nuisance. I’ve written elsewhere about how they file complaints on behalf of non-Christians who have gotten their feelings hurt. The only thing I’m wrong about in that statement is that apparently, “Christians” also get their feelings hurt. Everyone’s opinion counts but the Bible-believing Christian, in the MRFF’s eyes.
  2. I don’t think they’ll be a nuisance for long. By saying that, I don’t think they’ll go away. Instead, I think they’re going to become a bigger tool used by the adversary to hinder Christianity in the military. I think this because, in this complaint, one of the things they want is for the Navy to investigate the situation and to, “assign appropriate disciplinary measures to those responsible.”
  3. The founder of MRFF states that 16 of the 26 persons in the complaint self-identify as Christian. I’d be curious to know more about this Christianity of theirs. I’m very disturbed that they handed the leadership of the Okinawa hospital over to the wolves. While I don’t know if they tried to get the Bible removed from the desk and felt they had no alternative (which they did…plenty of alternatives), or why they would have wanted it removed in the first place, but complaining to an unbeliever, who will make a spectacle of the Bible instead of treat it with respect, is a bad move.

To be perfectly clear, the MRFF is about removing Christianity from America’s military. Just like China’s decision to prevent the online sales of Bibles, the MRFF should not scare true believers. God understands fully what has happened here, knows the ramifications, and is at least one step ahead, at least eternally speaking.

For additional research, look at the following locations that include the Bible in the presentation:

Navy Live

American Legion

VFW

Wikipedia

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

Beijing doesn’t want your Bibles

China has made a move that most dispensationalist Christians would say they’ve seen coming for years. Beijing has banned online sales of the Bible in a move certain to put additional pressure on the Chinese underground church. You can read the NYTimes article here.

With Christianity’s gradual increase in China, though our faith still only makes up roughly 6-10% of the total population, the communist government has continued to ramp up its plans to dampen the fire. A regulation preventing the sale of Bibles online (they are already heavily regulated in physical form) is just the latest move. China used to meet the underground church with blunt force, often arresting pastors and levying fines against parishioners. In more modern times, Chinese authorities pressure discovered churches to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (China’s authorized church).

I’ve read the tenants of this authorized faith and on the surface, it doesn’t sound half bad.  However, my biggest concern is that the state authorized church means that the state, which is certainly not friendly toward Christ and his church, can stamp it out any time it pleases. More likely, of course, is that it just keeps the communist thumb on them to prevent the sort of growth that appears to be happening in the underground church.

According to the NYTimes article, a Vatican source suggests that this could be the opening salvo in a new, broader crackdown. Again, the dispensationalists would have no problem believing this to be true. As a premillennialist, I certainly believe this is very possible. While China has been fairly open on some economic issues in order to become the powerhouse that Russia could never be, Beijing has not shown the same interest in religious matters.

China is listed as #43 on the Open Doors World Watch List for 2018. One would assume that it will at least hold on to that number with a move like this, or even move up a number of slots. I’ll update this as further events unfold.

I should add that I don’t want this to scare or anger any of my readers. Our ultimate (and only) hope is in God. I do not believe he is surprised by any of this. Indeed, as a premillennialist, I believe that he is fully aware of every move that the Chinese government is making, just as he is aware of the Soviet efforts before them. I am not advocating any action on our part except to pray for those affected. We do not know them, but we are brothers and sisters and will get to meet them someday. It is our duty and our privilege, and as such I call on all Christian believers to pray for those affected by the curtailment of Bible sales in China.

A final thought as I close: America is beginning its slow move to this end as well. Bibles are still easily available, but I’ll show you tomorrow just how fragile the situation is becoming in America.

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