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No Time for God

Fall is among us in full swing!  How is your schedule looking these days?  My guess is it is full, really full.  It seems to me we shuttle our children from event to event at a ragged pace.  Why do we do this?  At what cost do we do this?  Is it really worth it?  These questions have been tinkering around my mind for some time now as I look around me and see the crazy pace of parents hauling their children from one even to another.    Please don’t take this as me judging you, or anyone for that matter; this is really just my pondering the issue of extra curricular activities as it relates to my family's relationship with God.

This summer our small group Bible study explored the book of Joshua.  We came to this verse at the end of Joshua, just as summer was coming to a close, “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, chose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods of which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods to the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).  This verse really struck a cord with me as it related to sports and the craziness of our schedules today.  I can’t help but think that the mad dash of life leads us away from God and towards the things of this world.  I really want to give God priority in our home and I fear that small pulls will lead me astray.

Growing up there was never any conflict between sports and church because I wasn’t in church.  That made things easy.  Now, I’m a Christian and church is important to me.  It is a priority for my family and me.  Yes, I am a pastor, but that’s not why I go to church—if I ever reach the place where I’m going to church because I’m a pastor, I’ve got some big problems.  I love church. I’m committed to worshiping, serving, and being a part of my local church because I’m a Christian.  I doubt it’s exclusive to Southern California, but with our great weather there is a great pulling of people toward all sorts of events.  It seems to me there are many Christian children absent from church on Sunday regularly because of commitments to athletic teams of all sorts.

Really, I’m not being legalistic at all in this.  I’m simply wrestling through questions and concerns that I have.  Is it okay to ever miss church?  Sure, of course there are times.   Will a sports commitment take priority over my commitment to church?  I’m feeling more and more convicted that I need to respond, “No.”  

Maybe this post is more for research.  These are questions I’ve been struggling with:  Can my kids participate in sports without having to decide between the sport and going to church?  What happens to kids who don’t participate on Sundays?  If I encourage my child that it is okay to participate in a sport that requires them to ditch church on Sundays, am I demonstrating to them that sports are more important than church?

I’m curious how other Christian parents handle these questions.  I don’t think there are easy answers, but I’m starting to think that without careful thought, it is easy to get sucked into this vortex.  

Statue of Liberty, A Thing of the Past?

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Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed the topic of immigration has resurfaced again through a variety of streams.  There seems to be a new sort of harshness in the voices of many.  I’m conflicted about what to think about the situation and a little troubled by some of the things I’ve read by American Christians.  I don’t want to repeat a blog I wrote about a year ago titled Misericordia Por Favor, which is translated “Mercy Please” in English, but I can’t help but to resurface this discussion.

It strikes me as sort of funny that I’m thinking about this on July 3, the day before we celebrate the founding of our nation and as I’m preparing to teach on the letter of First Peter which carries the theme of living as aliens throughout it’s entirety.  How should Christians respond to these children that our government is trying to handle?  To be honest, I’m not sure that I know the answer.

I guard myself from getting political.  We as Christians are called to submit to our authorities.  Thankfully in the USA, that means we are encouraged to vote and voice our concerns to our representatives.  I’m not sure of all the facts, but it seems something politically was said, or done, that is encouraging people to send their children hundreds, really thousands of miles, alone to enter the USA.  Is it okay to respond to our leaders about this situation?  Sure, I really don’t see a problem with that as a Christian.

However, as a Christian, as an American, I have concerns for how these people are being treated by my fellow countrymen.  I have never been in a situation where I have wanted to flee from my homeland.  I can’t even begin imagine that I would ever load up my four children and send them to another country without me.  Take a moment to ponder how bad the situation would have to be for you as a parent to think sending your children away, possibly never to see them again, to another country by themselves because there was hope of a better life.  I can’t ever imagine being in this place.  It makes me sick to my stomach just pondering being in a position where this would be the best option for my family.

Are you aware of the quote on the Statue of Liberty?  I believe it’s a good word for us to ponder as Americans.  The quote reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  Is this still true of our nation, or is it time to remove the quote?

Guest Post: Memorial Day

Today I welcome Debbie Lee, mother of Marc Lee (KIA, August 2, 2006), to share her thoughts on Memorial Day. Marc was a teammate of mine and I'm thankful for Debbie's faith through this journey. May we each pray for her and the other Gold Star Moms. 


Memorial Day Remembering Their Sacrifices, by Debbie Lee

As a Mother of a hero who willingly gave his life in combat, Memorial Day has taken on an entirely different meaning. My son Marc Alan Lee was the first Navy SEAL killed in Iraq 8-2-06. Three times that day he stood up into the direct line of fire and willingly gave his life defending his teammates and our freedoms.

Marc understood that there was a price for our freedom and like so many others before him, was willing to go into battle to keep America free. 

Memorial Day is set aside to remember those brave warriors who while defending us, lost their lives in combat. 

We have over 600,000 men and women who have died in combat since WWI. 600,000 Gold Star families and Brothers at arms, who have buried a loved one and to whom every day is/was Memorial Day.

You can imagine the pain and frustration to the friends and families of these fallen heroes when the majority of Americans are clueless as to the real meaning of Memorial Day. Our loved ones gave their final breath so that you could enjoy all of the freedoms and blessings that you have in America. All we ask is that as a nation we come together this weekend and acknowledge, honor and remember our heroes.

I have been on a campaign for years trying to educate people about the history and meaning of Memorial Day what it is and what it is not! It is not a time to "Celebrate Memorial day", it is not "Happy Memorial Day."  I am sure that ignorance plays a part in the party mentality of the 3-day weekend. We see major advertising about big "blow out" sales, advertisements to "kick off your summer", prepare for the big bar-b-ques and camping trips and parades. Many families know it marks the end of the school year and the community pools will be opening.

I was part of that ignorant group for years. I wasn't taught the real meaning of Memorial Day. Oh we visited a few graves through the years and placed flowers on the graves of family members who had died in child-birth, from sickness and different causes. Most of the time it was just a family gathering with picnics and bar-b ques enjoying all of the freedoms that we have but not reflecting on those who paid the ultimate price so we could enjoy them. I was not taught, and I am sorry for the opportunities that were missed to honor our fallen, and focus on the sacrifices made for me.

Often times people mistakenly recognize and thank all of those who have served. Veterans Day is the National Holiday when we do that. I've dedicated my life to honoring and thanking our troops 24/7 364 days of the year, but Memorial Day is for those who died in war.

Tradition used to be that businesses closed on Memorial Day and flew their flags at half staff to remember our war dead, what a switch from today, where it has turned into a major money making weekend.

After the civil war ended Maj General Logan established Decoration Day and spoke these words. : "We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic." 

Have we as a nation forgotten the cost? Will you help me put Memorial back in Memorial Day?

Please plan your weekend to remember those heroes who gave everything for you. I'm not asking you not to have a bar-b-que, picnic or gatherings with families or to walk around with sullen faces the entire weekend. Our loved ones sacrificed so you could enjoy those freedoms, but there should be somber moments when we focus on the cost that was paid.



As you gather take advantage of that time together and take a few moments to share the story of a fallen hero, remind others what the real meaning of Memorial Day is about. Tell your children and grandchildren about these brave heroes who paid the price for them to enjoy this day, take them to a National Cemetery and place flowers on graves or stop and honor them. Attend a ceremony or memorial, watch a video or TV program about our fallen, read a story, find a Gold Star family near you and let them know you will never forget. If you know other Veterans ask them if they've lost a teammate and maybe they will tell you about them. Pray for the families of the fallen.

Technology has changed our world and it is so easy to find the History of Memorial Day, read about heroes, and reach out and honor and remember our fallen and their families. It is also a great way to remind your friends the real meaning of Memorial Day, use that tool to educate others and honor our fallen heroes who are America's National Treasures.
   
While we look back and remember our fallen heroes this weekend, we focus forward and live our lives worthy of the sacrifice they made for you, for me and for America, "the land of the free, because of the brave."

Debbie Lee and son,
Marc A. Lee
First Navy SEAL KIA in Iraq
Aug 2, 2006


God's Wonderful Provision!


I’m a few weeks out from celebrating my anniversary of coming to Valley Baptist Church.  May 20, 2014 marks the completion of 7 years of serving Christ at this wonderful church.  I’m simply in awe of what God has done during my time here.  This isn’t a blog to talk about church numbers to build up my resume or self-esteem.  The reality is, I know how little I’ve done and how God has been the master orchestrator behind the restart of this wonderful church.

God’s provision over the years is highlighted through my present circumstances.  In a recent blog,  Thankfulness Revived”, I shared about almost losing my wife and child during the delivery.  I mentioned that there were a number of things I was processing concerning God’s faithfulness to me.  I’d like to share about His provision to us through this trial.

As my wife came out of recovery from surgery, we slowly learned how close to dying she and the baby came.  From the very beginning the doctors were very firm about how long the recovery would take.  Six weeks was an optimistic timeline, but they were very clear that I needed to be there for her and the family for the duration or complications from the surgery and blood loss would develop.  Without hesitation, I assured her that I would take a break from everything to focus on her and the family.  No preaching, no counseling, nothing but focusing on my family during this time.  Okay, clearly I’m not six weeks out yet, but I’m at home with my two-year old son nipping at my heels as I type this so hopefully you get the heart of what I’m saying.  Oh, and I may have slipped out under the cloak of darkness to spend some time with the K-9 Unit of EPD a few weeks ago while my mother-in-law was over...I guess this is my confession.

I haven’t preached since February 16 and I won’t return to the pulpit of Valley Baptist until the first Sunday in April.  Yes, not preaching is killing me, but I’ve always said my family is my priority and I mean it.  What I’m trying to say is that the reason I can do this is through God’s provision and timing.  For the last 7 years I’ve worked hard.  I’m not complaining at all, I love my calling, but it’s very normal for me to put in 60+ hours a week in ministry.  My family loves serving the Lord and we’ve learn to balance family and ministry in a way that works for us.  Between my working from home (in large part) and home schooling the kids we’ve learned to balance time with each other and the heavy workload of my calling, but this isn’t really relevant to this post.

Getting back to the point.  Back in the hospital room, when I told my wife, “Everything is going to be fine.  I’ll take the next six weeks off to minister to you” tears filled my eyes.  Yes, I was worried about my wife, but even more so, I was thankful to God for His provision that made my ability to say this to my wife truthfully.  I truly could take this time off for God had provided the help I needed in order to care for my family.

Throughout the restarting process, God has faithfully sent the right people at the right time.  Too many to list so I won’t even try.  A few years ago, I started to feel like I was stretching way too thin.  Things were slipping through the cracks.  As a pastor, “things slipping through the cracks” means people had shepherding needs, but I was failing to care for them as I feel they should be.  No one was criticizing me, complaining to me, or anything like that, but my heart for the sheep was deeply burdened.  I didn’t know how to solve this problem because I couldn’t give any more.   I decided to press on and pray, as I had no remedy in sight.  

Well, a little over a year ago God set the ball in motion to bring me help through the coming of Chaplain Ben, a Navy Chaplain who started attending Valley Baptist Church.  It wasn’t long before we hit it off.  We share a likeminded passion for the ministry and share the same philosophy for the church and how to care for people.  This doesn’t mean we see eye-to-eye on every theological point, but we are in total agreement for how to handle and apply our differences of theological positions.  It was a wonderful friendship that I would enjoy for as long as he was with us.  As a former Navy man, the one thing I’ve learned about Navy buddies is they move on.  This would be the case with Ben as well—or so I thought!

Word came that Ben would be getting out of the military and everything changed.  Long story short, we both came to the conclusion that God was calling him to serve at Valley Baptist Church as an associate pastor!  You know, if you asked me to describe the perfect associate pastor to serve with, I would have described Pastor Ben to you.  I don’t say this lightly.  We agree about how ministry should be done and we have complimentary gifting.  He was a chaplain in the Navy and in many respects, Valley Baptist Church needed a chaplain-like pastor to help stop people’s needs from slipping through the cracks.

Now, fast forward to February 2014.  Pastor Ben was essentially out of the Navy and we began planning what this partnership would look like.  We spent hour’s together working through our roles and responsibilities.  I believe we both felt comfortable with the new dynamic and we planned to introduce him formally on March 2 and he would preach for the next three weeks so I could focus on my family with the coming of the baby on March 7, you know, the due date.  Have you heard that saying from Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way,But the Lord directs his steps”?  That was sure applicable here because my plan wasn’t inline with God’s plan at all!

Please don’t miss my sarcasm, but wouldn’t you guess that God’s plan is way better than my plan?  What better way for Pastor Ben to figure out the ropes at Valley Baptist Church than to totally take me out of the equation?  This was a win-win situation for church.  Pastor Ben’s coming on staff completely freed me to care for my family.  He is so competent and capable to serve the body, which ultimately put me at ease to shut off my phone and email (for the most part) without worrying about the church.  Not having me around forced him to figure out every little detail concerning the church.

As I begin to come out of hibernation, I can’t help but to thank God for His ways.  They are so much better than my own.  I’m excited for the future of Valley Baptist Church and truly believe our pastor team is stronger than ever because of this personal crisis of my own.  I’m more excited than ever to see how God is going to move amongst us in the years to come!

Let me close by saying “Thank you.”  I’m thankful to God for His provision.  I’m thankful for the people of Valley Baptist Church who recognize and support my priority of caring for my family.  It means so much to me.  In being free to minister to my family during their time of need, I will be able to minister at Valley Baptist Church for the long haul.  Your love and support mean more than I can adequately express.

Thankfulness Revived



I haven’t blogged in a while.  Life’s been a little crazy to say the least.  God’s been working on me, but I’m not sure how to articulate things at this point.  I’m sure thoughts will mature over the course of my life.  First, and foremost, I thank the Lord for His continual blessings upon me.  I don’t deserve them.  None of us do. 

Almost a month ago, my wife and I welcomed our fourth child into our family.  We are thankful.  However, nothing was normal concerning the arrival of this sweet boy.  The above picture is of my wife and son in recovery following emergency caesarean section delivery (for the record, the term “emergency C-section” is used far too often, but in this case it truly was).  I have had a number of doctors look at me after his birth and ask me, “Do you know how lucky you are that they are both alive?”  I was told that I came 1-4 minutes from losing them both.  This is sobering.

I’ll be processing this last month for a while, but one thing that I’ve been pondering is worship.  Everything went well with our near miss.  Seriously, a number of things had to go the way they did for us to have this happy ending.  The word “miracle” has been used often surrounding the birth of my son.  I’ve been praising God for His provision in sparing my wife and son.  I mean this sincerely, as you can imagine.

Yes, I continue to praise the Lord through the positive circumstances of these scary events, but what if things went differently?  I know I can’t really answer that question from a speculative position, however, this question percolates in my thoughts repeatedly.  Had my wife and son both died, would I worship God just the same?  Obviously, I hope that I would.  Well, I doubt the same, but I hope I’d be worshiping Him respectively if that makes sense.  I should love God because He loved me and saved me through Christ, not conditionally based on “good things” that happen to me in this life.  My life, death, and eternity are His.  He is worthy of my worship because He is my Creator.  Job’s words seem particularly relevant to me now, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there.The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  I am thankful they were spared, but that doesn’t imply my worship of Him is contingent on things going well.

Another thought that has been circulating my thoughts is the question, “How often does God spare me each day and I don’t even notice?”  God’s protection with the birth of my son was pretty spectacular.  It’s easy to give Him thanks for His protection in this very clear sparing of life that was almost lost.  But what about the accidents I don’t get in while driving down the freeway, or not hitting that car while backing out of my spot at Costco, or whatever that accident was that I didn’t have and didn’t even notice?  I’m pretty sure that I should be thankful for all the non-eventful things I have each day. 

We each have so much to be thankful for, but shamefully our focus is grumbling about petty rather insignificant things in the grand scheme of life.  I’m a master at this.  I might not verbalize my complaints, but they’re there loud and clear in the recesses of my heart.  I’d like to say, “Not anymore!” But, I know me all too well.  I will say that my desire and ambition is to work on being more thankful and appreciative for the little things in my life from deep within my heart on a daily basis.

Santa Claus and Christians

How should Christians handle Santa Claus?  Answering this question could start a fight…which I have no intention of doing.  I’m certain that your personal background shapes how you answer this question. 

Personally, I really enjoy Christmas.  There are a lot of things I like about Christmas that really have little to do with Christmas Day.  I love Christmas Carols.  I’m not too embarrassed to admit that I look forward to rocking out to Elvis’ Blue Christmas for most of the year.  I love seeing colorful Christmas lights everywhere—the more the merrier!  I love decorating the Christmas tree.  I love seeing the lights on the tree.  Who doesn’t love seeing gifts under the tree?  I love my family’s tradition of Christmas Eve dinner, the opening of one Christmas gift, going to our church’s Christmas Eve Service, and ending the night by watching Elf (yes, you read that right).  I love the laughter and joy this season brings.

I share the previous paragraph with you so you know that I really do like this holiday.  I’m not opposed to having fun through imagination.  I’m not bunkered down teaching my kids that “Santa is just Satan spelled differently.”  However, I am very careful with how we’ve handled the issue of Santa Clause with our children and with my teaching at the church.

I love the imagination and creativity that God has given us.  I’m not looking for a history lesson on the origin of Santa Claus—I’ve already checked out his Wikipedia entry.  I’m fine with telling stories and having fun with creativity.  However, I don’t understand when parents push the line from fantasy or imagination to reality and outright deceit to their children.  I know, I know, that sounds really harsh.  I need to lighten up, right?

Have fun with your imagination.  I’m all for imagination.  I’m not suggesting that Santa can’t be a part of the Christian’s holiday plans.  God gave us creativity and imagination.  Use it, have fun with it.  Children have a special connection to the make believe that I wish I were better at reconnecting with as an adult.  I love that my kids help me tap into my inner child—my wife may not be as thrilled with this as I am.  Just leave Santa here.

Protect your children’s trust.  I have never lied to my kids about Santa.  They have always known that he is make believe, just like the tooth fairy, and any other make believe people.  I will not intentionally deceive my children for a number of reasons, but I want them to know that they can trust me no matter what.  There is nothing greater than anyone’s trust, especially your children’s.  Why would we jeopardize this trust by pitching something as truth when we ourselves know it’s just in fun?

Why this matters to me?  I’m a Christian.  Meaning, I have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe through Jesus Christ my Lord.  I didn’t come to know Christ until I was an adult and when I did, I came to understand the overwhelming historical evidence concerning His prophetic coming, His life, death, and resurrection.   In hindsight, I see that during my youth, I’d begun to lump Jesus with Santa Claus, the Boogey Man, and Tooth Fairy.  Jesus has nothing to do with fairy tales and I want no part in deceiving my children or confusing them about who Jesus is.  This is ultimately why I take the matter of Santa so seriously in my home.  We can get our pictures taken with Santa, threaten coal for gifts if they’re naughty, but let your kids know that it is all make believe.

For the skeptics out there, I encourage you to really investigate the gospel.  My prayer is that this would be the greatest Christmas of your life.  Jesus came and died for you so that you might find life in Him.  This grace of God is indescribable and is truly the greatest gift one can receive.  Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

A Thankful Heart Leads to Kindness

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So it’s Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  I am hanging out down by the beach with my family.  It’s raining this morning and we decided that we would make a journey down the street to the Longboarder Café.  It’s a newer place with surf videos on the T.V.’s and great food.   I really like the atmosphere. 

We were half drenched with smiles on our faces, laughing, and just enjoying one another as we sloshed our way into the cafe.  We splurged and let the kids get hot chocolates and French toast.  The coffee was nice and hot and the picture of my family before me warmed my soul.  I was feeling particularly blessed and overflowing with thankfulness to God for my family.

Just about this time, three young Marines walked in the door.  I must be getting old because these Marines looked like little kids to me.  They weren’t in uniform, but Marines are easy to spot.  These three seemed a more polite and a dressed a little more respectfully than your typical 18-22 year old male.  As I was observing them, I suddenly had a flood of memories of being a young kid in the military being away from my home where friends and family are.  These times of loneliness are hard to explain, but those who have been there, know exactly what I'm saying.  I know these three guys are buddies and will be for life, but there is something about these holiday weekends that makes you yearn for home.

This morning I was reminded of the sacrifice many young men and women are making today around the world as they celebrate Thanksgiving alone.  I don’t have access to all of them, but I had these three right in front of me.   As they sat down, I looked towards my wife and said, “I think we should pay for their breakfast.”  She agreed.  As the waiter came and took our order, I told him that I would like to pay the bill for the three men across the way.  He looked a little surprised and said, “Really?”  I nodded and he walked away thinking that was really cool.

When we finished eating the waiter came with our tab and double-checked that we still wanted to pay their bill.  He then asked if I wanted to send them a message.  I said, “Just tell them we are thankful for their service.”  I was trying to figure the tip when all three of the Marines walked up to our table, looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and said, “Thank you.  That’s really cool.  It means a lot.”  I just thanked them and held back all my Navy banter.

Walking home my oldest daughter asked me why the guys came up to us.  I shared with her how the Bible says it’s better to give than to receive.  We talked about how these young guys were away from the family for Thanksgiving because they are protecting us.  I shared with her that God had blessed us and we were thankful for their service so we bought their breakfast to express our gratitude.  She thought that was really cool.

I encourage you to look for opportunities that you can express a random act of kindness.  You think you are blessing the other person, but I guarantee you will walk away super blessed!

Thankfulness Doesn't Come Easy

To be quite honest, I’ve always been a “the glass is half empty” kind of guy.  I don’t like this bent of mine, but because of this hard wiring I notice those thankful types of people.  I’ll never forget one man I met while going through Navy SEAL training.  We were a few days into the miserable rigors of Hellweek (a grueling test over 5 ½ days where only 4 cumulative hours of sleep are given) and he always had a smile on his face and was thankful every minute during this miserable week.  I never asked him why he was so thankful, but his joyful attitude was noticed by all and very contagious.

The older I grow, the more I appreciate Thanksgiving.  As a Christian, I believe this holiday celebrates a virtue followers of Christ are to embody—thankfulness! In First Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Apostle Paul instructs Christians to, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  How do these verses become reality in a person’s life?  I think perspective is everything as it relates to thankfulness.

God desires you to be joyful and to give thanks!  In thinking about this it seems that thankfulness is the antidote to discouragement and ultimately produces joy in a person’s life.  There’s an old hymn titled Count Your Blessings.  The refrain instructs the hearer to, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings, see what God hath done!”  There is great power in simply naming things one is thankful for because it forces the individual to back up and take the larger picture into perspective. 

Whenever a wave of discouragement comes in my family, we play the “Thankful Game” with each other.  What is this game?  I’m glad you asked.  We simply work our way through the alphabet giving thanks for something that starts with each letter. For example, I would say, “A – I am thankful for my wife Anna.  B – I am thankful for the Bible.  C – I am thankful for chocolate covered doughnuts at Petersons, etc, etc.”  I know it sounds silly, but it never ceases to amaze me how much better we feel after intentionally giving thanks for the many ways in which God has blessed us. 

God has blessed us each tremendously whether we acknowledge it or not.  My prayer is that we each would cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts.  I’m convinced that as we express our thankfulness our joy will increase.  Ultimately God is pleased with our spirit of thankfulness and others are blessed.  Albert Barnes, a theologian from the 1800’s, once said, “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.”  Regardless of your present situation, what are your thankful for today?

The Christian and Halloween

This post certainly isn’t a slam on Christians who do the Halloween thing—I’m all for you dressing up, eating candy and having fun!  Personally, I’m just not really into holidays.  They sort of come and go around here—with exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I hold more of the “to each their own” when it comes to celebrating holidays. 

Halloween was nothing more than dressing up for some candy when I was growing up.  Not much has changed since then—other than the fact that I am a Christian now.  I’ve heard a lot of people claim that the celebration of Halloween has become far darker than it was 10+ years ago.  I’m not sure if that is true, or if I’m simply running with Christians these days that are more sensitive than my old SEAL buddies.  Maybe a little of both?

I’m preaching on Romans 14:1-12 this Sunday.  This passage deals with how Christians should relate with one another concerning issues of opinion and conviction that the Bible doesn’t explicating touch on.  I find that Halloween is one of these issues of opinion and conviction.  I can’t tell you the origin of Halloween, nor I am interested in you telling me either.  It is what you make of it.

That being said, I’ll never forget a Halloween when I was in Bible College.  I had class that day and the church where the seminary is located was having a Harvest Festival—you know the Christian alternative to Halloween.  I wasn’t upset that I was missing the holiday for class, but I was pretty annoyed that all the parking was taken up walking to class.  When I arrived in the classroom, I was met with an uncomfortable situation.  There was a middle-aged lady in the room weeping.  Man, I wanted to leave the room as quick as I could, but she saw me—I was stuck.

I asked what was wrong to discover she was heartbroken that the church was doing a Harvest Festival for Halloween.  Inside I thought she was making a big deal over nothing and should just grow up.  Of course I didn’t say that, but I was thinking it.  As the conversation unfolded, it turns out that this lady was raised a Pagan (literally) and Halloween was a day where they did a bunch of evil stuff.  I was shocked to hear her tell her story.  I learned the holiday was far more than pillaging candy to her as it surfaced very dark memories and the present reality for many in her family.  This conversation changed my feelings on Halloween dramatically.

Fast-forward about 11 years to today.  I still don’t make a big deal about this day.  I’m not vocal about it…just sort of slips by without commentary on my part.  I have an almost 8-year-old daughter who just hates this holiday.  Where does it come from?  I don’t know other than I believe she has a deeply sensitive conscience to spiritual things.  Yesterday she came home from an event where the teacher said the kids could wear their costumes to class next week—which falls on Halloween. 

I was sitting in my office when she approached me in anguish.  She explained that she had a real problem and wasn’t sure how to handle it.  The issue was that she didn’t want to get dressed up, she didn’t want to lie about why she won’t dress up, and she doesn’t want to condemn her friends.  What should she do?  I must pause to say that as a dad I am so proud of this little girl and her genuine walk with God.  Seriously, these moments are super special for me to help her navigate life in this world.  Nothing greater than being pastor-dad!

After she explained the problem, I shared with her the passage I was studying—Romans 14:1-12.  I found it very relevant to the problem at hand as it gives some insight to how we as Christians should handle things like Halloween.  Here are some points that I told her and I believe these apply to all Christians, regardless of your stance on Halloween.

Pray.  First and foremost, I explained that she should pray and ask God for wisdom on how to handle this.

Heed your conscience.  One’s conscience is a super special gift that God has given us.  It’s not always right, but we shouldn’t make a habit of violating it because we can damage it.  We laid out a bunch of options from going dressed up, not dressed up, not going at all, or making other plans.  My main concern is that I want my daughter to recognize her conscience and to develop a plan on how to listen to it.

You answer ultimately to God.  We so desperately want to fit in and be accepted by friends, but ultimately we must recognize that we cannot make others happy.  So the best option is live your life in a way that you think pleases God the most.  As this relates to Halloween, I can see a case for both sides.  Whatever you do, it should be for God’s glory.

Be sensitive to others.  You want to get dressed up?  No problem, just be sensitive to others.  This holiday may not be to them what it is to you.  You want nothing to do with this holiday?  Fine, don’t get dressed up, but be careful not to condemn others as it probably isn’t to them what it is to you.

There is some debate whether or not Augustine actually said these words, but I think they are an appropriate way to end this post, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Misericordia Por Favor


Those illegal aliens are driving me…

How did you answer that question?  I have a rant that’s been brewing in me for a while.  I really don’t know where I’m going with this blog, but I have some things that I feel need to be said from a biblical perspective.  I also think this post may get me into some hot water, but that’s okay.  I am a patriot of this country, but my allegiance is to Christ first and foremost.

I feel that racism is growing in my part of the United States towards Hispanics.  From my perspective it seems that the majority of Hispanics are viewed as being illegal regardless of their actual status in the United States.  I’m not sure that the things I hear and the attitudes felt towards Hispanics is glorifying to Christ.

I understand that this is a complex situation. Don’t let your mind run wild.  I am not speaking of those trying to enter our country to do us harm.  Citizen or not, we must defend and protect the innocent from evildoers.  Period.  The irony is the terrorists who have done us harm in recent years have all been here legally, but I digress.

Yes, I agree that laws should be obeyed and honored.  We see this throughout the Bible.  We have a difficult political and financial situation on our hands.  I have no intention on trying to resolve these problems in this blog.  I resist bringing up the history of how we obtained California or how we treated the Native Americans securing our land.  I don’t have the answers, but I do believe there are two issues here: 1) How should this situation be handled politically with laws?  2) How we as individuals should treat other human beings.  This, in large part, is the part that has been bugging me.

How should a Christian respond to this difficult situation?  I like what our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  I believe this statement applies to all humans regardless of their citizenship.  Quite frankly, the illegal immigrants that I have met are extremely hard working and are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.  I don’t blame them and I would do the same thing if I were in their shoes.  It pains me to hear Christians speaking poorly towards these people just trying to survive.

One passage that has planted itself in my heart is Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD you God.” Interesting passage as it relates to this subject.

One complaint I hear often relates to immigrants and the medical system.  First, I would encourage you to go to a community health clinic.  View the conditions and care they are receiving.  Hardly world class treatment and certainly not better than any American citizen would receive.  I like traveling.  I like experiencing other cultures.  I’ve never been really hurt in another country, but I certainly hope that I would receive the care I needed because I am a human and not based on my citizenship.  I hope that we as a people would care for other people in need to the best of our ability, yet sadly, in our nation people seem to care more about animals than people.

My prayer is that we who follow Christ would be a merciful people.  For it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7) and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  I don’t know about you, but I’ve received a ton of mercy from God.  May we come to see people as God sees them (2 Cor. 5:16-21).

Memorial Day


My life was forever changed on June 26, 2003 when I received the call.  I could barely comprehend the words I heard, “Gunnar, Tom was shot and killed in Afghanistan.”  I have been dealing with the reality of these words for nine years now and believe they will be with me for the rest of my life.  Tom was a great Navy SEAL, husband, father of two young boys, and friend of mine.  This one death created a wake of pain and agony in the hearts of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who knew and loved Thomas E. Retzer.

This is Memorial Day.  A day set aside to remember those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. This holiday has become a day connected with a three day weekend, BBQ, and fireworks.  I am not one to ostracize these practices as I doubt my friends who were killed in action would support me, but I encourage you to remember those who have given all in practical ways by doing something this Memorial Day and at every opportunity you are given.

This Memorial Day my family and I will go to Fort Rosecrans a National Cemetery and visit the gravestones of my many friends who gave all in their service.  Solomon says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man” (Ecc. 7:2).  In facing death, we faced with the brevity of our lives and are force to consider the day when we also will face our Creator.  I encourage you to visit a National Cemetery this Memorial Day.  Walk the aisles of white gravestones, remember their sacrifice, and reflect on life.

As you walk the cemetery on Memorial Day, you will likely encounter people who served with or loved those who gave all.  The Apostle Paul reminds us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).  How do we bear one another’s burdens in these circumstances?  There is no way to know what any given veteran has gone through, but impact of expressing gratitude to them cannot be overstated.  A simple, “Thank you for your service and (or) sacrifice” goes a long way.  In expressing this gratitude, you are taking a small burden from them, or at least help them carry their own load (Gal. 6:5).

Be on the alert.  Be prepared to shake the hand of a service member and look them in the eye and say “Thank you for you service.  I am praying for you.”  This “thank you” is all the more powerful when it is coupled with you picking up their tab!  Big group events are great displays of gratitude, but there is none more powerful than the individual touch.  Only you can do this something!

The Attack on the Boston Marathon

Certain events are seared into our memories.  I will never forget sitting in my elementary classroom as the space shuttle exploded after lift off.  Or hearing the news of the towers falling on September 11, 2001.   I’m not sure how you heard about the events in Boston yesterday.  I was at my computer and saw someone post, “Praying for Boston.”  This peaked my interest enough to Google “Boston.”  All the top hits revealed the Boston Marathon was in progress.  Strange.  Well maybe not as I am friends with a bunch of athletes and just assumed that they were praying for friends running.

Then I saw “explosions rocks finish line” and my heart sank.  Of course I was sickened as I felt like the war against terrorism had come to our shore; again.  I know, its entirely too early to speculate who is responsible for this attack, but warrior spirit rose up within me wanting to defend and protect.  We have to wait for the evidence to come in before we can identify who is responsible for this horrible act.

It’s far too early to start answering the many questions that surface from such a horrible attack, but I feel its appropriate to share how I have processed some of my questions.

Evil exists in the heart of humanity.  I am limited in covering this subject in full, but in short, the Bible makes it clear that humanity is sinful.  I am preaching through Romans right now and phrases like “There is none righteous, not even one”, “There is none who does good”, “Their feet are swift to shed blood”, “Destruction and misery are in their path” fill the first three chapters of this powerful book.  The apostle Paul makes it clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  As individuals, we are warned of the wrath of God and are encouraged to turn to Christ for life and security.

This may seem obvious, but we must recognize and understand that evil exists in our world when events like this occur.  Our culture seems to have difficulty admitting that evil does exist for one reason or another.

The role of government as revealed in Scripture.  Our government does a lot for us.  In fact, almost all political debates revolve around how much, or little, should the government do for the citizens.  As I have scoured the Scriptures, I see one, quite possibly the only, command given towards authorities like our government.  This command is presented clearly in Romans 13:4, “It is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”  This short sentence concisely identifies the problem and how it is to be dealt with.  Evil is the problem and the government has a responsibility to inflict the wrath of God on the one who does evil.  Bringing about justice to the individual, or individuals, behind this act of terrorism should be the top priority of our government.

How are we to respond to such events?  I’m not sure if this is the proper order, but this is the order of responses that come to my mind.

My first thought is thankfulness for the work God has done in my own heart through Christ.  I recognize my capacity for anger, rage, and evil.  I can’t help but to think, “But by the grace go I.”  I totally believe it’s okay to have a little righteous anger, but in that I realize if it wasn’t for the grace of God restraining me I could have been responsible for some evil act.

Second, I am so thankful for my life and family.  I thank God that my family is safe.  How many accidents has He protected me from that I was unaware?  I’m reminded of the shortness of life.  I need to appreciate each moment as a gift.  I think this is what Solomon meant when he wrote, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting” (Ecc. 7:2).

Third, my heart and prayers go to the victims of this which are many—from those killed, the injured, their families, and the first responders both volunteers and professionals who first responded to the victims and to the scene of the crime.

Fourth, I pray for our leaders in charge of us as Paul commands (1 Tim. 2:1-2).  I pray that they would have wisdom, discernment, and courage as they stand against evil.  They have many difficult decisions to make as they protect those they have been entrusted to protect.

Fifth, I pray for those that “bear the sword” (Rom. 13:4).  There are men and women who have been tasked to bring about justice.  I am thankful for the sheep dogs who are willing to place their personal safety second to the safety of the general population.  The weight of this responsibility on them and their families is hard to describe.  I am thankful for them and pray for them as they carry out this great responsibility.

Finally, I cry out “maranatha” which Paul writes in 1 Corinthian 16:22 and means “Our Lord, come!”  Ultimately He is the one who will restore order in this world.  I realize that He is our only hope.  We need His help and should cry out to Him.

The Beauty of Prayer

I am up very early on a Sunday morning.  It was raining yesterday afternoon and evening.  We lit a fire and lounged during the late afternoon.  I was in bed really early and consequently I am up really early!  I love being up early on Sunday mornings because it gives me time to think, pray, and to get my heart ready for preaching.

Today we are studying Psalm 5 as we are in between books.  Next week we begin Roman--a major study for 2013.  I am very much looking forward to studying this book that Chuck Swindoll appropriately refers to as "The Christian Constitution."  But today, I have Psalm 5 before me and I feel led to mix things up at church today.  I'm looking forward to having a time of prayer and a time of thanksgiving in the middle of the message.  I'm also preaching first leading us into a time of taking the Lord's Supper and an extended time of worship.

Psalm 5:1-3 says this, "Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my groaning. Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray.  In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice; in the morning I will order myprayer to You and eagerly watch." I am blessed as I consider some things about David's example of prayer that I would like to share.

Directly to God.  I love the direct access we see here.  There is no need to pray to a "saint" or any other mediator.  We have direct access to the Father through Christ.  God hears our prayers and knows are hearts.  There is no need to sugar coat your words.  We can and should go to Him directly and boldly!

Personal relationship with God.  Did you notice how many times "my" was used in these three verses?  A ton!  Well, more like 7 times, but you get the point.  David cries that God is his God and King!  Do you have this relationship with God?  Good times, bad times, God is our personal God and He desires this relationship with Him!  We must guard ourselves from turning God into a lucky rabbit's foot and distorting our relationship into a religion, or maybe you need to ditch religion and gain a relationship?

Consistency in prayer.  I love the consistency of David's prayers.  He tells God He will hear from David every morning!  I'm not one to make rules concerning devotions, but there seems to be a pattern in the Scriptures to start the day with prayer.  I don't know about you, but my days always go better when I start it with prayer. 

Praying with expectancy.  We pray and forget.  I always been bad at keeping a prayer journal, but I always encourage people to keep one.  I enjoy going back and reviewing the prayers I have prayed long after the fact.  I am always encouraged reading them thinking to myself, "Wow, the Lord came through on that one!"  Let us not pray and move on, but let us be like David and wait expectantly after we pray trusting that God will respond!

Guest Opinion: Connecticut Tradegy

The events in Connecticut were simply tragic.  I have not had time to sit down and write out my thoughts about the events, but I received the following email from Ken Yoder a dear man at Valley Baptist Church.  The following is an email that he sent to his children after hearing the news.  He has given me permission to share it here:
 
This morning Mom and I were in the "Man Cave" going about our usual routine, Mom painting, I was building a new jig for my saw. We have a habit of listening to Rush on the radio. Rush was interrupted by the news of the incomprehensible tragedy that took place in Connecticut, it certainly affected us greatly.  I could not help but realize that "But by the grace of GOD there go us." How is this kind of evil even possible?  Obviously there are no answers to rationally explain how an individual could do something like this.  But I would like to share some thoughts on this event.
 
There are  two things that come to my mind when I hear of such a despicable thing as this happening. 
 
1.     One of the first things that I know from Scripture is something that Jesus told us in John 10:10 that explains the two forces in this world.  Let me quote that here: "The thief [referring Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."  You see, depending who an individual desires to follow, that loyalty will determine how their life's actions will take them.  Satan does desire to steal, kill, and destroy any good, and unfortunately there are people who allow that evil to take hold of their lives.  Does it seem like there is more and more of this happening?  Yes, and the reason is that Satan and his demons are winning the battle in the United States.  Without God, the nation will perish; and we are seeing the results of this every day.  Another thing that Jesus said is in John 3:19-20: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." 
 
2.     The second thing that I also know from Scripture with regard to the taking of these innocent lives is that little children are precious to Jesus.  Matthew 19:14 says, "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’"  Scripture also tells us in 2 Samuel 12 that when David's baby was sick, he prayed for the baby to live, but when the baby died, he said in verse 23 that while he can't bring the baby back to life on this earth, he would go to him . . . meaning that the Lord receives those who are too young to make an informed decision.  What a joy that our loving Lord takes these children to be with Him forever.
 
What can we do?  We can pray for those families that lost their child; God can and does work, and He is God.  Pray for their comfort, and also that many will come to Him during this time of great sadness.

Trusting and Honoring GOD!!! (Numbers 20:12 NIV)
Your earthly farther;
Dad

I Can't Keep Up!

Do you like the game Tetris?  I haven't played it in a long time.  I'm not sure how my skills compare to other people, but I definitely have a strategy of placing my blocks.  I like symmetry so I try and keep the the top as level as possible.  The ideal situation is to have four rows completely leveled out with exception of the far right column that is fully open, just waiting for that long bar to slide in delivering massive points!  This game goes well for me as long as I have vision for what's coming.  If I can predetermine where I am going to place a particular piece, I can get it placed and stay ahead of things.  The problem is when things speed up and I cannot keep things neat and orderly in my landing area.  Everything eventually unravels and finally that last piece drops with no place to fall and the game seizes up.

I think life is a lot like the game Tetris.  We each have 24 hours coming our way each day.  There are times when I'm able to manage the responsibilities that fall my way and other times when things are falling so fast that I just don't know how I'm going to get them done.  One of my favorite Bible verses is Ephesians 5:15-16, "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,making the most of your time, because the days are evil."  We live in a world that is so busy.  There is so much going on all of the time.  I am so prone to saying, "yes" to people that I often myself running thin.  In order to avoid my life becoming like the last 20 seconds of Tetris, I've discovered some practical things that really help...when applied!

Setting goals.  I like setting goals from being a child of God, husband, dad, pastor, chaplain, friend, etc, etc.  What are my responsibilities within the various aspects in my life?  I don't know that I write these out, but I probably should.  Once I examine my responsibilities I set goals for what I would like to achieve as it relates to the particular category.  I do better if I can see what's coming down the chute so I can figure out how to place it.

Prioritizing responsibilities.  Once I have responsibilities set out, planning starts to fall into place.  With my great mental/written list laid out, I begin to prioritize my responsibilities.  Some repeat daily, like time with God and family, others are weekly, or one time events.  As I begin to lay them out on a calendar, I often discover a problem--namely too much to do and not enough time to get it all done.

Pruning responsibilities.  I really don't like saying "No" to people, but I've learned that I have to in order to stay sane and to actually accomplish the things that God has called me to.  In the last year, I've had to make hard decisions to resign from boards and other things I really enjoy in order to focus on things I have been called to do.

Using an online calendar.  I never used a calendar in the military, I was just always there.  As a civilian, I have a ton of freedom to meet with people, study, and to handle small fires.  I wasn't a civilian very long before I started double booking and forgetting appointments that slipped through the cracks in my brain, or sat on a paper calendar back at my home or office.  I've been way more productive since the advent of a smart phone where I can track and adjust multiple calendars all the time from my phone wherever I am.

I imagine Tetris blocks falling from the sky as I hear the lyrics of this old song, "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future..."  Time passes us all by at the same rate--one hour at a time.  I know we each have been allotted different amounts of total time as it slips by us, but I want to make the most of the time I am given in this life.  What have you done to best manage your time?
  

Cemetery or Seminary?

**I wrote this post for Cross Connection Network and am posting it here because of the popularity of it on that site.  Maybe, some readers here will appreciate the article.**

 In my spiritual journey God has used a number of things to shape me.  I think I accepted Christ at a Tuesday night Bible study that was at a Vineyard church.  From there I started attending Horizon, then to The Rock when Miles McPherson launched it, then to a little Mexican church in National City, then to help with an Evangelical Free Church, then I planted a church with my father-in-law that became Southern Baptist, to my current church which is Southern Baptist...this flyover covers about 17 years of my church life.  During the early years, 1996-2001, I traveled extensively as a Navy SEAL and would often find myself in different places on Sundays...I would always land at a Calvary Chapel because they were fairly consistent with their franchised product.  I know you guys are not a denomination, but nobody on the outside buys your claims. :)

As I was growing in the Lord and starting to sense God's call, I wasn't sure what the next step was or how I was to pursue this vague feeling inside.  I remember many of the pastors in Calvary Chapel bashing, or subtly making jabs against seminaries by referring to them as cemeteries.  I sort of found this funny because from the outside looking in it appeared as though many of the pastors didn't have college degrees let alone any time at seminary.  Where was this attack coming from?  Why would they be critical of something they never actually participated in or completed?  Maybe it was a chip on their shoulder?  Maybe.  Maybe there was some truth in what they said?  Possibly.  I know that I may be treading on dangerous ground as the majority of the writers of this blog are Calvary Chapel guys.  I am the outsider, the black sheep of the group proudly waving my Southern Baptist colors...which feels weird as I don't really feel connected deeply to this group, but I digress.

As God led me away from Calvary Chapel circles, I was exposed to a variety of very godly pastors who all had graduated from seminary.  Different seminaries all conservative, but with different flavors.  It was during this time that God's call became very strong and my desire to study the Bible at a deeper level continued to grow, but I didn't know how I could satisfy this as I was preparing to deploy to the Middle East.  Thankfully, I was informed of Moody Bible Institute's distance learning program.  I immediately enrolled in a number of courses like "Old Testament Survey", "New Testament Survey", "Elements of Bible Study", and "Advanced Bible Study Methods." Oh, my soul was getting nourished in ways that I couldn't have imagined.  I ended up completing a year's worth of coursework through Moody's program.  This whole experience opened up the door for me to complete my Bachelor's in Biblical Studies and Master's of Divinity degree through Southern California Seminary.  From there, I would go on and work on my Doctor of Ministry degree through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I withdrew from the program when I was "All but dissertation" because I felt like it was interfering with the present ministry I was called to.

I had a wonderful experience through Bible College and Seminary.  I would not be able to handle the Word of God as accurately as I do now without my training there.  I understand that not every seminary is created the same, but that doesn't mean that all are bad and ineffective in training people.  Here are a few reasons why I support and encourage men called to the ministry to go to seminary:

You will grow and mature through the process.  Seminary is challenging.  Juggling life with coursework is challenging in of itself, but a good seminary is going to forged you to be handle the ministry--whether you are preparing to enter or are already doing the work.  To hunker down and to do the work will shape you in your walk with God.  This difficult season in my life definitely prepared me for the rigors that pastoral ministry would bring.

You will be equipped in handling the Word of God.  I often am asked, "Did seminary really help you?" I laugh and respond with something like, "If I wasn't in seminary, I would not have been digging, researching, and writing about topics that forced me deep within the Word on a daily basis."  Seminary will sharpen and expand you knowledge and application of the Word of God.  There is no way around this, you cannot experience this demand on your own.  I have often heard, "Seminary is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant."  This is so true!

You will be exposed to others schools of thought.  I can already hear some Calvary guys jumping on this point saying, "Ahh, you will be brainwashed and wander into bad doctrine!  Beware!"  An assumption of mine is that we are talking about a conservative, Bible believing and proclaiming seminary--which there are many.  Within this context you will rub shoulders and discuss biblical things from different vantage points.  This is iron sharpening iron in its truest sense.  For example, when I wrote my thesis on "The Christian and Combat" we brought in a pacifist, who deeply loves the Lord, to challenge my position.  I am better because of this experience of being exposed to other views within Bible believing Christianity.

You will develop deep friendships and broaden your network.  Outside of the coursework, I developed deep friendships with others in the ministry from a variety of denominations or non-denominations respectfully.  These friendships have been very meaningful and helpful to me in my service in the ministry at large.  I am thankful for these men that I can go to for support and outside consultation by men who are outside of my circle.

Concluding thoughts.  First, if you are debating going to seminary choose well.  The price is the least important factor.  Seek out graduates and examine the doctrinal position of the school.  If you don't feel comfortable with this, ask someone who can guide you and give you wisdom for not all seminaries are created equal.  Second, if you haven't been, or graduated from seminary, I would ask you to refrain from the bashing of them through subtle comments like letting "cemetery" slip out of your mouth when "seminary" was the intended word.  It makes one look like they have a chip on their shoulder for lacking something.  Of course one doesn't need seminary to go to the ministry...we simply need to meet the requirements of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.  Finally, whatever your background, I encourage you to read, grow, and study intently as you lead the body of Christ.

Growing as a Child, with my Children

A few weeks ago I began a new missionary book with my daughter Grace called Amy Carmichael: Rescuer of Precious Gems.  As we have been working through this book, I have been struck with thankfulness for the fruit I have seen in our lives from reading together.  Before my first child was born, I purposed in my heart to be their spiritual leader and to help them in their walk with the Lord.  Reading to them has been a great tool and I hope to encourage you as you seek to raise your children in the Lord.

Choose what you read wisely.  I don't just read anything to my children, but I carefully select what goes into their little minds and hearts.  We have multiple children's Bibles that I have read through to them.  As Grace got older, we detoured and started to read missionary books like this one about Amy Carmichael.  My aim in reading is to help us learn about God either through His Word, or through his hand in people's lives.  Christian biographies are a great way to discover how faith is lived out.

A great way for you to grow!  I don't know about you, but I wasn't raised in a Christian home.  I lacked a foundation of the Bible, nor did I have any clue about missionaries!  Reading through a children's Bible is a great way for you to develop an understanding of the overarching theme of the Bible.  You'll read all of the major stories and as you do this over and over again things will begin to come together in your mind.  Also, there are many great missionary books that are geared for children.  This is a great way to learn about some of these great people in Christian history.  As you read these easier books, you will probably discover someone that you want to learn more about.  Your children will grow spiritually and so will you!

You'll grow closer to your children.  I've heard it said that "quality time is found with quantity of time."  I agree with this totally, but I hope to provide quantity time with the Lord in hopes that my children will have memories of their "God ah-ha" moments with me there.  There is something intimate about reading the Bible and Christian biographies because they touch on deep subjects and we often find ourselves ending with prayer, or discussion about some significant spiritual truth.  I love that the kids are always calling for me around bedtime wanting to snuggle and to read.  I am confident I know my children and they know me better because of our time reading together.

Make if a priority!  There is nothing easy about the command found in Proverbs 22:6 to, "Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it."  It takes consistency and commitment from you.  There are many times when I simply don't feel like reading to them.  I'm busy and there is always something trying to distract me from them.  Now my second child is at the age where she enjoys being read to, but they are not as the same level so it requires two sessions on my part which requires even more time of mine.  The bottom line is I have made a commitment to train up my children in the way they should go so I carve out time for them even if I have to neglect other areas in my life.  I certainly don't want the song, "Cats in the Cradle" becoming a reality with me and my children.

Final Thoughts.  I guarantee your children will love you reading to them.  In doing so you will give your children great memories with you, you will help them learn about God, and you will grow!  We only have a children for a short while, make the most of this time you have with them.

Some recommended books:

The Trailblazer Series

Christian Heroes: Then and Now





Book Review: No Easy Day

A few months ago the book No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden hit the press.  As this book neared its release date on September 11, 2012 much drama began to circulate.  Threats of a lawsuit from the Pentagon began to surface and the media was all over it.  It seems I read about this book daily in the local paper until the tragic events of Benghazi when the news of this book seemed to fade away.  Within the community people seemed divided over how to respond to this book--and all before it was released!  I wasn't sure what I was going to do.  Was it all hype and just a marketing scheme?  Or was this a legit book?  Many people began asking my opinion and I figured I should read the book and throw my two cents in the ring.  I just finished the book today and my goal is to throw out some quick rough thoughts rather than produce an exhaustive book report.

This book is for mature audiences.  I realize I have a varied demographic of people who read this blog.  This book is a first hand account of a Navy SEAL.  There is some colorful language and some questionable humor.  Read with caution.  But what would one suspect from this sort of book?  In the field of like books, I would say that this one is on the cleaner side.

Start reading at the back of the book.  In my edition, on page 301, immediately after the epilogue, there are nine pages of men who have fallen since 9/11 either in combat, or in training.  Read the names.  Each one slowly.  Let them sink in.  These are men who gave all.  Many of whom were dear friends of mine.  As I finished this book today, I received word that a Navy SEAL was killed in Afghanistan this weekend.  The war is not over.  Peace is not here.  We long for the Lord to return for peace, but until then, we are reminded that men and women are serving around the world and in our backyard keeping us safe.  The farther away I move from my old life as a SEAL the greater my appreciation is for those who are serving us in this very special capacity.  If you are on active duty, or are a law enforcement officer, I thank you for your service from the depths of my heart.

A lawsuit from the Pentagon, really? I am shocked that there were threats of a lawsuit from the Pentagon.  I found no tactical leaks in this book.  There is nothing new, other than it is a first person account, in this book concerning the operation that killed Bin Laden.  Toward the end of the book, the author expresses his disbelief of the leaks that came from the White House following this very classified operation.  He wasn't back for 24 hours from the op before he started seeing images and official reports about the operation being broadcast on every network.  I'm not sure why the threats came from the Pentagon, clearly this is a tier-one operator that knows what he is allowed, or not allowed, to share with the public. 

A humble perspective.  I love the humility of the author.  This book is a super easy read.  I loved being taken back to my time in the teams.  I believe the author of this book painted a real picture of the SEAL community and the great sacrifices that are made day in and day out.  I loved his attitude that it wasn't about him, but was about acknowledging the hard work and sacrifice made by many people over the years to make this operation happen.  I believe he rightly gives credit where credit is due.  I wish the politicians would follow his lead.

I highly recommend the book.  The bottom line is I do recommend this book.  It is not written by a hotshot, but by a humble American hero that was at the right place at the right time and happened to partake in a significant event historically.  His heart is to share an eyewitness account that is free of political spin or implications.  If you read this book, I believe you walk away with a deeper sense of gratitude for the the men and women involved with operation, and for the men and women who are currently serving our country today.


Happy Thanksgiving

"He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God" (Psalm 50:23).

I love this verse.  It essentially says two things: 1) Giving thanks honors God, and 2) there are benefits for ordering your life according to God's ways.  I deeply want to achieve both of these things in my own life.  I think it was in 1999, a few years after I had become a Christian, that I made a conscience choice to order my life aright.  I certainly haven't reached perfection, but I hope those that really know me would agree that I have, in large part, sought to lead me life according to biblical principles even when it is difficult.  I have have tried and continue to live by the words of the old hymn, "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back."

Now, the first part of the verse grabs my attention, "He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me."  I'm not sure I ever thought that being thankful could be honoring to God, nor have I considered the opposite.  Thanksgiving is one of our only holidays that embraces character trait that is commanded to the Christian.  When I married my wife I was exposed to a silly game called "The Thankful Game."  You simply work through the alphabet referencing things you are thankful for that begin with the corresponding letter.  I remember making the church play this game in the middle of a message.  I was shocked to see the disposition of the congregation visibly lighten as we shared things we were thankful for.  I love seeing this game spread on Facebook...especially during a time when I see so much complaining there.

Okay, here's my Thankful list this year!

A - Anna. There is no other answer for me than to say I am thankful for Anna my lovely wife.  Proverbs 18:22 says, "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord."  God has blessed me with an amazing wife and mother of our children.  Not a day goes by that I do not thank God for this amazing woman.

B - Bible.  I am thankful for the Bible.  God has used His Word to mature me, shape me, and guided me through His wonderful revelation.

C - Cops.  I am blessed to serve as a law enforcement chaplain.  I am thankful for these men and woman who serve us day and night be coming to our rescue, protecting us in general, and providing a safe environment for us to live.

D - Dogs, especially Lady Bug.  I am really thankful for these wonderful creatures God has given us to enjoy.

E - Ellie, my beautiful little girl who is a gift from God and a total crackup. I am love seeing her little personality take shape!

F - Family God has blessed me with.

G - Grace, my wonderful little girl who cracks me up and fills my heart with joy every
day!  

H - Hanson family. I am thankful the the Hanson family, the tree that I fell from!

I - Inlaws, the Hilton family. The Lord has blessed me with a great extended family

J - Jury Duty. Okay, this officially marks the hard stretch. I have "J, K, M, T, and U" remaining. But jury duty is something that makes our country great. I would love to serve on one, but am never needed and I don't think

K - Kettle corn. Wait to you get to "P", this is serious. There is a great explosion of flavor, the corn is crisp and crunchy. Great experience!

L - Lake Tahoe. I am thankful for the many memories I have growing up there. I am thankful that I am going to be able to vacation there this summer. I look forward to sharing my memories with my family.

M - Man-child.  I love my girls and I would have been totally cool with a third daughter, but this year brought with it the wonderful news of a man-child (which is way cooler to say than "son").  I can tell that he is different in personality than the girls and I am looking forward to seeing this little guy grow into a man.

N - Navy. The Navy was a major tool the Lord used in my life. I am thankful for the many experiences during my 12 years in the Navy.  The friends and experiences I had in the SEAL teams have had an incredible influence in my life that I will always be thankful for.

O - Ocean. I am so thankful for its beauty and mystic. I feel so close to God when I am at or near the ocean.

P - Popcorn. I enjoy eating popcorn. Seriously. I have so much fun firing up some popcorn and munching on it with the family around a game or watching one of our favorite shows like Psych, Burn Notice, or Hawaii 5-0!

Q - I think I am thankful for this letter in of itself.  Seriously, I like playing Words-with-Friends and this is a 10 point word.  I can be lethal if player correctly!

R - Running. I am thankful that I can run--I miss running since I have a bruised heel.

S - Spain. This is a country I knew little about, but after marrying I learned so much about this country. I traveled there with my wife and then learned of her youth. I am thankful for the experiences Spain gave to my wife.  I am almost always looking forward to my next trip there!

T - Thanksgiving! This is the last one I filled out. I so thankful for being thankful...it just makes you feel better! Thank you God for blessing me so!

U - Upwords. This is a great game and I am thankful for the many hours of playing this game with my wife and inlaws.

V - Valley Baptist Church. I love worshiping with my church family.  I am simply amazed how God has moved through our little church since 2007. 

W - Water. Nothing quenches the thirst like it and I love that our Lord describes Himself as living water!

X - Xrays. X is hard, but seriously, I am thankful for the Xray machine way more that I am for xylophones. I was thankful for the Xray machine when my daughter broke her arm. Because of the technology the doctors were able to fix her up good as new!

Y - Yankees, NOT! I am going with Yams. Nothing better than a well prepared Yam on Turkey Day! I think the secret ingredients are brown sugar and marshmallows.

Z - Zoo. We are longtime zoo pass holders. Anna and I love walking and talking there...the animals are bonus!

Okay, now it's YOUR turn!

Shooting With Civilians

I didn't grow up shooting.  Maybe once, or twice, but nothing that made a real impact on me.  I learned to shoot in the SEAL teams.  From the get go, safety was hammered down my throat.  Things like, "Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot", "Never point your weapon at anything your not willing to destroy", "A gun is always loaded", and so forth and so on.  The threat of doing something unsafe or "sweeping someone" (i.e. inadvertently pointing a weapon at someone) would result in severe discipline or being kicked out of the program altogether.

With this fear set deep within us, the instructors let us handle the weapons.  We started slow with learning their components and breaking them apart and reassembling them, then static shooting (i.e. standing still on the range while shooting) progressing over time to very dynamic shooting (i.e. shooting while moving with a lot of moving parts).  As we progressed in these shooting scenarios, the threat of dangers increased because of odds of human error significantly increasing.  But everyone had been carefully trained in safely handling the weapon at all times.  Safety became second nature.  We went from a crawl, to a walk, to a run, to a full blown sprint with the things we were doing, but gun safety was hammered home from day one and never was eased.  We were safe because the level of training we received on the weapons.  My time in the SEAL teams has made it virtually impossible to feel comfortable shooting outside of a military or law enforcement setting.  I'm sorry to offend anyone, but civilian shooters can be dangerous and goofy on the range.  I try to avoid it altogether.

This thought popped into my head the other day when I mulled over these verses:

"The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:17)

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

The Bible describes itself as a great weapon.  In fact, as far as I can tell, it is described as the only offensive tool the believer has been given.  With this truth, I think there are some lessons from shooting that I can apply to Bible study today.

Take a gun safety course.  I believe in safety with the Bible like I do with guns.  After becoming a Christian, I realized that I would often play "Russian Roulette" with the Bible.  I would open it flip through pages and just stop somewhere.  I had no idea the big picture of the Bible, the overriding theme, or anything really.  I didn't know where to begin or how to handle this book of the Bible.  I literally could have made it say anything I wanted it to.  I see myself then and I was equivalent to a toddler playing with a loaded weapon!  As a pastor now, I recognized that many new Christians are not given any orientation class to the Bible.  If this is you, I would suggest reading a book like Howard Hendricks book, "Living by the Book" that will help you learn about hermeneutics--the art and science of studying the Bible.  I would also encourage you to attend faithfully a church where the Bible is taught in a systematic (i.e. Book at a time) way so you learn what Bible study looks like.

Never point a gun at something you are not willing to destroy.  This rule in shooting makes the point that every gun is loaded and should be treated as such even if there is no bullet within a 100 miles.  Never loose your respect for the harm a weapon can cause people or things.  This point, as it relates to the Bible, is difficult to articulate.  The Bible is God's Word, we must handle it very carefully.  When we quote it, we are sharing a Word of the Lord to encourage, rebuke, or shape one's thoughts about something.  Unfortunately, I have seen many use the Bible in a way for self interest or personal gain.  I would like to urge us to use extreme caution as we are interpreting and applying the Bible.  Certainly this is true as we relate it to others.  It concerns me when I see people cutting and pasting the Bible to prove themselves right on a particular point instead of humbling themselves under the Word to discover the truth.  The Bible should never be used to win an argument, although the Bible has the power and authority to settle arguments if this makes sense.

Perfect practice makes perfect.  There is a saying, "Practice makes perfect" that the SEAL teams don't agree with.  As I began shooting, one of the sayings I heard early on was, "Perfect practice makes perfect!"  Bad habits are hard to break and bad practice only conditions bad habits.  Because of this truth, I would encourage every believer, whether you've been a Christian for 1 day or 30 years, to grow in the practice of hermeneutics.  It's never too late to start.  The sooner you are equipped to study and apply the Bible on your own, the faster you will be equipped to serve your Lord.  Paul said this to Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).  This command applies to all believers as far as I am concerned.

Some closing thoughts.  Let me be clear, every believer has the Spirit to guide them in the study of the Bible.  God has revealed His Word to us and has said this about it, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We have been entrusted with the use of a very powerful book.  I pray that we would take the time to learn how to read, study, and apply in our lives!

Fearful of the Future?

Valley Baptist Church studied the book of Habakkuk yesterday.  I felt led by God to break from our current study in First John to draw lessons from Habakkuk in light of our current national situation.  I can already hear you say, "Habakkuk who?" Let me say first that this is obviously a little known book, but it is in the Bible. You can find it in the latter half of the Old Testament in the "Minor Prophets." If you don't believe me, check out the Table of Contents in your Bible!

I love this little book. It is different from the other prophetical books. The others are a message from God to the people of Israel through the mouth of the given prophet. Their messages are usually something along the lines of "Repent and get back on track!" The book of Habakkuk is different in that is a prophet questioning God's plan...and he doesn't hold back.

Check out the first few verses:

"How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not save? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and the justice is perverted." Habakkuk 1:2-4, NIV

This brother was frustrated of watching the righteous take a beating while the wicked advanced. He was at his whit’s end and felt as though God wasn't hearing his prayers. How much longer would he have to sit by and watch evil while God did nothing?

Habakkuk's problem is twofold: 1) He doesn't think God is listening to him...boy does he get a whammy from God in response, and 2) he is sick and tire of watching evil win.

It's easy to get discouraged--especially when you feel like you are the "victim." I have noticed over the years that I hear two basic questions about my life:

1. How did you go from being a SEAL to being a pastor? You can read the answer here: My Story or listen to it on the Unshackled!--The Gunnar Hanson Story, Part 1 and the Unshackled!--The Gunnar Hanson Story, Part 2

2. The second is harder to phrase into a question concisely, but is related to my experiences as an abused kid. Something along the lines of, "How do you maintain a positive outlook on life going through that?"

This second question is a bit tougher to answer. Life is a journey. We constantly learn about ourselves along our journey. Our life today is truly the culmination of all our "yesterdays." How do we handle the good and bad that comes our way? I believe our perspective on our experiences shapes our lives dramatically.

There are not words to express the fear I felt as a kid preparing to face my mother in a rage. I didn't understand why this was happening to me. We were a religious family, or at least we were forced to attend Catholic Mass on a regular basis. She claimed to hold a deep faith in the Lord--which turned me off to religion for many years. It's hard to say what I truly felt about God during those times. I remember eclectic thoughts from crying out for safety, salvation, and questioning His role in all this, to questioning His existence at all. I seriously wondered, "How could this be happening to me if there is a good God out there?"

Looking back, my perspective is all the more clearer at this point in my life. To this day, I am thankful for my past. I would not change them for the world. I feel like God has used each hard event in my life to shape me into the man I am today. I often point people to Acts 17:26-27 which says this:

"From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us."

This passage tells us that God sets people in a specific time in history and location on the earth so that they might "reach out for him." The word "reach" could actually be translated "grope for him." In light of this passage, I take the perspective that God placed me into this life, with my family, during this time of history, and in this location because this is the sweetest, most ripe place in history for me to fall in love with Jesus! I did and I am thankful.

Life will throw many difficulties and hard things our way. I have learned from my lovely wife that during these times we shouldn't focus on what we don't know about God's plan, but to focus on what we do know about God. She taught me this through the painful process of losing our first child through miscarriage. What are things that we can dwell on concerning God? Good question, I am glad you asked! God is loving, forgiving, just, holy, patient, merciful, all knowing, and sovereign are a few thoughts that come to mind!

I am encouraged in reading the last few verses of Habakkuk. I pray that our attitudes will match his in the midst of our trials and tribulations!

Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV -

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

Yesterday's message is available here, but the most amazing thing about Habakkuk's response is that it comes after God answers him by sharing a prophetic message that Israel would be steam-rolled by the Babylonians.  This prophecy would be fulfilled in 586BC and was recorded in the book of Daniel.  Israel would come to destruction and would not come back into existence for some 2,000 years.  Yet in the midst of this news and economic catastrophe, Habakkuk affirms that he will 1) rejoice in the Lord, 2) be joyful in his salvation, and 3) draw his strength from the Lord trusting that God would equip him to handle the future.  I can think of no more timely message for Americans who are troubled by the bleakness of the future that lies ahead.  Turn to the Lord and trust Him alone.

Veterans Day Reflections

I've been asked to speak on the Mike Stater Show Monday on the subject of Veterans Day for their "What Really Matters" segment.  The only parameter I've been given is that it relates to Veterans Day, but I suspect the election may come up.  My plan is to blog for the purpose of sorting my thoughts as radio is such a fast moving medium.  Writing helps me to clarify my thoughts and this is probably a worthwhile subject--especially considering this holiday falls on a Sunday this year.

How should a pastor address the subject of Veterans Day?  I know I was selected to speak on this matter often because of my unique background.  The very name of this blog "SEAL Pastor" lumps my odd background together.  In thinking through this, I feel that I have to address this day along two fronts through a very practical angle as a veteran and then as a pastor drawing from veteran's example in living out the Christian life.

"Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier", 2 Timothy 2:3-4  From this Bible verse, I believe there are a number of principles we can draw from as it relates to Veterans Day.

The difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  Before I served and started losing buddies (in training and combat) in their service to our country, I didn't really have clarity between these two holidays.  Today, as I type, the difference is clear.  Memorial Day is the day to remember those who gave all in their service.  We, as a family, often go to Ft. Rosecrans on Memorial Day to remember the sacrifice that was made by many of my friends.  Veterans Day, however, is to remember those who are serving and who have served in service of their country.

A simple, "Thank you" goes a long way.  To active duty, the veteran, their spouses, and children all make significant sacrifices in service.  There are so many ways to say "Thank you."  So many have willingly sacrificed their personal freedoms in order to preserve them for the whole.  The average civilian misses the sacrifices that the veteran makes.  One significant sacrifice, in my mind, connects Veterans Day to Memorial Day.  On June 26, 2003, my best friend in the SEAL teams was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan.  I always honor him on Memorial Day, but the sting of his death remains with me as a veteran.  So many veterans have lost dear friends through training or combat.  This is a great sacrifice that few understand.  With every veteran there is a cloud of lost buddies who are with them in memory.  We in San Diego are so blessed to have so many active duty and veterans in our midst.  Be intentional with your thank you's.  If you see a veteran, or active duty service member, walk up to them shake their hand and look them in the eye and say, "Thank you for your service."  If you want to up your thank you, buy them a cup of coffee or treat them to lunch.  Be creative, but be sure to show them your appreciation.  I can't tell you how far the simple hand shake will go.  I so appreciate those who have thanked me in this way over the years.

A soldier paints a picture of a focused follower.  The soldier must be ready and vigilant about their commitment to their given mission.  In order to maintain this level of readiness the must cut and keep clear of the clutter that hinders their calling.  We as Christians have much to learn from this.  When I was a SEAL, I had to have multiple sets of gear configured for a number of different types of operations ready to go at all times.  The older SEAL's harped on the younger guys to have "all their loose ends taken care of" referring to things in their personal life that would affect their ability to carry out the mission.  After reviewing the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, the author says, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).  When I see active duty service member today, I often of the the thought, "What things am I being hindered by in my walk with God?"

As we remember and give thanks for veterans this day, let us do so intentionally and with insight.  I would encourage you to be intentional about seeking out a veteran or active duty service member.  Shake their hand, look them in the eye, and say, "Thank you.  I appreciate your service and the sacrifice you have made for us."  Look at the image of the soldier and observe their life.  Examine their lifestyle as you ponder their example.  They must be ready at all times...this affects every area of their lives.  What lessons are there that you could apply to your own life as you walk with Christ?

To those who have served, or who are serving, I salute you!


A Nation Taken Into Captivity

Two days ago I blogged on "Election Tuesday."  I had no idea what the outcome of the election would be as I wrote.  It was pretty clear that I, with the majority of Evangelical Christians, was hoping for a different outcome.  As I wrote that blog, this line stood out to me: "I would suggest our faith in Him is tested most when things don't turn out as we think they should."  With the results in, I have seen a growing fear concerning the future by conservatives and Christian's alike.  I say this without trying to undermine the real issues we as a nation face.  They are real.  They are closing in around us and something will have to give one way or another sooner, rather than later.  Even in the worst case scenario, I still believe we Americans live in one of the greatest countries and have the highest quality of life as I reflect on humanity throughout history.  We have much to be thankful for lest we loose sight of the larger picture.

In the last 48 hours, the biblical story of Daniel keeps surfacing in my mind.  Israel had wandered from their God over and over again.  God had warned them through numerous prophets like Isaiah, Habakkuk, and others that discipline was coming.  They did not care (neither do we).  The book of Daniel opens with this prophecy coming true.  Daniel 1:2 states, "The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand..."  This was huge.  The Northern Kingdom had already fallen captive to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and now the Southern Kingdom was taken captive by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.  The nation of Israel existed no more.  It would not come back as a nation until May 14, 1948.  Clearly the situation presented in Daniel chapter 1 is worse than anything we are going through right now.  It is worse than anything we could imagine.  Period.

Here Daniel, a young man, was taken as a prisoner by a ruthless people who hated and destroyed the nation of Israel.  Daniel was exiled to Babylon to be indoctrinated into the Babylonian way for the purpose of eroding any remnant of Judaism.  Did I mention this was a really bad situation?  I wish I could review every story recorded in Daniel, but time and people's attention spans are limited.  In light of this, I would like to fly over the Book of Daniel and draw out some practical principles from the life of Daniel.

Daniel's God was bigger than all his problems.  Nation taken captive?  Being deported to a foreign land to be indoctrinated into a godless system?  No problem, my God is bigger than these problems!  I don't know about you, but I hate the emotional roller coaster my emotions are capable of.  As I walk with God and come to know Him with greater intimacy, the less moved I am by the ups and downs of life.  I pray that we all would walk in a way that brings true grounding like Daniel had with God.

Daniel was most concerned with his own relationship with God.  As he was faced with an opportunity to go with the flow of his culture, he faced a critical decision.  Daniel could have very easily slipped into the things that would have led him away from God, but he stayed focus on the priority of his relationship with God.  This internal focus ultimately led to others noticing that Daniel was different.  God honors Daniel over and over again because his passion for God was second to none.  I believe revival starts with the individual, with you right where you are.

Daniel was a gracious as he could be when the outworking of his faith was infringed upon.  In the first chapter Daniel was faced with his first dilemma--eat the food that went against his convictions, or rebel against his captors.  What would he do?  How would I handle this if I was in the same situation?  I love the graciousness and trust in God as Daniel makes his request to honor his convictions.  True class.  I love that God granted Daniel favor and compassion as he live at peace with all men so much as it depended on him (Rom. 12:18). 

No Compromise.  Daniel 3 develops into a intense story about Daniel's close friends.  Daniel was not here.  We don't know where he was, but I am convinced that Daniel would have been right there with them.  Daniel's friends would not bend at the threat of their lives to bow down and worship an idol.  They stood firm.  There comes a place where the believer must draw the line.  I'm not sure where this is in today's context, but clearly they would not bow down to worship anything other than God.  I see no rebellion in Scripture like this that relates to taxes or other things that bug us.  This sort of rebellion seems limited to the place of comprising true worship or a restricting of the Gospel (Acts 4:19-20), or possibly in the defense of another.

Daniel fervently prayed for his nation.  I would encourage you to pause your reading of this blog and read Daniel 9.  The heart of Daniel's prayer is humbling.  Did you notice his heart?  Full of awe for God.  Sensitivity and responsibility for both his sin and the sin of his nation.  Confession and cries for God's intervention.  Daniel poured himself out so completely in prayer that he describes his state as being in "extreme weariness" (Dan. 9:21).  I don't think I have ever prayed for my nation like this before.  What would our land look light if we as Christians prayed for our nation with this intensity instead of complaining about how bad things have become, or are going to get?  Maybe we should give this a shot?

A final word.  In looking at Daniel's life, I believe these points should help us get back on track.  If you are not a Christian, and you find yourself deeply concerned about where we are and where we are heading as a nation, I would encourage you to turn to Christ.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  He is not asleep at the wheel and He will take care of you if you turn to Him by faith.  To those of us who believe, I would encourage you to examine your thoughts and the words that come out of your mouth.  What do they say about your God?  I would encourage you to turn your hope to the creator and sustainer of the universe.  He is moved by prayer and has commanded us to pray.  Let us turn our hearts and prayers to Him as our country faces difficult times ahead.  May we reflect His light in the midst of a world that is so dark.

Election Tuesday

***This blog represents my views alone and not that of any organization I am a member***

I am an American and I am a Christian.  I served in the military for 12 years and have been a pastor for the last 8 years.  With those facts, it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where I fit on the political spectrum.  Like you, I am pretty much tired of the political banter at large.  I am not a "The sky is falling" sort of person like you can find on both sides.  My hope is not in the United States of America, but rather in the Christ--my Lord and Savior.

Today, November 6, 2012, is Election Day.  I figured I should join the masses and throw out my two-cents for what it is worth.  How should we as Christians respond today and in the upcoming weeks?  I think our reaction should be the same regardless of who wins this election.

First and foremost, I do think every Christian should vote.  As I look at the Apostle Paul's life, I see that he utilized his Roman citizenship in order to advance the gospel.  For those of us who are American citizens, we live in a country where we can vote our values and are given an opportunity to shape our culture.  I am simply stunned by the apathy of so many Americans, especially Christians, concerning this great privilege we have.

How should we vote as Christians?  I believe the Bible gives on overriding principle concerning the ordination of human government.  Romans 13:1-4 teaches the purpose of government, in essence, is to restrain evil.  So with this governing principle, I believe Christians should prioritize issues.  This is the reason I feel that abortion should be such an important issue for the Christian when it comes to voting.  I do believe that abortion is a widespread evil in our culture.  We have a two party system in our country and the lines concerning abortion are very clear to me.  I don't really want to get into this issue here, but you can read my blog on the Sanctity of Human Life to learn more about my thoughts on abortion.  Similar issues that fall into this category are that of the military, law enforcement, and capital punishment.

Other concerns tend to fall into the social issues category for me.  I think social issues seem to be an area where a lot of Christians sort of part ways.  Clearly Jesus commanded His followers to care for and the poor and needy.  I think all Christians agree on this matter, but I believe the issue comes down to the question of who did He command these things?  One side applies these truths to the government, and the other applies these truths to the individual or the church.  I tend to fall into the category that believes the commands apply to the local church and people individually.  I simply do not see this as the role of government within Scripture.

Taxes.  Man, isn't this the issue we all dislike?  I think most people are okay with taxes as it related to other people, but when push comes to shove, none of us actually like paying taxes!  Unfortunately, my feelings and opinions concerning taxes aren't grounded within Scripture...they are born our of my personal understanding of economics.  As a Christian, all I see and hear from Jesus is, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's"!

I love this day.  I do like watching the results unfold.  It's exciting.   Who will be our next president?  I personally believe the choices are distinct and I am pulling for one.  I have no idea who will win.  I read some websites and I get excited.  I read others and my heart sinks.   I would like to suggest something that applies to all Christians concerning our response tomorrow, or this evening, or whenever we know who will be president for the next four years.

First and foremost, our hope is not in humanity it is in Christ.  I would suggest our faith in Him is tested most when things don't turn out as we think they should.  Tomorrow, whether I like America's choice of president or not, I am faced with the reality of Romans 13:1, "For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God."  Trust me, I find this truth difficult to swallow often times.  How can this be?  I don't think either candidate is a glowing saint, but I do know that God is on the throne.  I will trust in Him alone.

Second, whoever the next president is, I believe we as Christians need to pray more.  Sure we know we should pray for our government, but I'm not convinced Christians are praying with fervency for the local government all the way to the top as we are commanded to do in 1 Timothy 2:1-4.  I would encourage us to pray regularly for those who have been appointed over us a government officials.

Finally, I don't think Christians should back off from voicing and voting their opinions.  I don't believe God has called us to be passive, but rather to stand and to be a light.  There are many commands for the Christian to expose the darkness (Ephesians 5:11-13) and there is precedence to resist the authority when it is clearly violating God's command (Acts 4:19-20).

Okay, well, I am off to go cast my vote!


The Church Wants MY Money!

"All the church cares about is my money!"  This is a common excuse given for not going to church.  I totally used it before I was a Christian.  I never really had a lot of money as a young adult, but I used this excuse like I was Bill Gates and churches all over that nation were only concerned about getting their claws on the $14.36 I had in my bank account.  It seems this excuse is so common that many pastors avoid this topic at all cost.  This lack of teaching has cause pain and immaturity in the life of the average Christian.

Unfortunately, we as a nation have lost all common sense concerning the use of money.  The problems of this lack of common sense trickle from the White House to the average citizen.  I know I learned some hard lessons with money as I have matured into a man over the years.  The Bible has a lot to say about money and I would like to explore a few lessons I have discovered over the years.

Honor the Lord with Your Wealth.

Proverbs 3:9-10 says, "Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine."  First, let me say that I am not a "prosperity gospel" guy at all.  But, I can say that when I began to understand that I could honor, or dishonor, God with my resources my financial health began to change for the better when I started honor God with my possessions.  The Bible's teaching on money is God's wisdom revealed so, naturally, applying biblical truths to how you handle your money has very practical benefits.

Debt is Bad.

After I turned 18 it didn't take long for me to rack up a ton of debt.  Man, it's just like fat--easy to put on and hard to get rid of.  I don't remember where I pulled this information from, but I stated this in a sermon earlier this year, "As of May 2011, it is estimated that the average American household carries $16,000 in credit card debt--this doesn’t include auto loans or other types of loans."  This is a huge burden to carry and adds a major strain to your life, marriage, and family.  This is why the Bible instructs believers to "owe nothing to anyone except to love one another" (Romans 13:8).  If you're reading this and you're drowning in debt, I would encourage you to come up with a plan to become debt-free.  A good place to start is www.daveramsey.com 


Money a Tool. 

Money is inert.  It is neither good nor bad, but simply reveals the good or bad of our heart.  I believe the Christian is to use money in a number of ways.  A few of the uses of money are for giving, providing, and saving.  While money can be used for a whole slew of things, I will focus on these three. 

Tithing is Training Wheels for Christian Giving.  No, you won't find "tithing" in the New Testament.  But let me warn you not to take that argument too far because as you study the New Testament's teaching on money you will start stumbling into phrases like "sacrificial giving" and other expressions that express that Christian giving far exceeds the 10% standard thought to be normative by many today.  While, I won't die on the 10% hill, I do agree with Hank Hank Hanegraaff's teaching that "tithing is training wheels for Christian giving."

First,on a side note, tithing is giving 10% of your income.  There is some discussion between gross or net income...but I think this whole discussion detracts for the spirit of the issue.  Personally I hold to a gross income understanding, but the main issue is the condition of your heart in this.

Tithing teaches stewardship.  One of the first things I came to understand as I started to tithe was I began to view everything I had as a gift from God.  I believe He cares just as much, if not more, about how I manage the money I keep than what I give.  As I began to tithe, I began to make better financial decisions as a whole because I placed my money before God in prayer before I began to spend it.  In this some ways this practice exposed areas where I was not acting in wisdom with the resources God had intrusted me with.

Participation in the work of the Gospel.  I started going to church because a friend nagged me and because they offered free pizza.  I loved the free pizza and it kept me coming back week after week.  After many months went by, it started dawning on me that everything that the church was providing was because all the wonderful people were contributing out of their personal means.  No product was being sold.  There was no stream of income from the government.  It was simply because the people there desired to participate with the things of the Lord and so they gave.  This had a profound impact on me as the realization of the operating expenses, salary, outreach, and giving to the missionaries were all covered through the generous giving of the people in the church.  From that point on my giving was no longer grudgingly or superficial (i.e. throwing a buck in the pot when I knew I was about to eat $20 worth of pizza).  It gives me great joy to use the resources that God has blessed me with to

How you use and view money greatly affects your life.  I know all too greatly the burden of debt.  My prayer is that you reach a place where you desire to get out of debt and can come up with a plan to get out of debt.  A simple strategy is to pay of your smallest debt first and the attack the next smallest one.  This strategy gives you small victories along the way that encourage you to continue on the battle.  There is great joy and freedom being debt free.  As you begin to save, save, but don't let money become your God.  God will take care of you and He will provide what you need--when you need it.