Thursday, June 30, 2011


I am by nature an optimist. I really don’t think that it has ever required a conscious effort on my part. I have not worked at it. It is just part of the way my Creator has me ‘hardwired.’ It was early in our marriage that my wife asked me, “Don’t you ever have a bad day?” As I recall, that particular day we were experiencing heavy rainfall and had just opened a door to discover that all the sewage in the neighborhood had backed up into our basement. [In retrospect, I’m not sure she intended her rhetorical question as a compliment.] What can I say? In a moment of weakness, I actually saw humor in it. But, when my young bride saw her cherished boxes of Christmas decorations floating in the refuse, she was not thinking that ‘the glass is half full.’

Lately, I have been reading and hearing the wrong stuff to maintain my optimism. Off the top of my head…. The tragic Cailey Anthony trial in Florida, the Congressman Anthony Weiner fiasco, the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, the conviction of former governor Rod Blagojevich in Illinois, another projected raise in the [already record high] national debt ceiling, the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize marketing graphically violent video games for mental and visual consumption by youngsters and the long term negative outlook on employment….to name but a few of the draining influences on my optimism. But, living in the Proverbs devotionally restores my sanity and my positive outlook. When I discover the wisdom of God it provides the balance I need to live with joy in the present and hope for the future. Just this morning:

Proverbs 28: 5, “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.”

Proverbs 28:10, “He who leads the upright along an evil path will fall into his own trap, but the blameless will receive a good inheritance.”

Proverbs 28:12, “When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding.”

Proverbs 28:13, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

Proverbs 28:14, “Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.”

Proverbs 28:20, “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.”

Pray with me….. Our Loving Father, You have not left us without Your wisdom. You have given us your perspective on life and living. We thank you. Nothing about life on earth has ever caught You off guard or unprepared. You have provided your grace and justice from the beginning of time. You have consistently shown your tender care for us. And in the midst of the bad news days, we praise you for the enduring good news that Jesus saves, and keeps and satisfies. In His name, amen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I have just recently returned from a week in Joplin, MO, and I must tell you about my personal and dramatic change in perspective. When I first learned of the F-5 tornado that cut through the southwest central part of the city destroying 8000 structures and leaving 10,000 people homeless, I inwardly reacted with a predictable question: “Why Lord….why Joplin? It is the center of so much Kingdom-building activity! It is a primary source for church leadership, global evangelism and missionary outreach!” I had difficulty processing this tragedy, in light of Hosea 8:7, “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” But, Joplin is not a place that has sown the wind! It is a geographical place where things right in the sight of God have been sown! It does not deserve to reap the whirlwind!

But then I arrived on the scene….I spent three days driving and walking through a veritable junk yard/refuse dump a mile wide and six miles long, that had only two weeks earlier been a thriving community. An occasional stark stick in the ground where there once stood a beautiful tree….hundreds of cars twisted and mashed into unrecognizable shapes….lumber and furniture scattered as far as the eye could see…. And, I also saw something else…

I saw God’s providential preservation of huge numbers of people. My first thought as I initially surveyed the devastation was, “How in the world did only 140 people die in this widespread carnage?” Would you believe that the evening the tornado struck, the Joplin High School graduation ceremonies had been moved from the [totally destroyed] high school campus to an auditorium at the state university on other end of town, resulting in the saving of literally thousands of lives.

I saw crosses standing. The first one standing high above the rubble of a Catholic church….elevated and untouched, while literally everything around it had been shredded and flattened….another cross on the only remaining standing wall of the Blendville Christian Church where we had worshipped and served from 1973-1977….another cross on the only remaining standing wall of the St. Paul United Methodist Church. Folks, it was surreal. But, it was also real. I am not making this up. It is as though God Himself shielded and preserved the symbol of the only hope this world [destined for ultimate destruction] has….the cross of Jesus Christ. I stood beneath the first cross and softly sang to myself the words of an old hymn, “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering over the wrecks of time. All the light of sacred story, gathers around its head sublime.” It was a devotional moment I will not ever forget.

Then I saw the Christian community carrying the city on its shoulders. Christians and churches were first responders and they will be there long after the government agencies have left town for the next trouble spot. College Heights Christian Church, Ozark Christian College [housing and feeding the personnel and strategic relief efforts of the Red Cross and FEMA], Forest Park Baptist Church, Joplin Family Church, Samaritan’s Purse, Feed the Children, Crossroads Christian Church in Newburgh, IN, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY and many others were there in the Name of the Lord supplying the resources of prayer, money, food, generators, shelter, personal items, baby supplies and thousands of tireless workers. No cynic or skeptic will be taken seriously in Joplin again. No critic of the church will get a hearing. What do you say when you are down and out and the only hand reaching out to you is the hand of Jesus extended through His body, the church? The conversions have already begun. Church attendances are spiking as the community is experiencing spiritual renewal and revival. They now know what matters. Their values were realigned in only a few minutes as the tornado struck and then in the following weeks as Christ-followers have responded to the need for everything from blood to bottled water. Listen, my friends…. Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount…. Matthew 5:45, “[Your Father in heaven] He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” So, New Orleans, perceived by many to be our present day Sodom, experienced Katrina. And, Joplin, perceived by many to be the buckle of the Bible-belt, experienced the worst direct hit tornado in the history of the nation. But, here is the thing…. God, in His Providence, is allowing our preparation for what will eventually be….the end of all things that are attached to this life as we know it. And He is letting the world see that the church of Christ alone is the ‘ark of salvation.’ It is the only source of help and hope.

And here is my redeemed perspective: I no longer ask, “Why Joplin God?” Now I declare, “Thank You God, for choosing Joplin, for trusting Joplin, to be the place, of all the places in the world, where you have allowed this most graphic demonstration of Christian compassion and most dramatic proclamation of Christian witness.

Pray with me…. Father, we see it in Jesus. In His suffering, Your love and Your grace was at once convincing and convicting. He himself said, “If I am lifted up [on the cross], I will draw all people to myself.” And so, it is often through the experience of our human suffering that we wake up to your presence in this world in the person of Your Son and His church. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


The past few months have been both deepening and, at the same time, difficult for many of us who have had to process the deaths of both family members and friends. Speaking personally, the death of my own father was further compounded by the deaths of acquaintances and former coworkers in Joplin because of the devastation of a direct hit by an F-5 tornado on that city. Then, the recent death of my neighbor and faithful Christian brother, Tony Barthel, after a valiant four-year battle with cancer. It is just true, there are seasons in our lives when death intrudes.

Death is very real for all of us. There will be one death for each birth until Christ returns. Every one of us will experience it. Ultimately, no one cancels his/her appointment with death…. No Olympic athlete, no rock musician, no influential politician, no one. We might delay its arrival with diet and exercise. But, I say ‘might’ because safe health practices don’t keep a drunk driver from crossing the centerline or running a stop sign and rearranging our personal mortality timetable. Two lessons I have learned about death:

Death and disappointment go together. The grave and grief are linked. Even Jesus experienced the heart pain of death when he was informed that his friend Lazarus had died. John 11:33 says, “He was deeply moved and troubled.” And when they said, “Come see where we have laid him.” Verse 35 became the shortest, yet one of the most profound verses in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” God feels our pain. He has the capacity to enter into our grief. That fact is amazing to me! He cares and is indeed a personal God! And, we are comforted by the knowledge that He will exercise his power over death when, at the end of time we envision with the apostle John, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second [final] death.” [Revelation 20:14] Although death reigns now, death’s days are numbered because….

Death and hope go together. It sounds strange, but it is true. Without Jesus Christ, death is a hopeless end; but with Jesus Christ death is an endless hope. Hope and superstition are opposites. Superstition anticipates something with no basis in fact. But real hope is based on evidence for what we anticipate. And the evidence for a hope-filled death [and that may sound odd] is the resurrection of Jesus who declared in John 11, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live. Even though he dies. And whoever [white or black, rich or poor, PhD educated or a sixth grade drop out, the CEO and the common laborer, the gang leader and the youth minister, the president and the prisoner] lives and believes in me shall never die!” Death is our permanent transfer to the unparalleled joys of heaven. Death is the bridge for us to cross over into life on the other side. Paul said, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” They go together….death and hope.

Pray with me….. Dear Father in heaven, we praise You for entering into our disappointment and grief because of death, so much so that you could not bear to be attendant to the death of Your Son Jesus on the cross. And we thank You for the fact that death is but birth pangs for those of us who know Jesus as Savior and Lord. We rejoice that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what You have prepared for those who love You. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Today you will notice the launching of a new name for my weekly devotional and prayer. We are transferring the ‘Prayer Force’ name to our Crossroads prayer list. Henceforth, the designation for my messages to you will be ‘Speaking the Truth in Love,’ from Ephesians 4:15, “….speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” So, I thought it appropriate to camp on this idea in my first message.

Christian businessman John Beckett, in his book Mastering Today, tells about the redemptive power of speaking the truth in love. He writes:

“I was in a dental chair being prepped for the replacement of a filling. Just as my mouth was filled with dental hardware so I could only mumble, the dental technician said, out of the blue, “You’re Mr. Beckett, aren’t you?” I grunted assent. “Well, I want to thank you for firing my husband.” I was stuck. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I could only listen to the ensuing monologue. “It happened ten years ago,” she continued, “but you called him into your office before he left. You said, ‘I realize I don’t have any choice but to terminate you, but I want to tell you something. You’re at a crossroads. You can keep going the way you are, and the results are very predictable. Or you can take this as a wake-up call. You can decide you’re going to turn your life around.’” I’m sure the technician couldn’t see the beads of perspiration on my forehead under all the paraphernalia as she continued: “I want you to know, my husband took your advice. Today, he’s a good father, a good husband and he has a good job. Thank you for firing my husband!”

It is never easy to confront someone. We would all rather be Barnabus, the encourager, than Nathan, the confronter. But, if we truly care about someone, we’ll speak up and speak the truth in love. We will have the hard conversation:

-When we see one of our children being negatively influenced by unwise friends.

-When we see a married co-worker/friend getting too close to a man in her office.

-When we see a friend who is neglecting his kids because he is too consumed with his career.

-When we see a student not working up to his/her potential.

In these situations, we pray hard, keep our emotions in check, choose our words carefully and guard our own humility, but we don’t beat around the bush. We speak the truth in love, because….we truly love, we truly care, we truly want the God’s deepest and best in the life of the other person.

Dietrich Bonhoffer wrote, “Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the reprimand which calls another Christian back from the path of sin.”

Pray with me…. Dear Father, help us to live the truth and speak the truth in love. Save us from spiritual superiority and pride. But, save us too from cowardice and apathy. Give us the courage and tough love to fight for the souls of the people in our lives who are temporarily blinded by sin or deceived by untruth. Make us all champions of what is right and true while maintaining a true spirit of humility. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.