Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Halloween Stitches

Ever wonder why scary Halloween monsters like Frankenstein and zombies always have stitches on their head or face? Do the stiches make the creature more frightening or repulsive? Or are they somehow a sign of manhood and toughness?

Like Frankenstein, I received some stiches in my head, just in time for Halloween. While they are frightening and repulsive, they are clearly a sign of manhood and toughness.
I took this picture of my stitched dome while hoping none of my collegues were secretly watching. Since you're asking, "what did you do to your head?..." let me say, my injury was intentional. That's right. I chose to have my bald head scarred for life. Before you assume I have a psychological problem, let me explain. I have noticed a weird bump growing on the back of my head under my skin. I was hoping my brain was growing, but Web MD said it was probably a cyst. For almost a year, LaVonna kept saying, "You need to go have that thing looked at." I finally obeyed her orders and off to the dermatologist I went. He agreed with my Web MD self-diagnosis: it was just a cyst, it wasn't going to disappear, and it should be surgically removed. So, I allowed the doctor to perform a partial decapitation on me... just in time for Halloween.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "I have learned, in whatever state I am... to be content." (Philippians 4:11) This verse assumes that sometimes life is inconvenient or even depressing. The verse doesn't mean that we're always happy about everything that happens. But Scripture does teach this principle: we need to accept the situation God allows for us. Complaining about it does no good. Getting mad at God is counter-productive. I can be content and secure in God's will for my life... even if it means having a partial head-amputation.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

By The Way, You're Preaching Today

It was a relatively normal Sunday morning... for a while. Praise Team rehearsal at 8 AM. Teach my ABF class at 9 AM. Lead worship at 10:15 AM. We had finished rehearsal and it was ABF class time. I was mingling in my class around 9:10 and Neal Wheeler, one of our pastors, stumbled in the back door of the room. I rushed over to him because there was something obvious wrong. Neal muttered out, "John, I just got sick." Taking several reverse steps I said, "Oh, that's terrible... Oh, wait... you're supposed to preach today... Oh no... I guess I'm preaching today now." I sent Neal home. Poor guy. He was so pale. And poor me. The pressure was on. I told Jeremy, my class assistant that I'd be back in 15 minutes. Running to my office, my mind was racing about what I should speak on. I quickly located sermon notes of a message I used in another location about 2 months ago. I ran the notes up to my screen guy so he could throw together some PowerPoint slides before the service started. I ran back to my ABF and taught my class. Then I went straight to the Worship Center, retrieved my sermon notes from the screen guy, spent 30 seconds on my knees, and then led worship. Never have I been more thankful for a long choir song than on Sunday. I had 7 or 8 minutes to silently review my notes and read my text from the Bible before it was sermon time. I didn't communicate as well as I would want, but it was amazing how God used my meager, last minute message. For whatever reason, it was obvious God was in it. That message, as well as many other archived messages are available to hear at

Later at home, LaVonna and I realized this: when an audience knows that a speaker is thrust into an awkward, under-prepared situation, they listen more intently. An audience like that generally understands the pressure, they're glad they're not in the speaker's shoes, but they want to see what the speaker will say on the spot. The bigger the crowd, the greater the pressure. I kept asking God to keep me focused and not think too much about what I was actually doing.

Life can sometimes make us reach for the panic button. We have to stay God-focused and others-oriented in ministry. Everyone wants to do a good job, but ministry is not about earning another's pat on the back. It's not about "doing a good job." Ministry is about encouraging people to trust God. His word is the key to that influence. Paul told Timothy, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season." (2 Timothy 4:2) We never know when God will thrust us into a key opportunity to speak His truth to another. The next time you're there, don't hit the panic button. Relax, draw strength from God, and let Him use you - as you use His word.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When the Heckler Won't Stop

Last night I had a disruptive visitor in my class. He was a Roman Catholic "expert" who came to my study on the dangers of Roman Catholic doctrine. Our topic was the Virgin Mary. This "expert" interrupted and disputed my teaching more times than I can remember throughout the evening. I am all for healthy discussion in class settings and am a big fan of interactive one-on-one conversations. In a class setting however, certain boundaries must be observed by everyone, and control must be maintained by the teacher. As the hour went on, the disruptive "Catholic expert" was clearly crossing the line and I knew I must maintain control. Several questions crossed my mind as I taught: 1) Do I ask him to leave? I almost did, but I really wanted him to hear Biblical truth. 2) How much do I allow him to talk? Sometimes I like the opposing point of view to be present because it reinforces why I'm addressing that subject. This definitely happened. It also gives God's Spirit a wonderful opportunity to correct faulty doctrine. But the opposition cannot take over. 3) How do I respectfully show him that he's Biblically wrong and that he's crossed social boundaries in the class? This is tough stuff. My goal was to reach him, but his goal was to publicly prove me (and the Bible) wrong. Once this became apparent to me and the 40+ others attending the class, I respectfully explained that his comments were no longer welcome. "I would be happy to dialogue with you individually, but I have a class of people who came to hear me teach, not you interrupt." 3-4 More times I had to make similar statements as his persistance mounted. Right up to my closing prayer, he insisted on rudely interjecting. The entire class was more than weary of him. I pray they felt sorry for him and are burdened for him. It was one of the most unique and memorable teaching hours I've ever led.

It is good for all of us to occasionally experience theological challenges. This one for me happened to be a public one (and I was sure glad I was well prepared!) We must remember that our goal is not to win - Even When the Heckler Won't Stop. God has called us to present Truth from the Bible, and to allow it to correct those who believe false doctrine. Sharing truth is not a pride competition between you and another person. We need to tactfully, lovingly, and firmly share truth. God alone changes hearts. God alone also holds the unrepentant opposition accountable.

One final thought: it is amazing how opposition makes the Body of Christ draw together in unity. I was very proud of our class and their increased desire to allow the Bible alone to determine what we believe and what we reject.