Red Cardinal Faith

We’ve finally got a good snow blanketing in PA this week.  It’s like a bright white felt covering.  And what happens? The red cardinals come out.  At one glance yesterday afternoon, I saw about a dozen bright red cardinals perched in the trees.  They come out in the snow and sit in leafless trees.  Very obvious.  They are fire engine red splashes against a white back drop.  Anyone, including predators, can see them clearly.  What makes a red cardinal do this?

Yes, there’s a sermon illustration here.  I want red cardinal faith.  When the snow is heavy enough, everything is blanketed.  Enter the cardinal.  If I could read his mind, he might be thinking, “Hey, I’m here even if it’s just to bring a splash of color. Times like this when I contrast with the snow is when you see me the most.”  I would like the life of Jesus in me to catch eyes like the cardinal.  Again, HIS life and not mine.  Look, there’s something different and contrasting here to what the world has given you.  Want to know about it?

Matt. 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Splash some contrasting color.


Breaking foundations

There are times one needs to back way up to foundational ideas. This is one of those times. My final point will just not make sense without it.

We believe foundational ideas. I believe that when I sit down on a chair, it will hold me. Rarely, do I wonder or doubt. I just sit. I expect to be able to walk into a restaurant, order food, and have a meal. That’s just what’s done. Some of our foundational ideas are so foundational we cannot fathom (nor do we) challenge. Later, I want to challenge a foundational system. But, let me try an example first.

What if I said, “Eating is wrong”? What makes this statement so shocking is that it is hard to imagine any place on earth where it would not be shocking. Everyone has always eaten food. To be sure, there have been groups or individuals who have made this claim. People regard them as insane or quacks. We all eat. We need to eat. It’s a matter of survival. But, what if I posted mounds of scientific data? I may convince a few, but my statement “Eating is wrong” so contradicts our foundational beliefs, most would dismiss it. Year after year, I can produce proof, but it would not matter.

Cultures have shifted lesser foundational ideas. Smoking used to be accepted as a norm. It took years of science and education to show people, “Smoking is harmful.” The difference between “Smoking is harmful” and “Eating is wrong” is the smoking statement is not quite as foundational as the eating statement. I’m hoping to challenge a foundational idea like we did with smoking.

Let’s agree that foundational ideas are hard to change. But, some can be changed.

Now, let’s appear to change the subject, but it will fit later. What is the difference between a thing and a person? We’ll list the obvious:

Persons                                                                                        Things                                

Have intrinsic value                                                                         Value is relative

Made in the image of God.                                                          All that exists made by God

Soul that lives forever.                                                                  No soul.

Has mind, will, and emotions.                                                     Simply exists in time and space. Unconscious.

Cannot morally be owned.                                                           Can easily and morally be owned.

Cannot morally be used.                                                               Can be used and/or used up.

Attach via relationship                                                                   No emotional attachment.


So, while obvious, people have much more immeasurable value than things. Sometimes, things are ascribed more value than they should have. Someone may adore their car, but it is still a car, a thing. It will not last forever. Indeed, sometimes people are treated like things. An individual will consider another individual or a race of individuals to have less than personhood value. While convinced in their own mind, it does not make people things. Racism, for example, lowers the value of certain people to things or less than people. The Nazi holocaust shows that Jews (not to mention other groups like Gypsies) were less than people. Late in the war, Eichmann tried to trade Jews for trucks. He clearly did not understand the difference between people and things. Biblically, it does not matter if someone thinks someone is less valuable, for they have value as a person. People are not things.


Let’s summarize.

  • Cultures have foundational ideas and things they hold as true. While difficult to do, some foundational truths can be shown to be false or rebutted. Some truths are so in the realm of tautology, they cannot change.
  • One of those foundational truths are that people have value. Some have tried to change that, but they still have value. Their value is far beyond that of things.

So, the base has been laid. My purpose here is to challenge a foundational truth. It is so intertwined in our psyche, many will find it to be impossible to refute. And, it is also so offensive, some will not agree that this foundational “truth” is true for our culture. I do not attempt to justify this foundational truth or support that it is true.

Here’s a foundational “truth” that is really a lie: Women are things. This can be extended to men or to children. But, most of the evidence regards women. Absurd? Offensive? Did we not establish that people have intrinsic value? Are not all women people? Yes! This is the point. While we would all agree that women are people and they have value, we do not live this way. And, we’ve been so conditioned to treat them as things without value, we hardly stop to consider it. We grow up wired this way. When I say, “We…”, I include myself. Over the years, I have discovered this latent belief deep in my soul. I fear there are more aspects of it that I have yet to uncover.

Where do we see it?

  • Pornography. To be sure, this is the primary and most egregious evidence. Some porn does not even include the face of the woman and merely includes her body parts. She is on display for pleasure of some other man she does not know. She is nameless. She is a thing to be used for (usually) his own individual pleasure.   He tosses her away when someone else prettier or sexier comes along. Like upgrading to the next smart phone, he abandons her like a thing. If he ever met her in real life, he would likely be disgusted by her. Hugh Heffner, publisher of Playboy, has done more than few others in lowering the value of women in our culture. When a man buys or uses porn, he is guilty. When a woman allows herself to be dehumanized this way, she too contributes to the problem while a victim herself. As another example, notice the camera angles of professional cheerleaders. Sometimes, her face is not even seen. (Note: this is not a knock against cheerleading per se. It’s how these women are portrayed and used).
  • Movies/television. Analyze almost any modern movie or television show that includes relationships between a man and a woman. They both give all of themselves physically to one another. It’s just accepted as normal (foundational truth). It’s what couples do. They break up and everyone is content and satisfied. In reality, they both have just used each other as things. They gave themselves in the most intimate way possible, but now both are discarded like a thing.
  • Music. Regardless of style, lyrics abound of references to women in terms of her body and sexual prowess. Until someone else better comes along, she is just a thing.
  • Clothing styles. Modesty is not a popular option. Often, I hear complaints from teens and their parents of how difficult it is to find clothing that is not sexually suggestive.
  • Relationship idolatry. Young men and women today build idols of relationship. They feel that they have value if they have someone on their arm. Conversely, they are worthless if they do not have the significant other. Their boyfriend or girlfriend is not someone to love but someone to make them selfishly valuable. They are using the other person like a thing.
  • Human trafficking. Like porn, this is another clear example. Even children are enslaved to someone else’s desires. All the victim gets is money, drugs, or food. They are treated worse than cattle.
  • Culture: To hold a woman as valuable is weird in our culture. Public figures who do so are criticized and mocked strangely enough even by women!

So, there are several responses possible:

  1. Yes, this is true. Women are viewed as things, and no one seems to care.
  2. Yes, women can be mistreated, but our culture is not so bad that they are consistently thought of as things.
  3. No, this is off base. There’s nothing wrong with how women are viewed and treated.

What’s the answer? First, stop our involvement. No, you don’t have to boycott the Super Bowl. But, do you bring media into your home that condone the dehumanization of women (movies, magazines, TV shows, etc.)? Guys, deal with your porn issue. You would not tolerate your wife or daughter used that way. Yes, it’s a huge, life long battle. But, you can find consistent victory. Talk to your pastor. No, you’re not the first one who’s come to him with that issue. Second, talk about it. Dads need to talk to their sons. Model treating a woman with respect and dignity that every person deserves. Make it a big deal. When you see it, address it. Don’t put up with it.

What’s your response?

Nothing but the tooth

I love to eat while driving. While doing so the other day, I felt something weird. Yep, I crown came loose. After a trip to the dentist, I learned the tooth actually broke off. I’m glad it had a root canal earlier, so I did not feel any pain. My dentist said he would do what he could, but I may lose this tooth. Now, we are talking expensive.

But I had other news this week: A friend and his son are heading for the hospital; other relatives are sick or injured; the death of a friend’s spouse; persecution; lost jobs; wolves in a church.  So, I see my tooth on two levels.  First, there are scads of people who would trade their issues for my tooth.  While it may take a while, the tooth is fixable.  Second, what is my perspective?  First John 5:20 says, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”  So, I have Jesus.  He’s not just the source of eternal life; he is eternal life.  I KNOW him.  My faith is not in facts.  It’s in him.  I know on whom my faith rests.  It’s different to trust in a person than just a belief system.

So, my tooth matters for now.  Eternity matters for, well, eternity.  Despite the discomfort, hassle, and expense, I will follow him because of him.  I’ll keep praying and supporting those in worse shape.  I will seek to know him better and help others know him better.  That happens to last forever too.

Pastor Joe

No faces; no names

There are certain names not revealed in Scripture. The woman caught in adultery in John 8 is not named. What’s more significant is the guy with whom she had the affair never shows much less is named. The boy who gave his lunch when Jesus fed the 5000 is not named. Tens of thousands of martyrs are not named.

One unnamed group that makes me wonder is the generations between Joseph and Moses. Israel slipped into slavery. Mothers and fathers had nothing but stories and promises to give their children. They were born slaves, lived as slaves, had children born into slavery, and died as slaves. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

These unknown faithful kept a fire burning. This is hard. There is no David, no bolts from heaven, no splitting of water, no manna, no prophet, and no talking donkeys. They just connected Joseph to Moses one generation after the next.

They’re heroic. They believed what they could not see. That’s faithfulness recognized by God. He knows them…well.

Pray like Crazy

(I recently finished the book, Praying with Paul by DA Carson. While I’m not directly quoting it here, I found it inspirational and enlightening for this post. – JO).

As I’ve been challenged to pray along with the Apostle Paul, I‘ve been convicted of my own short sightedness in prayer.  I pray for needs and various requests that come my way.  But, look at the implications from Paul’s prayer for the church in Colossae:

(1:9) “…that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…”

  • What are we doing anyway?  What is so important that we spend our time, money, and resources upon?  Is it according to God’s will?  Would I stop doing something if I learned if it’s outside his will?  But, what if it’s popular?  So, I pray this for myself and my church.  Whatever we are about, we must be firmly planted in his will.  We gain this by having the spiritual wisdom and understanding.  We don’t measure what we do by worldly standards.  Many (if not most) of the prophets enjoyed pathetic and “ineffective” ministry; they worked within the will of God with all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  It’s tough to do.  We want to see some measurement, but sometimes we may need to pursue a course of action just because God says so.  Willing to do that?  We should be willing to end things we’ve “always done” if they are outside the will of God.  And, are we willing to be weird?  Would we take a course of action where everyone thinks we’re nuts?  For example, God calls us to pray.  In the world’s eyes (and many who attend our churches), this is a waste of time.  God commands it.  How do we know we are doing his will?  This is where the “all spiritual wisdom and insight” comes in.  We just know.

(1:10 “….so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

  • What’s the end game of doing God’s will?  We “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.”  This is not a human generated endeavor.  But what an audacious goal!  The more we grow in the Lord, the more it becomes clear to us that we are not worthy.  Our flesh is so utterly corrupted.  We have no righteousness on our own!  But God makes us worthy.  Not that we want to end up patting ourselves on the back, but can we really pray this?  Apparently so.  This further leads to bearing fruit.  Like in the previous point, this fruit is not like the fruit the world measures.  There may not be numbers or income that reflects this fruit.  How about changed lives? How about a new disciple?  Just one.  How about fruit we may not see but someone else will?

(1:11-12, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. ”

  • These prayer results are not a pulled up by our own bootstraps.  So, Paul also prays for power.  What unreasonable task is ahead?  No, we don’t have the power.  We need the power source based in his glorious strength.  Obstacles crumble.  And, we need the power to keep going.  My tendency is to not endure.  End result here: thanks to God.  Like Gideon and his pathetic water pitcher tactic (Judges 7), we have no one to thank but God.  Who tires of wall flower contentment (seeking to avoid making waves)?  We have a power source.

(1:13-14, “…He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

  • God has already answered prayers beyond comprehension.  I remember walking in darkness.  I remember hating God’s guts.  How did that change happen?  I was not on a track to follow him.  He did that.  As I consider the task for God to continue to change hearts of current followers and make new ones, he has a record.  Will I believe him for this?  That’s his will to bring this full circle.

We should pray like this, but that would be crazy.


There are so many distractions and good sounding alternatives.  So many voices (subtle and not so subtle) cry to compromise and make the path smoother.  The wide road does not sound so bad!  Isaiah could have made so many excuses for not continuing.  God even promised that they would not hear or pay attention (Is. 6).

Yet, there is compulsion.  Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 9:16b, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”  There just is no other option.  It must be done.  If compromise reigns, if the job done half heartedly, if good sounding alternatives replace the truth, if man’s wisdom trumps the gospel, I may end up  a drunk.

Woe to me if don’t preach it.

Of the book

I was learning a bit about Jonathan Edwards, Puritan Preacher.  The presenter mentioned that the Puritans considered themselves “People of the Book.”  I don’t know how successful they were at this, and I do not intend to critique them.  But, I do like “People of the Book.”  I want to be a person, man, husband, pastor, father, and servant of God of the book!

The easy side of this means doing what it says.  By “easy,” I mean: Do this; don’t do that.  Yes, there are times when I need to consider the context of a command.  I need not worry about wearing clothing of two different fibers according to the Law.  The hard side is when I allow traditions or values that do not find their source in the book.  They may be good values, but they do not hold the same punch as those in the book.

For example, many value a church building to be some sacred place.  I’ve tried to explain to brides that having a “church wedding” does not inoculate her marriage from divorce.  It’s just a building.  For our church, it’s just where we meet.  We, the people of the church, ARE the church.  At it’s core, the word “church” means “assembly” and not “building.”  Over the generations, we’ve attached a sacredness to the place because we say on Sunday, “I’m going to church” and think of the building.  I’m not advocating abusing the building or allowing it to be a brothel, but it’s sacredness is more a function of history and tradition than of the book. How do we change that?

I wish I knew except to gently teach and correct.  These molds are tough to break.  And while we’re at it, what does the book say about voting, smoking, rock and roll, and genetically modified food?  I’m not making any statements for or against.  I’m not assigning value or criticism to these issues.  It’s not wrong to have a conviction one way or the other.

Just be honest…is if of the book?