I'm standing in line in a well air-conditioned room, and I'm sweating. Why? Because, one by one, the well-quaffed and smooth-tonged coffee intelligentsia in front of me are thinning out, and I'm frightfully aware that it will soon be my turn to stammer through an order. If preaching a sermon with Bill in the audience is my #1 fear, close on its heels is the thought of getting to the front of the line in Starbucks or Yaks and my mind going blank with twenty-some odd coffee intelligentsia looking on.  

intelligentsia |inˌteliˈjentsēə|noun (usu. the intelligentsia) [treated as sing. or pl. ]intellectuals or highly educated people as a groupesp. when regarded as possessing culture and political influence.
I don't like the poorly-disguised smirk of superiority on the face of the High School kid behind the counter as I'm forced to use a rudimentary form of sign language to indicate the size cup I would like to drink out of. I don't like the pregnant conversation pauses and snide side-long glances coming from the table to my left as its occupants enjoy my obvious discomfort when asking the apparently ridiculous question "what does 'breve' mean again?'" I guess I just don't like feeling like you need to have a high I.Q. or speak Italian to order a good cup of coffee.

If I could assemble a cast of singers and actors, borrow a nice video camera and someone's coffee shop, I'd make a hilarious commercial to highlight this ominous turn towards the 'dark side' that is currently underway in American culture. But since I can't, the following video will have to do...

I mourn only that Dunkin' Donuts exist in our area... sorry. My issue is not with good coffee, fancy coffee -- even good, fancy coffee made in Italy. I don't even care so much about the price; good coffee is worth its weight in gold. My issue is with the coffee shops (or 'boutiques,' or whatever they're called now) abandoning English words for the pomp of Italian words under the pretense of 'culture,' so that many good, honest, hard-working Americans feel dumb when they try to order a good, honest, hardworking cup of coffee.

I beg of you, for the sake of national pride and my fragile self-confidence -- just call a spade a spade and pour me a good, strong cup of joe.

Surrounded By Grace,


What is evangelism? In my sermon this Sunday, you will hear me say basically this: that the gospel is not being shared unless we are communicating the death of Jesus for the sins of the world in order to make peace with God. His death was the necessary sacrifice to cover all the wrongdoing of all who ever lived and ever will live, for all time.  As a sign that God the Father accepted it as “enough,” and approved of Christ’s death as an adequate payment for peace to be re-established with men, He raised Jesus back from the dead.  And what is the promise to any and all who believe that what Jesus did for us was “enough” to save us?  The promise is 1) death with Him – the death of our past, the death of our ‘slave-to-sin’ genetic default, the death of our sin-debt to God, the death of failure and a dead-end life.  And the promise is 2) life with Him – life with God, life with a future, life with a purpose, life with power, life with direction, life for all eternity!

If we think we are “sharing Jesus” by just being nice, by trying to make others happy, by being loving, but stopping there – if we don’t tell them about the death of Jesus in our place as the only way to have peace with God, then we are not evangelizing.  Compassion is not evangelism.  It is not enough to save. All of the things just mentioned, if done without mention of the person and work of Jesus, fall under the category of ‘redemptive,’ but not redeeming.

Don Richardson is “a Canadian Christian missionary, teacher, author and international speaker who worked among the tribal people of Western New Guinea, Indonesia. He demonstrates in his writings how, hidden among tribal cultures, there are usually some practices or understandings, that he calls "redemptive analogies", which can be used to illustrate the meaning of the Christian Gospel” (Wikepedia).  So what does he mean by ‘redemptive’ analogies vs. something that would be ‘redeeming?’  Richardson explains it this way -- “’Redeeming would mean that…people could find relationship with God through their own lore, apart from the gospel.  ‘Redemptive’ in this context means ‘contributing to the redemption of a people, but not culminating it” (59  Richardson, Eternity in Their Hearts).  The ‘redemptive analogies’ in their cultures are general revelation expressions about who God is, but don’t offer a means of getting to know Him.

What does ‘general revelation’ mean?  It is a term that describes clues left by God, about Himself. Not just in creation (Rom. 1:20), but even within the hearts of people (Ecclesiastes 3:11) -- an instinct, almost a 6th sense, that whispers quietly of something or Someone who is all-powerful but unknown.  But it stops there – so it is not enough to save.  And all the genuinely good things we do to help and to love people fall under the same category -- ‘contributing to the redemption of a people, but not culminating it’ – because mercy without God is nothing more than a general revelation expression of God. It can point strongly at the existence of a ‘God of Mercy,’ but can’t explain the means of obtaining God’s mercy – it’s not enough to save.

God wants more for people than a comfortable journey to the grave – He wants people to thrive, both in this life and in the life beyond the borders of the grave.  That’s why Jesus came to do more than just feed the hungry and heal the sick. That’s why Jesus had to die.  And the gospel isn’t the gospel without His death.

Your life, Christian, is the ultimate ‘Redemptive Analogy,’ and like all redemptive analogies, yours is meant to be a big, fat clue to the existence of God.  But don’t stop there.  Don’t let your life stop there.  We are called to be more than the ‘Church of the Redemptive,’ we are called to be ‘The Church of the Redeemed!’  Don’t leave people to guess at the clues– tell them the Answer.

Surrounded By Grace, 



When people ask me how I fit in as a "campus pastor" in Weaverville to what goes on at Neighborhood church in Redding (a.k.a "The Mother Ship"), I now tell them I am to Bill what Tim "The Tool-man-Taylor" was to Wilson on the once popular TV show "Home Improvement." I take the bewilderingly brilliant truths I hear 'on the other side of the fence,' and I repeat them in Weaverville... with a 'twist' all my own.

Which is why I'm going to copy another one of Bill's brilliant ideas from his blog and post a list of questions I'm hoping you, as my closet blog reader, will risk exposure for by responding to (in case you read Bill's list of questions, that is not an allusion to question #8)... TRANSLATION: If you follow this blog but selfishly (read 'wisely') refrain from commenting on the posts, this is your chance for worldwide self-disclosure. Also, like Bill, I'll share my own answers to the following questions after I've given you a chance to respond. Kindly number your answers to correspond and be 'reasonably' brief. Are you ready?

1) If you could pick any super power (think "Heroes" if you're a TV watcher), what would it be and why?
2) Name the funniest book title you've ever seen (NOTE: Please do not name the most inappropriate book title you've ever seen... that's too easy).
3) OPTIONAL: Help me add to my sidebar list: "You know you're a hunter when..."
4) If Bill wasn't a Pastor, he'd be a...
5) If someone put a gun to your head and ordered you to pick a cheese to put on the perfect steak, what kind of cheese would you choose? Seriously.
6) If we were all issued another economic stimulus check, what would you spend yours on and why (Saving the money in any way is not a valid answer because it... invalidates the purpose of an 'economic stimulus' check. Got it?)?
7) If you were going to ask a probing, witty question of your fellow blogger, what would it be? I'll post the best of those (or all of them, depending how underwhelming the response is) in a subsequent entry.
8) If you could have picked your own name, what would you have called yourself? Go crazy.

I'll be checking your answers to cheer myself up at key low points in my day, so don't let me down -- and have fun!

Surrounded By Grace,


A while back I made my humble debut into the world of web logs by stumbling onto what I later learned was the longest running blog in the history of MySpace - a blog run by an atheist and devoted to utterly demolishing all who were not atheists.  I learned a lot from the experience... such as, some blogs are apparently not places for civil debate but in actuality are smoldering traps full of like-minded people who desperately hope and "pray" for comments from... inexperienced non-"techies" with a different opinion. Enter Josh, the neophyte blogger.

Never mind, it was really fun.  I was called words I didn't know the meaning of, and hey, I'm all about freedom of speech, so I took it like a champ.  For laughs, I've cut out all the really "original" titles I was given and have left instead a portion of a conversation I had with the host of the blog.  It was a fascinating exchange, mainly because we explored some important issues regarding evidence of God vs. faith in God.  Why is this so important?  If you haven't experienced this phenomenon yet, you will eventually-- those who insist that they have all their questions about God satisfied before they will believe in Him -- which itself is a bizarre sentence!  You see, it's a smoke-screen argument... because you just cannot empirically prove the existence of God conclusively...



I'm fairly certain no one's ever been "argued into the kingdom of God;" as I said before, even after the best evidence, there will always remain an element of faith- and yet my fascination has gotten the best of me, so here I am. 

An honestly humble observation:  It strikes me as incredibly arrogant for finite minds, using finite tools to be surprised at an inability to prove the existence of something/ someone (God) who by definition is able to exist outside the realm of the created. Translation:  How does one expect to find God using tools (philosophy, physics) Christians would assert He created?  Is not the creator greater than the created?  No matter which direction you come at it, there will always be an element of faith involved.


I agree with the comment below: If God is totally undetectable to us, why should we act as though he exists? Also, which god? If there is no evidence, it's a crap shoot between all the religions. It's a rotten trick for your God to hide from us skeptics only to reveal himself after death and torture us for eternity! 

With that in mind, if God does exist, we would hopefully be able to test for his existence with science. Science is the best authority we have on the physical universe. And science shows that God does not exist.


Not to beat a dead horse, but I must insist on the importance of first conceding that God could exist and yet remain undetectable to us – before moving on to any “why” questions.  If one does accept this premise, one cannot continue to hold “science shows that God does not exist”—that becomes an inconsistent statement, as science “is the best authority we have on the physical universe.”  Likewise, if one believes “God is imaginary,” and this belief is based on conclusions drawn from the former statement, this too would become an inconsistent statement.  The unwillingness of God to submit Himself to the laws of nature (which Christians would assert He created) is a poor foundation upon which to build towards the conclusion that He “is imaginary.”  “He won’t do what I want Him to” is not a valid premise upon which to assume He doesn’t exist.

However – I’ll admit to settling first on that in order to follow up with the obvious statement a Christian would then make – that indeed, God has chosen to submit Himself to the laws of nature and did reveal Himself in a specific period of time in history and for a specific purpose: the redemption of humankind. Which of course begs the question: where’s the evidence that He lived on earth (“He” = Jesus)?

I’m sure you must have addressed these “evidences” for the existence of the historical Jesus sometime in the past but, as I’ve missed that, I wondered what your take was on the non-Christian sources that mention him?  A short, “for instance” list (won’t elaborate as I’m sure you’re very familiar with these):

1)    Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 AD), in his report of Emperor Nero’s decision to blame Christians for the fire that destroyed Rome.

2)    Pliny the Younger, Roman governor in Asia Minor who’s letter to Emperor Trajan (A.D. 112, roughly) sought advice in dealing with those accused of being Christians.

3)    Flavius Josephus (37-97 AD), court historian for Emperor Vespasian.

4)    Suetonius, chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian

“In fact, we can almost reconstruct the gospel just from early non-Christian sources: Jesus was called the Christ (Josephus), did “magic,” led Israel into new teachings, and was hanged on Passover for them (Babylonian Talmud) in Judea (Tacitus), but claimed to be God and would return (Eliezar), which his followers believed - worshipping Him as God (Pliny the Younger)”  (

Here’s the kicker – even assuming this evidence convinced everyone that Jesus was a historical figure who lived when the Bible said he did (I’m not so delusional that I believe this will happen), it would still require faith to believe the claims He made about Himself.  It will always take a measure of faith to believe in the Gospel message of salvation.  We can prove that Jesus lived - that he was a historical person that walked the earth.  We can prove that he died.  Some are even confident enough in the empirical evidence  to say we can prove his ressurection.  But despite all these,  how does one empirically prove that 1 man's death is capable of paying the price for the sin of all mankind?  Bottom line: you can’t discover God without faith.


There is a true story told about a man who did amazing stunts on a tight-rope strung across Niagra Falls.  Countless crowds watched him walk across, ride a bike across, unicycle across, juggle across... you name it.  Then one day the man asked the crowd - "Do you believe I could safely wheelbarrow a man over the tight-rope to the other side?"  Everyone was enthusiastically affirmative.  "Can I have a volunteer?" asked the stunt man...

With faith, there is always something at stake... or it isn't faith.

Surrounded By Grace,



If you want to freak me out, ask me to explain a Biblical prophecy.  Or -- ask me to sprint down a road we both know is full of buried, hidden land mines... either way, I'll feel about equally as happy. Which is why, of course, one of the guys in our weekly Bible study asked that we spend our time exploring the book of Revelation, one chapter at a time.  God help me. 

In the process of preparing for mere survival during this Bible study I began reviewing old binders full of seminary notes, my favorite commentaries, and listening to recommended speakers/ authorities online -- and it has been an incredibly enriching experience already.  No, I'd go further and call it an 'invaluable' experience.  Why?  Well, mainly because it seems that, more and more, the prophetic books of the Bible are getting a great deal of attention.  Books, movies, you name it -- there is an increasing awareness in these days that the 'end times' may be just around the corner... and with that awareness have come questions, many questions.  Who is the antiChrist? When will Jesus come back for HIs Church?  When will all the bad stuff happen, and will Christians be around for that part?  Inquiring minds want to know.

For these reasons, I want to branch out beyond the context of our men's Bible study for a moment to pass on some tools to any of you who may be asking some of these same questions.  Below are two quick but indispensable "Principles of Prophecy" that should always guide you when at play in books like Daniel and Revelation according to John chapter 13:19 (and according to the indomitable Dr. Walter Kaiser) - " I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He." 

1) History is the final interpreter of Prophecy ( that when it comes to pass you will know) Be very, very, very, very careful, beware, may your 'Spidey senses' tingle, may crimson red flags wave furiously an inch from your face whenever or if ever someone tells you they know for sure the meaning of a prophecy that has not yet been fulfilled. We are told to study, we are permitted to make educated guesses, we're instructed to meditate -- meditation (deep, prayerful thinking) on any part of God's Word will bless you -- but we are never to claim final authority on the meaning of unfulfilled prophecy.  "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29). 'The things which are revealed' belong to us -- and it is history, it is prophecy fulfilled that is the final revealer -- which leads to principle #2.

2) The primary function of fulfilled prophecy is to highlight Jesus Christ -- not the rightness of our charts, not the accuracy of our predictions, but rather the rightness, accuracy and identity of Jesus, so that it's Jesus who gets the glory and the recognition when what has been foretold finally takes place ("...that I am He"). The primary function of prophecy is not to help us become modern clairvoyants; it is to prompt us to keep our eyes on Jesus and to more clearly reveal who He is.  Prophecy is a tool to help us "watch and pray," so that we are ready for Him when He comes. 

There is nothing wrong with picking a view or holding to theories about the interpretation of prophecy that makes sense to you, but hold to them loosely -- and to Jesus tightly.

Surrounded By Grace,
*Grace induces faith & Grace is obligated to faith ~