Latest Article: Cigarette Smoke Evangelism

My latest article is now featured at The Veritas Network:

“You are either a missionary or an imposter” – Charles Spurgeon I most distinctly remember the smell of cigarettes. I smelled it on the older man I met in the nursing home. A whiff from the neighbor lady who yelled a lot. That section of the restaurant we avoided. And John-John. I met John-John the day our moving truck pulled up to our tiny mustard yellow house on the dead-end road a few hundred yards from Chesapeake Bay. You could always smell the brackish water full of blue crabs, just waiting to be drenched in some Old Bay seasoning. In the distance, the ghosts of the eastern shore rose slightly above the waterline. It was another sticky summer day. But our new window air conditioner made my nose tingle when I pressed my face up against the vents. Life was good. Word had spread rapidly among the local collection of children that a new family was unloading their earthly belongings. The little girls with blonde pigtails from next door ran over to see the new family with three brown-headed boys. A metal gate conveniently connected our back yards. The two boys with jet-black hair across the street grabbed their yo-yos, jumped on their new bikes and pulled up to our white picket fence and stared awkwardly, waiting for an invitation to test out our massive back yard, at least for six-year-old eyes. Somehow John-John made his way to our house that day too. I’ll never forget him. He snorted in some snot, and told me his dad sold candy and ice cream, if I ever wanted some. John-John smelled like cigarettes.

Read the rest here.

All Together Now: A Reformed Baptist and Pentecostal Anglican Talk Church Unity

by Tim Sweetman & David Ketter Note from Tim: Dear readers and friends. Do not be alarmed. I hope, in the following few hundred words, to maintain my standing as completely orthodox, as thoroughly baptist, and totally biblical. My dear friend David Ketter and I began a lively conversation that sparked this collaboration effort, and I am pleased with the result. It is not something radically new. It’s not even something I would call our best work. But I think it’s something we needed to say, together. And so we offer our small voices into the larger conversation of unity – a unity we hope is not founded upon a disdain for differences or good theology, but a deep love for one another rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So what’s one thing Michael Vick and some Christians have in common? Hopefully, it isn’t illegal activities and abusive forms of entertainment. But in some ways, dogfighting is what many churches are training and egging their members into. Because as much as we all claim to believe in one united, invisible Church, we lay claim much more vigorously to the title “Holder of the Most Pure Truth™” for our own church tradition. We try to convert Wesleyans into Calvinists. We’ll fight to convince those who baptize infants into doing believers baptism exclusively. We never fight so hard, or get attacked so viciously, as when we Christians start talking about our distinctives in the Church. It’s our “small differences” that inspire the raging cage-matches between Christians all over the internet, around Christian colleges and seminaries, and within Christian families. And what we have learned is…we really shouldn’t have our dogs in these fights. There’s a lot of burned of people out there. I (Tim) don’t mean they’re physically distorted. It’s their hearts. They’re bruised and ripped apart. I was graciously spared this burning, but recently I’ve stepped outside and have seen these people cowering in the dark corners, weeping as they attempt to nurse their wounds. There is not much to say to them as they glare with beady black eyes at my clean clothes and untouched heart. These are those who have been attacked by the dogs. Those who spit out the tainted and poisonous forms of Christianity rearing their ugly heads in our society. and sadly, some of our churches. You know the type: the vitriolic and angry. The hateful and hurtful. The ones who take the injured and instead of offering grace, condemn them to die. Even so, we believe Christianity is entering an exciting time. A quick glance around us and we can find many major Christian denominations and organizations rallying around the central and ancient tenets of our faith. We can sit across the table from our Presbyterian brother and rejoice with him about the success of his ministry. We’re moving away from nastiness and arrogance that we’ve noticed. It also means we hate a few things. We hate the narcissism of small differences. It is a bitter irony: those we are closest with we beat up the most. Brothers tend to battle most intensely (just ask our brothers). Thankfully, we continue to be friends. But those around us, if we had said some things we regretted in front of them, might miss that fact. It may be that we have had some dogfights when we just needed to have dinner. Neither we nor our churches have a monopoly on biblical Truth. But fortunately for us, we have an amazing promise from Jesus. In one of his last words of encouragement at the Last Supper, Jesus says to the disciples (and to us): “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). That promise was made to Jesus’ people gathered together. It’s a grand promise. It means we can have a certainty that God reveals Truth to the whole Church. The Truth in its fullness isn’t simply a system of theology, but the Person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6). The fullness of Christ is revealed in the world in the totality of the Church in all places and at all times. By extension, the fullness of Christ can’t be contained in our Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican, Pentecostal niches, among others. If we want the fullness of Christ, we need the whole Church. So what do we do? Find a Least-Common-Denominator statement of faith? Have a Christianity that’s skin and bones, with no substance,, because we’ve kept it to what we all agree on? By no means. There’s a reason the early Church passed on the creeds. Professing the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds is not about having a least-common-denominator Christianity. It’s “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” It’s the proclamation of the whole counsel of God in summary. When we profess the Creed together, we aren’t saying “Well, at least we agree on a few important things.” Instead, we show that we have a rule of faith by which we believe and stand and that rule of faith is built on the Scriptures and confirmed by the Spirit. What we affirm in the creed is the Faith. Everything else is our traditions’ interpretation of it. Our denominations together with all our differences keep us balanced and in check. It means that we are ready to unite with my brothers and sisters in Christ because of the ancient gospel of Christ as we fight against moral relativism, idolatry, politicization of Christianity, and other attacks on the Church. More than ever, we need the Church to unite together to stand strong in an increasingly secularized culture that is pressuring us to cave to cultural norms. Sisters, brothers, fathers, and mothers in the faith: we’re inseparable. All who have been confronted by the crucified and risen Lord Jesus,, repenting of their sins have been marked and sealed by the Holy Spirit. That Spirit gives us the common cry “Abba, Father!” We share in one baptism. We share in one faith, delivered to us by the Lord Jesus. We share in one communion feast, gratefully remembering and participating in the death of our Lord until He comes back. We lift up the Name of Jesus as one body for a broken world that desperately needs His visible presence. So, let’s put a leash on the dog and instead release the freedom revealed in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and return soon. It’s time for some dinner.

Latest Article: No Little Cross

My latest article is on The Veritas Network this morning.

My eyes were burning as the salty sweat dripped off my forehead. I took a bite of my chewy energy bar, then crumpled and stuffed the aluminum packaging deep into my backpack. I rummaged around for my water bottle, my arm brushing against the harsh canvas. Finally my fingers touched the warm plastic. I jerked it free and brought it to my mouth. I took a deep, warm gulp. It eased my throat that was burning from the pungent smells wafting all around me. Dusty fields randomly spattered with green plants surrounded the brown and broken dirt road I walked on. I stepped off into a ditch to allow a camel-drawn cart full of colorfully clothed men and women pass. My feet were starting to ache. It had a been a long morning already. The hotel shower had been cold and my breakfast had been a few handfuls of cheap, dry cereal I had bought at a cluttered bazaar the evening before. A friend and I had met and greeted our translator early in the humid morning, crammed ourselves into a smelly green and yellow auto rickshaw, then pattered off to the bus stop. Once we arrived, the three of us climbed into a dilapidated old bus full of staring people and took off. I wondered why they stared. We quickly realized why. It was like driving in a war zone. I still have no idea how people could sleep on a bus that creaked, groaned, and roared louder with every kilometer we traveled. Every time we hit a pothole, the sound was deafening. But we made it. Finally. We were now walking about 10 kilometers to a remote village in Northern India, a village where I would start to fully realize something that would radically change my life forever.

Read the rest on the Veritas Network.

Latest Article: Dear Jason

My latest article is up at the Veritas Network, a fantastic resource that I’m humbled to have written for:
Dear Jason… March 26, 2012— I was walking by the bridge the other night. Actually, I got engaged there just a few months ago. My fiancée sat on the same bench and looked out over the dark river and the city beyond – and I couldn’t help but think about you Jason and that terrible night. For me, it was dark and a perfect night for a walk. I guess you and your fiancée and friend though the same. It’s what 20 year olds do. That train bridge would have given you a spectacular and stunning view of the city, for sure. Little did you know that this evening stroll would change my life. I’ll be honest Jason, I haven’t quite been the same person since that night. When I saw Ginny running on the bridge, I didn’t know what I was seeing. I’d never seen a human being on a massive train bridge. The dam below was empty that night, so it was quieter than usual – but when I heard her weeping, I knew something was wrong.

Read the rest here.

New Article: Faithful to the End

My latest article from Boundless is now online:
Sitting across the table from my 96-year-old great-grandmother is always a joy. It doesn’t take long to realize she was once a fiery redhead, even beneath the faded beauty. She smiles wide when I tell her that I’ve decided to be a pastor. I smile back. See, my great-grandma grew up in a small town in Illinois, went to Bible school and married a pastor. She and my great-grandfather served in churches from Mississippi to Maryland. Her stories range from the hilarious to the somber and depressing. I took a sip of my tea as she told me another funny story with that twinkle in her eye. When she finished her story, I couldn’t help but ask her about the hard times. Her face darkened as the months and years of difficulty and sorrow flashed through her mind. Their house had burned after a church service. I could imagine my great-grandmother being dragged away from the wreckage as she watched through tears all that she owned burn to the ground. “But you know what, Tim? It couldn’t have been better for us,” she told me. “We kept serving, and that tragedy brought us closer to the community. We ended up in an even better house.” Hardly anyone knows my great-grandmother. She does not command attention when she enters a room. She is frail and forgetful. But I wouldn’t dare for a moment say that this woman was not used by the Lord in incredible ways. She stands as a spiritual giant in my mind, despite her lacking résumé and speaking schedule. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:27 that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before him.”

Read the rest here.

Latest Article: To Shoot An Elephant

My latest article on the Lies Young Women Believe Blog:
“Let me not forget the heinousness of sin lies not so much in the nature of the sin committed, as in the greatness of the Person sinned against.” —Puritan prayer George Orwell wrote an incredible story of a man who was faced with a major moral dilemma—to kill an elephant or not. “To Shoot an Elephant” was first published in the literary magazine New Writing in the autumn of 1936. The story doesn’t sound quite that drastic or horrible a situation, but this foreign policeman struggles with the task placed upon him. He knows he shouldn’t do it. He can’t do it. But the elephant is destroying the market of this foreign country that hates the policeman, yet he is tasked to be in. These people are ones who do everything they can to humiliate him. And now he has been given a task by his superiors, who he does not agree with. Orders to shoot the elephant. Everyone expects him to do it. One of the most telling parts comes when he says: “And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.” So there he stood, rifle in hand, sights set on the elephant he knew he should not shoot.

Read the rest here.

Latest Article: Living With Teenagers

My latest article is in Lifeway’s Living With Teenagers Magazine (the Using Purpose to Motivate Your Teens article):
Living with Teenagers is a monthly magazine written by parents for parents and is devoted to helping them develop a growing relationship with their teens that guides them toward responsible Christian adulthood. Each issue focuses on answers to real-life questions from a Christian perspective and strives to offer parents the kind of solid information and practical advice that encourages and equips them to fulfill their biblical role as the primary spiritual developers of their children. Features:
  • Information on youth trends
  • Parenting issues including single parent concerns and blended family challenges
  • Responses from experts to questions from readers
  • Health and wellness column that focuses on ways parents can keep their families fit
  • You can buy it here.

    How To Serve Your Church Staff

    Whether you find yourself in a big church or a small church, Sunday mornings are hectic for every staff member. It is an important day, and they have important tasks to complete on this special day in order to serve you and help you worship. We too want to serve and bless them, particularly on this day – and here’s a few ways we can all do this. 1. Pray Our staff needs our prayers each and every day. They spend hours upon hours laboring on things beyond the worship service. Counseling, calling, planning, and visiting are just a few of the tasks that the staff has the pleasure of doing. But these things require those long hours of hard labor both physically and spiritually. The devil is always lurking and trying to bring them down. It is easy to be discouraged. We must lift them up in our prayers, particularly on Sunday mornings as they fulfill a great number of important tasks, and it is easy to get distracted. Pray for wisdom, for encouragement, and for them to continue to preach and sing the gospel. 2. Perceive and Discern When Best to Have A Long Conversation We all love talking with our staff. And they want to talk to us as well. But if it’s not an emergency on Sunday morning, we may want to wait on the longer conversation that we need to have with them for another day. We can bless and serve them by calling later. This will help them stay focused on the many tasks that they have on Sunday morning and be able to help everyone worship. Worship on Sunday mornings requires intense preparation spiritually, mentally, and relationally. We have an opportunity to serve them in a great way by not taking them off their course Sunday morning. 3. Put It In Writing We all can get lost in the busyness, including staff members. If we mention something to a staff member on a Sunday morning, we can help them remember by putting it in writing. We can jot down a note and hand it to them on Sunday morning, use of the tear-off portion of the bulletin to give information, or jump on our computers and fire an email reminding them of what we said. The staff will be able to more effectively serve us if we put it in writing so they can be reminded the next day. 4. Be Pro-Active in setting up meetings Sunday is a great day to see the staff and connect. Although staff is busy on Sunday because of the many tasks they have to complete, the rest of the week is perfect for getting together for longer conversations. We should be pro-active in setting up those meetings. Sunday mornings are a difficult time for the staff to set up meeting times in the midst of their important tasks in worship. We you can help, bless, and serve them by calling Monday morning and setting up that conversation we’ve been needing to have. The staff wants to serve us in the best way possible, and not to simply give us half their time on Sunday morning. 5. Punctuality: Be on time. We all know it’s tough getting to church on time. But we have our kids in school on time and arrive at work on time (well, we should!). In other words, we all know it’s not impossible. To minimize distractions during worship, we should do our best to arrive on time. This will bless not only the staff, but all of us as well. Worship is difficult when our minds are in a million places. Arriving earlier allows us time settle our souls and prepare to worship God through both the singing and preaching. Maybe that means going to bed earlier the night before, or waking up earlier on Sunday morning. We can’t allow excuses to hinder worship. We need to make a game plan for how to arrive early, enact that game plan, and keep trying. It will pay dividends!

    A Drive Across Kansas

    Kansas. 3:12 PM. I was traveling on I-70 Eastbound across Kansas on my way back home after a short visit to Kansas State University. My new friends Heidi and Laura, students at the school, were kindly giving me a ride back to the airport. The flatlands seemed like a blur as I looked out the window. As country music stars crooned quietly in the background, we shared and talked about everything from biblical femininity to how they had dealt with being Christians at a secular school. It was an informative ride. I found out some crazy things, like how similar my experience in college has been to their experience, even though I find myself in a totally different environment. It was clear that we all need community in order to be strong followers. For Heidi, Laura, and their friends it was easy to create their own Christian bubble on their secular campus, just like it had been easy for me to hide in my pre-constructed Christian bubble at my own school. After some slightly confused (yet still skilled) driving from Heidi, I arrived at my terminal (Dear Kansas City, I love you, but your airport needs to get it together. I don’t like you’re airport. It’s weird.). Due to some scheduling issues, I had arrived rather early at the airport in Kansas City. It’s hard to describe what this means to those who haven’t visited Kansas City International. Two words will do: It stinks. My terminal had a Starbucks and a sandwich shop, which sounds great for about 30 minutes, but for two hours, there really wasn’t much to do. However, the airport quickly redeemed itself when I found that they were providing me with free wireless Internet, quite unlike the other stingy airports that haughtily guard that prized possession. I took advantage of this incredible amenity and quickly jotted down my thoughts about my trip across Kansas and how I had learned so much by having a meaningful conversation with two total strangers. After a few hours, the time came for me to walk down onto the tarmac and board a tiny little commuter jet to Chicago. I climbed on board, grabbed my seat and threw on my headphones (and then remembered my article Dear Melissa). So I took them out and tried to make some small talk. I quickly found out the woman beside me was from Sweden and wasn’t quite understanding me. So I lifted her up in prayer and went back to reading the in-flight magazine. Just as we pushed off from the gate and began to move, the pilot came on and spoke in that classic pilot voice. The news was devastating:

    “Ladies and gentleman, we’ve just received word, literally as we pushed off from the gate, that all planes are grounded heading into Chicago due to a VIP landing. We apologize for the inconvenience. It could be about an hour before we receive word…so…feel free to move about the cabin. Hopefully we receive word sooner. Again, we apologize for the inconvenience, there’s just nothing we can do…”

    The plane collectively groaned. I was angered and upset along with the rest of the passengers. I whipped out my cell phone, pounded on the keyboard, and vented to my ride that I would be now have a late arrival thanks to the President. I hung up, heaved a long sigh, and went back to reading. An hour later we finally took off. Chicago. 9:39 PM. As I walked off the plane, it seemed the entire United States had now found themselves in Chicago. Every flight was delayed – except for mine. Somehow my flight home was right on time, which was quite unfortunate since I had been hoping to have some time for dinner in Chicago before heading to my flight. Instead, my plane was about 15 minutes away from beginning to board. I trudged and dodged my way to my terminal, muttering all the way about the inconvenience and stupidity of it all. I barely had time to use the restroom before rushing with my luggage to my gate. I’m sure my face showed what was in my heart. I saw no reason for this tomfoolery. It was ridiculous. Just plain stupid. My stomach was roaring, my head was pounding, and in my heart I was fuming. The 15 minutes seemed like forever as I waited to board. I watched the basketball game for a little while, saw Kobe beat the Phoenix Suns with an air ball on his way to the finals, and boarded the plane. Once I settled in, my mind was a little more calmed down. I was back on track now, headed home with a warm bed and familiar time zone as my reward. I met my neighbor, and this time he spoke English. Well, Canadian English. Which amused me, particularly when I found he was part of a Canadian metal band, an image that made me chuckle. It was tough to talk with him. I didn’t really “get” anywhere, but we ended up having an interesting conversation nonetheless. He surprised me. I expected a metal band member to be rather unintelligent. But he was very well spoken, and his knowledge of all things music was incredible. I rather enjoyed the conversation, and quickly found that this was his first flight on a tour that would soon include Europe. So I briefed him on the routine of a normal flight. We both put in our headphones and took off into the clouds. Before long however, this flight became more than routine. To describe in one sentence, as I looked out my window, I was having World War II flashbacks complete with billowing clouds and flashes of lighting. Our plane suddenly dropped. All the rows behind me screamed. I sent up a sudden prayer. My Canadian friend cussed. The captain quickly came on to assure us that we were “fine” and that a major storm had decided to hang right above the airfield, but it looked like it would move soon. After about a half-hour of circling the airport, we got diverted. The storm hadn’t moved an inch. Instead it had intensified over the runway. I couldn’t believe it. Once again, I fumed. So we headed down to Virginia to land, far from where my ride was. I called my ride once we landed, expressing my disgust and frustration at the whole ordeal. We figured out a plan of action – I would have to spend some of the night with my dad, who conveniently worked the night shift close by to where I would land. Downtown Washington, D.C. 2:01 AM. It was one of those odd moments where you’re so tired everything seems to be a blur. I was rolling along with my dad to get something to eat before heading home. The restaurant of choice was a hole-in-the-wall place run by a few Middle Eastern guys. It was clean, but still felt old and beaten up. It had that funny smell of ancient buildings that try to hide the trashiness behind closed doors. But I didn’t care anymore. I caught up on the Lakers win thanks to a few television screens and dug into some greasy pizza. My stomach had the won the battle over my sleepy body. But within a hour or so, besides a few detours along the way that I don’t have room to mention, I was on my way home. Finally. Home. 4:46 AM. You know, sometimes our lives are a little like my trip across Kansas (and half the United States). It’s full of remarkable opportunities, grand conversations, frustrating delays, heart-stopping adventures, and random moments where you find yourself eating greasy pizza at hole-in-the-wall establishments at 2 A.M. I don’t think I’d change it for the world. It is in these moments that my heart seems to show itself most clearly. The difficult moments bring the realities of my heart bubbling to the surface for everyone to see. Sometimes it shows a lack of trust in God in the circumstances I find myself in, asking “why me” or simply telling God “I see absolutely no reason for this.” That’s pride and arrogance taking the controls while humility and trust take a backseat. That’s dangerous in this life – in fact, it may be deadly for our spiritual lives. If we listen to the lies our sinful hearts tell us, we can be fooled in an instant. The Psalmist reminds us to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” He tells us that “in a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Psalm 37:7-11) As I look back over my trip that began in Kansas – well, I can’t believe it all happened. But it reminds me of my desperate need to not listen to the lies that my heart likes to tell me in not only in crazy situations, but in the normal, mundane moments of life. Lies that say other paths are better than the way the Lord has for me. When I wake up, sin is there to speak those lies to me. When I’m late for work, sin is there to speak more lies to me. When a relationship fails, sin is there to speak another lie to me. And so often I listen. But if I’m to make this journey in life with a safe heart – well, I need to tell me heart to listen closely: God is sovereign, and I am going to humbly trust him no matter what happens. Even if it means another crazy night like this one.

    The Fellowship of the Unashamed

    Tullian Tchividjian preached an excellent message at Covenant Life a few weeks ago, and in that message, included the following poem called “The Fellowship of the Unashamed,” which I found extremely encouraging. It’s worth reading.

    I am a part of the fellowship of the Unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit Power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by presence, learn by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power. My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, back up, let up, or shut up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go until He returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes.