Saturday, September 24, 2011


"The Turtle"

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
(Ephesians 6:11)

After going a year without hiking and biking due to serious back issues, I've enjoyed returning to my favorite hobbies. I've heard lots of horror stories about back surgery, but my surgery in the Spring has been life changing for me. Saturday has become my regular biking day again. I have been loading up and heading down to one of my favorite paved trails to ride, but today, I just didn't feel like the extra effort. I got my bike down, did my regular once over on it, and just started riding from my front yard. I went down my street to a nice, long, easy ride in a low traffic area with some nice scenery. What usually keeps me from doing this is a lack of a leash law in the county and dogs chasing me and ruining my ride. Just a couple of scraggly mutts chased me today and I easily outran them.

I noticed something on my ride. In the road I saw a turtle that did not make it. His shell was crushed and his remains lay right in the middle of the road. Here is one of God's creations that has a great natural defense - he can just pull his head and legs into his shell and withstand the attack of almost any predator. However, that same defense does not work extremely well against the tires of a pickup truck or even a compact car.

When that little turtle went out today, he had his full armor on. However, he chose to venture into territory where that armor would be ineffective. I'm not sure he really knew how much trouble he was even in as he slowly made his way across the road. Suddenly, he found himself crushed by the enemy.

I wondered, do we sometimes go into places where, despite our spiritual armor, the enemy is destined to crush us? You see, if we step outside of God's will, if we venture into areas that he has not called us to go, then we are in grave danger. How far behind enemy lines do you have to go before you have sealed your own fate? I think about the way we sometimes gear up, but leave God behind. We think we are good. We think we can handle just one drink, or just one toke, or just one glance, or just one snort, or just one lap dance. Then...WHAM! Totally crushed. Sin slams into you like an 18-wheeler and smashes you.

I'm not saying the armor of God is incapable of saving you. Ultimately the helmet of salvation can withstand all kinds of damage. However, that does not mean you need to go out seeking a concussion. It struck me again as I was playing Halo today, trying to take out a massive Scarab that was decimating friendly forces. As I rushed into the midst of the fray with no thought of caution I was crushed by the enemy. Even the Master Chief in all his armor and with all his strength can bite off more than he can chew. Even with all our armor on as Christians, we should always be mindful of where we are venturing and what we are doing.

"Ant Hills"

Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
(James 1:15)

The ants have come late in the season this year. Over a period of a couple of weeks the ants have built several forts in my yard. My six year old daughter, Hannah, told me I needed to do something about them earlier this week. I told her that on Saturday, we would go ant hunting. On Saturday afternoon, I slid on my gloves, grabbed a container of my favorite ant killer, picked up a small shovel, and Hannah and I went on patrol.

She was my spotter. When she saw an ant hill she pointed it out. We had everything from small ones to one that was the biggest I have seen yet in my yard: over two feet wide and then some six inches or more tall.

I have a method when I hunt ants. Today, when Hannah pointed them out, I'd flip the switch on my spray can and say "Weapons hot!" Then she would say, "One, two, three FIRE!" That's just the results of growing up with a dad that spent 20 years in the Navy and watching and reading too much military stuff. So first, I would hose the hill down. Then I would take my small shovel and dig it out. Then I'd hose it down some more. We must have destroyed over a dozen ant hills.

I've found it's very important how you destroy ant hills. If you don't dig them out, if you treat just the surface level, the ant population springs back. Me and my fellow warrior dealt harshly with the ants in our yard today. "Small ant hills become big ant hills," I taught Hannah. She understood. It was important to wipe out even the little ones before they grew into something bigger.

I realized sin is the same way. Sometimes we just treat it at a surface level, but deep down inside, sin is carving catacombs and breeding more and more, greater and greater sin inside of us. In fact, those "sin hills" lead to the construction of even more "sin hills". Before you know it, you are infested with sin. Small sin becomes big sin.

You can't really show any mercy when dealing with ants. The only good ant is a dead ant. You can't really show any mercy when dealing with sin. The only good sin is a dead sin.


The New Covenant

This is the finale in a series I preached on covenants. I'm thankful to God for being faithful in guiding me through his Word and the things he desires me to preach.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What's In A Name?

My birth name is Randy Alan Donahue. For the first 20 years of my life I was simply “Randy” to everybody, except when I was in big trouble with my mom and she would call me “Randy Alan.” It’s amazing how much identity is tied to our names. It becomes a word that defines who we are. When somebody calls your name, what happens? You respond. It’s your name after all. All of that radically changed for me when I began my career in the plumbing wholesale industry.

Back in 1990 I desperately needed a job. I had a young child, rent, utilities, grocery bills, a car that kept breaking down and not a whole lot of income flipping burgers in a fast food place. I applied for an entry level sales position at a local plumbing wholesaler and made it through all of their testing and initial interview process. As I sat across from the President of the company and the lady who would be my manager, they asked me an interesting question, “We would love to hire you. We already have three other Randy’s working for us. Would you mind going by another name?” The correct answer to that was, “No problem!”

The natural choice was to go by my middle name, Alan. In the plumbing world I became Alan, or as some of the plumbers started calling me, “Big Al.” My wife told me up front, “You’ll always be Randy to me.” To my family and friends both I remained “Randy.” I had to grow accustomed to responding to my new name, and even answering the phone by stating my new name. It felt like I had an alter-ego sometimes, like some sort of mysterious supply house super hero. Over time, I became used to the two names and got pretty good at responding to either one of them.

Things became confusing after I gave my life to Christ and started attending a church where several of my customers went. They knew me as “Alan.” However, at church I was “Randy.” Some people probably thought I had a brother as some folks called me Randy and some called me Alan. The funny thing about it is that the name “Alan” turns on the plumbing oriented side of my personality now, and “Randy” brings out all the other parts of my personality. Maybe it would make more sense like this: Randy is the real me, but when I’m called Alan, it summons up just the salesman / plumbing wholesale side of me. It’s just not my real name, even though I’ve gone by it in my career for 21 years.

I faced a potential change earlier this year when I began working for another plumbing wholesaler. What name would I use? I could go back to Randy if I desired. It was a fresh start. But I had a 20 year old customer base that knew me as Alan. My wife and friends asked me what I was going to do. I gave them the only logical answer: “I’ll stay as Alan.” After all, “Alan” had become my brand in the plumbing wholesale field. I had 20 years of reputation built on that name. I would have been doing a disservice to my new employer if I’d changed back to my first name. They could tell everybody, “Hey, Alan is working for us now” and create a buzz. If they said, “Randy is working for us,” nobody would have known who they were talking about. I’m sure even if I said I wanted to go by Randy, they would have told everybody Alan was working for them.

Ultimately, the question is this: “What’s in a name?” The answer: “A lot.” I was a little sad to hear earlier this year of Campus Crusade for Christ changing their name to CRU in an attempt to appeal to more people. They indicated that had been a longstanding nickname, but removing “Christ” from their official name caused me to whence a little bit. Then I heard that a new task force has been appointed in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to consider a name change. Apparently the term “Southern” may limit our ability to reach people with the gospel. I guess my big questions in light of this and with my personal name changing experience are:

What will the new name be?

How long will it take to be accepted?

Will it build unity or division?

Will it really result in more salvations and church growth?

Will we be called the ____________________, you know, formerly known as the SBC?

I guess my real beef with the whole issue is that if we are seeking ways to strengthen and grow our convention, a name change seems cosmetic at best. Semantics will only get us so far. Real growth will not be driven by something so simple. Whether you call me Randy or Alan, I’m still the same person. In actuality it’s not the name that makes the person, but the person that makes the name. I believe the same will hold true in our convention no matter what the outcome.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dear Dementia, I Hate You

One of the most devastating things that happened to me in 2011 and indeed in my life altogether is my dad being diagnosed with dementia. You see, my dad is my hero. He travelled the world for 20 years in the US Navy (seeing 54 countries and literally going around the world). He retired and worked 20 more years for the city sanitation department. He is a hardworking, family oriented, Christian man. He taught me how to be a hard worker, he showed me what it meant to be a Christian and he taught me what it means to be a father.

I have witnessed a horrible mental disease erase parts of who he is. The man that raised me and provided for me now needs me to help him take a bath. Once while bathing him recently he was partially undressed and looked at me with a confused look and asked, “What are we doing?” I lost my mother to ovarian and colon cancer in 2001. In retrospect that seems almost easier than the way I feel with my dad today. I hate dementia. I loathe it. I detest it. I abhor it. It is a monster that is slowly, bit by bit, mercilessly devouring the personality and mentality of my father.

He was in a nursing home for a few weeks and due to insurance and financial reasons was not able to stay. We re-engineered our lives and schedules to allow him to live at home. It’s been a team effort on the part of me, my wife and two of my daughters. I have had the easiest role because I have the least amount of time due to work. I primarily handle his medication and bathing. They have to deal daily with the crazy things dementia drives him to do and say.

I had a big blow up with God over the whole thing when dad came home. I was overwhelmed, crushed, broken and greatly angered. “How could you let this happen to my dad, God?” Answers to questions like that are never easy. Sometimes all we can do is cry out our hearts to the Almighty and then just seek his strength, mercy, grace, love and wisdom. It has not been easy. Some days, dad is like his old self. Many days he is not.

I just remind myself when I am struggling about all the hard work he did raising me. I think of all the years he made sacrifices for me. The least I can do is be there for him at this time.

That brings me to the words of Pat Robertson earlier this week. Robertson was asked on the 700 Club what advice a man should give to a friend who began seeing another woman after his wife started suffering from Alzheimer’s (another incurable neurological disorder like dementia). Take a look at his response:

“I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”

When pressed about the “through sickness and health” and “’til death do us part” areas of the marriage vow, he responded:

“If you respect that vow, you say ‘til death do us part. This [Alzheimer’s] is a kind of death.”

All I can think to say is, “Really?” So let me get this right, its okay for me to say my dad isn’t my dad anymore because basically he is dead because of this disease he has? I just write him off and get somebody to take care of him? In all likelihood if the disease continues to progress he will eventually not know me, my wife or my daughters, so it just makes sense, right?

No, no and unequivocally NO! He is my dad. Whether he knows me or not I certainly know him. How cruel for Mr. Robertson to say such a thing, to in any shape, form or fashion encourage a spouse to abandon his marriage vow. Such advice is not biblical in any sort of way. His words do not reflect the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ’s love. Mr. Robertson needs to repent and recant or retire. He has developed a talent for making un-Christ-like statements (just look at previous comments about 9-11, Katrina and Haiti to name a few). He is doing no favors for the church or his Savior by saying such things. In fact, he is encouraging people to take sinful actions in this case.

Dear Dementia,
I hate you.

Dear Dad,
I love you.

Dear Pat Robertson,
I am terribly disappointed in you.

(Here is a link for the news article)


Friday, September 9, 2011

Confessions of a Fomer Atheist Part 1: NOTHING

Atheists believe in nothing. For me, one of the scariest parts of being an atheist was that “nothing” factor. Despite my ego, arrogance and anger as an atheist, the one thing that would take the wind out of my sails was nothing: the nothing at the end. Death stood as the great equalizer, the ultimate victor in reality. Death ended every life, and after that life ended simply stood nothing.

I can recall having disturbing thoughts of that dark nothingness. I would sometimes wonder, “When I die, what will it be like to fade into nothingness.” I thought of it as a deep, dark void that swallowed me whole. I simply ceased to be and fell into nothing. It would draw me into its cold arms and crush me in its grasp.

That fear of nothing at the end instilled in me a great desire to be something today. In that quest for something, I found frustration. How could I accomplish more and more before nothing consumed me? All I had was here, in this life. The only promise I had was today and the only assurance I possessed was this moment right now. The vast volume of history proved to me that most men succumbed to nothingness. I struggled with how to break that. How could I be remembered, how could I make an indelible mark that would overcome nothingness? Nothing inspired me to be something.

I cannot say that I embraced evolutionary thought or the Big Bang theory. I had my doubts about those things even as an atheist. Why? Even those seemed to beg for too much faith. I wanted a more concrete explanation. However, many atheists embrace those beliefs. They do not just believe “in the end: nothing” they also believe “in the beginning: nothing.” Nothing. Then everything. Then nothing. Effectively they believe in nothing. No God. No miracles. No supernatural activity. Nothing beyond what our fives senses can process.

I guess I could say that as an atheist, nothing really mattered. Nothing motivated me. Nothing inspired me. Nothing disturbed me. Nothing. My belief was in nothing. The only hope that can be found for the atheist is in himself. Of course that builds pride and arrogance. Just the arrogance to definitively say “there is no God” is pretty brash. However, I was that brash. “You believe in God. I believe in nothing.” That was the pride of my belief.

As I look back at my past now that I know Christ, I can make a choice how to see it. I can see nothing. I can see failure. I can see it all with sadness and disappointment. Or, I can see it as something. I can see it as God working in my life even as I chose to ignore him. I can see how he continually reached out to me and put people and situations in my path to reveal himself to me. I rationalized such things then, but I can see him at so many points in my path now. Today I still find great comfort in “nothing” for another reason:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

To sum it up: NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. As believers, NOTHING can sever us from salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. As a born again believer in Jesus, I find now that NOTHING holds any fear for me anymore. I rejoice that my fear of that word has became hope in the Lord. The coolest thing is that I did NOTHING to deserve his love.

Randy Alan