Monthly Archives: April 2011

Lasting Legacies

Last night I received a note from a person who read an article I wrote 13 years ago. It referred to something a friend said to me 22 years ago that still encourages people today. My friend’s legacy is now touching a second generation.

My friend, Maggie, works in the seminar department of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries. She is now in her 70’s, and is semi-retired. Maggie is a prayer warrior. If you have a problem, you call Maggie, and she and her network of pray-ers will take your issue before the throne of God.

In 1989, I was fired from my first ministry. (I had not done anything wrong, but neither had I done enough right.) I was out of work and ministry for seven months. I was discouraged, depressed, and ready to quit.

During that period of time, Maggie called one day and read Hosea 2:14-15 to me.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

Maggie then said, “Mark, I am praying that God will give you hope.”

In 1998, nine years later, I wrote an article entitled, “When you feel like a failure,” which was published in Kindred Spirit, a publication for the Dallas Theological Seminary family. I later posted the article on our church’s website and on my blog.

Last night I received the following note. The grammar is a bit jumbled, which indicates it was written hurriedly and with great emotion.

Dear Pastor:

I am an attorney is Las “Vegas. A terrible thing happened and I have been having been suffering from depression and panic attacks for weeks. I could not sleep, and my days were consumed with fear and anxiety. But, I found it impossible to cry.

Today I read your article,”When You Feel Like a Failure.” I started to sob. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

May God bless you.

Maggie spoke words of encouragement to me 22 years ago. I wrote an article 13 years ago. Both her words and mine are still speaking clearly today.

Leave a legacy that outlives you.


The Sustaining Power of Friendship

How many friends do you have?

No, I’m not referring to the 60,000 of your closest friends you meet with to root the home team on to victory. And I don’t mean Facebook friends either.

How many real friends do you have? Friends who will drive you to the airport for a 6am flight. Friends you can turn to when you receive bad news in the mail. Friends you can call at 3am when you are tempted to sin. How many friends do you have like that?

After David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11), he spent at least nine months trying to cover up the sin. During that time, he experienced a deep sense of guilt (Psalm 32 and 51 were written during that period of time.) Though forgiven (2 Samuel 12), David experienced the natural consequences of his sin, including anger, bitterness, incest, rape, murder, and rebellion among his now-grown children. It ultimately culminated in his son Absalom’s conspiracy to steal the kingdom away from him (2 Samuel 15:1-17).

At this point in his life, David needs some help. He needs some friends. God gives David not one, but five friends.

There was Ittai the Gittite (2 Samuel 15:18-21) – a friend who stood with David when everyone turned against him. When there is no more throne, no more glory, he comes out of the woodwork and declares his allegiance.

Then there were Zadok & Abiathar (2 Samuel 15:24-28) – friends who brought God to David. These two priests brought the ark to David. When are discouraged, distraught, and on the run, sometimes we can’t bring ourselves to God. The last thing we want to do is read the Bible or pray. That’s when we need some friends who will bring God to us.

Don’t forget Hushai the Archite (2 Samuel 15:32-37) – a friend who protected David by frustrating his enemies. One of David’s former advisors, Ahithophel, goes over to Absalom. David prays for God to frustrate his counsel. It’s at that moment that Hushai offers his services to David. Rather than take him along into exile, David sends him back into Jerusalem to serve as a spy and resistance leader. Hushai’s mission was to contradict the advice of Ahithophel.

Then you have Shobi, Machir, & Barzillai (2 Samuel 17:27-29) – friends who provided a refuge in the wilderness. Having escaped from Absalom, David still faced grave danger. Besides the threat of imminent attack from Absalom’s troops, David’s followers needed food and other basic supplies. That’s where Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai step up.

Shobi, from the sons of Ammon, could have said, “David has fought my people, and he has been so cruel. There’s no way I’m gonna take even a morsel of bread to David.” Machir was from Lo-debar, the home of Mephibosheth. When Mephibosheth fled for his life, he wound up in the middle of the desert. Machir was the man who took him in. He was the kind of guy who took care of people when they were in need. He could have thought, “I fulfilled my responsibility. I’ve paid my dues. David is going to have to took care of himself.” Barzillai was 80 years old. He could have said, “I’m retired. I’m old. I already served my time. Let somebody younger do it.” But he didn’t say that.

These three men got their heads together, worked hard, and loaded up every supply they could think of and headed off to help David, their friend in need.

Last, but not least, was Joab (2 Samuel 19:1-7) – a friend who was willing to confront David and tell him the truth. David mourns the death of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:33). In so doing, he causes the army to feel ashamed. David’s personal grief was out of control and in danger of destroying his newly salvaged kingship. He needed someone with a clear mind and a firm hand to put an end to his pity party.

Joab confronts David and tells him to act like the king. He is direct and pointed. Joab tells David that in a world where one’s honor was more than one’s life, David had brought shame on all the men who had just saved his life and the lives of his sons and daughters and wives. Joab warned David that if he didn’t go out and encourage his men, he could permanently alienate himself from those he needed most.

If you want to have these kinds of friends in your life, then start by being this kind of friend to others.

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Posted by on April 29, 2011 in Character, Ministry, Scripture


Dueling Billboards

When billboards duel before a watching world, both Christians and non-Christians will lose.

In one corner, using a worldwide strategy of billboards, a traveling caravan of RV’s, and radio stations, you have the folks from,, and who proclaim that judgment day is coming. Christ will return on May 21, 2011 and the world will end on October 21, 2011.

In another corner, you have billboards sponsored by the American Atheists proclaiming it’s all nonsense and inviting people to their rapture party on May 21-22, 2011. They may not have as many billboards, but their message is just as loud.

Standing by to observe is the national press.

Cashing in on the whole enterprise are media companies–“Judgment Day Rapture for CBS Outdoor, Clear Channel.”

In this duel, the only winners will be the media companies. The clear losers will be both Christians and non-Christians alike.

Christians will lose because they will be laughed at when judgment day does NOT occur on May 21. Mark 13:32 says that no one knows the hour of judgment–not the angels, not even Jesus–but only God himself. Granted, only a fringe group is predicting this event, but all Christians will be painted with the same brush when this prediction falls flat. (After encountering their RV caravan last November, I went to their website and was dismayed to read how they have twisted and misinterpreted Scripture. I later posted my thoughts on the issue. I cringe to think that our church will be lumped in with these heretics.)

Non-Christians will also lose when May 22 dawns like any other day. The atheists will celebrate at their anti-rapture party, dismiss the Bible as nonsense, and go on about their business. In their minds, Christians will be confirmed as loonies. Because one fringe group misinterprets and twists Scripture, non-Christians will be more skeptical of biblical truth and less open to spiritual things.

When billboards duel before a watching world, everyone loses.

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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in News stories, Scripture, Theology


Close enough still leaves one far away

Reading through the books of 1 & 2 Kings is like watching a novice skier attack a double black diamond ski slope. It is a long and painful journey as he slips, slides, crashes, bounces, flips, #@*^$*@# his way down a precipitously steep, mogul-filled slope all the way to the bottom. It’s just not a pretty picture.

Over and over again, these books portray the danger of partial obedience; the rationalization of “it’s good enough.” As the kings of Israel and Judah can attest, partial obedience is the first step downward on a slippery slope to judgment, destruction, and exile.

I was struck this morning as I read about Jehu in chapter 10 of 2 Kings. His life can be summed up in the phrase, “He was good, but . . .”

“Thus Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel. But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam . . .” (28-29a)

“And the Lord said to Jehu, ‘Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes . . .’ But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord . . .” (30-31a)

Jehu obeyed God’s instructions, but . . . not completely. He did some things well, but . . . he didn’t follow through and complete the job.

When it comes to obeying God, close enough is not nearly enough. Partial obedience is in reality disobedience. Close enough still leaves one very far away. Just ask Jehu.

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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in Character, Scripture, Theology


The end result

“Finishing well is not something that you do at the end of your life–it is what you determine to do every day of your life. You do not finish well accidentally. Determine now that you will finish well or die trying–which, in the end, is really what it means to finish well.”

Neil Cole in Journeys to Significance: Charting a leadership course from the life of Paul

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Posted by on April 26, 2011 in Books


Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Birthday to me! After 700 posts and 17,000 hits, I am now three years old. Who knew my writer had that much to say? Pass out the birthday cupcakes! It’s time to celebrate toddlerhood. Party time! Woo hoo!

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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in Fun


Easter morn

Christ the Lord is risen today!

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Luke 24:5b-7)

We don’t follow a dead martyr. We serve a risen Lord. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

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Posted by on April 24, 2011 in Easter & Good Friday, Scripture


The discovery of another mythical creature

As a pastor, I have been told and always believed that non-Christians were more sensitive to spiritual things around Christmas and Easter. In fact, it was the two times of the year that they were more apt to attend church. That belief led to one wit coining the term, “CEO–Christmas and Easter Only” attender.The CEO explains why countless churches, including my own, pull out all the stops to attract non-believers during the Christmas and Easter season. Taking it to a new extreme this year, there’s even a church in Toledo, OH, that is giving away a house on Easter to someone who attends their service, BUT you have to be present to win.

But it is all to no avail. This past week, a friend sent me a link to some recent research that shows that the CEO is a myth. They join the ranks of the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Sandman, Santa Claus, Unicorn, and other mythical creatures. Chasing the CEO is like going on a snipe hunt.

Here’s the explanation from Thom Rainer at Lifeway Christian Resources.

The Reality

But, according to our research in earlier years, that may not be the case. We actually found that most who attend on Easter are fairly regular attendees. They just happened all to come together on the same day. On Easter, those who attend one, two, or three Sundays a month join those who attend nearly every Sunday. In reality then, the CEO Christian is likely more myth than reality.

In fact, if there is a given day where more unchurched non-Christians are likely to attend church, it would be on Christmas eve. Some churches do make special efforts to reach people with the gospel on that day; still most churches have no strategic plans to do so.

Rather than trying to attract and capture a mythical creature, perhaps churches need to get back to doing what we are called to do: Worship and exalt the risen Christ. Help people fall in love with Jesus, and become passionate about their faith. Train and equip them to tell their faith story. Encourage believers to live as salt and light in the world and make a difference where they live, work, and go to school.

It would be more effective, and certainly cheaper than giving away a house.


Do this in remembrance of me

In preparation for United Evangelical Free Church’s Good Friday service of choir, Scripture reading, and communion.


Who can approach God?

Two seemingly unrelated news stories on Good Friday raised a question in my mind. The two news stories are:

  • Men nailed to crosses in Philippines Good Friday ritual” – In a scene witnessed by throngs of believers and thousands of tourists, at least 24 Filipinos were nailed to crosses on Good Friday. Ahead of the cross nailings, throngs of penitents walked several miles through village streets and beat their bare backs with sharp bamboo sticks and pieces of wood, sometimes splashing spectators with blood. The ritual was done to atone for sins, pray for the sick or a better life and give thanks for what they believe were God-given miracles.
  • A boy, an injury, a recovery, a miracle?” – NPR reported a story of a boy from the Seattle area (Ferndale, WA) who was dying from a flesh-eating bacteria. Feeling that the boy could use all the prayer he could get, a Catholic priest encouraged parishioners to pray to a woman who lived 350 years ago.

Both of these stories prompted me to ask the question, Who can approach God? Do you have to practice self-flagellation and crucifixion to atone for your own sins? Do you need someone like a priest or a dead saint to approach God on your behalf?

Hebrews 10:19-22 answers the first question.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

We can enter God’s presence because of what Jesus did for us. He opened the way to God through his death on the cross. Because of his sacrifice, we can come before God with confidence. We don’t have to be afraid any longer.

Hebrews 4:14-16 answers the second question.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Because Jesus died for our sins, he is now in God’s presence serving as our great high priest, interceding for us. As a result, we don’t need another priest or saint to pray to God on our behalf. Who could do a better job than Jesus? On top of that, we can come into God’s presence ourselves when we are in trouble or have a need, and have the confidence that God will meet us at our point of need.

Thank God for Good Friday. Thank God for what Jesus did for us on the cross.