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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The Romans Road for Today

The Romans Road for Today

Like many in more conservative churches, I grew up with the Romans Road. It was a list of verses intended to show the realities of sin and the desperate need for a savior. I used the Romans Road to walk my little church community on my last ship through the Gospel. I know that a lot of people now days don’t hear about it, so I thought I’d share a little about it.

In this post, I’ll walk you through a simplified version of the Romans Road, complete with a short statement about each verse.

Romans 3:23“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

You don’t get much more straightforward than this verse. We’ve blown it. We are hopeless! And think about it: How many times have you thought, “why did I do that? I know it was wrong!” and yet you did it anyway? Far too many times for me, and it’s situations like that which tell us of our desperate need for a savior.

When we talk about sin, we mean disobedience to God. It could be anything from cheating on a spouse to stealing an outfit from the store to being un-neighborly to the family down the street. In all of these situations, and so many more, we are proving our unwillingness to maintain God’s standard.

Romans 6:23“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This verse represents the fulcrum of our spiritual lives. Because of our actions that lead to Romans 3:23, we find ourselves at the beginning of 6:23. The wages of sin means our just payment for our misdeeds. And we are not talking about a physical death, which we will all see. I am talking about an eternal spiritual death.

Sin is so much more than just a mistake or a folly or a screw up. Sin separates us from our life force – God – and makes us the center of our little universe. It may work for a while in our lives on earth, but eternally, Romans 6:23 tells us what we have waiting for us.

Thank God that Romans 6:23 comes in two parts! The second part is our first ray of hope. “But the gift of God…” What does that mean? Let me show you the next part of the Romans Road to find out!

Romans 5:8“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

It was so good that God did this! As painful as it was to him, and as much as I wish it hadn’t been necessary, Christ’s perfect sacrifice was the only thing that could reunite humanity with God on a spiritual, eternal, level. It was the only thing that could take all of those sins that we’ve committed through the centuries and make everything right again. What hope! Out of Christ’s great sacrifice came something so very powerful. For us!

Romans 10:13“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

There are basically two camps of believers within the theologically conservative church. One side believes that we have absolutely nothing to do with our own salvation, that God even directs our desire to be saved at some point. Others believe that we have free will, and as such, we make the decision to follow Christ and accept him as our substitute on the cross.

What we know is what the Bible says, and what we have in the Romans Road is the understanding that we have sinned, that sin results in spiritual death, but God provided a way out of that future by Jesus’s sacrifice. And the final act is that we call on the name of the Lord for our salvation. Whether we do it because we were irresistibly drawn or because we made the choice to do so is irrelevant to you and me at this specific moment.

The only thing that matters is: Will you make that choice?

 

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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.

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Download The Dirty Campaign Today!

frontThe political season is upon us…

Download The Dirty Campaign today!

Incumbent Senator Moreland (R-KAN) is up for reelection and he’s a shoo-in. Who wouldn’t vote for him? He had a good track record (two terms in House of Representatives and two terms in the Senate), almost always votes conservative, and his opponent is a lesser-known liberal Congresswoman from Overland Park. Most Kansans aren’t even interested in the campaign.

Until evidence of an affair surfaces at a campaign stop in Wichita. In an ugly turn of events, Pastor Raul Sanchez is dragged into hot water for supposedly “forgiving” the Senator as a minister.

Sunset is now in upheaval. Supporters of the Senator think Pastor Sanchez is a hero for the party. Supporters of Pastor Sanchez want to protect him. Supporters of the challenger for Senate want to make a public spectacle of him.

And Sunset is about to explode in a protest-fueled conflict on 3rdStreet between Broadway and Main, at the entrance of the 3rdStreet Baptist Church. As people from all over descend onto the town for the coming fight, can Sunset be spared?

It all comes down to three key individuals in Sunset coming together to put things in a right balance again, and somehow get the message of God’s love out in the process.

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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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A Vision for Writing

Back when blogging was cool (it’s been a few years, I know), the big piece of advice for people starting out was always to find your niche and stick to it. Unfortunately for me, I got into blogging late and I didn’t have a niche. I wanted to write about everything under the sun. Then I started my new website about my published writing and guess what? I don’t have a niche there either.

I’ve been published nearly 20 times since my first article in 2000 (mostly full list here), with most of those articles coming in the last three years. I’ve written about my daughter’s hospital stay, praying for the military, theology, and churches in action. I’ve even written about writing! If that isn’t a wide smattering of topics, I don’t know what is!

What ties almost all of those stories together, however, is an honest desire to see the gospel go out and be fruitful. When I wrote about multisite churches presenting a consistent gospel message in June (read it here), and the accompanying blog post (here), I wrote with the mind that the gospel message is important, so how do I confirm that the God’s word will not return void at these churches?

It’s questions like that that motivate me. I hope they motivate you too. If we, who are believers, begin to ask ourselves if our actions further the gospel, or take away from it, I think we’ll be better off, and so will God’s church. For example, I’ve curtailed my science fiction writing to where it barely exists. Mostly, it’s just for fun now when I’m struggling with writer’s block. Why? Because most of those stories didn’t further the gospel message and bring glory to God. They were neutral, for the most part, and that isn’t good enough anymore. So, even though I had a dream of being a sci-fi writer in addition to my Christian writing, it’s much less of a priority for me now, if it is at all.

I want to hear from you! If you’re a budding writer yourself, if a piece touches you, if a piece angers you, or you just want to reach out, write me at dan@navychristian.org. My writing gets better if I know what people think of it. So don’t hesitate to write me!

Remember, God’s message of salvation is key to just about everything in life. I’m just here to write about it!