The Phil Files

Musings & messages on everyday worship, Jesus, and the stuff of life.

Archive for the ‘Tough Stuff’ Category

A dream… lost?

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“I have a dream…”"I have a dream..."

Fifty years ago.

Washington, DC.

Lincoln Memorial.

Civil Rights.

Discrimination. Segregation. Racial hatred. All eclipsed with hope… from Christian faith… out of the language of Scripture… in a sermon that changed a nation.

But now, many want to remove Christian faith from the public square and public speech and from public discussion. The faith that inspired Lincoln and propelled Martin Luther King, Jr., and fueled the change that was too long in coming.

So now, on the fiftieth anniversary of MLK’s powerful speech, our public square is strangely silent and our public officials — and especially our President — our deafeningly silent and complicit in the murder, torture, and persecution of Christians in Egypt and Syria. We’re afraid of offending Muslims and leave Christians to be slaughtered, brutalized, and forgotten. If MLK’s powerful speech means anything, it means this: no person, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or nationality, should be afraid to live out their faith. And when we stop standing up for this, then we have a dream lost.

Worst of all, Christians in the west sit passively saying nothing.

10-year-old Jessica Boulous, daughter of a Christian family gunned down in Cairo. Is her life a dream lost because we do not seem to notice or care?

Don’t believe me? Read this powerful article by an atheist in a Jewish publication questioning how this could be so: WHERE ARE PROTESTS AGAINST MURDERS OF CHRISTIANS!?

I have a dream!

Racial reconciliation.

God’s Kingdom coming.

God’s people caring.

Where color and country don’t matter and character does.

So where is our concern? Even more, where is our character?

For more on how to care, to express your concern, and to help, please see: Help?

We need to pray, as MLK did fifty years ago:

But let justice roll down like waters

And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24 NASB).

God has a dream!

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands.  And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10 NLT)

Will we share in God’s dream or sit silently by?


Written by phil

August 28th, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Blown Away or Walls that Speak

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OK, so I saw the elimination deal on “American Idol” the other night. You know, the one with Carrie Underwood singing the new song with the crazy-weird wind tunnel effects. Not impressed — but I admit, I don’t watch “Idol” very carefully, usually doing something else and listening on a lousy sound system.

BUT, then I heard the song and listened to the words more carefully on headphones. Wow! Deeply moving, and it reminds me of the line in “Forest Gump” when Jenny has thrown rocks at the old house where she had been abused as she grew up and Forest said, “Sometimes, I guess, there just aren’t enough rocks.”


Eventually, Forest bulldozes down the house so all those memories can be bulldozed away.

“Blown Away” is a song that’s really a prayer by a daughter who has been abused by her drunken “father” — her mother is “an angel in the ground.” She’s praying that a tornado that’s coming on the storm will blow away the old sin-filled full-of-bad-whiskeyed-memories in that house, along with her dad asleep in a drunken stupor on the couch. The haunting lines that stick with me are these:

There’s not enough rain in Oklahoma to wash the sins out of that house.
There’s not enough wind in Oklahoma to lift the nails out of the past.

I contrast this to an old Amy Grant song, “If These Walls Could Speak.”


Such a difference, and all built on how we’ve experienced family and home so often tied to a place — a house, an apartment, a neighborhood, or a city.

So what are we doing to redeem this mess of a broken world? What am I doing to ensure that hurts of those bad houses are blown away and the blessings the latter help the walls of grace to speak of God’s love?

How is church, how are we personally and collectively, going to be more than buildings and programs and performances, and more a place for healing, redemption, and restored family?

You and me, well let’s be honest, we can’t change a lot, but we can redeem something … someone … kids and families, close and faraway. And isn’t that what’s all about? And if we join together, can’t the Holy Spirit do a whole lot to change a whole lot more than we can ask or imagine?

So here, God, take the rest of what my life has to offer and please use it to make a difference … to my own precious kids … to my foster grandchildren … to precious “daughters” in Asia … to Peruvian orphans … to Compassion kids … and more. Please make your House, your Family, your People, and me, places and people of blessing, healing, comfort, and hope so hurts can be blown away and grace can speak more clearly into the hearts of the broken, alone, and lost. I ask this humbly in the healing name of Jesus. Amen.

Written by phil

May 5th, 2012 at 12:44 pm

You Failed!

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So what’s the essence of leadership?

I’m sure I can get about as many answers to that question as people who respond. We all have our own ideas of what genuine leadership is all about. Yesterday, in a strange collision of outside reading, the Lord really challenged me to think through this whole idea of the essence of leadership.

Like many churches, our congregation and leadership is wrestling through some important ideas about worship, singing, and mission. My concern is that we not get ourselves into a tug-of-war over positions and miss the primary call of our mission — we can so easily forget why God put us where we are, with the people we have, with the community we touch, with the lost folks we are currently reaching while surrounded by the lost folks we are not currently reaching.

Earlier this week, I was researching tug-of-war. I wasn’t so concerned about the origin and the official rules of the game, but I wanted to know about outcomes. So here is what I have found.

In a tug of war there are these notable outcomes:

  1. One side wins and the other side loses.
  2. The contest goes on so long with no clear winner, they call it a draw and both feel like losers.
  3. The rope breaks and numerous injuries occur — this was more common that I thought possible.
  4. No matter the official outcome, many injuries, some of them quite serious, are inflicted on “winners” and “losers” in the contest

In a family of faith (church, small group, cell church, house church, faith community, fellowship or whatever tag you want to apply), do you see any options in this list that are desirable?

So the nagging question that has been haunting me is this one: How do we go from WON to ONE? Yeah, I almost didn’t use that image because it’s almost too cute, but after thinking about it, this question seemed to capture my heart. In fact, I think I would chart it this way using Jesus’ prayer of John 17:

Moving from WON to One so that we can be ONE to Win others.

Isn’t that the issue? Are we trying to get everyone on the same page without winners and losers? Don’t we want to avoid injuries, serious and non-serious, that are unnecessary? Don’t we want to keep our focus on our mission to the lost and broken world and not on our own preferences, comfortabilities, and personal dogmas?

Timothy Archer put out a blog post on approaches to Scripture — Normative and Regulative — that was thought provoking. One of our Shepherds, Steve Ridgell, had pointed us to this post. I thought it was instructive and helpful. One of Tim’s first commenters shared these remarks, that I personally found quite insightful:

I especially appreciated the specificity of this line:

“… doing what God commands in Scripture, not doing what God forbids in Scripture …”

We spend so much time on the comma symbolized in the sentence.

As good friend, Grady King, once said, “I have never met a church person whose knowledge of Scripture did not exceed his obedience of Scripture.” Yes, we often spend more time and get more upset on the “comma” than we do the two very important calls to obedience on either side. This is especially true of HOW we behave and treat each other in the processes of deciding an issue as an a group.

My daily reading in The Chronological Bible had me reading about Moses not entering the promised land. In the give and take of the previous discussion, the Holy Spirit seemed to be giving me more than a gentle nudge to pay attention to these words of judgement against Moses by God:

“When the people of Israel rebelled, you failed to demonstrate my holiness to them …” (Numbers 27:14 nlt emphasis added).

Somewhere in the challenges of leading, leaders must demonstrate the holiness of God to the people they lead. That’s pretty hard in the mayhem of a tug-of-war! So shouldn’t we worry less about outcomes (“my outcome” or “their outcome”) and focus on process.

How are we going to demonstrate the holiness of God in this process of deciding? How are we going to demonstrate the holiness of God in …

… how we decide it?
… how we treat each other in the deciding of it?
… how we honor Scripture in trying to decide it?
… how we honor the people we lead as we decide it?
… how we honor the folks who don’t know Jesus around us as we decide it?

I guess the longer I’m around and the more church tug-of-wars I’ve witnessed, the more I’m convinced that the essence of leadership is to help God’s people avoid war, declared wars or tug-of-wars, where there are winners and losers and lots of injuries. Even more, I am convicted that the process of deciding has to be a time where God’s leaders demonstrate the holiness of God in the way they lead, decide, nurture, instruct, and reach out.

For me, the Holy Spirit nailed it in Hebrews 13:7-8:

Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Let’s not fail to demonstrate the holiness of God in what we do, decide, and how we treat each other as we seek God’s will for those we lead and those we need to reach with the grace of heaven!

Written by phil

March 9th, 2012 at 5:16 pm

One Lifetime

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As a long-time mac user, going back to the Mac Wallstreet in 1998 with its BSD kernel, I have been impressed with the innovation and dependability of the Apple products. Even before my first Mac, I had followed the Jobs Juggernaut with the early introduction of Mac computers, the future-predicting work of the Newton, and the journey through Next Computers. Then came the iExplosion of innovation and devices like iMac (I still have my original turquoise one!), iPod, iPhone, and iPad. I am typing this on a Mac Air, we use all Macs with Heartlight except our Linux servers. The marketing genius, the well thought out innovation in the products have all been impressive. And all of this traces back to the brilliance of one man, Steve Jobs, and the team he assembled. What Apple is after Steve Jobs death will be interesting to see. For stockholders and Mac-addicts, that may be the big question. But for me there are two bigger issues.

First, may God bless Steve’s family and friends at the death of someone they love.

Second, we are powerfully reminded that we each get just one lifetime. We don’t get to choose how long it is. Money, power, and brilliance are all subject to the one lifetime rule. So we need to make sure that what we do counts. The best way to do that is to discover what we believe God sent us here to do, and then do it. This is our One Tune that we are to play with our life. Let’s not waste it, discount it, or miss our mark.

When all is said and done and the final words are given in black and white, my hope is that people can truly say I helped them move a little closer to Jesus. How about you? What mark do you want to leave when all is said and done?

It’s important to ask it, because we only get one …


Written by phil

October 6th, 2011 at 6:03 am


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We remain blissfully ignorant about persecution in our time. Some of this has to do with the American press, which as a whole doesn’t like evangelistic Christians and so doesn’t care much about reporting persecution and atrocities committed against them. But also complicit is the U.S. government that will not take a human rights stand on persecution against Christians in other parts of the world. Worst of all, our churches are to blame for our ignorance as a people — persecution is too unpleasant to talk about in many of our churches.

Our personal ignorance, however, is our own doing. Let’s be honest: we don’t like to hear bad news or think about faith in Jesus having dire consequences in our time. So off we go into the trap of the evil one who doesn’t want us riled up about our faith. If we don’t know about it, it doesn’t exist. We don’t have to be troubled by it. We don’t have to feel threatened by it. We don’t have to worry about the consequences of our own faith. We can blissful keep thinking that faith guarantees us good things and we can go on believing that if we work hard we will get the good things we deserve.

Truth is, persecution is real and we have many ways to learn about those who can be heroes for us today and remind us that the passion and courage we see in Acts isn’t just something from long ago and far away. Here are some resources you might find helpful to help you have solidarity with your friends in Christ who are suffering throughout our world today.

Those will get you started, but here are a couple of things you can immediately do.

  • Read about the pending execution of a pastor in Iran named Youcef Nadarkhani
  • Sign the  online petition to help free Asia Bibi, a Christian wife and mother convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in Pakistan.
  • Watch the video below

And please, don’t forget to do what the apostle Paul urge us all to do years ago as he faced his own battles with persecution:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed tob at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:1-6 NIV).

Pray for peace. Live in love. Hold on to faith.

Written by phil

September 28th, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Finishing Strong

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As I have significantly crossed past the mid-century mark in age, two realities have made themselves clear in me:

  1. I am more impatient about seeing Kingdom progress now than I was in my impetuous twenties and striving thirties.
  2. I want to finish strong for the Lord, for my family, and for those I want to see come to Jesus

Paul talks about having finished the race (2 Timothy 4:7) and Jesus could proclaim that his work was finished while on the cross (John 19:30). On the other hand, for years I had a little comic illustration on my door that said, “If I can’t die till my work is finished, then I’ve got about 150 more years to live.”

Of course that is not true and is part of the arrogance of our busy culture to think our life’s work is bound up with all of our busy-ness. There is a closing time and a finish line for all of us. More than wanting to die with my boots on, I want to finish the work the Lord has given me to do, and I want to finish it with character and godly influence. When closing time comes, I want to make it across the finish line!

So yesterday, as I watched the Indy 500 (at least the last half of it after I got home from doing both services), I connected back to my dad who died at 51. Indy Monday, then later Indy Sunday, was a special day for us. Going back to when I was a little boy, we listened to the Indy on the radio and then would watch the delayed telecast on TV. Since my father’s death, two Sundays have always been special and important to me: Indy Sunday on Memorial Day Weekend, and U.S. Open Sunday on Father’s Day — my day to preach, eat lots of fried chicken, and watch the U.S. Open on TV! Both of these connect me to my dad in emotional ways that are hard to describe.

As I watched yesterday, and the announcers were talking about how appropriate it was that the Army Reserve sponsored car of rookie J.R. Hildebrand was going to win, the unexpected (which is really the norm for Indy), happened. What else could we have expected at the 100th running of the greatest spectacle in racing?

Going into turn 4 with a huge 4 second lead, Hildebrand didn’t ease off the throttle going into the turn, his spotter and pit crew didn’t properly warn him of slow car ahead, and he came up on a much slower car, drifted wide as he took his foot off the gas, got caught in the rubber “pebbles” scrubbed off of 33 sets of tires, lost both his forward momentum and his bite on the track, drifted even wider and hit the wall — actually hit it very very hard. Some have said he should have just coasted in instead of trying to pass, but that is a non-racer’s understanding. He probably should have braked to cut his speed, then accelerated hard coming out of the apex of the turn staying as close to the slower car as could and still pass. It really doesn’t matter what J.R. should have done, it’s what he did and didn’t do that happened! Yet somehow with his awful surprise and the incredible shock of impact, and the destruction to the right side of his car, Hildebrand had enough strength and focus to keep his race car pointed forward and his foot in the pedal to get what little power he could and limp across the finish line … second. An incredible finish for a rookie at Indy, except … hmm … he was so close to winning … ouch!

There are all sorts of lessons to be learned …

  • The need for help from Someone (God) with a bigger view of things if we are going to finish our race without disaster! (Where was Hildebrand’s pit crew and his spotter to warn him of this slow car?)
  • The need to not count our chickens before they hatch.
  • The courage to keep our presence of mind in unexpected disasters so we can finish.
  • The more appropriate image on Memorial Day Weekend of the Army Reserve car for our day — those who have been broken who find the courage to make it home and rebuild their lives after disaster has struck.
  • The reminder that finishing strong requires vigilance and commitment all the way to the end of the race.

You take your pick of the lesson you most need, or you can add another one in the comment box below. But no matter what we choose, we are reminded that we are called to finish strong no matter what happens near the finish line.

When we finish, O LORD, may we be found faithful and brave! In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Written by phil

May 30th, 2011 at 1:20 pm