Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Duck Dynasty Fallout?

Picture by Michael Hickman


Duck Dynasty fallout?
 
Homosexuality.  Same-sex marriage.  DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act.  Chick-Fil-A.  Duck Dynasty.  Wait, Duck Dynasty?
 
It seems like controversy between Christians and the gay community is growing intense.  What is going on in our culture?  Are Christians becoming increasingly intolerant?  Or are homosexuals gaining in popularity and grabbing the attention of the national consciousness?
 
Ever since Barack Obama became president, there has been an agenda being pushed upon the American people like never before.  To be fair, this is not a new phenomenon.    It may seem like these issues are fairly new but it’s only because the small and effective number of homosexuals are given greater access to our homes through the bullhorn of the mainstream media.  It’s not new.  The ongoing onslaught against Christianity is as old as Christianity itself.  Homosexuality goes even further back.  Remember Sodom and Gomorrah?
 
The problem in our culture, though, isn’t homosexuality.  It is only a tool.  The true enemy, the enemy of our souls, is Satan.  And Satan has an effective way to gain access and influence in our lives…our sin nature.  To gain a better understanding of what our culture, or in a broader sense the world, is up against, we need to understand this foe called Satan.
 
Satan is a very intelligent and manipulative entity.  At one point in history, he was regarded as an angel with great power and influence.  His problem was that he became too great, at least in his own mind, and that was his downfall.  He arrogantly thought that he was like God.  In trying to assert himself and usurp authority, he rebelled against God and was ultimately cast out from heaven.
 
That wasn’t the end of Satan, though.  In becoming an enemy of God, he became an enemy of God’s creation.  In the process, Satan took it upon himself to tempt man and to further cause mankind’s fall from God’s grace.  Fortunately, God had a plan to redeem man and that was through His own Son, Jesus.  We have an advocate in Jesus in that He exchanged our sin for His righteousness and because of the cross and his life, death, and resurrection we can be saved.  Jesus paid the price for our sin and rebellion and the gift of God, which is Jesus, is offered to those to believe and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.
 
Satan provides a powerful reminder of a life of rebellion separated from God.  His goal is to steal, kill, and destroy.  For reasons we cannot fully grasp, Satan will go to great lengths to destroy the life of any man, woman, or child.  He wants to prevent mankind from leaving the life of sin and receiving God’s divine grace.  He wants nothing less than to see God’s plan and purposes being thwarted.  Is it jealousy, envy, or something else?  I’m not absolutely sure but there is nothing about Satan’s intent that can be trusted.
 
When Jesus talked about our adversary, it was with the understanding that Satan first hated Him.  What Jesus actually said had to do with the world and the system of the corruption of sin.  Ultimately, these things exist because the adversary, the devil, exists.  When Jesus pointed out that our battle isn’t against flesh and blood, He made it clear by saying it was really against the powers and principalities of darkness.  This is to say that it isn’t just Satan but it includes the legion of angels which fell along with him when he was banished.  Satan apparently had quite the following because the Bible talks about how a third of the angels fell from the sky (metaphorically stated as a third of the stars.)
 
This should help us to keep things in context.  Remember, Jesus said that our battle isn’t against flesh and blood.  My question then is why do we act like the homosexual community is our enemy?  Let me put this another way.  How much effort do we put in to the fact that premarital sex, extramarital affairs, pornography, child molestation, course joking, and even our lustful thoughts are sinful in the eyes of God?  To be sure, these are all sin problems that should and need to be addressed equally.
 
This is not to suggest that I believe we should harass, belittle, or intimidate anyone involved in any of these sins.  What do we do for those who get divorced?  How do we handle those who are addicted to drugs?  Do we identify those who are alcoholics and publicly humiliate, torment, or beat them?  There may have been times centuries past when professing Christians took this approach.  They may have seen the Old Testament as justification for treating sinners in an aggressive way.
 
The question is how did Jesus treat sinners?  Did he not engage them?  Did He not minister to them?  He actually would go out of His way to meet sinners where they were.  Jesus didn’t condone the sin but neither did He break out the whip or try to stone them to death.  The Bible states that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  What Jesus did was bring about a new covenant whereby unmerited grace is given to those who enter into this covenant and follow Jesus.
 
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding how Christians are engaging our culture.  The homosexual community is obviously making their positions known.  They’re trying to make Christians pay for their disapproval through legislative means.  The goal, it seems, is to force participation in their activities, resulting in compliance and silencing opposition.
 
What about Christians, though?  How are Christians to respond to this attack on our freedoms, consciences, and faith?  Should we respond in kind or follow the example of Jesus and engage people where they are?  Instead of trying to separate ourselves from the homosexual community maybe we should emphasize God’s love to them and expose them to the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
It’s a conflict for me when I read about Christians who refuse to serve a cake or take pictures at a wedding because the purpose is for same-sex marriage.  At first, I thought I agreed with those that they shouldn’t participate due to consciences sake.  Then in light of the gospel, I thought, why don’t Christians participate and use this as an opportunity to minister to them?  This kind of conflict gave me pause because I really don’t know what the right response to this should be.
 
Then I began looking for other points of view from godly men and women and came across an excellent response to this issue.  At Moore to the Point, a person asked Dr. Moore the very question regarding same-sex marriage that I posed.  Dr. Moore’s answer was very articulate and thorough.  The emphasis regarding the Apostle Paul’s admonition on eating meat appears to apply to this situation.  If something is put before you and you have no knowledge of a sinful activity, there appears to be a way to be involved, even to the glory of God.  However, if the situation presents itself to you in a way that is sinful, and advertised as such, then Paul recommends you to abstain from that activity for the sake of the consciences of those around you.
 
I cannot think of a situation where a person can participate in the ceremony of a same-sex marriage and not know of the sinful nature of that activity.  Dr. Moore explains that a photojournalist can be a neutral observer and not violate his/her conscience, or those around them.  But a photographer participating in and creating the memories as a service for the “wedding couple,” that person is a participant and is no longer neutral.  It’s a big issue that seems to have multiple implications.  But however a Christian should respond, it should be in light of his/her conscience and those around them.
 
I still think it’s important that we somehow engage the homosexual community, allowing for the fact that there are going to be situations where we should disengage.  I’m not being na├»ve to think that homosexuals will respond favorably.  As with any sinful behavior there are going to be those who will rebel and recoil in hate.  It’s not our responsibility to save people.  That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  All we can do is present the Truth to them.  As with the lost in any situation we look for opportunities where God can use us to plant His seed in their hearts.  Hopefully and prayerfully, we can be there to see that seed bear fruit.
 
I also don’t believe it’s wrong for Christians to use legislative means to promote Christian values.  When God gives a command, it’s for our good.  God’s laws are meant to protect us and to warn us.  If we use government in a practical way, we can use laws that promote healthy lifestyles.  This may sound like a contradiction of sorts.  On a personal level I think that we can’t force people into living contrary to their sin nature without divine intervention.  No person can change another person to leave a life of sin.  But as with God’s laws, there are specific benefits to having laws in government.  Morality is the fabric that holds a society together.  It is for our benefit and our safety as a whole.  Without virtue and morality, entire civilizations have collapsed.  The absence of morality can be seen in countries today and it is clear that life is devalued to the point of hopelessness and chaos.
 
Though I think that we should engage homosexuality with battle-like mindset on a national level, I believe it is counterproductive to separate ourselves from people on a personal level.  Like stated previously, our battle is not against flesh and blood.  There are going to be culture wars.  We should be mindful that on a large scale it may be necessary to speak out against homosexuality.  But on a personal level we need to speak the truth with love.
 
On this issue, I think that Phil Robertson has provided us with a real-world example of what this conflict is like in our culture.  I pray that the conversations that come from these opportunities will result in people being introduced to the gospel and lives being changed.  May God receive all the glory!

 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Tom Lamb


Picture by Catherine Buca


A Tribute to a Friend and Brother



A kind and gentle man.  A doting and passionate husband.  A loving and caring father.   These are only some of the words that mark the man Tom Lamb.  It wouldn't be farfetched to believe that when Tom passes from this life and steps into eternity there will be people too numerous to count grieved to see him go.

Too often when someone dies, the loved ones left behind wish they would have done more to express their feelings, to say I love you, or to make amends.  We reflect on the past and what could have been.  We’re reminded of the good times.  I believe it is healthy to reflect on their memories while remembering the legacy they left behind.  It’s part of the grieving process.

But sometimes we have the rare opportunity to speak from our hearts before God takes them home.  If the relationship is healthy and the conversations are generally open and honest, they already know how you feel.  Sometimes, though, we leave some things left unsaid.  We expect the person to know how we feel.  The thing is, unless we speak the words, do they really know?

That’s what I want to express here.  I think sometimes I leave things unsaid.  I can be uncomfortable being open with my feelings.  But I know I have a rare opportunity to express my feelings for a great friend who has touched my life.  And the best way I know how is through writing.  That’s what I want to do for my cousin, my friend, and my brother in Christ.

Tom’s life has distinct meaning.  God knew the purpose for which he brought Tom into our lives.  I’m reminded of Romans 8:28, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purposes.”  It is true that Tom went through some difficult periods in his life.  Those times often brought pain.  It brought pain to his life and the lives of others close to him.  If that’s all there was that would certainly be a tragic ending.  But God used those moments in his past and still does.  The beauty of those moments can be seen throughout his life.

This isn't to marginalize Tom or the value that he has brought into each of our lives. It should be seen in the context of being human; a man whose life was dramatically changed by a single event in history. Like each one of us Tom lived a life of a sinner. What turned his life around isn't an event that Tom can even take credit for.  I'm sure Tom would be the first to concede that if it weren't for Jesus his life would be a total wreck.  Jesus is the One who deserves all the credit and all the praise.

Like many of us, Tom had to go through a season to face his desperation and his need for a Savior.  Some realize this need earl y in life.  For others it takes time.  One thing is for certain though.  Tom came to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior at just the right time.

The evidence of Christ in Tom’s heart is unmistakable.  I saw it on many occasions:  how he spoke to a homeless man and treated him with dignity and respect; when he befriended an immigrant and took time and effort to help him and his family get acclimated to Des Moines; taking the daunting task of leading children’s Sunday school classes for preschoolers; loving Tammy as his wife and being transparent with her; opening up his life and heart to me as a friend, sharing his struggles and encouraging me in my walk with the Lord; and many other such moments where he’s impacted people in extraordinary ways.

I’m certain that whether it’s in his job, at church, at home or in his community, Tom is recognized for having made an impact.  I remember that whenever I was around Tom there were usually times that he would run into someone he knows; often people he knew from years past.  Tom always had and has a knack for making others feel special.  He took time to engage and ask questions and show a genuine interest in them, whoever they were.

I remember after meeting Tom for the first time.  It was during a time in my life before I knew the Lord.  I went to visit my cousin Tammy and was eventually introduced to him.  Tom made me feel welcome.  Something about his personality grabbed my attention.  He was engaging, he was friendly and I could tell that he was a godly man.  Like I said, at that time I wasn’t a believer.  So even though I didn’t fully understand what being a godly man was really about I still knew there was something different about him.

I was there when Tom and Tammy got married.  I remember helping Tom lift some very heavy furniture up in the loft (their bedroom) of their new home.  There were many weekends where I would come and visit and spend a night in their spare bedroom.  In fact, they would refer to the spare bedroom as “Dean’s room” at that time.

I was so grateful to have both Tom and Tammy there in my life then.  That was when Shelby and I were still divorced but talking to each other.  Shelby had recently come to receive Jesus into her life and I did too shortly thereafter.  That New Year’s Shelby came to visit from Tennessee and Tom and Tammy invited us into their home.  Shelby slept in “my room” while I slept on the couch.  I think that Shelby hit it off so well with Tom and Tammy that I was pleasantly surprised.  It was that holiday that sparked something in Shelby’s and my heart that eventually led us getting remarried.

Some very special memories come from times we spent with Tom and Tammy.  I remember turning to both of them when Shelby and I were discussing getting remarried.  We needed godly counsel and I valued their wisdom very much.  They were there when Shelby and I eventually recommitted ourselves to each other in matrimony.  And they were there, the only ones that helped us after I drove all the way down to Tennessee to bring my beautiful bride back to Iowa.  They helped unload the moving van, yes, but so much more.  Tom recognized the stress that Shelby was under.  She was going through some of the most stressful moments in life…all at once.  She got married, quit her job, moved to Iowa and was adjusting to a lot of new experiences.  Tom recognized this and in his congenial way helped soothe some of the stress.

There was a moment in all of the moving chaos that Tom and Tammy really blessed us.  Shelby and I were concerned how we were starting out financially.  We were beginning to put ourselves in debt with the move and the deposit on the rental home we just moved into that Tom and Tammy could sense through our conversations that we needed help.  They didn’t know how much or really all of the details.  They only knew we were going through some difficulty.  However, God used them and provided us with exactly the amount we needed to get ourselves started with a clean slate.  Exactly the right amount.

It’s events like those that mark only the beginning of other significant moments in our relationship.
For one, Tammy helped Shelby when she was looking for employment.  In a God-like way Shelby landed a job at Principal where Tammy works.  The interview wasn’t in the best of circumstances and Shelby didn’t even have her best clothes available, but God still made it happen.

Some of my fondest memories, though, are the times Tom and I spent doing the Saturday night street feed ministry for the Door of Faith, or Hope Ministries as it became.  Prior to Shelby and me getting remarried I remember living in Boone and driving down to Des Moines to shop for an engagement ring.  I thought since I was in the vicinity I would take advantage and visit Tom and Tammy.  Tammy, though, informed me that Tom was involved that night doing the street feed ministry.  Whether it was her idea or Tom’s I’m not sure, but Tom drove out of his way, picked me up and exposed me to an exciting ministry that touched my heart.  Tom and I spent many Saturday nights together involved in this ministry and during those times had many wonderful experiences and conversations…with each other and with the people we ministered to.

Eventually Shelby and I moved from Nevada to Ankeny, Iowa.  Again, who was there helping us shop for the townhome and the eventual move but Tom and Tammy?  Time and again Tom and Tammy were there for us.

It wasn’t long after that Shelby and I visited First Family Church.  FFC was meeting at the Nevelyn Center at that time.  We were so excited about this church that we invited Tom and Tammy to visit.  At that time Tom and Tammy were very much involved in another church plant.  Something happened though that caused them to leave and when the time was right they subsequently visited First Family.  They, too, fell in love with this church family and soon we found ourselves as a physical family doing life together with our spiritual family.

Ever since Tom and Tammy joined First Family we have seen how they have impacted so many people.  Tom has a gift in engaging people and making them feel special.  There was a time that I even joined Tom in serving in the children’s ministry with the preschoolers.  Now there’s a challenging ministry.   But even with the children you could see the impact he made in their lives as they would often run up to Tom and give him hugs outside of class.

We didn’t always attend the same lighthouses (small church groups) together but the times that we did were very special.  In fact, we found ourselves forming our own informal lighthouse called the Chili's lighthouse.  It was called such because we made a point to go to Chili’s after work on Friday evenings and do a Bible study at our house afterwards.  Of course, we didn’t always frequent the same restaurant.  Many times we simply chose to go to the Jordan Creek Mall and make an evening out of it there.

Whatever the place and however we would gather, Tom and I would often find time to talk.  Tom would have issues he was dealing with in his job or his family and I would have issues that I was struggling with as well.  We confided in each other and that meant a lot to me.  There has never been a man that I have been so close to on a spiritual level.  Neither one of us had all the answers but as Tom consistently pointed out we engaged each other like iron sharpening iron as in Proverbs 27:17.

The times that we spent outdoors, helping cut trees or sitting by their fire pit, were especially meaningful times for me.  I think being together, whatever we were doing, always seemed to be special in some way.  Even the time we went to the Loess Hills together.  Though Tammy was extremely nervous about the large fire I had in the fire pit I still think often about that time we went “roughing it.”  And the holidays we shared were special too.  Sitting by their fireplace, playing board games, eating black eyed peas and cornbread and watching New Year’s Day football games we made some wonderful memories.

Last year Shelby and I listened to God’s leading and decided to move to Tennessee.  In making that decision it was difficult to break the news to family and friends that we were leaving behind.  We made assurances that we would always be in touch, never wanting to really say goodbye because of those close relationships.  Breaking that news was especially difficult with Tom and Tammy because of the close bonds that were formed over the past decade.  Even in the face of this difficult task, Tom and Tammy were there once again helping us pack and load the moving van for our departure.  From the moment we drove the U-Haul into Iowa to the moment we drove out, Tom and Tammy were there.

For me it’s particularly difficult to leave behind the friendship that Tom and I experienced over the years.  I’ve had friends, obviously, in various stages of my life but never had I had a relationship with a man that was on this spiritual level.  It takes on a different kind of emotional connection.

I have always felt the value of Tom’s and my friendship.  I don’t know if it’s an exact analogy but I think of Tom and me like David and Jonathan in the Bible.  It would be difficult for me to say this in any circumstance to any man but regarding Tom I can honestly say that I love this man.  I love his heart.  It’s genuine, it’s real, and it’s passionate about the things of God.  David’s and Jonathan’s friendship was intense and it was dramatic.  Maybe Tom’s and my relationship isn’t quite on that level but I do value his friendship very much.  He has been a big part of my life and a significant reason for my spiritual growth. 

I don’t believe it was ever the intention that leaving Iowa meant forever.  When Shelby and I moved away to be near her family and to provide our help, we truly believed (and still do) that God brought us to the Memphis area for a reason.  Now to hear that Tom has cancer unquestionably breaks our hearts.  Being miles away we feel helpless to be there for either Tom or Tammy.  For two people who have done so much and have meant so much to us these circumstances seem like such a cruel thing.

We are extremely grateful that God has given us the memories of our time with Tom and Tammy.  If God is willing we may find that we have years of opportunity yet to build on to those treasures.  However God would move in these circumstances we know and trust that His perfect will be done.

In writing this, my only hope is that Tom is able to get a sense of the value and depth of the love Shelby and I have for him.  Too often our loved ones leave us before we have the chance to express that love.  Not only that, I want this letter to be a testimony of the impact that Tom has had on our lives, my life in particular.  Let this be my tribute to Tom, my friend and my brother.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

2013


It’s been awhile since I’ve wrote anything on my blog.  Last year my wife and I moved to Tennessee in a not-so-remote part of the country.  It was only a few miles outside the city limits of Oakland but one would think it was in an isolated part of the Amazon with the cell phone reception we got.  Not only that, no cable or internet was available either.  Apparently the Verizon dude hasn’t reached that area yet.

A few months later we moved into an apartment in a suburb right outside of Memphis.  We finally were back in the land of technology. J  However, in between that time I found myself busy with a new career…sort of. 

I actually started on the career path for accounting right out of high school.  It was the one thing I thought I was good at.  That was before Quickbooks and other accounting software became popular.  I was doing well in school but didn’t have the drive to continue.  So I ended up joining the Navy.

Somewhere around 15 years later I decided I would go back to school with encouragement from my wife.  A lot has changed since then, technology for example.  Though accounting is still basically the same with debits and credits, computers have changed the way information is kept and used.  And though I’m no expert, I think politics and taxes have changed the landscape as well.  Accounting seems to be a slightly different animal.

I’m not a big fan of college.  It has its place and I recognize that.  But I don’t think it’s for everyone.  I know society wants us to be well rounded and blah blah blah, but if Environmental Science or Calculus is not going to help me in my chosen career path then why bother?  And I know that I have not used any of that useless trivia since I was forced to take those courses.

Due to a lack of interest I pursued an associate’s degree.  That I figured was the path of least resistance.  That and I only had enough stamina to work and attend night classes for four years before I decided that pursuing a bachelor’s degree would be too much.

From blue collar work in factories I entered the white collar work of accounting. 

Well…actually no.  I ended up working in an office for nearly 4 ½ years entering commissions for insurance agents.  Not exactly the experience I was looking for but it paid the bills.

When my wife and I moved to Tennessee I thought this would be my chance to really get into accounting.  It took a couple months but I was eventually hired by an accounting firm as a bookkeeper.  Again, I had no real experience other than dabbling a little in Quickbooks entering receipts and payments.  Within the first 90 days of the job I wasn’t receiving any training but was given write ups to do for clients.  Write ups?  Ummm, not what I learned in college.

Maybe it was because it was tax season but for some reason no one was ever available to help me.  I was told I was hired because I had an associate’s degree.  I’m not sure, but in other professions it appears to me that often times the real world doesn’t quite match up to the education you get in college.  Along with that frustration and some personal issues that I was going through at the time I thought it was time for me to move on.  I didn’t have a good exit plan so as a result I one day looked up from my computer and said I quit.  I was actually packing up my things and walking out the door when my employer stopped me.

Though I liked accounting, I never really had an interest in taxes.  But lo and behold, as I was about to quit a job, my employer gave me an opportunity to train in tax preparation.  He directed me to Eva Rosenberg, aka TaxMama.  He signed me up to take one of her online courses that specifically trains one to become an Enrolled Agent.  Enrolled Agent? you ask.  I know, I had never heard of this before either.  Apparently the Internal Revenue Service has introduced a position that allows a person to represent taxpayers before the IRS that is not a CPA or attorney.

So for the past 6 months I have been learning, studying and taking tests to qualify for this new career.  As of last week I passed Part 3 of the Special Enrollment Exam the IRS requires and I now qualify for the title Enrolled Agent (EA for short).  However, I still must pass a background check before they’ll issue me an enrollment card, or Treasury card as it’s commonly referred to.

Before you think that I work for the IRS, I don’t.  I represent taxpayers.  My goal is to help people the way my employer does.  People get into financial trouble and often fall behind with their taxes.  That’s where tax resolution comes into play and where people often need the most help.  Hopefully that’s where God will use me to help others.

All that to say that I have been extremely busy and why I haven’t been writing on my blog.  Even now I’m not sure how often I’ll have time to write.  Though I think I prefer writing about Jesus, faith and Christianity over anything else, if I want to make a living I need to do something that will bring in a paycheck.  And I don’t write well enough that anyone will ever pay me for it.

I will say this…even though preparing taxes would not have been my first choice I believe I have been given a tremendous opportunity.  At one point I was going to quit my job but God gave me favor with my employer.  For reasons I can’t explain, my employer encouraged me and paved the way for this training.  Now I’ve succeeded in passing all the tests to qualify as an EA.  That too is quite a feat given the complexity of the tax laws and how difficult the tests were.  I am extremely grateful to God.  Not only was I undeserving but I was also defeated.  It really is like God to take the weak things of this world to confound the wise.