Thursday, April 27, 2006

New Blog

If you're looking for a new post here, you're in the wrong place. Update your bookmarks, please. Go here:

Faith 2.0

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Special Showing of The Movie

I have been asked by an organization here in Atlanta to participate in a really great event. They are going to rent out a theatre for a private showing of THE DA VINCI CODE on Wednesday, May 24, and I am going to speak immediately afterwards for about 40 minutes. Those of you in the Atlanta area who are interested can register here:

Space is limited to (I think) the first 250 folks, so you might want to register soon.

The Movie Is Coming! The Movie Is Coming!

Are you ready?

The Da Vinci Code movie opens in three weeks, and some churches are trying to get folks ready for the watercooler conversations that are sure to happen on Monday, May 22.

I'm interested. Is your church doing anything? Sermon series? Small groups? Classes? Resource center?

Let me know.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Christ Among the Shepherds

In the story of Jesus' trial and crucifixion, several key characters play the roles of prophet, priest and king. But they were just acting. They weren't really shepherds; they simply played that role for their own benefit.

First, Jesus was taken to the house of Annas the priest. Here's a great example of a shepherd who neglected God and God's agenda for the sake of his own personal agenda. The Bazaars of Annas in the temples were infamous for their ridiculous exchange rates -- bordering on extortion, really. There was one place in the temple where Gentiles could come and pray to YHWH, the God of the Israelites. This was where Annas placed his Bazaars -- keeping the temple from being "a house of prayer for all the nations" as God had commanded.

The position of high priest seems to have been kept in a tight family circle, and at this time, the position was held by Annas' son-in-law: Caiaphas. When Jesus stood before Caiaphas, surrounded by elders and teachers, this shepherd of Israel stood by while God Incarnate was slapped and spat upon. He had been given the task of leading people in the worship of God; instead, he led them into violence against God.

So, Jesus was sent from the priest to the king -- a man named Herod. Here's a king who abused his power by ordering the execution of John the Baptist (a true prophet). Herod responded to the word of God, as it was faithfully delivered by the prophet of God, more like a butcher than a shepherd. He was supposed to defent and protect God's people from their pagan enemies; instead, he offered Jesus up to the Roman governor: Pilate.

As the governor of the land, Pilate's responsibility was to establish truth and administer justice. Though he wasn't a prophet, he did receive a revelation from God -- in a dream to his wife. But when Pilate spoke with Jesus, he knew his decision would have little to do with truth and more to do with popularity and pragmatism. His decision about Jesus wasn't based on justice but on the prevailing mood of the people. Pilate washed his hands and went with the popular vote.

So, as we said yesterday, the Good Shepherd became like a sheep and was "led like a lamb to the slaughter". He sufffered under the shepherds who abused their power, compromised the truth and neglected the Lord. And on the cross he became the sacrificial lamb who would take away the sins of the world.

But on the third day....

Are there any better words than that?

On the third day he rose from the dead. Death is like a dark valley, and Jesus has travelled through it. It may still be a dark place, but it is now a safe place for all who will trust and follow the Good Shepherd through the valley of death. We fear no evil, for he is with us and has promised to see us through to the other side.

Still More Shameless Promotion

Two things today, and I'll probably post something more about Israel's shepherds in the time of Jesus later.

First, Chuck Colson's Breaktpoint Commentary featured our book today. You can read it here:

I actually saw the book in a bookstore this afternoon. It's pretty exciting to see it like that!

Second, the website is almost all the way up now. Go check it out, and let me know what you think:

Monday, April 24, 2006

There's A New Shepherd in Town

God gave very low marks to the shepherds of Israel. He looked at their work and saw terrible abuse of power, a deliberate compromise of truth and a blatant neglect of God. God's flock was malnourished, uncared for and unprotected. The situation was so intolerable that God decided to intervene. But he did so in a very unexpected way. God told Ezekiel, "I myself will tend my sheep" (Ezekiel 34:15).

Ezekiel must have thought, "That sounds great and all, but how exactly is that going to happen? God is way up there beyond the azure blue, and we're stuck down here by the Kebar River."

Roll the clock forward 600 years.

When Jesus was teaching the sheep of Israel, they were still living under the kind of religions leadership that abused its power, compromised the truth and neglected the heart of God. At one point, Jesus looked at the people and saw that they were "like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36).

A little while later, Jesus blasted the shepherds of Israel. He said, "All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers" (John 10:8). They used their authority to pursue their own agendas. Then Jesus identified himself as the Shepherd spoken of through the prophet Ezekiel: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

As the Good Shepherd, Jesus would do a number of things for the sheep. First, he would feed the sheep with God's truth. Second, he would seek out the lost sheep. Third, he would lead the sheep and protect them from their enemies.

He went on to say, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).

But the shepherds in Israel didn't really like what he had to say about them or about himself. They did not like the truth he taught, the way he led or the life he offered. So, they treated him like a sheep. They abused him, compromised the truth about him and rejected him.

And the most amazing thing is: He took it. He let it happen. The Good Shepherd became like one of his sheep, and like a sheep he was led to slaughter.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Shepherds' Performance Review

God grades out the shepherds of Israel through his prophet Ezekiel. And they do not receive favorable marks.

"The word of the Lord came to me: 'Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not the shepherds take care of the flock?"'" (Ezekiel 34:1-2).

Ezekiel was serving a community of 10,000 people who had been uprooted from their home in Jerusalem and marched 700 miles away. They were living as exiles near the Kebar River near Babylon, and they must have wondered, "What did we do that was so bad? Why did we get taken away while others got to stay home? Why not previous generations? Were we that bad?"

God wants them to understand that this punishment is not for the sins of one generation. There has been a pattern of disobedience, disloyalty and dishonor. And, as the old saying goes, the fish stinks from the head down. God had trusted the shepherds of Israel with the tremendous responsibility of leading his people, and they had done a terrible job. Disaster came upon the people of God because of a massive failure in their leadership.

Specifically, God brings three charges against the shepherds of Israel: (1) the abuse of power; (2) the compromise of truth; (3) the neglect of God.

I think it's interesting that he chose those three charges. The leaders of Israel were certainly guilty of a number of violations -- multiple wives, blatant immorality and sinful behavior. Why do you think God would focus in on these three charges?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

More Shameless Self-Promotion...And Embarrassment

The people who published my book THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE DA VINCI CODE wrote a nice article about it here:

"New B&H Book Sets Record Straight on Worldview Behind The DaVinci Code"

And thanks to all the folks who ordered pre-release copies, they have had to print more. But that's what they do, right?

Also, here's my first embarrassing story about being an author. I've had several people ask me to autograph copies of the book for them. And, like most Christian authors, I figured I was supposed to sign my name and write some Bible verse under my name. Very classy.

The problem is there are two books in the Bible I always confuse: 1 & 2 Peter. I honestly cannot tell one from the other -- it's a mental block or something. So, the verse I wanted to write under my name is the verse where Peter says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). I figured that would be a good fit for this particular book.

Unfortunately, what I actually wrote under my name was not 1 Peter 3:15 but 2 Peter 3:15.

I imagine there were several confused people who went home and looked up the following: "Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him."

Prophets and Priests and Kings...And Shepherds?

In the Bible, all three of these leadership roles (prophet, priest and king) come together in one word-picture that encompasses all three dimensions of biblical leadership: Shepherd.

A shepherd feeds sheep -- that's the role of a prophet, to feed the people of God a healthy diet of the Word of God.

A shepherd seeks sheep -- that's the role of a priest, to find sheep who have wandered off or are injured.

A shepherd leads sheep -- that's the role of a king, to give direction and protection to the flock.

So, when God talks about shepherds, he's speaking about all three dimensions of leadership together -- revealing, reconciling and ruling; preaching, pastoring and leading -- everything that is involved in leadership among the people of God. He is probably not thinking of one person filling all three roles. Few people in history have ever been able to fill more than one at any given time (Moses, Deborah, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah -- anyone else in the Old Testament?).

The shepherds of Israel would have included some who were prophets, some who were priests and some who were kings. Together they provided leadership for God's people. And, as we shall see tomorrow, they did a pretty lousy job of it.

For today, let's think about these three distinct roles and try to apply them to our churches. Most churches expect one person to fill all three roles at once (even though they'll only pay him for one role at a time). Or they want one person to fill the first two roles while a group of men fills that third role and act as if they are "above the law". If the "kings" of a local church don't like what the "prophet" has been saying (or how well he has balanced his prophetic duties with his priestly ones), they fire him and get someone else who is foolish enough to sign up for two jobs' worth of responsibility with no job's worth of authority.

Hmmm...I've stared at that last paragraph now for about five minutes trying to figure out whether that's appropriate for publishing or not. I think that is an unfortunately accurate assessment of many churches I've encountered. I know there are churches out there who have a healthy balance of all three roles in place. Thank God for those churches. But the majority of churches I know are struggling with this. So, I'm going to keep that paragraph as is, and I eagerly await the avalanche of email I'll get about this one.

Understanding these three roles, and the balance they provide, allows a church to ask itself some helpful diagnostic questions:

Is there a good, healthy diet of teaching here? Does some of the teaching we hear make us uncomfortable? Does it merely re-affirm what we already believe or tickle our ears with what we want to hear? Does it make sense biblically? Does it help us live more Christlike lives? Are people being spoken to on behalf of God?

Is there a place where people can bring their needs and have them lifted up to God? Are lost people being sought? Are wounded people being helped and healed? Is prayer a vital part of our church's life? Is God being spoken to on behalf of people?

Is there clarity of purpose? Are things well-structured and organized and administrated? Is our church practicing good stewardship? Are people being protected and guarded? Is the whole church pursuing the purposes of God?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Prophets and Priests and Kings...Oh My!

By way of background as we look at another theme in the Book of Ezekiel (God's scolding of Israel's shepherds in Ezekiel 34), there are three distinct leadership roles in the Old Testament. First, there was the role of the prophet -- someone who would receive the Word of God and communicate it to the people. Prophets gave leadership in the realm of truth.

Second, there was the role of the priest -- someone who would bring people into the presence of God by offering prayers and sacrifices. Priests were the mirror image of prophets. Prophets spoke to people on behalf of God; priests spoke to God on behalf of people.

Third, there was the role of the king -- someone who would lead the people into battle and protect them from their enemies. He was also responsible for leading the people in the right paths.

These three leadership roles are woven through the entire Bible story. The prophet brought God's truth to the people. The priest brought the people of God into the presence of God. The king was supposed to lead the people in the right way of living. You could say the prophet was about revealing, the priest was about reconciling and the king was about ruling. These three functions, when properly combined, reveal God's plan for stable leadership.

Ideally, these three roles provided a system of checks and balances for Israel. The king ruled, but the prophet spoke the Word of God -- sometimes confrontationally -- to the king. Nathan is a good example of this with David. Elijah spoke this way with Ahab (with decidedly different results). Same with Jeremiah and King Zedekiah. Prophets were supposed to hold kings accountable.

Also, the king ruled from the palace, but when he came to the temple, he was not allowed to offer a sacrifice. Only a priest could do that. So, a king could not enter the presence of God without the help of a priest.

By the way, God's people still need balance in these three areas of leadership today.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bigger and Better

Twenty years after Ezekiel's first vision of God's glory, he was still stuck 700 miles from home working among a group of 10,000 exiles. He was 50 years old when God spoke to him again (Ezekiel 40), giving him a vision of a massive temple. Its measurements were not in feet or yards but in miles, and the description of it goes into great detail about the dimension of each wall and gate. It was gigantic.

Then Ezekiel sees "the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east" (43:2). The east, of course, was the direction in which the glory of God had headed 20 years earlier when God had abandoned the temple and focused his redeeming work on the community of his people by the Kebar River.

What he saw next must have overwhelmed Ezekiel with joy: "The glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east...and the glory of the Lord filled the temple" (43:4-5).

Got the picture? Ezekiel was a desperate, confused and discouraged person who must have wondered what God was doing in his life. But he saw the glory of God and realized that there was no place God could not go and nothing that God does not see.

Then God showed Ezekiel that the focus of his redemptive work for the next 70 years would not be exclusively on the temple in Jerusalem. Certainly, it was still in Jerusalem. Jeremiah shows us that in his Lamentations. But it was also on the 10,000 people near the Kebar River, and it was in the city of Babylon with Daniel and his friends. God is pretty good at multi-tasking.

And God would not abandon his temple forever. There would come a time when his presence would return to the great city, and his glory would fill a new temple. But this new temple would not be like the old one that had been destroyed. It would be massive, beyond any city's ability to contain it, beyond any scale of engineering or imagination. It would be so large that it would become a center of worship for people from every tribe and nation who would turn from their idols and seek the true and living God.

At the risk of making this post too long for most people to read all the way through, if you understand the story of Ezekiel, you'll understand the story of the whole Bible.

The Bible story begins in a garden -- God's place. A man and a woman enjoy the presence and blessings of God there, but they choose to reject him. As a result, they are thrown out of God's place -- east of it, in fact -- just like God's people were thrown out of the city of Jerusalem. And God's place was destroyed; the Garden of Eden is nowhere to be found today. But God was not content to stay in his place and wait for his people to return to him. Rather, he took the initiative and went looking for them. Most of the Bible is a record of God's relentless pursuit of his people.

The story of Jesus is the ultimate example of God coming to this strange and sometimes hostile place in which we live so that those who seek him are able to find him. Six hundred years after Ezekiel's crazy visions, Jerusalem had been rebuilt and a new temple had taken the place of the old one. Jesus of Nazareth -- the one the writer of Hebrews calls "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (Hebrews 1:3) -- came to visit a group of discouraged and confused people who lived under foreign oppression.

One day the radiance of God's glory went to the temple, but he was rejected there. So, the glory of God left the temple, not on a flying platform, but bound and escorted by guards with swords and clubs. The glory of God left Jerusalem, bearing a cross to a place outside the city wall. There he hovered on top of a hill for several hours, drawing people from every nation and tribe to himself.

Of course, on the third day, he arose from the dead. For 40 days he talked to his followers about God's kingdom, and then he went to a mountain east of the city, called the Mount of Olives. He stood on the very spot where Ezekiel had seen the glory of God hovering as the platform left the temple, and then -- as the disciples watched -- he ascended into the presence of the Father.

The glory of God appeared. The glory departed from the city as he was rejected and crucified outside Jerusalem. The glory has returned to the throne in heaven, and the glory of God will come again. That's where the whole story is headed.

And God promises to bring his people back -- not to the Garden of Eden, but to a new creation -- bigger and better than the original ever was. The Bible story points forward to the time when the great exile of human history will be over and God's people will be brought to God's place to enjoy his presence forever. On that day, we'll go one better than Ezekiel. He saw the Lord descend in a vision for a few moments; we'll ascend to meet him in the air and be with him forever.

No matter how great you think that might be, it's sure to be bigger and better than you can even imagine!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Study Bibles and Daily Devotionals

I'm working on a new book proposal right now -- actually I have several ideas bouncing around in my head, but I thought I'd get some input from all of you. So, here's my question:

What kind of materials do you find helpful in study Bibles and daily devotionals?

I'm working on an idea that might combine the two -- a study Bible that is also your daily devotional. If you were to use something like that, what topics and information would you like to see covered?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

He Is Risen

It's Easter. I'm a theologian. I should say something.

But it's Easter. Any good theologian knows that there are no words.

There is simply an empty cross, an empty tomb and a heart full of gratitude.

Friday, April 14, 2006

There Is No Thing God Does Not See

The wheels in Ezekiel's vision are covered with eyes. That tells us that there is nothing God does not see.

When I was growing up, our church would sing a hymn that creeped me out. Actually, there were a few, but the one I'm thinking of here went like this:

All along on the road to the soul's true abode,
There's an Eye watching you.
Every step that you take this great Eye is awake,
There's an Eye watching you.
Watching you, watching you,
Everyday mind the course you pursue;
Watching you, watching you,
There's an all-seeing Eye watching you.

Cue the scary music. We're being watched.

The story goes the songwriter (J.M. Henson) was at a revival meeting where he heard the revival leader tell a group of boys who had misbehaved the previous night, "We're expecting order here and you had better be careful, because there's an all-seeing eye watching you tonight."

The revival leader meant the county sheriff whom he had invited personally to the revival. Henson saw God as the ultimate sheriff and wrote the lyric above.

Usually when we tell people, "God is watching you!" we're trying to scare or intimidate them into behaving well. And there's probably a place for that. But when Ezekiel -- turning 30 and living 700 miles from home near the Kebar River -- finds out that there is nothing God does not see -- it means something more.

God does see all of our bad behavior. But he also sees every hurt, every frustration. He sees the rejection and the confusion. He notices every time one of his servants does for others without getting anything in return. He sees your motives and intentions, and he knows what you would do if you could. He sees the suffering of his people in prison and in orphanages and in hospitals. He sees people who continue to do the right thing even when they are not rewarded for it. He sees everything. For a lot of folks, there's more comfort in that thought than there is warning.

The first lesson of Ezekiel's crazy vision is this: There is no place God cannot go.

The second lesson is this: There is no thing God does not see.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

There Is No Place God Cannot Go

"As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faces; the wheels did not turn around as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose" (Ezekiel 1:15-19).

There is it. Right in the Bible. Proof of UFOs!

Believe it or not, I've actually heard that. I heard it again last night.

Except it's not real. This didn't really happen; it's a vision.

So, what does the vision mean? I've heard lots of weird explanations. There's even a song most of us are familiar with -- an old negro spiritual. I have no clue how we got the idea that "the little wheel turned by faith, and the big wheel turned by the grace of God." There is no little or big wheel. It's a wheel intersected by another wheel, enabling the platform the four living creatures are carrying -- upon which sits the throne of God -- to travel in any direction (which would make parallel parking a snap!). Oh, and it can lift off the ground like a helicopter.

The first message of the vision is this: The wheels mean there is no place God cannot go.

This would be news to the folks in Ezekiel's day (and some of us as well). They believed that God lived in a particular room in a particular building in a particular city. God lived in the holy of holies in the temple in Jerusalem. He lived there, and he did not live by the Kebar River.

Sometimes we think we've got God all figured out. He lives in certain buildings in certain cities. He does not live in other buildings in those same cities. He lives among people who look and live a certain way. He does not live among other people.

This is good news for some. For the folks at the Kebar River, they would be overjoyed to find out that they've not missing out on having a relationship with God and enjoying his protection and provision just because they're not in Jerusalem. This was good news, indeed.

This is bad news for others. For the folks who were left behind in Jerusalem, they believed they were special -- that God has preserved them because they were better than the others who had been shipped off to other parts of the world. They believed they had a special status because they lived in the right city and were able to visit the right building. They thought they could have hearts full of worms and decay as long as they lived in the right city and went to the right building to do the right rituals. They were in for some bad news, indeed.

Lesson 1 from Ezekiel's vision: There is no place God cannot go.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

I've had a number of people ask me about the recently unveiled document The Gospel of Judas. I'll offer some brief observations here, but I don't pretend to be an expert in this arena. There are others -- far more capable than I -- who are busily tearing the document to shreds. I refer you to them for anything in more detail than you find here.

First, it's important to remember that the document never claims to have been written by Judas or anyone else who lived in the first century. The document they found dates back to the fourth century A.D. and is supposed to be a translation from an earlier document -- though there is some speculation about that. If it is the same document, it probably dates back to the middle of the second century.

There was a fairly common practice among Gnostic heretics of the second and third centuries that I've talked about before. The Christian movement was generating momentum and many people wanted to jump on the bandwagon. Some even wanted to derail the whole project for their own philosophical, religious and political agendas. One easy way to do this was to write a fictitious story about Jesus and slap the name of one of the early disciples on it. There were dozens of these floating around by the middle of the fourth century (though there were never 80 of them as Dan Brown claims in THE DA VINCI CODE). The Gospel of Judas is old; it's just not old enough.

Second, the things Jesus says in this document don't match much that you'll find in the four canonical Gospels. There's a fair amount of anti-Semitism, and Jesus basically tells Judas, "You have to help me shed this outer shell of a body so I can become who I am truly supposed to be." That's a paraphrase, but that's the general idea. It's a far cry from the traditional Hebraic view that creation is inherently good and will ultimately be redeemed by God rather than done away with. It's typical of Gnostic texts to demean anything physical in favor of the spiritual. It's a shame that this thinking has crept into mainstream Christianity as much as it has. It sure ain't biblical.

Third, the timing of all this is interesting. I do not think National Geographic is part of some giant plot to overturn historic, orthodox Christianity, so I'm not accusing them of anything here. But I do think it's more than coincidence that all of this has happened during the days leading up to Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. There is an enemy -- a person who commands the forces of darkness and is intent on prying people away from God. This enemy has used persecution, poverty and the seductive force of political power in the past. He is certainly not opposed to using this document to create more doubt in the minds of people who so desperately need to hear the life-changing message of the true gospel.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Gospel According to the Da Vinci Code

The UPS man brought me an advance copy of The Gospel According to the Da Vinci Code today. That means it's ready to ship for those of you who have ordered copies online. I understand that they're being shipped to bookstores this week, so look for them to hit the shelves soon.

Also, Lifeway has published an excerpt from the Introduction on their website so you can get a better understanding of what we're trying to accomplish with the book.

I'm taking speaking invitations now but am booking up pretty quickly. If you're interested, contact me through this website for now. Soon we'll be moving everything over to the Faith 2.0 website (probably the blog too).

I'm pretty overwhelmed at the response I've received so far. It's pretty amazing, and it's confirmation that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing for now.

The Four Gospels in Ezekiel

Ezekiel saw "an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light (1:4). It was probably like staring through smoke into a blazing fire. As Ezekiel looked into this cloud, he could see four living creatures. Later, we'll find out that they're cherubim (10:1, 9-10), but here they're described in heavily symbolic language.

Each of them had four faces and four wings (1:6). Their faces represent the pinnnacles of God's creation, the face of a lion, an ox, an eagle and the face of a man. In symbolic language, a lion represents nobility and authority, an ox represents service and power, an eagle* represents deity and compassion, a man represents wisdom and character.

These four faces show up again in Revelation 4. Same faces.

Traditionally, the church has matched each of these faces with one of the four Gospels. Matthew goes with the lion because Jesus is the Lion of Judah -- strong and noble. Mark goes with the ox because Jesus is portrayed in that Gospel as strong and energetic -- constantly on the move. Luke goes with the man because Luke was showing Jesus to a Greek audience who were constantly in search of the perfect man -- one who could relate well to diverse people. John goes with the eagle because Jesus is there seen as God incarnate come to die for the sins of the world because of his great love and compassion*.

These verses and symbols were used early in the Church's history to establish the idea that four Gospels were sufficient. The symbols were often carved into the four corners of pulpits and placed in stained glass windows portraying scenes from the life of Jesus.

None of this really has anything to do with the story of Ezekiel, but it's one of my favorite pieces of trivia.

* Eagles were also used as a symbol for prophets who could see things from God's perspective.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ezekiel Turns 30

I remember when I turned 30. We were living in Maryland. I was serving a church there. We had just had our first daughter, Anabel. Life was pretty good.

I think most people look forward to their 30th birthday. It's not like they're starting out -- just turning 21 or something. But they're not turning 40 or 50 with all the cultural and sociatal baggage that accompanies those years. Usually, you're established in your career and your family. Turning 30 is usually a joyous occassion.

But not for the prophet Ezekiel. His 30th birthday may have been the hardest day of his life.

Ezekiel had spent his entire life getting ready to serve in the Temple, but when he was 25, war broke out and he was carted off as a prisoner to the Kebar River. That probably seemed like the other side of the world for him. Five years later, he turned 30, and he must have been consumed with thoughts of what might have been.

A priest's 30th birthday was the day on which his official service in the Temple could begin. If Ezekiel had been back home, it would have been a great day for him -- the culmination of years of preparation. But he's not home. He's 700 miles away from the Temple.

The whole situation must have felt like a mistake. This wasn't how his life was supposed to end up. This wasn't where he belonged. This wasn't what he was supposed to be doing. He was a man with dashed hopes and shattered dreams. If only he'd lived during another period of history! If only he'd been allowed to stay behind! If only the Babylonians hadn't invaded when they did! If only...!

But now his way was lost. He lived among a group of confused and discouraged people in a backwater town far from everything familiar.

It's easy for some of us to relate to Ezekiel. High hopes. Big dreams. At one time it looked like a wonderful future was in store, but something happened and sidetracked the entire project. Never in your wildest imagination did you ever think you'd wind up where you are now. It's easy to wonder, "What in the world is God doing?"

That's where Ezekiel was. And then something amazing happened:

"In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God" (Ezekiel 1:1).

God met this displaced and disappointed guy. And in his encounter with God, Ezekiel discovered something better than serving in the Temple of the Lord. He discovered the Lord of the Temple. When Ezekiel encountered God, he was able to move ahead instead of looking behind.

In times of confusion, when circumstances are difficult to understand, when we find ourselves in situations we never thought would be ours, the greatest need we have is to see God. When we allow him to meet us where we are, we find we are right where he wants us to be. And we find the direction he wants us to take.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Faith 2.0

Thanks for all the kind comments and email I've gotten about this new ministry venture. It's pretty exciting and more than a little scary to do this. As much as people may disagree with this: I am a traditionalist and do not readily embrace risky things like starting a new non-profit ministry.

I listen to jazz. I prefer baseball. I do not own any Bible software. I read George F. Will and Peggy Noonan, and I think they mostly make sense.

But I do own a laptop (Mac). I even own an iPod. I have a cellphone. I value innovation. I enjoy technology. I know that living a life of faith involves a certain amount of risk and am willing to get out of the boat if that's the only way to walk on water.

So, Faith 2.0 is the next step in this journey of discipleship for me. Soon, you'll be able to visit that website and do several things.

You'll be able to download .mp3 files of lessons I've taught. Since my time at the Tulsa Workshop a couple of weeks ago, I've had quite a few people ask me if I'm available to come and speak in the summer and fall. You'll be able to request speaking engagements from the website. I've got several different seminars I'm developing, and you'll be able to find information about those.

We're still open on some of the content we'll provide, so you tell me: What would you like to find on the website? What would be helpful for you?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Junkle All Alan

I'm spending some time this week in northern California with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew. For people who live in the techno-savvy world that is the San Francisco Bay Area, I was alarmed to find out that they do not have wireless internet in their house.

So, I'm going through a little internet withdrawal. I cannot check my email every five minutes like I normally do. I'm not hanging out online, chatting with friends, reading the news, googling every idea that pops into my head.

It's a little scary.

And a little liberating.

Please don't be offended if I don't respond to your emails promptly this week. I won't be online very often.

Instead, I've been hanging out with my four-year-old nephew. His name is Gabriel, and he is energy in a human body. He loves to run and jump and crash into things and take things apart. And he wants to share everything with me. I'm like his new toy this week.

The best part is that he calls me "Junkle All Alan" -- that's "Uncle John Alan" for those who don't understand kidspeak.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Next Chapter

I'm starting my own non-profit ministry organization. I'm calling it Faith 2.0, and our mission is, "Helping people live better lives by re-examining what they really believe."

I'll be providing all my Wednesday night classes in downloadable .mp3 files.

This is also how you can book me for speaking engagements and get the latest news on book projects and stuff like that.

Here's the website: