Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The 12th Year Anniversary of 9/11 and a Story of Hope

Today I was reflecting on the horrors of 9/11, and how that event has shaped the course of world history in the last 12 years.
My generation has grown up in the aftermath of 9/11.
Our brothers, sisters, and friends are the ones fighting the war that has lasted more than a decade. We all remember where we were when we got the news about the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Some of us watched the towers fall on live television.
That historic act of evil happened on September 11, 2001. But countless acts of heroism followed in the rescue attempts and the recovery.

A few months later, on December 19, 2001, The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theaters.
For some people, that fact is insignificant.
But for much of my generation, The Lord of the Rings is THE narrative that has shaped our lives, particularly in the last 12 years. It is the fictional framework through which we have interpreted and endured our personal triumphs, tragedies, heartbreaks, and eucatastrophes. It is THE story of faith, love, friendship, and hope in the midst of utter despair and pure evil.
I watched The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time on January 1, 2002. Even at the time, as an 11 year-old boy, I remember reflecting on how timely it was that this tale, one of the greatest ever told, should be released in theaters during one of the darkest hours of American, and potentially world, history.

As a 22 year-old about to turn 23 this October, I can say that The Lord of the Rings carries even more emotional, moral, and spiritual weight than it did when I was 11.
As my late, beloved Dr. Fears always said, great books speak across the ages, and they speak to you today.
As I mourn 9/11 on the 12th anniversary, The Lord of the Rings continues to speak to me today in a very powerful way. It reminds me that “there’s some good in this world…and it’s worth fighting for.” It renews my hope for the Eucatastrophe of Eucatastrophes: the final, ultimate triumph over evil at the very moment when all hope is lost.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Selfishness Will Kill Communication" by Ben Whiting

Ben Whiting, a good friend, recently published this excellent blog post on selfishness and communication.

Here's a quote from his introduction:

Growing up in a family with four siblings, I’ve been in my share of arguments over what he or she “meant.” Those arguments often end this way–the speaker ends up pointing out his good intentions. “That isn’t what I meant.” And then the listener insists, “Well, it is what you said.”
One person is focused on the objective meaning of the words, and the other is focused on the subjective meaning that was intended for those words. Surely one stance is right and one is wrong. 



I urge you to read the rest of Ben's post.

I certainly needed it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thanks, Spencer Plumlee

I received some bittersweet news this past Sunday. Spencer Plumlee, the Grow Pastor (and formerly the college minister) at Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, is leaving to become the senior pastor at Riverview Baptist in Osage Beach, Missouri.

That announcement got me thinking*, and when I get to thinking, I usually get to writing.

*And crying. I might have cried too.

I started going to Southcliff with my parents on Easter Sunday of 2009, the spring of my senior year. This change in churches came at an already unsettling time for me. I was about to graduate high school, make my college decision, and possibly move away from home. Then my parents switched churches and I had a big change before the other big change.

I didn’t want to join Southcliff’s youth group only to leave it in a couple of months, so I attended the college group.

And there I met Spencer.

I can’t remember how Spencer would introduce himself, but I do remember how he always used to introduce his wife:
“This is my beautiful wife, Shelley.”

I also remember Spencer’s hair. He had (still does) this great hairdo that kinda sticks up in the front.
If I could pull off that hairstyle, I would. But I am not Spencer.

Spencer caught my attention with his captivating teaching, his extensive knowledge, and his genuine passion for knowing Jesus.

I can remember some of the great lessons (and sermons) that Spencer taught, but there are three particular Spencer Plumlee-isms that encapsulate his legacy to me. (That’s convenient, because three is an easy number to remember, and it makes for a tidy blog post.)

1. Read your Bible every day.

Spencer would always say, “If you commit to reading your Bible every day, I promise you that it will change your life.”

This must be the battle-cry of youth pastors, college ministers, and pastors from time immemorial.

Please, kids—congregation—read your Bible.

I heard it before Spencer, and I have heard it since. I have not followed this advice to the letter, but when I have read the Bible every day for weeks at a time—months at a time—I see life-changing benefits.

When you read the Bible every day, you will naturally be led into prayer, evangelism, service, repentance, maturity, sanctification, humility—the list goes on. Those are all things that Christians need and should want for their lives.

I see the life-change that Spencer talked about when I read my Bible every day, because we believe that it is more than just an anthology of books and letters. We believe it’s the Word of God.

Thanks, Spencer.

2. When you go to college, plug into a church immediately.

In the summer of 2009, before I moved to Norman, Oklahoma, Spencer told me to find a church there and commit to it.

Don’t “shop around” for a semester.
Don’t “wait until you get settled in.”
Don’t let a few months pass before you darken a church door.

I don’t think I was in too much danger of not finding a church, but Spencer exhorted me to find a church and plug in.

So I did. And the resulting rewards, joys, and pleasures are too numerous to count.

On Sunday, June 21, 2009 (Father’s Day), my parents and I attended Trinity Baptist Church* in Norman, Oklahoma. We were up at OU for the weekend so I could enroll in classes**.

*Pastor Carroll Marr of Southcliff recommended Trinity to my parents and me.

**That weekend, I met Travis Kuehler, my first friend at OU. We have been very close friends for four years, and we both go to Trinity and the Baptist Student Union (Paradigm).

I wanted a church that proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, preached the Bible as the Word of God, and had loving people.

I walked into the Trinity college group and immediately met some great, friendly people, including Grant Keeter, Josh Malone, Jeff Growe, Aaron Hoffman, Jared Haines, and Paul Zimmerman.

My prayer for a good church was answered immediately. Trinity fit all my criteria.

I told Josh at lunch: “Well, I think I’m going to come to Trinity.”
Josh was surprised (and, perhaps, amused). “That didn’t take long.”

It didn’t. But I never had to visit another church. I’ve been going to Trinity all four years at OU.

Not everyone finds the right church immediately. But I took Spencer’s words to heart and joined an imperfect church of imperfect people who, like me, are saved by Jesus.

Don’t shop around. Find a church and commit to it.

I have passed this advice along to many younger guys. A few have followed it. Many have not.

I have reaped the benefits of this advice: the Body of Christ at Trinity has provided me with dear friends who have helped to carry me through the most difficult years of my life.

Spencer played a part by encouraging me to find a church and commit to it.

Thanks, Spencer.

3. Romans 5:8
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

This isn't a Spencer Plumlee-ism, it's just one of  his favorite verses.

In this passage, the Apostle Paul explains that you and I were lost in sin. We had broken God’s commandments, we were enemies of God, BUT GOD demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

The penalty for breaking God’s law is death, but Jesus Christ took our place and suffered our punishment when He was crucified. Then Jesus rose from the dead, and those who believe in Him have eternal life (John 3:16, Romans 6:23).

When I think of Spencer, I think of this verse, and therefore of the gospel, and therefore of Jesus Christ.

Thanks, Spencer.

As you said to my parents and me on Sunday morning, you got to share a season of life with us.

As I said, you were instrumental in my life during a pivotal time: high school to college.

You taught me, you preached to me, you talked with me, and you prayed for me.

God bless you, your family, and your ministry.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Divine Intervention, Lot, Abimelech, and Salvation Rape

a. I've been reading through the Book of Genesis for my Bible as Literature class at the University of Oklahoma.
2. I have heard that camels spit.
d. It is easier to poke a camel in the eye with a needle than to enter the kingdom of heaven.

This Part Is Funny But Irrelevant

I like the Book of Genesis because it has the story of Abraham sending his servant to get a wife for Isaac, Abraham's son. The servant prays that God will send the right woman to a well while the servant waters his camels. Enter Rebekah, who provides water for the servant and his camels. The servant praises God and gives Rebekah a nose ring and some golden bracelets.

I regularly walk around the University of Oklahoma looking for a well (holding the leash for my camels in one hand and holding a nose ring and some golden bracelets in the other) so I can find a wife.

I have, as yet, been unsuccessful. One of my problems is that I don't know of any wells at OU.

My biggest problem is that I don't have a servant.

But this blog post isn't about Isaac and Rebekah. It's not about nose rings either.

The real blog post starts...


Divine Intervention, Lot, Abimelech, and Salvation Rape

Today I was struck by two passages from Genesis: one about Lot, and the other about King Abimelech.


In Genesis 19, God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness.

Before the judgment, God sent three men (angels) to Sodom to rescue Lot and his family from Sodom. God did this for Abraham's sake, since Abraham pleaded for the lives of the few righteous in chapter 18.

Before fire and brimstone falls onto the cities, the angels tell Lot to leave

Genesis 19:15-16

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city."
But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city.

I love how the passages says that "the compassion of the LORD was upon [Lot]." God was looking out for Lot.

Lot "hesitated," even though he knew Sodom was about to be destroyed.
He was reluctant to leave. He probably still loved the city.

But God* intervened and the men seized Lot and his family and brought them out of the city.

*"But God" are two of the greatest words in scripture. Bad things, bad things, But God. See Romans 5:8.

This passage made me think of "salvation rape," which is an awful phrase that someone came up with to describe the idea that God would save someone who didn't want to be saved.

Romans 5:8 is one of many scriptures illustrating the fact that God saves people who don't want to be saved, who hate God and want nothing to do with God. However, the fact remains that some people think that God will not infringe on a person's right to choose their own fate.

Happily for Lot, God infringed on his free will and dragged him out of the city, saving his life. What happened immediately after this salvation was a series of unfortunate events for Lot's family, but that was due to their decisions (more bad ones) and not God's. God had already done a lot to get them out of the city.


Genesis 20 sees a familiar story in the life of Abraham. The situation is a rerun of what happened when Abraham visited Egypt in Genesis 12.

The gist of the story:
a. Abraham visits a country.
2. The locals notify the king that Abraham has a pretty wife, Sarah.
d. Abraham claims that Sarah is his sister.
III. Abraham gives her to the king, Abimelech, rather face the possibility of being killed for her

Genesis 20:2-6

Abraham said of Sarah his wife, "She is my sister." So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 
But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married." 
Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, "Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? 
"Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this."
Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.
"Now therefore, restore the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours." 

Read the rest of the passage to find that Abimelech returns Sarah to Abraham (spoiler, sorry), gives him many gifts, and scorns Abraham for nearly bringing the wrath of God upon the kingdom.

The verse that popped out to me was 20:6, in which God says "I also kept you from sinning against Me."

We often say that God won't stop us from making bad decisions.

God has given us a brain and He expects us to use it.

Sometimes the implication is that God lets us do what we will, and then He'll arrive to pass judgment after the fact.

But sometimes He intervenes - to save us from disaster, and to save us from ourselves.

Ponder that, if you will.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Over Christmas I read Terry Pratchett's Hogfather, a hilarious seasonal story in which the Hogfather (Discworld's version of Santa Claus) goes missing. And not just missing - but almost-dead. (It's sort of complicated.)

Here's the gist of it:

a) Evil villains can destroy the Hogfather forever if they can get everyone to stop believing in him.
2) No Hogfather means no Hogswatch*!

*The Christmas and Yuletime celebration of Discworld

The Hogfather is out of action. The presents need to be deliver.
Who could step in to take the Hogfather's place?

Why, Death, of course.


Death enlists the help of his butler, Albert, to help him deliver presents on Hogswatchnight* to all the good little boys and girls in Ankh-Morpork. He even makes an appearance at a mall, listens to what the kiddies want for Hogswatch, and urges each little boy and girl to be good.


*Christmas Eve. You've caught on by now, right?

But everything isn't all sugar canes and mistletoe. The sinister forces at work to destroy the Hogfather will do the same to Death, if they can.

Fortunately, Death's granddaughter, Susan*, figures that Something Is Up and brings her wits, bravery, common sense, and poker** to the rescue.

*Yes, Death's granddaughter. It's complicated?
**A fireplace poker, not a card game.

And for our entertainment, the Death of Rats*** joins the adventure too. Along with his steed, a raven.

***Want to know how the Death of Rats came to be? You have another reason to read Reaper Man.

If Death and Susan can't stop the villains from stealing everyone's belief and destroying the Hogfather, there will be no happy faces on Hogswatch morning.

Oh...and the sun might not rise either.