Category: General


A common, and biblical, metaphor for describing the office of pastor is that of the faithful shepherd.  Jesus presents Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).  Drawing from the deep well of the Old Testament canon, Christ brought to mind the words of the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Micah.

Isaiah 40:11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs, And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

Ezekiel 34:23 “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.

Micah 5:4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.

The imagery is certainly a beautiful reminder of the loving care in which Jesus provides to us.  It is best illustrated in the Shepherd’s Psalm.  According to this psalm, God provides for us, blesses us, nurtures us, protects us, and leads us in the paths of righteousness (Psalm 23).

This same representation is used in the New Testament also.

Hebrews 13:20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

1 Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Though pastor is arguably the most common title for church leaders today, it is only found twice in the AV translation of Scripture.  Well, sort of, let me explain.  In the Old Testament, Jeremiah invokes the term as he prays to God for vindication in the midst of a corrupt people (Jer. 17:16).  Paul uses it in Ephesians, teaching on the various offices of the New Testament Church.  He writes, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11).  The Greek term for pastor is poimen (pronounced poy-mayne) and though not translated often as pastor in the AV, it is found in numerous other verses, translated as “shepherd” (Matt. 9:36; Matt. 25:32; Matt. 26:31; Mk. 6:34; Mk. 14:27; Lk. 2:8, 15, 18, 20; Jn. 10:2, 11-12, 14, 16; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25).

The Good Shepherd, painting, Philippe de Champaigne

Cliché advice comes frequently in the ministry.  It will come from pastors, church members, non-church members, the unsaved (which can include any of the three previous groupings), etc.  No matter one’s experience level with the Christian faith, their biblical literacy, or even their genuine interest in your ministry, people will always have advice for you.  In my young and more impetuous days, I did not know how to handle these moments.  Over the years, I have learned how to smile, nod, and then hand it all over to God.  Oh what a difference a decade in ministry can make!

The most popular advice centers upon my role as shepherd.  I am advised to feed the flock, nurture the flock, love the flock, admonish the flock, protect the flock, and so on and so forth.  While I believe each of these charges are biblical in nature and I strive to fulfill them each day, I do believe there is a misnomer that arises from such advice.  These charges are not universally applicative.  What I mean is, God’s command in all of this is directed toward HIS FLOCK!  The sad reality is that mingled among the sheep (the true followers of the Great Shepherd) are some old goats (Matt. 25:32-33) and even a few wolves (Matt. 7:15; Matt. 10:16; Lk. 10:3; Acts 20:29).

So my advice to my fellow pastors?  Feed the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:1), love the goats and share the Gospel with them at every opportunity (Lk. 19:10), and love the wolves as well, but be sure to freely use your shepherd’s crook against them (Jude 3, 4).

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“He is going to be okay, isn’t he?” she asked me again, perhaps the one hundredth time I had heard that question.  She asked that question numerous times throughout the course of a normal day.  She asked it more frequently before visiting the doctor’s office, and she asked it every night as I prayed with her before bed.

Weeks earlier, prior to breaking my back, I had lied and said, “Yes, he is fine.  Stop worrying.”  I always told her to stop worrying, even though I was guilty of it myself.  I worried about Samuel having some type of birth defect.  I worried about Leah’s body reaching its physical limit and shutting down, potentially harming her and Samuel.  I worried about Leah’s health as each new day became a struggle for her.

I used worry in the past tense because I no longer worried about it.  In the midst of my own personal conflict, namely breaking my back, I had the time to reflect upon what God was doing in mine and Leah’s life.  Lying on my back with very limited mobility, I had time for plenty of introspection.  I was angry at God for our overall situation.  I was angry at God more specifically because of my wife’s health and the potentially bad health of my unborn son.  It was only after carefully consideration of Christ on the Cross, no less through the leading of the Holy Spirit, that I realized any suffering I endured in this world paled in comparison to Jesus’ suffering.  From that point forward, my burden of anxiety, which in turn produced my burden of anger, was lifted as I sought forgiveness from God and strength to move forward.  Thankfully, He is an ever gracious God to His children when it comes to forgiveness.

By this point in Leah’s journey, fatigue was the greatest enemy and it was only compounded by frequent bouts of insomnia.  Despite having placenta previa and placenta accreta, there were no serious complications that prompted the doctors to order an emergency delivery or bed rest.  There was no bleeding, major abdominal pain, nor were there any severe contractions.  She went twice weekly for Samuel’s heart monitoring and life continued onward.

It took weeks for me to recover from my injury to the point where I could function semi-normally.  I am blessed to pastor a church family filled with Christ-like servants.  We were flooded with kindness both personally and professionally.  After a few weeks, I tried to transition back into a normal routine; after all, Samuel’s delivery date was fast approaching.

Samuel’s original due date was May 28, and this date was established long before there was a sign of complications.  After it was determined Leah would need to deliver by c-section, the date was pushed ahead to May 20.  This change was of no consequence at the time.  However, as Leah’s ailments began to be unveiled, the doctor was beginning to eye the first week in May.

As a side note, Leah wanted to deliver Samuel on May 4th because she thought I would enjoy having a child born on Star Wars day.  She was absolutely correct, I think that would have been very cool.  Yet realistically, it was never going to happen because her doctor performed surgeries on Thursday, so May 2nd would have been the day.

Anyway, none of these dates would be relevant because Leah’s placenta accreta continued to advance and her surgeon decided April 25 was the day Samuel would make his appearance to the outside world.  All the tension that had been building since Leah’s diagnosis would finally be coming to a close.  The mystery surrounding Samuel’s health would be solved.  We were ready for the ordeal to be over and we finally had a day for the climactic scene of our story!

If you have been following along closely, you know there is going to be a big twist in the story before there can be any form of plot resolution.  At least, you expect a shocking plot twist at this time when you are reading a good book.  It adds to the conflict of the story and brings it to life for the reader.  Our story is no different, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Four weeks of planning for Samuel’s arrival soon turned into three, but in one fell swoop of a doctor’s visit, we only had two weeks left to prepare.  April 25th was the day and we were going to utilize every moment of it.  Or, we thought were going to utilize every moment.  Leah’s fatigue became increasingly worse and during those final two weeks, she began to have back contractions.  In the midst of caring for our older children, keeping the house in order, and working a full-time job, I was also doing my best to insure Leah did as little as possible.

Tentative plans were made for our children as the day approached.  Leah’s parents, who had traveled extensively for ministry through much of the month of April, were coming to be with us, along with Leah’s two sisters.  They were set to arrive on April 24.  They would find a hotel close to the hospital and keeping our two children with them.  Our goal was to minimize the trauma on our other two children by keeping their routines relatively normal.  Having gone on family vacations with Leah’s parents and sisters in previous summers, we knew I children would see it as an adventure.

Leah and I did I best to prepare in the midst of doctor’s appointments, preschool, and church.  Though the big event was still days away, Leah packed travel bags for Daniel and Ellie and placed them in the minivan.  There were a few tasks that remained incomplete when we left on the afternoon of April 24 to meet Leah’s parents and sisters in Newport News for dinner, but they could be easily dealt with when we returned home.

I am not exactly sure who loves Red Lobster in Leah’s family, conceivably all of them because we go there a lot, which is awesome because I love it too.  We found ourselves at Red Lobster in Newport News this night enjoying time with family.  The kids were naturally excited because our family was visiting, but they were also anticipating staying in a hotel with Grampy and Grammy.  Or, they were anticipating the hotel having a pool.  It was surely a combination of the two.  Leah’s family appeared equally excited at all the possibilities before them with our children for a few days.

The evening was going well.  We made it through the appetizer and salad phases without major incident, which means only three or four calls for bathroom breaks with the kids.  The waiter brings out the main course dishes and splays them before us like a seaside cornucopia overflowing with fried shrimp, scallops, fish, and clams.  After the initial excitement of the food before us wore off, Leah arises rather quickly and goes to the restroom.  She returns a few moments later to inform me that she is bleeding and we need to go to the hospital immediately.  The table erupts as if someone has pulled a fire alarm.  I head out to get the van and plot my course for Norfolk General Hospital.

The morning of March 13, 2013 was not much different from the others.  I woke up to children running up and down the hall making every attempt to be quiet as not to wake up daddy and failing miserably.  I loosed the mask of my CPAP machine, took a deep breath, and pulled myself up from the bed.  Leah was moving from kitchen to bathroom in a repetitive pattern as she spent time with the kids while getting ready for work.  Everything was normal, almost everything.

Even though spring was little more than a week away, our area was enduring a rather nasty cold front.  Weather in the southeast is never predictable, but March displayed the type of schizophrenic behavior you only expect from relatives at a family reunion.  Temperatures dipped as low as 24 degrees to as high as 72 in that span.  The thirteenth was not a particularly memorable day.  The overnight temperature dipped below freezing causing a heavy frost to coat everything.

The rear exit from our home has a large wooden ramp.  It is a nice feature and has served us well through the years.  You appreciate it most when you are trying to make only one trip from the minivan to the house after grocery shopping.  Its one drawback is that the smallest amount of moisture can turn it into a splintery Slip-N-Slide if temperatures drop below freezing.  This day was one of those days.

If you are familiar with the Lord of the Rings, you probably know that Bilbo told his beloved nephew Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  Oh, Bilbo, truer words can only be found in the Holy Bible.  I assessed the situation when I stepped out the door that morning.  The frost was visible on the wood slats, and for the briefest moment I had the clarity of mind to use the other door and avoid the ramp completely.  Sadly, the moment of clarity was just that—a moment.  I started down the ramp.

I made it halfway down the ramp when my left foot suddenly appeared in front of my face.  I thought it odd, but it was soon followed by the right foot.  My regular view of the frost covered field out behind the house was quickly replaced with the morning sky.  With a thud, I landed on my back and the air was forced from my lungs.  I was in shock for a moment, trying to catch my breath.  I did not hit my head, but it took me a few moments to gain my senses and realize what had just happened.  Pain was shooting throughout my body and I laid there gasping for breath in between the jolts of pain.

When my sense finally returned, I tried calling for Leah.  I am not exactly sure why I was calling for her.  There was nothing for her to do.  She could not pick me up, or even help me up because doing so would mean coming down the frost-covered ramp.  My calls went unheard, as I expected.  Finally, I began to press the remote door locking button on Leah’s key chain.  I did this for minute before I saw my son’s head poke out the back door.  “Get your mom please,” I forced out through gritted teeth.

Leah became frantic when she came to the door and I began to question why I had even called her to the door.  I was able, after the most excruciating ten minutes of my life to this point, work my way up with the help of the hand rail.  I could not stand up straight and walked like a slow moving treasure hunter who could not take his eyes from the ground.  I made it to my chair and remained there until forced to move.

My precious wife wanted me to go immediately to the emergency room.  I was able to deflect her because I still possessed pain medication from a shoulder surgery in October.  I assured her they would only give me pain medication and muscle relaxers.  This only gave me a brief reprieve and she was soon asking me once again to go to the ER, or if not the ER, call our physician and seek to slip into his daily schedule.  I refused.

My wife did what many wives have done through the years when dealing with an obstinate husband.  She called my mother.  I still maintain this was a dirty move, but I cannot argue with its effectiveness.  A two minute phone call from my mother got Leah what she had lobbying for most of the day.

Leah’s instinct was correct and my logic was wrong.  It happens often enough that it should not surprise me, but pride makes many of us slower learners.  When the doctors had finished their diagnosis, I walked, rather shuffled, from the ER with two fractured vertebrae and a severely bruised coccyx, which is a fancy word for tail bone.  That is right, I had broken my back in the fall.

To put our life into perspective at this point of the journey, Leah was in the midst of a high risk pregnancy and continuing to become more fatigued each day, and I broke my back.

Up until this point in my 35 years of life, I never understood how someone could be angry at God.  I saw it as a pointless venture, a road to nowhere.  When you become angry at God, I thought, what recourse do you have because God will always be right and you will always be wrong?  Even with that knowledge in my heart, I became angry with God.  It was short-lived and personal, but it was certainly anger.

The conversation in my mind went like this:

“Father, you know how much our family is struggling at the moment with Leah’s condition.  Why did you allow this to happen to me now?  Why not after Leah delivered?  Why here?  Why now?”

I played through that dialogue for nearly a week.  There was no self-pity.  I did not lament my lot in life; I bristled at it.  People get angry all the time, why was this so different.  It was different because of the hypocrisy that was creeping into my life.  I was incapacitated with a broken back, my wife was deteriorating weekly under the strain of her pregnancy, and I was angry at the only One who could truly help my situation.  As mentioned, I stayed in this hypocritical state for nearly a week.

I had last preached on March 10, a mere three days before my accident.  Though heavily medicated with pain medication, I was groggy, but fundamentally aware of my fractured emotional state and declining spiritual condition.  I reached for my sermon notebook and began flipping through its pages.  I had no intention of writing, and I was not interested in reading, which made picking up the notebook all the more puzzling.  I came to the last sermon I preached, Contentment in the Christian Life from 1 Corinthians 7:17-24.

This sermon led me to the first few chapters of Job.  And like all things from God, Job led me to the Gospels and the Cross of Christ.  My anger melted away and was replaced with shame.  How could I be angry in my condition or my wife’s condition when I considered the sufferings of Christ?  I did not know why I picked up that notebook, but I knew what God was trying to tell me.  No amount of suffering I can endure will ever match the agony of Christ.

I let go of my anger and replaced it with thankfulness.  Am I saying I became thankful for a broken back?  Yes, I am.  Knowing myself as I do, I am confident I would not have come to my realization for a very long time.  I allowed my anger with the circumstances to obscure my judgment and harden my heart to that which I knew to be true.  God is good and gracious every moment of every day.  I made peace with God, asking for forgiveness for my anger.  I sought strength for the days ahead and assurances that I could share with my family for the trials that were to come.

God knew the lesson I needed to learn, He knew the perfect time to teach me that lesson, and more importantly, He knew how important that lesson would be in the days to come.  So at peace with God, I moved ahead with peace in my heart concerning God’s plan for our family.

The First Storm, Part 2

The doctors in the high risk practice are skilled professionals.  We have come to trust them over the past nine months.  I will never forget the first visit in which they were trying to determine if Leah had placenta accreta.  The doctor, whom we will call the Headmaster, said, “If I were a gambling man with a dollar, I would bet ninety cents that you will develop accreta.”  As the weeks wore on, I now realize if I were a gambling man, I’d gladly take Headmaster to Vegas!

His medical insight proved to be frightfully accurate.  As the ultrasounds progressed, it became obvious that the accreta diagnosis was not going to go away.  We prayed, we asked our church to pray, and we asked our friends and family to pray.  God, in His wisdom, had already decided that the accreta was not going anywhere.  Leah was ordered to come in twice weekly for monitoring.  Leah got the assurance of Samuel’s development every Tuesday and Friday as they strapped monitors observing his heart rate.

Ultrasounds were given a two week intervals and it seemed, at least to Leah and I, that every new ultrasound brought a new issue to worry about concerning Samuel.  The calcium deposit was never mentioned again, but this did not mean that Down’s Syndrome (DS) was off the table.  Samuel measured in the high percentiles for most of his body measurements, all but the length of his femur, which as you guessed is another soft marker for DS.  A small nose is considered a marker for DS, and wouldn’t you know—Samuel would never allow us to get a nice photo of his face.  He threw his hand in the way at every opportunity, avoiding our attempts at a good photo like a celebrity shunning the paparazzi.  As you can imagine, there were many questions that remained unanswered.

Leah and I discussed having a test done to determine if God was giving us a baby with DS.  Eventually we decided against it because the most accurate test had its own risks.  We did not know what God had in store for us, but we were going to face it by faith.  If the markers confirmed DS, it did not change the fact that our son was growing each and every day in Leah’s womb and we were looking forward to meeting him.  After all, Samuel was our gift from God, even if he came packaged different than most children.

Leah was allowed to continue working and she did so each school day.  Fatigue was really becoming a problem as the weeks progressed.  I took on more and more responsibility at home to accommodate her exhaustion.  We just lived life.  Apart from me picking up more chores at home, there was little change in our overall routine.  We had two other children that were in need of care as well.  They were aware that a life was growing in Mama’s tummy and they were excited.

By twenty-four weeks, our daily routine was unremarkable.  I awoke early and helped Leah prepare for school by making her lunch and defrosting her car during the cold winter months.  My morning helpfulness will create more problems for us, but I’ll get to that later.  Once Leah was off to school, I fed the children, had morning devotions, and prepped them for preschool.  When there was no preschool, I kept them during the day mixing work and family when necessary.

The evening schedule was established as well.  The children ate dinner and took a shower in the early evening.  We would have family devotions, reading a Bible story to the children and having family prayer.  Daniel and Ellie were often sweet and sympathetic to Leah’s fatigue, asking God to, “help Mama and Baby Samuel.”  After they were tucked into bed, Leah typically prepared herself for bed, becoming more and more exhausted each day.  I would help Leah into bed, almost tucking her in as we had just done with the children.  And she always asked the same question before I prayed, “He is okay isn’t he?”

At first, I tried to deflect the question with humor or sarcasm.  Both have served me well as perfectly functional defense mechanisms in the past.  However, she was not to be discouraged and asked again, “He is okay isn’t he?”  I did not know how to answer because for once a snarky comment was not going to be sufficient.  I eventually said, “Yes, of course he is.”  I was lying.  I was lying to myself more than I was lying to my wife, but I was lying.  I had no confidence in anything and I was saying yes because it helped me cope with all the uncertainty around me and it gave a sliver of hope to my wife.

I had come to a crossroads in my life.  There was this spiritual road that was branching in two directions.  There was an emotional road there as well.  I had come to the fork uncertain of where I was headed.  I knew where God wanted me to go, but I was hesitant.  As I stood idle, unwilling to make a decision, God brought something else into our life that would eventually change my perspective completely.

The First Storm, Part 1

I have been meaning to update my blog for many weeks, but as some of you know, life has taken a few unexpected turns since the latter part of April.  I will do my best to relate some of those events in the most chronological order that I can recall them.

First of all, my wife and I welcomed our third child into the world on April 25, 2013.  This was a glorious occasion, but unfortunately it was 5 weeks ahead of schedule.  Samuel turned out to be fine, spending only a few days in the Special Care Nursery due to blood sugar and body temperature issues.  He is doing great as I write this and is enjoying some quality time with grandparents in West Virginia.  The fact that our newborn child is currently in another state while his mother and I are not probably lends itself to some unfortunate foreshadowing.

At the onset of the pregnancy, Leah had severe morning sickness.  This was soon followed by high blood pressure.  This was our first clue that baby number 3 was going to be a boy.  Leah had high blood pressure with our first but nothing with our second.  The only difference . . . number one was a boy and number two was a girl.  Due to Leah’s age, which she is not embarrassed to share but I will be scared discreet, we were recommended from a regular OBGYN office to one that specialized in high risk pregnancies.

Our first sign of trouble with Samuel came around week 20 of the pregnancy.  All issues had been normal up to that point.  We had traveled this same road twice before, so all of the landmarks were familiar to us.  Leah made it through the morning sickness of the first month and the onset of fatigue starting about the tenth week.  During the twentieth week visit, we were given the news that our third was most certainly a boy!  We were also informed that Leah had a condition known as placenta previa.  There was also a small calcium deposit discovered in Samuel’s heart, which we were informed was a soft marker for Down’s syndrome (DS, henceforth).

As you can imagine, we left that doctor’s appointment stressed and uncertain about the future.  My wife’s first two pregnancies were not without their problems, but there was nothing on this level of shock and awe that so quickly deflated our sails and had us turning to God for answers.  We did feel the need, while in the doctor’s office, to make our intentions clear that no matter the risk of DS or any other complications that termination of pregnancy was NOT an option.

There will be some readers who will believe mentioning abortion in this context is not necessary; however, I believe our [my wife and I] personal experiences, including this last pregnancy argue otherwise.  Let me explain in a bit more detail.  My wife’s first two pregnancies were normal for all intents and purposes.  There were no major complications and no implications that there would be any problems with our children prior to birth or afterwards.  In each instance, we were advised by someone on staff of our options for abortion should anything be wrong with the life growing inside of Leah.  These special talks and options became so persistent during Leah’s second pregnancy that we finally had to tell the staffers that we did not wish to hear anymore about terminating the pregnancy under any circumstance.

With such trials during healthy pregnancies, the onslaught of reminders for termination or tests to insure a healthy baby was nearly deafening.   We were of course concerned about our child’s health and future, but none of these concerns were ever tempered with a thought of termination.  Doctors asked us to speak to a geneticist to determine our chances for a DS birth and even more options for termination or intervention.  We refused on the grounds that regardless of the chances for DS, abortion was never going to be an option we were going to choose.  Much to our chagrin, we were forced to meet with the geneticist anyway.  Leah’s chances for a DS birth were determined to be 1:175.

At this point and as an aside to the current post, I must admit that I have to fight off nausea when I think about the children that have been murdered because there was the slightest chance of DS or other genetic disorder.  How many have been murdered because they did not fit the world’s view of normal or better yet socially acceptable?

Anyway, after the twentieth week ultrasound and check up, we are scheduled for another ultrasound to check for the possibility of another condition known as placenta accreta.  This condition was much more serious and little did we know how it was going to shape the coming months of our lives.

I was recently seated in the foyer of a local business waiting for my wife.  I take it upon myself to attempt to do something constructive while I am waiting such as playing Angry Birds or resisting the urge to play Angry Birds.  On this particular day, playing won out over resisting, so I found myself seated in an inconspicuous corner of the foyer, out of the way and unnoticed by those around me.

Safely out of the way and ignored, I was free to mind my own business and play my game.  My ninja-like abilities to hide must be greater than I ever imagined because two workers soon began having a conversation near me.  I was startled at first, thinking one of them was talking to me.  It turns out the two employees were oblivious to my presence or worse yet, apathetic.

Once the usual pleasantries were out of the way, the workers began to discuss their jobs.  I have to stress at this point that I was not ease-dropping on these individuals.  I was merely sitting in close proximity to them as they had their conversation.  In truth, I was conflicted as to whether staying put or awkwardly slipping away was the right course of action.  I tried to tune them out.  It worked for the most part, but I did come away with a few impressions.

  • Both seemed to dislike their jobs
  • Both seemed to dislike their co-workers
  • Both seemed to question their supervisor’s motives and parentage

They spoke of much more, yet I was able to block it out and focus on my game.  To protect the innocent and the business in question, I will not disclose names.  The point of this post is not to bash the business or the workers.  I also feel the need to point out that I did not listen to this conversation in context, nor did I try to piece together a psycho-analysis for these two employees.  I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and overheard two disgruntled workers venting to one another.  Okay, I feel now that I have put in the right amount of disclaimers, on to the rest of the post!

My wife soon arrived and I forgot about the conversation as I spent time with my family.  It was not until we were traveling home that the day’s events came back to me.  It came back to me because my wife and I were having an “adult” conversation with one another in our mini-van (adult conversation is anything that does not involve a Disney or Nickelodeon character).  As we are having this discussion, my son chimes in with his four year old expert opinion on the matter.  Even though I had personally strapped him into a car seat and was well aware he and his sister were directly behind us in the van, I had forgotten they were there as I talked with my wife.

My initial thought was to review the conversation.  Did I say something bad?  Were we talking about a topic that was going to take me hours to explain at home?  My wife and I are so careful to shield our children from the wrong influences, and I’ll be the first to admit sometimes we may err too far to the side of caution.  But, we know that once that innocence and wonder of childhood is lost, there is not going back.  Did I just ruin years of protecting him with a thoughtless word?

Neither my wife nor I have a coarse tongue.  Though my childhood was steeped in profanities from adults and children alike, it is not a habit that fit in with my commitment to Christ, so after great growing pains in the grace of my Lord, I left it behind.  However, when it comes to the tongue, vulgarity is not the only issue.

Does my tone or humor offend and become a hindrance to the Gospel.  Am I overly critical of my wife, my children, or my congregation?  My humor tends to lean toward sarcasm and satire, but is it creating a barrier between me and those around me?

Former pastors and teachers have told me for years to guard my tongue.  I have even preached from my own pulpit on the benefit of guarding the tongue and the dangers of a loose tongue.  James is right on target when he says, “But the tongue no man can tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:8).  The Apostle Peter was also concerned about the tongue, urging believers, “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile” (1 Pet. 3:10).

As I thought about my words and searched the Bible for answers, I came across Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29).  The term corrupt means something that is putrid and of no use.  It carries with it the imagery of rotting fish or fruit.  For anyone that has had the displeasure of being assaulted with such odors, the meaning is clear.

So be mindful of what you say and how you say it.  Do not let your speech be reminiscent of rotting fish.  You never know when a portly shepherd with ninja-like abilities is hiding in a corner!

I lost faith in the human race many moons ago.  It was not a strong faith, but more akin to the faith of that “Christian” whom can only bring himself or herself to church on Easter and Christmas.  As such, I have stopped asking some questions about popular culture.  I no longer care when and where trends begin.  I have no desire to know who or what a “Snooki” is and even less desire to tweet or blog about it (or him or her).

It is not that I have no interest in American culture, particularly the culture in which I live.  The exact opposite is true.  I love culture and the nuances of customs from one age to another (I cite this previous post as an example).  However, I do not believe we can call the current trends “culture” per se.  The collective secular populace suffers from ADHD in regards to culture to such a degree that Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” quip is a gross over-estimation.  According to James, life is a vapor that is here for a short time and then vanishes (Jas. 4:14).  If that is true of life, what unit of measure can we apply to these modern day memes that disappear more rapidly than a wisp of smoke?

One of the newer memes is YOLO or “you only live once.”  Comedian Jack Black refers to it as, “Carpe Diem for stupid people.”  While I find Mr. Black’s comment funny, I think it is categorically wrong.  Carpe Diem (Lat. “Seize the Day”) gives the impression of productive ambition.  It has long been the motto of optimists that desire to live each moment to the fullest.

On the other hand, YOLO appears to be the maxim of recklessness and poor decision-making.  The equivalent to a redneck, “Hey ya’ll watch this” moment in which you have no idea what is about to happen, but you are sure it is going to end with a trip to the emergency room or county jail.  YOLO turns a mirror upon the current state of American “culture” and it is not a pretty reflection.

The only draw back is you have to empty the lint filter after every trip.

YOLO shows how quickly the youth of our age (and granted even adults who refuse to embrace maturity and personal responsibility) will latch onto a philosophical idea without investing one iota of thought to its application.  I fully expect such reckless behavior from the secular world (1 Cor. 2:11-12).  I stand in slack-jawed awe though when those who claim to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior adopt such drivel as a personal mantra.

The defense against me is plain, “It is just a harmless motto.  There is no reason to get so worked up about it.”  To hold such a position is to claim words are not important.  And, I just happen to disagree with that premise.  Words are important.  If words were not important, I would be out of a job as would a countless number of others who rely upon either the spoken word or written word for their livelihood.

While I do believe words are important, it is a matter of degree. Words lose their power when they are the tools of vitriolic media personalities with a side of delusional.

If words are not important, you have no reason to be upset the next time someone calls you a disrespectful name.  If words are not important, the next “I love you” spoken by your significant other is meaningless.  If words mean nothing, why have you read this far into a pointless rant?  But, the name-calling did hurt, that “I love you” melted your heart, and you are still reading because you believe what I believe—words are important!

Behind all words is an underlying philosophy.  At times, the philosophy is camouflaged by an emotional energy that blinds us to its true intent.  Other times, it is veiled under a superfluity of fanciful words and stylistic phrases that take our breath away, all the while shielding the idealistic under-pinning that gives it support.  YOLO is more the former, relying upon the emotional experience to cover up its poisonous intent.

I find YOLO offensive on two counts.  First, it is a blatant contradiction to the clear teachings of Scripture.  Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  Jesus opening statement to Nicodemus has already created a titanic sized hole in the good ship YOLO.  If Jesus is correct (and I’m confident He is), then you can live twice!  Second, YOLO is the outcome of society’s disregard for personal accountability.  The argument is that existence itself and the perceived singleness of this existence is the only rationale one needs to set aside conscience and good behavior.

With such logic, we can justify even the most heinous of crimes.  If YOLO is our only absolute, nothing is out of bounds.  For some YOLO is a means of justifying destructive behavior that is harmful to self and others.  I suspect for the majority of people it is a process of dealing with the guilt that often comes with doing something wrong.  By saying YOLO, they are slipping into the cultural stream of complacency and the false “everyone else is doing it” mentality.

I cannot say with any certainty that as much thought went into YOLO as I have put into its deconstruction today.  However, that is the key issue with personal philosophy, especially among the general populace.  Personal philosophy has a way of digging its way to the surface without any coaxing.  We may be oblivious to our world view, having given little thought to it, yet to our thoughtful observers, it is a beam in our eye (Luke 6:42).

So how do we move away from such a destructive philosophy?  The key issue is source material.  What are we using as the basis for our beliefs?  If one thinks man is the measure of all things, this humanistic thinking will be the framework for all areas of life.  If Scripture is the guidebook of life it will mold the believer into an image that is an embodiment of its principles and practice—e.g. Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29).  So, while you may shout YOLO from the roof tops, which is your human right.  I pray and hope it is not true of you.  Whereas it is true YOLO outside of Jesus Christ, I can assure you on the testimony of God’s Word, You Can Die Twice (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8).