Category Archives: Churches

Comments and questions about the church from God’s perspective, the perspective of our culture and my own experience over the past 53 years.


“A man’s gotta know his limitations” says Harry Callahan.  The admonition makes sense  as one crosses the fine line between competence to incompetence.  Dirty Harry remarks frequently about the incompetence he sees in his superiors making for some great one-liners.

Sometimes people are advanced up the ladder of success only to find that their previous, stellar performance has little to do with the challenges they face in their new role.  Known as the Peter Principle, they fail because sufficient consideration was not given to whether or not they were indeed competent for the demands of the advanced position.

Similarly, the Icarus Syndrome describes the super-competent person who exceeds expectations at every level and knows it, exhibiting a confidence, self-assurance and hubris that borders on narcissism.   These people advance quickly without the necessary emotional and psychological discipline that empowers them to endure the stresses that come with added responsibilities.  Like Icarus who fell to his death because he flew too closely to the sun, their failures can be cataclysmic.

Through education, life-experience, training and discipline it is so important to develop a wisdom that is able to examine one’s self, to discern between good and bad counsel and to keep praise and criticism in perspective.  Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People offers a great model for proceeding through life with these reality checks based upon one’s values.  A man does need to know his limitations but he must test them and, in many cases, exceed them.



At the other end of the spectrum is the motivational challenge to “Reach for the stars”.  My inspiration for this article came when I happened to catch a recent commercial for a lumber store!

I loved the ingenuity of their presentation, taking a job that might be perceived as common, every-day work and catapulting it to a level of second-string astronaut that inspires, challenges and celebrates the value of the individual…the kind of person we’re looking for in our company.  Great commercial!


Navigating through life requires the kinds of skills that are able to deal with limitations both from without one’s self as well as within.  At other times opportunities arise that allow us to exceed limitations.  Sometimes the most limiting of all limitations are those we create for ourselves; i.e., those little voices within that tell us we’re not good enough, not smart enough or not gifted enough.

The truth is that this inner battle is the locus for the power of the Gospel found in the first and second Beatitudes that form the basis for most recovery programs.  In the face of a “Higher Power” who knows no limitations outside of the human heart we are immediately confronted by our own incompetence to save ourselves.  The ultimate cosmic paradox rests in this observation by the apostle Paul:  “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent….” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).


For most of us a bucket is defined pragmatically as “a typically cylindrical vessel for catching, holding, or carrying liquids or solids”. Perhaps coupled with the colloquial expression “kick the bucket” to describe death, the idea of a “bucket list” to describe a pail full of tasks one wishes to accomplish before dying was popularized by the 2007 movie: “The Bucket List.

This unique list of specific accomplishments that an individual hopes to experience or accomplish before they can no longer do them is probably a product of a free society.  Individuals who struggle to meet their daily needs probably don’t dwell much upon what they want to do before they die.  The priority is making it through each day and waking up the next morning.

When we are young and optimistic about the future we don’t really think much about what we want to do before we die.  So, the entire project holds little interest because we have the whole world ahead of ourselves.  However, in time, our bucket lists can be quite extensive.  Travel to distant lands, financial accomplishments, personal goals and dreams all materialize on this list that has the potential to become ever expanding and inclusive.  At this stage of life our ‘bucket list’ has a tendency to grow as we experience more of
life and appreciate the world around us and within ourselves.

However, in my own observations of human behavior over the years I’ve begun to notice an interesting thing about bucket lists: the bucket seems to get smaller as we grow older.

For some, this may mean that they were able to accomplish most of the things on their lists during their lifetime, meaning there are fewer remaining things for them to keep on this list.  They have stopped adding to the list and, perhaps, establish a final goal of accomplishing everything that remains.

For others, it means that their desires for accomplishment begin to wane as they lose interest in the dreams and ambitions of their younger days.  In fact, it would seem that this list is more easily misplaced or even forgotten as we age.

In one sense this can be very sad.  At one extreme we can imagine someone whose life has become devoted to accomplishing everything on their list.  Once the list is finished, the next logical question is: “Now what?”  At the extreme we can imagine someone finding that their purpose in life has now ceased to exist.  I don’t think there are many people in this category…or, could I be wrong?

The writer of Ecclesiastes–most commonly believed to be King Solomon in his final days–had lived life to the max to experience everything “under the sun” and to uncover the secret to happiness and contentment (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18).   His conclusion?

What a tragedy!  To have lived life to the fullest, experiencing everything the world has to offer only to conclude it was a waste of time, like a crazy man in a field chasing after the wind.  Of course the Byrds version of the popular 1955 Pete Seeger song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” capitalized on this theme based upon Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  I’ve often wondered if people understood the context within which these words were written more than 3,000 years ago.


In the end, it seems to me that bucket lists are useful when they point towards something greater than one’s self.  As we age we begin to appreciate our finite nature. We also begin to realize that the author of Ecclesiastes actually had it right for life lived “under the sun” without a view of what lies beyond.  Having eternity planted in one’s heart is more a source of despair than encouragement leading to a type of epicureanism or existentialistic way of viewing life.

As I, myself, age and begin the process of attending more funerals than weddings I have also had the humble experience of observing my own parents as they have aged.  In fact, mom and I talked about buckets recently and how they seem to get smaller as fewer things of this world capture the imagination.  What is happening is that those things of this world are being replaced by a longing to be where my father is, in heaven, looking into the face of God as He wipes the tears away (Revelation 21:4): the ultimate bucket list for which there is great worth in living and in dying!



Clergy Sexual Abuse

Clergy sexual abuse should be a title that betrays an obvious oxymoron.  Too often it is not.  As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who is presently serving a small congregation as their Lead Minister, I know that two things are true.

First, the way clergy has been viewed in the past–sometimes just this side of sainthood–makes it vulnerable for attracting people who lust for adoring people who give them–what they perceive as–command, power and control.  Second, traits of predators lure them towards the clergy because of the perceived adoration of people and command, power and control that is often associated with their calling and profession.  These traits are described in a recent article entitled, “5 Indicators of an Evil and Wicked Heart”.  Listed briefly, they are:

1. Evil hearts are experts at creating confusion and contention.

2. Evil hearts are experts at fooling others with their smooth speech and flattering words.

3. Evil hearts crave and demand control, and their highest authority is their own self-reference.

4. Evil hearts play on the sympathies of good-willed people, often trumping the grace card.

5. Evil hearts have no conscience, no remorse.

If you just read this list and all of a sudden faces, names or situations shocked back into your memory may I suggest that you find a reliable confidant to whom you voice your sudden awareness. Particularly if they are among professionals in law enforcement, social work or the counseling field, they can advise you about whether or not to take action on your sudden hints or insights.  You will also find helpful resources and links at the website for The Hope of Survivors and on their Facebook Page.

As a witness to the poison that clergy can inject into the body of Christ and trusting families because of their behavior coupled with churches that fail to address the predator decisively, this is one of those absolute zero tolerance matters.  The priorities?  First, protecting the victims and recognizing the damage that has been done so that the balm of Gilead can begin to bring about healing and growth.  Be aware, this can take a very long time.  Second, removing the predator from anything and everything related to the victim and his/her family while striving to see that help is administered.  Be  aware that the best potential for healing and reduced recidivism may include criminal prosecution and imprisonment.

This is one of those situations where the decisive action of a congregation to suspected clergy sexual abuse may speak more about God’s grace and forgiveness than expected.  Conversely, how tragic for God’s people to suffer prosecution for not having taken the threat of clergy sexual abuse more seriously.

Building a House & Home

FoundationBuilding a house that will last is based upon unyielding structural requirements that begin with the foundation.  In a similar way, a happy home depends upon certain unyielding structural requirements, anchored upon a foundation of unconditional love, clear boundaries with freedom to explore and solid principles that will stand the test of time.

In Psalm 127:1 Solomon, the wisest man the world has ever known, said, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.”

What a profound assertion! “Hey you! Go ahead and build it by guessing about tried and true principles.  You can even set guards around it. You know you’re wasting your time; i.e., wrong architect. When the storms come, it will fall; then what are you going to do?

In this day of secular relativism, this is how many do life, making it up along the way.  There are no absolutes and few guidelines besides ‘what works’ for you or me.  Absolute values don’t exist…except the rule that absolute values don’t exist.  In this world view, longstanding values and principles that govern human behavior are given the same weight as personal preferences.

Solomon makes it clear: if the Lord is not in the middle of your construction project you are just rearranging chairs on the Titanic during its maiden voyage.  There is a God and He has set in place certain rules to guide His creation, sustaining nature and benefiting the lives of people.

There are two things I often find myself doing that makes this passage hit me square between the eyes. First, I go ahead and build without consulting on the Lord and waiting for His answer. Second, after I’ve built it I remember that I should have consulted with Him beforehand…but now it’s too late ’cause I’ve already messed it up. Now I ask the Lord to bless what I’ve already finished.

What a God I serve! Even when I insult Him by choosing to ‘go it alone’ He still chooses to bless me. In both cases His promise is clear: “Steve, trust Me, I can still take your messes and bring good out of them” (Romans 8:28). “How?” I ask. Then I read verses 29-30 and I remember that He already knew I would do those things before time began. So, He sent His Son to reconcile, sanctify and justify me before I even knew to ask for His help.

Wow! What a God!

Healing Despair

despairPsalm 88 is one of those unique psalms that leave the reader hanging.  At the outset is the proclamation: “Lord, you are the God who saves me;” but, it quickly bores down into the pit of despair.  I would suggest that it is when the reason for despair is assessed, that is when healing can begin.

This is one of those psalms where you keep waiting for the u-turn where the author realizes that his words are getting dark and kind-of scary so he quickly remembers the Lord’s faithfulness and ends on a positive note.

Not so with this psalm. This one does not come up for air or let up in its descent. Note the final words: “darkness is my closest friend.”  It is not one that we would find in a hymnal or in our worship service: “Turn in your hymnals to Psalm 88.” I don’t think so!

So, what is the purpose of such a psalm?

My takeaway is that this psalm recognizes that we sometimes face situations in life that are truly without remedy, that press our coping skills beyond their limits and that defy solutions.  It is at times like this that we need to assess the extent of the damage and the harm that has been done.  It is a time when we evaluate our own role in the circumstances and face them head-on.  Our own emotional reactions–and the reactions of those around us–also need to be confronted and appreciated.

It is a time to face the truths of life without platitudes, flippant analyses or dream-world denial.

As a coping skill, denial is an important tool for buffering us from the harshness of sudden calamity or devastating, sudden loss.  But, at some time, the stark reality must be confronted and processed as our coping skills and our core beliefs and principles are tested and preparing for the arduous road ahead.

Friends and family often feel uncomfortable with those realities as well and they empathize enough to know that they wish to make the suffering get better or go away.  So, simple platitudes such as “it will all work out” and “look on the bright side” are almost hurtful, in spite of the best of intentions.  It is at times like this that people feel the need to offer unsolicited advice or counter-intuitive remedies that worked for their uncle or that they read about in the latest tabloid.

There comes a time, however, when you simply have to call a trusted friend to let them know to check in on you at the end of the day.  It is a time to deal with the reality.  So, you lock the door, turn off the phone, pull the shades, call in sick and bury your face in a pillow, screaming at the top of your lungs or punching the daylights out of a punching bag.

It is a time when we are vulnerable to old vices that may seem to offer temporary relief, but, in the end they just delay and prolong the agony.

It can be a dangerous time when we just feel like giving up…

…but, it is an important time.

That’s when passages like Psalm 88 are important.  Passages like this give us permission to grieve, to mourn and to complain about our circumstances.  They open the door to an honest dialogue with God about our pain; He’s big enough to take it.  The book of Lamentations is another helpful tool as the prophet Jeremiah weeps over the devastation of the glorious city of Jerusalem.  Chapter 3 is especially helpful.

Then there are passages like Psalm 22 and its obvious connection to the crucifixion and the sense of betrayal, abject humiliation, suffering and emotional pain.  With these passages we realize that, indeed, we are not alone.

The truth is that in our culture of pills for pain, marketing gimics that offer miracle cures for every ache, and la-la-land advice for complex, intractable, chronic problems, there are not many places for the lament and sorrow that comes with suffering.  So many are forced to heal alone, realizing that no one around them truly understands while others wonder when they are going to “move on” and “get over it.”

How many times these occasions in life truly communicate to us who our real friends are….  When Job faced the ultimate in calamities JobsFriendsin a short period of time, his three friends joined him in the book of Job, chapter 2:11-13:

11 When Job’s three friends…heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Seven days of compassionate silence is almost impossible today in our hurried culture of simple solutions to complex problems.  But, I would maintain, Jobs friends did their best work when they joined him in his suffering and resisted the normal temptations to help.  It was when they opened their mouths to fix him that God, Himself, judges their actions and acknowledges Job’s example.  Had they allowed Job’s lament to stand on its own in chapter three, joining him in his anguish and sorrow, perhaps they could have actually been helpful.  In chapter four, however, based upon their assumption that God does not allow bad things to happen to good people, they begin to answer the “Why?” question by assuming that Job must have done something terribly wrong.  How else could such calamity happen to this man?

The truth is that there is no perfect life insurance plan that can rule out the horrible things that can happen to people, good or bad.  In other words, while faith in God does promise a better life, it is not a guarantee  for a trouble-free life.  There are times when ‘better’ has to be understood in the midst of great tragedy and suffering and the challenge to juxtapose those realities together is where faith becomes real.

Climbing the Mount

Mount of Olives Cemetary

The Mount of Olives has always been a special place in the area around Jerusalem.  It is mentioned only twice in the Old Testament; once in an enigmatic passage in Zechariah 14:4 that is beyond the scope of my article.

But the other time hit me right between the eyes.  Indeed, the only other time the Mount of Olives appears in the Old Testament is in 2 Samuel 15:30:

But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot.

After a series of bad choices on David’s part the king was overwhelmed by a sense of resignation and defeat.  He had became detached and distant from his family at a great cost.  The end result at the time of this passage is when his beloved son, Absalom, usurped his father’s kingdom and declared himself king.

Rather than resist his son, David finds himself moving out of Jerusalem in exile, taking along his clan of followers with him, weeping all along the way.  It is in that setting that we find David…head covered…barefoot…walking up to the Mount of Olives…weeping.

The king David, weeps over the sin of his beloved child and walks to the mount, broken-hearted.

Fast forward about 1,000 years and we return to the frequent meeting place of our Lord, the Mount of Olives, mentioned more than ten times in the gospels.  We’ll focus primarily upon Matthew’s account.

In Matthew 21:1, Jesus sends His disciples from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem to prepare the way for his entry into the city on a donkey, proclaimed by the crowds to be “The Son of David.”

Praise God! Hosanna! The King Has Come!

In Matthew 24:3 Jesus is on the Mount of Olives instructing His disciples about the events that are to come.  These observations include the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Roman armies of Titus in 70 AD and His second coming that will happen on a day that only the Father knows.

Judgment Day.  The King will come again.

Finally, we find Jesus at the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30ff) immediately following His final supper with his disciples before His betrayal and crucifixion.  Three times he appeals to His Father to take the cup of suffering away that He is about to drink.  Falling, face-down into the dust, the Son takes on the mantle of our sin as His Father assures Him that this is His will; this is the only way.

On the Mount of Olives The King weeps over the weight of our sin before His Father who will leave Him to face death alone in His darkest hour (Matthew 27:45-46)…much like David who, when he is informed of the death of his son, Absalom, cries out:

“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33).

Perhaps it is not too remarkable that within sight of the crest of the Mount of Olives is the city of Jerusalem.  When Abraham walked the earth it is believed to be the place where he would guide His son in obedience to a God who dared to ask him to sacrifice his son of promise, Isaac (Genesis 22).

There is something special about the Mount of Olives….

Panorama of Jerusalem


Ministers, Ministry and Marriage & Family Therapy

MC910216396I just read an article in Christianity Today entitled “Is Ministry Killing Your Marriage?” which, naturally, gave me an opportunity to reflect on my 30 years of ministry.  This is a topic that Pamela and I have discussed many times over the years.  Perhaps the most intense of those discussions occurred at the start of our marriage.  Consumed by graduate school, excited about following God’s call into ministry and newly married it would be an understatement to say that I was challenged by these competing agendas.  Over the years, with each move to a new ministry and the births of each of our two girls the time management discussions would resurface and intensify as we struggled to maintain balance through the transitions.

In many ways families endure many of the same pressures in the world outside of ministry.  Marriage and family are among multiple elements involved in the average family life cycle that are often sacrificed on the altar of our careers and other competing agenda items.  These are all common to the life of the minister as well.  Nothing really new there.

What makes ministry unique is that the calling isn’t from an employer, corporation or trusted friend; the minister functions on the belief that he has been called by God Himself.  Becoming preoccupied with a desire to fulfill God’s vision for him in ministry to the church in which he has been called is a real temptation.  Coupled with this is the competing agendas that swirl around him.  The minister must find his center quickly so that the tyranny of the urgent at church does not crowd out the important things in life.  On call 24/7 to the needs of any one member of a congregation can be a difficult thing to manage at times of full schedules and competing demands.

Realizing that one’s marriage and family are included in God’s vision in ministry to the church often takes time for seasoning to keep the important things front-and-center while delegating many of the urgent matters to others.  It means  adjusting by trial-and-error experimentation and constant communication with the important people of one’s family life.   It’s a process of seasoning, much like putting together and taste testing a complicated recipe for an extravagant dish.

While my ‘church’ ministry calling has taken a more auxiliary role I am now  fully engaged in my private practice as a licensed marriage and family therapist.  My primary ministry calling now is helping others deal with the setbacks that occur in marriage and family life in today’s world.  My hope is that some of the lessons I have learned over time coupled with my training and experience can be useful for helping others navigate many of the same challenges more successfully than I may have done.

Angel FINAL Hi Res

Southshore Counseling, LLC. Helping people manage transitions, overcome obstacles and reach their potentialities.



Psalm 63:7 – “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.”

One of the things I have always loved is the comforter.  It’s like a giant flat feather pillow with a huge  pillowcase enveloping it with buttons at one end to keep it from slipping out.  When you make the bed there is no need for sheets because they are wrapped around your comforter which is a real benefit to those who dislike making beds!  But the real advantage is when you crawl into the bed pulling the comforter up under your chin and the down inside the comforter begins to insulate from the cold and trap the heat of your body.

I wonder if that is what a chick feels when it nestles under the wing of its mother….

….this passage reminded me of Luke 13:34. As a kid I can remember watching mother hens gathering their chicks beneath their wings. How they would run to scootch in for the warmest spot closest to her body, huddling and chirping madly. Eventually the chirping would become quieter as they would settle under her wings safe…content…warm…. What a perfect image: a confidence and comfort that causes me to want to sing softly, aware that I am covered by my Help, the God of the universe, Who ruffles His feathers, opens the span of his pinions and calls me…as I run…into the shadow of His wing.

There is something about the Psalmist’s logic here that is important to me as well.  There are many things we can ‘hide’ underneath.  All of them have limitations. Buildings collapse in earthquakes or are swept away in floods.  Trees attract bolts of lightening.  Cars crash.  People die.

The whole point is that those who depend upon the Lord for their help have huddled under wings that transcend the greatest of calamities, shelter us during the worst of events and carry us through the greatest of tragedies.  Because of this, during the tough times we don’t huddle under His wings, shuddering in fear. For those whose hope is in the Lord…

…they sing.



Psalms 51 is David’s prayer after Nathan’s announcement of God’s judgement upon him for the cluster of offenses David committed in his one-night stand with Bathsheba.  One of the things that endears this psalm is its brutal honesty.  Convicted of his sin, David cries out to God in his shame and embarrassment realizing that there is no way to turn back the clock and undo the damage he has done.

For at least 9 months David had wrestled with his guilt, hoping no one would bring up his errors in judgement (2 Samuel 11).  Then came the moment of confrontation where Nathan artfully tells a story that serves as a metaphor for the heinous nature of David’s sin (2 Samuel 12).  At the point of confrontation David had at least two choices to make.  Option one would be to deflect responsibility, blame someone else, minimize the offense and pretend it wasn’t as bad as Nathan had assumed.

Lance Armstrong is a most recent popular public example of someone who refused to accept responsibility–until he was caught–while blaming others, minimizing the offense and claiming that everyone else was doing it.  From the double-speak of government officials who ‘accept full responsibility’ while they deny having played any significant role to the playgrounds where children learn to deflect and deny early in life, it is human nature to want to avoid the painful consequences of one’s behavior.

It is the second option that we long to hear from the offender but is rarely chosen: a penitent, broken heart, an humble attitude and full acceptance of responsibility with an honest attempt at restitution for damages.  This was the option chosen by David, a man after God’s own heart, when he cries out before God and Nathan: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:12).

In this Psalm, note the locus of activity: have mercy on me…blot out my transgressions…wash away my iniquity…cleanse me from my sin…cleanse me…wash me…let me hear joy and gladness…hide your face from my sins…blot out all my iniquity…create in me a pure heart…renew a steadfast spirit within me…restore to me the joy…grant me a willing spirit.

It is only when David declares his total, complete dependence upon God’s action in verses 1-12 that he is able to talk about his own activity in verses 13-17: I will teach…my tongue will sing…my mouth will declare. Then, he offers what he has to God: a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart.

One of the most powerful presentations I have heard on this psalm is by Voddie Baucham on the topic of Brokenness.

Click HERE for the entire 6-part series on YouTube.

From the public relations perspective of damage control it is refreshing to see government officials and corporate representatives accept responsibility for mistakes.  Obviously, at least part of the reason for refusing this option has to do with the threat of liability lawsuits and criminal prosecution.  On the personal level, however, an effort at ‘coming clean’ and accepting the consequences of wrong choices can go a long way towards opening the door to forgiveness, reconciliation and growth.

Stillness & Perspective on Life


Psalms 46:10-11 – “He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

These are not tentative assertions of a timid and weak God who stands on the sidelines with folded arms. These are the declarations of a mighty, powerful, Sovereign Lord who, even now, is working out His will in His creation for His purposes. Standing outside of time and space (since He created them!) His timing is perfect and His power is absolute. Lord, be glorified in all of the earth! Amen.

Isaiah 40:15 describes God’s rule over the nations of the earth with expressions like ‘drops in a bucket’ and ‘dust on the scales.’  What kind of God is this that governs the fates of the nations with the same energy as when he blows the dust off of the scales of judgement?

One of the contrasts that still leaves me dumbfounded after reading a passage like this is the image of Christ washing the disciple’s feet in John 13.  In verses 3-5 John writes the following analysis: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power,and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

What kind of God is this that blows the dust of nations from the scales yet stoops to wash the dirty feet of men?  Who could imagine such a thing?

These are thoughts worthy of being still to consider in the quiet moments of the day.