My Personal Connection to the Space Shuttle Challenger: Remembering That Tragic Day


We were driving around Nashville in our old van.  It was a snow day.  Well, sort of.  It was one of those days when it snowed, but cleared up quickly.  We had moved into our new house just the year before.  My parents had been searching for wallpaper for the house.

We had the radio on in the van – loud enough to hear but not loud enough for us to really pay attention.  I was sitting in the back seat.  In between stores, as we were driving down the road, I faintly heard someone on the radio say “The space shuttle Challenger has exploded.”

I remember this day vividly for two reasons.  First of all – it was a major event in American history.  Tragedies such as this are things that scar your mind.  Assassinations, natural disasters, bombings, and other things such as this are the things you tell your children about in the manner of “I remember when…” or “I can remember where I was when…”

The second reason I remember this day was because of a personal connection to the shuttle.  One of the reasons the space shuttle Challenger was so important was because of the Teacher-in-Space program.  They were going to put a school teacher in space along with the other astronauts on the voyage.

One of my best friends in elementary school was Travis Fakes.  His mother was a teacher for Lebanon High School, and she qualified as one of two finalists for the state of Tennessee for the program.  Out of over 10,000 applications, she was in the top 100 of teacher candidates.

She did not make it to the top 10 – but I remember how shaken she was, and how shaken our community was when the explosion occurred.  Here’s a list of the top 100 or so candidates:

Tragedies like this are inevitable.  They have occurred all throughout history, and will continue to happen.  But, we continue to move forward.  The space program did not stop because of that tragic event.  It has had other tragedies occur as well.  But, the space program continues.

And now, I continue to have a connection to the space program through my brother-in-law, Philip Garton, who works for Boeing and has had his hand in helping with the International Space Station, and also with the new Orion program.

I praise God that He has given mankind a can-do attitude, a resolve to continue through struggles, and an ability to bounce back.

Tonight, pray for the families of those whose lives were taken on the Space Shuttle Challenger 29 years ago today.


I Don’t (just) Believe in Jesus


Do you believe in Jesus?

Tonight, a simple thought that I hope will challenge you as a Christian:

Belief in Jesus just isn’t enough.  There has to be behavior that follows.

Do you remember what James 2:19 says?  It reminds us “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”  Satan and his demons believe in God, believe in Jesus, and believe in the Spirit.

Believing is great.  I believe in Jesus.  But that is not enough.

There has to be action.  There has to be response.  How will you show you are a believer?  What will you do to show that you’re a follower of Jesus?  Belief is just a step.  Taking action is a big step – will you take it?

In the Beginning…

Happy-New-Year-2014-1-1Those words are uttered at the start of the Old Testament, and perhaps are three of the most significant words in our language as Christians.  There was, at least for us, a beginning.  Mankind entered into the world that God created.

Praise God!  He gave us life!  He gave us emotions!  He gave us a chance!

As we begin 2014, just like every new year, we can once again utter those words with sincerity and honesty – in the beginning.

In the beginning.  Its a new year.  What will you do with it?  Where will you let it take you?  How will you respond to circumstances that are less than desirable?  How will you make 2014 the best year you have ever lived?

100 Days…Now What??

On Saturday, June 30, I will have gone officially 100 days with only drinking water.

Its been a challenge, to say the least.

For me, I had to give up my biggest addiction – Diet Dr. Pepper – of which I was drinking 6-8 cans a day, sometimes more.

While the taste of Diet. Dr. Pepper to me was absolutely divine, it had gotten to a point where I wasn’t even drinking it for the taste, I was drinking it because my body demanded it, and I had such a strong craving I could not deny myself.

I was invited to come and speak at a Area Wide Youth Service at the Ashland City Church of Christ on the topic of sobriety. I was also invited to go and speak at the Mayfair Church of Christ for their Wednesday evening service on the topic of temptation. As I began to study and prepare for these two topics – I realized I had no business speaking to people on how to avoid when I could not avoid things myself.

So, on Friday morning, March 23, I cracked open my usual morning can of Diet. Dr. Pepper, drank about 4 sips of it, and felt sick about it. I could no longer continue letting one thing have such control of me. I put the can back in the fridge, got a bottle of water, and didn’t turn back.

That can stayed in the fridge for a good 60 days or so, along with 12 fresh cans. I was tempted and tried every single day, but did not give in. My life was not going to be controlled by a craving.

Finally, my wife asked me what my long term goal was going to be, and at that point, I realized I didn’t really have one. On Saturday, it will have been 100 days since I last put that wonderful beverage can to my lips. 100 days is a monumental moment for someone who was pouring the beverage down his throat every chance he got. But I have to say…now what?

Most of us have a problem with this – once we think we have a hold on something, we realize we don’t. I’ve kicked that sin for so many days, I have control of it now! Next thing we know, its back in our lives, because we have slowly let it take control again.

I feel like at this point in my life, I could keep them out of my life forever. But at every meal, there is a temptation and a craving still. Not too long ago, I had stopped at a Zaxby’s to eat some dinner. I was by myself. I had my cup for my water, filled it with ice, and instinctively reached for the Diet Coke, and filled my glass half full before even realizing what I was doing. I quickly poured it out and rinsed my glass, and filled it with water instead.

That just shows me how powerful cravings and temptations are. Sometimes, they have such control over us that we don’t even realize the effect they are having on us.

So, here’s to another 100 days – its become a personal challenge. I challenge you to do the same. Give up something for 100 days. Believe me when I say that if I can give up my Diet Dr. Pepper addiction, you can give up yours for 100 days.

What is it in your life that is controlling you? Maybe you need to give up Facebook for 100 days. Maybe you need to give up french fries. Maybe you need to give up smoking, drinking, cursing, soft drinks, or something else that has you wrapped around its finger.

Give it up – for 100 days – and see how much better you feel! Take control of your life again!

Just Add Water – A Look at Being a Christian

On June 10, 1992, I became a Christian.  There are many thoughts out there today as to how one becomes a Christian.  I believe the New Testament gives plenty of examples that the way to Christ and salvation eternal is through hearing the word of God, believing in what it says, changing your sinful ways, confessing that Jesus is Lord, and giving yourself over to him in immersion through baptism.  When you give yourself over to Jesus, you do it completely.

I remember the night I became a Christian.  My father baptized me after I walked down the aisle to the Church of Christ classic song, “Just As I Am”.  I remember making my confession before the 30 or so people at the Bethel Church of Christ that night, my father plunging me into the water, and re-emerging as a new creature buried in Christ, with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  I told God that night that I wanted to give my life to Him, completely.  While I have not even come close to being perfect, I have tried my hardest, and am committed to raising my family in a Christian home.

Recently, Billy Graham’s son Franklin was asked if he believed that Barack Obama was a Christian.  He stated “He has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes, what is a Christian? For him, going to church means he’s a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith, and we have trusted him as our Lord and Savior. That’s the definition of a Christian. It’s not as to what church you are a member of. A membership doesn’t make you Christian.

A membership doesn’t make you Christian – there’s a lot of validity in that.  For a lot of us, we feel that just going to church makes you a Christian.  We believe that if our name is on the roll in a congregation of some sort, that we’re on God’s roll for entry into Heaven.

In an article challenging Franklin’s response of Obama’s Christianity, Roland Martin  a syndicated columnist for CNN and author of “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House.”, said “Any Christian will tell you: If a person verbally professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that person is considered saved. No ifs, ands or buts. That’s when the conversation should end.”

I can’t help but think its not that simple.  First of all, “any Christian” will not say that.  True Christians will say that there is more to following Christ than just saying Jesus is my Lord and Savior.  The apostles left their nets, their jobs, their families and their livelihood to follow Christ.  Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor so he could inherit eternal life.  Jesus never simply said “Believe in me, and that’s all”.  In Matthew 28, Jesus tells those of us who have given our lives over to him to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them everything I have commanded you.”

We see in the following years of the first Christians that they did this.  In Acts, we see that the Christians dedicated themselves to each other.  They helped each other out.  They committed to being together, in a “corporate” setting and in their own personal lives.  We can’t simply just add water to our spiritual lives and expect it to grow into a full, mature Christian.  We can’t expect to just add water, never commit to God’s church, and expect that he approves of it.

We’ve read of professional athletes being kicked off their teams, traded away, or even fired simply because they didn’t show up to practice.  Practice is an important part of being an athlete.  They can’t just show up to the games and expect to first of all be a team, but second of all, to be any good.  When you don’t practice together, you don’t know each other’s game, and therefore can’t be productive.  One or two people may be successful, but as a team you will not succeed.

Yet, for some people, they treat their eternal salvation, their identity with God, as a casual social club.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that if you fail to go to church services every time the doors are open, that you’ll be eternally condemned.  I’m not going to tell you that if you fail to meet with fellow Christians every day to encourage each other and to teach the lost, that God won’t have a place for you in eternity.

But I will say that you’re missing out on your full potential as a Christian.  This isn’t an argument for whether or not baptism is essential to salvation.  This isn’t an argument about what church you have to belong to in order to have eternal life.  Those discussions are for a different time and place.  This is a plea that we need to restore the community found in the New Testament church, so that we aren’t just Christians in name, but that we are Christians in every aspect of our lives.

A business person seeking to climb the ladder of success would never think of just phoning in their work each week.  They know that they have to live that life daily, as best as they can, so that they can succeed.  They are going to devote themselves to that company, so that the presidents and managers can see how much it means to them, and that they are committed to the cause.

Instant coffee is okay, but slow drip is better.  TV Dinners suffice, but are nothing compared to a meal someone prepared in love all day long.  When we commit to the Christian life,  instead of just pulling it all together once a week, or once a month, God will take note and reward our hard work, in this life and the next.  May God be praised as we all dedicate ourselves to Him.

Follow Jesus on Twitter

In preparing for my sermon next week on “Blessed Are the Persecuted”, I ran across this video.  While it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with persecution, it does ask the question about how well we are doing in “following” Jesus.  Give it a look!

Great Balls of Fire!

There are many narratives told throughout the Bible that are impossible to let go of.  From the beginning of the Bible to the end, many jump out as tall tales, fascinating adventures, or love stories.

–         Noah’s Ark and the Flood
–         The Captivity and Exile of the Israelites
–         The Walls of Jericho
–         The Herculean Samson
–         David and Goliath
–         Jonah and the Big Fish

Aside from the description and accounts of the Life and Death of Jesus, no other story sticks out in my head like the one of Shadrach Meshach, and Abednego.

I believe the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is so powerful, that I believe you could pull this one story out of the Bible and encapsulate every aspect of who God is, and every aspect of who we as Christians should be in our service to Him.

In a nutshell, King Nebuchadnezzar builds a giant statue and tells everyone that when the band plays, everyone of any race, creed, or color must bow down and worship the image.  If  you did not bow, you would be thrown into a fiery furnace to be destroyed.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, 3 Jewish men who were in Babylon due to the captivity of Israel, refuse.  These men have already been mentioned in the first chapter under different names, but they were promoted and honored in the land to positions of authority.

Nebuchadnezzar brings them in and asks them to bow down when the band plays.  He reveals his true egotistical self in the statement: “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand”.  Here, Nebuchadnezzar asserts his own power above all gods.   Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego give an answer at this point that reminds of the devotion that one would expect find in a great love story: “We don’t need to defend ourselves before you in this matter”, OR – Your threats mean nothing to us.

They then go on to show their true faith in their God.  They talk of if you throw us into the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from it, or anything else you throw at us.  BUT IF NOT, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O King.  We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship  your statue.  This obviously makes the King mad, and he orders the furnaces 7 times hotter, and the men thrown in to the blaze.  They were bound, wearing all of their clothing, and thrown in.  The men who threw them in were killed from the intensity of the heat.

The King looks up at the furnace and notices they are walking around, unbound, and there is a 4th person in the fire with them.  He recognizes this person as a son of the gods, later to recognize the person as God.

Here are 5 points I was able to pull from the story to apply to us today.

  1. The Love story here is reciprocal :  They love their God so much, they’re not willing to betray Him, and He loves his servants so much, he would never betray them
  2. There is power in companionship. Surround yourself with good friends.  Could they have done this alone?  The three men believed that God could save them from anything, but their loyalty was NOT contingent on their rescue.    This loyalty had to be easier to have when the loyalty comes with the companionship.  Surround yourself with believers, so you won’t be tempted to abandon God from time to time.
  3. We can’t let an emotional response to God rule our faith. Nebuchadnezzar had several “mountain of God” experiences, in previous chapters, but these emotional outbursts of his allegiance to the God of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were seemingly short lived.  Emotion is not a bad thing, and an emotional response to God is not a bad thing.  However, we can’t base our entire faith on the emotional responses to God.  It has to be rooted, like the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
  4. God saved the three men IN THE FIRE, not FROM THE FIRE. God could have extinguished the flames, but he did not.  This is interesting to note that God saves us the same way today.  He saves us IN the world, not FROM the world.
  5. God continues to confirm His promise to us as He did for Israel. This was an encouragement for Daniel’s Day.  Remember things are bad.  They’ve been in captivity, their land was devastated, their people were scattered, and the situation looked hopeless.  What an encouragement this could be in giving hope to the hopeless.  This story becomes a strong message to the people.   Jehovah is still on the throne.  God hasn’t forsaken us. He will one day fulfill His promises to His people

Interesting to note that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s names were originally something else: Hananiah is a Hebrew name that means “Yahweh who is gracious”. Misha’el means “Who is like Yahweh?” and it also means “to feed” or “to provide” as in how a husband provides for his family. The Hebrew name Azariah appropriately means “Yahweh has helped”.  God certainly did all of those things for these men in this challenging time.

All I Can Do

Sometimes, all I can do is pray.

And today is one of those days. I can’t really tell you why, but today is filled with much prayer. For me, for my wife, for my daughter, and several other key people in my life.

Nothing is wrong. I’m not making a major change in my life. I’m not getting out of ministry. If anything, after last week at Pepperdine and their lectures, I’m more inspired and rejuvinated in my ministry efforts. Getting OUT of ministry is indeed the last thing on my mind at the time.

No one is sick, at least no one in my immediate family. Sure there are sick people that I am praying for, but I am confident God has them under His loving care.

God, in His infinite wisdom, created us with a need to have relationships, both with Him and with others. Recently, I have learned what it is like to be alone. Even though it was on just a temporary basis, I realized that I have come a long way in my life. Back in 2001-2003 I lived alone. I was a bachelor in Houston TX, doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I didn’t have any restrictions in my life. If I wanted to go to McDonald’s at 2 a.m., I could have done so. If I wanted to go on vacation over the weekend to Mt. Rushmore, I could have.

But you could not pay me any sum of money to go back to that life. Sure, it was fun. Yes, I cherish those times with the students and friends and teachers in my life.

However, there were 2 key components missing in my life at that time. God, and my family.

Okay, let me rephrase that. God wasn’t missing. God was and is always there for me. I just treated him as an afterthought. I went through the motions. God was a part of my life, but was not my life. I didn’t think of Him much outside of my lesson plans to teach Bible, putting together chapel for Westbury, or the trips to the church building. At that time of my life, God was just there, and that was about it.

The other key component missing was my wife, and now here recently I have learned – my daughter, Josie. Sure, I had friends there, and my day was occupied by my students, but I had no real relationships. I bounced around from group to group, never allowing myself to get too terrbily close to anyone.

Fast forward a few years to present day. I think God puts us in our own personal deserts at certain times, so we will be forced to take a step in a different direction, hopefully being towards Him. My steps toward having a closer, more intimate relationship with God, came about as a result from the other relationship in my life – Kristen. To take it a step further, it went even farther when Josie came along.

Being forced to be by myself this past week caused me to gravitate towards God a bit more. Its amazing how it really is true that when you shut up for a bit, and allow God to speak, that He actually has some really good things to say.

And now, all I can do is pray, for without prayer, I do not have God in my life. Without God in my life, all other relationships I have just don’t mean as much. Without God in my life, my career, my lifestyle, my passion and drive is gone. Without God, the miracle of my daughter being born into my life disappears. Without God, there would be nothing, so all I can do is pray, and let him be a part of my life.

And I pray that you will allow Him to be part of yours as well. All I can do is pray that you will see that. All I can do for you is pray. All that I am, all that I have, all that I will be is because of Him.

Time for a Sabbatical

Okay, so sabbatical probably isn’t the best choice of words, but let me sum it up like this — I’m taking a break from some things.

Actually, this is a sabbatical to be more productive.  I have found myself checking facebook, emails, goofing off a lot more than I need to be.  I have found myself glued to the television about the Health Care debate.  It has been eating into my personal time with God, time with my family, and time spent working for God.

Don’t get me wrong, none of these things are bad in and of themselves, but when you find yourself turning to your phone to check facebook statuses, check your email, look at a sports score, etc. — it consumes too much of your time.

So this week, if you see an update on facebook from me, it will be for one of three reasons:

1.  Automatic update from this blog
2.  Accountability post for working out (which I always do right before the workout)
3.  Some sort of emergency prayer request

Basically, its a self imposed internet shortage.  I’m in charge of our worship service on Sunday in its totality.  So, I owe it to the people who worship at West University to limit distractions and help them gain their focus in the service on Sunday.

I’m going to focus this week on taking a sabbatical from the world, and spend my time focusing on God and what I can do for Him.  Feel free to join me.