Mar 27, 2008

How Bizarre

Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.” (Mark 8:22-26).

This has got to be the strangest healing story in the bible.

A guy was led to Jesus so that he might be healed.

So what does Jesus do when the guy gets to him? Spits in his face! Now that's bizarre!

I guess if you were desperate, as a guy who was blind wanting to see again would be, one would be willing to put up with a little spit in the eye.

But that's just bizarre.

Here's another thing that's weird about this healing story. The first healing didn't work. Jesus had to heal him a second time. Because the first time, the guy was able to see, but he only saw a blurry vision that made people look like trees. It was only when Jesus touched his eyes that he was able to see clearly.

What's up with that?

Why didn't Jesus heal him right the first time? Why the heck did He spit in the guys face? Why didn't He just touch the blind man's eyes to begin with?

There's no good explanation in the story itself. However, there is a real clue in how Mark uses the different pericopes (stories).

We know that Jesus said more and did more than what is recorded in the gospels. The gospel writers had to pick and choose by the leading of the Holy Spirit the stories that are recorded in the Bible. And they come in a particular order.

Therefore, anytime you run across a passage that seems bizarre, you've got to look at what precedes the story, and what proceeds the story. And often times, the context will give you the clues to help understand the story.

This is a prime example.

Right before this pericope/story, Jesus had warned the disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees. And then the pericope is followed by Peter's confession of Jesus being the Christ.

Here's what I think Mark is trying to tell us.
  • The Pharisees are like the blind man with the spit in his eyes - they see something, but it's not very clear. They know God, but their understanding of God is fuzzy.
  • But Peter, because he's been touched by Jesus Christ, is able to see Jesus more clearly. He acknowledges Jesus as the Christ.
Peter's understanding of who Jesus is will go through continued transformation. Peter himself goes through a similar experience - where he knows something about Jesus, but it's fuzzy. Because although he acknowledges Jesus as the Christ, in the very next pericope, Peter has the audacity to rebuke Jesus. But, Peter too, will see clearly when he encounters the resurrected Jesus Christ.

I love the way Mark uses the pericopes itself to tell the story of Jesus Christ.

Mar 26, 2008

It's a Heart Thing

"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:21-23).

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts...

Evil thoughts from within, out of the heart of men?

Don't thoughts come from our brains?

I think Jesus hits on something that most of us don't realize. Before a thought can be formed, it has its roots in the heart. All these things - evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness - are a heart problem. It's because our hearts are wicked.

The problem with our heart is that we are born with it. We are powerless to change our hearts. The only One who can change the hearts of men is God.

That is why, above all things, God asks for our hearts. And when we give our hearts to God, He is more than able to transform our hearts.

Mar 21, 2008

The Building, Decaying, Reforming Church

T.S. Eliot writes:

And the Church must be forever building,
And always decaying,
And always being restored.

The church must be forever building. Church by definition must grow. If the church is not growing, something is wrong. If the church is not growing new Christians, something is wrong. If the church is not growing faithful disciples something is wrong. That's who the church is. That's what the church does. The church must be a forever building organism.

The church is always decaying. All living things decay. In fact, decay is often necessary for new growth to appear. What used to work before, doesn't work very well today, and certainly will not work in the future. The old ways of doing things must decay and die so that the church can constantly look for new ways to communicate the message.

The church is always being restored. The reformers said it like this - once reformed and always reforming. The message of the church, the identity of the church, or the purpose of the church never changes. However, how that purpose, message, and identity gets communicated must change over time.

If your church is not building, decaying, and reforming, your church is dead.

Mar 20, 2008

Passover - Seder

Today is Maundy Thursday. Today is the day that Jesus gathered with His disciples to kick off the Passover festival.

The Passover festival would last for seven days.

The Passover would start with the Passover meal where a year old male lamb without blemish would be sacrificed. The lamb would be eaten with bitter herbs and matzo (bread without yeast).

This was to symbolize the hardship and cruelty of slavery in Egypt. The unleavened bread represented the haste in which the Israelites departed Egypt.

The lamb was to be slaughtered on the eve of Passover at 3:00pm on the 14th day of Nisan.

Exodus 12:1-23 describes the first Passover. I encourage you to read it on your own. Let me highlight a few verses.

Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down." (Exodus 12:21-23)

As long as you were covered by the blood of the lamb, you were safe.

That's it. Nothing more and nothing less. Just the blood of the lamb. That's all.

No Jew would have missed the significance of Jesus, the lamb of God, drawing His last breath and dying on the cross at 3:00pm.

Are you covered by the blood of the lamb?

Mar 19, 2008

Keep Watch and Pray

While I was doing my quiet time reading today, I came across a passage I have read a hundred times but I never saw this before. Matthew 26:36-45 is the passage that describes Jesus praying in Gethsemane. He takes with Him Peter, James, and John and asks them to "Keep watch" with Him while He prays.

Why does Jesus ask the disciples to "Keep watch"? Why didn't Jesus ask them to join with Him in prayer? What is the relationship between keeping watch and praying? Who or what are they supposed to be watching for?

I have checked several commentaries and I haven't come up with a good explanation for the relationship of keeping watch and praying.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what this means.

Here's my quick reflections on this - this is just off the cuff, and I acknowledge that I can be wrong about this, but here's my take.

First, Jesus wanted to teach His disciples how to handle trials and tribulations. They were to keep their eyes on Jesus and learn from Him how to pray in times of difficulty. The disciples would face their own times of hardship and this was a way for Jesus to prepare them for that.

Second, keeping watch is synonymous with prayer. It means to seek God's perspective and guidance over the issues being prayed for. It implies one's humility in acknowledging that we do not know and that only God knows. It shows our faith and trust in a God who knows better than we do. To keep watch means to pray and being open and willing to see everything through God's eyes.

Prayer is not just a bundle of words that expresses our wish list. Prayer is keeping watch over what God has put before us and seeking God's perspective through prayer.

Again, I would love your thoughts about this.

What do you think?

Mar 18, 2008

Worship - Past Sunday

I'm still congested and have a head ache but feeling better. Today's the first day back in the office in about a week! Enough about that.

  • We had the children singing,
  • Palm leaves waiving,
  • The choir cantata-ing,
  • and the praise band praising!
  • Pastor Robson Gomes from Brazil sharing and inspiring.
  • We received 6 new members
  • Confirmed 4 youth
That's awesome!

Here's what one of our members wrote about the worship experience on Sunday.

What an incredible worship experience we had yesterday!
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
From the moment we stepped into the building, the energy and Holy Spirit was alive!
The music from the children, from the Choir (what an amazing choir we have) and the Praise Band, we are sooooo blessed to be praising with such God loving people! What a wonderful message from our Brazilian "donkey" brother!

Can't wait to see what God has in store for us this week:
  • Seder on Thursday 6:30pm
  • Good Friday service on Friday 7:00pm
  • Neighborhood Bloc Party on Saturday 11:00am-1:00pm
  • Easter Services on Sunday 9:00am and 11:30am
See you at TPC and get ready to be blessed!

Mar 14, 2008

The Bell Curve of Change

Still sick. Can't seem to kick whatever I have. Been resting a good deal.

Just finished the book, "Who Stole My Church?" by Gordon MacDonald. I highly recommend this book to any churches going through transition and change. It's an easy read and very practical.

In this book, MacDonald quotes from The Diffusion of Innovations, where he talks about the way people respond to change. The following is a summary from pages 174-177 of MacDonald's book.

First he says there are innovators - these people love, absolutely love change. They welcome risk, and they don't mind failing or being defeated occasionally. They have their eyes set on breakthrough success. And because of this innovators can live with ambiguity and uncertainty. These people represent about 2.5% of the people.

Second, there are the early adapters - these are trusted people of the community because they don't jump to conclusions, but they know a good thing when they see it. Others look to see how these early adapters feel and think about change and will follow suit. These people represent about 13.5% of the people.

Third, there are the early majority and the late majority- these people are deliberate. They like to watch, think, evaluate, and talk. Alexander Pope's description aptly fits these folks - "Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor the last to lay the old aside." These people represent 68% of the people.

Fourth, there are the laggards - these people are bound by tradition. They're the last to change, if they ever change. If the innovators have their eyes fixed on the future, the laggards have their eyes glued to the past. It's not that these are bad people, but because they have been burned in the past by some terrible failure. These represent 16% of the people.

I find this helpful as we think about all the changes that are taking place at Trinity.

Mar 13, 2008


As I've said in my previous blog, I've been home sick. I was supposed to be at the Presbyterian Coalition Board Meeting in Chicago, but I've been at home and in bed instead. Maybe it's a good thing. I've had a chance to rest up. I did not realize how tired I was. I've been sleeping about 16 hours a day. Or maybe its the medication. And in the times I've been awake, I've been able to catch up on reading.

God is good and God is at work. No doubt about that.

One of these days, I'm going to ask God why He made this relationship thing, this church thing so hard to do. It's so hard and time-consuming to build up, and it really doesn't take much of anything to bring it down.

It's one of those human mysteries. The only thing I can attribute it to is all our wretchedness and sinfulness.

But the amazing thing is that God will continue to work in spite of all that. God will change lives. God's Kingdom will continue to grow. Lives will be changed. That's just the way it is.

And thank God for that.

Hope to be back on my feet soon. Looking forward to an awesome Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

God bless!

Mar 12, 2008

Rumors and Sickness

I'm sorry it has been a while since I've posted anything. I've been exhausted and feeling very tired, and on top of that, now I have the flu. I covet your prayers for me and the church.

God is at work and God will complete the work He has begun. And when and wherever God is at work, you can be sure that the devil will do all he can to disrupt God's work. One of the devil's favorite ploys is to use misinformation and half-truths to disrupt God's work and destroy relationships.

There are some crazy rumors going around in the life of the church about the new church structure. Apparently, the new elders have already been chosen either by me or several other people.

No such thing has ever been discussed in session, task force meeting, and in personal conversation.

The only one who knows is God. And God will use you - the congregation - to nominate, elect, and affirm the new elders.

There is a misunderstanding that current elders will be asked to resign.

No such conversation has ever taken place. Once ordained, an elder is ordained forever.

Our current elders may be reassigned to a particular ministry area, but this doesn't affect their ordination or vows one bit.

I ask that you know the facts before you speak. Any one of the elders or task force members will be more than happy to answer any questions you might have.

Thank you again for reading and checking this site regularly. God bless your day and remember to say a prayer for me.
James <><
Check out what God is up to @

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Mar 7, 2008

But That's Not Presbyterian!

As we have been looking at going through a major structural reorganization, and as I have been serving on the Form of Government Task Force to re-write the Book of Order with a missional perspective, one of the main complaints I hear from people is, "But you can't do that. That's not Presbyterian!"

The question begs to be asked, "What in the world does it mean to be Presbyterian?"

Here are some possible answers.

To be a Presbyterian means to be a part of a denomination that has been steadily losing members and influence since 1960. We have not had a single positive gain in membership year in close to 50 years!

To be a Presbyterian means to be a part of the Presbytery where the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has gone from 2.5 million people to 6.5 million from 1995-2007, and in that same time frame, the 187 churches of Grace Presbytery managed to shut down five churches and lose a combined total of +10,000 members.

To be a Presbyterian means to be a part of a denomination where 92% are white. Where we live in one of the most Hispanic areas of the country, and out of the 183 churches in Grace Presbytery, we can only show 3 Spanish speaking congregations with a total combined membership of under 300.

To be a Presbyterian means that regardless of the situation and context, we will call pastors the same way, do session meetings the same way, and run the church the same way. It doesn't matter if you are a 5,000 member church in a huge city or a 20 member church out in the middle of nowhere. The Book of Order says, this is the way we do church.

Most of the people who complain at the new things being attempted, "But that's not Presbyterian," have no clue what it means to be Presbyterian. Most have never darkened the pages of the Book of Order, let alone have read through it and studied it. How many Presbyterians do you think have actually read and studied the Book of Order they supposedly love so much?

And when people say, "But that's not Presbyterian," what most people do not realize is that the Presbyterian they are referring to only applies to the last 30-40 years. If you were to look at a Book of Order from pre-World War 2 days, it would fit nicely in a shirt pocket. But since that time, and particularly since the late 1960's Presbyterians have begun adding manual and procedural items to the Book of Order. And the Constitutional nature of the book was transformed into a manual book of operation and a code book for how to do church. And when people say, "But that's not Presbyterian," it is only referring to the last forty years of the church.

Calvin and our fore-fathers are rolling in their graves to see the church they established becoming an irrelevant relic. The main thing is to growing new Christians and growing faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. And if the church is not doing that, then who cares what the structure is? It's failing on its main thing.

Our heritage is to be missional church, a mission focused church, a church that is making a difference. That's the main thing.

The missional focus of the polity and the reorganization is so in tune with our historical imperative and the constitutional nature of the Book of Order. It's the pharisaic additions and bloating down the church with regulations that's killing the church. That is what is not presbyterian!

Blogging and Postings and Comments

I've been doing this blogging thing now for about seven months. I write these blogs mainly to keep my thoughts fresh and clear. I also blog with the hopes that I can be an encouragement and be of help to others.

What I am asking you to do is to leave your comments. I know many of you frequently check out the blog and I thank you for that.

What I would love to see happen with the blogs is more conversations taking place - both with me and with others about the things you see written on this blog. There are things I can learn from you and I feel like I'm missing out on these things.

Bottom line, I am asking you to leave your thoughts and comments. I would love to be in conversation with you all about what God is doing.

I know that there are others out there who are as hungry and thirsty as I am about seeing God at work.

Have a great weekend! Give them heaven wherever you go.

Mar 6, 2008

Shrewd Snakes and Innocent Doves and Leadership

I am doing my daily reading in Matthew and I came across the following verse where Jesus tells His disciples to "Be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves."

I get the innocent as doves part. That sounds like what Jesus would say. The part that is intriguing is the shrewd as snakes. Those are two words - shrewd and snakes - are not normally words you associate with Jesus.

In the Bible, the serpent is always portrayed in a negative light. It was the serpent who approached Eve in the garden to tempt her. In fact the word used here by Jesus is the same word to describe the devil in Genesis 3:1 – shrewd – the serpent was shrewd.

What does Jesus have in mind by telling His disciples that they are to be wise or shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves?

What Jesus is talking about is strategy. The disciples are to be wise, shrewd, insightful, and cunning, and the disciples are to be innocent, guiltless, and above suspicion.

We like things to be either/or, black and white. But the Bible is often times both/and.
• God is love or God is just – God is perfect love and perfectly just.
• God is merciful or God is jealous – God is perfectly merciful and perfectly jealous.
• God is gracious or God is holy and righteous – God is gracious and righteous and holy.

We often find it easy to be either shrewd or innocent, but seldom both. But what is required for disciples is to be both shrewd and innocent.
• Without innocence, shrewdness becomes manipulative and controlling.
• Without shrewdness, innocence becomes naivety, inexperienced, and unrealistic.

The disciples are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves when it comes to the strategy of growing new Christians and growing Christians into faithful disciples.

Just a few verses before our passage, Jesus sent the disciples out in their first missionary journey with these words. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).

Did you notice who Jesus is talking about? Every one of us! Jesus says, “Don’t go there. Don’t go to James. Don’t go to Texas. Don't go to the Gentiles. Only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

That ain’t right! And if you’re thinking that, you’re absolutely right.

It is absolutely essential that we do not take God’s word out of context. If Matthew 10 was the only passage we ever read, then none of us would be saved. But in the context of the entire narrative of Matthew, this not only makes good sense, but this is wise and smart. This is strategic.

You see, up to this point, the disciples had only been watching and seeing Jesus at work. They’ve been seeing Jesus teach, Jesus preach, Jesus heal, Jesus casting out the demons. And this is the first time that they are being sent out. And with those who have never shared the good news before, you don’t send them out to the four corners of the earth.

For the first missionary journey, you send them out to people and cultures they are familiar with. With time, the disciples would mature and grow. And as they grow in their walk with Jesus, then they are sent out to all the world.

And that is exactly what we find at the end of Matthew in 28:19. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

We are to be strategic about how we share the good news. We are to use all the tools available to us to effectively share the message of the Kingdom. In other words, do everything you can to make the message of the Kingdom relevant and practical as possible.

Mar 5, 2008


Today's Lenten Study is Mark 15:21-32. This is the passage that depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. As Jesus was hanging on the cross, people took turns to mock and ridicule Him.

The question for reflection is "Why didn't Jesus come down from the cross?"

Why didn't Jesus come down from the cross? Because it would have undone everything He had been sent to do. By coming down from the cross to show the world who He really was, He would have undone everything He had been preaching and working for. Everyone would see that He was indeed the Son of God, but everyone would perish in their sin. The entire salvific plan of God would have been undone with that one act.

And that's the thing about actions and consequences. There are some actions that have such devastating consequences that it undoes everything we stand for and everything we care for. We are all sinners and we all mess up, but there are different levels of consequences.

And another thing about actions and consequences are that they are both irreversible. Once done, there is nothing you can do to undo them.

It is the wise person who heeds God's word, "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27).

And that's what Jesus was doing by staying on the cross. He did it for the sake of the cross and the gospel message, and He did it for us.

Mar 4, 2008

Why Do Some People Hate Jesus?

Today's Lenten reading is Luke 23:1-25. The question we were asked to reflect on is why do some people hate Jesus today?

The reading deals with the "trial" of Jesus before Pilate and Herod. Pilot makes it crystal clear that Jesus is innocent of the charges being made against him.
  • "I find no basis for a charge against this man" (v.4),
  • "I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him...he has done nothing to deserve death" (vv.14-15),
  • "For the third time he spoke to them: 'Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty" (v.22).
But the crowds, being incited by the Jewish religious leaders, "with loud shouts insistently demanded that he be crucified" (v.23).

Why? Why did people hate Jesus so much?

For the religious leaders, the answer is because they saw Jesus as a grave threat to their religious institution, to their leadership, and to their way of living. Jesus challenged the status-quo, and challenged their institutional loyalty. Jesus was more concerned with what God might want than the preservation of a religious organization.

As great as Judaism was - after all, prior to Judaism, people had no clue what the gods wanted or what the gods would find pleasing. Prior to Judaism, it was a total guess game as to what might please the gods. But Judaism was the first religion where people no longer had to guess because God spoke to His people and made it clear how one could please God. That's pretty awesome - and as great as Judaism was, there came a time when its institutional and religious practices ran the course of its effectiveness.

And as great as some of our main-line denominations have been in recent history, it is not the end all if some of our denominations come and go, and if our denominations go through a massive transformation.

What is a travesty is when we get so stuck to our institutional ways that we fail to see the new things God is doing.

When we're asking why the crowds were so hateful toward Jesus - particularly after the incredible reception on Palm Sunday, that's a more difficult question to answer.

How could the crowds at one moment sing His praises, and then within a week cry out for His blood?

I guess, it's not uncommon even today. We sing the praises of an athlete, politician, or an entertainer, and within the same week they can be in our black list because of something they do or say.

Crowds are fickle. Crowds can never be the sole criteria for what is right and wrong. The crowds in Nazi Germany allowed Hitler to go after the communists without a protest. They allowed the Nazis to go after the Jews without protest. They allowed the Nazis to go after the protestants without protest. Then they allowed the Nazis to go after the Catholics without protest. And toward the end, there was no one left to protest.

Crowds do not determine right and wrong. Only God can, and only the Bible can show us right and wrong.

Mar 3, 2008

Heaven and Hell - Ray Stedman

I've had a couple of people ask me about the Ray Stedman's story from Sunday's sermon so I am posting it on the blog.

God bless.

Ray Stedman tells a story of a Filipino pastor he met while leading a pastor’s seminar in the Philippines . He doesn’t remember much about what this man preached, but he remembers vividly a story he told. I’ll just read you the story.

He had only one leg, and he hobbled up to the platform and as he began to speak, everyone could see a real sense of the light of the glory of God on his face.

He told about a wealthy American man who had gone abroad and visited all the ancient capitals of Europe and bought all the rich furnishings, tapestries, paintings in the castles and brought them back home. He even bought a whole castle, tore it down and imported it to the States where he erected it stone by stone so he could make it his home. All his wealth, affection and interest he poured into this home, and he loved it.

But the day came when he died, and as he lay dying he said to the doctor, “Don’t let me die. Don’t make me leave my home.”

Then this dear Filipino pastor compared that with the death of a Christian man who didn’t even have a home on earth and lay dying in a little palm-thatched hut. As he lay dying he looked at his family gathered around him and he said, “Thank God, I’m going home!”

That is the difference between the Christ-follower and one without Christian hope. If you say to me to live is anything else than Christ, then you have to leave it all behind when you go.

Here is the simple truth. If you are a Christ-follower, this life – the world with all the war and terrorism, the world with all its poverty and misery, this world with all the disease and sickness – this life is the only hell you will ever experience. But if you do not have Christ, this world is the only heaven you will ever know.