Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Message of the Movement




For a long time now Christianity in the West has been viewed as nothing more than a new religious system. Its adherers believe that it is the best, and only good religious system. But, a religious system is a religious system and the Movement of Christ (His Kingdom) is no religion! Jesus did not come to this earth simply to give people a new religion to follow. In fact Jesus came to rid the earth of the current system of religion they were held captive to (Judaism) because it was no longer necessary now that the Kingdom had arrived. Because in Christ's Kingdom everyone has full access to the thrown room of God through the blood of Christ. (Heb 10:19-22)

The problem that we now face today is that some people like religion, and have polluted their discipleship unto Jesus with a bunch of religious filth. It is because of this polluted form of Christianity that we must reclaim the movement expression of God's living church.

There are major differences between viewing the way of Jesus as a movement rather than a religion.

A religion constricts God and the worship of God to a limited time and a limited place.
Movements happen everywhere at anytime. Because they realize that God is everywhere at all times.

Religions are stagnant and do little to evangelize those not a part of their religion. 
Movements are full of passion. Everyone in a movement is active in spreading the message of the movement to others.

Religions are made up of complicated systems, long creeds and complex doctrines. 
Movements are simple, and receive their identity from their message. This identity functions as a catalyst within the movement which launches it forward giving it rapid growth.

In the Jesus Movement our message is what we call the gospel.

The Bible tells us that the gospel is a powerful force. It brings life and light and liberation into this dark world.

Mohandas Gandhi once said:

"You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down , and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of good literature."

When we actually practice living and sharing the gospel of Jesus -the movement of Christ, the Kingdom, explodes in this world! Historians believe that by the year 100 A.D. that there were already 25,000 followers of Christ in the known world. Keep in mind that this group of 25,000 is over 2,000 times the size of the original 12 that it first started with. Historians also say that by the year 310 A.D. that they became 800 times larger and that there were as many as 20,000,000 Christians in the known world!

The question that so many of us now ask is: "how did they do it"? I can tell you this. It wasn't done the way that we often think of doing things in our churches today. There wasn't a special committee or outreach program. They didn't have to make sure their plans fit into the churches budget. They didn't have the luxuries of media that we have today to make it happen. So how did they do it? They did it the same way the first disciples did. They told the message with great boldness in their lives and as a result the Kingdom spread.

In Acts chapter four we find a group of people that are completely sold out on following their risen King. When persecution came their way they immediately turned to prayer. They prayed to God that they might have boldness to tell people the message of the Kingdom of God. They prayed for strength to share with others what was so freely given to them -the Good Life. They prayed for help in spreading God's Kingdom here on earth through the sharing of the gospel.

There were no special tricks. They didn't have any amazing new book that just came out. But they did have all they needed because they had the Spirit of God working through them enabling them to act and will according to God's will and purpose.

The message that they shared with others was simple. It is important that we today share the message of Christ in concise and simple ways. Ways that make sense to everyone and in ways that are easy to remember. Basically the message should be able to "stick" with the person that you shared it with. Some have come to call this the "sticky gospel". When a message is "sticky" it can easily be passed on to others. It is in this way that the message of the Kingdom can explode across the globe with atomic force.

Here are three small messages that I have began sharing with others. Each one in itself tells the gospel story -that the Messiah has come to liberate us. And all three put together give a well shaped picture of Christ's mission which has become our own:
  • Christ The Liberating King Has Come (Galatians 5:1)
  • He Has come to give us Life to the Full (John 10:10)
  • He Has come because of His Love for us (John 3:16)
I have noticed that these small but powerfully informative phrases stick well with people. They are easy to spit out in a conversation with someone about Jesus. They take little explanation and since they come from the Scriptures they can easily lead to more in depth conversations about Jesus by turning right to one of those three verse.

What would happen if we began to share the gospel (both in speech and practice) as they did? I believe that if you do what they did, we will end up getting what they got. And what they got was the Kingdom, right here on earth. (Read Acts 4:13-31 to see how beautiful God's Kingdom spreading looks).

The early Christians were able to allow God to fully take hold of their lives. They loved others with the overflow of their love for God. They knew it wasn't about them -but that it was all about God. May we do the same as we spread God's Kingdom in our world today.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Youth and Family Ministry

It has been a long time since my last post so I thought I would give everyone a quick update on what I have been up to.

My wife Michelle and now live in Mt. Carmel, IL where I now work as the Youth and Family Minister at the Mt. Carmel Church of Christ. I love the church body here! And I really love my role in the congregation because I able to partake in many diverse areas of ministry. My major focus of course is the youth (6-12 graders) but I have also been working on re-envisioning our children's ministry and have been able to help start our small group ministry.

Children's Ministry

Our new children's ministry will launch on the first Sunday of January with the theme S.A.N.D. Explorers. S.A.N.D is an acronym which stands for:
Searching For God In Every Area of My Life
Always Learning More About Him
Never Putting Myself Above Others
Daily Becoming More Like Christ our King

Everything in our children's ministry and bible class program will be orientated around this theme. Our Bible class area will be called the "S.A.N.D Box" (we will soon begin repainting our classroom to make it look like a desert). We will call the kids "S.A.N.D. Explorers" during Bible class. In class the kids receive "S.A.N.D. Dollars" for displaying "S.A.N.D." in their life, reciting memory verses, bringing a friend, and so on.

Small Groups

Since the summer I have been writing teaching outlines for our small groups. Our small group lessons have been based off of the same theme that Bobby Smith (our pulpit minister) preached on on the previous Sunday.  If you are interested in using any of these small group outlines let me know and I would be glad to send them to you. 




Youth Ministry

We have had a lot going on with our teens lately and our group has been growing quite a bit. Our teens have been doing a great job inviting their friends to all of our teen events so we often have just as many visitors attend as we do "members". Here are some of things we have been doing with the teens lately:
  •  We have had the entire high school football team over for breakfast at the church building on one of their game days. For the fist time ever I used American football as an illustration.
  • We have had a couple of Work Days where we helped paint an elderly lady's garage. A man from our church saw this lady painting her garage one day and stopped and offered to help. She was hesitant at first -thinking he was wanting to get payed. He helped her for some time and then the next two weeks a small group from our church returned to finish up the job. It was a great time to show this woman that the economy of the Kingdom is based off of the gift. Out God's love for us we have freely received, and thus out of our love God we freely give! 
  •  I have been going to eat with our teens at their schools. In all, our youth group attends four different schools (two high schools and two middle schools). Each week I try to go eat at at least one of the four schools. The teens have really enjoyed this, and it has been a great way for me to better get to know them and their friends.
  • I have been writing a discipleship book to study with some of our new Christians and not-yet Christians. The book teaches the basics of our faith while also teaching them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. So far, Michelle and I are using this material to study with one person, and we have just made plans to study with two others, and have been trying to get a hold of a fourth person so that we can set up a time to study with him.
  • Two Sunday's ago we led our high schoolers on a trip to Paducah, KY to see the AIMers. We had a great time spending the day together. It was also really nice to see so many of my old friends in the AIM world.
  • Just this past Friday we had our first ever Fifth Quarter just for Middle Schoolers. Fifth Quarter is a party that is thrown after home football games, usually involving free food lots of fun, games and inflatables. We ended up having 60 kids attend in all!
    The event was a great success largely because so many from our body were passionate about serving the kids in our community. Thank you everyone who helped with this event.
  • Just last week I launched a blog just for our youth and college called "Leaves in The Wind". You'll have to be sure and check it out sometime. You can click on the image above to go to the blog and see pictures from our recent activities.



Friday, August 21, 2009

At The Well: 2009 High School Mission Trip



On Saturday, August 8th my wife Michelle and I led a group seven young adults to Clarksville, TN on a short mission trip. Our trip's focus was to work with an inner city ministry called The Well that some good friends of ours, Craig and Marcia Hines, had help start a few years ago. Early that Saturday evening we arrived at the Hines' home where would be staying. The night was full fun laughter and joy, as we played games, roasted marshmallows and sang songs into the star lit sky.

The next morning we went to go eat breakfast at a soup kitchen with some of the homeless and poor that we would be worshiping with latter on at the Well. The soup kitchen in Clarksville is hosted by several churches in the area that open up their buildings to use as the soup kitchen. And every Sunday the downtown Methodist church hosts the soup kitchen. The crowd was large, easily around 100 people when we first got there and the crowed doubled by the time we left. While we were there we spent time meeting and getting to know people. Craig and Marcia had several that they really wanted us to meet. Like Jr., who would see every day while we were there.

Jordan and our new friend Jr.

While there I talked to man who had been in prison for over 20 years for murder. He was a really nice and friendly guy, looked kind of like an older and smaller Morgan Freeman --white beard and all. He told me with a joyful chuckle, "some people will say that I'm dangerous. But I'm not dangerous, you just don't won't to make me mad." He then told me how he wasn't sorry for killing the that he was sentenced for murdering. "I'd do it again if he were right here!" He told me boldly. "And that's what I told them when I was in court." Many of the people there have pretty rough pasts and were in need of the Liberation that Christ in their lives.

After eating we went to The Well which was just a short drive around the corner. The building itself was once an old Moose Lodge. It had a bar, a dance floor -the whole shabang . Now, the building is a place where the people of all walks of life gather to encourage one another and celebrate their lives in Christ.

Not everyone there was homeless. There were some that were from Madison St. church of Christ, the church that now sponsors the Well, and others who liked in the neighborhood who like to gather at the Well because of its intimate and loving atmosphere.

We began worship by singing. Anyone who could start and lead a song could. We sang all kinds of songs, new and old. And praise to God filled the air. After singing, a young man named Brian told us the scripture that we would be reading for that morning and together we all read the text. Brian then asked us about what that passage of scripture teaches us about Jesus and His Kingdom. Many people contributed their thoughts, sharing what the message meant them. When we were done, everyone had a new understanding of the passage we explored because nearly everyone contributed to the discussion. Rob, who is one of the deacon over the Well, prayed over the Lord's Supper, and passed around the bread and fruit of the vine. After we prayed we spent time in fellowship (a.k.a "hanging out") with some of the people there.

Our teens loved the way that we gathered for worship this day. They loved how everyone had a place. Everyone was welcome. They loved the strong unity, and wide diversity of the Christians that met. Some of our teens said, "I'm sad that we don't get to go back next Sunday."

Craig, Benny and Marcia


After church we all went over to spend some time with a friend of Craig and Marcia named Benny. Benny had been homeless for three years and just in the last several months had been able to get off the streets. He now has a job and his own place and wanted to have our group over to his house to tell us his story. Even though he had very little, he had bought snacks and drinks for us. After everyone was able to grab a bite we all gathered around as he began to tell us his story. He told us how his wife had died about five years ago and performing the funeral cost him everything --including his house. Benny became very angry and went into a deep depression that led to a crack addiction. For three years Benny lived homeless in a tent because of his addiction and deep anger. He then met Craig and Marcia at The Well. They would spend a lot of time with Benny encouraging him to work on his relationship with God, and to pray. They encouraged him to pray harder and harder, about his anger and his struggles. And Benny said, "God was working! He is real and he really works in our lives if we allow him!" Benny encouraged us with tears in his eyes to pray always because God will hear us and answer our prayers. Today, Benny is one of the most joyful, and kind people you could ever meet. It's hard to imagine him the way he once was. He kept his tent that he lived in for so long to remind himself of where he once was and how God brought him out of that bondage into a new life in Christ. We were all deeply touched by his story. And after many hugs we had to say goodbye.

Monday morning we met with Mark at the well at 8:30. Kind of a early start for some of our group since it's the summer and we had to leave Craig and Marsha's by 8:00 -but there was no complaining. Mark is the other deacon from Madison St. church of Christ who oversees The Well. He told us our game plan for getting the meeting area of The Well renovated. We first would have to sand down the whole room, and then if we had time would put up the primmer. Our teens worked their hearts out sanding down those walls. We had been doing work and service projects all summer long so we were well ready for the task. Much to Mark's surprise were able to get all of the sanding done and a lot of the room painted in that first day! And had we had the whole project done before lunch on Tuesday.

Tuesday night The Well has what they call Bread of Life. At Bread of Life a free meal is served to all who attended. We saw many of the same people we saw on Sunday morning. While everyone is eating a lesson from the Bible is shared. I was able to speak to the group that evening. Then while people finishing up their meals they have an open mic session where people can sing, rap, slam a poem, or share whatever it is they want to share. I told the teens before we went done to Clarksville that I wanted everyone to participate in the open mic session. Everyone in our group has a good voice and are musically talented. So just before leaving Craig and Marcia's house for Bread of Life we went over a few things that we could do. Our line up was to (1st) Sing amazing grace, just the first verse twice and invite everyone to join in. (2nd) Read a montage of scriptures that I had prepared about creation, life, and light from Genesis, the gospel of John, and 1 John. The montage accents poetic, rhythmic nature of the Word of God. The girls read, while a group of us guys played drums throughout the reading. (3rd) We played "Come Though Fount". (4th) And for our grand finally we played a song called "Wake up" by Arcade Fire, which was basically our mission trips theme song because we played it so much.

When we first got on "stage" the teens were acting a bit nervous and shy. Rightly so, I came to realize latter on since there were nearly 100 people watching us. As we sang and played it was just awesome to see the faces of everyone there that night. People were just glowing with joy and life.

Before we left the well and called it night several people came up to me to say thank you for us coming down and helping paint their building. They told me that our group has been a huge blessing and that we had touched so many lives just over the past few days. They said that our whole group was very talented and so free and full of life. There was a huge contrast between that night at The Well and our morning at the soup kitchen. That night at The Well, everyone was just full joy, and life. There was great since of awe and amazement over the whole crowd. Everyone, ourselves included knew that God's presence was there among us. Everyone went away, blessed, touched and impacted.

I wish that I could tell you more and more about all that happened but it would take a whole book to tell the full story. On our way home to Illinois we stopped in Evansville, IN for a wrap up session. We shared with each other our trip highlights and how the trip effected us. It was so encouraging to hear what the teens had to say. To see how they had grown and been stretched by God. We had been focusing all Summer on living out the message of Jesus. Living as Liberated people, sharing the abundant Life with others that only comes through Christ. And Loving others with the overflow of our Love for God. We have focused on being the Jesus Movement in our world, and have been richly blessed because of it.

John writes in one of his letters:

"God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might Live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to Liberate us from our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another God remains among us and His love is made complete in us."
-1 John 4:9-12

John is saying, "no one has ever seen God but if you're living out the Jesus Movement, if you are Loving others with the Love of God --then God is revealed among you!"

And it is literally awesome to have God among you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Summer's Here

Wow summer is already here! And it has been quite a while since my last post. I have been in transition for the last month or so.

After school let out Michelle and I were able to go visit my parents in Las Cruses, New Mexico for a few days. We spent time just hanging out and relaxing at their place. One day Michelle, mom, my sister Jess and I all drove out to White Sands National Park. The area is so beautiful! The sand is extremely soft and is white as snow. Being there as the sun sets makes the whole terrain glow with a heavenly vibrance.



While we were in New Mexico we drove up to Albuquerque for our first wedding shower! It was really nice to see so many of my friends and mentors from home again. Several women from my home church threw us a really great shower at the Carmen's house. It was great to just be able to spend time talking and checking up.

I'm now in Mt. Carmel, Illinois working with the youth again for the summer. I have just recently got all settled in to my own apartment. Michelle is living with Mitchell and Gala in Kentucky getting things together for the wedding. Once we return from our honeymoon Michelle will join me here in Illinois.

I am really existed about working with the church here again. Its nice that I already know the place and all of the people this year. Bobby and Mellisa Smith just got in town yesterday. Many of us from church helped them unload last night and unpack today. It will be really awesome to be able to work with Bobby again.



I have a lot of new ideas for the summer. This year I decided to make a summer theme: "The Jesus Movement". It seems that many in our country have forgotten that the Way of Jesus is a dynamic movement. When from the very beginning of Jesus' ministry He went out both telling people and showing them that the Kingdom of Heaven has come to Earth. Since then, Christ's movement of love, liberation, and life has been spreading across the globe. This summer I want it to be clear that we as Christ's followers are now the hands and feet of this movement. I want us to be active in bring this movement to our community and friends as we show it to others in the way we live our lives. I pray that those around us will realize that we are part of a 2,000 year old movement of love, liberation, and life. I pray that this summer God will continue to use us in His work as He expands The Jesus Movement throughout Mt. Carmel.

One major way that I think that our community will see this movement is when they see that we as a church genuinely care about them and their physical needs. So this summer I have big hopes and dreams for what God will do through us for the community. It is my hope and prayer that God will use us to serve Mt. Carmel and the surrounding area. And that the young and radical disciples of our congregation are a part of His plan.

One of the ways that we are going to show our love for the community is through community service projects. I have already had a few meetings at city hall with the Administrative Assistant to the mayor about some things that we can do to help the community. As a result I have found some projects around town to help improve some of the town's parks. What is the point of all of this? Glory to God! Glory to God is always the point. Showing people our deep love for them is a natural outflow of that. I believe that our teens are going to make a big impact this summer. And these community service projects will only be a small part of that impact. We as disciples should always being displaying the radical love of God in our lives to others.

May the people in your life see that you are a part of movement of love, liberation and life --a movement that genuinely cares about them. Let those around you know through your actions that you are a part of The Jesus Movement.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Resurrection Day




I hope that you know my King. 

For nearly 2,000 years now people have been entrusting their lives to Him because of our with in God's ability to raise us too from the dead. 

Many historians and Biblical scholars have pointed out that the resurrection was like a catalyst for the revolution that was simply called the Way. Those that opposed and tried to oppress the Way and it's message of Life found their task to be futile. Because the disciples of the One who was shown to be the Messiah didn't stop. Not even when their "lives" on at stake. The disciples didn't stop then -and we still haven't stopped to this day, some 2,000 years later. When you're dealing with disciple's of Jesus, when you're dealing with the Kingdom of God, you are dealing with a people that know that they too have been resurrected --because their King has victoriously conquered death. 

"Death has been swallowed up in victory. 
O Death, where is your victory? 
O Death, where is your sting? 
Thanks be to God for Jesus, the Liberating kING, Who brought us victory over the grave."

--1 Corinthians 15:54-57 


I hope that you know my King. 

I hope that you are living a resurrected life, where you are set free from sin and death and all of their bondage. 

I hope that you know the love of Christ, and how strong and endless it is for you. 

I hope that you know followers --those of the Way. We are His Kingdom, and today (like every day really) we celebrate our Resurrection Day.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Current Events No. 2: West Mesa Victims




Oftentimes love is so poorly packaged that when we have sold everything to buy it, we cry in finding all our substance gone and nothing in the tinsel and the ribbon.

-Calvin Miller

In his article "Bodies Found in New Mexico, but Mystery Lingers for Kin of Missing Women", Dan Frosch tells the stomach turning story of recently discovered bodies in the West Mesa of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This story, appearing in the headlines of the Times, quickly caught my attention since Albuquerque is my home town.

On February 2nd, a woman walking her dog discovered the remains of a woman who was later identified as Michelle Valdez, a local prostitute who went missing in 2004 at the age of 22. Since this first discovery another 11 bodies have been found by a team of forensic experts and archaeologist. This team believes these bodies match descriptions of missing prostitutes that have gone missing from 2001-2006.

Frosch points out how at first no one really noticed that Ms. Valdez had even disappeared since she lived in the backdrops of society. Some of the other bodies have recently been identified as prostitutes who worked the Albuquerque streets in a part of the town called "the war zone." Most of these women began their work in the streets because of sequences of terrible events in their lives that led to use of and eventual addiction to heroin. These woman turned to prostitution as the only way to secure their next fix on the drug. One father from Fort Worth told of his daughter who first used heroin after having been raped by a school mate. His daughter then moved to Albuquerque for a fresh start on life --but went missing only three weeks later.

I am deeply saddened while the reading of these events. The stories of these woman remind me of a woman that Jesus met while stopping for a rest in the region of Samaria. The woman in Samaria had also been victimized like these woman found in the desert of Albuquerque. The woman of Samaria was a social outcast, she was marginalized and forgotten. She took to the habit of going out of her way to avoid people and the judgments that were sure to come from others. And she too had been sold a dangerous counterfeit love that called itself an original.

There are many things that one could become angry over in this story: injustice, corruption, complacency, abuse, and the pure horror that someone had such a disregard for life that they could carelessly kill so many. The list could go on and on. And many questions could be raised just as well. But what resonates most with me, and what I take away from reading this article is the lives of the victims themselves. Because victimized is what they were. And from what it sounds like they were victimized long before their physical deaths.
They are victims of the World Hater's sin that always, always leads to death. I see these woman as being under the cruel and painful grip of Satin. He love to bring about pain after pain in people's lives. He loves to deceive his victims by persuading them give their lives over to a false since of reality, priorities and happiness. He does this while telling them that the same lie is all of love that there is in the world.

Hearing about these victims also makes me think of how such people were naturally drawn to Jesus. Because Jesus was always willing and wanting to show them what Love truly is. Reading this story makes me realize how important it is that I live an incarnational life here in this world. Because this world is full of marginalized victims of the World Hater who have been sold a counterfeit love and are starving for the Original.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Morning Meditation


"At daybreak Lord You hear my voice, At daybreak I plead my case to You and watch expectantly."
-Psalms 5:3

"Very early in the morning while it was still dark, He got up went out, and made His way to a deserted place. And He was praying there."
-Mark 1:35

I often times with out realizing it forget how important it is that I get my day off to the right start. My days look drastically different when I'm able to start them in some form of prayer and meditation. I practice prayer and mediation in a number of different ways. Sometimes, early in the morning outside in the wild among the plants, flowers, birds and trees. Other times, I'll practice my prayer and meditation on the move, while I'm on my morning bike ride or run. I even do it some mornings in the car with the windows rolled down so that I can feel the crisp morning breeze against my face. Whatever the setting is I basically do the same thing --I stop, relax, breathe deep breaths and turn my day over to God in prayer.

During these times I enjoy being outside right in the midst of all the life that God created. I like to listen to the sound of chirping birds, feel the cool morning air, and smell the aroma of the flowers and blooming trees. Being right in the middle of such a beautiful creation gives me excitement and expectation about the creation that God will be bringing into my life in the coming day. Starting my day off this way prepares me to embrace my day for all that it will be. It prepares me to fully live. I think that this is may be why Jesus made His time in mediation such a priority. Reading the gospels it's very easy to tell that, just like us Jesus lived a pretty busy life. A life full of one crazy surprise right after the other. I think that Jesus knew that His days would be busy. He knew that unexpected things would come up. Things that would be challenging and hard to handle well.

Perhaps that's why Jesus made sure He got of to the right start as often as He could. Because He was human and needed God's help and the empowerment and direction of the Spirit just as much as we do. It's easy to forget or overlook the humanity of Jesus, when really His humanity is the whole point of His coming to earth. He came to show us how to fully embrace Life with God. He came to show us what the Good Life lived out in flesh and blood really looks like. The Bible says He is the Beginning, the First, the Originator of the resurrected Life that we too are called to live (Colossians 1:18, Revaluation 3:14).

Knowing that even Jesus thought that it was important to be in mediation and spend time away from all of life's craziness puts things into perspective for me. Even Jesus (the Son of God!) made it a point to daily turn His life over to the Father in prayer. This makes me realize how much I need to do the same. How much I need to daily turn my life over to God. How much I need to soak in the peace that can only come from God so that I can live like my Savior Jesus did --full of the Good Life. Waiting expectantly for all the goodness that I know God is going to create right before my eyes as I take part in bringing His Kingdom of Heaven down to earth, right here and right now.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Atheism Agnosticism Doubt & Belief

This is the video footage from the student panel that I was a part of for on March 9th. It was the first time I had ever done anything like this before so it was a great learning experience. Thank you again everyone who came for you support. And thank you Tony for filming the whole thing. I had to cut the video into 6 parts. Each video will pick up where the last left off with a slight overlap. I hope you enjoy!
-Gary











Saturday, March 21, 2009

Road Trip


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Michelle and I love traveling. We do it all of the time. By road, by plan, by train, stateside, overseas, you name it we've done it and loved it. This year for spring break Michelle and I went down to Lubbock, Texas. We left in the late afternoon on Friday already tired from a week of craziness because of midterms. The drive is over 1,000 miles one way and our mp3 payer's f.m. radio transmitter wasn't working so we stopped in Jackson,TN (Which is actually where Michelle was born) and got some new CD's with a birthday gift card my grandmother gave me for my birthday.

We decided to stop at Bobby and Melissa and take a nap for a couple of hours. Before heading off to Lubbock we of course had to make a stop at Shades of Brown coffee shop to get our morning dose of caffeine for the road.



8 hours later we arrived in Lubbock and the AIM graduation ceremony had just ended. Michelle and I were still able to see many of cherished friends that we know from the AIM world. And!... we were even able to my sister Jessica who was visiting from Guadalajara, Mexico.

We stayed in Lubbock until Wednesday morning and had a blast getting to spend time with everyone. Michelle stayed at the Baker's house while we were there, and I stayed 2 nights at my old apartment with Josh Tucker and then 2 nights with Thomas at his place. Returning to Lubbock is a surreal experience. The city is full of memories, all the way back to LCU's Camp Champion when I was just a kid, to the memories of walking the streets downtown looking for a hotel when I originally tried to join Sunset in 2003. Plus there is all of the time that I spent actually living in Lubbock as an AIMer and while I went through Sunset. Lubbock is a historic place for us now.

One of my favorite things about returning to Lubbock is visiting the house churches. About a year ago our friends Josh and Holly Tracy started a house church. There was only the two of them the first time that they met. Then the second time Thomas and I were there as well. Today, there are about 40 people attending the house churches! That's right, "churches," as in more than one. They've already had a church plant and they are even talking about planting a third. Everywhere we went in Lubbock and no matter who it was that we were with --people were talking about this house church. I don't think that anyone can deny (whether they like the house church or not) that something big is going on in Lubbock, Texas. It's awesome how rapidly God has caused this Christ focused group to spread across the city as they allow the Spirit to fully take hold of their lives.



On our way back home we stopped in Shawnee, Oklahoma to see our Friends Chris and Jessica Johnson. It was awesome to here about what God is doing there and through their church. We were able to worship with the youth (who were pretty awesome by the way) on Wednesday night, and hangout with some of the church family after services for a couple of hours at the local Sonic. Chris Johnson is someone who I greatly respect and look up to. While I was studying at Sunset I would here my instructors tell stories about people like the Jonhsons, the Rushs and the Hendersons, and all that they were doing on their mission fields. These stories captivated me as I would dream about one day doing similar things with my friends as the next generation of Spirit lead and Love driven missionaries. So, the two days spent with Chris and Jessica were extremely inspiring and encouraging.

The last visit on our road trip was a stop back in Tulsa to see Bobby and Melissa. We had a blast just relaxing and kicking it back together. We were even able to on a few adventures right inside of their home as we all worked together to try and find some renegade mice (click here to watch the video).



We left Tulsa at about 6 p.m. and pulled into Melinda and Ryan's in Murray at 3:30 a.m. We traveled over 2,500 in the end. That's far enough to cross the country all the way from New York, to California. Now that's a road trip!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Loving Others

Tomorrow I will have the opportunity to be a part of student panel at the university I attend. The panel is titled "Atheism, Agnosticism, Doubt, and Belief" and is a part of a series of lectures on the subject of atheism at my school. The panel is made up of students in my atheism class. There are two atheist, one agnostic and myself as the Christian voice. I'm really looking forward to the event! It's been great getting to know everyone in this class and to hear and learn more about their ideas.

My atheism class has an online forum where we've been carrying on various discussions. Recently, one of atheist classmates made a comment in it that I would like to share with you. Since being in this class my eyes have widened to the amount of harm that many self proclaimed Christians have been causing to the Kingdom, to Christ (whose name they claim), to authentic disciples of Christ around the world that are associated with such people, and to those that aren't Christians. Such a self proclaimed Christian makes me think of verses in the Bible like Romans 2:23-24:

"If you pride yourself in having God's law, then stop dishonoring God by failing to keep its teaching. Here's what it says: 'Because of you, God's reputation is slandered by those outside the covenant'."

--The Voice

Although it is very unfortunate that the word "Christian" has become such an ill and taboo word in our world today, I am still not the least bit ashamed of my God, my Christ or the gospel!

I can care less about what name it is that I'm called. The early followers of Jesus were simply called, "those belonging to the Way" --which sound really awesome if you ask me. But I believe, as I've said before, that authentic discipleship to Jesus is something that is recognizable --even to those who aren't believers, like some of my classmates. Some of them no longer call me a Christian (since I don't fit the modern profile) but rather they say that I am someone who is like Christ. Which to me is a tremendous complement.

Here is what my classmate Lee Miller had to say after a response I gave him in our forum on morals:

Gary,


I'm glad to see that you took the time and effort to respond thoughtfully.


You are an example of the rare, pleasant Christian that I enjoy communicating with on these subjects! I think it's neat that you know your beliefs well enough to quote the bible, and use your common sense...AT THE SAME TIME.


All to often I see Christians doing nothing more than pushing the idea that the "evangelical" way is the only way. Following unbelievers around, passing out flyers, while forcing both morals and ideologies (or any other similar form of conversion) is very frustrating, disrespectful, and annoying.
It seems like every where I look...the street corner, TV, radio, politics, sports, etc...they are trying to force the ideology of Christianity upon the onlookers.

In terms of the political landscape, (from a bystander's point of view) it just looks like because "Christians" kick and scream the loudest they get center stage on many issues. The religious moderates act as "enablers" of their 'kicking and screaming' nonsense.


I wish we all, Christians and non Christians, would unite against the hate, bigotry, and disrespect of what "Christianity" is becoming. Their version of your faith is harmful both to people like myself, and YOUR beliefs.


I think that it's extremely important that disciples of Christ live intentional lives before those around them. It seems that there are many people, like my friend Lee, who have been "evangelized" to, but were left without feeling the love of Christ. Because of this I try to remind myself that I am first and foremost called to love. Love God and love others. And of course, telling someone the great news of Jesus the Christ is a part of that, however I think that our methods of evangelizing should set loving people as a priority.

Just like Christ we are here in this world to shine before man so that they too may come to praise God for all He has done.

Please keep my upcoming forum in your prayers. And pray for all those that may be there who don't not yet know of the amazing love of God.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Current Events No. 1: Fear Over Change in Gun Policy



In this video D.L Hughley takes a visit to Texas and goes to a world-renowned gun shop to interview some of the customers. Hughley does this to find out why gun sales have been rising since President Obama won the election. He learned that many gun owners believe that the President is going to bring back the Assault Weapons Ban, which banned guns that could hold 10 or more bullets. It is because of this fear that items that would be banned (you know, things like magazines, ak47s and other assault rifles) have become such hot items in the gun-sales market today.

When Hughley asks why it is that these people need their guns so much, he found that the common answer was “for protection”. One man called it, “home defense”, saying that “you don’t want people breaking in and taking your stuff.”

Since the presidential race I’ve heard quite a few conversations on the subject of needing a gun to shoot someone when they break into my house, And to be honest it concerns me. One time, during the presidential race, I heard a woman raging mad yelling and screaming at her colleague (who she knew proclaimed to be a Christian) because he was going to vote for Obama.

“I just don’t know how you can be okay with killing all of those lives!” She yelled.

Leaving the conversation rather hot tempered she returned to her own group of friends and then began talking about how she isn’t going to vote for Obama, and how she certainly needs a gun so that she can shoot someone in the case they break into her house (which apparently happens a lot here in small town Murray, KY!).

Now this woman, just seconds before, was yelling at man and accusing him of murder for voting for Obama, and yet she is totally okay with shooting someone if the occasion arises.

I find this thought very inconsistent. I am all about being pro-life. But I think that we need to be consistently pro-life.

She’s not okay with murdering unborn babies, but totally fine with murdering someone who breaks into her home, and as a Christian? Something is wrong here.

I wonder on what other occasions this woman would be okay with murder.

I wonder if she knows what the Christ of whose name she bears has to say about murder.

I’m guessing she doesn’t. Or it doesn’t seem that she follows those teachings at least. This is strange, since Jesus talks about the subject on several occasions in the scriptures.

Let’s take a look:

Jesus, in what we’ve come to call His Sermon on the Mount is proclaiming what an authentic heart for God should look like. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is letting His followers know that as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven you must set yourself to a higher standard than that of the world –even to a higher standard than the Scribes and the Pharisees (two groups that first century Jews believed had their act together pretty well). In His sermon Jesus goes through a series of Old Covenant laws and teaches His disciples that there is a heart issue underlying each one of them.

Speaking on murder He said:

You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Fool!' will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, 'You moron!' will be subject to hellfire.

--Matthew 5:21-22

You see Jesus wants us to greatly cherish all human life. Jesus is telling us that yes it is wrong and punishable to kill someone, however true murder begins with an angry spirit of resentment in the heart. If you have enough hatred in your heart that you can yell obscenities at someone it is clear that you hold no value to that person’s life. This is murder. If we are focused on harming someone’s physical life how can we possibly have any regard for their spiritual life?

Some may ask then, “well, what if someone does break into my home, am I just supposed to allow them to take everything?”

Latter in that same sermon Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don't resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and don't turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

--Mathew 5:38-42

I believe that these are extremely powerful and challenging statements from Jesus. It sounds like the answer to that question is yes let them take what they want. It seems like if they come in after our TV we should offer them our DVD player as well. Or if someone physically assaults us, perhaps shoots us in the arm, maybe we are called to hold out the other arm for them to shoot as well.

From what I’ve read of the Christians that lived during the Roman Empire it seems like they really took these words of Jesus to heart. And for that reason the emperors didn’t have as much fun killing them (since they had already died to themselves and no longer feared loss in this physical world). In fact, the early Christians cared so much about the lives of others that they even got the reputation for going out in search of abandoned babies who had been left outside the city walls to die. It seems that they understood the radical discipleship of Jesus very well.

Reading through my Bible I find a beautiful message of life. It seams to me that Jesus wants us to hold physical life in high value as we show God’s love to others in this world, especially since we should be concerned about people’s spiritual wellbeing as well as the value of their physical life.

My Amazing Friends

In the early 80s the TV show Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends aired on NBC. In the series Spider-Man and his good friends Iceman and Firestar teamed up as a tight-pack-trio to fight against the evil super villains of the Marvel Universe. The three would often work together with even more of their amazing friends like Captain American, Iron Man and the X-men, making an extremely powerful network of amazing superhero friends. I’ve been a Spider-man fan since I was a young boy. As a child I loved to sit down and watch Spider-man take on virtually impossible odds as he fought to protect humanity and guard the innocent. It was awesome! As you can imagine my mind was blown away the first time I saw an episode of Spiderman-man and His Amazing Friends: the idea of Spider-Man (who is way awesome and amazing) having all of these amazing friends who are just as supper-awesome as Spider-man was (if not more), painted a beautiful picture in my mind of a Super-Amazing-Unstoppable-
Force.

Those of you that know me well know that I often compare the life of a Christian to that of a superhero. Like superheroes, Christians also have an incredible mission in this world. We are called to rise up to challenges and make a difference in this dark world we live in. However, doing this isn’t always easy. We sometimes need encouragement and help from one another. You see, our mission in this world isn’t a solo operation –it’s a community affair.

The same was apparently true for Spider-man. Spider-man didn’t have to fight his battles alone. If he were to get discouraged he had Iceman, Firestar and the others along his side to spur him on.

I bet just knowing that he wasn’t the only one striving to make a difference gave him strength and encouragement, and perhaps even a strange high of invisibility, where he felt confident that he could take on the world.

Oftentimes when I’m with my friends I get that same high that, we-can-take-on-the-world high. The high I’m talking about is that feeling of encouragement that comes from knowing that you are in a group that will be there for you until the very end.

Like Spider-Man I have my own network of Amazing Friends made up of men and women dedicated and determined to saving humanity. These friends of mine are scattered all over this globe.

I recently was able to spend some time with some of my closest friends in Lubbock, Texas. When I’m with that group I can really feel the rush from that high. I feel different, more empowered than I do when I’m on my own. When I’m with my friends I can just sense a certain vibe among us. A vibe that says, "there is no challenge that is to great for us to tackle, and there is no event to small to be a moment to cherish and remember for a lifetime."

I think that it’s extremely important for Christians to surround themselves with such a group of people. To be a part of a community of love and faith that encourages, empowers and motivates you as a disciple. A group of your own Amazing Friends.

I love my friends and cherish them all dearly. The time we spend together is always amazing. It is in our times together that I as a Christian am sharpened and fashioned into Christ’s likeness by their love.

Just about a week ago my fiancĂ©’ Michelle and I went out of town for the weekend to spend some time with her family in the Appalachian Mountains. While there, my friend (and future brother-in-law) Ryan and I spent hours together just talking and being real with one another. We talked about everything that God is doing in our lives, areas we want to grow in, and all that we want to allow God to do through us.

I need friends like that. I need friends that I can be real with –friends that challenge me to grow and to take on more daring endeavors for God. I need my Amazing Friends and I wouldn’t be the same without them.

God is amazing. I believe He works through us all in incredible ways. I believe that the Holy Spirit living inside of us as individuals is an extremely powerful force. However, I believe that united as the church we are much stronger. As a community of love and faith united by the Spirit and directed by Christ, we truly are a Super-Amazing-Unstoppable-
Force –the Kingdom of God.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Good Life


When Jesus came to this world He showed mankind something that it had not seen for thousands of years. He came and showed the world that there was something about Him that set Him apart from others. You could -see it in the way acted. You could -hear it when he spoke, sense -it’s presence when interacting with Him. There was something about Jesus and everyone around Him knew it --everyone could tell that He had something others didn’t.

John, one of Jesus followers and closest friend began one of his letters talking about this something in Jesus. (1 John 1:1)

So what is --it? What is this thing that was so noticeable in Christ’s life that even existed at the beginning of time, that people heard, saw and touched?

Was it Jesus Himself? Was it God? Was it love? What was it?

It was life! Life to it’s highest potential. It was what I like to call the Good Life.

In the very next verse of that same letter John says:

that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father.

The word eternal here isn’t just an adjective of time meaning endless life or everlasting life. But rather, it’s meaning has to do with eternal quality, grand quality, superior quality, the best quality. Calling this life eternal means that it is never ceasing in it’s goodness, filled to the brim in its fullness and never ending in its wholeness. It is –eternal.

All throughout His life you can see Jesus telling people about the Good Life. He even said that His reason for coming to this Earth was to give us this Good Life of fullness. (John 10:15) The promise of the Good Life is for us right here and right now. Unfortunately a lot of believers today seem to have forgotten this (or maybe they never realized it at all).


It seems as though many Christians believe that being a follower of Jesus is all about trying to be good here on earth for awhile while they wait to go to heaven --and once they're there things will be good. Now it's true that Christ's followers will be going to heaven and that things will be good there. But, Jesus has also blessed our lives for right here and right now in this world. Isn't that what the Good News is about? When we fully take a hold of the Good Life we in turn are activity involved in bringing heaven here to the world around us. It seems that many Christians don't really believe that the Good News is really all that good. Or maybe they don't understand the good part about it.


Take a visit to some churches and listen to them sings songs like Ring Out the Message and you'll know what I'm talking about. It's first words are "There's a message true and glad for the sinful and the sad ring it out. . ." In many cases you will find a room of pretty sad and depressed looking facess inging a song about a message of goodness that they believe they should take to the world. --Yeah! Ironic, I know! --Perhaps the people in such an auditorium need to hear the Good News themselves! Now don't get me wrong, I don't believe that all churches are this way but some certainly are.


I believe that when a person truly believes that the Good News (the gospel) is indeed good news that you can tell. Let's take the woman at the well in the book of John for example. She was so excited to hear about the promise of the Good Life that she left behind her water jar and went into the streets of town telling everyone that they've got to come and see this man Jesus. --She seemed to believe that Good News actually was good news!


I believe that the Good News of Christ is amazing! It is because of this that I try to live an intentional life. I believe it's important to strive to live in such a way that others can see the manifest of the Good Life in my own life just as it was with Christ's. I try and live this way so that others can hear the Good Life when I talk, feel it’s presence when we interact and see it in what I do so that they too might have the Good Life and thus be added to our community of love and faith --the Kingdom of God. It is the joyous thing to bring others into our Kingdom of love as we all share in the Good Life of Christ.


May we all take hold of the Good Life in such a way that it may be seen, heard and felt by those around us in our day-to-day lives just as it was in Christ's.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An Excellent Example of Christ's Love


I
recently saw a video that I think you all should watch by Penn of Penn and Teller. Penn is a magician and very prominent Atheist and in this video he speaks of a resent encounter with a Christian who gave him a Bible. You have to watch this! This Christian was very intentional with his actions -and it showed. This man’s genuine love really seemed to make an impact on Penn. I’ve placed the link to the video on YouTube at the bottom of this note. I seems to me that there are many like Penn out there that really just have never encountered a true disciple of Christ and who know very little about the good life that Jesus came to bring. I think that this man that Penn mentions showed an awesome example of Christ love. A love that doesn't care about loss of time, energy spent or even how socially awkward showing your love might be. I hope that you all are inspired by the video as much as I am.

May we all continue to show the world the love of Christ in all we do. And let those like Penn know that we are not "just one" but MANY; an entire Kingdom of Love and Faith.

The War Prayer



The War Prayer is short story full of challenging and thought provoking criticism and satire. In this short story Mark Twain puts his contemporary Christians on stand as he puts to question the prayers and actions of the self-proclaimed righteous who too often act without putting thought into what they so hastily do in “the name of God.” Mark Twain knew that this work would cause great controversy and therefore decided not to publish it while he was still living. When a friend said that he was going to publish the work Twain interjected and said, “Only dead men can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead.” Twain made this decision with his family in mind knowing how the public would react to his work. He wanted to keep his family out of the negative spot light of the media since indeed he would have been labeled a fanatic. As a result, the short story wasn’t published until November of 1916, six years after Mark Twain’s death and (ironically) two years after the First Great War broke out.

Even though the War Prayer is nearly a century old, I believe that it’s just as thought and power today as it ever was; perhaps even more so. It shows the importance of a true relationship God with authentic love for Him and for others. I hope that you enjoy.

You can watch the animated version that I've posted above on youtube. Click on that link there for the first half and click here for the second.

The War Prayer
by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory --

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:
"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory -- must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.)

"Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"


It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.