Relationship vs. Religion

What is this blog about?

I get asked that question from time to time. This blog is about being passionately in love with Jesus Christ. It is about encouraging people to go deeper with God the Father and to embrace His gift of life through His Son's sacrifice on the cross. In a nutshell it's about relationship.

It is NOT about religion. Religion will suck you dry. It will drain you with a set of rules and regulations devoid of life! Jesus came to restore a relationship destroyed by sin. He loved us enough to die (and rise again Hallelujah!) so that we can have a life giving relationship with the Creator of the universe!

One of my colleagues, Pastor Stanley Groothof, has written an excellent piece on being religious over on his blog, 4th Point. You can read the whole piece here.

His piece got me to thinking how much time and energy we waste practicing rules and regulations. Don't get me wrong, we need guidelines and boundaries. However, I believe the stuff God told us not to do was for our own good. I also believe if we focus more on Jesus Christ we will find we commit habitual sins less. I love that verse in Matthew that says Seek first the Kingdom of God! (Matthew 6:33)

Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ! Love, pray and worship Him and as you focus on the King of Kings and Lord of Lords watch your faith grow deeper than it ever has. Enjoy the ride!


You're My Shooting Star!

He determines the number of stars. He gives each one a name. Our Lord is great, and his power is great. There is no limit to his understanding. (Psalms 147:4-5)

There is no limit to His understanding. That is so true. The Lord knew I was feeling a bit discouraged and stressed. He also knows I love looking at the stars in the sky.

So, when I walked out my door at 4:30 am to warm my van up before heading off to work, it was with great excitement that I looked at the sky and saw a shooting star streak across the horizon.

My day was set. I immediately began to praise God from whom all blessings flow. I was reminded of His care and love. James 1:17 says every good and perfect gift comes from God....and that is what the shooting star felt like. A perfect gift that turned my mind to the Father!

We serve an awesome God.


Surveying the Land

Some people think morality is relative to our culture and time in history. Some feel truth is based on a universal standard (God's Standard) for all of us.

Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Later Jesus has this little exchange with Pilate: Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)

Would you take this informal survey?

1. Do you believe in absolute truth?


A Bible Burns on Halloween

So this week I came across another sad testament to insanity:

Bible Burning

Apparently a church in North Carolina has decided to celebrate Halloween by burning their Bibles. Now that alone is bad enough, but they also decided to burn Christian books which quote the Bible, followed up by a BBQ!

Confused? Apparently they are too. The only Bible safe from their insanity is the King James Version Bible and the books that quote this translation.

I am sure Satan and his demons will be squealing with delight as Christians light God's Word on fire.

I have never understood the KJV only movement. I love the beauty of the old English, but this goes too far. I have been in Christian bookstores where people said they wanted a 'real Bible', 'the only authorized version', etc... I guess the original scrolls, the Greek and Hebrew translations, etc... were 'un-authorized'. Apparently King James had more authority than God!

2 Tim. 3:16 says all Scripture is God-Breathed. It did not specify a translation. When Christians are burning God's Word they have clearly taken their eyes off of God!

Psalm 119:105 says, "Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for my path."

Embrace the Word of God. Choose a translation you can understand and keep your eyes on the King of Kings not King James!


End Child Labor!

Jesus loves children. He spoke about children in the New Testament. One such scripture is:

"Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:13-14)

What must Jesus think of child labor?

Did you know that one in six children under the age of 14 is involved in child labor in developing countries. In the least developed countries nearly 30% of all children are engaged in child labor!

One statistic that I find especially sickening is that 126 million children around the world work in hazardous conditions and endure beatings and sexual violence by their employers. Every year 1.2 million children are trafficked in agriculture, mining, factories, armed conflict and commercial sex work!

Enough is enough! It is time for God's children to take a stand!

What can we do? PRAY! Pray Hard, support those ministries that reach out to rescue these children and if you can do so, go yourself!

One such ministry is Compassion International! Would you consider sponsoring a child today? For $38 you can provide needed assistance to children in the hardest hit areas. Your sponsored child will have hope and help throughout their childhood!

I do not give these stats to just touch your heart. I believe in Compassion. Sarah and I have sponsored a young girl for nearly 8 years and have been blessed by her growth and knowing at least one child has a chance.

The choice is yours. Regardless of what you do, will you pray?

Sources: www.unicef.org, www.ilo.org, www.crin.org


Waking Up Is Hard To Do

Paul Wilkinson over on Thinking Out Loud asked me to be a guest blogger a few days ago. This is the piece I sent him. I am now putting it on my blog in case you missed it. I would encourage you to also check out Paul's blog if you haven't done so. He has some good stuff there.

I am not a morning person. Oh, once I'm awake I am good to go, but it takes me a bit to wake up. I would much rather pull the covers back over my head and sleep for another 30 minutes. When I do finally step out of bed I head right to the coffee pot. Only after I have a stiff cup of joe in my hand do I feel ready to tackle the day. Sometimes even then I want to go back to sleep.

It's kind of like how I use to be with church. I wanted to pull the cover back over my head. I wanted to sleep, fake an illness, anything to get out of attending the Sunday service. Sometimes I did this even when I was the Pastor!

I was becoming bored to death with the routine. There just seemed to be no life. I could close my eyes at most services and walk through the exact order. Opening prayer: check; worship: check; commercial break for the offering: check; message: check and done by lunch!

Where was the excitement? Did God mean for church to be boring? I believe He did not! Of course part of this goes to our concept of church. Sadly, too many today still feel like you have church when you attend a building with 4 walls and go through the motions of a service. I believe church is different. I believe we--the people--are the church. But somewhere we exchanged hillside walks with the Savior asking questions back and forth for sitting in pews and listening to someone else tell us how to do "religion".

I am not attacking the "traditional church". I pastor a congregation myself and we have our routines as well (admittedly few), but they are there. However, I truly believe Jesus came to give us life! I want a radical faith. I want relationship with Jesus Christ. A relationship where we can express doubt, fear, concern and trust! A relationship where Jesus is our everything and our only thing. A relationship with highs and lows, good times and bad, where I know that through it all Jesus is still always there. Are you with me? Let's get radical for Christ. Let's toss aside our lethargic attempts at religion and embrace the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Let's get into the street and touch the sick, the needy and the downtrodden. Let's share a message and a life; ours and His!


5 Questions With Lauren and Leslie Reavely

Welcome to 5 Questions With.....

Today's Guests are Leslie and Lauren Reavely. After an intense and exciting week at a kids' missions camp, teenage sisters, Leslie and Lauren Reavely (r-l) co-founded the ministry Hope 2 Others. Along with their passion to help the poor, they enjoy playing music, speaking, and spending time with friends and family.

And now without further delay, on to the questions:

Hi Lauren and Leslie,

Question 1: Hope 2 Others is a ministry reaching out to the homeless. What was the catalyst for this?

In summer of 2005, we attended a Missions Camp put on at Camp Jonah in Trout Lake, WA, which focused on ministry to refugees. The first morning, smoke bombs exploded as the alarms rang and firemen ran up and down the halls shouting at us to grab our shoes and sleeping bag and run! So here we were, at 5:00 in the morning, e midst of around 50 campers, shivering out in the field located beside the camp. We were terrified, homesick, tired, and freezing. But God was at work. The fake fire and evacuation were just the start to a long day-and-a-half that we spent living like refugees. We scavenged for food, waited in the heat, and built and slept in shelters we made out of tarps and cardboard. At the end of that day, the camp staff handed out replicas of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, containing a water bottle, toothbrush, and bar of soap. We had never been so thankful to brush our teeth!

At the end of the week, we headed back to our warm bed, refrigerator full of food, and cozy house. But we couldn't forget how meaningful a box full of little everyday supplies, like a toothbrush, had been. God was stirring in our hearts, and it was a movement we couldn't ignore.

Another experience that motivated us to take action towards homelessness happened when we were grocery shopping with our mom one afternoon. We pulled out of the parking lot and saw a man and his dog on the side of the road, asking for help. Since the groceries were in the trunk, all we had to give him was a cantaloupe rolling around in the front of the car. We gave it to him, not even knowing how he'd open it. But it opened our eyes to see the need for something constructive and convenient to give panhandlers.

Question 2: What are H2O bags? What goes into a typical H2O bag?

H2O bags are white paper lunch sacks filled with socks, a Gospel tract, and non-perishable food items, such as tuna and crackers, granola bars, applesauce, water bottle, and so on. e make bags every couple months and then give them to people at our church, who keep them in their car for when they see a homeless person with their sign on the street corner. They're designed to meet two needs. They provide panhandlers with some physical and spiritual hope as well as give us drivers something constructive to give them.

Question 3:
How did this ministry spread throughout the US?

That's a good question. We can't really take any credit for this. God's provided so many people who have spread the word about H2O. The biggest way has been through Alex and Brett Harris' book "Do Hard Things: a teenage rebellion against low expectations." Towards the end of the book, they tell the story of how H2O got started and how others can get involved. Many teens have caught on to the vision of Hope2Others and have started it where they live.

Other than that, it's just been passed around
by word of mouth. For example, one girl from Florida, who heard about H2O through "Do Hard Things", started it in her community and told other people about it who told other people about it. As a result we now have seven H2O sites in Florida.

Question 4:
How can people start an H2O Ministry in their area?

Well, we've designed an H2O starter kit, which can be downloaded off our website. The starter kit includes our logo, a list of the supplies we put in the bags, steps to getting started, fliers, etc. This should be all you need to get started, but we'rys happy to answer any questions that come up along the way.

Question 5:
How can people support your work?

When people ask us how they can help out, our first answer is always "Start it!" But realistically, this isn't for everyone. So, find an H2O site near you by visiting our map and contact the starters of it to get involved with the work they're doing. Other ways to support H2O include handing out bags that others make, donating financially, and praying for the ministry.

Thanks you Lauren and Leslie for taking the time to answer these questions!

God bless, Lauren Reavely

So there you go. Two teens changing the world one bag of food at a time. I want to encourage you to check out the H2O website, join the team and pray for these girls and this ministry.

To see past 5 Question guests, check out the rotating interview links on the sidebar.


Hope 2 Others

I love seeing kids and teens get excited about God. When the excitement turns to action it's even better.

A few months back a local teen loaned me the book Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris. One of the stories in the book was about 2 teen girls, Lauren and Leslie, who decided to do something about then homeless situation in their town.

The result has turned into H2O - Hope 2 Others

I would encourage everyone to check out this neat outreach. Their goal, according to the H2O website is to spread hope to others - One bag at a time.

The ministry has grown to 1 locale in the Philippines and 27 locations in 13 States in the US.

Check out the website and come back on the 6th as Lauren and Leslie Reavely discuss H2O!


5 More Questions With Tom Morrisey

Welcome to 5 More Questions With.....

Today's Guest is Tom Morrisey. Tom did an interview with me back in June and has returned to talk about his latest book, Pirate Hunter, which is in stores now.

His first novel, Yucatan Deep (Zondervan, 2002) was a finalist for the Christy award, and he is the author of five other novels: Turn Four (Zondervan 2004), Deep Blue (Zondervan 2004), Dark Fathom (Zondervan, 2005), In High Places (Bethany House Publishers, 2007) and Wind River (Bethany House Publishers, 2008); and two nonfiction books: 20 American Peaks & Crags (Contemporary Books, 1978) and Wild by Nature (Baker Books, 2001). He and his family live in Orlando, Florida.

And now without further delay, on to the questions:

Hi Tom,

Question 1: In your previous interview on my site you mentioned that each of your novels is written to answer a spiritual or theological question. SO what is that question for Pirate Hunter?

Psalm 103:12 says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." And Will Rogers once said, "Nobody ever forgets where they buried the hatchet." So there's the rub: God, who is omniscient, willingly forgets those sins that we lay at the cross, yet we willingly add them -- ours and those of our loved ones -- to the semi-load of baggage that we are hauling through life. Laying aside grievances is an essential part of forgiveness; if we do not do that, we are in essence saying it's okay to live outside God's will, and it becomes a beam-in-our-own-eye sort of situation. And the question of this novel is, "If God is willing to forgive all transgressions, why can't you?" Or, really, "Why can't I?"

Question 2: Forgiveness seems to be the overarching theme of Pirate Hunter. Yet the ending is not neat and tidy, sort of like real life. How do you "know" where to end your novels?

My endings are often transitional moments, but that's what life is like, is it not? And I'll share a deep, dark secret; I almost always know how the novel ends before I begin writing. In fact, these day, I generally don't write a word until I have a fairly concise image of the ending. And while there are some very good "seat-of-the-pants" novelists who discover their endings as they wrote, I encourage my approach when I'm talking with budding novelists. The biggest concern publishers have when they are dealing with someone new is the novelist who can perform the takeoff, but cannot land it -- i.e., can start a novel but does not know how to finish it. To me, at least, it's easier to move rapidly when I know where I'm going. So I move toward an end that is already quite clear in my head.

Question 3:
Pirate Hunter made me examine where I am at with the issue of forgiveness. Have you received any feedback regarding this theme?

Most of the mail I've received on this book has been on technique -- the back-and-forth between the contemporary story and the historical. It hasn't received anything close to the avalanche of "confessional mail" I got when IN HIGH PLACES was published. Yet all the reviews note the forgiveness theme, so obviously it is getting through, and that's good, because while I write novels to entertain, I also write them to let other Christians and seekers know that we are all carrying baggage through life. Maybe forgiveness is just a quieter subject: one that people think about, but don't feel compelled to write back on.

Question 4:
The realism in your book is awesome. How much research went into this novel?

Wow. A couple of trips to the British Virgin Islands (including a visit with the leading historian there on 18th century piracy), more trips to the Keys than I can count, several trips to the Crystal Coast and Outer Banks of North Carolina (including a dive on Queen Anne's Revenge -- Blackbeard's pirate ship-- and some in-depth, one-on-one conversation with a leading Blackbeard historian), getting certified on the Dive Rite O2ptima Closed-Circuit Rebreather system, more scuba dives than I can count, lots of conversations with shipwreck preservationists, a very detailed tour of Mel Fisher's operation in Key West ... that's just sort of scratching the surface. I also did a lot of secondary research -- reading, History Channel and whatnot. But I should point out that I usually don't get up one morning, say, "I think I'll write a book on XYZ, so now I'll go spend a couple years researching it." It's the other way around. I take what I have been doing and what's fascinating me, and I craft a novel from it. And diving and shipwrecks and pirate history have always fascinated me.

Question 5:
How is God speaking to you right now?

At this moment? He's telling me to act more like a Christian. And by that I don't mean the "thou shalt nots," but rather the "thou shalls." Things like feeding the hungry, sheltering the roofless, ministering to the imprisoned and loving those whom society considers unlovable. Jesus stuff. Over the last few months, for instance, I have become acquainted with a guy who is a very capable MBA with a record of service to our nation, and I've become aware that he was downsized out of his job about 9 months ago and hasn't found a new position yet because the economy stinks. So I got off my duff and started networking and got this guy some contacts. We haven't landed him a job yet, so by the definition we all learned in high-school physics, no work has been performed. But we're moving forward, he's encouraged, and that peace that surpasses all understanding has been settling around me. Which reminds me that it had been missing for a while, and that's my fault. Complacency is not of the Lord; the only reason we are not Otis-elevatored straight to heaven when we convert is so we can be the hands and feet of Christ here on earth. In Matthew, Jesus tells us that the "yoke is light." But the point is, there's still a yoke, and we're obliged to carry it.

Thanks for coming back for seconds Tom!

There you have it. I would encourage you to read any (and all) of Tom Morrisey's previous books and to pick up a copy of Pirate Hunters from your local Christian bookstore today. You can also check out all the exciting resources on Tom's website.

To see past 5 Question guests, check out the rotating interview links on the sidebar.


Pirate Hunter

Rarely will a fiction book make me evaluate my relationship with Jesus Christ. Most fiction books I read are more like brain-candy I use to kill an afternoon.

This cannot be said about Tom Morrisey's latest book, Pirate Hunter. I have already reviewed Tom's writing once before. However, I find his latest book is firing on all cylinders from the opening paragraph until the last page.

The theme for this book is forgiveness. It is written in such a way that I had to step back and evaluate my own issues with forgiveness. I had to spend time actually working through this issue a bit and seeing if I had truly forgiven those who hurt me in the past. In at least one instance I realized I had not. I am currently working on that now.

That to me is a powerful fiction book. It drove me to the Word of God and into a season of prayer. Not only that, but it is an exceptionally well-written book that is actually 2 novels in one! An 18th Century pirate tale and a 21st Century treasure hunting story woven together into a mind blowing novel of romance and thrills.

If you are looking for a fiction story that is unique, exciting and challenging than pick up a copy of Pirate Hunter today. You will NOT be disappointed.


Comfortable? - Just A Thought #38

When I want to relax, I usually grab a good book, a cup of coffee and curl up on the couch. I like being comfortable.

I hate public speaking; ironic for a pastor, I know. I would rather take the easy way out than to make myself in any way uncomfortable. I would rather ease into a swimming pool than jump in with both feet.

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
(2 Timothy 1:7)

Fear holds most of us back from stepping out of our comfort zone. Fear keeps us entangled and tells us we are not capable, qualified or spiritual enough. Fear sucks...the life out of us.

The Bible is filled with stories of men and women whom God stretched way beyond their comfort zone. Moses is a great example of this. He had excuse after excuse for why he could not be the one God should use in His plan to rescue the Jewish people from Egypt. God had other plans.

What is God calling you to do? Is He nudging you to step out of your comfort zone and to do what you would consider impossible? Step out in faith and see where God leads. Enjoy the adventure.