"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Path to Happiness In Life May Surprise You

A person whose life has 'crashed and burned' because of poor choices made told my wife and me that they'd just finished reading my book Happiness Doesn't Just Happen.

"I never understood the gospel," this person said.

"I've been in church all my life and never comprehended who I am by God's grace. I've been looking for something from other people. Truth is, I've had what I've needed from my heavenly Father all along, but I made other people my source, looking for happiness from them. I've now realized that what I was looking I had all along in my relationship with God."

Pretty powerful stuff.

One of the truths this person came to understand through reading my book is this:

"I am justified."

What Is Justification?

Justification is a big word almost better described than defined. Let me give you some descriptive ideas to help understand the concept of justification. 

The word itself carries as its root the word "just" or "justified." If you type on the computer you have an option that allows you to "justify" the margin --- this means to make straight.

To be justified means to be straight as opposed to crooked (see Phil. 4:15 for the use of "crooked" in terms of evil).

To be justified also means to be right. If I were to say to you that the Dallas Cowboys will win the Super Bowl because of their deep talent, you might say I was dreaming. But if the Cowboys actually won the Super Bowl next January you would say I was "justified" in what I said last October.

So again, when I am justified, I am right and straight instead of wrong and crooked.

Justification carries with it the idea of being as you ought to be. The Puritans would use "oughtness" as a synonym for "righteousness." So, when I am justified, I am declared by God to be righteous or as "I ought to be."

So, combining all the descriptive ideas from above, let's give a working definition for justification.
Justification --- is the declaration of God that I am as I ought to be; that I am considered by my Creator as "right, straight, and perfectly rightteous."

 How Can I Be Justified? 

The problem with justification is that truly honest people know that they aren't as they are never as they ought to be.

I will never be one-hundred percent the best pastor, the best father, the best man I could be. Ever. "There is no one righteous (e.g. "as they ought to be"), no not one" (Romans 3:10).

So how does God declare me something I'm not?

Here is the key:
“Abram believed in the Lord; and God counted it to him for righteousness”  (Genesis 15:6). 
This one verse is repeated several times throughout the Bible “Therefore, it [faith] was credited to him [Abraham] as righteousness” (Romans 4:22). “Abraham believed God and it [his believing] was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3), and “faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 5:3). What does this verse, repeated several times in Scripture, mean?

Abram is called by the Apostle Paul "the father of all them that believe" (Romans 4:11).

What happened to Abram when he believed God, is exactly the same thing that happens to us when we believe what God says about us in Christ.

Listen to what Paul says:
"Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more I consider everthing a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not have a righteousness of my own that comes from my obedience to the law, but a righteousness that comes from God and is by the faith of Christ. . . " (Phil. 3:7-9 NIV).
Does it mean my faith in God becomes my righteousness? 

Absolutely not. Our righteousness is Christ's righteousness credited to us by God. We have no righteousness of our own.

Does it mean the kind of faith you have in God determines the amount of your righteousness?

Heaven's no. Then you would have different levels of "spirituality" in the church (by the way, this is exactly what happens in 'works' oriented congregations).

The verse "Abram believed in the Lord and he credited it to him for righteousness" means that my faith in God is my connection to God’s righteousness which is in Christ.
"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."

What Happens When I Understand "I am justified"? 

 Dr. John Gill used to say, "God sees no sin in His people because of the righteousness of Christ." 

Dr. Gill did not mean that God's people have no sin experientially because we all do. He that says he does not sin deceives himself (I John 1:8). 

Dr. Gill also was also not saying that God doesn't see sin with His omniscient eyes and takes disciplinary steps to correct or discipline His children because of it. 

In fact, if any person is without this chastening from God, that person is not God's child. 

But according to Gill, the discipline of God's children has not one ounce of God's judicial or righteous wrath in it --- His discipline is laced with love and joy, is always corrective and compassionate in nature, and is never punitive, hateful or condemning.

Gill was simply saying that a holy God absolutely delights and enjoys the presence of His people because they have been connected to the righteousness of Christ by faith.

The wrath of God has been propitiated, and for those who are "in Christ," a righteousness that is outside of them (Christ's righteousness) is given to them as a gift. This is what enables God to declare them "justified;" believing sinners are "righteous" in the eyes of God, and He relates to them with the same joy and acceptance as He relates to His eternal Son.

Until people can come to the place that they give up ALL HOPE of being right with God by their own personal obedience, they will never fully enjoy the benefits of being justified by God

Here are a few of the delights of justification:

1. The understanding that "I am justified"  gives me incredible PEACE.

Luther said understanding justification was like entering a paradise of peace with God. He called it the foundational doctrine of the church. Paul said, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 8:1).

2. The understanding that "I am justified" gives me SECURITY.

"He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).

My righteousness does not shift like the sands of the seashore. It is not dependent upon my temperament, my faithfulness, or my good works. It is found "in Christ."

Some ridicule justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ by calling it "imputed nonsense" (John Wesley), and come up with "methods" or "methodical" ways (methodism) that people can become more righteous.

The great Methodist George Whitefield opposed Wesley's method of progressive righteousness and preached the gospel of the righteousness of Christ and the doctrine of justification by God's grace all along the colonial seaboard in the 18th Century. His preaching led to what we know as The Great Awakening.

We need another awakening in evangelicalism.

3. The understanding that "I am justified" gives me FREEDOM.
“You will not need the approval of others. You will not need the ego-supports of wealth or power or revenge. You will be free. You will overflow with love. You will lay down your life in the cause of Christ for the joy that is set for you. Look to Christ and trust him for your righteousness” John Piper.
John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim's Progress, struggled terribly before he came to a settled faith in Christ. Here's what he wrote:
"One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, "The same yesterday, today and, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
"Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God." (John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, [Hertfordshire: Evangelical Press, 1978, orig. 1666], pp. 90-91)

4. The understanding that "I am justified" allows me to FORGIVE. 

The reason forgiveness is so difficult for many is because there's not a sense within of being forgiven and fully justified.

If I know God has wiped my slate clean, then I can freely wipe the slate clean of the one I love.

God warmly embraces the sinner who trusts Him. God enjoys the presence of the ungodly who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As my father loves to say, "God has your picture on His refrigerator door." You are as you ought to be in His eyes.

The evidence of how much you believe in God's warm embrace of you is how warmly you embrace other sinners who express that their faith and their hope is in Christ.

But some will surely object by saying, "God hates SIN, and so do I."

The Bible tells us God loves sinners and embraces those who embrace Him. This is a faithful saying and worthy of your full acceptance (I Timothy 1:15).

God embraces you. Yes, He will always gently, efficiently and eventually remove you from your sin with Divine tenderness --- because sin is a destructive and deadening influence in your life --- but He warmly embraces you and sings over you with joy.

Your sin has already been dealt with by Him.

"If I believed what you just taught, I'd live like the devil."

No. Just the opposite.

No person ever fully grasps the eternal love of God for His people in Christ Jesus and comes away unmoved. It is the love of God for us through Christ which constrains from sin internally.

Rather than trust the work of God in the justification, the legalist will place emphasis on extrabiblical and external rules out of fear.

But the graced believer who enjoys his justification by God's grace is quite comfortable in the righteousness of Christ and will resist any attempt to add duties or laws to be "holy," or maintain "righteousness" in the eyes of God.

I am a child of Abraham.

My faith in Christ "is credited to me as righteousness."

I rest in Him.

Fear Is Removed When Great Joy Squeezes It Out

Fear is an emotion that cannot be removed by logic.

Fear must be displaced by another emotion to be removed. 

And there's only one emotion that guarantees the removal of fear in your life. 

Great joy. 

Let me show you evidence of this from Scripture. 

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem as "King of kings" the apostle John tells us that He took possession of a donkey, sat upon it, and then said to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: 
"Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt" (John 12:15)
Jesus was quoting Zechariah 9:9. But Jesus makes an important change from what the prophet said. Zechariah declared:
"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! Youur king comes to you... riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
Which is it? Should the people of Jerusalem "be not afraid"? or should they "Rejoice greatly"?

Answer: Both.

Fear is only displaced by the presence of joy.

The next time you begin to feel fear creeping into your life, remember the only remedy is to find something over which you can truly rejoice.

Tip: Finding joy in the things of this life is a guarantee that fear will return, but finding joy in the eternal God who created you and loves you is a permanent panacea for fear within.
"Rejoice in the Lord, and again, I say, Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). 
Next time you are afraid about the future, rejoice in the goodness of the Lord your God who is sovereign over the future.

Next time you are afraid of rejection, rejoice in the Lord your God who promised He would never leave you or forsake you.

Next time you are afraid of failure, rejoice in the Lord your God who directs the steps of His people and even uses our failures for His glory and our good.

Next time you are afraid of being unable and incapable, rejoice in the Lord your God who enables you to do all things.

Next time you are afraid of anything, rejoice in the Lord who is over everything.

Six Strategies for Hearing Rather Than Being Heard

The saying, "God gave you two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk" rings true in my experience.

I see relationships fall apart because each partner worries more about being heard than hearing.

Businesses go bankrupt because managers focus more on getting their point across to customers than getting to know and listen to their customers. 

Churches shrivel in membership because pastors spend less time listening and more time talking.

Google the subject and you'll find much more emphasis on how to effectively make a point than how to efficiently receive a point made.

I'm working hard on properly hearing because listening is not natural to me.

Truly hearing others involves discipline, self-control, selflessness, and a host of other characteristics defined in Scripture as "the fruit of the Spirit." 

In other words, good listeners are of God.

When I am focusing on being heard, I pay special attention to make sure I am understood. It's all about me. 

If I don't feel heard, I get louder. I'm not sure why that is - maybe my personality - but I've learned that the volume of my voice is directly proportional to the content of my character.

Self-centeredness isn't something I hide well. It's attached to the tightness and tenor of my vocal chords.

But not everybody is like me.

Others will pull away or shut down when they feel they aren't being heard.

Instead of pressing in like me, others would rather shut down. 

However, shutting down also guarantees that the other person isn't being heard too.

So a greater desire to be heard than to hear will manifest itself in multiple ways. But each manifestation springs from the same root disease.


Every one of us consumed by selfishness doubles down to get our point across by either pressing in loudly or shutting down quietly. 

I'm working on becoming a good listener.

I want to be selfless in communication.

Below are six strategies - mental and practical - that I'm working on to better hear others instead of concentrating on being heard by others.

Take a few moments to consider these carefully. I really believe every relationship you have will improve by remembering and working on these six principles:

Strategy 1:  My working on listening is an exercise in trusting.            
My need to be heard arises from my harmful desire for control. God is in control. I am not. When I seek to control the conversation by making sure I'm heard rather than ensuring I'm hearing, I exalt myself to the position of God. It is idolatry for me. I worship myself. Listening well is a sign that I trust God to work all things for good instead of trusting myself to control all things for good. 
Strategy 2: Transformational change is caught, not taught. 
Typically I find myself getting louder and trying to get my point across when I want someone else to change. I want them to go my direction or stop their petition. I'm convinced that I'm right, and I'm prepared to fight. It's taken me a long time, but I've finally come to the realization that leadership is modeled, not messaged. The reason Scripture gives character qualifications for church leaders is that people change by the imitation of what they see modeled, not by the dictation of what they hear messaged. In other words, good listeners begat good listeners.

Strategy 3: My need to be heard reveals a pressing need for validation, but hearing well flows from an inner and settled sense of validation.
"I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." (Philippians 4:11).  Those are Paul's words to the Philippian Christians. The two words "whatever circumstances" are not in the original. The words are added by English translators because Paul would in the next verse (Philippians 4:12) describe all kinds of different circumstances. Paul's content if he's "poor, or in prosperity; hungry, or not."  I would add "heard, or not heard." My contentment in life comes from who I am, not from how others feel about me. Paul would later declare:  "I am who I am by the grace of God" (I Corinthians 15:10).  Working harder on getting my point across reveals my need to be validated by others rather than resting in the validation that comes from God's grace in me (e.g., "I am loved; I am forgiven; I am guided; I am blessed; I am ...).

Strategy 4: I must drive out all other "ings" when listen"ing."
Since I am who I am by the grace of God (and not my own merits), when people are talking with me, I must trust that only God can bring about any needed change in their lives (not me), and because I am confident in who I am in Christ, I will listen even to those who wish to show me where I need to change. In my trust in God, I will drive out all other "ings" when I am listening. I will drive out shaming, judging, moralizing, directing, warning, advising, persuading, agreeing, defending, shifting, and every other "ing" so that I can become a powerful and potent listener and connect with you.

Strategy 5: A solid connection is a source of safe direction.
I will sometimes hear parents say, "But my kids. They aren't listening!" Usually, the pain in a mom or a dad springs from a desire for their kids to avoid making the same mistakes that their parents made as teenagers. But listen, mom; pay attention, dad. Tires fly off a car on the highway when the connection is broken. Work on tightening the bolts of good listening and kids will find themselves attached to parents motoring in a safe direction on the highway of life. This principle of connection applies to any ministry, business, or non-profit leader.

Strategy 6: I must ask sincere questions and remember answers to hear well.
While working on these strategies of listening well, I met a man at a social luncheon for a civic organization. He introduced himself to me and through the course of the lunch, seated with six other men, I listened intently as the new acquaintance detailed how his wife was getting along through her cancer treatment. A couple of weeks later, I met the man in a parking lot, greeted him by name, and then mentioned his wife by name and inquired how she was doing in her cancer treatments. He updated me. I met once again a few weeks later, called his wife by name inquired whether she was responding well to her new round of treatments because I knew they'd started that week. He looked at me carefully for a few moments and said something I'll never forget: "You really care for me, don't you?"
I've discovered through implementing these six listening strategies that my two ears are a much better prescription for loving people than my one mouth.

The King, Chris Clayman, and a Trashy Parking Lot

I'm reading the autobiography of missionary Chris Clayman. The book is called Superplan.

It's excellent. 

Many of us spent a few of our early years as a Christian fearing that God might call us to the mission field. "From here to Timbuktu" was the phrase we'd use to illustrate how far we feared God might send us.

Chris Clayman actually moved to Timbuktu, Africa to share Christ with the Bandogo people. 

How does a 23-year-old caucasian from Georgetown, Texas wind up in Timbuktu? 

In the book, Chris describes how he grew up in a "strong Christian family, a supportive community, and a modest but well-provided lifestyle." He attended a Christian university (Abilene Christian).

Chris assumed the safe and secure Christian experience of American evangelicalism.

In college, however, Chris came to understand what it means for Christ to be King.

It happened like this.

Chris was in a local park in Abilene, reading his Bible and praying. He noticed a man sitting in a van nearby. Chris felt God telling him to go talk to the man about Jesus.

Uncomfortable at attempting to converse about Jesus with a complete stranger, Chris rearranged his Bible so the man could see the cover (Holy Bible) and quietly told the Lord, "If You want me to talk to this man, prompt him to leave his van and start a conversation with me on the bench."

Within minutes, "the man rolled up his window, started his car, and drove away."

While many Christians might not be bothered by an experience like this, Chris was crushed.

Chris felt dissonance in his life. His beliefs aligned with the Bible. His Christian peers and church family would call Chris a "committed Christian." But Chris realized in that park that he'd sanitized the radical Jesus of Scripture into someone who would never ask His followers to do anything uncomfortable.

Like many evangelical Christians in America, Chris considered Jesus as a life coach who's guidance and instructions are more like a suggestion. Rather than serving the King of Kings and doing what Jesus said without hesitation, Chris worshipped himself.
"You want me to go talk with that man, Lord? It's too uncomfortable for me. If You really want this man to know You, make him come to me." 
Chris realized that his Christianity had become more about himself than Christ.

So Chris called a friend and asked if he could pick him up and go to a local coffee shop to talk. The friend, a fellow college student, named Sam, agreed. The two drove to the coffee shop, but they didn't make it inside. There in the parking lot, seated in the car, Chris poured out his heart to Sam.

He confessed his half-hearted devotion to Christ and his love for comfort more than the Kingdom. He told Same that he was only giving lip service to Christ as Lord.

As Chris shared, he "began to see that knowledge of God and the Bible is only as useful as the obedience that results." Verses like "If you love Me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15) began to come to his mind. And, more importantly, these verses began to make sense to Chris.

What it meant to be a follower of Christ was becoming clear.
"If anyone would choose to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24).
That night was life-transforming for the Abilene college student named Chris Clayman.

When the conversation ended, the coffee shop had closed. It was time for Christ and Sam to leave the parking lot and go home.

What happened next is why Chris wound up in Timbuktu. Chris explains in his own words:
"As we exited the parking lot, my eyes fixed on the trash strewn across the lot. "Pick up the trash,' God commanded. 'Pick up all of it.'
Did I hear an audible voice? Was it a deep impression or stirring within me? All that I can say is the command was clear--if not audible, clear enough to be audible. I had spent the last few hours ranting about the radical nature of following God and vowing to follow and obey Him even if doing so seemed crazy. I assumed such vows related to talking to strangers at parks, choosing where to live, or making social and vocational decisions. But picking up trash in a parking lot?!
I did not turn the car around. Who would know anyway? I proceeded onto the street, my mind and heart racing - wrestling - with the command I had received. "It doesn't make any sense! This is crazy! Who does this? What will people think? The parking lot will just be dirty again the next day!"
I advanced no more than 30 yards when a confident resolve won the short, intense battle in my soul. I knew God was testing me. Would I do what he asked me to do even if doing so seemed crazy? I turned to Sam in the midst of the sudden U-trun and said, "I can't explain this to you right now, but I have to clean up the parking lot."  I parked the car.
On my hands and knees in a parking lot that could fit several hundred vehicles, I began picking up cigarette butts and other trash. I cannot remember how long I cleaned. Two hours? Three?
About halfway through, thinking who knows what, Sam joined me and, without a word, began picking up trash with me. By the end, our hands were stained and dirty. For some reason, we knew teh cleaning needed to be done by hand. After we had disposed of every cigarette butt and fast food wrapper, Sam and I sat and stared at the trash-free parking lot. We knew the ground would be littered again in a few hours. We knew our work was meaningless to the world - but for us, the space had become holy ground. 
I think we even took off our shoes."
When we speak of the Kingdom of Christ, we mean the place where Christ the "King" has "Dominion."

Kingdom means "The King's Dominion."

Chris' story is a fresh reminder to us all that Christ is King.

And history is His Story unfolding.

Let's be the kind of Christians who love people unconditionally, serve others sacrificially, and follow Christ radically.

That's what it means to be Kingdom people, from here to Timbuktu. 

Robert Moffat, Setswana, and the Information Age

Robert Moffat (1795-1883) was one of the earliest and most extraordinary evangelical missionaries to the dark continent of Africa.

Robert, his wife Mary, and their ten children settled at Kuruman, to the north of the Vaal River, among the Batswana people. Here Robert lived and worked passionately for the cause of Christ.

Robert endured many hardships, including once going for days without water. His mouth became so dry he was unable to speak. Often he bound his stomach to help him endure fasting when he could not find food to eat.

Robert translated the whole of the Bible and The Pilgrim's Progress into Setswana language of the African tribes to whom he ministered.

Robert Moffat was an extraordinary missionary to the African people. He communicated the results of these journeys to the Royal Geographical Society. While in Great Britain on furlough (1839–43), Robert wrote an account of his family's experiences, entitled Missionary Labours and Scenes in South Africa (1842).

It was in London during his leave (1839-1843) that he met a doctor named David Livingstone. That meeting was influential in leading David Livingstone to leave his safe and secure medical practice and go to Africa as a Christian missionary. 

Livingstone would later marry Moffat's eldest daughter, Mary. 

While in London, on June 20, 1842, Robert Moffat penned a note to a pastor friend named Rev. Edward Jenkings (see picture above). 

I have Robert Moffat's note to Rev. Jenkings in my private collection in my home office. 

At the bottom of the note, Robert Moffat writes: 
Behold the Lamb of God
Underneath, Moffat writes something that I didn't understand. 
Bonany Kusena la Mossino
So, I went to the Internet. 

I assumed the words were in Setswana. 

I typed in the words..,


Behold the Lamb of God in the Setswana tribal language. 


We who have the privilege of living in the 21st century have the world at our fingertips. Even twenty years ago it would have taken me time, energy, and effort to find a BOOK that translated English into African Setswana. 

It took me 30 seconds with the Internet.

Let's not waste our days. 

The Internet makes learning a lifelong hobby. 

Thank you, Lord, for the privilege of living in this Information Age.

Abortion, 12 Boys in a Cave, and a Profound Riddle

This week's announcement that Brett Kavanaugh has been selected as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's replacement has many expressing fear and anger that Roe v. Wade might be overturned and that abortion in America will be outlawed.

Juxtapose those negative emotions with America's collective joy over 12 boys being safely rescued this week from a Thai cave.

It's confusing to me how many Americans can feel such happiness over boys being dramatically rescued from death in Thailand, while at the same time express such anger over the possibility of Americans being unable to bring intentional death to babies. 

I may be the only person who thinks along these lines, but I'd like to point out the similarities between the boys in Thailand and babies in American mothers' wombs.

Both babies and the boys are alive.
Both babies and the boys are in a dark place.
Both babies and the boys are surrounded by water.
Both babies and the boys are in need of oxygen from others.
Both babies and the boys are in need of nourishment from others.
Both babies and the boys are completely dependent on other people.
Both babies and the boys will survive with preparation and careful removal.
Both babies and the boys have people around the world who are willing to help.

Those who know me recognize there's not a judgmental bone in my body. I listen to people. I can change my mind when sound, logical reasoning convinces me of my faulty thinking. 

I'm listening. 

I'm looking for an answer to the riddle. 

I have friends who've had abortions. I've spoken with them about their decisions. Typically, an abortion seems to be a way out of the consequences of poor choices made in life.

Not always. 

Sometimes there are mitigating circumstances (e.g. rape, potential deformities, etc.). 

But during mitigating circumstances, sorrow is the emotion of all involved. Sorrow is never the endpoint. God has a way of turning sorrow into joy. 

But that's another post. 

I'm confused over choosing death for healthy American babies to relieve the consequences of unwise choices 

Let's go further in comparisons of the Thai boys' dilemma with those of babies in American wombs.

The coach made a poor choice to go exploring with his soccer boys during monsoon season when caves often flood. 

But did we kill the boys because of the soccer coach's poor choice? 

No. We saved the boys' lives. 

Again, I'm confused. 

In seeking to resolve the riddle some might conclude that expectant American mothers' could say:
"It's my cave. It's my decision. It's my life. I want to abort the baby and end its life, and anybody who tries to stop me is my enemy."
I'm thinking. Give me a moment.

That argument makes me want to find the owner of the cave in Thailand and ask him if anyone sought his permission to enter, or if the government asked for permission to save the lives of those boys. 

I would think, though I don't know for sure, that the cave owner was not involved in the decision to save lives. 

Saving lives is not an individual choice; it seems by necessity to be a societal responsibility. Prizing life is evidence of civilization. When society wishes to bring intentional death, it means the downgrade and eventual collapse of civilization (e.g. "war"). 

Maybe somebody believes babies in the womb are not human until they can breathe, eat, and live without help from others. 

But that doesn't answer the riddle over differences either. The boys in the cave couldn't breathe, eat, or live without help from others. 

What's the difference between boys in a cave in Thailand and babies in wombs in America? 

Why did so many Americans rejoice over saving the lives of the Thai boys but angrily demand the right to kill American babies? 

I seriously want to know the answer to the riddle. 

I'm not stupid. 

I'm just confused.

Einstein, Creativity, and the Battle with Conformity

Without hesitation, we who follow Christ affirm the unchangeable nature of His message.

However, the methods by which we deliver this fixed message should constantly be evaluated and often changed for advancing Christ's Kingdom in an ever-changing culture.

Fluid methodologies with a fixed message are the ticket for creative, thriving institutions.

Unfortunately, many institutional leaders reverse the pattern and find their institutions becoming increasingly irrelevant.

When methodologies are fixed and the message is fluid - whether it's a business, a team sport, or a church - the institution slides into a slow, irreversible death.

Within 10 seconds of walking into a building, one can tell the direction the institution is headed. If the building looks and feels straight out of the 60's, 70's, or 80's, and even 90's,  then it is dying. Methodologies for reaching people must change.

Leaders insecure about who they often find their identity in the things they do. That's why organizational change can become very personal.

Authoritative people demand conformity to established methodologies for their self-preservation. An organization must rid itself of authoritative, controlling, insecure leaders prior to realizing institutional advancement.

Take science and mathematics for examples.

One learns science or math through learning established, constant truths that never change. But it is often as difficult for creative geniuses to rise out of the institutional centers of science as it is for Christian leaders to rise out of the institutional and denominational conformities of religion because the methodologies of the institutions rarely change.

Albert Einstein was seventeen years old when he entered the German science and mathematics schools of Munich. Most German schools, including Albert's school, were run with a Prussian sense of military style and efficiency. The students were like privates while the teachers acted as authoritarian officers. Learning was regimented and mechanical with an emphasis on rote memorization and repetitive lessons.

Just like religious institutions.

Rewards were based on conformity and creative learning methodologies were stifled.

Einstein struggled.

Albert found the style of teaching - rote drills, impatience with questioning, and corporate conformity - to be repugnant. His beloved sister, Maja, made this observation of Einstein's feelings:
"The military tone of the school, the systematic training in the worship of authority that was supposed to accustom pupils at an early age to military discipline, was particularly unpleasant to Albert."
According to biographer Walter Isaacson, in his book Einstein, Albert developed a deep contempt for the authoritarian style and militarist atmosphere of German schools. One day when troops in a parade marched down the street where Einstein lived, and all the children came pouring out of their apartments to watch, Einstein refused to join in. He told his parents . . .
When I grow up, I don't want to be one of those poor people. When a person can take pleasure marching in step to a piece of music it is enough to make me despise him. He has been given his big brain only by mistake.
The Reason Einstein Began to Flourish Academically

In 1895, when Einstein was seventeen, his family moved to Switzerland for reasons associated with his father's business. Einstein enrolled at the cantonal school in the village of Aarau before his entrance into the Zurich Polytechnic School.

Aaru was a perfect school for Einstein. According to Isaacson,
The teaching was based on the philosophy of a Swiss educational reformer of the early nineteenth century, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, who believed in encouraging students to visualize images. He also thought it important to nurture the 'inner dignity' and individuality of each child. Students should be allowed to reach their own conclusions, Pestalozzi preached, by using a series of steps that began with hands-on observations and then proceeded to intuitions, conceptual thinking, and visual imagery. It was even possible to learn - and truly understand - the laws of math and physics that way. Rote drills, memorization, and force-fed facts were avoided.
Einstein loved Aarau. Maja, Einstein's sister, said of the school,
Pupils were treated individually. More emphasis was placed on independent thought than on punditry, and young people saw the teacher not as a figure of authority, but, alongside the student, a man of distinct personality.
It was the exact opposite of the German instruction Einstein hated. His love for Swiss education and the freedom of individuality eventually led Einstein to renounce his German citizenship. Of course, the German system of worshipping human authority eventually led to the rise of one of the world's worst dictators just a four decades later.

Einstein later said of his year at Aarau,
When compared to six years' schooling at a German authoritarian gymnasium, Aarau made me clearly realize how much superior an education based on free action and personal responsibility is to one relying on outward authority.
Application for Evangelicals

(1). Young evangelical pastors and leaders need an institutional atmosphere where they are free to think and flourish in their own, individual, and creative ways according to how God has gifted each of them.

(2). Demands to submit to authoritarian control by blindly giving allegiance to established methodologies of ministry will thwart any Kingdom creativity and restrict new and more effective methods of reaching an ever-changing world.

(3). Effective missions and ministries come from the hands-on experience of doing new and creative things rather than hearing others declare how it ought to be done. Mistakes will be made, but mistakes of motion are always better than stagnation of status-quo. Methodologies should be fluid.

(4). The threat to the future of any religious institution does not come from more freedom. On the contrary, institutional death springs from authoritative leadership, tight controls, and fixed methodologies.

Ask Albert Einstein.

SWBTS Donors and the Folly of Funding Scrolls and Museums Instead of Scholars and Ministries

Offices of Square Mile Energy (Gary Loveless) in Houston
The new leadership of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is worthy of Southern Baptist's full confidence.  College graduates from our church who are interested in ministry are now considering enrolling at Southwestern, the first time SWBTS has been a viable option for over a dozen years. The future is bright.

However, there remain a few people who need to completely sever ties with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Some of them are employed by the school. The new administrative leadership will handle the resolution of their employment with professional courtesy and class.

Others who need to completely sever ties with the school are financial donors. Seventeen donors to Southwestern to be exact

These SWBTS donors have made a tragic mistake that could have ongoing consequences for both the school and for them personally.

They have signed a letter written by Houston oilman Gary Loveless, a letter in which Mr. Loveless lambasts the Executive Committee of Southwestern for their unanimous vote to sever ties with former SWBTS President Paige Patterson. Mr. Loveless is a close personal friend of Paige Patterson, a former trustee at SWBTS, and a previous multi-million dollar donor to SWBTS. 

Many news outlets have published Gary Loveless' letter.

I have three serious questions that I'd like to ask Mr. Loveless about his letter. I've called his office in Houston (twice) and left my personal cell number. I've not heard back from him  I have friends in North Carolina who have also read the letter. Megan and Vincent Lively have asked me what I thought of it. I told them that before I wrote a response, I wanted to speak with Gary Loveless. Another friend from North Carolina, a man named Wade Smith,  has also visited with me about the letter.  I think Mr. Loveless and the other SWBTS donors would rather this Wade (me) ask questions more so than the other Wade

Meet Gary Loveless

Gary and Stephanie Loveless
Gary and Stephanie Loveless seem like a nice couple. They are members of Second Baptist, Houston, Texas. They are involved in philanthropic work around the world. They are people who give evidence of desiring to serve Christ and His Kingdom.

But they seem to me to be a tad naive. 

Or, to be more specific, Gary and Stephanie Loveless may be guilty of "hero-worship,"

Hero-worship is the deadly disease that plagues many Southern Baptists, particularly since 1979 and the beginning of the Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence.

Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlisle (1795-1881) says hero-worship is a part of human societies throughout the world:
"Society is founded on Hero-worship. Human association rests on what we may call a Hero-archy (a Government of Heroes). Society everywhere is some representation, not insupportably inaccurate, of a graduated Worship of Heroes—reverence and obedience done to men."
Carlyle is correct about societies in this world.

But Christ's Kingdom is not of this world. Christians are called to worship none but Christ.

Gary Loveless gave over a million dollars to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to purchase fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He also assisted in the fundraising required to permanently display those fragments at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Gary did so because Paige and Dorothy Patterson told Gary that the scroll fragments were real Dead Sea Scroll fragments. The Seminary, the Pattersons told Gary Loveless, would benefit from having them.

Gary believed his heroes.

The Houston Chronicle reported six years ago how Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary came into possession of the scrolls. It all started when Gary and Stephanie Loveless were on a tour of Israel with Paige and Dorothy Patterson in 2009.
Gary Loveless said they were busy visiting the usual sights of Holy Land travelers, and the group stopped at Kando's Shop, now run by Mr. Kando's son, William Kando Jr. Stephanie Loveless purchased a small oil lamp, and the couple returned to the tour bus, with her husband thinking he'd just gotten out of a pricey store with way more money in his pocket than he expected.
Then the Pattersons waved at him to return to the shop. Kando had just made them an offer they couldn't refuse: His family had decided that their Dead Sea Scroll fragments, locked away in a Swiss vault for decades, should be on public display. And they wanted them to be exhibited with his treasured friends at Southwestern Baptist.
The Lovelesses knew it was time for the important work of Christian charity - and they ultimately became the major sponsors of the exhibit with their $1 million donation.
 Let that visual sink in.

Khallil Kando at his Jerusalem Shop
The President and First Lady of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary are running out of a souvenir trinket shop in Jerusalem with hands raised, shouting at their millionaire friend (Mr. Loveless) to come and hear of "Dead Sea Scroll fragments locked away in a Swiss vault for decades."

Cynthia Loveless must have been rubbing her recently purchased oil lamp and a Hebrew genie popped out.

Gary Loveless didn't seem bothered by the fact Mr. Kando kept these artifacts a secret for decades.

Nobody seemed to question why a souvenir gift shop owner, known for "making deals" might suddenly want to make a deal with a rich Texas oilman.

The Hebrew scrolls were real. The Pattersons said so.

I've considered running into Square Mile Energy in Houston with my hand raised, breathlessly shouting:
"Mr. Loveless, the Ark of the Covenant is hidden in my basement in a safe I bought from Lowes and I'm wondering if you'll buy it from me for two million dollars? If you position it properly at SWBTS, you may be able to replicate the Shekina glory as the sun shines through the stained-glass windows"
Think I'm being harsh?

Do you think that questioning the authenticity of SWBTS Hebrew scrolls is off-limits to proper Christian decorum?

CBS News doesn't think so.

Hebrew manuscript scholars don't think so.

The Research Project administered by the University of Agder, Norway, doesn't think so.

But Paige and Dorothy Patterson say they’re real. Dorothy Patterson authenticated them on five trips to Zurich.

Her son, Armour Patterson, wrote the story of the intense negotiations for the scrolls in a self-published e-book entitled Much Clean Paper for Little Dirty Paper.

Southwestern Seminary Buys Hebrew Scroll Fragments (Thanks Gary!)

In 2011/2012, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary - through the generosity of donor Gary Loveless and under the leadership of Paige and Dorothy Patterson - dedicated a 3,500 seat chapel with stained-glassed images of the Pattersons and other SBC Conservative Resurgence leaders, opened an exhibt space for the recently purchased Hebrew scrolls, and began charging $25.00 per person to come see what God has done.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary would later deem the Dead Sea Scroll Exhibit a success.
Self-proclaimed successes always remind me of the Iraqi Minister of Information.

SWBTS was in serious financial trouble during the years 2008-2012, the same time seminary donors and trustees like Gary Loveless were busy building monuments and dedicating museums. For example:
1. SWBTS student enrollment declined to historic lows.
2. Southwestern Seminary stopped contributing to professor's retirement to save money.
3. The SWBTS Counseling Program was closed in 2010 due to a budget shortfall.
4. Faculty positions were cut.
5. The Dead Sea Scroll fragments eventually cost the school millions of dollars. 
As Gary Loveless was contributing millions of dollars to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to build museums and monuments in honor of the Battle for the Bible led by the Pattersons,  the seminary contined to struggle financially. Even if the fragments were actually real, is it wise for seminary leaders to lose focus of the school’s chartered mission?

Fiduciary responsibility for Southwestern Seminary and oversight of ministry training at SWBTS didn't seem nearly as important to SWBTS trustee Gary Loveless as purchasing and displaying the Dead Sea Scroll fragments.

I wrote about Southwestern trustee Gary Loveless over eight years ago. In a post dated January 29, 2010, I expressed concern over the closing of the SWBTS Counseling Program, a center for training pastors how to effectively counsel those in emotional and spiritual need. In that post, I directed readers to an interview with CBS News (link now removed), Gary Loveless revealed his motive for giving the money to purchase the Dead Sea Scroll fragments (quote):
"One day, when we are all standing before Him (Jesus Christ), and we got millions of people out there, when I hold my hand up, He will know who I am. That's really, for me, you know, what it is all about."
Mr. Loveless, there's a lot more people besides Jesus who now know who you are.

Additional information regarding Gary Loveless and his connections to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, including how he led the capital campaign for the now-defunct SWBTS Houston campus (note: the facilities, not the school), can be found in this SWBTS article (page 43).

As someone recently said to me, "Gary Loveless has been the captain of every sinking ship SWBTS has launched in the last dozen years." Gary Loveless' threat of withdrawal from involvement in SWBTS matters may, in the end, be helpful for future seminary accreditation.

Three Serious Questions about Mr. Loveless' Letter to SWBTS Trustees

With that background regarding Mr. Gary Loveless,  I am asking three serious questions of him regarding his letter to SWBTS trustees. The letter is public, so my questions to Mr. Gary Loveless are appropriately public.
1. Who disclosed to you that Dr. Patterson "has no recollection" of the 2003 rape allegation at Southeastern Seminary, that there is "no proof" that he is speaking dishonestly, and that the 2003 "alleged victim" has given "contradictory statements?"
2. Who disclosed to you that the 2015 SWBTS female seminary student you reference in your letter (p. 5) "had engaged in consensual sexual activiites on more than one occasion and those acts had taken place in public buildings at the Seminary, and that campus security were shown the nude pictures she texted to the male student....(and) that she begged Dr. Patterson to not call the police"?
3.  Who led you to believe that "Chairman Ueckert ...acted in a premeditated manner and with malice aforethought to intentionally mislead others, while simulteanerously defaming and disparaging the honorable name of Dr. Patterson"?
Mr. Loveless, these are serious questions. I tried to get a response privately, and it's unfortunate we've not connected.

Your letter causes several concerns. It is possible that some very privileged information in student files may have been released to you without the students' consent. It also seems the letter publicly demeans the character and testimony of an "alleged" (your word) rape victim. Finally, if you are truly concerned about Southwestern Seminary, particularly as a recent SWBTS trustee (2007-2017), then you should know that public statements impugning the motives and character of  SWBTS trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert, while at the same time publicly declaring SWBTS trustee Bart Barber's comments to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention "false and slanderous," are detrimental to the institution you once served.

I will not presume to answer the three questions for you Mr. Loveless, but after examining your ten-year legacy of serving as a trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, it seems that Dr. and Mrs. Paige Patterson have again waved their hands and asked you to come and listen.

And like all followers in hero-archy societies, you seem to want to believe your heroes to the neglect of both logic and evidence.

Differences Among Christians Matter Not to Pagans

Evan Jones
Most of my heroes are dead.

The Countess of Huntington (1707-1791). William Carey (1761-1834).  Jarena Lee (1783-1864). Adoniram Judson (1788-1850). Evan Jones (1788-1872). Epaphras Chapman (1792-1825). David Livingstone (1813-1873). Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892). Henry M. Stanley (1841-1904). 

They're all gone, only to be met in eternity. It's best for our Christian heroes to be six feet underground before stained glass windows in their likenesses appear six feet above ground.

One of my heroes, Indian missionary Evan Jones and his son John, are called "Champions of the Cherokees" by historian William G. McLoughlin in a book of the same title.

In reading this week about Evan's work among the Cherokees in the mountains of southwest North Carolina, I came across an interesting observation made by the missionaries. A great revival broke out among the Cherokees beginning in 1828 and lasting until 1832. Many Cherokees abandoned their native spiritism (adonisgi), and placed their faith in Christ.

White missionaries among the Cherokees included Moravians, Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians. All of them, regardless of denomination, saw the Lord add to their churches.

Evan Jones made the observation that the differences among Christians mattered not among the Indians.

Everyone who named Christ as Lord was a Christian to them.

No savage shaman who sought to scalp a saint separated the selected sacrifice by sect.

Differences mattered not.

It brought to mind this axiom:
"The greater my concern over the errors of saints with us, the less my compassion over the eternity of sinners around us."
Or, to put it another way:
"Making a secondary thing primary in ministry will result in Jesus Christ being secondary in message."
May it never be.

Enjoy the 4th of July however you celebrate!

Nationalism, July 4th, and the Kingdom of Christ

First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, on Freedom Sunday
I'm about to make a confession that almost guarantees half of you will immediately stop reading this post.

If possible, don't quit reading, but I understand you'll have a strong desire to stop after you read the next sentence.

I am a political conservative who voted for Donald Trump and think he's doing a pretty good job as President.

I know about half of you reading this are now very angry.  I'm asking you to continue reading even if you disagree with me about my politics, especially if you are a professing Christian. 

For I'm about to upset the other half reading this post as well.
At my request, the American flag has been removed from the auditorium of Emmanuel Enid, the church where I serve as a teaching pastor. 
Some members of Emmanuel Enid don't like that the American flag is gone. It has made them - friends of mine - about as upset as those of you who now know I voted for Trump.

So let me take the time to explain the principle behind the American flag's removal from the building where Christians gather for corporate worship at Emmanuel Enid.
Christ's people belong to an eternal Kingdom which has no flag. 
Some church members have a tough time understanding this principle because they've been raised in America, believing nationalism and Christianity go together like peanut butter and jelly between slices of bread.

In other words, they're comfortable with worship like that at FBC Dallas.

If I were at a political rally, I too would love what took place at FBC Dallas last Sunday during their church services.

I just don't think nationalism is appropriate in a Christian corporate worship service.

As a student of history, I understand that fascists and totalitarian governments always demand nationalism during Christian worship services. Little kings don't like their people bowing to a bigger King.

Some respond: "Wade, aren't you a patriot?" (Yes). "Aren't you a theological, political, and cultural conservative?" (Yes, yes, and yes). "Don't you wish to honor our military and our country?" (Yes). "Aren't we called by God to pray for our country's leaders?" (Yes).

Then why don't you place the American flag in the building where we corporately worship? 

Because too many people in America confuse and fuse Christianity and politics.

Nations come and go. Republics rise and fall. Countries create conflict and collapse or conquer. Nationalism, patriotism, and statism are all temporary.

Christ's Kingdom is eternal.  National kingdoms are not.

Never confuse the two. Our eternal citizenship is in Christ's Kingdom  Our temporary citizenship is in the kingdom (little "k") of the United States (or other countries). Never confuse Christ's Kingdom with an earthly president's or king's kingdom.

By the way, political liberals, as well as political conservatives, get confused over this because they both don't understand the principle that Christ's kingdom transcends every kingdom of the world:
"Political liberals want the government to look like their concept of the church as much as political conservatives want the church to look like their concept of the government."
Avoid the temptation to dilute the Kingdom with other kingdoms.

Emmanuel Enid has a Christian school where every morning we teach our children good citizenship to the United States. Students recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They learn about the Constitution of the United States. They pray for our President, regardless of party or affiliation.

But that's a school that teaches nationalism, patriotism, and good citizenship.

It is not a Kingdom church.

So, this July 4th there will be no patriotic service at Emmanuel. There used to be one every year.

But Emmanuel Enid now understands better the principle that in corporate worship the Kingdom always supersedes kingdoms.

There's nothing wrong with patriotic, fire-works worthy, nationalistic, triumphant celebrations using choirs, flags, military salutes, and bands! I enjoy them as a patriotic American and will participate in a nationalistic, patriotic celebration Wednesday night, July 4th.

But I know that my true citizenship is in a Kingdom that is eternal, one that will long outlast America, and I don't wish to downgrade the eternal with the temporal during worship of the King.

He Took My Place And In Love Bore Death's Sting

Last month I took a swat for the first time since elementary school.

I know that most school districts ban paddle spankings for children, but with parental permission, Emmanuel Christian School still gives "swats" for misbehavior.

I took a swat from Headmaster Steve Glazier and bore the sting of the swat for a second-grade student at ECS. I became the substitute for one I love.

Here's what happened.

The parents of a second-grader at Emmanuel Christian School had asked me to be responsible for their son while they took a trip. The young boy got into trouble while at school. The details are not important. Basically, the student's behavior was disrespectful to a teacher, a secretary, and he'd been disruptive in class as well.

I was called to the office. The offender was still upset, so Dr. Glazier and I sat him down and talked with him about what he'd done. After a while, he admitted that his actions were wrong.

We gave him a choice.

The young man could go seek forgiveness of his teacher, the secretary, and his classmates, or he could receive a "swat" with a paddle; one swat for each offense (a total of three).

I took time to explain the concept behind receive a paddle on the rear end.
"A swat causes a minor, temporary sting which illustrates how if you continue in the behavior that caused the swat, you're actions will eventually lead to deeper and more permanent pain in your life. Of course, seeking forgiveness for your actions means you won't receive a swat because you've humbled yourself, admitted what you did was wrong, and you are expressing a desire to make it right with others."
The second-grader said he would seek forgiveness of his teacher and the secretary, but he would not seek forgiveness of his classmates.

I told him that his parents had given us permission to swat him, and he would receive just one swat since he chose to seek forgiveness for two of the three offenses.

I asked Dr. Glazier for the paddle and told the young man to stand up, to turn around and place his hands on the desk, to bend over and prepare to receive a swat from me.

As he stood, I could see hesitation. I reminded him that if he sought forgiveness from his class, he would not receive any swats. It was his choice.

He said he would not seek forgiveness from his class - but he didn't want to receive a swat either. 

I told him the punishment had been established and could not be revoked.

The young man then lost it. He became hostile and out-of-control emotionally and verbally. For lack of a better term, he had a "melt-down."

I had to leave to officiate at a funeral, so I told our headmaster after the young man calmed down to have him sit in a chair in the headmaster's office and wait for me to return. We would finish the discipline at that time.

As I drove to the graveside, I reflected on what had just happened. Then I had an idea.

I called the headmaster on my cell:
 "Steve, when I get back we'll enforce the agreed upon discipline. I will tell the young man again that he can either seek forgiveness or receive swats. It's his choice. But if he chooses the swats, I want to take them for him."
There was silence on the other end of the line.
"Dr. Glazier?"
Finally, our headmaster spoke:
"On no, Pastor Wade. I can't do that."
I insisted and told Dr. Glazier that it might be an opportunity for me to show my love to this young boy. Dr. Glazier was still not sure, but we hung up with the understanding I'd be back in his office in about 30 minutes and we'd finish the discipline.

When I arrived back at Emmanuel Christian School, I went to Dr. Glazier's office and found the boy sitting in his chair, much calmer than when I'd left an hour earlier.

I sat down and explained again that his disrespect to the teacher and the secretary and his disruption in the classroom harmed all involved, and it was his choice to seek forgiveness from all three people/parties or receive a swat for each offense.

He said the same thing he'd said earlier. He would seek forgiveness from his teacher and the secretary, but he was not going to seek forgiveness from his class.

I told him that was his choice. The punishment was fixed. He would receive one swat.

Then I called him by name and said:
"But I'm going to take the swat for you."
 The young boy's tear-filled eyes got very big, and he looked at me as if he didn't comprehend. I explained:
"I'm asking Dr. Glazier to give me the paddle instead of you."
Dr. Glazier asked me, "Are you sure, Pastor Wade? Do you want to take the place of _______?"

I said that I did. The agreed-upon discipline would be carried out, but I desired to take the swat for the offender.

It had been a long time since I'd been in a principle's office to receive a swat. In fact, I could only recall one occasion during the 1960's and 1970's when I received a spanking with a paddle during my public school education.

I don't mind admitting my heart was racing just a tad.

The secretaries were seated outside the office in the reception area. Dr. Glazier's office door was closed, but there were windows with shades. Dr. Glazier pulled down the shades, asked me to stand, bend over his desk, and prepare to receive a swat.

Pastor Wade got a loud pop on his broad posterior.

And it did indeed sting.

When the shades were pulled up, I took the young man by the hand and led him through the reception area to go seek forgiveness of his teacher. The secretaries all thought the young boy had received the spanking. But the smile on the young man's face seemed incongruous with the event.

I listened to him as he spoke with his teacher and later the secretary. He was humble, took ownership of his disrespectful behavior, and sought their forgiveness.

As I walked boy back to rejoin his classmates, I asked him if he knew I loved him.

He said he did. He knew Pastor Wade loved him.


"Because you took my swat for me?"

Is there anybody else that loves you like that?

The boy shook his head no.

"Yes, there is," I told him. "God loves you so much He took your swats on the cross."

We had a little gospel talk, and I think the boy understood much better the love of God for him.

I was told that after the discipline in the headmaster's office, there'd come a remarkable change for the good in the boy's behavior for the rest of the school year.
"It is the love of God that constrains us." II Cor. 5:14 

Just a word to my reformed friends who preach and teach substitutionary atonement. Indeed, Jesus the Messiah died in our place. He took our place and bore the sting of death.

But be careful.

The atonement is not about an angry God being satiated by the death of Jesus Christ.

The atonement is about a loving God putting an end to death by taking death's sting for us.
"The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is etermal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23).
"O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 15:55-57)
"But it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (II Timothy 2:10)
The reason there's so much angry preaching is that preachers think they serve an angry god.

But the God the Scriptures is the loving God who removes the sting of death by His sacrifice.

He took my place and in love bore death's sting for me.

Nobody loves me like He.


The Power of Christ to Turn a Demon into a Petros

Roberto, 31, gave his life to Jesus Christ after the Refuge service at Emmanuel Enid this past Sunday.

Roberto gave me permission to share his story.

Last Sunday was Father's Day, and Roberto was at Emmanuel for only the second time. He came with his girlfriend and their infant daughter.

Roberto listened to Emmanuel's missionary to Africa, Yacouba Seydou, speak about "the Father's love." It was after the service that Roberto sought me ought and said, "That (the message) hit me hard." He asked if he could talk to me. I sat down beside this man I'd met only an hour earlier as he entered the building.

On the front row, with tears streaming down his face, after being assured that God's love extended to even him, this massive man bowed his head and asked for the Father's love to enter his life. Roberto prayed, receiving Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

Roberto came by my office yesterday to visit with me about some nightmares he's been having since Sunday. He told me his full story and asks that you pray for him.

Roberto never knew love as a child. "The only comfort I ever received was through my grandma. But she died when I was eleven."

It seems Roberto's parents were in the habit of tying Roberto to a chair with a belt and beating him with a hockey stick. "I know when I was nine, ten, and eleven, I did some things that made my parents mad. But the beatings I took were awful."

Roberto was born and grew up in South Central Los Angeles.

To find acceptance and a sense of belonging to a family, at the age of 11, Roberto began hanging around older boys who were part of a gang called Florencia 13 (F13). The number 13 represents the 13th letter of the alphabet (M) which stands for Mexican Mafia.

Florencia is the most dangerous gang in Los Angeles.

At the age of 12,  Roberto "jumped in" (gang slang for "joined") Florencia 13 by enduring 30 seconds of a massive beating by fellow gang members.

Usually, a person is given gang nickname when joining Florencia 13 (e.g. "Whiskey," "Trinny," BullsEye," etc.), nicknames that memorialize something about the gang member.

Roberto was too young to have done anything notorious, so F13 didn't bestow a nickname at the time of Roberto's initiation.

But two weeks later that changed.

Roberto was involved in a fight. "I don't remember much about it, but when it was over, I was on top of my victim, and when the gang members pulled me off I was covered in blood." Roberto said his fellow gang members said, "Dude, you went crazy. Your eyes turned red. Nothing could stop you."

They gave him the name "Demon."

He was 12 years old.

During the decade from 2000 to 2010, F13 was at war with the East Coast Crips. "It was all about drugs. South Central Los Angeles was a war zone."

At the age of sixteen, Roberto got his girlfriend pregnant. She and the baby both died during delivery. "The deaths of my child and my girlfriend shook me. I understood death from gang wars, but why would a baby and a first-time mother die?"

Roberto told me that a local Baptist church would often send "street evangelists" down to Florence Avenue to preach. "I would sometimes hear them say 'God loves you. God loves everyone.' After the death of my girlfriend and baby, I thought I needed to find out about this God who loves."

Roberto went to the local Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles that next Sunday.

"When I went up the steps to enter the building, one of the street preachers, I think they called him a 'deacon,' stepped up to me and said, 'Where do you think you're going?'

"I'm coming to church."

"The deacon told me, 'We don't want your kind here.' I couldn't believe it. They'd been preaching on Florence that 'God loves everyone,' but they didn't want this one."

Roberto told me he didn't have clothes to dress up for the church, and looking back, he probably looked like a gang member, and the deacon was only trying to 'protect' the church. Bur Roberto was searching for God, and having been turned away by the people he thought could tell him about God, he determined to plunge even deeper into lawlessness.

Roberto told me that a few months later he met the street preacher on Florence Avenue, and this time he put a gun to his head and told him had had to the count of three to leave the neighborhood or "I'll put a bullet in your head."

When Roberto was a senior in high school (2005), devil worshippers who dressed in hoodies and all black told Roberto he was "a vessel" and that their lord had Roberto forever. "I'll never forget the strange coldness I felt and the voices in my head every time the Satanists came around me. They would always call me by my nickname "Demon" and told me I was "a vessel."

Roberto climbed the ranks of F13. The United States federal government stepped in and through a series of raids to clean up South Central Los Angeles, Roberto and several other F13 leaders were arrested and charged under the federal RICO crime act. Roberto went to prison for several years.

"When I got out, I knew I had to leave Los Angeles, or I'd soon be dead."

He came to Enid, Oklahoma because of a job opportunity at a food manufacturing plant. He met his girlfriend in Enid, and just a few weeks ago they had their child.

"For the first time since I was sixteen, I thought I'd try to go to a church. I'm a new father, and we couldn't think of a better time than Father's Day."

Indeed. At Emmanuel Enid this Father's Day, Roberto came to know Christ as his eternal Father.

Roberto told me that since giving his life to Christ, he's had terrible nightmares. He dreams of his friends who were killed in the streets of Los Angeles, three of whom died in his arms. He has nightmares of the occultists telling him "You're a vessel." He wakes up during the night thinking about all the people he's harmed.

The nightmares are vivid and real.

As he shared with me some of the details of his dreams, he wept.

I went to him in my office and hugged him. I prayed for him and with him. I told him that "Christ who is in you, is greater than he who is in the world." I shared with him that Jesus has made him a promise that "the work I've begun in you, I will continue to completion."

Roberto will be baptized soon. Emmanuel Enid has purchased a Bible for Roberto as well as a Bible for his girlfriend. We're engraving their names on the covers of the Bibles.

A few years ago Emmanuel Enid changed our focus.

The changes that have occurred have been tough for some. Traditions ended. How we did worship changed. The church began looking different.

But it was intentional.

We decided to focus more on a culture in need of a personal Savior instead of church members in need of pleasurable satisfaction. We determined to reach sinners in need of Christ more than saints in need of comfort. We decided to become missional.

Emmanuel Enid has created a worship service that is non-traditional. We call it our Refuge worship service and we make it different in two distinct ways:
1. Members dress down, the lights are left down, and the preacher doesn't talk down. 
2. The music sounds secular, the message stays simple, and the members show sensitivity to sinners who have no religious background
In other words, there's no judgment for people who show up without a clue about Christianity.

We've seen prostitutes come to know the love of Christ. We've seen meth addicts turn their lives around and become greeters at the Refuge service. We've seen men who dress up as women and women who dress up as men. We're sharing the love of Christ with them for we believe that only "the love of Christ constrains us." You don't change to get God's love, but you will change when you experience God's love.

Emmanuel Enid even welcome gang members instead of telling them "You're not welcome."

This Sunday, we'll be presenting to Roberto his first Bible.  We're also giving him a new nickname.  No longer will Roberto be known as "Demon."

Roberto's new nickname is "Petros." Petros is the Greek word for Rock.
"Upon this Rock, I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail."

Welcome to the family, Petros.

(Note: Pastor Wade has intentionally changed Roberto’s real name to protect his identity).