Newspaper Article about Dave

Article 3Sweet! The terrific folks at the Naples Daily News have graciously taken the “subscriber only” status off the article they wrote about me a few weeks back. This story describes the unique ministry I do by meeting seekers at the local Starbucks to answer their questions or challenges about God.

If you wanted to read it before but couldn’t, go for it now – http://www.naplesnews.com/lifestyle/faith-and-values/legacy_66850281

Invite a Zombie to Church this Sunday!

zombie churchDon’t know what all the fuss is about ZOMBIES these days. As a pastor, I’ve dealt with them often…

It’s called the Sunday early service… Boy, do I SEE DEAD PEOPLE”! (“ba dup bup…”)

Seriously, being a Christian you’re constantly dodging land mines when it comes to “the things you’re not supposed to like”.

There’s a long list of no no’s that level-headed, responsible believers will warn you…quite vocally and insistently…you MUST stay away from. Of course, anything to do with Halloween is one of them.  My main personal problem with Halloween is the term “fun-sized candy bar”. If it were really fun-sized, it would weigh about the same as a Buick!  Just sayin’…

Here’s a few others Christian no no’s:

Starbucks Coffee

R-rated movies

Secular music

PG13-rated movies

Video games

PG-rated movies

Harry Potter books

Movies

I would list more of them…but then I’d eventually hit on one of which you disapprove. Then you’ll immediately stop reading this and inform the church prayer chain to intercede for me.  Thanks, but I’m good.

Now, I’m not saying these are all “pastor-approved”, nor do I partake in each of them (although definitely “some” of them. But you’ll just have to make a good guess…I don’t kiss and tell).

The problem is, each of them are in fact someone’s “personal conviction”. That’s when you as a Christian have a strong feeling about avoiding something of which other Christians may generally approve.

Often, this is a great thing, because the Holy Spirit will specifically warn us to avoid a certain thing or activity. The conflict comes when we take this personal conviction and “feel led” to apply it to all other Christians. Sadly, we often proceed to judge those believers who we deem as not “in compliance” with what God told us personally.

One interesting thing about my list of no no’s is none of these things are mentioned in Scripture specifically. That’s not saying that Scripture can’t be applied to them. There are lots of new cultural things which couldn’t be mentioned in Scripture because they didn’t exist at the time.

The trick (or treat) is to apply the principles of Scripture to whatever new phenomenon you face and discern whether or not that activity is acceptable to the Lord. So it then becomes an issue of our personal interpretation or application of that Scripture.  And that’s where we often get in trouble.

Here’s a couple of truths I keep in mind whenever facing my own personal convictions or being confronted by those from others…

Truth Number One – Scripture is completely true and without error…but YOU ARE NOT! So stop giving your personal conviction the same weight as Scripture. That is actually getting pretty close to self-idolatry.  Remember, there is a God, and you are not Him!

Truth Number Two – Unless it is obviously, without a doubt going to do great spiritual harm to someone else…KEEP IT TO YOURSELF! We are called to preach God’s Gospel, not our own. Don’t waste time on things that will only divide and cause conflict.

Truth Number Three – That conviction to avoid a certain thing may actually be FOR YOU ALONE!  Other people may not be caused to stumble when exposed to that activity, and yet God has told you specifically to avoid it.

For example – I enjoy listening to almost all styles of music (with the possible exception of some rap and country…don’t hate!). However, I’ve discovered Christians for whom certain styles of music bring back negative feelings and emotions from their previous destructive lifestyle. 

What may be perfectly permissible for me may not be wise for them. But it would be wrong for them to then scold me for listening to jazz, just because they used to play Miles Davis CDs while doing drugs.  Avoiding that style of music may truly be something God has spoken to them…but it may be a prohibition ONLY for them.

Some times I think it is just sour grapes. We get mad when God tells us to give up something we used to enjoy, but then we see other Christians jumping into the deal end of that same pool. That doesn’t give me the right to “pee in the water”, hoping to destroy everyone else’s fun.

So the bottom line is. if you have a “personal conviction” about something, keep it “personal”. If someone asks you why you don’t do such and such, tell them clearly but calmly. But let go of the need to impose your own extra-Biblical standards on others…unless you happen to be studying to be a Pharisee.

If so, then by all means, knock yourself out.

With all that being said, here’s wishing you a Happy Hallow…um, or…All Saints Day?…Fall Festival?…oh, whatever.

ZOMBIES

zombie churchDon’t know what all the fuss is about ZOMBIES these days. As a pastor, I’ve dealt with them often…

It’s called the Sunday early service… “I SEE DEAD PEOPLE” 

;0)

Turkey Bacon is from the Devil

turkey baconTurkey bacon is a lie of the devil. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but for a big guy who loves to eat, something about it just seems deceptive. It looks like real bacon, it even smells like real bacon. However, the taste gives it away for what it truly is…strips of turkey masquerading as glorious bacon!

Oh, I know there are those of you who would argue that it tastes just as good. You would no doubt tell me how much longer I’d live if I gave up “true bacon” for the deceptive turkey impostor. I do know a great guy in my church who has given up all meat and dairy. He’s lost so much weight and looks so healthy. But I tell him that while I may die sooner, he will have to carry my coffin for the funeral.

HA! That’ll kill him for sure!

Of all our senses, taste is the most intimate. You can sniff around food, you can look at it and even touch it. But until you TASTE it, you can’t know if it’s the real thing or just a deceptive wanna-be . Only when you commit and make that bacon a part of you can you tell what it really is. And it is sooooooo very good!

I have another good friend who’s not a Christian. Sometimes when he knows I’m listening, he’ll say a couple of Bible verses in jest. He’ll flash a quick smile at me, and I smile back with satisfaction that he does know some of God’s Word.

We both know why he does it. He’s letting me know he’s not ignorant of what I believe.  He’s seen it, but doesn’t want any of it. He’s stating in his own friendly, good-natured way, “I’ve tried a little of your God, and He’s not for me. Thanks, but no thanks.”

If I were going to call his bluff, I would point him to Psalm 34. In that chapter, David exclaims, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!” It’s not just by accident David didn’t say, “Oh LOOK and see” or “Oh LISTEN and see”, because much of what we see and hear masquerading as God today is little more than “turkey bacon”…or maybe even bologna.

Tasting is a big risk, because once you’ve put food in your mouth, you can get really sick if it’s gone bad. Have you ever pulled out a carton of milk from the fridge, poured a glass and drank it only to spit it out because it had turned sour? Nothing more disgusting – I can imagine your face cringing even now as I describe it!  So to taste something, you’ve got to be “all in” – without that risk, you can’t expect to experience just how good it tastes.

If my friend truly tasted of the things of God…if he committed and risked it all by letting God into his life instead of just sniffing around God’s table…he would see how good God really is!

But I know lots of people who are unwilling to take that risk. They even pop by my church sometimes, hoping for “just a whiff” of God. They sniff around the place oh so cautiously, they watch people worship, they listen to the message – anything but committing themselves “whole hog” (pardon the pun). It makes me sad when some walk away unchanged, but you can’t just sniff around the things of God and expect anything to happen. It’s all or nothing.

It’s like going to a 3D movie, where everyone gets to wear those nerdy-looking glasses. I love those things – I like to turn around and see how goofy the whole place looks with them on! But what if I tried to watch the movie without wearing the glasses? I’d go up to the theater manager and complain, saying “What a lousy movie – everything was all blurry!” When he asks if I put my glasses on, I’d say, “Of course not – can you imagine how goofy I’d look in those things?!”

Likewise, I’m sorry if you’re afraid risking everything on believing in God might make you look stupid if it turns out He’s not real. But you’ll never know if you keep playing it safe, keeping Him at an arms-length, coming to church in your HAZMAT suit like Walter White (inside reference – you know who you are).

But my atheist and agnostic friends would argue, “How can you say God is good when there is so much wrong in the world?” That’s easy.

I never said, “Life is good”. Life is hard, and often filled with injustice, selfishness and evil. Bad people often prosper, while good people struggle. And most of us whither away at the end of our years, unable to pass on much of the wisdom life has taught us.

No, life is not always good. But God is!

In spite of all the evil around us, knowing God and living life with Him does in fact make it all worthwhile. I’m still amazed at how in the midst of hardship and pain, Christians can choose to find joy in their sorrows and peace in their prisons. They experienced first-hand the goodness of God and the privilege of knowing Him, and that makes all the pain worthwhile.

God never promised us a “good life”.  Jesus said bluntly, “In the world, you will have trouble.” But thank God, He also said “He has overcome the world”. So the “goodness” is not this life, it is in fact “knowing Him”.

My brother-in-law Claude is African-American, and he knows that in my heart that part of me wishes I were too! I love Black Gospel music and Black preachers – the freedom and excitement is invigorating to me like nothing else.

One day Claude decided to make me an “honorary Black Man”, and put me through an initiation that’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted!

As we drove together in the car, he kept asking me if I “was sure I could handle it”, but I assured him I could (though I really had no idea what I was in for). He took me to a place on the east side of  town. When we pulled up, I could see it was nothing more than a hole in the wall. Questions regarding the sanitary conditions of the establishment did go through my mind, but I quickly dismissed them…mainly because I knew if Claude had survived the food, I probably would too.

When I opened the front door, a truck-load of smells overwhelmed me – all of them wonderful. We got our trays and slid them along like at the school cafeteria, as we looked into what was being served up behind the grease-smeared glass. There were some things that I did not recognize, and I’ll admit I passed on anything with the words “jowls” or “feet” in the title.

However, I did recognize fried chicken, and then I saw some green beans that had completely surrendered their original flavoring to the hunk of ham nestled in their midst (much like a diamond in a gold setting…yes, I wax poetic when describing food!). And the ribs…I’m afraid if I described them accurately, my article would be banned by the censors.

Then there was my favorite – banana pudding! This was happily not newly-made pudding, but instead the kind that had been around a day or so – you know, so that the vanilla wafers had started disintegrating into the pudding and become a little mushy. Much like fine wine, banana pudding must be allowed to age before consuming it…listen and learn, young people.

By the end of the meal, we were covered in food. There was no way to eat it daintily – the BBQ sauce, the chicken grease, the pudding was either on our faces or our clothes…or both. When I arrived home, my wife looked at me, smelled me, and then said, “Where in the world have you two been?” We literally reeked of that soul food restaurant! For a man who loves black culture, I felt I’d just had the equivalent of my Black Bar Mitzvah.

That is what tasting of God – the real God – is like.

He is not something you can get into without Him getting all over you. No cute little WetWipe will remove the smell of Him off your clothes, and no discouragement from this world can take His smile off your face. Because when you have truly TASTED of Him, you can’t hide it!

THAT is what this world needs to see from Christians! Not lectures from us or judging looks, but to be absolutely REEKING with His goodness – no, His greatness! Because when you’ve really tasted of Him, you won’t be able to hide it. He will betray you to everyone as His true follower, and He as the Lover of your soul…

I think I’m about to start preaching, so you’d better clean off your greasy cafeteria tray and get ready for some good stuff – “OH TASTE AND SEE THAT THE LORD IS GOOD!”

Can I get an amen, somebody?

When you don’t see God working…when you see no way out of present circumstances…when it feels like you’re trapped in the “in-between” for good…

…that’s precisely when God is often working the most!

Dave’s message, recorded Live@Legacy – STUCK

The Worst Part

don-mcclean-quote-and-the-three-men-i-admire-most-the-father-son-andThe worst part of telling God you want Him out of your life…or your country…is that He’ll listen.

If we demand so, He will sadly walk away, leaving us with a life and world devoid of His beauty, joy and guiding hand.

The worst part is getting exactly what we asked for, when we had no idea for what we were asking..

Politics in the Pulpit?

IMG_1161-0.JPG

Evidently, Oct. 5 was declared Pulpit Freedom Sunday in order to spur a civil protest.

The idea was to encourage pastors to take sides politically from the pulpit, which would violate current laws restricting religious nonprofits from electioneering. In addition, this paper published a letter to the editor encouraging pastors to preach politics from their pulpits.

Silly me, I missed the whole thing! That Sunday, I preached a regular old sermon from the Bible about how to make it through discouraging times. Boy, am I out of touch.

Anyway, I’m sad to announce I won’t be endorsing a candidate in the upcoming governor’s race. Yes, I can sense your disappointment. You’re wondering, “How in the world are we all supposed to decide without knowing what Dave thinks?”

And just to be clear, we’re supposed to choose between the bald guy from Naples versus the white-haired guy. Right?

Seriously, I do vote. I have informed political opinions, and I do resent tactics used by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union to intimidate pastors. I didn’t give up my right to free speech when I joined the ministry. I indeed have the right to express an opinion, and I do so regularly on issues of morality. I have preached on the human rights of the unborn and the tragedy of abortion. (FYI, my email address is at the end of this article. Feel free to send the hate mail now).

Also, I will remind my congregation of the devastating impact of poverty. But I believe things won’t improve until we begin individually helping to change lives, rather than just voting for generic “change.” I did a whole sermon series recently on volunteering and making a difference in the world. As a result, many of our folks are now attending foster parenting classes, helping a battered women’s shelter, and going overseas with Doctors Without Borders, among other things.

So it’s not that I’m afraid to speak out. I’m simply not that interested in preaching politics. While I’ve seen the Gospel of Christ change lives, most politics is little more than talk. I’m so tired of hearing promises and good intentions. I’d rather cut out the middle man and find some folks who are ready to help in ways God commanded us.

Another problem with political preaching is when pastors support a candidate, it sends the message that only people of that party are welcomed in that church. My calling is not only to Republicans or Democrats — my flock contains people across the spectrum. While there are times when I would like to express my own views, I would rather use that influence to lead someone to Christ than convert them politically.

I believe introducing you to Jesus will do a lot more for you than introducing you to Mr. Crist or Mr. Scott. They do not quite have the powers of a Supreme Being … despite what their TV ads may claim.

Frankly, it’s sad how many Christians believe political reform is the key to bringing “spiritual revival” to our country. Why would God bless such idolatry? In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God never said “If the government” will turn back to me, I’ll heal your land. He said, “If my people…”!

Funny thing about that Chronicles passage is God isn’t calling on all the non-believers to repent. He specifically calls out “His people.” That’s because we are the reason this nation is really in trouble. God called us to be the “salt and light” to a dark world, working as agents of His change. That’s what’s truly missing — not political talk from pulpits, but the spiritual actions of God’s people.

This is the sermon I wish more pastors would preach to their congregations — “Get out!” Get out of the church building and do something. Stop hiding behind these walls and meet the needs of hurting people. And quit thinking all God wants you to do is flip a lever on election day.

That sermon, the one believers preach with their lives, is the one desperately needed. So let’s start preaching!

In-Between

rockindexIt’s hard when you’re in-between. In-between jobs, in-between relationships – limbo.

You feel like you’re drifting purposelessly on an endless sea, going nowhere.

You’re not where you were, and that’s great. You prayed God would get you out of that situation, and He did. That trial is over, thank God!

But you’re also not where you’re going yet. New opportunities haven’t arrived. You’re idle, searching for the next thing. You feel awkward, as if there’s something you’re forgetting, something you should be doing…but you just can’t think of what.

The in-between is an important place. It is God’s palette cleanser to take the bitter taste of your last experience out of your mouth. It is a place of rest and refreshment. It’s a place where you’ll actually have extra time to spend seeking God, being rejuvenated in His presence.

God has a purpose in your in-between.

The problem is, we struggle with the in-between places. We want to hurry on to the next thing. We don’t want the soul-searching and self-examination God often allows here. We want the flurry of activity and to “get on with life”.

I think too many people use activity as a drug. They allow their job and perpetual hobbies to help them avoid any introspection. You never hear the conversation God trying to have with you because your life never stops talking long enough to pay attention.

Also, you start getting scared because Satan convinces you this land of limbo may be your permanent place of exile. All your motivational instincts kick in, telling you “Nothing changes until you move” and other mottos fit for the flat-white walls of cheap business offices. You simply must “do something”. If not, you are lazy or unmotivated, lacking initiative or ambition or a hundred other words feeding your fears.

You work at one job, while hoping for another. You live in one home, wishing for more space. You drive one broken-down car, wondering when you’ll ever have something dependable. You hope, you wish, you wonder…and you wait.  And you let worry and fear eat you from the inside out.

This past week I’ve been sick. Nothing major – just the same sinus infection I get about twice a year. But it usually takes my voice away, which makes it hard to preach or sing…which is like tying the hands of a painter.

I could have had a lovely week meditating on God, spending extra time with Him and listening for His voice. Instead, I’ve mostly just grumped around the house, making everyone else miserable. “Physician, heal thyself” indeed!

When the children of Israel wandered around the wilderness for forty years, God sent them manna. I absolutely love the fact that the word actually means, “What is it?” I appreciate God dropping a cute little pun in His Word just to make me sit up and take notice!

Manna was a bread-like substance which gathered on the ground each morning for the people to eat. But you couldn’t be responsible and store it up, because it would rot by the next day.  So you had to eat it and then trust God would send it again every single morning. I don’t know about you, but that would have driven me crazy.

Additionally, it might also have taught me to trust God for my needs.

You see, I like to be in control of providing for myself because I know I can count on me. No trust needed – I will always be sure to come through for myself!  It’s when God asks me to trust Him to provide that I start getting nervous. That takes things out of my control. It makes me like a child, dependent on the goodness of my Father.

Sometimes you just get tired of your temporary provision. The Israelites complained about the monotony of eating manna every day, wishing for the exotic repast of their former country. But returning to that land would have meant returning to slavery. And God’s destiny for them was much greater than that.

Destiny is always a package deal, usually accompanied by both risk and trust.

Photography by Glenn Christopher of Naples, FL

Photography by Glenn Christopher of Naples, FL

The good news is that your in-between place is only temporary. When it was time to step into the promised land, the manna stopped. That’s your cue God is about to do something!  So don’t be scared when you lose that “manna”, whether it is a job, money, or opportunities. It was never your destination – it was only a rest stop along your journey.

I’m quite blessed in that I had already planned a week of vacation next week. So hopefully by that point, I will have learned to stop cursing my “in-between” week of sickness and actually enjoy another “in-between” week away. Maybe I’ll relax and focus on the Father who planned this time away with me. I guess He knew I needed a week to ramp up to relaxation and to detox from my addiction to control.

OK, God. I’m listening. Speak to me. Refresh me and renew my mind. Thank you for leading me out of my captivity in my own personal “Egypt”. Don’t let me get scared when the manna stops, but recognize it signals a new destiny. 

And don’t let me be surprised when I see the waters parting once again.

Life Changes That Fast

Photography by Glenn Christopher of Naples, FL

Photography by Glenn Christopher of Naples, FL

A cool breeze blew in this weekend. A refreshing taste of fall – at least fall as we experience it here in SW Florida.

We sat outside on 5th Ave South (my favorite area of town) and enjoyed the early evening at the coffee shop where we hold our Sunday evening Bible Study. My wife and I talked with friends for a while after our study was over, then went to a restaurant where we could eat al fresco.  We simply couldn’t get enough of the refreshing evening air.

It reminded me of why people want to live here in Florida.

The past summer months were especially oppressive – calling it the “rainy season” was the understatement of a lifetime.  For months, we avoided the outdoors except for the few fleeting hours of sunshine we were afforded each week. Even old timers complained to me that it was the worst summer in years.

But what a sudden change in the air! How different everything seems, just over the course of one weekend.

Your life can change that quickly as well…

Nearby, three teenage young men passed away suddenly in a car accident, coming back from a Halloween party.  Lives so full of promise, ended so soon.  The story is one we hear all too often.  We look at the TV screen and shake our heads.  But that is how life really is: quick, uncertain, random, ephemeral.  It is only our illusions of security that keep us from seeing this as our own reality.

Winds of change are the stuff of which our lives are made.  Seasons come and go, though people may move to our area in hopes of avoiding them.  Yet life moves along, as one season of life gives way to another.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…” Ecclesiastes 3:1

We go through periods of trial, we beg God for help.  We endure, we grow, and then comes sweet release as the trial finally gives way.  We rest now, thankful that we are free.

Free for the moment, that is, until the next trial comes.

Age and the endurance of trials should bring maturity.  But as we’ve witnessed from a few of our seasonal visitors who have blown in on the recent winds, wisdom does not necessarily accompany age.  Just go play “bumper carts” with folks at Cosco on a Saturday in season – you will believe in a literal hell. People come here expecting the trial-free joys of endless summer, only to become grumpy when they realize their trials have followed them south.

As the wise man said, “The only problem with trying to run from your problems is, wherever you go, there you are”.

So my friend…

If you’re in the midst of a trial right now, take heart in the fact that just like that sudden change of seasons, your trial will soon suddenly be over.  You probably won’t see the denouement coming – the plot twists rarely give themselves away so obviously as on a neat and tidy one-hour TV drama.

Our greatest trial is life itself, which ends for most of us in years of diminished productivity and health.  Take heart that this trial too will soon end, giving way to a new and glorious day.

Yes, I really believe that.  God telegraphed the final plot twist all through the story He’s written – darkness gives way to the dawn, dead of winter to the new life of spring, seeds decaying in the ground springing forth into even greater life forms.

Your cool breeze is coming. Suddenly and unexpectedly.  So wait with courage in your heart. And by all means, be sure you’re ready for the day when this world gives way to the next…