Get the book here

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Thoughts on the Ministry of Bible Quizzing

NOTE: I wrote this on August 24, 2010. As we prepare to head home from Bible Quiz Nationals 2016 on this first day of May, it still reflects my opinions and, sadly, the state of affairs noted has only gotten "worse." Read it with grace...

     I had a phone call from a guy who has been involved in youth ministry and Bible Quiz Fellowship-style quizzing ( for almost as long as I have (for me, since 1977; to include almost two decades of directing three leagues in New York). He was concerned about an individual trying to “fix” quizzing and virtually undermine years of work…

     In that discussion we approached many subjects from our vantage points of guys who had been hands-on-involved for such a long time.

     As I mediated after our conversation…several things surfaced:

·        It is possible (probable?) that quizzing as we know it is dying…primarily because of two factors. (1) the overall “busy-ness” of teens…a reflection of a culture that has, for the most part, said to our school system, “Take our kids, occupy them for at least twelve hours a day, so we can work our two jobs and provide for our family what we need/want; (2) the apathy and, well, laziness of Christian adults.

On this second point…it is so hard to find adults to invest the time, energy, and treasure into volunteering to help with Bible quizzing. It is such a tremendous ministry, but like most genuine ministry…it takes lots of time to do effectively.

So I pray the Lord would raise up adults who see Him as wondrous, serving Him as a combination of duty and pleasure, and students as worthy of investment.
Philosophies of Ministry

          We also discussed different philosophies of the various ministries involved
in Bible quizzing. Though we both love the National tournament, we both concur that, in our minds, Nationals should not be the focus of a local ministry. When I directed in New York I repeatedly told our staff, volunteers, and quizzers that we would not be focused on Nationals; but rather on the local leagues. Therefore, unlike many, we quizzed locally into March, and then put together our Nationals teams.

         There are some ministries that basically put their teams together at the start of the year, dividing material, etc. Others cease local quizzing shortly after New Years in order to focus on Nationals.

         This is not “wrong,” but not my friend’s and my perspective. It is more important, in our minds, to keep students in the Word for a longer period of time, rather than spending all the time focusing on the relatively small percentage of quizzers who want to compete at the National tournament.

          We laughed as we recognized that, at Nationals, some leaders seem to always take their students to an amusement-type place…miniature golf, go karts, etc. My philosophy was to take the students to something unique to the host city…whether a zoo, museum, one-of-a-kind dining experience, or whatever. Anything that was "different" from what they could do at home.
An Ugly Reality
We did not laugh as we reflected on accusations heard over the years about certain directors and coaches “cheating.” We knew of coaches who signaled students by hand motions in clear violation of the rules.

          We both had heard of directors who “stacked” the local competition in favor of their own children or perceived “favorites,”  arranging it so “their” teams would compete against lesser teams in an unbalanced way compared to other teams. I was accused of this once in New York so, as much as I dislike “committees,” I formed a small group of volunteers to assist me in putting together schedules and so forth to ensure I wasn’t playing favorites with my own children.

The Bigger Picture

          Since we are both, ah, advanced in years; we also wondered what the future of our types of ministry would be. I hate the term “parachurch,” but that is what we are labeled.

          A great thing seen over the years is that (finally) churches and schools started treating youth ministry as a “real” ministry; not a stepping-stone to a genuine ministry. Many concur that youth ministry could be a life-time calling.

          A sad thing observed is, like the rest of the Body in the United States, the gospel is sometimes rarely seen, heard, or modeled among youth ministries. It is all about numbers, decisions, activities, programs, personalities…but little growth and little awareness of the demands of discipleship.

Gloom and Doom?

          Second Timothy 3.1-5 apply. But the light always shines the brightest against a dark background. Gratefully there are people working across America to impact young lives with the gospel. “Parachurch” ministries are plodding along seeking to assist local churches in reaching out to, encouraging, edifying, and building disciples rather than Christian groupies.

          Yet the reality is that we need volunteers to come alongside and assist in a wide variety of ministry venues. We need funds (in all the ministries with which I work the staff have the privilege of trusting God as they raise their own support as home missionaries). Of course we need prayer.
          And we need full-time staff…adults young and not-so-young who are called to pour their lives into youth.

          Maybe that’s you?

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Inherent Danger of Bible Quizzing...and any other Memorization of Scripture

I absolutely love Bible Quizzing. I've been involved at some level since late 1977.

It is marvelous to help teens be encouraged to memorize Scripture.

But that is not the goal.

As we wrap up the 2016 Tournament in Colorado Springs tomorrow (Saturday, April 30) with all day elimination quizzing culminating in the Championship Quizzes tonight...I pray all participating would heed this warning from Frances Chan...memorization of verses (for any of us) is not the end...

Francis Chan - Making Disciples from Verge Network on Vimeo.

Accused, Dismayed, Baffled - A Unique Chapter in Bible Quizzing

If you know me even casually, you know that Bible Quizzing ( has been a huge part of the ministry to which the Lord has called me.

I've been involved since 1977...for two decades I directed the quiz program at Family Life Ministries in NY (and PA); and continue to be very much involved since moving to Midland Ministries.

I've often said it's the only thing I can in which I can't lose...I can preach and blow it, counsel and blow it, but facilitating the memorization of God's Word is a win-win...

In all training of volunteers, in all opportunities to promote quizzing I (and others) point out that mere memorization is not the goal...thinking about, chewing on, figuring out how passages apply to our daily walking around life is the goal. And, even if teens shun that part, if they don't receive guidance at home...they are still filling their minds with the holy inspired active Word of God...and "the Word of God does the work of God" is a cliche because it is true.

A few weeks ago I was able to see a couple who I've known for decades. We became friends while I served in NY; they then moved overseas for many years; and came back stateside a few years ago. They were financial supporters (I serve as a home missionary) and often communicated, asking for prayers and offering encouragement.

During our recent face to face we observed and discussed Bible quizzing. Their children had been involved in another form of Bible quizzing, and had a bad experience.

When we had to say "goodbye" the possibility, even probability, was that they were going to send their children to Midland's camp the week I am speaking this summer.

A while later I received an email from the husband that, in part, read:

"I am a layman without formal training who has been fighting institutionalized movements with good intentions but wrong primary or secondary focus. An example of misplaced primary focus is "Focus on the Family" and secondary focus is "The Navigators" with their memorization instead of meditation. Oh, how powerful it would be if someone were to turn the who memorization focus to day&night meditation and teach folks to pray without ceasing, dwell in the house of the Lord all the day long, abide in Jesus,  ... God's Word taken into memory in the heart through meditation is a strongly prescribed method in the Word of God."

He included a copy of an email he sent to his wife:

"I am not weak in either my Bible knowledge or my christian experience. My objection has nothing to do with the Power of God's Word. This is a misdirected rebuttal to my objection to memorization without personal meditation/ application.

It is so sad (not being cynical) to see folks like Jack spending so much energy and time misleading many by promoting memorization - path to the brain/memory, instead of meditation  - path to the heart, which God has prescribed in His Word so clearly. Here are just a handful of popular references that allude to heart both in the positive and the negative effects of the misplaced priority.
Deut 6:1-9, Josh 1:8, Psalm 119:9-11, Matthew 15:7-19, Heb 4:12, ...

Its up to you if we should take this issue up with him or not.  I am tired of warning "so-called" well-meaning believers more than once or twice."

After thinking about it for a while, I responded with this:

"I admit I am a bit shocked to be called a "misleader". If that is your true thought than I think you should obviously quit financially supporting me as that would make you, in effect, a co conspirator. In practices our coaches are instructed and encouraged to devote time to discussing the meaning of the verses (in context) and to dwell on them. They can not be meditated on if they are not memorized. Memorization is a step on the path, not the path itself. Meditation...or memorization...without application is not the end either.
... God's Word should be memorized (Jesus did), God's Word should be chewed upon (meditation), God's Word should be lived, God's Word should be shared.

In view of your statements I would assume your kids will not be coming to our camp; as we do Bible quizzing as part of the program.

I appreciate your honesty, appreciate you all, and am still a little dismayed that you view much of my life and ministry as misleading..."

The final communication I've had is this, from the wife:

"In all the verses that we have studied and discussed through this thread, meditation is the repeated instruction.  Even the devotional that you forwarded had at its core meditating, not memorizing.   I understand that it is hard to test or make a fun way to test meditation.  But what we found from our family's star quizzers was this: Memorizing scripture brought with it a "form of godliness" that was so contrary to God's way.  We saw our children be excited about gaining head knowledge without heart knowledge.  This was the reason we pulled out of quizzing.  I want my children to love God and His word, and I detest the substitutions to true Godliness.

I struggle with the fact that it is ugly and unpleasant to not dwell together in unity.  I sometimes am willing to compromise on God's demands in order to have harmony.  This is my nature and God is teaching me even through this experience to hold Him high beyond my friendships." 

The loss of a $100.00 monthly supporter is not a thrill, but not as bad as losing the respect and friendship of this wonderful family.

Apparently their previous experience with quizzing resulted in a child being, at least from their perspective, over-competitive...I am trying not to read between the proverbial lines...

In forty years of involvement in quizzing I've never have seen an argument such as this (there are plenty of objections...wrong translation, how dare you compete over God's Word, etc...but never has someone accused me of misleading people.

Does it hurt?

Sort of. I've got pretty thick skin (right or wrong).

But what really baffles me is how memorization of God's sharper-than-a-two-edged sword is, in and of itself, "bad'?

I don't get it.

But I'll not concentrate on it by His grace; I'll look forward (we are in Colorado Springs for the National Tournament) and instead remember the teens and "alumni" of quizzing who tell me that it was a huge part of their spiritual maturity and how the Word they memorized years ago "pops" up in their minds at the most appropriate time. (or, from their perspective - in "Jack, I was about to do something really dumb when a passage I memorized in quizzing came back to my mind...)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Nineteen Years Ago???

For two decades I had the privilege of directing Bible quizzing as I served on staff of Family Life Ministries in New York. We had teens involved from both NY and PA. It was a tremendous joy, and I am thrilled to be able to continue with Bible quizzing even as I transitioned to Missouri and Midland Ministries in 2008.

Nineteen years ago a team from Family Life took first place at Nationals. A few years ago I wrote a blog post about them; here it is again, slightly edited as we are in Colorado Springs as I type for the 2016 tournament...

Bible Quiz Champs 1998

Nineteen years???

Yup, it was mid-April, 1998, with the Bible Quiz Nationals taking place in Denver, Colorado.

At that time I was directing the Family Life Ministries (NY and PA) Bible quiz program, and we took five teams to the competition.

As always, the event was filled with a variety of levels of competition, but at the championship quiz "By Grace" was victorious.

I still have some contact with most of the team...they are scattered from coast to coast...but I grin as I reflect not only on that victory, but in my having the privilege of hanging with them, working with them, over several years. I keep a framed picture of the team on my office wall.

They were coached by Linda Schooley, and the team members were David Bradstreet, Chris Gardner, Chad Snavely, Chris Stanley, Carolyn Pearce, C. J. Madison, and Charlotte Bradstreet.

Here's a pic (with Pikes Peak in background)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Most Stressful Thing I Do

This evening the 2016 Bible Quiz Fellowship Nationals Tournament begins in Colorado Springs, Co. As we (Midland Ministries) are "hosting" the event, in addition to the "normal" quizmastering, I will be overseeing the table officials (quizmasters/scorekeepers/timekeepers)

I ask for prayers particularly that we who serve as table officials serve well.

I love to preach.

I take seriously "Let not many of us presume to become teachers, for as such we shall incur the stricter judgment."

So every time I speak...prison, church, youth group, camp, social club...whatever...I have a sense of holy terror.

But it's not the most stressful thing I do.

For almost four  decades (what is such a young guy like me doing in such an old body???) I have had the immense privilege of "quizmastering." A rather pompous term, but it describes the one who asks questions of Bible quizzers. 

It's kind of like music and matter what you do, you are wrong; in the sense that someone won't like what you are doing, how you are doing  it, etc...

As Aesop observed, "Please all and you please none."

But at the end of a quiz day..whether local, regional or national...I am one tied-in-a-knot individual! We need a staff masseuse to help us recover...

My main desire is to honor the quizzers by being my cadence, in my rulings, in my attitude.

They are under much more stress than I, and they deserve my very best.

Will I please everyone? Of course not...

Some will say I "give words." Others will say I ignore fouls. Some will say I stop reading too quick. Some will say I flop on flips (only some will understand this :)

Some will say I talk too rapidly; others will grumble that I'm too slow.

Whoever, or perhaps whomever (again, only some will understand this :)...says matters not.

I know that I've tried my dead level best to do the very best job I can.

To be just.

To act with my head rather than my heart (most of the time).

And, again, to honor these teens who work so hard and take the risk of competition.

It's one of the most cherished things I get to do in the ministry to which the Lord has called me.

And though I hope to do it til I croak; I also hope that I have good enough friends that they will tell me when it's time to hang it up.

You can learn more about this year's tournament, find links for video feeds and more at
Here's a photo of me quizmastering the 3rd and final championship quiz in 2013 at the Bible Quiz Fellowship National Tournament in Green Lake, Wisconsin:

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

He's a Big, Big, God!

Stumbled across the following video...not a large congregation, not a nice building, not a lot of bells and whistles...but you know Who is there? Holy Spirit.

And He is in your church when you worship, in your presence when you pray, in the room as you study the Word...

Even as He is in Mongolia, Vietnam, Brazil, Australia, Germany, Mindinao, etc etc etc

YOU are part of something (someOne?) big!

And, of course, the way my mind works, I think of a big God and I think of this oldie (by the way, don't use this song in prison ministry...some inmates refer to their housing as "the big house")

Bible Quizzer Anticipation

Hundreds of teens are enroute to Colorado Springs to compete in the 2016 Bible Quiz Fellowship National Tournament. The tournament begins Wednesday evening and concludes Saturday night.

If you've not seen quizzing; you've no idea how tense it can be (nor how delightful it is!)

Most of the youth participating have memorized at least six or seven chapters of the Word of God. (this season our material is ten Pauline letters). Some have memorized much more; a few have memorized all the material.

But quizzing is not simply quoting verses. They are asked who/what/when/where/why questions out of each verse; sitting on electronic pads in teams of five, the first one up provides the question and is crazy...they are incredible.

And as they travel to the tournament, whether veterans or rookies, methinks they can all relate to Mr. Brown:

Monday, April 25, 2016

O What A Savior!

I got to meet and work with the Cathedrals (to include Ernie Haase) a few times years ago...

Frankly, not my favorite genre, but Ernie was fun...could do a very good Elvis!

But, by far, this is one of my favorite any style; crank the speakers and enjoy!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Bible Quizzing?

It's hard to meditate on scripture if one does not memorize scripture.

Memorizing even great chunks of scripture is kinda like wall paper...doesn't mean anything unless it's applied.

How do you know how to apply it?

You chew.

And if it is hidden in your heart (memory), you can meditate on it whenever, and as you become aware of its truth apply it.

Give this John Piper sermon jam a watch/listen:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Magnificent Gift!

Jane and I serve as home missionaries. Since 1978 I (and since 1982 "we") have trusted the Lord to provide through His people for our salary. We receive no compensation other than those funds invested by people (and a few churches).

If a camp or a church or a civic group etc ask me to speak, I say "yes" with no "minimum" charge; I simply explain our situation and ask them to cover transportation (if necessary) and anything above
that is up to them. Of course there are not too many honorariums for my ongoing prison ministry!

But the vast majority of our "income" comes from individuals who give - some monthly, some annually, some occasionally.

The sizes of the gift vary. My "largest" every-month supporter gives $400.00. My "smallest" is $10.00. I put the words in quotation marks because every donor is a valued partner in the gospel work to which the Lord has called and united us.

It is a continuing amazement to me that our God raises up people to not "only" give financially; but to pray fervently. As I tell them often, "Your gifts make our ministry possible; Your prayers make our ministry powerful.

Many of our support team have been with us since the first days. As time goes on that number lessens as they go on to glory as the Lord calls them home. This can pose a problem as the 20/30 somethings are not, wide-brush, known for their interest in giving anything - time/talent/treasure. Thankfully there are incredible exceptions!

A couple weeks ago I received one of the most treasured financial gifts I have ever received.

I had the privilege of speaking, quizmastering, and hanging out at the Teens For Christ North West Regional Bible Quiz tournament in Washington. We spent four days at a camp and had a spectacular time. This was my fourth trip to be with them during Regionals. Some of the teens and adults I will see next week for the National Bible Quiz Tournament.

Anyway, on the last day of the event four young ladies came up to me to say good bye. They also told me that for all of the season their quiz coach would "reward" them whenever they did something special during practices...getting a verse correct on the first time, encouraging another quizzer, helping set up etc. The reward? A quarter.

The girls decided to pool their "earnings" and give it to me...

Sure, I've received bigger gifts.

But their willingness to give their combined $25.00 to me caused a bit of moisture to gather in my eyes.

May not seem like a big deal to others; but it was...and is...a huge deal to me.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Don't be Scared of Spirit; Don't Let HIm Trump Jesus, Either

This is from a guy I really value (Kevin DeYoung). My experience shows that many followers of Christ either ignore the Spirit or focus on Him too much.

DeYoungs writing is helpful to me...perhaps to you;  regardless how "maturing" we are in Christ.

From time to time I try to post brief articles like this one as a short primer on some topic in systematic theology. The aim is clarity. The approach is brevity. Previous entries were limited to 500 words. I cut myself some slack this time and upped the ante to 1000 words. Starting now.
Many Christians rarely think about the Holy Spirit. God the Father we know about. God the Son we think about all the time. But God the Holy Spirit? There are fewer songs to him, fewer meditations about him, and fewer churches named after him.
But this may not be altogether a bad thing.
Granted, it is very possible that traditional conservative Christians know too little about, and cherish to lightly, the person and work of the Holy Spirit. But before we pursue this criticism too far, we need to remember that the New Testament itself says a great deal more about Jesus Christ and God the Father than it does about the Spirit. More importantly, we must not forget that the work of the Holy Spirit is first of all to glorify Christ (John 16:14). So whether we realize it or not, we are very intimately connected with the work of the Spirit, because whenever we are drawn to Christ as Savior, led to worship Christ as Lord, made to behold Christ as glorious, we are being operated on by the Holy Spirit.
The focus of most of our churches is on Christ and not the Spirit, because that’s the focus of the apostolic gospel, the New Testament, and the Holy Spirit himself! Of course, this is not to suggest that singing to the Holy Spirit or worshiping him is inappropriate. Far from it. Every person of the Trinity is equally glorious and deserving of praise. But Spirit-led worship has at its heart not an emotive experience (though emotions are good) nor a spontaneous feel (though spontaneity isn’t bad), but rather a Christ-exalting, cross-focused, word-centered event where the name of Jesus is praised in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God the Father.
A Personal Spirit
On Sunday night I saw a few minutes of the Morgan Freeman Story of God series on the National Geographic channel. It only took a few minutes to hear both a Hindu and a Jew refer to God as a force, a power, or a binding energy. There was no suggestion that God–whether one or many–was a person with whom we could have a relationship. So it bears repeating: the Holy Spirit is not a force or a principle of nature or a part of God or mode of his existence. The Holy Spirit is a person—a teaching (Luke 12:11-12), speaking (Acts 13:2), interceding (Rom. 8:26), grieving (Eph. 4:30) person—distinct from the Father and the Son.
The Spirit is eternal God (Heb. 9:14). He is everywhere, which does not mean the Spirit is everything or in everything, but rather that there is nowhere we can go where the Spirit isn’t also present (Psalm 139:7). The Spirit alone knows the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:10-11).  The Holy Spirit is fully divine, his name being used interchangeably with the name “God” (Acts 5:3-41 Cor. 3:166:19). The Holy Spirit is active in our salvation along with the Father and the Son (1 Peter 1:1-2). Jesus commands his disciples to be baptized in the name (singular) of all three persons (plural) of the Trinity, underlying the equality of rank, power, and majesty among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while also emphasizing their fundamental unity (Matt. 28:19; cf. 2 Cor. 13:14).
The Holy Spirit is not simply an omnipresent being that is with us in the sense that he is everywhere and so wherever we go there he will be also. The Spirit lives within us (1 Cor. 6:19) and makes his dwelling in our hearts (2 Cor. 1:22Gal. 4:6). We have fellowship with him (2 Cor. 13:14). This imagery should not be understood spatially as if the Spirit gets his mail delivered in the upper left chamber of that beating muscle in the chest. Rather, the Spirit dwells in us by animating our personality, shaping our character, renewing our minds, and stirring our emotions.
A Beneficial Spirit
There are at least three benefits we experience through work of the Holy Spirit.
The first benefit is that we share in Christ and all his blessings. We too are looked upon with filial favor. Everything Christ accomplished is ours. All he won is ours. The promised inheritance of Abraham is ours (Gal. 3:14). All this and more because we belong to Christ and Christ’s blessings belong to us through ministrations of the Spirit.
The second benefit is the Holy Spirit’s comfort.  Most of us have heard that the Holy Spirit is a Comforter (John 14:16 KJV). Other translations render paracletos a “Helper” (ESV), a “Counselor” (NIV), or an “Advocate” (NRSV), but the truth is still there: God comforts his people by the Holy Spirit. This happens in a number of ways. The Spirit may supernaturally strengthen your soul and give you a peace that passes understanding or a calm confidence in the work of the Lord (Acts 9:31). He may also comfort you through other Christians as you share in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit of truth, he will often speak to you through the Word of God, leading you into all truth (John 16:12), encouraging you with the words of Scripture he inspired and now illuminates. He may cause you to remember a precious biblical truth or direct your thoughts to the finished work of Christ or give you eyes to see more clearly the glory of God. The Spirit may comfort you with the gift of assurance so that you more boldly embrace your new identity in Christ and more firmly trust the promise of eternal life.
The third benefit is the Holy Spirit’s presence forever. Before studying the Heidelberg Catechism in depth several years ago, I had not really thought about Jesus’s promise that the Holy Spirit would be with us forever (John 14:16), but the promise is very good news. In heaven, the Spirit will continue to keep us holy. He will continue to teach us more about the inexhaustible riches of Christ. He will continue to be the personal bond that unites believers in fellowship. And He will continue to minister to us the presence of God the Father and God the Son, who together with the Holy Spirit are Triune God, blessed forevermore, Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Moment by Moment - Which Do We Choose?

It is certainly not original. I have no idea where I first heard it.

But it is true.

Every moment, every situation, every crisis, every...

In all situations we have the choice, 



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How Would You Answer This?

This is a provoking question.

Watch the video, then, if you would, comment (and, if you can, explain) your answer...

And I can't think about "time" without thinking of this (though I am convinced "...our times are in His hand...)...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

It Is Not Only Okay to Say "No," It Is Vital!

Everyone is busy. Everyone has too much to do and too little time.

Some of these difficulties may be birthed in laziness, apathy, lack of discipline...

But for many the causal agent is the lack of ability to say "no."

I do not believe any time mangement tool, seminar, idea etc is going to give lasting help until this particular battle is won.

It's okay to say "no."

I owe Michael Hyatt for this sample sentence of one way to honestly, gently, and clearly say "no."

Here it is:

“I’m sorry. 
I’d love to,
 but to honor my existing commitments,
 I’m going to have to say no.”

The follower of Christ is commanded to "redeem the time."
That simply won't happen unless you learn to say "no."
Sure, pray for guidance; pray for discipline; pray for discernment...but also have the wherewithal to say "no."
And also remember this:

"The need is not the call."

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sometimes We Deserve It...

Yes, the Word promises, "All those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution..." and Jesus refers to "suffering for My Name's sake...";
but, at least in North America, sometimes we Christians "suffer" simply because we do or say stupid things; or, even more frankly, just because we act like jerks (please notice the "we" as opposed to "you")

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Early in the process...
So last night I decide to read Psalm 119. I do that fairly often since it is so focused on the Word of God (though using a number of, in my mind, synonyms).
As I read I spotted three verses that methinks will develop into a sermon...I share them for your own edification and/or comments:
(all are from the ESV which I am using of late)
Psa 119.133 Keep steady my steps according to Your promise,
and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
Psa 119.165 Great peace have those who love Your law, nothing can make them stumble.
Psa 119.173  Let Your had be ready to help me, for I have chosen Your precepts.
Rather cool, huh?
I'm sure some will think it is sacrilege, but makes me think of an old Beatles tune:
Verse me to walk steady...don't let any sin creep up and get power over me
Verse God's law; guarantee, nothing can make you stumble (cue D.C. Talk..."what if I stumble, what if I fall; will the Lord still love me when the walk becomes a crawl")...Doesn't say we won't stumble; does say nothing can make us stumble...we stumble on our own...
Verse 173...because I've chosen His precepts, God's got my back!

Here's another great verse: Isaiah 41.13 For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who says to you, "Fear not, I am the One who helps you."

Drill Sergeant: "What do you want me to do, private? Hold your hand?" "Ah, no sarge, I'm good."
GOD: "What do you want Me to do, Jack? Hold your hand?"
"Ah, as a matter of fact, yes!"

Friday, April 15, 2016

Wiersbe's Warning...Take Heed...

"Beware of cut-and-dried theologies that reduce the ways of God to a manageable formula that keeps life safe. God often does the unexplainable just to keep us on our toes - and on our knees." Warren Wiersbe

Thursday, April 14, 2016

It's Okay to Doubt...

"If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt...There is no believing without some doubting, and believing is all the stronger for understanding and resolving doubt." 
Os Guiness

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What's Prison Ministry Like? Well...

I have no answer to the question in the title.

One person may minister one way, another another, etc.

But I can tell you what the ministry the Lord has opened for me looked like today.

This morning I traveled to Cameron, Mo to speak at "Christian General" in Crossroads Correctional Center. Crossroads houses 1,400 inmates...excuse me, we are not supposed to call them "inmates," they are "offenders." I'm sure there is a carefully thought out reason for this...It is a maximum security prison.

I speak to this particular group only once a month (on the second Wednesday). Crossroads has no programming on weekends, so all "religious" activities take place during week days. I also visit Crossroads on the 3rd and 4th Monday of each month.

Anyway, today there were about 80 inmate/offenders in attendance. About ten of them were white (no agenda here, just pointing out).

We have a ninety minute slot, so the first half hour or so was singing, with a "choir" of six or so inmates. It is like most any gathering on the streets...some in the audience sing, some don't, some talk...and, yes, a couple sleep.

Then I spoke on God's forgiveness. The men, as always by His grace, were very attentive. With my style, even the sleepers awoke.

As I finished the inmate coordinator opened it up to guy shared, another man was about to when a CO (Corrections Officer) popped in and shouted, "Code Six, line up outside."

I think it was a drill, but a code six implies someone is missing, everyone cells in and the CO's count noses to find out if, in fact, someone has vanished.

After the inmates had been dismissed to their cells, the CO said I could leave. I walked down to the Control Room and was told to go back (I'm glad I spent four years in the Army as well as a few years in prison; prepared me for stuff like this).

An hour or so later the place was still locked down but a white-shirt (officer) told me I could leave; went through the control room, down the stairs, and opened the exit door. Outside were several Cameron police officers, a couple SWAT type looking guys. They asked for my ID, and then let me through to my vehicle.

I drove to where the prison driveway met the main road to see a few more cars and automatic weapon carrying officers. They checked my id. had me pop the trunk (I drive a small Ford Focus...), and let me proceed.

So it was a normal day punctuated by an un-normal code six.

I never ask inmates why they are locked up, and if they begin to tell me I ask them not to tell me. Why? I don't want to run the risk of losing my objectivity.

But I did, during the code six, look at the sign in sheet and, on a whim, wrote down seven numbers.

When I (finally) got back to my office, I fired up the prison locator to see what the chosen seven were doing time for...

And this is what I discovered:

1) Armed robbery, 85 years
2) 1st Degree Murder, Life without parole
3) Rape, 101 years
4) Trafficking drugs, 41 years
5) Robbery/Assault, double life
6) 1st Degree Murder, Statutory Rape, Life without parole
7) Distributing/Manufacturing Controlled Substance, 24 years.

But you know what? I'm convinced that we've made two huge mistakes regarding ministry in North America:

1) We've perverted the ministry into a profession rather than a calling
2) We've carved out niches and specialties and thus confuse the issue

What do I mean? The first is patently obvious to anyone with eyes to see.

The second is perhaps a bit more dim...but we have "youth ministry," "senior ministry," "military ministry," "prison ministry," etc etc etc. its core..ministry is ministry...whether "vocational" (full time) or all-of-us: Love God, love people.

That's it.

Sure, augment it with awareness of your audience etc, but there isn't one gospel for teens and another for convicts and still another for military personnel.

People are people.

Love them, love God.

The very best definition of ministry I've ever read comes from Warren Wiersbe: 

"Ministry takes place
 when divine resources
 meet human needs
 through loving channels 
 to the glory of God."

Simple Test...Simple (important) Lesson/Reminder

Take this quiz mentally:

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.

2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.

3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest.

4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer prize.

5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.

6. Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.

How did you do?

The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here's another quiz. See how you do on this one:

1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.

2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.

3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.

4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.

5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.

6. Name half a dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you.

Easier? The lesson?

The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care. Pass this on to those people who have made a difference in your life.
I remember a teacher once saying that there were two kinds of people in the world, those who were interesting and those who were interested.
Interesting people spend most of their time telling you about themselves and are easily forgettable. Interested people on the other hand, tend to listen and act like they care. My best guess is the reason they act like they care is because they genuinely do.
If it's been a while since you've connected with and thanked a person of genuine influence in your life, maybe it's time? we proceed through life...may we all remember that people are more important than projects, those ministered to are more important those ministering ("as you've done to the least of these...") and that Jesus is vitally interested in individuals...and therefore so we should be...