Tom with kids in Kuwait

Tom with kids in Kuwait
Tom with kids in Kuwait

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

To begin the New Year

Dear Lord,

Help us to seek you more,

Gratify our selfishness less,

Have a teachable spirit,

And a heart that loves you.

Lead us into a new year

With excitement,



And love for each other.

Let us not resolve lightly

To do things that require




And perseverance.

Grant us days unencumbered

By worry, regret, and our past.

Give us your yoke instead

So that we may have peace

In the days of this New Year.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011


The Burns Flat Cumberland Presbyterian Church has committed to reaching every school-aged child in our community by the end of 2012. 

This is the boldest commitment the church has ever made.  Here is our plan.

We will add to, re-think, revise, and repeat some of what is in here, but one thing is certain.

We will hit the deck running in 2012 and we will be delivering GOOD NEWS!

Get a copy of Good News 2012 for ideas for your church or missions group.

Don't want to pay for a book?  View what's in this book online.

Do we really want Christ in our Christmas?

Christmas has become too commercial!

Let’s put Christ back in Christmas!

I’m saying Merry Christmas and not going along with the politically correct.

We hear these statements more and more lately, but…


Well, I didn’t say I would go so far as to go to church on Christmas.  Christmas is about family and we are staying home with family and enjoying each other.


There is a theological statement that addresses that.


That dog don’t hunt!

 Christmas is very much about Christ.  Christ Mass is very much a worship service for the Christ.  These worship services generally take place in places of worship.

OK, but we could worship Christ at home!  Right?

Yes, but will you?

Will you find time to clear away the clutter of unwrapped packages?

Will you really be able to worship when you kids are glued into their new X Box, I Pad, or YouTube video that they just uploaded from their new I Phone?

In the midst of everything that says, it’s all about me, or my husband, or my kids, will you really be able to worship God and celebrate his unimaginable love for the world that he gave through Jesus?


You already know the answer.  The question is, what will you do about it?

a)       Come and worship God and celebrate the birth of a Savior for all humankind.

b)      Or not.
This year in which Christmas falls on a Sunday may be a truth-teller year.

Check out Christmas services for the Burns Flat area...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Less me, more You

Less of me and more of You

I face the day anew again,

Wondering where it will lead.

My mind has yet to wrap around,

Those things that will impede.

The goals that I have set today,

Accomplishments for good.

My heart and mind are set on them,

If only that I would.

Give up my own shortsightedness,

For a vision more grandeur.

And turn my head and heart to One who sees,

Beyond forevermore.

My thoughts and dreams they govern me,

They sway my every step.

I say that I live for the Lord,

But haven’t made room for him yet.

For the days are always busy,

And some things must be done.

If I can just get things in order,

I will call upon the One.

The One who surely knows what’s best,

For this day’s entreaties.

If I would only let him lead,

More of Him and less of me.

But there is comfort in the driver’s seat,

Control is a powerful drug.

I really govern nothing,

But these delusions they must tug.

At my heart which oft surrenders,

To the sense I’m in control.

It’s so hard to obey and render,

To One who makes sea billows roll.

But such is the mystery of life,

To trust only what we see.

Or know that there is so much more,

With more of Him and less of me.

Life seems one big comedy,

Nothing ever seems in place.

But we live it like a tragedy,

Always running the wrong race.

The world’s goals are so tangible,

They are within our reach.

But seeking another kingdom,

Is precisely what he preached.

It seems so unimaginable,

That we are the bride of Christ.

That this world we know is not our home.

Because for us He paid the price.

But are we living for our husband?

Are we keeping ourselves for him?

Or has the world grasped our precious treasure,

And we seek our every whim.

 Oh, I face the day anew,

Wondering what before me there will be.

Will I take the world by the horns,

With less of Him and more of me.

Or finally surrender,

And claim a victor’s crown.

For when we seek his kingdom first,

He gives me more, and how!

So today will be a new start.

I will start with bended knee.

And live this day for my Lord and King,

With much more of Him and less of me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The untold story of Matthew 20 is ours to tell

Read or listen to  Matthew 20:1-16

What a parable!

I really like the part where the workers who only worked a few hours or only a single hour rush to give thanks to the landowner.  Oops!  That’s not in the parable.  Perhaps that is the part that we should live after realizing how much this parable tells us about God’s Kingdom.

What a parable!

It has been reviewed in almost every conceivable way.  One allegorical interpretation is that the workers hired first are the patriarchs, then come the prophets, then comes John the Baptist, and finally we get to grace.

Those hired first could represent those under the law.  There was an agreement for what they received.  This was a sort of this for that arrangement.  Those hired later were under grace.

Some generalize the allegory and purport that Jesus was illustrating an egalitarian society.  All were considered equal in this dynamic regardless of how much or how little each worked.

Some get very general and just call this the great reversal.  But to just say that those who have the least will be rewarded because they have little asks us to ignore other teachings.  The parable of the talents  comes quickly to mind.  The servants trusted with much  who returned much to their master were rewarded with much.

We need to remember that this is a parable.  It is meant to explain unexplainable things by laying alongside an analogy of explainable things.  In this case, Jesus is explaining his Father’s kingdom.  For this parallel to be effective in our minds, we may need to just let them operate at the conceptual or less specific level.

Allegories want one specific thing to represent another specific thing.  Sometimes they do. 

At other times, we need to be less precise.  Sometimes we just need to listen to the entire story and let the parable speak to us.

What is the story that Jesus told.

There was a land owner.  He was an active landowner.  He went out early in the morning to hire workers.  He went, not his foreman.

He found workers.  They agreed on the daily wage and he sent them to work.  The wage was probably the standard for a day’s work. 

Three hours later, the land owner is out again and finds more men needing work.  He doesn’t chew them out for not getting out and about earlier.  He just hires them and tells them that he will pay them what is right.  These men go to work.

The landowner makes the rounds three more times.   The last one is just an hour before quitting time.  He asks these men why they are just standing around.  They reply that no one will hire them.  He hires them and they go to work.  There is no discussion of pay.

Then comes quitting time.

The landowner turns the job of paying the men over to the foreman.  He tells him only to pay the wages beginning with the last hired and working his way to those hired first.  Notice that there is no mention to the foreman of the wage to be paid.

Perhaps the foreman couldn’t make change, so everyone got a denarius.

Perhaps he knew his master so well, that he knew exactly what he wanted done.

Perhaps the landowner told him but Jesus didn’t deem that detail necessary to the story.

In any case, everyone gets the same pay.

We don’t have a chapter in this story where those who only worked a few hours, or even a single hour, are jumping for joy or running over to give thanks to the landowner.  We don’t get that part of the picture.

What we do get is a picture of grumbling, angry workers who received exactly what they agreed to work for.  They are upset because the landowner valued them the same as those who worked little.  In their minds, he made them equal to them.  They had earned their denarius.  Those others surely did not!

It would be very hard for any of us not to empathize with these workers.  They busted their butts for 12 hours and get the same as the guy who works for the last hour when the sun is lower in the sky and the heat of the day has passed.  We are not talking top level  executive salaries  here.  These are day workers.  They expected to be paid for what they did.  It was God’s law that they be paid at the end of the workday.  These are poor folks.

And they were paid.

They were paid exactly what they agreed to work for.  When they saw what others received, they became jealous, angry, and even coveted the more for less benefit of the other workers.

They were not cheated.  They received exactly what they had agreed to work for.

This parable is double bookmarked, perhaps double bookended is more accurate.

First, it begins (in the 19th chapter) with, many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

It ends with, so the last will be first and the first will be last.

But outside of these two bookmarks are two others.

The story that precedes this one is the story of the Rich Young Man or the Rich Young Ruler.  The man left this encounter with Jesus sad because he had many possessions and Jesus had told him that to be complete in God’s love, he needed to give up these possessions. 

At the other end following a brief explanation to the disciples that Jesus would be mocked, flogged, and crucified; we find a mother seeking something special for her two sons.  Elsewhere, James and John themselves asked for the privilege of sitting on the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom. 

This first and last framing supports the windows of selfishness.  They support the window of me first, self first, it’s all about me.  And these bookend examples are about people who seem to be following God’s ways.

We want our god to be a god that goes along with the way we see the world.

He has told us that his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts.  Instead of accepting that and trusting God, we would rather make a god that is fair by our standards.

This happens more than we might think.

How many of you have said or heard something along these lines.  I can’t believe in a God who:

·       Would send men to war.  I can’t read the Old Testament

·       Would permit genocide

·       Would allow something like Katrina to happen

·       Would allow suffering

·       Would allow child abuse in the world

·       Would permit evil people to prosper, even for a short time

·       Would send someone to hell

·       Wouldn’t send someone to hell

You can fill in the blank.  Whatever you put there should evoke a change in grammar.


Specifically it involves a change in capitalization.  Take that big “G” in God and change it to the lower case “g” in god.  When we make our own god, it is no longer the one true God.  The one true God is the one who said, “Don’t do that.  Don’t make your own gods.”

For millennia men have made gods out of wood and stone, but in recent days we prefer to whittle our personal gods out of the one true God.

We do this all the time.  We put parameters on God.  We try to squeeze his mind, his thoughts, and his ways into our comfort zone.

They don’t fit.

We have been given the mind of Christ.  We can understand the mind of Christ.  We can know how to live as God’s love in this world.  We can understand the One who commissioned us to go forth into the world. 

We must trust God.

That doesn’t mean trust God if he meets certain criteria.  That we only trust him if he complies with our standard of fairness. 

Trust God!

He is holy.

He is righteous.

He is merciful.

He provides.

He is just.

He is almighty.

We have an Apostle’s Creed that further states what we believe.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

    the Maker of heaven and earth,

    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,

    born of the virgin Mary,

    suffered under Pontius Pilate,

    was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell or some say to the dead.

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

    and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

    from which he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;

    the holy catholic church;

    the communion of saints;

    the forgiveness of sins;

    the resurrection of the body;

    and the life everlasting.


We need to note that we say we believe these things because of what God has revealed to us.  We do not believe in God because we first said these things and he fit the bill.  The Apostle’s Creed is an affirmation.

We trust the one true God.

The workers hired after the beginning of the work day trusted than the landowner would pay them what was right.  They did not negotiate a fair wage.  They trusted.

They trusted.

The landowner told them to go to work.  They obeyed.  They trusted.

The landowner was a generous man. 

He was capable of fairness and justice.  He paid those who worked the full day the full amount they had agreed upon.

He was capable of being a generous man.  He did what he wanted with his money.  He was not constrained by the worker’s version of fairness.  He wanted to be generous.

Those who were treated fairly wanted more.  They didn’t want fairness any more once they saw generosity.  But even then, they would not trust the landowner to be generous.  They wanted their own version of fairness.  They saw generosity and they wanted a revised version of fairness.  They wanted generosity that seemed fair to them.

Remember Animal Farm.  This short satirical story is loaded with more than you would expect from your typical barnyard exploration of egalitarianism.  The initiating premise was that:   All animals are equal.  As the story progressed this was modified slightly:   All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Evil had taken root in the workers hired first because they envied the landowner’s generosity.  They didn’t so much covet what the other workers received, because they had received exactly the same.  They despised the generosity of the landowner.

Our human nature leads us to covet what others have.  The nature of our Master is to be generous and merciful.  Our Master certainly may dispense justice and fairness, but his mercy and generosity are far greater.

Our part is to trust.

Unconditional trust.

Conditional trust is really not trust.

Our part is to trust.

The workers who trusted and obeyed the landowner were blessed with his generosity.

Remember that this is a parable.  It is a story used to describe the kingdom of heaven.  This is a kingdom that Jesus told us was within us and breaking out all around us, so instead of trying to figure out what this tells us about some far away place:

·       It is one that calls for each of us to assess ourselves.

·       Do we truly trust God or do we bargain with him?

·       Do we cherish our blessings or compare them with what others have?

·       Are we resentful of God’s generosity?

·       Has God blessed someone that you think didn’t deserve it?

We recently considered this from Paul’s perspective.  Who are we to judge another man’s servant?

We are to focus on our relationship with God through Christ.  We should be aware of what is going on around us—we are part of a family of faith—but we are not to be distracted by how others serve God or are blessed by God.  Our value is tied to our Creator and our Redeemer and not to what we have done or received in comparison to others.

The economy of the world revolves around competition, negotiation, and a considerable amount of selfishness.

The economy of God is generosity.

The economy of God is generosity.

The economy of God is generosity.

We as God’s people should be telling the untold story of this parable—the story of God’s generosity.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

God Loves You

It is a simple message but one that we all need to hear daily.
It is a simple message but one that our children really need to hear time and time again.
It is a simple message for a complicated world.
What’s the message?

God loves you.

So I wrote a simple book.
It’s designed to be read to your children until they can read it on their own.
It’s about God’s love.

Even if you don’t buy, borrow, or steal the book, tell your kids that you love them and that God loves them.
Tell them often.
Put a note in your son’s backpack.
Send your daughter a letter.
Write it on a cupcake.

God Loves You!
That’s forever.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tuff Stuff kicks off on 12 September 2011

Tuff Stuff Bible Study

You are not invited to attend this Bible Study.


 You are challenged to fully participate in this Bible Study.

 It is not for everyone.  Everyone is not encouraged to attend.  This is only for those who want God to work in their lives through the reading, study, and discussion of his written word.  This is only for those who will commit to reading relevant scriptures for each topic area.  Compare this study to a fellowship meal.  You bring something wonderful and you enjoy many wonderful dishes.  But in this fellowship meal you are expected cook and eat.  You are expected to study, share, and listen.

Why such a hard line approach?

So we can study some of the more difficult passages, explore some tough concepts, and not be afraid to examine some of the more controversial topics of our generation.  Like what?  Topics such as:  Atonement, Discipline and Punishment, Divorce, Fear, Hell, Homosexuality, Sex, Soteriology, Stewardship, Taxonomy of Sin, War, and others.  Concepts such as:  Dealing with unholy behavior in fellow Christians, Role of Christians in Government, Wisdom and Judging, and others as selected by the group.  (Listed alphabetically not by order of study).

This is an open ended study group.  That is, we will not lead you to a predefined finding or try to convince you that you are wrong.  You will be challenged to seek the truth.  The truth itself is a wonderful liberator.

This study is not offered in lieu of worship.  This is Bible Study.  The group will meet only twice each month on the 2nd and 3rd Mondays from 6:00-8:00 pm.   It is for men and women from high school to too old to count the number of years.  Pray about this.  There will be commitment cards available in August.

The first meeting is 12 September 2011.

The format will involve reading and research on one topic for two weeks.  The areas addressed within each topic will be:

FTBTMS – For the Bible Tells Me So

Red Letter Words- What Jesus had to say on the subject

Word Studies- The width and depth of the original text
Commentaries/COF- What others have published on the matter

Unique Context- Were these passages written only for the original audience?

Personal Opinions- Here’s the fun part.  At the beginning of each new topic, all participants will be asked to write down what they think/believe in about a paragraph or less.  Each person will then seal this in an envelope not to be looked at until the study of the topic is complete.  These will be opened at the end of the study, shared if desired, or just used as a benchmark as to how much more each participant learned.

You will find the format unique and the discovery process to be genuine.  The study will be moderated by Tom Spence, but all who commit are expected to fully participate.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How many first century Christians are in hell?

How many first century Christians are in hell?
Modern day Christians most often look to John for the plan of salvation.  What about those first century believers that that heard the good news from those who repeated what we now have in Matthew, Mark, or Luke?
What about those who attended the church in Jerusalem?  With James as the head of this church, how much did he preach about Jesus?  James speaks to those who are servants and believers in Jesus Christ in his letter to the Diaspora.   Surely John didn’t get to all of those places first?
None of the synoptic gospels have the equivalent of what we find in John 3:16  or Romans 10:9-10.  We just don’t see the command to confess Jesus as Lord before a person can receive salvation.  What happened to those people who heard the good news as it was captured in Matthew, Mark, and Luke?  Were they condemned because they only had part of the story?
Did Matthew shortchange those who heard him speak because he spent too much time on beatitudes and teachings and not enough on being born again?
Mark is probably the recording of Peter’s gospel.  Peter—the rock—Dude, how could you miss this?
How could Luke repeat stories about Jesus that said a man could have eternal life if he loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind and love his neighbor as himself?  It’s right there at the beginning of the parable  of the Good Samaritan. 
Luke was likely a very educated man who ministered with Peter and with Paul.  How could he not have included such life saving language?
Some might say that when Jesus said love the Lord he meant love Jesus and that’s close enough to professing Jesus is Lord.  Was Jesus then master of the parable but inept and finding the right word for himself?  Surely not!  He used the Son of Man, Son of God, and the One sent by God very fluidly in the context of his teaching and discussions.
Were only those who heard the good news from John or Paul truly saved?
Or have we taken the good news of Jesus Christ and doctrinalized it to the point where only one formula works?
Have we become modern day Pharisees?
Will one who truly loves God not come to know Christ?  Would God invalidate the relationship on a technicality?  Would God call us to recannonize the Bible today and discard all but John’s gospel?
Were all of the disciples not commissioned to take the good news to the world?
We are blessed to have 66 books of the Holy Bible.  God set these apart for us as scripture.  He used a bunch of flawed men to canonize them, but he has a habit of doing that.  Abram was something of a liar, Moses a murderer, David an adulterer, and the list goes on.
Today we are blessed to have the Bible that we have, but it has not always been so ubiquitous.  Did God not find a way for flawed people to spread good news before we published all 66 in a collection?
Do we discount John’s gospel as too restrictive?
By no means!  It is the shortest distance between two points.  It is the most direct route to salvation.  It is the first book I tell new believers to read.  But I do tell them to read the rest of the gospels later on.  These other gospels cannot be relegated to just books on how to live or an account of the life of Jesus.  These words brought good news and salvation to many as well.
Is the question academic to the current generation as we have been privileged to easy access to the complete Bible all of our lives?
But to give John’s gospel such preeminence is to discount the search for salvation and good news in the other gospels.
Does this in any way lessen the passion and urgency with which we take messages that we have learned from John’s gospel and Paul’s letters to the world in which we live?
Not at all!
But it does open our eyes to the truth.  Sometimes we have excluded much of God’s word from the truth because we as modern day Pharisees must fit all of God’s word into our comfort zone.
I remember a Marine Corps fashion statement from over 30 years ago when I was a second lieutenant at the Basic School in Quantico, Virginia.  Marines teach fashion?  Absolutely!  Nobody does camouflage like we do.
The advice I received from one of the captains assigned to teach us was to dress comfortably cool.  You always needed a reason to generate a little body heat.  Some comfort was good.  Too much put you to sleep.  You needed to be able to get up and move out without getting overheated.
We too should have comfort and assurance in our salvation.  God really does love us.  He really has preserved us.  He is surely not finished with that for which we have been predestined.
But we should not shrink back into our comfort zone.  God has much to teach us about his Love.
Paul had great anguish that Israel appeared to be lost.  They had rejected Christ.  But they had surely not been hung out to dry.
Let us read every gospel with the expectation of finding the good news that Jesus commissioned those first disciples to proclaim.
I don’t think that anyone who heard the good news from any of the commissioned was deprived of life saving information. 
OK, so how many first century Christians are in hell?
What an absurd provocation.  Why would anyone even ask this?
Because today we are quick to assign God’s judgment and threaten a person with hell when we are commission to spread good news.  We are commissioned to tell of life in Christ and salvation through faith in him.  We are commission to make disciples, baptize, and teach.
Somewhere along the way we decided that no one would respond to the grace of God unless we scared the hell out of them.
Is love not stronger than fear?
Can you really confess Jesus is Lord out of fear?
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, but does the fear of hell make for a true confession?
Read the gospel that John wrote.  Preach salvation through Christ alone.  Then read the rest of the Bible not trying to make it fit into your comfort zone.
It will be a challenge.
More than that, it will be a blessing.