Thursday, September 27, 2007


QUESTION: Who’s more dangerous than Osama bin Laden, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il combined? Here’s a few hints: He doesn’t rant and rave in the fashion of Hitler, Krushev, or Castro – he speaks quietly and eloquently. He doesn’t dress up in an opulent solider’s uniform bedecked with fake medals like Idi Amin, Sadaam Hussein, or Moammar Khadafi – instead he prefers sport coats with open-necked shirts.

I’m talking about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Born to a blacksmith, educated as a revolutionary, trained as a killer and derided by rivals as a mystical fanatic, Ahmadinejad is easily cast as the personification of everything there is to fear about a nuclear Iran.

This past week he spoke at Columbia University and the United Nations. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, who was criticized for inviting Ahmadinejad to speak, issued an excoriating introduction in which he said, “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a cruel and petty dictator.” President Bollinger also challenged Ahmadinejad’s public denial of the reality of the Holocaust, noting: “In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as a fabricated legend. One year later, you held a two-day conference on Holocaust deniers.”

One reason Ahmadinejad is dangerous was revealed by his calm reaction to such a negative introduction. Where some leaders would have been so insulted they would have left the stage, Ahmadinejad acknowledged that the introductory remarks were harsh and that in his country, guests are treated with respect. Then he launched into his speech.

If you read or watched the news reports, most of the attention was focused on the Q&A time in which Ahmadinejad denied there were homosexuals in Iran, (to the hoots and laugher of the audience). He also blatantly questioned who was really responsible for the 9/11 attacks on America, then talked about his desire to visit Ground Zero (which was refused, of course). He denied that Iran was influencing any of the insurgency attacks in Iraq. He also calmly denied that he had ever questioned the reality of the Holocaust. His actual recorded remarks from 2005 are: "They have invented a myth that Jews were massacred and place this above God, religions and the prophets," and "The West has given more significance to the myth of the genocide of the Jews, even more significant than God, religion, and the prophets. (It) deals very severely with those who deny this myth but does not do anything to those who deny God, religion, and the prophet." Here’s a man who can lie easily without even looking uncomfortable.

But what most of the public didn’t read or hear in the news clips were his remarks in the text of his prepared speech. Ahmadinedjad talked more about God in his speech than perhaps any speaker in the past 20 years at this liberal Ivy League school! Of course, he was talking about Allah, the god of Islam, who is NOT the God of the Bible. But most of the hearers at Columbia wouldn’t have made that distinction. Here’s a sample of some of his remarks:

"Dear academics, dear faculty and scholars, students, I believe that the biggest God-given gift to man is science and knowledge. Man's search for knowledge and the truth through science is what it guarantees to do in getting close to God [sic]. But science has to combine with the purity of the spirit and of the purity of man's spirit so that scholars can unveil the truth and then use that truth for advancing humanity's cause.

God is aware of all reality. All researchers and scholars are loved by God. So I hope there will be a day where these scholars and scientists will rule the world and God himself will arrive with Moses and Christ and Mohammed to rule the world and to take us toward justice.

My dear friends, all the words and messages of the divine prophets from Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, to David and Solomon and Moses, to Jesus and Mohammad delivered humans from ignorance, negligence, superstitions, unethical behavior, and corrupted ways of thinking, with respect to knowledge, on the path to knowledge, light and rightful ethics.

Science is the light, and scientists must be pure and pious. If humanity achieves the highest level of physical and spiritual knowledge but its scholars and scientists are not pure, then this knowledge cannot serve the interests of humanity.

If you care to read all of his speech and the Q&A you can find the transcript at:,2933,297930,00.html

I read every word of the transcript, and if you take the time to read it, you’ll have to admit that Ahmadinejad is NOT a wild-eyed, ignorant, Islamic fanatic. He is a calm, educated, confident Islamic fanatic. In my opinion, that makes him much more dangerous. I’m not saying that he’s the Antichrist, or that he has 666 stamped under his scruffy beard. But he’s part of a new breed of Islamic radicals who aren’t content to hide in a cave and direct covert terrorist attacks on America. Instead he visits our country and smiles while he lobs perverted intellectual/religious ideological bombs with impunity.

Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matt 7:15)
Ahamadinejad denies his country is interested in building a nuclear bomb. But scientists believe that Iran is close to having enough enriched Uranium to fabricate a weapon. Adamadinejad has made statements that would indicate that he believes he is called to usher in Armageddon. He has called for the total extermination the nation of Israel. When he spoke at the UN in 2006 he ended his speech by making reference to soon-coming "return of the Hidden Iman" who Shiites believe will usher in the end of time.
You can bet that Israel is watching Iran closely. I suggest that every patriotic American and every Christian who understands end-time prophecy keep a wary eye on this wolf in casual clothing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Sometimes I write about serious stuff, but sometimes I like to just make people smile. Let me know which one of these you like the most – and add your own to the comments section!

After attending my first meeting of the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville, I’m ready to answer the question:
“How many Southern Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?"
One hundred and nine people - seven on the Lightbulb Task Force Sub-committee, who report to the twelve on the Lightbulb Task Force, appointed by the fifteen on the Trustee Board. Their recommendation is reviewed by the Finance Executive Committee of five, who place it on the agenda of the eighteen-member Finance Committee. If they approve, they bring a motion to the twenty-seven Member church Board, who appoint another twelve-member review committee. If they recommend that the Church Board proceed, a resolution is brought to the Congregational Business Meeting. They appoint another eight-member review committee. If their report to the next Congregational Business Meeting supports the changing of a lightbulb, and the Congregation votes in favor, the responsibility to carry out the lightbulb change is passed on to the Trustee Board, who in turn appoint a seven-member committee to find the best price in new lightbulbs. Their recommendation of which hardware is the best buy must then be reviewed by the twenty-three-member Ethics Committee to make certain that this hardware store has no connection to Disney. They report back to the Trustee Board who then commissions the Trustee in charge of the Janitor to ask him to make the change. By then the janitor discovers that the light bulb just needed to be screwed in tighter!

While on this subject:

How many Calvinists does it take to change a light bulb? Calvinists do not change light bulbs. They simply read out the instructions and pray the light bulb will decide to change itself.

How many liberals does it take to change a light bulb? At least ten, as they need to hold a debate on whether or not the light bulb exists. Even if they can agree upon the existence of the light bulb, they still may not change it to keep from alienating those who might use other forms of light.

How many fundamentalists does it take to change a light bulb? Change?????

How many Church of Christ members does it take to change a light bulb? None. The Bible DOES NOT SAY anything about light bulbs!

How many charismatics does it take to change a light bulb? Three. One to place hands on the old bulb and one to catch it when it falls, and one to pray against the spirit of darkness.

How many United Methodists does it take to change a light bulb? We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey, you have found that a light bulb works for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship to your light bulb and present it next month at our annual light bulb Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-lived, and tinted; all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence through Jesus Christ.

How many Jehovah’s Witnesses does it take to change a light bulb? None. The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

How many egotists does it take to change a light bulb? One. They hold the bulb and the world revolves around them.

How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb? To get to the other side.

How many post-modernists does it take to change a light bulb? Each and every one of us.

How many teamsters does it take to change a light bulb? Forty. Hey, you gotta problem with dat?

How many straight San Franciscans does it take to change a light bulb? Both of them.

How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? None, they all scatter when exposed to light.

How many accountants does it take to change a light bulb? What kind of answer did you have in mind?

How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb? Approximately 1.0000000000000000000000.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

O.J. Simpson: Oops he did it again

As you know, O. J. is in jail again. The timing of his recent arrest couldn’t have been more perfect to promote his book. In 2006 Simpson wrote a book “IF I DID IT” (the original cover is seen on the left) which is a “hypothetical” description of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
The original release of the book in Oct 2006 was cancelled.

Last month, a Florida bankruptcy court awarded the rights to the book to the Goldman family to partially satisfy the settlement of the wrongful death civil trial in which Simpson was found guilty.

The Goldman’s have expanded the title to read “IF I DID IT: Confessions of the Killer.” The word "if" is written so small you can hardly see it! (Notice the new book cover to the right). Over the past couple of weeks, it has been one of the best sellers on

The murder trial of O.J. was a sensational event caused more people to tune in to the 24 hour cable news channels. We probably all remember people who were glued to the television for the full duration of the trial.

Simpson hired a team of expensive (totaling $4 million), high-profile lawyers, including F. Lee Bailey, Barry Scheck, Robert Shapiro, Robert Kardashian, Alan Dershowitz, and Johnnie Cochran, who argued that Simpson was the victim of police fraud and sloppy internal procedures that contaminated the DNA evidence. Simpson's defense team, dubbed the "Dream Team" by reporters, argued that LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman had planted evidence at the crime scene. Police evidence collector Dennis Fung also faced heavy scrutiny. In all, 150 witnesses gave testimony during the eight-month-long trial.

On October 3, 1995, in front of an estimated 150 Million television views, Simpson was declared not-guilty.

A CNN poll after the trial in 1995 revealed that 33% of Americans agreed with the verdict and 56% disagreed.
The essence of our judicial system is that a jury of his peers determined that the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty. Legal verdicts are not determined by popular opinion. The principle of Double Jeopardy guarantees that O.J. won’t be tried again for murder.

Some people believe that in our celebrity-obsessed culture, we utilize a different standard for sports and movie stars like O.J. (or Michael Jackson). Michael Vick’s arrest and guilty plea for dog-fighting may represent a backlash against this double standard.

But now O.J. has been arrested for armed robbery in Las Vegas. Only God and O.J. know for certain whether he got away with murder or not. But if he gets sent to jail for armed robbery there would almost be a sense of poetic justice about it all.

However, according to our legal system, he is innocent until proven guilty. Every person gets “their day in court.” It looks like OJ will end up having several!

This only serves to remind me that I stand before the Judge of the Universe and plead that I am completely guilty and deserve the fullest punishment under His perfect law. And in the moment that I throw myself upon the mercy of the court, the Judge steps down from the Divine bench and becomes my advocate. Then, Jesus steps up and accepts the punishment that I deserve.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2cor 5:21)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Although I’m still suffering some effects of jet-lag from the Mediterranean trip, I’m back on an airline today to travel to Nashville for my first meeting as a member of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Because of my primary passion to serve as pastor of Green Acres, I’ve intentionally declined most invitations to serve on boards or committees. Currently, I serve only on the Trinity Mother Frances Health System Foundation Board, and the Board of Trustees of the Texas Baptist Child and Family Services. I accepted that position because of my heart for ministries like Breckenridge Village of Tyler. (For more information on Breckenridge read my August 24 blog)

I allowed my name to placed in nomination for the SBC Executive Committee because of my deep love for the people and churches of our denomination. I also agreed to serve because of my concern for the future of the SBC.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the organization of the Southern Baptist Convention, let me give you a thumbnail of our structure. First, unlike most other denominations, there is no hierarchy in the SBC. It’s not a top-down structure where an individual or a small group dictates policy and practice for the churches. The most powerful entity in the SBC is the local church. There is no pope, bishop, apostle, prefect or board that tells Green Acres what we have to believe, or how we spend our offerings.

This precious Baptist value is called “the autonomy of the local church.” The SBC is an organization is which about 42,000 local churches voluntarily agree to affiliate and cooperate with the other churches for the sake of missions, ministry, and theological education.

In addition to the national SBC organization, there are also State Baptist Conventions (for most states). But the national SBC organization doesn’t dictate to the state conventions either. In addition to the national SBC and State Conventions, there are also local Baptist Associations (usually a county or two). But again, neither the SBC, nor the State Convention dictates to the local associations.

For instance, Green Acres voluntarily affiliates with the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and Smith Country Baptist Association. But these are three separate lines of connection, not one line that runs from the church, through the association through the state to the national convention. If you’re confused at this point, don’t be embarrassed. Probably about 90% of the people in the pews of our churches aren’t clear about this.

The Southern Baptist Convention actually only “exists” for two days a year when the messengers from the local churches convene for the annual meeting. For instance, last June the annual meeting was held in San Antonio and there were about 9,000 messengers from local churches around the U.S. This annual meeting is like a gigantic church business meeting in which any elected messenger can speak or make a motion. It is the largest deliberative body in the world.

Although the convention truly “exists” for two days a year, the work of the Southern Baptist Convention continues 365 days a year through the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, our six seminaries, and various other agencies. So two people from each state convention are elected by the SBC messengers to comprise the Executive Committee. This group oversees the work of the SBC between the annual meetings. I was elected for a four-year term last summer in San Antonio to serve from Texas. The Executive Committee meets three times a year, and oversees the budget and the work of these various agencies.

The 42,000 churches in the SBC all contribute to a fund called “The Cooperative Program” so that even the smallest church can be a partner in world missions, evangelism, and theological education. This year the total Cooperative Program gifts were more than $200,000,000. In 2006 Green Acres gave over $1.7 Million to the Cooperative Program – this amount is more than any other single church in America gave. That’s not a statement of pride, instead it’s a statement that reveals how serious we are about missions. I'm blessed to serve a church where the members are so generous in their gifts and participation in missions. We put our money where our heart is – in THE MISSION of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.

I covet your prayers as I serve the Lord and serve our fellow brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist Convention. We must have organization and structure, because God is not the author of confusion, and everything regarding His church should be done decently and in order (1Cor 14:33). In spite of this, don’t forget that the Bible DOESN’T say, “For God so loved the world that He sent a committee …….”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Where's a Star Trek Transporter when you need one?

Our weary but enlightened travel group is on the way back from Rome to Chicago. We fly from O’Hare to DFW, then we’ll take a bus into Tyler. I’m somewhere over the North Atlantic as I type these words on my laptop. It’s one of those “long travel days.” We left the ship at 6:30am, and flew out of Rome at 11:30am on Friday morning. Because we’re traveling from the East, we’re crossing backwards into time zones so it has been daylight for the entire trip. We are scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 3:30pm. We should be arriving in Tyler before midnight. Almost 24 hours of travel on a Friday afternoon!

I love to travel, and I really enjoy taking groups on mission trips or inspirational trips like this. But like most people, I dread those long flights to get there and back. I’ve decided that I need one of those transporters that used to be on Star Trek.

If you ever watched Star Trek, the television show of the 60’s and 70’s, you’ll recall that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock could step into the “transporter” on the Starship Enterprise. Chief Engineer, Scotty (“I’m givin’ her all she’s ghat, captain”) would push a couple of levers, and presto! In a few seconds they were transported to a planet thousands of miles away. Although you see t-shirts with the slogan, Star Trekkies insist that Captain Kirk never actually said the words, “Beam me up, Scotty.”

I never watched many of the early Star Treks episodes. I’ve seen the reruns, however. By modern standards the sets and dialogue were pretty lame (but better than the old "Lost in Space" show. Remember the robot saying, "Danger, Danger, Will Robinson"?)
However, I was (and still am) a big fan of Star Trek the Next Generation. When our girls were young, it became a family activity to watch Star Trek TNG. We would carefully set the huge, hard-to-program VCR to tape an episode on Saturday night and then after church on Sunday evening we’d sit around eating Taco Bell tacos watching Star Trek, the Next Generation.

We came to know all the characters including Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the android, Data, Riker, Counselor Troy, Dr. Beverly Crusher, and Jordie. But my favorite was the Clingon warrior, Warf. Clingons are real men … uh, at least they would be if they were actually men!

I have a strong personal opinion that Jean-Luc Picard made a MUCH better Captain than Kirk. I think Picard could take Kirk any day of the week. So, if you're a trekkie (or even have an opinion) – leave your comment: Kirk or Picard? And why?

Getting back to the whole transporter idea – it’s time that somebody invented something like that. Over the last 40 years, we've been in a transportation rut.

In the 60’s and 70’s most Americans believed we would be more advanced in space travel by now than we actually are. Those were the days of the space race and in one short decade we progressed from putting a monkey in space to putting men on the moon. Imagine where we might be now if we had maintained that same pace of development.

Do you remember the movie, “2001, A Space Odyssey?” It was produced in the 70’s and the writers predicted that by 2001, we would be involved in interplanetary space travel. They were wrong – but it’s a pretty cool movie, if for no other reason than hearing the spooky voice of HAL the deranged computer.

Our pace of transportation technology development has slowed to a crawl. In the 20th Century, we made quantam leaps from buggies and trains to airplanes and cars. In 2007, we’re still driving cars using internal combustion engines like they were doing in 1910. They look fancier and go faster, but it’s the same technology.

We’re still flying jetliners than bascially follow the scientific principle that the Wright Brothers discovered - a cambered wing produces lift. We're still flying on Boeing 747’s that were built in the 1970’s. The avionics and engines have been upgraded, but they basically still fly as fast and as far as they did 35 years ago. Even the new Boeing 787 due out next year is just a larger, lighter version of the jumbo jet.

So come on! Why don’t some of you MIT or Auburn graduates get on the stick and invent a transporter so none of us will have to endure these 11-hour flights?

I'm not holding my breath. Or canceling my airline reservations. Even if nobody invents a transporter, I'm still going to be transported one day. And it will be quicker and more glorious than Kirk or Picard. In a moment … in a twinkling of an eye .. at the last trumpet ….. those of us who are alive and remain shall be caught up together to meet the Lord in the sky …. Hallelujah!
Beam me up, Jesus!

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Yesterday our travel group enjoyed an eight-hour tour of Corinth and Athens. Corinth is about 60 miles from the port, but it took us two hours because the Athens traffic is worse that LBJ Freeway at rush hour. We crossed the Corinthian Canal that was completed in 1893. This four-mile long canal connects the Aegean Sea with the Ionian Sea, saving ships the 400 miles it used to take to sail around the Peloponnesus. Nero attempted to dig it in 60 A.D., but his “engineers” told him that if the two seas were connected the Ionian Sea would drain into the Aegean Sea, flooding all of Greece (can you say “sea level?”)

When we arrived in ancient Corinth we walked through the excavations of this amazing city. Corinth was the site of the Temple of Apollos and the center of worship for the fertility goddess Aphrodite. It is not far from the Ionian Sea, and it is estimated that there were 3,000 temple prostitutes living there. These prostitutes were the priestesses of Aphrodite, and all the worship acts were led by the older female priestesses. The prostitutes could be identified because they would wear sandals with a word written on the bottom of the sandal that said, “follow me.” They would flash the bottom of the sandal to sailors and other visitors to lure them into their depraved worship acts. Corinth was so wicked that it was common throughout the Roman Empire to talk about someone being “Corinthianized” when they became thoroughly corrupt.

It was in this erotic culture that the Apostle Paul introduced the revolutionary concept that agape (1 Cor 13) was the highest and purest love.

Not far away across the inlet of the sea you can see where the Oracle of Delphi was located. This was a “possessed” woman who went into a trance and babbled supposedly giving the future to generals and officials who visited her. When you understand this historical background, it’s easier to understand why Paul wrote so strongly to the church at Corinth about women being silent in the church. He didn’t want Christian worship to be confused with fertility worship. The reason he carefully regulated the gift of speaking in tongues was because of the unruly influence of the oracle at Delphi. He wrote that God is not the author of confusion and that everything in the church should be done decently and in order.

Paul spent almost 18 months here working in a tent-making business with Aquilla and Priscilla. Every customer became a potential believer. Paul was rejected by the members of the Jewish synagogue, but Crispus, the president of the synagogue became a believer.

On our tour, we stood in front of the remains of the raised platform that was called a bema. This was the judgment seat, where the proconsul would sit and judge cases and pass out awards. The jealous Jews in Corinth brought Paul before the proconsul Gallio and charged him with treason. Gallio declared Paul not-guilty. Every citizen of Corinth could picture this setting when Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat (bema) of Christ.” (2 Cor 5:10)
Corinth is in ruins, but, Athens is a bustling city. The population of Greece is about 11 Million and 5 Million of those live in the vicinity of Athens. In Acts 17 Paul made his defense before the 12 judges who comprised the Areopagus (Acts 17:22). This is often called his “sermon at Mars Hill.” Mars is the Latin name of the Greek god, Ares, but the translation isn’t the best because it wasn’t a place as much as an official council. It was more than a sermon; it was Paul’s defense to the charge of “bringing strange ideas” to Athens. Remember, Socrates had been condemned to death by the Areopgaus for his “strange ideas” and forced to drink hemlock.

To appreciate Paul’s intelligence take a moment and read Paul’s address in Acts 17:22-31.

Paul’s defense is a masterpiece of erudition and philosophical reasoning. In his brief address, he makes direct or indirect references to: (1) Eumenides of Aeschylus; (2) Plato’s Tenth Book of the Republic; (3) Epimenides the Cretan poet; (4) Aratus the Cilician: and (5) Euripides the Greek philosopher.

Joke: Did you hear about the Greek guy that took a pair of torn trousers into an alternation shop? He showed the trousers to the owner and asked, “Eumenides?” The owner replied, “Euripides?” (You have to read it out loud to get it…… Okay, for all you Aggies or Crimson Tide fans, Eumenides is pronounced “you meni dees” and Euripdes is pronounced “you rip a dees”) Sorry, I can’t help it – I have groaner’s disease.

Paul was “becoming all things to all men” in order to win some. He could talk to a tent customer, a solider, or a woman dying cloth beside the river (Lydia in Phillipi). But he could also hang in there with the most astute minds of that time – members of the Areopagus. He began by complimenting them on being very religious. Then he made reference to the “unknown God” and proceeded to explain that the unknown God was Jesus.

Paul said, “We should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man’s design and skill,” (Acts 17:29). As he spoke these words, he certainly gestured behind him to the massive Parthenon shining above on the Acropolis. Inside the temple was a 40-foot gold statue of the matron goddess of Athens, Athena.

Paul’s speech was interrupted with sarcastic laughter when he mentioned the resurrection of Jesus. They said, “We will hear you later on this matter.” That was a polite dismissal. But one of the judges, Dionysius, became a believer. Basically, Athens, the intellectual capital of the ancient world, rejected Paul and his message. Paul had to leave quickly. Little did he know that his short speech would be remembered and that entire books would be written about it. Today it stands alongside the Funeral Oration of Pericles and the Philippics of Demosthenes as one of the greatest philosophical speeches of the Greek era.

FAST FORWARD: Almost 20 Centuries have passed. Greece finally emerged from the Islamic Turkish regime after WWI, and since 1974 it has once again become a sovereign state with its own national flag. The actual name of the country is NOT Greece, by the way; it’s the Hellenic Republic. Two thousand years ago, the city leaders laughed Paul out of court when he mentioned the resurrection of Jesus, but today, the national flag that flies over the ruins of the Parthenon is lowered to half-mast each Good Friday, and then raised on Easter Sunday morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

God ALWAYS has the last word!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Our tour group visited the ancient site of Ephesus yesterday. During its peak, Ephesus was had over 250,000 people living there making it the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire (behind Rome, Alexandria and Antioch).

Some of the important sites there are: the Church of St. John where the grave of the Apostle John is believed to be located. Also, there is a strong tradition that Luke is buried near Ephesus as well. The main tourist attractions are the ruins of the city of Ephesus. It is still under excavation with only about 20% of it having been uncovered.

According to Acts 20:31, Paul spend three years in Ephesus which would make it his longest “pastorate.” Like everywhere else, he stirred up plenty of trouble there. Because so many people turned to Christ by his preaching, the lucrative silver trade supplying sacrificial shrines for the goddess Artemis suffered. People can usually be religiously tolerant until it starts affecting their pocket book.

A mob gathered in the amphitheater to protest this trend. The same massive theater that seated 24,000 people has been excavated and can be seen today. The crazed mob chanted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” for two solid hours (Acts 19:34) As they shouted, they could look about ½ mile to their right and see their glorious temple. Paul wanted to speak to the crowd, but cooler heads prevailed, and he escaped to preach another day.

The Temple of Artemis (also called Diana) was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Artemis was a fertility goddess and virgin huntress. She was considered the first of the “Amazon women” and the priests were young girls who dressed in Amazon-huntress fashion. The temple consisted of 117 columns that were 60 feet in height and 6 feet in diameter. It was 440 feet long, 220 feet wide and 60 feet high. Inside the temple was some kind of object that had fallen from the sky (Acts 19:35). Scholars speculate that it was a meteorite that resembled the shape of a woman, with multiple breasts to represent fertility.

Today, all that remains of the great temple is one column and the foundation. In fact, there is nothing that remains in Ephesus – it is only an archeological site – there’s nothing there but cold stones and dead memories. As I’ve traveled the world, I’ve often wondered why some cities still exist today that existed in Bible times, and why others have simply become a pile of rocks. For instance, the Athens and Rome that Paul visited are still a thriving city, but Ephesus is gone. Why?

Some say it was because the Cayster River filled with silt and it was no longer suitable for a port. True, but the city could have just shifted a few miles south to the Meander River (from which we get our English word “to meander.”) Why is the great city of Ephesus a ghost town? I believe the answer is found in 2 Ephesians. Yep, I said 2 Ephesians. Now, if you know your Bible you’re thinking, “there’s a 2 Corinthians and a 2 Thessalonians, but there’s not a 2 Ephesians.” Yes there is. It’s just not called 2 Ephesians. It’s the letter that Jesus sent to the Church in Ephesus found in the 2nd Chapter of the Revelation.

Ephesus was one of the seven churches in Asia Minor to receive a special message from the Lord. When John penned these words: “To Ephesus under the direct orders of Jesus (Rev 1:19),” he knew the church well because tradition says that he had been the pastor there before he was arrested and exiled to Patmos. By the time Jesus sent this message to the Ephesian Church, they had grown large and influential. Listen to the warning that Jesus gave them:

“I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! (Perhaps a sarcastic reference to the meteorite that had fallen from the sky?) Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Rev 2:4-5)

Today, Ephesus is a dead city with no churches. It looks to me like they had their lampstand removed – just as Jesus promised.

Let this be a warning to all of us – especially at times when we’re tempted to boast about the riches and influence of the American church. We must repent and return to our first love as well – a passionate, fervent love for Jesus. If we don’t (should Jesus tarry), there may be tour group visiting the ruins of America in the year 4007, as a guide explains the past glory and beauty of our culture.

Monday, September 10, 2007


It’s Sunday and we’re docked at the strikingly beautiful city of Istanbul, Turkey. We had our own worship service this morning for those not on an early excursion, and most of our folks who weren’t on a planned tours visted different sites in the city.
It’s now Sunday afternoon, and at this moment, I can hear at least six different Muslim calls-to-prayer over loud speakers across the city – and that’s just within my hearing range (there must be a hundred others I can’t hear in this city of 15 Million people that sprawls for about 50 miles.) Each warbling, high-pitched sing-song chant in Arabic is in painful disharmony with the others, and the different calls clash with each other like playing five notes next to each other on a piano keyboard. It’s really unnerving and unsettling to hear. What a contrast with the beautiful musical harmony that is a part of our worship experience – and which I missed so much today at Green Acres!

Istanbul is a city in transition trying to find its identity. The city truly bridges east and west, because it is located on the dividing point between Europe and Asia. The city spans the narrow body of water (Golden Horn – or Hellespont in earlier literature) that connects the Aegean Sea with the Black Sea. As I look to the left, I see buildings and ornate mosques in Europe, and as I glance to the right across the Bosphorus (the thriving harbor), I see buildings and mosques in Asia. Istanbul is at a cultural and religious crossroads and it could play a major role in the unfolding of history in these last days.

A LITTLE HISTORY: In 330 A.D. Constantine moved the capital of the Empire from Rome to the city formerly known as Byzantium (Byzantine art and culture stem from this site). At first Constantine called the city New Rome (like New York) but the name was later changed to Constantinople in his honor. In 395, Theodosis divided the Empire between his sons, with the western empire administered from Rome and the eastern empire centered in Constantinople. A little later, the catholic church (“catholic” with a small “c” just means worldwide church) divided between West and East. The West became the Roman Catholic Church and the East became the Eastern Orthodox Church (also known as Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox).

With the spread of Islam in the 8th century, most areas in the Byzantine Empire fell to the Muslim armies. Constantinople held out longer than other areas. (The European Crusader armies of the Fourth Crusade controlled Constantinople from 1204-1262).

But in 1453, the Islamic warrior, Sultan Mehmet II, captured the city and changed the name to Islambol (“the city of Islam”). The modern version of the name is “Istanbul.” The Ottoman Empire grew and thrived for the next 400 years. The Ottoman Turks were one of the most prosperous and powerful dynasties in world history. With the arrival of Islam as the only religion, the churches were closed and turned into mosques.

For instance, one of the oldest Christian Church buildings in the world is found in Istanbul. It’s called Haghia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) and dates back to 537 A.D. When Constantinople was captured by the Muslims it was converted to a mosque, and today it is a museum. As an avid lover of church history, I couldn’t make myself visit it today because I’m afraid I would have been saddened by the way the beautiful church had been kidnapped by the Muslm Conquerors. Since that time until now, Turkey has been a predominately Muslim nation.

A LITTLE TRIVIA: Istanbul is where the British nurse, Florence Nightingale, became famous. During the Crimean War in 1854-56 she set up a hospital for wounded British, French, and Turkish soldiers. She is credited with creating modern nursing practice.

After WWI, the sultanate was abolished and Turkey became a republic. For the past 80 years Turkey has mandated a separation between government and religion. While being a Muslim country, it has maintained a secular government which has also allowed Christian churches to exist in Turkey. There aren’t many churches, but they are not illegal. Currently about 5% of Turks are Christians. However, that could change soon – and not to the advantage of Christians.

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the past decade, you know that it is the stated goal of militant Islamic forces to establish Islamic states in EVERY country – but especially in every country where Islam is prominent. I read just today in an English newspaper that in recognition of the 9/11 attacks that Osama Ben Laden’s has released a video in which he directs all Americans to embrace Islam – as if it’s an option. For much of history, Muslims converted nations by saying, “convert or die.” That’s basically the same message that OBL is still mouthing. At least he’s not guilty of political doublespeak – he doesn’t beat around the Bush (no pun intended).

Unfortunately, times are changing in Turkey. There are loud and vocal forces who are attempting to steer Turkey away from its distinction between secular and religious governments. In the last election, a pro-Islamic party was placed in power. There is an alarming trend in Turkey to make it less like the West and more like the radical Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia and other Arabic countries.

I’ve read that ten years ago, it was rare to see a Turkish female wearing a burkha (head covering). Over the past two days, I estimate that about 50% of the Turkish women are now wearing them – an indication that the population is embracing a stricter form of Islam than before. There have been recent large demonstrations in Istanbul to change the country from their current republic back to a more religious-based government. If Turkey becomes an Islamic state, it will be a huge plum for militant Islam. If that should happen, God forbid, then once again the churches would be closed and Christians might be expelled. In other words, as in other Islamic Sates, Christianity would again be illegal.

Based upon my observation, it could go either way. We need to pray for the wonderful, friendly, people of Turkey – that they will resist the extremist forces that want to drag them back into the 15th Century.

Don’t be fooled, Istanbul!

If they become an Islamic State, our mission efforts in this part of the world would be severely hampered. So, pray for Turkey, and for the people of Turkey. Ask every Christian you know to that the Turkish people will refuse to be drawn into militant Islamic extremism.

In my humble opinion, Islam is not just another nice religion that we can place beside Christianity and politely say, “Muslims get to paradise through Mohammed, and Christians get to God through Jesus.” It is a dangerous, deceptive, false religion that prevents people from even listening to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s true in Turkey just as it is in Texas, Tennessee, Tanzania or Tazmania – “Salvation in found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I’ve enjoyed seeing Turkey today, but now I’ve got to go … it’s time to dress for dinner. So you might say today has been all about Turkey and dressing.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Waking Up in a Beautiful Place

We set sail from Rhodes yesterday and arrived at the Greek Island of Santorini this morning. Santorini really is one of the most beautiful spots on earth. It’s part of a ring of islands formed by a huge volcano. The main town, Fira, sits atop a sheer cliff that rises 1,000 out of the azure water. Perched on top of the cliff are dozens of pastel colored buildings that hug the cliff side as if they are part of the natural rock. When you see travel posters for the Mediterranean, you’ll most often see a picture of Santorini.
The ship arrived in the harbor in the early morning hours and anchored there. We are fortunate to have an outside stateroom, so when I opened the curtain this morning, my senses were pleasantly assaulted by the sheer beauty of the scene before my eyes. It was so awe inspiring that I couldn’t help but utter, “Oh, wow!”

When I went to sleep last night, there wasn’t anything to see - only dark seas. Then I went to sleep, and I woke up in a beautiful place. I couldn’t help but think that when my time comes to die, I’ll have the same experience – except that the wonder and awe of heaven will be a billion times greater!

Since the beginning of recorded human history, death has been a lurking adversary for each person. I’ve read somewhere that human beings are the only creatures who know they’re going to die. That’s probably correct, but whenever I read that I remember how in the early Tarzan movies, the elephants that were dying would go to a certain valley for their final resting place. That could be a Hollywood inspired myth, or maybe some basic animal instinct. For sure, we are the only creatures who can think about dying for most our lives.

It always reminds me of the funny story I heard about a preacher who was trying to drive home this point. He shouted, “Every member of this church is going to die!” A little kid on the front row giggled. The preacher didn’t like that so he repeated his statement with more vigor and volume, “I SAID, ‘every member of this church is going to die!’” The same little kid laughed out loud. The preacher just stopped and said, “Son, what’s so funny about that?” The kid replied, “I’m not a member of this church!” Whether you’re a member of our church, any church, or no church, the Bible says that everyone is going to die.

Before the cross, death was a terrifying prospect. Satan used the idea of death to terrorize and frighten people. But the Bible says, “by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and FREE those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb 2:14-15)

In our you-only-live-once culture, people are doing everything within their power and income to avoid or delay the slow but steady approach of death. Physical fitness and health should be the goal of every Christian, but we do it to keep God’s temple clean and to be a usable vessel for as long as possible. Some people, including baseball great Ted Williams, have even resorted to Cryogenics to keep their bodies frozen until a future date when science and technology has found a cure for death. Don’t hold your breath, Ted. Oh, sorry, you don’t have any breath do you? I’ve said it would be my luck that if I was frozen after I die, someone would trip over the cord and unplug me!

But death is no longer a threat for Christians. Since Jesus conquered death, those of us whose lives are hid in Christ no longer have to fear death. It’s just like going to sleep and waking up in a beautiful place.

I believe that’s why the Apostle Paul used the term “sleep” for death. “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (I Thess 4:13-14)

A few weeks ago, my secretary received a call from one of our television viewers near Hawkins, Texas. This lady shared that her mother was dying of cancer and that since she was no longer able to attend her own church, she watched me on television every Sunday. Her mom was a Christian, but she was struggling with the fear of dying, so she asked if I would drive out and speak to her mom. I was happy to do it.

I visited with her on the back porch of her house. We sipped glasses of iced-tea as her three friendly dogs competed with each other for my attention. As I asked her the basic diagnostic questions about salvation, she gave a clear testimony of her faith in Jesus, but she shared that she was just afraid of what it was going to be like to die.

I said, “I think it’s going to be like this. When I was a kid in South Alabama, my family would often drive to Panama City, Florida to visit my grandparents. We would sometimes drive back late at night. On most of those return trips, I would fall sound asleep in the car. When we arrived home, I wouldn’t wake up, instead my dad would carry me in his strong arms and put me in my bed. When I woke up the next morning, I would be at home in my bed. I went to sleep at one location, but when I woke up I was safe at home. I believe that when it comes time for you to go home, you’ll just go to sleep here and the next thing you know you’ll wake up and you’ll be home – in heaven.” As a single tear trickled down her cheek, she smiled and said, “Thanks. That helps me a lot.”

One day, those of us who have placed our lives in Christ will wake up in a beautiful place – more beautiful than any scenery on earth. The truth that makes heaven home is not WHAT is there – streets of gold, crystal sea etc. Heaven will be a beautiful home for us because there is a beautiful Savior there.

I’ll see you in the morning.

Friday, September 7, 2007


I’m in the middle of an educational experience in which I’m leading a tour of people from Texas studying the Adventures of Paul on the Mediterranean Sea. There’s no record that Paul preached in Rhodes, but he did stop here on his way to his final showdown in Jerusalem. Acts 21:1 says, “After we had torn ourselves away from them (the tearful meeting with the Ephesian elders), we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara.” Today the main bay is called St. Paul’s Bay even though there is no record that Paul stayed and preached there.

The importance of Rhodes stems from two interesting historical footnotes. First, it was the location of one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. A huge statue, called the Colossus of Rhodes, stood at the entrance to the harbor. Some eyewitnesses claim that the 100-foot statue stood with his two legs spanning the opening to the harbor (it IS a narrow opening). It was said to be so tall that the largest ships of the day would sail under the legs of Colossus. (Other accounts had the colossal statue standing on a pedestal beside the harbor.) The bronze monument was built to honor the sun god Helios and took twelve years to build. It was toppled by an earthquake 227 BC after standing for 56 years. The remains were later moved to Asia Minor where they were eventually lost and probably melted down to make weapons.

The other historical highlight of Rhodes is that it was the last outpost for Christians when the Ottoman Turks were conquering much of that part of the world in the name of Islam. One by one, all the islands fell to the Turks, but a small, brave band of Christian Knights kept Rhodes protected from the Muslim invaders. For years, the Turks enlarged the force besieging the island. The island finally fell and on January 1, 1523, the remaining Knights were offered safe passage. They along with 2000 Christians remaining on the island chose to leave rather than to live under Islam. In the battle for the island, 3000 Christians had been killed, and over 50,000 Muslim warriors had died.

The island is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Europeans because it enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year. Tourists still worship the sun, just without the statue.

I wasn’t surprised by the narrow streets or by the multitude of shops and Greek restaurants, but I have to confess I experienced culture shock when I walked into a main square of the old city and saw three Native Americans performing an ancient song and dance routine. They were dressed in full feathered headdresses, buckskin loin cloths, and their bodies were adorned with war paint. There were two men and a boy of about seven chanting and singing into microphones with a taped accompaniment. Between verses they would perform a war dance (or maybe a rain dance, I’m not an expert). They were actually dancing around patting their open hands to their mouths going, “woo, woo, woo, woo” just like we did when we were kids! After their show, they offered to sell Native American items such as spears, feathered headdresses, and spirit omens.

I thought, “What’s wrong with this picture? Here I am in Greece, and I’m watching something from a black-and-white Cowboy-and-Indian movie!” That kind of activity wouldn’t even be politically correct anymore in America, but I suppose the stories of the American Wild West are still fascinating to people in other countries.
I was reminded again that people around the world often have misconceptions about our country. Some people viewing the show today might actually think there are Native Americans who dress and act like that today. When the truth is that many of our Native Americans are getting the last laugh for being evicted and smile all the way to the bank with their casino profits!

Being exposed to other cultures (even an American subculture in Greece) is a valuable experience for a believer. The gospel of Jesus Christ is for EVERY culture and EVERY nation on the planet. True Christianity is not an American faith, a European faith, or an Asian faith. As the future song to Jesus in heaven resounds, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9)

All roads don’t lead to heaven – only ONE does: Jesus Christ. And that’s the COLLOSAL truth that stands over every person who will ever enter the safe harbor of heaven!

Thursday, September 6, 2007


As our travel group toured the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica, I was reminded again of the tremendous wealth of the Roman Catholic Church and the pride which they possess over their history and position. Lest you think I’m about to attack the Catholics, think again. ’ll get around to that when I finishing pointing out the mistakes of Baptists (which means I’ll never get around to it).

It was the third time I had visited the Vatican Museum, and it is a huge facility that would take eight days just to see all the art on display. And 90% of the art, artifacts and antiquities owned by the Vatican are NOT on display. In other words, the value of the Roman Catholic Church in art alone would run into the trillions of dollars. It’s hard to estimate since so much of the art is truly priceless.

It reminds me of the story I heard about two clergymen who served wealthy congregations. As they were standing in one of their ornate cathedrals, one waved his hand at the artwork and gold and said, “Look how far we’ve come. In the beginning Peter and John had to say to the crippled beggar, ‘Silver or gold I do not have.’ We no longer have to say that. Look at all the wealth we have.” But the other clergyman wisely responded, “That’s true, but neither can we say to crippled people the words Peter spoke when he said, ‘But what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ It’s true that we’ve lost the poverty - but somewhere along the way, we’ve also lost the power.”

Our group visited the beautiful Sistine Chapel, which is still the biggest draw at the Vatican Museum. After the refurbishment of Michelangelo’s ceiling and Last Judgment in 2000, the colors are once again brilliant. During tourist hours, the chapel is packed with several thousand people all standing with their necks bent backward looking up at the story of God’s message – maybe we’ve lost the vertical aspect of worship in our evangelical churches

As we walked through St. Peter’s Basilica, I was once again drawn toward the fascinating Pieta, Michaelangelo’s sculpture of Mary holding the limp body of her son. I smiled at the intentional artistic misproportion of Mary – who is larger than Jesus.
Dominating one corner is the massive tomb of one of the Pope Pious (I forgot his number), with the globe under the foot of the angel with a nail through England because of Henry VIII’s apostasy in leaving the mother church. Not very subtle.

The Roman Catholic Church is an amazing institution. I think there are some born again Catholics who know the Lord and love Him – in spite of the layers of tradition and history. (Is that radical? I even think there are some born again Baptist who know the Lord – in spite of all the Baptist politics!) Do they embrace doctrines that I think are unbiblical? Absolutely – just like legalistic Christians in every church. You’ve got to admit though, the Catholics have it down to a system – attend mass, confess to the priest, genuflect, participate in the sacraments – push, pull, click, click – salvation. But how different is that from evangelicals who still embrace legalism to earn God’s blessing and favor. Legalists like DOING things to feel good about their faith – they may be a little jealous of our Catholic friends who get to DO all those rituals. I guess you could say Christian legalists (oxymoron?) are guilty of penance-envy.

As we walked through the center of the basilica, our guide informed us that St. Peter’s is the “the longest, widest, and highest Christian Church in the world.” (I guess they don’t consider Joel Osteen’s “arena” in Houston a true church). They are so proud of the size of St. Peter’s that there are inlaid marks on the floor showing the length of the other large cathedrals in the world – for instance, there’s a mark for the Notre Dame in Paris, and even one for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. These marks are placed on the floor so everyone can see how much bigger St. Peter’s is than the other cathedrals. Pretty arrogant, huh?

Actually, it reminded me of when I used to attend Baptist meetings and hear preachers compare the sizes of their congregations as a badge of honor. As a young preacher, I used to hear them ask other pastors, “How many are you running now?” I can remember thinking, “I may be RUNNING 200, but I’m only ‘catching’ about 50 of them!” When a preacher asked, “How many are you running?” I always suspected what he really meant was, “Now ask me how many I’m running so I can tell you much how much larger my church is.”
I must confess I was guilty of some of those church-size-comparisons when I was young. I was always in awe of the big church pastors. I’ve learned since then that CHURCH HEALTH is a much better indicator than CHURCH SIZE. I’ve known of healthy congregations of 100 who were faithful and effective, and I’ve known of congregations of 3,000 who were crazily dysfunctional.

I used to embrace all the practical church growth strategies so I could GROW a great church for God. It’s was a liberating day when I realized that it wasn’t my job to grow or build a church. Once when I was on a personal retreat, Jesus made these words come alive for me, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). I remember saying, “Wait a minute, Lord I thought I was supposed to build your church!” The impression I received from the Lord emphasized the pronouns He had used. “I didn’t say, ‘YOU will build YOUR church.’ Or ‘I will build YOUR church,’ or ‘YOU will build MY church.’ I said, “I will build MY church.” Since that day, I’ve just tried to be faithful and believed that since Jesus was building His church, I didn’t have to try to build it bigger – I only have to try to create a healthy spiritual atmosphere in which growth can happen.

“How big is your church?” It’s more important to answer, “How HEALTHY is HIS church where you serve?”

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


When you study the book of Acts, it’s easy to see that the Apostle Paul loved to travel. He spent a lot of time sailing the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea. His desire to travel and take the gospel to Rome and beyond is why Christianity spread like a contagious disease. Paul not only spent time ON the sea; he spent time IN the sea! He mentions that he was shipwrecked three times and even spent over a day and night in the water.

Over the next eleven days, I’m taking a break from my regular pastoral routine to lead a group of Texas travelers to the Mediterranean Sea. After a tour of Rome, we’re boarding the Celebrity Cruise Ship Galaxy to sail around the tip of the boot of Italy into the Aegean Sea. I’m calling this tour THE MEDITERRANEAN ADVENTURES OF THE APOSTLE PAUL. Hopefully, we’ll have LESS of an adventurous time than Paul!

I’ll be teaching a Bible Study on board the ship about the life and journeys of Paul. In addition, I am escorting our group on special tours of Ephesus, Corinth, and Athens. The Galaxy will also be stopping at other ports including Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Istanbul and Naples.

I’ve been to Israel 16 times and I love taking people to stand in the very places where so many Bible events occurred. One of the my greatest joys is watching the expressions on the faces of people as they realize they’re standing where Jesus stood. From that point on, they will always have a visual frame of reference for the events described in the Gospels. This is my first trip retracing some of the steps of Paul, so I’m hoping to learn a lot. Depending on internet availability, I’ll be posting several blogs about our trip.

In preparation for this trip, I’ve been devoting some extra study into the life of Paul and I’ve fallen in love again with this amazing servant. Some historians claim that, excluding Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul was the most influential person in human history. Certainly, his impact on Western Civilization is immeasurable.

Have you ever wondered about Paul’s appearance? There is an apocryphal description of the physical appearance of Paul found in a document called “The Acts of Paul and Thecla.” This document is uninspired, unauthoritative, and contains teaching contrary to scripture, so we don’t know if this somewhat famous description is pure fiction or based on an eyewitness account. With that disclaimer, it’s still interesting to read:

“A man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace. For sometimes he seemed like a man, and sometimes he had the countenance of an angel.”

If I had to proffer an opinion, I’d guess that it’s probably accurate because if someone was going to fabricate a physical description, wouldn’t they make Paul sound a little more attractive? He doesn’t exactly sound like a candidate for the cover of GQ!

In our beauty-obsessed culture, I wonder how well Paul would have been received by Americans today. Americans want their leaders to be handsome. I’ve tried to get my friend, U.S. Representative, Louie Gohmert, to run for President, and he always laughs and says, “Do you know how long it’s been since Americans elected a bald president?” Hmmm let’s see, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, FORD? (We didn’t elect him) Nixon, LBJ, Kennedy…and the winner is: IKE. (So what does that say about Rudi, John, and Fred?)

My point is, do you think Paul would have gained the eye of a pastor selection committee? I can just hear the committee discussing their candidates and someone says, “Oh, was he the short, bald guy with the big nose and the unibrow?”

No, we don’t know what Paul really looked like, but we do know that he had problems with illness and weakness. The beauty of God’s plan is that He can use a tall, handsome man with piercing eyes like Billy Graham ….He just has to work a little harder. God delights to use the weak, the ignorant, the ugly, those who other words, the LEAST likely candidates! Aren’t you glad that “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart?” Paul might have been short and ugly in the eyes of people, but today he stands as A GIANT on God’s list of servants.

So, friend, Paul should remind us that God can use YOU in spite of your mistakes, your appearance, or your faults. Don Francisco has a great song about how God used Balaam’s donkey. He concludes the song with these profoundly funny words:


PS The painting of Paul being blinded by Christ’s presence is by the Italian artist, Carravagio: “The Conversion on the Way to Damascus.”

Monday, September 3, 2007


In my last blog I talked about the joy of flying. It is indeed a joy to leave the ground and soar into the sky. I know that I’m no closer to God there than I am on the ground, but there is something refreshing and renewing about climbing above the dust and dirt. It can be the hottest day in summer, but when you climb to about 6,000 or 7,000 feet, it’s always cool up there.

You might remember after the Challenge Space Shuttle exploded, President Ronald Reagan paid tribute to the Challenger Astronauts by saying, "We shall never forget them nor the last time we saw them, as they prepared for their mission and waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God." He was actually quoting a portion of a poem written in 1941 by an American pilot named John Gillespie Magee, Jr. During the days of the Battle of Britain, many American pilots crossed into Canada to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force so they could fly against the Nazis before America had entered the war. As an 18 year old pilot, John Gillespie joined these brave pilots and soon found himself flying in England.

After pilot training, John flew for the RCAF out of Digby, England. He was soon qualified to fly the Supermarine Spitfire. On 3 September 1941, Magee flew a high altitude (30,000 feet) test flight in a newer model of the Spitfire V. As he orbited and climbed upward, he was struck with the inspiration of a poem — "To touch the face of God." Once back on the ground, he wrote a letter to his parents. In it he commented, "I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed." On the back of the letter, he jotted down his poem, 'High Flight'.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Just three months later, on 11 December 1941 (and only three days after the US entered the war), Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., was killed. The Spitfire V he was flying collided with an Oxford Trainer from Cranwell Airfield. John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was 19 years old.

It’s a beautiful poem, and any pilot who reads those words will smile and immediatley connect with the unmatched feeling of soaring into the sky. I’ve experienced it many times myself. But I’ve never even thought I came to touching God’s face. I’ve just been amazed at the beauty and the enormity of God’s marevelous creation.

I believe one day I will touch the face of God when I stand in the presence of Jesus. Those who saw the face of Jesus saw the face of God, and those who touched His face, literally touched the face of God. As the words of my favorite Christmas song say, "Mary, did you know ... when you kissed the face of Jesus, you have kissed the face of God?" (words by Mark Lowery).

By faith, we can experience the glory of God’s face in our hearts. God’s Word says, “For God who said, ‘let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2Cor 4:6) So open your eyes of faith, and turn your eyes on Jesus, and you will see the face of God. Reach out with your arms of faith and you can touch the face of God – and you don’t need an airplane for that!

Saturday, September 1, 2007


I’ve always been fascinated by airplanes. As a child in South Alabama, I marveled at the military jets from Tyndall and Eglin AF bases that flew over our area. Before sonic boom regulations were established, it was not uncommon to hear loud “booms” that shook the windows as these jets broke the sound barrier.

I decided as a child I wanted to be a pilot. In college, I took Air Force ROTC ground school as an elective (even though I was never in the Air Force). After graduation I started taking flying lessons in a Cessna 150 at Wetumpka airport near Montgomery. A Cessna 150 is a tiny two seat airplane that is used primarily for training. My instructor weighed about 250 pounds, so the little plane would struggle to climb after take off. After about 10 hours of dual time I was ready to solo. My instructor got out, and I was amazed at how well the airplane flew with 250 less pounds!

On of the most exhilarating experiences of my life was that first solo flight as that little airplane climbed like a homesick angel!

In seminary, I worked for Louisville Flying Service at Bowman Field not too far from Southern Seminary. I did everything from parking and servicing aircraft to ferrying them and doing some charter work flying passengers to destinations around Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois.

That was over 30 years ago, and since then I have amassed well over 1,000 hours and attained a multi-engine and instrument rating. I've been a partner in owning a Mooney20B, a Cessna 310 (twin engine – Colemill Conversion) and now I’m a partner in a beautiful Cherokee 235 (like the airplane in the picture above).

I still love to fly – simply for the joy of flying. And I've enjoyed using an airplane for the convenience of traveling to preach around Texas and other states. It has turned a 12 hour drive to see my granddaughter in Columbia, MO into a three hour flight!

I’ve learned many spiritual lessons in the cockpit. For instance, when you’re flying in IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) you can’t see the horizon because of clouds, so you must TRUST your instruments with your life - literally. In every cockpit there is an instrument called an artificial horizon, and you watch it to make sure the wings are level and you aren’t climbing or descending. That's the primary instrument, but you must also scan the Altimeter, Vertical Speed Indicator, Directional Gyro, and Airspeed indicator. Instruments can malfunction, so you gather information from more than one source.

There have been times I’ve been flying in clouds when I didn’t FEEL that I was flying level, and I had a DESIRE to bank the airplane until it FELT level, but I had to IGNORE my feelings (which can be affected by slight disorientation or vertigo) and BELIEVE what the instruments were telling me. You may recall in 1999 that John F. Kennedy, Jr. died when the airplane he was flying crashed. The NTSB concluded that he experienced spatial disoreintation and lost control of the aircraft. In hindsight, he should have watched his instruments, or better yet, just punched on his auto-pilot which would have leveled the aircraft. Dependence on feelings can be fatal to a pilot.

That’s a parable of the Christian walk. We can’t depend on our feelings, because our feelings can be misleading. We must put our absolute and complete TRUST in God alone. The writer of Hebrews says the same thing, “Without FAITH it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb. 11:6)