Jun 29, 2008

My Response to 218th GA from TPC Pulpit

Our Heritage
2 Timothy 3:14-17

What a difference 100 years make! Here are some statistics from the year 1907:
• The average life expectancy was 47 years.
• Only 14% of the homes in the US had bathtubs.
• Only 8% of the homes had telephones.
• A three minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11.
• There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads.
• The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10mph.
• Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more populated than California.
• The average wage in the US was 22 cents per hour.
• The average worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
o A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year,
o a dentist $2,500 per year,
o a mechanical engineer $5,000 per year.
• More than 95% of all births in the US took place at home.
• Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
• 90% of all US doctors had no college education!
• Five leading causes of death in the US were:
1) Pneumonia and influenza
2) Tuberculosis
3) Diarrhea
4) Heart Disease
5) Stroke
• Only 6% of all Americans had graduated from high school.

One more item that was not on that list that we could have counted on was that Christ-followers a century ago believed the Bible to be God’s authoritative word and that we were to submit to the authority of scripture.

I just returned from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). This was one of the most difficult GA’s I’ve been to in the last decade. Just about everything that could have gone wrong, did. This General Assembly made it clear that it no longer views the scriptures as authoritative, and instead will go with the flow of modern culture.

Our text this morning begins with “But as for you…”

In order to understand the context of this passage, we have to look at what came before.

Verses 12-13 read, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

Listen, we are not told that persecution might happen. It is a fact. If you stand for Christ in today’s culture, you will be persecuted.

Evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

The attacks against the church will not come from outsiders. Deception will come from within the ranks of the clergy and within the life of the church. Their aim is to deceive and the result of their actions will go from bad to worse.

We have debated the ordination of gays and lesbians in the life of the church for the past 30 years. And for the first time, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has finally made real the chasm that has existed for 30 years.

Here is a brief synopsis of the actions taken by the recent assembly.

The General Assembly added a new Authoritative Interpretation of the constitution that is specifically designed to allow sessions and presbyteries to ordain persons who do not abide by the constitutional standards for ordination.

This isn’t just about homosexuality. Just was we would not ordain a person unfaithful to their spouse or those engaged in sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage between husband and wife, we do not ordain persons engaged in homosexual sex because that is sin.

But now, two thousands years of church stance on this issue has been overturned. The General Assembly has removed those standards.

The General Assembly also voted to send to the presbyteries for their vote an amendment to the constitution, namely the deletion of the “fidelity and chastity” standard and the addition of language that says a sincere effort to obey one’s personal interpretation of scripture is the standard for ordination.

The General Assembly voted to change the language of the Hiedelburg Confession that specifically names homosexuality, by deleting that specific language.

The General Assembly also voted to set aside two million dollars to assist presbyteries who are fighting churches wishing to leave the denomination with their properties and bank accounts. While the General Assembly nickled and dimed over finding funds to do the ministry and the mission of the church, the General Assembly did not think twice about setting a designated fund to go after congregations who can no longer remain faithful in the Presbyterian denomination.

All these actions combined make a clear and loud announcement – the chasm between those who stand under the authority of scripture and those who do not is an undeniable reality.

So today’s word and today’s service of celebrating our heritage is absolutely apropos.
But as for you, we are told. As for you, continue in what you have learned and become convinced of, because you know those from whom you have learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wife for salvation through Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and become convinced of.

First, what God is calling on the church to do is to continue in what you have learned and become convinced of.

Learning doesn’t just happen. Learning is intentional. More than ever what we need today is people who are learned in scripture. Learning biblical truths has to become a priority in a Christ-follower. You have to set aside time and effort to make this a reality.

Second, let’s take a look at the things we have learned from our Presbyterian and reformed heritage.

Presbyterians have historically been Christ-centered and Biblically based. The crying call of the reformation is sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli deo gloria.

Sola is the Latin word only.

Sola scritpura – Scripture alone. No other book, no other revelation, no other authority than the scripture alone. This has always been our heritage.

Sola fide – faith alone. We are justified by faith alone. We are made right with God never by our own actions but by accepting by faith what God has done through Jesus Christ on the cross of calvary.

Sola gratia – grace alone. We are only made right with God through God’s unmerited favor. We have received grace in two forms – by not getting what we rightly deserve – damnation, and by receiving what we could never deserve – eternal life in Christ Jesus.

Solus Christus – Christ alone. Salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ. There is no other name by which we must be saved but Jesus. Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only way we can gain entry to eternal life.

Soli deo gloria – For the glory of God alone. All glory is to be due to God alone, since salvation is accomplished solely through His will and action. Whatever we do, in everything we do, we do it all for the glory of God.

This has always been our heritage. It is an awesome heritage. So continue in what you have learned and become convinced of – sola scritpura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli deo gloria. Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, and all for the glory of God.

Church hold on to the truth we have been handed down through the generations. There is no power in the created universe that can thwart the will of God – certainly not the actions of one renegade general assembly.

As we have learned from our Presbyterian forefathers, there has always been a rebellious streak in us. Just as the first Presbyterians rebelled against the British oppression, there has always been a rebel streak in the Presbyterian form of the Christian faith that goes against the flow.

And this trait is more necessary today than ever before. The Christian faith as we know it is being assaulted from the cultural values of political correctness in America, and the willingness of many within the church to succumb to this pressure. The battle cry of the reformation – scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, all for the glory of God alone is as relevant today as it was during the first reformation.

As we hold on to our rich heritage as Presbyterians, God will fully equip the church for every good work.

We have an awesome and rich heritage. The actions of the recent General Assembly makes it abundantly clear that this rich and awesome heritage needs to be recalled and articulated in fresh and relevant ways for today’s daunting culture.

Let me close with a few words of encouragement.

First, there may be those of you thinking, “What’s the use? Let’s just leave and go to a church or denomination that doesn’t wrestle with these issues.”

That is a very attractive option. There are many times when I am tempted by these same thoughts. But here’s something we must be aware of. This secularism, relativism, this watering down of the Christian faith thing isn’t going away any time soon. The church has always had to face and overcome these challenges. If you want to cocoon yourself and become totally cut off from where the rest of the culture is, you have given up on the hope of Christ to transform the world.

God calls on the church to go out into the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. The only way we can engage that world is to get better at demonstrating the hope of Christ in this secular, pluralistic world. And that is exactly why Trinity Presbyterian Church continues to engage in this fight rather than building up walls to keep the lost world out. We will continue to attack the defenses of the darkness with the hope and the truth of Jesus Christ.

Finally, friends, I want you to know that the leadership of this church is committed to our reformed heritage. We will continue to fight the good fight of faith. God has not given up on this generation and neither will we. We will do everything we can to continue growing new Christians and do whatever it takes to grow faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

I ask you as your pastor for your commitment for your intentional investment to become students of Biblical truth, and for your ongoing commitment to take the good news of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs it. For the glory of Jesus Christ! Amen!

Jun 27, 2008

GA of Infamy - San Jose

GA of Infamy.

I am not over-exaggerating.

Here are the things that has conspired at this GA.
1) Remove the language of homosexuality as a sexual sin from the Heidelberg Catechism.
2) Remove the Authoritative Interpretation that articulates homosexuality and sex outside the bonds of marriage sin.
3) Remove the language that prohibits homosexuals, persons not faithful in marriage, and chaste in singleness from ordination. And instead state that one is bound by the guidance of the confessions, which now doesn't explicitly name homosexuality.
4) When the denomination is looking for funds to do ministry, set aside two million dollars to be collected through designated giving specifically to pay for the court case charges to go after congregations who are looking to leave the denomination.

Put these things together - you've got an awful mess.

The General Assembly will still have to vote for the definition of marriage. I will not be one bit surprised if they change it from "a man and a woman" to "two people".

GA of Infamy - San Jose.

Sad Day

Friends, the General Assembly just voted by a vote of 380-325 to remove the clear language of G-6.0106b.

What this means is that gay, lesbian, transgendered, those sexually active outside the bounds of marriage between husband and wife can now be ordained as ministers of the word and sacrament and elders in the Presbyterian Church.

This will still have to be voted upon by the presbyteries for their approval to change the constitution.

This is a sad day. We will now be facing two years of bitter debate and struggle in all our presbyteries.

What is needed now is prayer. That God can and will still work to preserve our constitution.

After prayer, what is needed is intelligent and strategic work to ensure that happens.

We've got a lot of work ahead of us.

This is a sad day.

This General Assembly has endangered the peace and unity of God's church.

The Perfect Storm

This GA is shaping up to be one of the most tragic assemblies in recent memory. The evangelicals do not have enough votes.

This assembly hates amendments, substitute motions, or minority reports. I can only recall one or two amendments out of 60-70 amendments that have actually passed. And since most of the recommendations coming out of committee have been unfavorable towards evangelicals, this means we have been losing almost all of the debates.

Here are some actions taken at the GA yesterday:
1) The New Form of Government Task Force report has been referred to the next General Assembly. After much debate on the floor, the recommendation from the committee to refer was approved.

2) The GA approved to set aside 2 million dollars to cover the legal costs of presbyteries going after churches who are wanting to leave the denomination with their properties. This one is quite disturbing. While the commissioners debated about the merit of other ministries and mission that would have far less financial impact on the life of the church, when it comes to going after those congregations who are wanting to leave with their property, the commissioners voted to "find" 2 million dollars.

3) The GA approved to recommend a new translation of the Heidelberg Confession. This new translation would take out the prohibitions against homosexuality.

The GA worked until 11:30pm last night. They may very well work past that tonight. They are 2 committees behind in their work and they still have the ordination of homosexuals, abortion issues, definition of marriage, Israel-Palestine, and many other substantive issues to cover today.

This GA needs your prayers. Please join with me in lifting up the commissioners and that God would do a miracle.

Will keep you posted.

Jun 26, 2008

Today was the full day for the General Assembly to meet in plenary.

Highlights from today's actions:
  • There was spirited debate on the floor regarding our ecumenical efforts with the Muslim community. The debate centered on the language "The PC(USA) affirms that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship a common God..." After much debate and several amendments, the GA approved the following statement, "Though we hold differing understandings of how God has been revealed to humankind, the PC(USA) affirms that, as children of this loving God, we share the commandments of love for God and neighbor, the requirement to care for the poor." This is much better language than the original.
  • There were more problems with pc-biz. This is the second GA where we've gone paperless. But once again, commissioners had great difficulty seeing the business at hand because the system kept crashing.
  • The GA voted to create another sexuality curriculum knowing that we will lose money on this. The previous sexuality curriculum was so bad that no one used it. And now we are going to create another curriculum - knowing we will lose money on it - and with no guarantees that it will be faithful to our confessions and the scripture. That's pretty nuts.
There will be more substantive items for tomorrow.

I will do my best to keep you posted. Please pray for this GA. If things don't go well this could be one of the darkest assemblies we've had in a while.

Your prayers are coveted.

Jun 25, 2008

UH OH! Here We Go Again...Maybe

The Church Orders Committee approved an overture to remove the wording of G-6.0106b which reads:

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

Instead, they are recommending the replacement of this clear language with the following:

Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.

The floor of the assembly must approve this action by the committee if it is to be sent to the presbyteries for vote. There is a minority report (a substitute motion which will ask that we keep the original language) coming. Should the general assembly go with the substitute motion, everything goes back to normal.

Should the general assembly approve this, there will be major battling at the presbyteries regarding the ordination of homosexuals.

Please keep the general assembly in your prayers. This could be one of the darkest general assemblies we've had in a long time. But God can still do anything. We need your prayers.

This is not what the church needs. This is not what we need to spending our energy and time on.

You can read the full story at http://www.pcusa.org/ga218/news/ga08069.htm

Jun 24, 2008

Trudging Through the FoG

The General Assembly on the new Proposed Form of Government has finished its work.

Two years ago, the Form of Government Task Force was formed to rewrite the Book of Order for the 218th General Assembly. The Form of Government Task Force has worked diligently to get this work done. And in two days of deliberation in the committee, they never even discussed a single substantive issue on the actual report. In fact, for two days the report was never even looked at until the committee had already decided to defer our work to the next General Assembly.

What the committee ended up doing is referring this work for further study and to report back to the next General Assembly.

I have to tell you, it has not been easy sitting in that room listening to this discussion. There is so much fear and distrust in the church that they never even discussed the material, but what to do with it. And the easiest and the most gutless decision they could make was to refer this for further study and that is exactly what they did.

Now, in all fairness to the committee, there is no way they could absorb and understand the complexity of this new Form of Government in two days. They did the best they could.

However, the leadership of this committee was totally lacking.

This was our report. This is what I and 8 others have been working on for the last two years. The least they could have done was to give us an opportunity to present our material. But the leadership of the committee took it upon themselves to take that opportunity away from us.

Before we could utter a word about our report, the committee leadership allowed the Advisory Committee on the Constitution to give their take on our work. And then they divided the committee into small groups to discuss their "issues" and "problems" with our report. It was only then the committee could hear from us. After two year's of work, we were given 40 minutes to present and answer questions. 40 minutes.

And this brilliant leadership then allowed the committee to get bogged down in parliamentary procedural mess.

At the end, the committee decided to refer this material to the next general assembly. And at the next GA, we're going to have to start this process all over again with a whole new set of commissioners.


Jun 23, 2008

Funny Thing About the New Moderator and Me

As I've been walking around the General Assembly, several people have come up to wish me good luck on the moderatorial election. And now that Bruce has been elected moderator, several people have come up to me to congratulate me.

Now here is the question - do I even look anything like the new moderator? You be the judge. I don't even have earrings!


Form of Government Committee in Action

Today is the first real day of work for the committees at the General Assembly. I am resourcing the committee dealing with the revision of the Form of Government.

Here is the text of my presentation this morning.

Why a New Form of Government?

The population of the US has grown by 52 million people from 1990 to 2006. Among those new arrivals are 68,510,978 newborn babies and 22,873,578 immigrants – a total of 91 million additional people.

Let those numbers sink into your head and heart. More than 91 million people living in the United States today did not live here 16 years ago. That’s represents almost a third of the United States.

Ron Heifitz, a senior lecturer in leadership at Harvard University says that one of the most important leadership tasks in a rapidly changing world is to be able to distinguish between technical challenges and adaptive challenges.

Technical Challenges:
• You already know the solution
• You already possess the necessary know how
• It is a matter of applying what you already know
• This is a question of implementation

Adaptive Challenges:
• You do not know the solution
• Standard operating procedure will no longer work
• Requires imaginative and creative experimentation to discover solutions
• New discoveries will be made
• This is a question of transformation
• Success will be built on lessons learned from failures
• Adaptive challenges present danger and huge opportunities

I recently converted from a PC laptop to a Mac. I wanted to do this for a long time but didn't because of the challenges of switching everything over. This - switching computer systems - represents a technical challenge.

I have four children and the oldest is now a middle-schooler. And in the last year or two, mother nature has visited my daughter with some new gifts - hormones. And because of that, my little girl has been transforming right before my eyes. And due to her new transformation, I am finding that we must both discover new ways of relating to one another. She is no longer my little girl, and she is not quite yet a woman. And in this transition time, we are both learning how to be a family together.

This is an adaptive challenge. Karis and I are both learning to adapt to this new reality. We cannot remain the same. Neither of us know for sure what and how we are to be. We are learning from our mistakes on how to be a family. We both love one another and respect each other and are looking forward to this new way of relating.

The main question that the Presbyterian Church today must be able to answer is this. Are our current challenges we’re facing in a post-modern, post-Christian, post-denominational world technical challenges or are they adaptive challenges.

If the challenges we’re facing are technical in nature, than all we have to do is keep on doing what we’ve been doing – keep tinkering with our current form of government through overtures and such.

On the other hand, if the challenges we’re facing today are adaptive challenges, it is no longer a matter of tinkering with current structures, but an issue of transforming and reformatting that structure. And that is what we were commissioned to do by the 217th GA, and that work is before you in this committee.

Our Presbyterian reformers did church in a reformed and Presbyterian way because this was the most effective way to make new Christians and to help Christians to become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. The Presbyterian “way” was a tool to get that done.

If our current “way” of doing church is not helping ministry and mission, then our current way must change in order for us to be faithful to our Presbyterian heritage of doing whatever it takes and doing everything in our power to grow new Christians and grow faithful disciples.

Our Presbyterian foundations and our reformed theological convictions remain. How we do church must reflect the reality of the changed world.

We believe this new Form of Government gets us closer to that goal than what we currently have. We believe it is beyond mere tinkering with existing norms. We believe what is called for is a transformation of how we do church in a reformed and Presbyterian way.

Currently, the committee is in open hearings where they are hearing from people who have concerns or issues regarding our proposal.

More to come.

Jun 22, 2008

Form of Government Presentation

Here is the text of my presentation at the Form of Government Pre-Assembly Presentation

Why this? Why now? Why is this important?

At the turn of the 19th century world’s most powerful and developed nation on earth was England.
At the turn of the 20th century, the world’s super powers were the former Soviet Union and the United States.

And who knows what the future will hold, but one thing we do know is that the world’s power and influence shifting again.
• The most populated country in the world is China with 1.3 billion people.
• India is not far behind with 1.1 billion people.
• The United States is a distant third with 300 million people.

That alone in itself doesn’t mean much. But listen to these figures.
• The top 25% of the Chinese with the highest IQ is greater than the population of the United States and Canada combined. And that means China has more honors students than we have students.
• Within our lifetime, China will become the number one English speaking nation in the world.
• In the next five minutes:
o 60 babies will be born in the United States
o 244 babies will be born in China
o 351 babies will be born in India.
o This happens every five minutes of every single day.
• According to the former Secretary of Education, Richard Riley – the top 10 jobs that will be in demand in the year 2010 did not exist in 2004.
o We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist
o Using technologies that haven’t yet been invented
o In order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet

Not only is the world and technology changing, it is changing our culture as well.
• Today, 1 out of every 8 couples getting married in the United States met online.
• As of today, there are over 140 million registered users on MySpace.
o If MySpace were a country, it would be the 10th most populated country in the world between Russia and Japan
• There are 2.7 billion searches performed on Google every month.
• There are more text messages being sent and received every day than there are people on the planet earth.

Not only is the world changing, but change is happening more rapidly than at any time in history. In fact, scientists say that change is happening exponentially. Here are some examples.
• There are about 540,000 words in the English language – about 5 times as many during the days of Shakespeare.
• More than 3,000 books are published daily.
• The Sunday morning edition of the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in their entire lifetime in the 18th Century.
• It is estimated that 1.5 exabytes (1.5 x 1018th) of new information is generated each year.
• That is more information than the previous 5,000 years combined.
• And the amount of new technical information is doubling every year.
• This means that a freshman entering college this year, half of what they learn in their freshman year will be outdated by their third year in school.

Change is all around us. Change is everywhere.
• Science continues to change
• Education continues to change
• Technologies continue to change
• Medical science continues to change

About the only institution that has not changed over the last four centuries, it is the church in the western world. For the most part, the way we do worship, the way we do church is the same today as it was during the days of Christopher Columbus.

Leonard Sweet says, “In the medical world, a clinical definition of death is a body that does not change. Change is life. Stagnation is death. If you don't change, you die. It's that simple. It's that scary.”

Kevin Harney says in his book Seismic Shifts, “If the local church refuses to change, it will die. And, this sad reality is being experienced all over the world. Churches that are stuck in the proverbial rut of sameness eventually find themselves closing their doors and never opening them again.”

Denominations didn’t always look as they do today. After WWII, before the advent of emails, faxes, and the internet, what was needed was for denominations to be the central hub of information and mission for the life of the church. So we built these gigantic organizations that have become our modern day denominations.

However, the world has changed.

I find Sally Morganthaller’s description helpful.

Denominations were cruising down a wide river. What was needed at that time were gigantic river boats with ball rooms, dining rooms, and stater rooms. So that’s what we did. However, in a post-modern, post-denominational, and post-Christian world we find ourselves in, the river has changed. We are no longer cruising down a placid wide river but a class 5 rapid. And what is needed in a post-modern, post-denominational, post-Christian world are kayaks that can navigate the rapids.

Denominations as we know it, unless they change, will find itself totally irrelevant and broken.
What you have before you is our effort to respond to the reality of the changing world we live in.



Worship in Two Places but With One Spirit

Sunday morning worship is always one of the highlights of the General Assembly. The outgoing moderator, Joan Gray, preached and challenged the Presbyterians to love others as Christ loves us. And that is just it. We can't do what Christ did. But that is exactly what Christ calls us to do. And the only way the church can do that is as we trust in God to enable us, move us, transform us. Christ calls us to a superhuman enterprise.

There was not a place near the convention center that could house the 8,000 worshipers expected for the service. Either we could have held it at the arena where even 8,000 people would not even have filled half the arena, or the only other choice was to split the worship into two venues.

The service began and ended in both places. Both places had liturgists and worship leaders. Both places had live music and the worship services were connected with a satellite link.

While we were a mile apart from each other, it felt like we were all worshiping together.

The Holy Spirit is cool like that.

More to come.

Bruce Reyes-Chow Elected Moderator of PCUSA

When it came down to it, it wasn't even close. Bruce's campaign, his presence on the stage, and his answers were what propelled him to become the 218th GA.

The race for the moderator came down to Bill Teng - an evangelical pastor from Washington DC, and to Bruce - an emergent, young, and liberal pastor from San Francisco.

In the end, Bruce's personality and presence was too much for Bill to overcome.

While Bruce may be on the other side when it comes to the ordination of gays, I believe he will be a fair and faithful moderator. I also believe that he will represent the PC(USA) well. Please continue to keep the GA in your prayers.

More to come soon.

Jun 21, 2008

$30 Cheeseburgers and Trying to Sleep In

Saturday morning is used as an orientation for the commissioners to the General Assembly to learn how to use their voting pads, where to speak, how to speak at the microphones, in general, how to operate at the General Assembly.

So I decided to use the Saturday morning to sleep in. After all, I have four children at home and sleeping in is a luxury and since I didn't have anything to do until the afternoon, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to do it.

That was the plan.

But as soon as it was 7am, I was wide awake. I tried to stay in bed, but my body wouldn't obey. I kept trying to tell my body that it was only 7 and we should stay in bed, but my body was convinced it was already 9am. And it was - back in Dallas!

The hotel I am staying at is connected directly to the San Jose Convention Center. That's really great because it's convenient. However, there is only one restaurant here and it's stinking expensive. I ordered a cheeseburger and a beer for dinner and it was $30! Thirty dollar cheeseburgers!

From now on, I am ordering pizza.

Tonight's main business will be the election of the new moderator.

Will keep you posted.

Jun 20, 2008

Friday at the GA

Presbyterians from all over the country and the world are gathering in San Jose.

The real work of the General Assembly won't begin until tomorrow. For now, people are getting into their hotel rooms, going to orientation meetings, and registering for the General Assembly.

It's always fun to connect with people at the GA.

I will be presenting the Form of Government Orientation for Commissioners tonight. Thus far, I have been meeting with the Task Force members to go over last minute strategies for our work.

The big agenda item for Saturday is the election of the new moderator.

I will keep you posted on the goings on at the GA.

Have a blessed weekend and keep the GA in your prayers.

Jun 19, 2008

The Joys of Air Travel

On my way to the General Assembly in San Jose California.

That's been the plan anyways.

DFW, American Airlines, and the weather has had different ideas. There was a major thunder storm this morning and it has disrupted flights all day.

My flight has been delayed 3 times thus far and changed gates 3 times. What more could you ask for?

Every single seat is taken and they have more than 30 people on the standby list.

It's all good. My wife loves me, the kids are awesome, and I work for the greatest boss in the universe!

Will keep you posted form the General Assembly...once I get there!

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Jun 17, 2008

One Jacked Up Story

This is one jacked up story!

First, you've got this major dysfunctional family where out of the TWELVE??? kids, the father clearly shows favoritism to one. Not a good situation.

Then, the one who is favored begins to have these crazy dreams where everyone is bowing down to him - including his parents and brothers. And he has the nerve to tell them about his dreams. How would you have liked to hear that coming from your sibling?

And when the opportune time comes, his brothers decide their going to kill him.

But one of the brothers is able to convince the others to sell him as a slave instead. And to cover up this mess, their going to make it look like their brother was killed by an animal.

Can you imagine if this happened today? Could you imagine if this took place in your church? In your neighborhood?

Goodness sakes! Forget Jerry Springer, it's more like Unsolved Mysteries or Cops.

But instead we find this story in the Bible. Not just anyone in the Bible but one of the Patriarchs of the faith and of the Jews - Jacob and his sons.

What do you think of that?

Jun 16, 2008

Telemachus - The Difference One Person Can Make

In the fourth century there lived an Asiatic monk who had spent most of his life in a remote community of prayer, raising vegetables for the cloister kitchen. When he was not tending his garden spot, he was fulfilling his vocation of study and prayer.

Then one day this monk named Telemachus felt that the Lord wanted him to go to Rome, the capital of the world -- the busiest, wealthiest, biggest city in the world. Telemachus was terrified at the thought. But as he prayed, God's directive became clear.

How bewildered the little monk must have been as he set out on the long journey, on foot, over dusty roads westward, everything he owned on his back. Why was he going? He didn't know. What would he find there? He had no idea. But obediently, he went.

Telemachus arrived in Rome during the holiday festival. You may know that the Roman rulers kept the ghettos quiet in those days by providing free bread and special entertainment called circuses. At the time Telemachus arrived the city was bustling with excitement over the recent Roman victory over the Goths. In the midst of this jubilant commotion, the monk looked for clues at to why God had brought him there, for he had no other guidance, not even a superior in a religious order to contact.

Perhaps, he thought, it is not sheer coincidence that I have arrived at this festival time. Perhaps God has some special role for me to play.

So Telemachus let the crowds guide him, and the stream of humanity soon led him into the Coliseum where the gladiator contests were to be staged. He could hear the cries of the animals in their cages beneath the floor of the great arena and the clamor of the contestants preparing to do battle.

The gladiators marched into the arena, saluted the emperor, and shouted, "We who are about to die salute thee." Telemachus shuddered. He had never heard of gladiator games before, but had a premonition of awful violence.

The crowd had come to cheer men who, for no reason other than amusement, would murder each other. Human lives were offered for entertainment. As the monk realized what was going to happen, he realized he could not sit still and watch such savagery. Neither could he leave and forget. He jumped to the top of the perimeter wall and cried, "In the name of Christ, forbear!"

The fighting began, of course. No one paid the slightest heed to the puny voice. So Telemachus pattered down the stone steps and leapt onto the sandy floor of the arena. He made a comic figure -- a scrawny man in a monk's habit dashing back and forth between muscular, armed athletes. One gladiator sent him sprawling with a blow from his shield directing him back to his seat. It was a rough gesture, though almost a kind one. The crowd roared.

But Telemachus refused to stop. He rushed into the way of those trying to fight, shouting again, "In the name of Christ, forbear!" The crowd began to laugh and cheer him on, perhaps thinking him part of the entertainment.

The his movement blocked the vision of one of the contestants; the gladiator saw a blow coming just in time. Furious now, the crowd began to cry for the interloper's blood.

"Run him through!" they screamed.

The gladiator he had blocked raise his sword and with a flash of steel struck Telemachus, slashing down across his chest and into his stomach. The little monk gasped once more, "In the name of Christ, forbear."

Then a strange thing occurred. As the gladiators and the crowd focused on the still form on the suddenly crimson sand, the arena great deathly quiet. In the silence, someone on top tier got up and walked out. Another followed. All over the arena, spectators began to leave, until the huge stadium was emptied.

There were other forces at work, of course, but that innocent figure lying in the pool of blood crystallized the opposition, and that the last gladiatorial contest in the Roman Coliseum. Never again did men kill each other for the crowd's entertainment in the Roman arena.

Jun 13, 2008

Not-So-Perfect Family

Jacob and Esau's story has always intrigued me. As I was reading I came across the following passage in Genesis 28:6-9.

Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Padan Aram to take himself a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Padan Aram. Also Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan did not please his father Isaac. So Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had.

I can't help but feel sorry for Esau. Why didn't they tell Esau not to marry from the Canaanites? How was he to know that this would displease his parents? What must that have done to Esau when he saw that his father blessed Jacob and sent him away saying, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan"? His dad was talking about his wives and children! What must that have done to his wives relationship with the in-laws?

Isaac had a messed up dysfunctional family! Not only this mess with the daughter-in-laws, but the Bible tells us that Isaac favored Esau while Rebekkah favored Jacob.

And the incredible good news in all this for all of us who come from not-so-perfect families is that if God can use the likes of Isaac, Rebekkah, Esau, and Jacob, he can certainly use us.

Jun 10, 2008

I just Don't Get it.

I am reading the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac.

I just don't get it.

I don't understand why God would ask that of a human being. If you knew God was God, and God asked you to do such a thing, what would that do to your understanding of God? If you knew it was God, then I guess you would go through with the sacrifice, but what would that do to you? your relationship with your son? your relationship with God?

I just don't get it.

By the time this story comes around, Abraham is over 110 years old, and Isaac is a teenager. The only way Abraham could have tied Isaac down is if Isaac let him. The only way Abraham could have gotten him on the altar to be sacrificed is if Isaac let him. It's one thing to trust and obey your dad. But the guy's got a knife in his hand and ready to strike.

I just don't get it.

The Bible makes it clear that God spoke to Abraham. But it does not tell us that Isaac heard what Abraham heard. And hearing God speak to Abraham would have made all the difference in the world for Isaac. But we don't know if he heard the voice of God or not.

I wonder what Isaac's relationship with his father was like from that day on. We don't see anything but mutual love and respect even after this event.

Either way, it's just a crazy story. And that's okay. I'm okay with not understanding everything. And some of you may say, "I just don't get it." And that's okay.

Jun 6, 2008

God Loves Fish

I've been reading the story of Noah again and it has always puzzled me that God destroyed every living creature on earth except for the fish. All living things died because of the sins of man, but the fish lived. The floods covered the earth and the fish thought it was great.

You know why? God loves fish.

I say that with tongue in cheek.

But here's the thing. God doesn't have to explain everything to me. God doesn't have to make sense all the time. God is God.

Whether you like that answer or not, that's reality.

The first thing that my discipleship asks of me is trust. And trust is what I'm going to do. I trust that God loves me. I trust that God wants what is best for me. I trust that God knows better than me. So I am going to trust.

The second thing that my discipleship has to come to terms with is God. You see, whether God makes sense or not, whether God is good or not, God is still God. And if God is God, then creatures are to worship God. It doesn't matter what kind of a god, God is. Because He is God, God deserves to be worshipped.

But we have become so spoiled with a loving God that we take His love for granted. Even if God wasn't loving, He still deserves to be worshipped. That's what it means to be God and what it means to be a creature.

Recently, I heard a radio show where the host asked, "Would you rather have your favorite sports team win the championship or have your favorite candidate win the presidency?" Guess what the great majority of people who called in said? - you guessed it. They would rather have their sports team win than their candidate win the presidency.

What was the reasoning most people gave? Because they said, no president can give the same feeling as their team winning the championship.

But you know what? If you were to ask this question in most of the world who are still being ruled by oppressive and murderous governments, you know what they would say? This kind of questioning would be laughable.

Here's the thing. Too many of us have taken the great mercy and love of God for granted. That God is a God of love and grace is a blessing. But even if our God were not gracious or merciful, God still deserves to be worshiped.

Our God is a great and awesome God. So worship Him.

You know God not only loves fish. He loves you too!

Jun 4, 2008

Half Truths of Sin

I was doing my Bible reading and came across a passage I had read hundreds of times before. It's amazing how God can show you new things even through the same passages.

Here is the passage.

Genesis 3:4-6 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

An astonishing surprise. The serpent told the truth. The serpent didn’t tell the whole truth but what he said was not false. She did not die by eating the fruit. She didn't keel over and die when she ate the fruit. But she did die. And what died in her was greater than her physical condition.
  • Her eternal destiny died - she was created for eternity, but the reality of eternity died
  • Her perfect communion with God died - she was created to be in perfect relationship with God, but that relationship was forever destroyed when she ate the fruit.
The devil did not lie when he told her she would not die. The devil just didn't tell her the whole truth.

That's how it is with the devil and sin.

The second thing about sin.
  • Sin always looks good to the eye.
  • Sin always looks enticing.
  • Sin always has a way of justifying itself.
The third thing. Adam is an idiot. When I used to picture the conversation between the serpent and Eve, Adam was always absent. I somehow came to the notion that Adam was somewhere in the garden doing manly Adam things while the conversation took place. And then once Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, she found him and convinced him to eat it too.

But that's all wrong. The Bible makes it crystal clear. He was standing right next to Eve the entire time the conversation was taking place. You see, God did not tell Eve about the fruit. Eve had not been created yet. It was only to Adam that God spoke. Adam was the one who told Eve about the tree of life. And yet he stood by allowing the serpent to twist the truth. What an idiot.

He saw his wife do the very thing God commanded not to do. And then when she offers it to him - "Duh, okay, honey." And he ate. What a fool.

And in too many households in America - that's exactly what is happening. Men have abdicated their roles as the spiritual leaders. It's time that we change.

finally home

Wow! What a long day. I went to sleep at 2:00am because we were up hanging out at Robson's place. I got up at 3:30 and we left for the airport at 4:15 am. Got to the airport and checked in for my flight at 5:15am.

Left Belo Horizonte at 6:00am. Arrived in Sao Paulo at 8:30. Transferred terminals, and left Sao Paulo at 10:30am. Arrived Miami at 6:30pm. Left Miami 9:00pm and arrived in Dallas at 10:30pm. Finally got home at 11:30pm.

It was a long day but the reception I received at the airport made it all worth it. Kaleb, Kaitlin, Kailey and Helen were there with their smiles. Karis didn't come because she didn't nap.

I finally feel somewhat rested.

It's good to be home.

I already miss Brazil. I pray that God will allow me to get back to Brazil again one of these days.

Now, time to get to work.

Jun 3, 2008

Almost home

Made it to Miami. Left Belo Horizonte at 6:30 this morning. Connected through Sao Paulo and now in Miami. Almost home. It's good to be in the good ol' USA. We live in a great country.

I can't wait to see my wife and family. I miss them more than ever.

Brazil was an amazing experience. I love being with pastors because we all share the same dreams and hopes - we want to see God using us to touch the world.

I thank God for the privilege to encourage and train the pastors in Brazil.

James <><
Check out what God is up to @

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Jun 2, 2008

Going Back Home

What an incredible week this has been.

The Pastor's Conference at the Eighth Presbyterian Church went well. There were 62 pastors who dreamed, wrestled, and discerned how best to lead God's church.

The consulting session with the pastors of Eighth Presbyterian Church and The Presbyterian Church of Buritis was exciting as we considered the importance of leadership.

The consulting session with the elders and pastors of the Presbyterian Church of Buritis was amazing. The spirit of God moved to touch and open the eyes of the leaders to see the redemptive potential that God had given to the Buritis Church. It was humbling to be in a place where the Holy Spirit was touching the lives of men who were giving themselves fully to the ministry and the mission of Jesus Christ.

The Sunday morning Bible Study and the the worship at both Eighth Presbyterian and the Presbyterian Church of Buritis was so amazing.

The praise and worship at Eighth Presbyterian Church is out of this world. Eighth is one of the largest Presbyterian Churches in Brazil with over 3,000 members. They have multiple services and the service I preached had probably had 900-1,000 people who were singing their hearts out for God to touch them. Alistair McGrath said that the Holy Spirit moves where the Holy Spirit is wanted and the people at Eighth want the Spirit of God!

The worship service at the Presbyterian Church of Buritis was such a blessing. God is up to something great at Buritis. God has assembled an amazing group of leaders and God has positioned the church to make some huge impact for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. I am telling you, keep your eyes open for this church. God is up to something great.

I am now getting ready to come home. I miss my wife and family. I can't wait to see them.

This has been an amazing trip.

Thank you God.

See you once I get home.