Thursday, November 07, 2013

Because We Are Told…Or Something Else?

It was but one statement and yet it left me searching my own heart for answers. I cannot even tell you the name of the person or the context of the interview. All I know is that he was an atheist who said he was brought up in a Christian household. One of his reasons for rejecting his parents’ faith was his feeling that we should not have to be told to be nice to people. After thinking about what he said I have come to a conclusion: this atheist was absolutely right.

I think it unfortunate that so often the Christian faith is taught as if it is simply a list of do’s and don’ts. True, the Bible lists for us patterns of righteousness, telling us how to relate to God and to man. But the text is clear on the need for a change in nature, a necessity if we are to keep those teachings from becoming just another form of law. In Christ we are said to be a new creation, the promise of a new heart of flesh to replace our heart of stone fulfilled in the work of God’s hand. As such the question of why we do things must have as its answer something other than because we are told to do so.

As a parent I have from time to time caught myself telling my kids to do something because I said so. The Bible shows God using a much different parenting style. He actively works to change the person, creating an individual whose desire is to live the teachings of Christ by nature. Yes, we are to treat others a certain way, showing the love of Christ. But this is not something we accomplish simply because we are told to do so. It must come from a heart which is surrendered to God that we might join in saying, “Not I but Christ in me.”

In other words Christian behavior is not simply a matter of doing because we are told. As Christians we should treat people a certain way because it is who we are.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What To Do When Stuck on an Elevator?

There is a first time for everything. I had never gotten stuck on an elevator, mostly because I avoid them as much as possible. Haunted by an old childhood memory I honestly would rather take the stairs. And so it was, on one of those rare occasions recently where I chose elevator over steps, that I found myself stuck between the second and third floors. I wanted to panic but as I was not alone I had to remain calm. The other prisoner…I mean…person occupied herself by reading on her tablet, not really ignoring me but not open to friendly conversation. Her preoccupation left me wondering, what is the proper etiquette when stuck on an elevator?

Having experienced this for the first time, I must say it was different from what I had seen on old movies. Without things like tablets and smart phones (my phone could not get a signal) those fictional characters had no choice but to talk with each other while waiting for a rescue. If they entered as strangers, they exited as old friends: experts on each other’s history. If not focused on talking they spent their time trying to escape, one of them climbing out of the hatch which was always found in the elevator roof. The elevator I was in had no such escape route; at least none that I could see beyond the decorative lighting.

Having noticed pet hair on my fellow passenger’s coat, I wanted to know if she owned a pet. Was it dog or cat hair I wondered, guessing small dog perhaps one which frequented her couch. I would have asked but it seemed rude to interrupt her reading. And even as my curiosity remained unsatisfied, I have to admit just a bit of relief in not having to worry about holding my end of a conversation. My companion’s reading gave me the opportunity to relax in the company of my own thoughts.

Eventually we would be rescued from what very well might be my last elevator ride. Forty-five minutes of waiting while sitting somewhat silently on the floor is not that bad as long as you don’t think about how many shoes might have come and gone. Still there seems like there should be some rules as far as appropriate behavior in such situations. By default, shouldn’t being stuck on an elevator elicit lively conversation about family or perhaps about other adventures where things did not go as planned?

That I might know in the future, what is the proper response when stuck on an elevator with a person who is reading? What would you do? Would you attempt conversation or would you enjoy a moment of quiet relaxation?

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Day on the Rails

Where can you find America’s oldest railroad operating under its original charter? Where can you eat a meal served in a bindle? What is a bindle?

As a student in elementary school I never really enjoyed those “what did you do over the summer” essays. Somehow it always seemed like everyone else had enjoyed a more interesting summer than had I. So as a father I find myself trying to plan vacations that are about experiences, looking for things that will make my children say “wow” at the end of each day as we return to our hotel. Last year’s vacation was all about fun with a trip to Orlando, Florida. This year’s vacation was about history.

We started our trip with a return to one of our favorite tourist locations, The Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. Located on PA route 74, about two hours drive from Philadelphia, the Strasburg Rail Road offers the opportunity to relax and enjoy a ride through the country on an assortment of vintage rail cars. Pulled by old steam engines, these cars travel along a part of a rail line that opened in 1832. The original purpose of the railroad, which still operates under its original charter, was to link the town of Strasburg with the Philadelphia and Columbia railroad which bypassed Strasburg threatening the town’s viability.

On our previous trip we rode in one of the railroad’s coach cars, enjoying the scenery passing by outside our window. This time we chose to ride in one of the dining cars where we were served a hobo lunch wrapped in a red bindle: the bag made with a bandana on a stick associated with the hobo culture. We each chose from the assortment of available sandwiches but I would have been fine with a very large bowl of the baked beans served as part of the meal. The beans made the extra onboard cost of the food worth paying. The only difficulty was in not letting the food distract from enjoying the view of the Lancaster countryside.

The train run is about 45 minutes round trip, worth the money as an opportunity for great family time. If you want you can disembark at Groff’s Grove recreation area located at the mid-way point of the trip. Add in a number of other attractions for kids, along with the gift shops and ice cream and you have the makings of a great diversion. For a little extra you can visit their workshop where volunteers repair and restore vintage train cars. And twice a year Thomas the Tank Engine stops by to visit with children. Combine your visit with a trip to the Pennsylvania Train Museum, located just across the street and you have a dream afternoon for anyone who loves the rails. (I’ll talk about the museum in another post.)

Monday, October 07, 2013

Did You Really Forgive?

As Christians we are called to forgive those who wrong us. But if we forgive only because we are called to do so are we really forgiving others? I've been pondering this question ever since another believer made me their verbal punching bag.

To be honest I am still not sure what I could have done different. Somehow my actions lead to a tirade during which I was treated as if I were something less than human. The person would later apologize to some of the others who were involved however I am yet to hear or receive even a civil hello. Still I know I am supposed to forgive. After all it is the Christian thing to do. And yet it was quite a struggle, as I really did not want to let this person off the hook.

How many times have I told others they had to forgive? I have pointed to verses in the Bible and used clever sayings like the one about anger being like drinking arsenic. Many a time I have lectured others about extending the same mercy we have received for ourselves. Then when it came time for me to walk the walk I found it difficult to back up my own talk. Finally I said a prayer in which I acknowledged the call to forgive and pledged to do so. However even after earnestly dropping to my knees, something still did not feel as it should.

It was as if God was asking for more. He would not allow me to settle for just forgiving the person. My mental acquiescence to His call did not get the job done. Good enough was not good enough; I had to go the extra mile. What was that extra mile? I had to make the decision to love the other person. Only then would I be free to really forgive.

I had to make the decision to be like my Heavenly Father. No one commands God to forgive. He does so by choice because He loves us. Likewise I think He wants us to forgive, not because we are told to do so but because we love those whom He loves.

Monday, September 16, 2013

What Would a Christian Brain Look Like?

It truly is amazing what we can do with the right technology. Modern science can now show us how the human brain responds to various images, such as a picture of a homeless man. And according to Susan Fiske most of us respond as if we are seeing something other than another human being. I wonder if that is true for most Christians.

A professor at Princeton University, Susan Fiske has studied attitudes towards the poor for twelve years as a part of her research on stereotypes. She is one of the designers of a study where people were placed in a neuroimaging machine and shown pictures of poor and homeless persons. In response to these pictures the areas of the brain which showed activity were those that respond to things, not to humans. According to Fiske this is a sign of revulsion.

I learned of Dr. Fiske’s study from an article on attitudes towards the poor written by Alfred Lubrano of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Lubrano included the study’s results along with anecdotal evidence from people in Philly. Everyone mentioned in the report agreed that there is a tendency to dehumanize the poor making it easier to dismiss those around us who suffer lack. While I would like to think that I show the love of Christ toward everyone I meet, I find myself wondering what my responses would look like if I were in Dr. Fiske’s neuroimaging machine.

I am sure not everyone who took part in the study responded negatively. Some probably showed signs of compassion and some may have even shown some level of indifference. In fact as I looked at some of the other research done in Dr. Fiske’s lab I found a deeply nuanced response to the poor depending on such variables as how hard working poor people were perceived as reported in a study by Ann Marie Russell who mentored under Dr. Fiske. Still, I wonder if we were to repeat Dr. Fiske’s study looking only at those who profess faith in Christ would we see any difference in percentages than were seen in Dr. Fiske’s original study.

What I hope would be seen if I were to participate in this study is a renewed mind, something that should be the goal for every Christian. But can each of us honestly say this would be the case? We are told that we are not of this world. Our response should be different. We need to allow God’s word to work in our hearts, turning us into salt: into people who love everyone with the love of God. Have you allowed God to renew your mind, changing how your brain looks?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

When Same-Sex Marriage Came to Town

We made history! That is my home county made history when our Registrar of Wills started handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples in violation of the state’s marriage laws. In doing so Montgomery County became the first in Pennsylvania to issue these licenses. Of course a court challenge has been filed with the state hoping a judge will order the county to stop until a decision is made about the constitutionality of the law. Who knows how long this could drag out in the courts? Meanwhile a number of same-sex couples have obtained licenses and a few have gotten married. What does this mean for the ministry of Christ in our area?

Up to this point I have not personally met a married same-sex couple. I have come across openly gay people including the two mommies who brought their child to an event at the neighborhood elementary school. I also once watched a sister in Christ navigate a gay parent's arrival at a birthday party. While this mom made her preference evident we all followed our host's lead, treating the visitor like any other parent. I know these are the first of many times when I will have to respond to an openly gay person. With the recent actions of our registrar I will eventually have to decide how to respond when a same-sex couple wants to show me their wedding pictures.

There are churches that stand in support of same-sex marriage but most denominations still define marriage as the union between a man and a woman. While the argument for or against same-sex marriage will continue, the bottom line is the church is above all called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to preach redemption and to deliver the message that Christ died for everyone. Are we ready to live out our faith even if doing so means loving the gay couple next door?

I believe it necessary to express a Biblical view of the meaning behind marriage. As our neighbors work to redefine the institution each of us must pray for wisdom in how we should respond. Some believers will be called to take a public stand for the true definition of marriage. All Christians will be called to share the faith. What has happened in my county may not have reached where you are but most likely it is on the way. Pray that you and your church will be ready to continue in ministry; ready for that day when same-sex marriage comes to town.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Is God Getting What He Paid For?

I’m back! After quite some time without writing a post, and time before that when I was not posting regularly, I am again carving out time for the keyboard. While I was away God was at work, His hand upon me leaving me under conviction concerning a number of spiritual questions. Number one on the list strikes at the heart of my relationship with our creator: Is God getting what He paid for?

As a co-dependent I spent my teen years trying to be anything but myself. I spent inordinate amounts of energy in a state of constant change in order to give my mom what I thought would make her happy. I thought if I could become someone special my mom would stop drinking and be the person I knew when she was sober. I never could find the personality that fit the bill as the definition for the perfect son seemed somewhat fluid. Even after my mother’s passing I found myself trying to be all things to all people, twisting and flopping according to what I thought would make others happy.

It seemed only natural that what seemed to work in my family would work in other relationships, including my relationship with God. However, time and again I would find that the person I was trying to be was not the one God wanted. He had paid a price in giving His Son and when one pays for something he has expectations of what he will get in return. I found that God expects to receive the real me. He wants my heart without my attempts to be something different. Yes He knows the product is flawed and is at work refining to His specifications. For now He is pleased with receiving exactly what He paid for.

How about you? Are you trying to be something you are not in hopes of impressing God or are you giving Him exactly what He paid for?

Monday, July 15, 2013

“Not Guilty” Where the Zimmerman Verdict Should Lead Us

According to his statements to police, Zimmerman felt that his life was in danger when the confrontation between himself and Trayvon Martin became physical. I’ll give Zimmerman the benefit of believing that Trayvon attacked him. After all, only two people really know what happened that night and one of them is dead. With no other witnesses I believe we have to consider Zimmerman’s account which, as the law is currently written in Florida and without enough physical evidence to say otherwise, leads me to agree that he could not be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. While race plays a major role in how we perceive the events of that night, let us take a step back and forget about skin color for a moment looking instead at what happened between two Americans, each trying to act in a way that he thought right.

Two Americans met on the night of February 26, 2012. The first acted in defense of himself and his neighbors, knowing that homes in his neighborhood had been robbed in the past. Not knowing if the person in the hoodie might be looking for a home to break into, this American calls the police. He then gets out of his car and follows the stranger. The second American, on his way home from the local convenience store, noticed someone following him. Based on statements and the testimony of the person with whom he was speaking over the phone, he became afraid thinking the one following him might mean him harm.

At some point that night both of these Americans felt threatened. Trayvon is not around to describe the level of threat he felt nor can he explain why he fought with Zimmerman. Zimmerman survived the scuffle and is able to speak of how he thought he was in danger of losing his life. Bottom line both Americans could have claimed they were within their rights to defend themselves. One of these Americans brought his fists (and a bag of candy) to a gunfight. He lost. These events along with the subsequent verdict should lead us into a discussion over whether or not we want a country where an unarmed American could be shot to death because he, out of fear, confronts someone who was following him.

It is difficult to have this discussion without involving race. My own skin color, as well as my past experiences, causes me to feel uncomfortable with the outcome. But it seems to me that even without consideration of race we all should be uncomfortable when the law allows an armed person to set into motion a series of events which results in the shooting of an unarmed person. There should be limits to what is allowed in states with stand-your-ground laws. The Zimmerman verdict should lead us into a discussion of where the line should be drawn.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What Does a Blessed Person Look Like?

What if a portrait were painted showing us how a person who is truly blessed by God looks? How close would you or I come to resembling that portrait in how we live our lives? At a time when so many are telling us how to be blessed I think it important to check in with the One who is the source of all blessings. Who is it that God truly blesses? Let’s look at the portrait as painted in Psalm 1.

According to the Bible the person who is blessed by God is one who chooses the teachings of the Lord. This person rejects the path of earthly wisdom: the path where human reason trumps God’s and where sin and anger are chosen over doing what is right. This person does not respond as the world says he/she should respond. They avoid responding according to what seems right, seeking instead the way of the Lord with the knowledge that God never makes a mistake.

The person who is on the path of blessing delights in the way of the Lord. He/she finds pleasure in God’s Law and meditates on the Lord’s teachings day and night. This person knows that true faith is more than simply feeling good about what is in the Bible and that it goes beyond doing because some organization says we should. He/she chooses to love God’s teaching, embracing it wholeheartedly and drawing pleasure from what is written. In short, this person enjoys being a child of the living God more than they enjoy fitting in here on earth.

What pleases you more, obedience to God or the pleasures of the flesh? The person who is truly blessed by God is the one who delights in the way of the Lord. Yes, God allows the rain to fall on both the believer and the nonbeliever but the fullest blessing is reserved for the person who loves God and who lets that love guide his/her way.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Are You Comfortable with God Behind the Wheel?

“You’re an idiot…I’m calling the cops!”

That line comes near the end of a soda commercial. It all begins with a famous NASCAR driver putting on a disguise and walking onto a used car lot. What was supposed to be a simple test drive turns into a high speed donut filled automotive nightmare for the salesman holding on for dear life. Not realizing he is a victim of a practical joke he first threatens to call the police. Granted I suspect the whole thing was staged but we are lead to believe the salesman does not recognize the privilege he has of being driven by a professional. In his eyes a madman has just put his life at risk.

There have been times in my spiritual life where I felt like the car salesman from that commercial. Not that I would ever threaten God, but there are times when I am not comfortable with His driving. At times God seems to drive way too fast. At other times He seems as if He is driving too slow and I hate being late. Then there are the times when I wonder if He truly understands the road we are on. Does He truly understand the risks that come along the path He wants to follow?

All too often I have tried to take the wheel. Each time I do the end result is less than it could have been had I let Him drive. In fact there are a number of times when my own driving has lead to disaster. And yet I still find myself wanting God to sit someplace other than the driver’s seat. There is just something about His driving that leaves me filling unsure. God knows I feel like this. He forgives me and patiently works to build my faith in Him.

Truth is He is more than qualified to sit at the controls. He has never had an accident and is guaranteed to get me where I need to be on time. It is blessing to have Him at the wheel. And yet I, like the salesman on that commercial, often do not see the honor of having a ‘professional’ at the controls. How about you? Have you learned to sit comfortably, allowing God to do the driving?

Monday, March 18, 2013

International Prayer: Prayer for Pope Francis

Last week Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis takes over at a time when the church appears to need change. I am not Catholic but I see this as an important event for all Christians. Like it or not the Catholic Church is seen worldwide as the face of Christianity. Pope Francis is now the public face of the Catholic Church. His words and actions will have a huge impact on both believers and unbelievers. As such I believe it is important that we pray for the new Pope.

Please join in prayer for Pope Francis. Pray for fulfillment of his desire to see the Catholic Church minister to the poor. Pray the new Pope is able to do what is needed to run the worldwide organization that is the Catholic Church. Most of all pray that as a man Pope Francis remembers that Christ comes first.

I know that among Protestants and perhaps even among Catholics there are a number of opinions about the office of the Pope. Our differences should not keep us from praying for each other nor should they keep us from praying for church leaders, even those in other denominations. Let us lift up Pope Francis recognizing that we are called to pray for each other.

As always remember, across the seas or across the fence, we find neighbors who are facing hardship. Pray and make yourself available in case God wants to use you to help someone else.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What I Am Reading: Flight of the Earls

There are three ways for a book to hold my attention. The first is to deliver characters in whom I want to invest my time. If I care about the people in the book I want to find out what happens in the end. In his first novel Michael K. Reynolds delivers characters who held my attention from start to finish.

Part one of the Heirs of Ireland series, Flight of the Earls takes us back to 1846. Ireland is in the second year of a famine which would last until 1849, during which the nation would see crop failures caused by Phytophthora infestans. Once thought to be a form of mold the recently reclassified organism is, under the right conditions, capable of destroying an entire field of potatoes or tomatoes in a matter of days. Its assault on Irish potato crops caused a million people to die of starvation. Another million would migrate to America in hopes of finding work. Reynolds introduces us to the Hanley family just as they begin to suffer the effects of the Great Potato Famine.

The blight has just started to affect the Hanley fields, yet another burden weighing on the family. The decision is made to send daughter Clare and son Seamus to follow their older sister’s path to America. The plan was for the two to send money home to keep the family afloat until the end of the famine. Through their eyes we experience the difficult journey made by many past immigrants. We see a side of immigration which is rarely ever spoken of, obstacles and plot twists which beg us to ask if the journey was worth the effort. From the potato fields of Ireland to the streets of New York Mr. Reynolds weaves a story that is as compelling as the characters he uses to take us back in history.

As the first of a series this book leaves me wanting more but I must wait until July for book two. I suspect the continuation of the story will be well worth the wait. If you love learning about the past or if you just love a good story you will find Flight of the Earls well worth your time.

For more on Flight of the Earls and the Heirs of Ireland series see Follow Michael K. Reynolds on twitter: @M_K_Reynolds.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Is That What You Believe?

The Need to Make Disciples

 Not that I plan to brag but every now and then we all need those small things that confirm when we are right. And yet in this instance, even as I would like to pat myself on the back I find myself wondering if those with whom I argued, most of whom professed to be Christians, truly understood why I asked, “Is that what you believe?”

It all started many years ago when I found myself spending a lot of time (perhaps too much time) visiting an online forum associated with an internationally known Christian ministry. Another visitor to the site challenged us all on a matter of faith, asking if what his denomination believed was not more in line with what makes sense. A number of readers were willing to take a stand, offering answers which the visitor quickly put down. Not wanting to pass up a chance to talk Bible I weighed in; offering my two cents and giving an answer it seems no one expected.

After a moment or two spent examining his argument I realized that what he was misquoting the Bible, attributing his words to what he had seen discussed on the forum. I told him that I felt his words did not represent the prevailing opinion and he offered up another variation. While this one was closes than the original, it still was not on the mark. So I challenged the visitor to prove that his misquotes were in fact what the majority of those contributing believed. He won the challenge, not because his arguments were better but because most of the others did not understand my statements. The final straw came when the moderator stepped in, giving indication that the pastor of the parent church in fact believed just as the challenger had described. I left the forum feeling disheartened and wondering if my own beliefs were really that far off base.

I stopped visiting that forum for a number of reasons, including this discussion. But I did continue to receive a monthly magazine published by the ministry. In this periodical the pastor offers a daily devotional, one which the Lord has often used to open my eyes. It was in a recent devotional that the pastor addressed the very topic discussed on the forum. In teaching on the subject this pastor in essence taught what I had believed. I know it had nothing to do with that long ago discussion and imagine those involved have long forgotten the dispute long ago. I just found it interesting that the day’s teaching so mirrored what I once said, running counter to what once was implied to be the belief of the man who wrote the devotional.

But I take no comfort in having been proven correct. Instead I find myself with a number of questions. How is it that a web master was allowed to monitor a Christian forum while not knowing what his boss believed? Was he/she properly disciple before being assigned a very public leadership position in their church? Are other churches putting people into positions of leadership without taking the time to properly disciple them in the very faith to which we claim to adhere? It seems to me that this webmaster had not received the teaching necessary, not just to represent the organization for which he/she worked, but to survive the challenges of living the faith in a world full of secular challenges.

 I come away from this knowing that I for one have not fully obeyed God’s call to go and make disciples. Yes, I talk to others about Christ but I find I fall short when it comes to making sure those who accept Christ continue to grow in the faith. As members of the body of Christ we need to be open to building each other up. When given the opportunity we should teach knowing that those profess Christ have not finished their learning. Be ready to teach and at the same time be teachable. In the end you will see others grow while you become more like your Savior.

Monday, March 04, 2013

International Prayer: Republic of Kenya

In 2007 what was supposed to be a victory for democracy turned to violence as one of the most developed nations in Africa plunged into chaos. Tribal warfare would escalate eventually resulting in the deaths of 30-40 people who had taken refuge were died inside a church on New Year’s Day. Included among those who were burned in the church were women and children. The incident would become an embarrassment which continues to haunt the Kenya today.

The Republic of Kenya is home to the Great Rift Valley and the northern part of the Serengeti Plain. Located in the eastern part of Africa along the Indian Ocean, Kenya shares borders with Uganda and South Sudan to the west, Ethiopia to the North, Tanzania to the south and Somalia to the northeast. At 580,367 sq. kilometers, Kenya is twice the size of Nevada (according to the The World Factbook [CIA]).

The Maasai people of Kenya gave the Serengeti the name Maasai Mara. At 1510 sq. kilometers the Maasai Mara National Reserve is home to 95 species of mammal and 570 species of birds (according to Included among the reserves residents are a number of lions, the area claiming one of the highest density of lions in the world. The reserve also serves as the northern point of the annual Wildebeest migration, serving as their home from June until October. The wildebeest are joined by a number of Zebra and Gazelle who keep them company during their trek between Kenya and neighboring Tanzania. It is this migration which serves as a star attraction, drawing a number of tourists to this African nation.

Tourism was one of the industries threatened by the violence following the 2007 election. Prior to this Kenya was said to be one of the most stable nations in Africa. But as the election progressed outside observers began to question the results. Eventually the incumbent president would be declared the winner, the Election Commission having him sworn in even after its chairman agreed to investigate reported irregularities. The opposition refused to accept the results, threatening to declare their candidate the victor in their own ceremony. The divisions, mostly along tribal lines, turned violent being described by some as genocide. The memory of this violence now haunts Kenya as the nation completes a new round of elections.

As I write this post the election reports from Kenya describe the day as being mostly peaceful. Pray for the people of Kenya as they await the results of the elections. Pray for answers to the nation’s high unemployment, as Kenya has an unemployment rate around 40%. Pray for a nation where over half of the people live in poverty. As is often the case in developing countries, water quality is an issue. A lack of investment in infrastructure only adds to the problems. Pray for a government where corruption is said to be a major problem.

Over 85% of the people of Kenya are Christians. Pray for their continued growth and for them to serve as a light to neighboring countries. Let us stand with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Republic of Kenya, lifting them up in prayer as this year’s elections open a new chapter for their nation.

Remember, across the seas or across the fence, we find neighbors who are facing hardship. Pray and make yourself available in case God wants to use you to help someone else.

Friday, March 01, 2013

When God Calls an Audible

In football the huddle has become an integral part of team strategy, each player listening as the quarterback calls the next play. After breaking the huddle eleven players take their places on the line of scrimmage. The quarterback calls for the snap and the team attempts to move the ball towards the goal. If only God would use huddles for more of His play calling. Instead I find that He often waits until the just the right time at which point He chooses to call an audible.

Don’t get me wrong, God does often huddle with me during times of prayer or Bible reading. He uses those times to prepare me for serving according to His will. But I find that God’s play calling somehow seems to come up short, at least from my limited view point. It seems as if He only tells me what I need to know to line up correctly at the line of scrimmage. His huddles end with what we call the sign to “Check with Me,” a warning that He plans to call an audible. Of course when God calls an audible it’s a little different than those called by a human quarterback.

In football a quarterback calls an audible after his team is at the line of scrimmage. It is there that he looks at the opposing defense. If he sees something he can exploit he uses an audible to change to a play he believes will work better than the one called in the huddle. An audible is an adjustment, an opportunity for the quarterback to outwit the opposing defensive coordinator when the defense does something unexpected.

 God already knows what He will see when He gets to the line of scrimmage. There is nothing the enemy can do to surprise our Lord, whose game plan is guaranteed to bring victory. God does not audible in response to an unexpected circumstance. His audibles are tools used to accomplish a special goal when we get to the line of scrimmage. For the Lord the audible is not about outwitting. They are about fulfilling His plan for changing my life.

By telling me only part of His plan, God leaves me to exercise faith. I know that at some point when I check with Him, He will tell me the next step. He will not be late nor will He make a mistake as He directs the path I should take. In the process I learn to trust in Him, growing in my reliance upon one whose will is perfect. His audibles are designed to help me grow, preparing me for the future as learn to live up to the promise of His design.

And so while at times I wish God would call a play in our huddles, I take comfort as I approach the line of scrimmage knowing my Lord has plan. I know that when God calls and audible His children are guaranteed the victory.

Friday, February 08, 2013

When Is It Gossip?

I picked the wrong team to win the Super Bowl, leaving me with a 7 –   4 record for this year’s NFL playoff games. Still it was a fun season to watch, ending with a great game. But it was a different football story which left me with a bit of a dilemma. Initially I tweeted a link to this story but then I deleted as I found myself wondering when passing along a news story becomes a form of gossip.

Of course being a good Christian I do my best to avoid things like gossip. Most of the time this task is easy as I have simply learned to keep my mouth shut. But lately I have found myself wondering if I apply the same standard to my online interactions as I deal in the world of social media. It is there that I often pass along news stories, tweeting links to followers to help keep them aware of interesting events around the world. Occasionally a story leads to a call for prayer. Other stories are just plain weird. Then of course there are the stories involving athletes, one of which leading to that deleted tweet.

One of the media stories during Super Bowl week involved Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis. No stranger to controversy, Lewis had in fact found a way to avoid most bad press since an incident back during his first trip to the Super Bowl. Adding to the excitement of the game was Mr. Lewis’ announcing this would be his final season. It was a season during which he was out with an arm injury, recovering in time to join his team for their playoff run. It was the story of his recovery which overshadowed his retirement with claims that he had some help with his recovery. This help was reported to be something other than the divine help he would claim in his faith. Instead he was said to have used some sort of deer antler spray which contained a banned substance.

When I first read the story I thought it tweet worthy, sending the link out to my followers. As soon as the tweet hit my account I found myself wondering if passing the story along counted as gossip on my part. Yes, I have passed along news stories many times before but this one somehow felt different. I felt like I was passing along information that was none of my business, concerning someone whom beyond his team colors I know nothing about. It seemed unfair to Mr. Lewis to tell a story I could not personally verify. Most of all it just felt like gossip. And so I went into my Twitter profile and deleted the offending tweet.

I have tweeted other news stories since then, none of which bothered my conscious. I am sure at some point I will find myself again confronted with a headline which leaves me wondering if it should be tweeted. I am not sure where to draw the line, having to look at the matter on a case by case basis. For each news tweet I will as I did with the deer antler story have to ask before I tweet, when does passing along a news story make me a gossip?

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Super Bowl Weekend 2013

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, a bitter sweet day. After today there is no more football until fall but at least we will crown a new NFL champion. After the conference championships I stand at 7-3 for the playoffs, hoping to finish with a .727 average by picking the big game.

I think this is going to be a good game with two evenly matched teams going head to head. Both will bring good defense. The 49ers will bring an offense that is capable of scoring a lot of points. This will put a heavy burden on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and on the Ravens running game. As in the AFC championship the Ravens will have to sustain drives, ending them in the end zone. The Ravens offense must help the defense by giving them time to rest. The Ravens defense must find a way to get off the field and avoid spending a lot of time chasing the speedy 49ers offense up and down the field.

The 49ers must avoid the distractions that come with being in the big game. Their offense must be patient knowing that as long as they are close they have a chance. Big plays will be few and far between but the 49ers should be able to move the ball down field. Their quarter back has shown that nothing really unnerves him. His team must emulate his personality if they are to hold the Lombardi Trophy.

I think in the end the 49ers will have too much offense for their AFC foes. They will win the franchise’s sixth victory, tying them with the Steelers for most in NFL history.

That’s my pick. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Repost: Would You Let Them Play?

(President Obama was recently quoted by The New Republic saying, “…if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play.” His comments reminded me of a Fire & Hammer post from May 7th, 2012, written shortly after the suicide of former Chargers’ player Junior Seau. Recently Seau’s brain was examined and found to have signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Seau’s family is suing the NFL and helmet maker Riddell.)

How the death of Junior Seau weighs on the mind of a football dad.

I love football but must admit the relationship has become a bit strained lately. Over the last couple of years the news out of the NFL is causing me to rethink my support of the sport, especially with what we have heard the last couple of weeks. Word of bounties and the recent apparent suicide by a high profile former player have me questioning my interest. No, I am not too soft to watch an inherently brutal sport. I have become hesitant when it comes to football because of my oldest son’s dream.

My son dreams of playing in the NFL. As a kindergartener he could not wait to put on a helmet and make his first tackle. After a handful of years in youth football he still has his dream, staying with it though he knows the odds are against him. Each year he looks forward to playing on the next level, moving from one weight class to the next even thinking about what colleges he might want to play for. So it was a difficult decision whether or not to talk with him about the recent death of Junior Seau.

Junior Seau was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. We do not know, and most likely will never know, why he killed himself. Yet his death echoes that of former Bears player Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest about fourteen months ago. Their deaths add fuel to the discussion over repetitive head trauma and its effects on players in the NFL. And while most NFL players live after their carriers without showing any signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a good number do show other signs of the beatings that are an unavoidable part of football. Knowing this I can’t help but wonder if my son’s dream will leave him with a broken body or even a broken mind.

The news of Seau’s death opened the door for a conversation with my son about the health issues being faced by a number of former NFL players. I did not want to crush his dream but I believe he is now at an age where he can handle this discussion. The odds are against him ever making it to the NFL but if the opportunity does arise I want him to make an informed decision, being aware of the issues surrounding the industry. However for some parents being informed is not good enough.

I have heard fathers say they will not let their sons play football. They have seen enough evidence of the game’s physical toll to warrant their pointing their sons in other directions. On the other end of the spectrum are the parents who push their children into the sport without any concern beyond raising the next pro-bowler. For now I have left the decision in my son’s hands, keeping him informed of what goes on beyond the game. How about you? In light of what we know about repetitive head trauma are you/would you allow your children to play football?

Monday, January 28, 2013

International Prayer: January 28, 2013

In the past we have prayed for solders, doing so in recognition of the sacrifice they make on our behalf. Unfortunately it is all too easy to forget about the sacrifices made by the families who stand with our solders. Parents and siblings; husbands and wives: there are back at home a number of people who serve their country by sacrificing time with their loved ones for the sake of liberty.

Today I read an article posted at which I will never forget. NBC contributor Bill Briggs tells the stories of some of these family members, their faces shown in the photographs accompanying the article. What do they have in common? Each either attempted suicide or knows a solder’s family where a member attempted suicide.

Last year 349 U.S. solders committed suicide. No one knows how many relatives of solders did the same. Continue in prayer for our solders and remember to pray for their families as they deal with the reality of having a loved one in or recovering from combat.

Pray also for:

Mali – Ten months ago militants took the city of Timbuktu, a part of an offensive against the government of Mali. In response France sent solders to help drive the militants out of the city and to help reestablish their ally. While the French have been successful in helping the government of Mali there is more work to do.

Syria – Violence continues in Syria. Pray for the people, especially the children of Syria who will forever carry the scars of civil war.

U.S.  – There are people who are still trying to repair their homes following super storm Sandy. Living in hotels and in some cases living in tents, they are enduring winter in the northeastern United States without the stability of having a place to call home. Keep them in prayer as they continue to try to rebuild their lives.

Egypt – Two years after the fall of the Egyptian government the nation is facing a new round of deadly protests. The current government, working to maintain control, faces charges of pushing a religious agenda and not defending the rights of all Egyptians. Pray as Egypt continues to wrestle with the course the nation took two years ago.

Families facing adversity and nations trying to overcome division, both need our prayers. Continue to lift those in need before the Lord, making yourself available if He calls for you to respond. Remember your neighbors nearby and those across the seas, each one needing you to lift them up before the Lord.

Monday, January 21, 2013

When God Said, “No”: The 2012 Election

As I write I am also watching as a quarter of a million people take their places for the 2013 Presidential Inauguration. The nation is preparing to look forward to the next four years. As we do so I find myself thinking about last year’s election and of how so many who profess Christ prayed for much different results than what we received.

As Christians we believe God hears our prayers. So when believers began to pray about the results of the 2012 election they were counting on God to somehow sway the election results. The chorus calling for prayer and for a Republican win grew louder as November approached, with some questioning the faith of those who refused to pray the way we were told that we should. We were told that because of the president’s stance on certain moral issues there was only one right way to pray and that was to call out against his serving a second term. And yet here I am watching a limo carrying President Obama to his second inauguration. It seems God heard His children’s prayer and decided to say, “No.”

In contemplating God’s response I find myself wondering how with so many calling for one thing, God delivered something else. Could it be that the results of the election were in fact what is best both for the country and for God’s church? I believe the answer must be yes. I believe what was prayed for was the easy path, the path where some Christians thought they would find the least resistance to our duties in the public square. We know that the church is called to teach the gospel, serving as a sort of moral conscious to our nation. Having a president who for the most part agrees with the church on these moral issues would definitely serve to make our task easier. But is that really what Christians needed?

I believe we received the president the church needs, a president whom by his stance on certain issues presents a challenge to the church even as he professes to share the same faith. Perhaps the message from God is that the church cannot rely on one government official to smooth out our path. Perhaps we need to be pushed over the next four years, taking the opportunity to grow in the face of conflict as we learn how to continue as lights on a hill. The work of affecting change in our culture is a difficult one and we must look not to a president but to our Lord to guide us in doing the work. It is those who tell us to pray for anything else that are in fact wrong about the faith.

It is by the power of God’s Spirit that we will see real change. We must call out to Him in prayer, asking for eyes to be opened to truth including the eyes of those who live in the White House. We must also ask for wisdom in how we can stand in support of our president for the next four years without compromising on what is right. God said no to those who prayed against President Obama having a second term. Now we must trust in our Lord, knowing He has us on the best path for His children and for our nation.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

NFL Conference Championships 2013

After going .500 last weekend I stand at 6 and 2. Today we have the Conference Championships and I think we are in for two great games.

49ers vs. Falcons – Last weekend the 49ers showed why they are in this year’s playoffs with a great four quarters of football. The Falcons on the other hand played one good half, barely surviving a Seahawks’ rally. I wonder where the Falcons confidence sits coming into today. What they saw during last week’s second half is what they will see all afternoon today. The 49ers get the road win, moving on to the big game.

Ravens vs. Patriots – Could both road teams win today? It is possible. The Ravens will bring enough weapons into today to pull this one off. For it to happen Joe Flacco will need to once again get the Ravens in the end zone just as he did last weekend. The Patriots will score and I do not believe the Ravens can keep up. Patriots win, keeping us from seeing the Harbaugh brothers battle.

Those are my picks. Who do you think will win?

Friday, January 11, 2013

NFL Divisional Playoffs 2013

Last weekend I went 5-0 including the BCS championship game. This week the matchups are a little tougher and I find myself going back of forth on who I think will win.

Ravens vs. Broncos – I think this game will come down to the play of Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco and running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. The Ravens must keep the Broncos offense off of the field by putting together time consuming drives and they cannot settle for field goals at the end of those drives. I think the Ravens offense is up for this challenge. The Ravens win and Ray Lewis has to wait one more week for retirement.

Packers vs. 49ers – The 49ers will need to be able to run the football to pull this one off. However after two games facing Adrian Peterson I think the Packers defense will be ready, forcing the Niners into the passing game. While Colin Kaepernick has been spectacular it’s hard to pick against Aaron Rodgers in a primetime playoff game. The Packers win in a close game making Saturday a big day for the road teams.

Seahawks vs.  Falcons – I want to pick the Seahawks in this one and had you asked earlier in the day I would have. But as I write this I find myself wavering. The Seahawks have been good on the road but with one of their top defensive players I find myself a little unsure. Having already picked two road teams to win also makes me a little squeamish. Still I think the Seahawks defense will come up big. Give this one to the Seahawks.

Texans vs. Patriots – If this were just about defense I would say go with the Texans. However, as far as I know Tom Brady plans to play and Bill Belichick and his staff will be on the sideline. I think the Patriots take control early and hold on winning by a big margin. The Patriots usually find a way when it comes to the post season and will do so again this weekend. Besides I couldn’t pick all road team wins could I?

That’s who I think will win this weekend. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

International Prayer: January 9, 2013

With the Connecticut school shooting still a fresh wound and with the trial of a man accused in a shooting at a Colorado movie theater, the White House is hosting a two day discussion on how to prevent gun violence. Government may or may not be able to come up with a plan that will work. So while the politicians debate, Christians must remember to pray. No, we will not see a complete end to violence. The goal of our prayers should be to see one or two or even hundreds of hearts changed in hopes that someone who is thinking of hurting others might experience God’s love.

Pray for the Gospel to touch the lives of those who are troubled in your country. Pray also for:

Australia – Extreme heat and dry weather has contributed to over one hundred fires in this country. Pray for the firefighters and for those who are dealing with property loss.

China – One way to change (or to prevent change) in a culture is to control how information is disseminated. When a newspaper was forced to change an article, shifting the tone from critical of to pro government, protestors spoke up challenging the control their leaders have on the flow of information. Some in China are looking for change as their new leaders begin to govern. Pray for the government of China. Pray also for our brothers and sisters in Christ who in general are not free to publically express their faith.

The United States – Flu season started early and is hitting hard. The city of Boston has declared a public health emergency and with 44 states reporting cases the situation has been declared a national epidemic. Pray for a quick end to this epidemic.

Northern Ireland – In December the decision to no longer fly the British flag over city hall in Belfast lead to protest. Over the last week these protests have turned violent. Pray for the people of Northern Ireland as they deal with a debate over national identity.

Prayer is our opportunity to ask God to change hearts. As we align ourselves with Him in prayer we will see where He wants to change culture and how He can use us to do so. We are called to continue in prayer knowing the prayer of a righteous person accomplishes a lot. Remember your neighbors both those nearby and those across the seas, each one needing you to lift them up before the Lord.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Wildcard Weekend 2013

I am a huge sports fan. If there is a competition, I will watch. I watch ‘Olympic’ sports in non Olympic years. Two guys running down the street, assuming no crime was committed, I’m cheering for the underdog. And if football is on, don’t bother me. So I am looking forward to this weekend’s NFL wildcard playoff games.

I cannot say I see a clear favorite to win this year’s Super Bowl. But I will join other arm chair quarterbacks in offering up my analysis of this weekend’s matchups.

Bengals vs. Texans – While the Texans looked like they were running out of steam towards the end of the season I think they have too much defense for the Bengals. In a close game I think the Texans win with their defense coming up with a big 4th quarter stop.

Vikings vs. Packers – Adrian Peterson has had a monster year, carrying the Vikings to the playoffs and to this rematch of their week 17 game. The Packers will have a tough time trying to contain Peterson. However I think this one will come down to the quarterbacks. And while the league has seen great play from a number of young quarterbacks I think it will be Aaron Rodgers who shines this weekend. I expect Rodgers to bring fireworks to the 4th quarter of this game, leading the Pack to the win.

Colts vs. Ravens – Ray Lewis says he will retire after this playoff run. Will this weekend be the last time we see him in a Ravens’ uniform? The answer is no. Both teams will bring a lot of emotion into this game: the Ravens playing for Lewis, the Colts playing for Coach Chuck Pagano. I think the Ravens’ offense will prevail over the Colts’ defense leading the Ravens (and Ray Lewis) into the next round of the playoffs.

Seahawks vs. Redskins – Two young quarterbacks get to put on a show in perhaps the most even matchup of this wildcard round. I think this one will come down to defense. In a shootout I think the Seahawks’ defense will do just enough to bring home the win in the only road victory of the weekend.

As an added bonus we get the BCS game on Monday with Notre Dame taking on Alabama. Full Disclosure: I always cheer against Notre Dame. Monday will be no different. I think in the end Alabama will wear the championship crown.

Those are my picks for the weekend. Who do you think will win?

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

International Prayer: January 2, 2013

Happy New Years to you and yours. I pray 2013 is the year you need. I do not pray for you to have a good year, at least not in the sense of a year where things go smoothly. I pray you will have a year where the ups and downs, the challenges of life help you to grow as a person and to better know the Lord. As we join together in prayer let us remember to pray for:

Attitudes towards women around the world – People across India joined in protest today calling upon the government to act following the death of a 23 year-old woman who died following an assault by a group of men in December. In Pakistan six women and one man were killed for their work in distributing vaccines. This follows the shooting of a teenage girl who spoke publically in support of educating women. Pray for a change in attitudes towards women not just in these countries but around the world.

Connecticut, the United States – For the first time since the shooting which robbed them of their peace the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School of Newtown Connecticut will return to the classroom. A former middle school in a neighboring community has been refurbished for the children allowing them to return to a normal routine. Pray for the children, their families and the staff as they continue the process of healing.

Syria – The U.N. reports over 60,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war. Pray for Syria. Pray for the refugees who have been driven out of the country. Pray for the families being torn apart during the fighting.

We start a new year. Like in the old our neighbors need our prayers. Remember your neighbors both those nearby and those across the seas each one needing you to lift them (and their families) up before the Lord. Enjoy the journey as we walk with the Lord in 2013.