Tag Archives: Jesus

On Fasting for Lent 2015

The truth is everyone has thoughts or desires, which, if acted upon, would be destructive to self and others. If we do not learn to say no to these inborn incessant urges when we are young, then we wind up dead, in debt or in prison before too long. We are conditioned to say yes to our whims from the time we are tiny via an array convincing consumer ads. Our economy surges when we splurge and buy what we are persuaded we want. In addition to this, we are taught that virtually nothing we do is really our fault. We are victims of time and chance and genetics, to say nothing of the people who have scarred us emotionally and psychologically. I need to eat comfort food to feel better; I need to buy myself something; I need to escape by playing my video games, trolling the internet for ever more interesting porn, watching countless hours of television or movies. Entitlement is a destructive mental illness because it is the excuse keeping us from saying no to ourselves.

Jesus said that unless we deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow him we cannot be his disciples. Christianity in our time has followed the consumer culture by presenting a Jesus who wants to boost our sagging self-esteem, and enable our sense of entitlement by providing us with anything and everything we ask for in prayer. We are promised that we can receive whatever we ask for, but Jesus said, “if you abide in me and my word abides in you, then ask whatever you will and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). He also instructed his followers to ask in His name, which means asking by proxy for the kinds of things and with the kind of faith Jesus himself would. This is not self-interested asking. The only way to get to the place where we are asking like the Son of God is to become like the Son of God, and the only way to get there is to deny ourselves and be filled with the Spirit of Christ.

This denial of self is a cognitive process that involves seeing ourselves differently. It involves realizing a mysterious metaphysical reality: I have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). This cannot be a theoretical understanding only, or even a remarkable personal revelation into the teaching of Scripture. The Apostle said, “I die daily.” Thus, it is a daily, even moment-by-moment recognition that the old person of mere flesh and blood is dead.

Self-denial requires both faith and a resulting self-discipline. Without faith we likely will fail to continue in the discipline. After all, why should we deny ourselves what we want? Moreover, without assistance from outside the self we remain captive to the tyranny of “me,” even though denying certain desires or perceived needs. Therefore, faith in Christ is essential to self-denial, both as the reason and the power to deny the self (stronger than so called “will-power”).

I confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and the Lord has commanded that I deny self. In fact, he stated plainly that I couldn’t follow him until I do this (Mark 10:34, Luke 14:26-27). To assist me in keeping this command Christ has died on the cross, rose from the dead and sent His Spirit to live within me. His Spirit connects me to this death and resurrection. Therefore, the truth is I have died; I have been raised. In order to make this truth a reality in my experience I must believe and continually discipline myself to act upon that faith. Certain spiritual disciplines may aid in this practice.

People in many different religious traditions for thousands of years have practiced fasting. Consider the following extra-biblical examples of people who fasted: Confucius, Plato, Aristotle and Hippocrates (father of medicine). Within the canon of Scripture the Law

proscribed what is believed to be a fast once per year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27). In the Bible we find Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel and Esther fasting in the Old Testament, and Paul the apostle and Jesus himself fasting in the New Testament. Such eminent Christian leaders as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards all fasted. Why?

There are many reasons and benefits, but in keeping with the teaching above I have observed the following truth. Fasting teaches me to say, “no” to me. It is denying something that I need, usually food, in order to focus on what I need more: God and his truth. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy when being tempted by the devil to end his fast miraculously by turning rocks into loaves of bread. “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4 & Deut. 8:3). There is something, or rather Someone, more important in life than me.

Eating is essential for physical life to continue. Unlike air, or even water, food is something I can limit or go without for an extended period of time without serious health risks. In fact, if done correctly and not recklessly, fasting may actually be healthy for the body. For example, recent studies done with both animals and humans indicate that eating 30% fewer calories results in a longer and healthier life.

Fasting doesn’t have to be limited to food, however. Scripture records this interesting fast of the prophet Daniel during a period of serious prayer and mourning: “ I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks” (Daniel 10:3, ESV). So, Daniel kept himself from self indulgence during this time. Later in the passage we see that he had chosen this kind of fast as a way of humbling himself before God to seek understanding into the future plight of his people Israel (ibid. 10:12). The Apostle Paul observed that married couples might abstain from sexual activity in order to focus on prayer. However, he encourages such couples to come back together after a limited time to avoid temptations, which may result from a lack of self-control (see 1 Corinthians 7:5). During the Christian season of Lent some people come up with an activity or indulgence in their lives to give up, which is a kind of fasting.

Lent is a venerable tradition within the church, going back many hundreds of years. Primarily, Catholics and those in other liturgically oriented denominations practice it. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. In his Lenten message for 2009, Pope Benedict XVI taught, “Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord’s fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry.” The time period is actually a bit longer than 40 days, but this is the precedent given for the season.

Benedict also addressed the ambivalence of the skeptic and the consumer with the following statement:

“We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it.”

In the same message, Benedict supports the assertion we’ve made above that fasting assists us in saying “no” to ourselves with the following statements.

“…fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person.”

(All quotes above are from the Pope’s Lenten message for 2009, which may be found many places online. The quotes I’ve used were pasted from http://vultus.stblogs.org/2009/02/the-holy-fathers-message-for-l.html )

At Lifewell Pastor D is encouraging us to observe Lent as we are led to do so. If you are not yet convinced or would like more reasons, here are five. We should fast…

Fast as an Act of Dedication– Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted after his baptism and prior to entering into his ministry. Perhaps he did this to gain confirmation and clarity by intensely focusing on God.

Fast as an Exercise of Discipline– Learn to say no to “me.” All of the temptations were for Jesus to act expediently and egotistically. If Jesus had given in it would not have been an exercise of faith, but, rather, the wildly alternating swings between self-doubt and presumption.

Fast as an Affirmation of Dependence– Learn to rely on the power of God. Jesus’ first statement in response to Satan’s temptation. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3 as quoted in Matthew 4:4, also John 4:34).

Fast to Establish Determination– Learn to have a tenacious and unshakeable faith. “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, Matthew 17:21).

Fast as an Act of Desperation– Cry out to God in repentance (Joel & Israel, Jonah and Ninevah). A need to hear from God at all costs (Daniel 10 & 21 days of prayer).

Below are some practical guidelines and suggestions for possible fasts.

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, February 18th and extends until Easter Sunday, which is April 5th this year. Whatever you decide to do, remember the following principles. 1) If you make a vow, keep it. 2) Choose something that will really require discipline to give up. 3) Giving up what you shouldn’t be doing to begin with is not fasting, it’s obedience.

Here is what Pastor D is challenging Lifewell Church to consider.

  1. Fast every Thursday from 6pm until Friday at 3pm through Easter weekend.
    1. Why? You are fasting to remind yourself of Jesus’ suffering, which started the night before his crucifixion and ended when he died.
    2. If you are unable to fast completely, do a juice fast during this time. That is, only drink pure fruit or vegetable juice (not artificially sweetened).
  2. Pick a legitimate pleasurable food or activity and deny yourself this until Easter Sunday.
    1. Why? You are learning to discipline yourself for the sake of Christ.
    2. For example eliminate: candy, soda, dessert, coffee, alcohol, TV, watching or listening to sports, secular music, talk radio, movies, video games, Facebook, texting.
  3. Eat no flesh. Abstain from eating meat until Easter Sunday.
    1. Why? You are abstaining from literal flesh as a reminder to reckon yourself dead to your carnal nature and alive in the Spirit. This will give you no power over the flesh. Only realizing that you have died with Christ can do that.
    2. You may take Sundays off.

Combine all of the three.

Fan or Fanatic?

When it comes to sports there are fans, and there are fanatics. I know, I know, “fan” comes from fanatic, but not all fans are created equal.

A simple fan enjoys watching their team compete and roots for them to win. This fan may feel a bit of a letdown when the team loses, but they don’t lose their temper, or any happiness, as a result.

A fanatic is different. This is the person who speaks in the first person plural when referring to the team. We won! Those officials are calling against us! The fanatic is possessive when it comes to the team. Yeah, those are my Boys!

This kind of behavior is seen with the simple fan at times too, but there is a difference. The simple fan doesn’t allow their emotional state to be determined by a team they don’t play for, don’t own, and cannot do anything to improve. Well, I suppose you improve the owner’s bottom line by spending money on tickets and paraphernalia, but that won’t make them play any differently.

Why are fanatics so, well, fanatical? One word: identification. The fanatic identifies with the team on a personal level. They are projecting their ego onto the field, or court. It’s not just a team, it’s my team, and that means it’s me out there. When my team wins, I win. I am a winner! But when my team loses, I am the one who got beat. I am mad. I feel lousy. I am not a loser!

Sports fanaticism (or celebrity fanaticism, which is another form of this) is an unhealthy sign that you don’t have anything more valuable to live for. Your life and happiness is dependent on a team you don’t play for (or a sport you probably don’t even play, even if you once did). Sad. Living vicariously (that is, through someone else) is not real life. You have a life. You have a purpose.

Purpose. Everyone needs a reason. It’s not an accident that Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life has sold over 30 million copies. Is it a good book? Sure it is. Straight forward and biblical. But that’s probably not what got most of those people to buy the book. It’s what the title of the book promises: there is a purpose for your life. You have a purpose in life, and only God can show you what that truly is.

So, what is your purpose? Do you know? Have you been searching? Have you been asking yourself, or, better yet, asking God? Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened” God has a plan for you. Seek Him for it, and don’t give up. Then pursue God’s purpose for you fanatically!

There first purpose for all people made in the image of God is to re-establish a connection to their Creator. That happens through Jesus Christ. “To as many as received Him he gave the right to be called children of God, even to those who called on His name” (John 1:12). The “Him” in that Bible verse is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He lived, died and rose from death so that you and I can be a part of His family and have a relationship with God as our Father. Once that relationship is established, I spend the rest of my life becoming more like the Jesus, which prepares me to live forever in the presence of my Father.

There are specifics to this for your particular life. You have a calling. You were created to do something on earth, something special. Ask, seek, knock, and start living life on purpose.

If you’re living vicariously through the Cowboys, Longhorns, Mavericks, or even the NBA champion Spurs, you’re going to get let down. Even if your team stays on top, that has nothing to do with you. You didn’t put them there. You’re not there with them. You didn’t play, recruit, coach or do anything, except pay them to entertain you. Stop living your life for people who don’t know you or care about you. Enjoy your sport; watch your favorite team play. Now go and live your life for something more meaningful.

End Times Fatigue

Over the past decade and a half there have been several high profile eschatological prognostications. And now another…

This time it’s the so called “Blood Moons.” Sound’s ominous,doesn’t it? Like a title from Stephen King or Dean Koontz. This time the end times prophet is John Hagee, the pro-Israel Pentecostal pastor from San Antonio, Texas. He wrote a book  titled “Blood Moons” in anticipation of the phenomenon. If the exigencies of a busy 21st century life have distracted you, a moderately rare series of four full lunar eclipses, also known as a tetrad began early this morning (April 15, 2014). Astronomers have calculated the last of the four will occur on September 28th, 2015. What makes this Tetrad more rare is  that each of the four lunar eclipses coincide with important Jewish observances, two blood moon eclipses will accompany Passover and two will occur during Sukkot.

Today is Passover, the memorial of ancient Jewish release from Egyptian slavery. The term Passover refers to the point n the Exodus narrative when God’s Death Angel passed over the Israelite families that obediently splattered the blood of the sacrifice they ate that night on the door posts of their houses. All of the firstborn in the land of Egypt were killed by the Death Angel, but no observant Israelite household was touched by the tragedy. This was the final event that prompted Egypt’s Pharaoh to expel all of the Israelite slaves from his land. Passover was one of three pilgrimage festivals, which the ancient Israelites were to celebrate by traveling to Jerusalem. Shavout (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) were the other two.

Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Booths is an eight day celebration of God’s protection of, and provision for, the people of Israel. In ancient times it was a harvest festival to celebrate the ingathering of grain and grapes, and it commemorated the Israelite wilderness wandering prior to entering the Promised Land. During the festival ancient Israelites lived in outdoor shelters under the stars. These “booths” were made from the branches of trees. In Jesus’ time this was a beautiful and festive celebration (Read the Gospel of John chapter 7 for an example of Jesus’ observance of the festival) . Even in our time Sukkot is considered a significant and joyous celebration by the Jewish people, the observant of whom still celebrate by sleeping outside under shelters.

Pastor Hagee believes that the coincidence of these eclipses is a portent of ominous events to come. The Bible does speak of the moon turning red like blood (Joel 2:31, quoted in Acts 2:20); hence, “Blood Moons.” The physical cause of this at the end of a full eclipse is due to the sun’s light being filtered as it passes through earth’s atmosphere on the way to the moon. The color is reddish, from a pink to a rust hue. The question is, is there eschatological significance to these, eclipses. I’m going to say that’s a definite maybe.

You’re probably as worn out by end time predictions as I am, and, if you are like me, skepticism always accompanies the hearing of such prognostication. However, if the first century disciples of Jesus were in high expectation of his return shouldn’t I be looking for his second coming all the more?

We’re warned to be prepared. Jesus himself said, “Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). The Lord also told a story to illustrate. It is called the Parable of the Ten Virgins. In 1st century Palestine, bridesmaids—who would all have been virgins— waited with the bride for the arrival of the groom, so they might accompany the couple to the wedding feast. Pay attention to the story as recorded in Matthew 25:1-13 (New Living Translation).

“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids* who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps, but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight they were roused by the shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!’
“All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Then the five foolish ones asked the others, ‘Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.’
“But the others replied, ‘We don’t have enough for all of us. Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves.’
“But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came. Then those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked. Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!’
“But he called back, ‘Believe me, I don’t know you!’
“So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.

Rather than becoming weary of all the predictions, let us continue to be ready at all times for the return of Christ. He will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2 among many), and no one knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36), but those of us who believe the Bible and follow Jesus should not be surprised when it happens. Instead, let us be vigilant, let us be prepared.

“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, ESV).

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11-12, ESV).

Be prepared!

Vindication, Part 8, Popularity and Brokenness

This is the eighth chapter in a series about 21 years of overcoming conflict and opposition as I’ve tried to learn how to minister and speak the truth in Garland, Texas. You can read the first seven parts at www.deorl.wordpress.com or in my notes on www.Facebook.com/deorl.


I don’t want to sound jaded or cynical, but so much of what I see in regard to church and ministry may be explained by the politics of the playground. You remember elementary school, right? Actually, this applies to school all the way through college, but the playground is a seedbed and an accessible example. Starting in kindergarten there are popular and unpopular kids, as well as many in the middle. Those in the middle determine who is popular by virtue of whom they decide to follow. 


There was a game that was often played when I was in grade school that illustrates this. A group of kids would join hands and walk shoulder to shoulder through the playground chanting, “Hey, hey, get out of my way, I just got back from the USA!” The group grew when other kids joined it by taking the hand of a member at either end of the chorus line. If the kids at both ends thought you had cooties or something, then you didn’t get to join that group. There were usually competing groups marching around and chanting loudly. Sometimes two groups would stand opposite one another and battle by screaming, perhaps bumping each other. A kid or two might join an opposing group, usually because it was larger, or had more popular people in it. The larger groups gained members quickly, while the smaller groups grew more slowly or simply disbanded (some or all of their members joining a larger group).  Many people like to be a part of something big.


None of these groups was spontaneous; someone started each one by recruiting the first members, then marching and chanting to advertise for more. I’m sure you’ve already jumped ahead to my intended application. Churches are really no different than these chorus lines on the playground. Although, I would hope a church has higher aspirations than merely gaining more members. If the main point of a church’s existence is increasing numerically, then how is that church any different from, say, a gym, a restaurant, or a store? All of these are striving to gain more loyal customers.


The word for church in the original Greek means “called out.” I have always believed the New Testament teaching about church: it is a community God has called out from the world to worship him, support one another, learn to follow Christ’s teaching, and offer the Gospel to the world (see Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 2:42-47 & 4:32-35). As we proclaim the resurrected Jesus and live out his love in the world, God calls people to become a part of his Kingdom and join our communities. “And he added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).


Therefore, the big difference between playground politics and church membership should be the God factor. We (pastors, teachers, evangelists, every day Christians) broadcast the Good News and those who receive it are called by God to be part of a community of fellow believers. That call happens when God’s Holy Spirit draws or compels a person to become part of a local church. Here is where I get negative, perhaps you would say skeptical (hopefully not cynical). I don’t think most people are paying attention to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Many misconstrue their own feelings as God moving. The reality is, a lot of people are just following the popular impulse to attend a particular church because others like them are there. Many seek to identify with an attractive brand, or affiliate with what appears to be a trustworthy institution. The pastor and his family look like our kind of people, so we want to be a part of their group.


The “why” of popularity has been a source of consideration and consternation for me since first grade (I never went to kindergarten). Why am I not popular? I remember running for class office in fourth grade. I spent all night putting together packets with candy to bribe class members into voting for me. I got two votes (yes, mine was one of them). In high school I would never have dreamed of trying to run for office, but in government class my senior year there was an election for some office. I ran on a platform that included legalization of marijuana (a transparent attempt to get the stoner vote), and lost. In college I started a Bible study at the Baptist Student Union. I put up flyers all over campus. I had one freshman who kept attending, and that was it. I tried to get on the BSU steering committee and was denied by the BSU director. He said that my efforts at personal evangelism would somehow be hindered by having a position on the committee. In the end he just didn’t like me (not hostility, just simple rejection). Why don’t more people like me? 


We started the church I lead the same year as two others in our region. Both of these churches are large, ours is not. I’m sure that there are other congregations that started the same year which don’t even exist any longer. Reportedly, 32% of all new church plants fail within five years (NAMB report http://www.namb.net/namb1cb2col.aspx?id=8590001104 ) I know of one congregation in our city that started several years before ours, became quite large, then folded. Perhaps focusing on our continued survival could be a source of consolation for me, but it isn’t. I always thought if God led me to start a church, it would grow large. I was saved in a large church. I know the importance of evangelism and preach the Gospel. I once ran a ministry that introduced thousands of people to Christ (House of Judgement was used to lead over 10,000 people to pray a prayer of salvation). So, why in heaven and earth has the church I lead not grown beyond a hundred or so (at times a few more, at others, many less)?


Perhaps it is because I am not married. People are looking for a pastor who is a family man, for a father of children, for a husband of a lovely wife. Sorry, that’s not my call. God hasn’t shown me anyone to marry, and I will not jump into a relationship to make other people happy with me. Perhaps it is because I do not have an appealing appearance. I have crooked teeth and don’t smile as often as I’d like to because of self-consciousness. I guess this is my fault by now. If I spent money on the dentist like I have Apple products, I’d have a beautiful smile. But wait, I thought the church was, well, supernatural, a community of people who have been called out of the world, not a social group who have decided to cluster around a handsome, charismatic leader. As a reminder, last Monday (11-19-2-13) marked 35 years since 900 people committed suicide at the command of cult leader Jim Jones.


Is it my sin that keeps the church from growing? Yes, I sin. No, I’m not smoking meth and seeing prostitutes (as the prominent pastor of a large church in Colorado was discovered doing several years back). I’m not stealing from the church or manipulating people to give money (there are plenty of ministry leaders who have been caught doing so). I’ve never had sex outside marriage. I don’t even look at porn– I cannot say I never have, but it’s been a very long time and even then it was quite brief. I do get angry. I do use some obscenities on occasion (usually when alone and yelling at some piece of errant technology). I do have to exercise constant restraint on lustful temptation. I’m sure I’ve offended people by saying or doing the wrong thing. I usually to make this right in the end, though that doesn’t always result in the person or people continuing to be members of our church. I do keep writing honest exposés like this one, and some people would prefer to have a fairy tale pastor. There may be some in my community that which I’d just get over myself and stop writing like this. Maybe I should heed that perceived advice.


Is it my lack of personal evangelism that keeps the church from increasing? Perhaps. I do know how to share the Gospel with people. I am simply uninterested in appearing like a salesman. I’ve also lost a lot of confidence in recent years. I feel like people will not want to listen to me, so perhaps I don’t share when I should. I lack urgency in this area, but I don’t believe in the dictum: “if it is to be, it is up to me.” I’m not a Calvinist, though. It’s just, God doesn’t need me. Heck, sometimes I don’t even feel as though he likes me. I’ve told God recently that if I got it wrong and I’m not supposed to be in ministry, then show me something else to do. I’d probably be unhappy, but I’m miserable when our attendance and offering is low. I take it personally. I mean why am I here? There are worthy men and women in my church whom I’d love to pay to do the work of ministry. They need the money. We cannot pay them because I cannot get enough people to attend and continue supporting this ministry. It is one thing to fail yourself; believe me, it is a devastating to fail others.


Sometimes, I become tired of trying. I’m tired of preparing for a Wednesday night Bible study where five or six people show up. I’m tired of fluctuating Sunday worship attendance: one week 80 or 100, the next week 45-50. I’m tired of people who refuse to continue living for Christ. Half the people I’ve mentored over the years are not living for Christ with any passion, and probably half of those aren’t actively following Jesus any longer. Most of the leaders I looked up to over the years have shown cracks in their armor, and some failed morally. If I look at all of this, it makes me sad and depressed. In fact, I’ve evaluated myself, and at times over the last 15 years I’ve shown signs of clinical depression. I’m beyond burned out; I’m sick and sad and in need of a miracle. This is exactly where God wants me to be so that he gets all the credit and all the glory.


I’ve come to the conclusion that this life is all about being broken. Self-confidence is deceptive. Pride is original sin. When I trust in me, there is little room for God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). There is a huge problem with narcissism in our nation. People have been brought up to believe they need to love themselves in order to love others (a gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” but that’s a topic for another blog). Many of us are inveterate self-promoters. I need more followers on Twitter, more “likes” for my page or my post on Facebook. Indeed, I have to be careful that my desire for higher attendance at our church is not motivated by selfish ambition. Maybe that’s the problem. Don’t worry, I’ve been evaluating that possibility for some time. God’s purpose is not to raise me up and give me glory. My purpose is to worship him, praise him, give him glory, and to lead others (by word and deed) to do the same. In order for that to happen, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30). “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God that he may raise you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). Jeremiah the prophet was led into the potters house where he watched the craftsman make a pot, then break it down to remake it because it had become marred on the wheel (Jeremiah 18). I am marred. He is remaking me.


I still believe. I still love Jesus. I still love my people. I’m still in ministry. I’m still trying. I continue clinging to the promises that brought me to Garland, Texas 21 years ago. If you’ve been reading these articles, you are a trooper. They are pretty negative at times. However, God has not left me. Even though I complain, quarrel and test him like Israel did, he remains my rock. I wrote these eight reflections on ministry as a way of reminding myself that the scripture God used to bring me to this city was prophetic and necessary to keep me from failing and falling. I’m still looking for vindication. I’m still believing God. I’m still trying to change. One thing is for sure: no weapon formed against me shall stand; no scheme against me shall prosper. Yes, I still believe. “Though he slay me, still I will serve him.” Here is a final reminder of the prophecy I seek to (re)establish in my life. 

From Isaiah 41

8 “But you, O Israel, my servant, 

Jacob, whom I have chosen, 

you descendants of Abraham my friend, 

9 I took you from the ends of the earth, 

from its farthest corners I called you. 

I said, ‘You are my servant’; 

I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 

10 So do not fear, for I am with you; 

do not be dismayed, for I am your God. 

I will strengthen you and help you; 

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

11 “All who rage against you 

will surely be ashamed and disgraced; 

those who oppose you 

will be as nothing and perish. 

12 Though you search for your enemies, 

you will not find them. 

Those who wage war against you 

will be as nothing at all. 

13 For I am the Lord, your God, 

who takes hold of your right hand 

and says to you, Do not fear; 

I will help you. 

14 Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, 

O little Israel, 

for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord, 

your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. 

15 “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, 

new and sharp, with many teeth. 

You will thresh the mountains and crush them, 

and reduce the hills to chaff. 

16 You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, 

and a gale will blow them away. 

But you will rejoice in the Lord 

and glory in the Holy One of Israel. 

17 “The poor and needy search for water, 

but there is none; 

their tongues are parched with thirst. 

But I the Lord will answer them; 

I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. 

18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights, 

and springs within the valleys. 

I will turn the desert into pools of water, 

and the parched ground into springs. 

19 I will put in the desert 

the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. 

I will set pines in the wasteland, 

the fir and the cypress together, 

20 so that people may see and know, 

may consider and understand, 

that the hand of the Lord has done this, 

that the Holy One of Israel has created it.



Vindication, Part 6, Losing People

This is the sixth chapter in a series about 21 years of overcoming conflict and opposition as I’ve tried to learn how to minister and speak the truth in Garland, Texas. You can read the first five parts at www.deorl.wordpress.com or in my notes on www.Facebook.com/deorl.


It is not possible to make everybody happy, especially when you are called upon to challenge people and speak (all too many times uncomfortable) truth. It is also not possible to be perfect in this life. Sometimes we hurt one another, intentionally or unintentionally. I’ve made mistakes and offended people. Forgiveness is essential to any lasting relationship.


It hurts a pastor when people leave his church. At least, it hurts me. Sometimes difficult people leave. I should breath a sigh of relief when this happens, but still I feel a loss. Over 14 years as pastor of the same church I’ve seen people come and go. It is difficult to let people go when they have become like family.


I’m generalizing because I hesitate to tell the stories of people who are still out there. People whom I still love. Many of these live nearby. Some who have departed expressed a desire to remain friends. I have tried. Honestly, that’s a lot like dating someone, getting close to them, and then breaking up. We say, let’s just be friends. Yet, even without animosity, the friendship is nominative. We drift to become acquaintances at best. They might as well be in a different city. In fact, that would make it easier.


I’ve had leaders in my church leave. This doesn’t just hurt me, it hurts the whole community. They continue to maintain relationships with members of our church, while they are serving enthusiastically in a church down the street. This only leads people to question why. What is wrong with our ministry? It leads others to resent them. What is wrong with that former leader?


In two prominent cases, young people who had been in my youth groups in the past were involved deeply in our church, met their spouses at our church, had children whom I blessed, then left our church for larger ministries. Ironically, when you consider how they established their families, both of these former leaders cited a weakness in our children’s ministry as their reason for leaving.


I have a former student who is now the pastor of a church in another city. He posted on Twitter and I reposted what he said. It was something like, “When you leave a church for the sake of your children, what does that teach them about church?” The obvious answer is, it teaches them that church is all about “me”. I didn’t state the latter, just posted his quote. A prominent couple left when one of them saw that post as a last straw. I believe church (and family) should be focused on Jesus Christ, not on children… or youth… or single adults…. or any other group.


One of the reasons some pastors are reticent to have small groups that meet in homes is due to the possibility of the group going rogue. A cell group may have a leader who teaches bad theology. A small group may attract people who complain about the church, the pastor, or another leader. The group becomes a meeting of the discontented. The result may be that they all stop attending, or go to another church. We’ve experienced the latter several times in our history. Two of these groups were headed by leaders who had once been in an accountability group with me. In the most recent instance, every member of that group left our church in about a one year period.


Are we doing something wrong? Am I doing something wrong? Did I offend? I ask myself these questions each time someone leaves. I care about them. Why don’t they care about me and this body any more? What more could I have done. I beat myself bloody, and it does no good. I used to go after these people. I mean, that’s what a good shepherd does, right? Go after the lost sheep. Except, most of these people are not lost. They’ve simply moved to another shepherd and another flock. Most importantly, the Good Shepherd is Jesus. I’m just his helper.  It seems to entrench people in their decision when I try to dissuade them. So, I take a different approach now. When they leave I hope for the best and concentrate on those over whom I still have charge as a shepherd.


Divorce is rampant in our society. For too many people it is the go-to solution for marital problems. Why do people get divorced? Adultery: understandable. “We grew apart,” or “I don’t love you any more”: unacceptable. This is symptomatic of our unwillingness to work out our problems with each other. It’s easier to move on and start over. Sadly, if you haven’t worked out the problems that caused the previous marriage to fail, the next one may face the same challenges, and could end the same way. When you leave a church because you had a problem you wouldn’t work out, you are taking at least part of that problem with you to the next church. Relational problems always have at least two sides, and you are on one of those sides. Leaving, divorcing, doesn’t solve your side of the problem.


People’s relationship to a church is somewhat like a marriage. It is a commitment to a community rather than an individual. People are going to disagree, offend one another, fall short of expectations, and we must learn to work through it.  We have to learn to communicate with one another before the breaking point. The alternative is lost friendships, and lost love. People who move from church to church are demonstrating restlessness within themselves. When we shop for a church, rather than pray and let the Holy Spirit lead us to commit to one, then we’ve turned Christ’s community into a consumer commodity. Why are we are seeking to affiliate with an institution and identify with a brand, rather than joining ourselves to a spiritual family? Church is people, not a building, denomination, institution or brand. We are called out from the world, and we are called together in communities to help one another to follow Jesus, and take the Gospel to into our world.


There is no perfect church. You will never find one. We are imperfect people gathering together in communities, and we are perfected day by day as we encourage one another to become more like Christ. I pray that I may encourage our people to realize this, and stay until the Holy Spirit calls them away.

Vindication Part 2

This is the second installment in a series about 21 years of overcoming conflict and opposition as I’ve tried to learn how to minister and speak the truth in Garland, Texas. You can read the intro to the series in my notes on Facebook.

I began ministry in Garland in November of 1992. I had just finished the fourth and most well attended year of a Halloween production I started in The Colony, Texas. It was called House of Judgement. I had no idea at the time how big this Christian dramatic alternative to the traditional haunted house would become.

In my last year in The Colony 2,000 people came through the house. In its first year in Garland, we exceeded that number when 2,250 came through. There was great support from the new church. A wonderful lady, who has since gone to be with the Lord, donated magazine quality flyers to publicize the event. Even still, during one of the performances one of the older volunteers seemed amazed at the number of people who were coming through the House. He confided that he had believed no more than a few people would be interested.

In 1994 people waited in line for hours to witness our Halloween drama and 4,650 came through. We had certainly outgrown the church facilities. Some church members complained: “How big are you going to let this thing get?” Every year many people prayed to receive Christ as the result of what they had witnessed. By this time hundreds of people had responded to our dramatic presentation. So, were we supposed to limit the number of people who heard the Gospel?

The following year was 1995 and the church graciously allowed us to use a recreation center it owned. Over 7,000 people came through the House. More than 10,000 attended when we held it at the same facility the next year. Our final year in this venue was 1997. We had the longest lines in our history, performed into the wee hours of the morning, and well over 11,000 people came through. I don’t believe we could have accommodated more.

Each year I wrote a different script for the production. If you are unfamiliar with House of Judgment, it is a morality play performed on multiple stages. An audience, typically of between 40-50 members, enters the House every 20 minutes or so, and watches the play by moving through a maze from stage to stage. House of Judgement stories were about the lives of teenagers who faced the earthly and eternal consequences of their choices. The story changed every year, but one thing remained the same: teenagers made choices that resulted in their deaths; those who believed in Jesus Christ went to heaven; those who rejected Jesus went to hell. We had some amazing, dramatic representations of heaven and hell!

We had stories about teenagers in gangs, boy-girl relationships gone bad, racism, drugs, suicide, and other issues faced by young people. Sadly, some in our church felt that these stories, and the language used by the actors was offensive. They wanted to edit the scripts. In 1997 I submitted my script to the pastor, who had others look at it. I received it back with portions circled in red, which reminded me of getting a paper back from the teacher at school. One of the memorable offenses I was supposed to remove was the following. A young person is at a party talking about another kid, whom he doesn’t like much. He explains why the other teen is late in coming to the party: “Yeah, he’s a trainer. Always stays late after games and kisses coach’s butt.” I was supposed to edit the phrase “kisses coach’s butt” because of how offensive it was. Thankfully the pastor saw how silly this was and the phrase stayed in the script. This is just an example of a problem that had been brewing for years. We were experiencing resistance and the erosion of support for a ministry that was reaching more and more people with a real and relevant Gospel.

The recreation center had its own board of directors, and they were not always happy with shutting the facility down for this production. Additionally, we probably didn’t return the facility to the condition they expected. I take responsibility for this. My only excuse is the extreme weariness of our key volunteers by the end of a production. We had plenty of people who wanted to be in the show, but few volunteers who wanted to clean up after. A little understanding would have been nice, though.

In 1997 we paid the recreation center for the use of the facility (even though it was owned by the church for which I worked). That year many, many people prayed to receive Christ because of our event. I remember going to the board meeting one night after the event concluded. I was very tired but excited to report the phenomenal number of people who attended and, more importantly, the large number who had responded to the Gospel in the counseling room. There was no enthusiasm from the board. None. I handed them a check for the rent and the treasurer took it without comment or commendation. They opposed us doing House of Judgement there again.

That was the last year House of Judgment was done under the sole authority of the church where I served. A wise woman at the church, who had founded a crisis pregnancy center, recommended that we become a non-profit organization. HOJ, Inc. was born.

In 1998 we encountered more opposition and difficulty than any previous year. We were essentially on our own. We had no building. We had no money. We did have many young people who were interested in acting, and plenty of volunteers ready to work. I had written a brand new script based, in part, on actual events and real people. It promised to be a powerful show. We began rehearsals in August of that year, even before we had a building. The recreation center was kind enough to permit us to use their facility for auditions and rehearsals. This was also the facility where I did youth ministry each week. By mid-September we still had no building in which to perform. The church that I served was too small and would not allow us to perform in their building in any case. We were also still not permitted to do it at the recreation center, even in an emergency. What to do? Where to go?

I searched and searched for a building large enough to accommodate the show, and which we could afford. Finally, we discovered an old shopping center in Richardson, Texas with an owner who was willing to rent it to us for a month. It would cost us far more than we would have had to pay the recreation center of my church, and it had been abandoned for a decade or more. However, I believed we could use it. There were no walls, so we could build our maze and scenes however we wanted. This was going to cost a fortune compared to previous House of Judgement productions. Where would the money come from? Not from my church, which had all but abandoned the project. I decided to open multiple credit card accounts and pay for it that way.

The biggest problem immediately facing us was time. We couldn’t get into the building until October 1st, but the show was scheduled to begin on the 12th. We were going to allow parents of our actors to come through that day as a kind of live dress rehearsal. So, we had 12 days, and three or four credit cards for capital. From this we would create the largest production we’d ever done. Thanks in large part to the leadership and hard work of two professionals who were in the construction industry we met the deadline… sort of.

Ceilings in the old grocery store were over 20 feet. Most of our scenes required a ceiling of less than half that height. Problem was, the fire marshall informed us that we couldn’t create a lower ceiling unless we also lowered the emergency fire sprinklers. This was cost and time prohibitive. As the result, all of our sets were left open at the top. This would present a significant noise challenge. Audiences in one scene would hear things going on in other scenes around them: dialog, music, screaming, gunshots. It was going to be a nightmare. I just hoped people who came through would be able to hear the dialog and get the message. Honestly, I was so discouraged that I never went through and watched the show that year. I was kept rather busy trying to get audiences through, anyhow.

When the first audience of parents and volunteers came through to test us out on October 12th, the final scene was still under construction! In House of Judgement the last scene is always hell. Our hell in 1998 was simple: it consisted of crosses that the condemned would be chained to, symbolic of their rejection of Jesus’ death on the cross. They would have to pay the penalty of their sins by suffering eternal death on crosses of their own. The first several audiences that entered could probably hear a chain saw cutting the telephone poles, which were being used to construct those crosses for the final scene. Construction finished before the first audience got to the scene, but it was certainly not what I’d planned, and I’m sure it wasn’t a terribly scary hell scene… yet.

The House was finished by the following weekend and we opened to the public. We began to see a response we’d never seen before. An average of one in every four people who came through House of Judgement 1998 indicated on a card that they prayed to receive Christ. In spite of all the difficulty and imperfection of the production that year, 13,500 people experience it.  We had 1,800 come through in a single Saturday night!

That year a videographer approached me about taping the show and turning it into a movie. The movie is called Dark Persuasion and can be viewed online at www.youtube.com/deorl