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Raising Duck Dynasty Kids in a Miley Cyrus World

DuckDynastyRecently, I was asked to teach at my church, Life Fellowship Church, in the Lake Norman region of metro-Charlotte, NC.  We are in the middle of a month-long series called “Home Improvement.”  I chose the topic of “Family Discipleship” as found in Deuteronomy 6.  The 50-minute talk was transcribed and is now available in addition to the podcast.  Here is the introduction to this message:

When I was a kid it was Father Knows Best. I wasn’t watching it when it came on
originally, but I saw the reruns. It was from the 50’s and I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and you could still see Father Knows Best. I grew up friends with the Cleaver family, Leave it to
Beaver, anyone remember him? And then in the 70’s we got Little House on the Prairie and we had The Brady Bunch. And in those homes, in a variety of ways, we saw reinforced values of what had been parenting and home life for generations in our country.

In the 80’s there was a little bit of a shift that turned into a tsunami of change as to how
we viewed family in popular culture. Some of you grew up and remember The Cosby’s, an
intact family, dealing with the problems of everyday life, with a mom and dad who were engaged in their kids. That was the early 80’s. But by the end of the 80’s we had a show called Married with Children. And that shift was best indicated through the role of the father in the public culture from that time on. You see when you looked at the father in Father Knows Best, even from the title; and then Ward Cleaver

in Leave it to Beaver, and then Michael Landon as he played Mr. Ingles. You had Mike as head of The Brady Bunch’s blended family, and Bill Cosby in his role as Dr. Huxtable. These were men who weren’t perfect, but who led with integrity, doing the best they could.
In the 80’s things shifted and dads became dummies. And whether you are talking about
Married with Children or Roseanne or even today’s, Modern Family, the whole concept of
fatherhood and roles in the home, and how families function in a healthy way, and how they
communicate with each other shifted. Today the communication is rife with sarcasm, rife with bitterness; there is hostility between parents and children, and between husbands and wives. Dad’s a dummy, mom is the smarter one, but you never lift up the role of one by tearing down the role of the other, and that is what our culture seems to have tried to do.
Parenting today is hard. We don’t have the cultural support that we once had. When I
went to Kindergarten, we prayed before we had cookies and milk. We said the Pledge of
Allegiance and we talked about the Ten Commandments and this was in a public school. In the public school in which I grew up, I had the lead part in the Christmas story because I was able to read aloud and I read from the Bible the entire Christmas story. Can you imagine that happening today? It is not going to happen. There would be lawsuits so fast it would make your head spin.

You see there was a day when kids would even come to church with a basic knowledge
of who Adam and Eve was, and who Noah was, and Moses, and the Ten Commandments and
Jesus and the disciples. Those days are gone. When kids come to our Kid Life many times we
have to start from zero. Many times you have to start from zero. The culture has changed. Now the question remains for us, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to address it?

You know today we have this disparity in America between a culture that values family,
that you might see portrayed on a show like Duck Dynasty. On the other extreme we have
young role models who for a period appeared to be rather traditional in their childhood, who
when they grow up celebrate the worst values that any parent might consider for their child. I can’t think of any better example of that than Miley Cyrus. The fact is this, rearing children has never been super easy. The fact is it is hard. But it is not impossible.

For example, consider Noah. Noah raised three sons who were willing to leave
everything behind and to get on a boat because they believed God. You might want to consider the fact that the children of Israel reared their children in order to give them the land that God had promised them for a forty year camping trip. Now that had to be pretty hard. I couldn’t survive a four day camping trip and they were doing it for forty years. You say well those were some success stories and that is true because you know there are no guarantees in parenting. Jacob, who was a man that God had blessed and honoured, had ten of his sons gang up and sell another brother into slavery. Not exactly a father’s proudest moment when he learns of that, is it? You remember Eli, the high priest, and what happened to him. He raised two boys before he raised Samuel. Samuel was the one we remember, but don’t forget his own two sons who ended up being so vile, so anti-God, that God finally killed them. So even among those that loved and pursued God, there is no guarantee that your kids are going to turn out in the way that you pray and desire.

You say, well, it’s bad today; it’s bad in this time in history, and our generation, and in
America, and so forth. Yeah, you are right, this is a tough time to be a parent, but consider the parents of the early church because those parents were rearing their children in a generation where many parents would take their pre-pubescent children to the local pagan temples and allow them to be used as prostitutes in pagan worship. Now we are bad, but we are not quite there yet. And still the early church was able to parent by good Biblical principles in the midst of a culture like that.

So in other words, there is no throwing our hands up and giving up. There is no saying it
can’t be done. There is no acquiescing to the culture that isn’t of a Biblical stance. Parenting
has never been easy.

MileyLet’s consider Miley Cyrus for a little while. Many of you remember those days of Miley Cyrus when she was Hannah Montana, the sweet little gal of Disney fame. And many, many of our young people, and I will even tell you this, even in my house, Miley Cyrus was considered to be ‘safe enough, vanilla enough’ that from time to time the kids could watch her on the Disney channel. That’s something I quite honestly regret now because you see Miley Cyrus didn’t stay young and innocent. She has now become the poster child of a hyper-sexual worldly child star turned adult, all so she could make more money than she had even made with Disney. And this is a girl who is Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter, his little girl. I have to think if Billy Ray Cyrus loves his little girl, he is heartbroken today. How did she go from Hannah Montana to Miley Cyrus?

Now, here is the fact of the matter; we ought to pray for Miley Cyrus. I think she knows
better. I think she sold her soul to celebrity. And in our culture today celebrity is purchased
through notoriety. I believe there will come a day when Miley Cyrus, I pray so, will wake up
and be embarrassed, or hopefully even ashamed. And maybe at that point, Christ will use her as a spokesperson for the dangers of chasing celebrity. This isn’t about her, it about our culture. She needs our prayers. The fact is there are a lot of parents today who are willing to offer their children on the altar of fame and success and money and Hollywood and Nashville and New York and notoriety, so they can have the perks and privilege that come in this culture with celebrity. And it is heart breaking.

But now let’s look at the other side. On the other hand you have the boys of Duke
Dynasty. And the fact is this, they are plain spoken, they are earthy, they are oblivious at times. They are rather simple, yet they have struck a chord with many of us, many middle American families, who desire relationships over riches, and values over celebrity. Let’s look at a few of their comments and see if you can relate. (Video is shown)

“[Phil Robertson on video] You got old Papaw here being your chaperone. John Luke,
never touch her below the neck until you sign the dotted line.”

[New scene with Phil Robertson on video.] “Hey, are you there? Can you all hear me;
can you all hear me now? Remove it from your head. What, are you all in a trance? What’s on
the video game? Huh? What’s these modern day girls up there you all fool with now, what do
they think about video games, Cole man? Find fast talking women and that will pick up the
slack on you all’s lack of conversation. You all might ought to go by Walmart and pick you up a personality. Reckon? “

[CNN Entertainment Reporter speaking on video] “You know guys, one thing that really
stood out to me as a mom; I mean this couple is definitely doing something right with their five kids. They have three biological and two adopted and they are involved in this orphanage. And these kids have fame, money, everything at their fingertips, and I said how do you keep those kids grounded? How do you keep them from being a Justin Bieber or a Lindsey Lohan? And bottom line, they love family. And their faith is number one. And you look at those kids and go, wow! They’re definitely doing something right.”

And so you see folks like this, and the sad thing is, in many parts of our culture, they are
the freaks. They are the ones we are concerned about. They are almost abnormal. And I just
have to say, if that is abnormal, give it to me. All right? By the way this isn’t about the
Robertson’s or the Duck Dynasty culture, second amendment, and camouflage, any more than it is about Miley Cyrus and Billy Ray and his one famous song, Achy Breaky Heart,’ and all the other things that go on Disney Channel. It is not about that.

But what I am trying to remind us of is that there is a cultural war that is going on and it
involves our families. And if we want parenting advice let’s not go to Billy Ray for sure, and
let’s not go to the Robertson’s. Let’s go to the book of books, and that is the word of God. So
turn with me if you will to Deuteronomy Chapter 6 and we are going to see a little bit here about what God was using for a plan for his children as they reared the next generation.

To read the remainder of this talk, click HERE.  A podcast of the talk is also available at

Thinking about Drinking Alcohol — Another Perspective


Take some time and read THIS interesting essay from the recent issue of Christianity Today.

I think this is a very good and reasoned argument for abstaining from alcohol. Not drinking has never been difficult for me — I didn’t grow up with it around me, I decided early not to imbibe, (once I make a decision on something — I’m completely bull-headed about it), I don’t trust myself and my tendency to get gun-ho about things, I’ve seen the utter destruction it causes in families and individuals, it costs more than I’m willing to pay and I don’t want the potential stumbling stone that it clearly is for some as I perform my responsibilities as a pastor and seminary prof. I’m as unwilling to say every use of it is sinful as I am to say every use of it is permissible. I just think it is mostly unwise — particularly in the life of a spiritual leader.

For my position, I’ve often been misunderstood. I don’t think it makes me morally or spiritually superior. I like carbohydrates way too much to think that of myself. More often than not, my non-teetotaling brethren have accused me of being a “legalist” or some sort of “religious fanatic” when they find that I haven’t/don’t/don’t intend to drink. In something that is a mild irritation to me, I find that my non-Christian friends give me far less of a hard time about not drinking than do most of my Christian friends. It’s like they truly don’t understand (or agree with the idea) that I’m just not going to start drinking at this stage in my life. To some, it would appear that this commitment on my part makes me some sort of circus freak. I’ve rarely had to endure intense questioning, polite “jabs” of “humor” or those smirks exchanged between others who think that I didn’t notice them from my non-believing friends. It’s not really a big deal…I’m well past junior high and peer pressure… but it is an interesting reality. I just truly find no “upside” that is Biblical for me to drink, therefore I don’t.

But I agree with this author that the pendulum has swung too wide on the topic. For all our emphasis on “not drinking to excess” or “avoiding drunkenness”, there are just too many stories of alcohol-fueled excess in the evangelical church today and I personally think it is because we’ve become far too frivolous about it. I just wish I heard anywhere near the amount of warning about it’s dangers as I hear the rationalizations and justifications for Christians to use it.

It’s a decision each of us must make — Christian or not. It should be made thoughtfully and carefully. It should not be made with a group of half-sloshed college freshman chanting “chug, chug, chug.” It should not be made when one is depressed or stressed and looking to escape. It should not be made because we desire to prove we aren’t fundy puritan legalists and want to show we really are enjoying the grace-filled life. Being a non-drinker should not be a commitment that we think will give us special status in the Kingdom, favor with God or immunity to other addictive tendencies. But perhaps we should look at the whole of alcohol’s impact — both potential and present. I think if we did, fewer of us would feel that our freedom in Christ need be demonstrated at the lip of a bottle or can.

So What Is Your Faith Worth These Days?

takeastandIt has been said that “a faith that costs little will accomplish little.”  Considering the trends that are rapidly taking hold in our American culture, we might well find out how much our faith is worth to us individually in the amazingly near future.

Much has been made in recent days of privately-owned Christian businesses which are being targeted by everything from boycotts to lawsuits to legislation for various positions the ownership has taken.  Chick-Fil-A was in the midst of a firestorm last year for comments made by one of the primary owners and officers of this 100% private company regarding the issue of the definition of marriage.  Shortly thereafter, competing “boycotts” and “buy-cotts” and even a totally failed attempt at a gay “kiss-in” were the topic of the month all over the news and internet.  Private evangelical university, Lynchburg, VA’s Liberty University (full disclosure: I am an employee of Liberty University) and craft and home accessory retail chain, “Hobby Lobby” have challenged different aspects of the so-called “Affordable Care Act” (aka “Obamacare”) which would require them to potentially provide abortion coverage in their health plans.  A similar lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the Sisters of Charity — a Catholic association of nuns — which objects to the requirement to provide birth control which violates their Catholic tenants.  In Arizona, Colorado and Washington State, multiple small business owners in the wedding industry have been sued and even run out of business because they want to deny services to homosexual “marriage” ceremonies.  Thus far, the courts have been ruling against them with regularity.  The Obama administration has unconstitutionally stopped defending the Family Protection Act which helped insure discrimination against those who do not want to be forced to violate their religious convictions.

The battles to stop government recognition of homosexual marriages has been lost.  The momentum is too strong.  The media and activists successfully categorized it as an “anti-gay” thing when the debate was really never anti-gay marriage, it was about having the government give legal recognition to a form of marriage unrecognized as legitimate for over 4,000 years of civilization.  There have always been homosexuals and homosexual couples — that wasn’t the issue.  It was about what it meant to define family.  Those who stand for historical and Biblical morality lost.

Today, even some evangelicals have called into question whether or not a private business owner should have freedom to discriminate based on religious convictions.  They are so interested in presenting a social reasonable definition of the Gospel that they are missing a bigger point.  If private businesses are to have any freedoms at all apart from the dictates of the state, then the state needs to stay out of them.  A private business owner who does not want to serve Christians or gays or Muslims because of their religious faith — even if it means they will ultimately not have sufficient income to survive as a business — should be allowed to do so without government prosecution.  Should a Muslim-owned business be required to sell pornography because it is a “first amendment” issue to have freedom of the press?  Should a Christian wedding photographer have to go to a gay strip club to record a homosexual wedding ceremony even if it violates their conscience to enter such an establishment?  Should a gay florist be required to hire a fundamentalist Christian to arrange bouquets even though it might drive away potential customers?  Where does the intrusion end?  With clients and customers?  What about with insurance and benefits?  What about hiring and promotion?  If religious organizations and private businesses aren’t free to live out their values, shouldn’t a private Christian school have to hire a lesbian PE Teacher?  Shouldn’t a church be required to retain a pregnant youth worker?  Would an atheist organization need to have a quote of evangelicals to demonstrate non-descrimination?  These are the very issues at stake right now — both constitutional issues and moral/faith issues and they don’t just affect Christians such as me and many of you who read this blog.

But on to the bigger question…

When the day comes — and the day WILL come as it has come to other generations in other nations before us — will we be willing to take a stand that would require us to pay a price?  Frankly, that might be just what the Lord has in mind for our future and it might not be an altogether bad thing.  Granted, I’m not looking to be some sort of martyr or activist.  My firebrand days are pretty much over.  However, it is a worthy topic for conversation and thought.  Would we, in fact, be willing to suffer loss, discrimination, opposition or worse for the values that come with our faith in Scripture and God.

Dead leaves and dead fish go with the flow.  Taking a stand causes ripples and waves.  Turn on a light and watch the cockroaches run for the shadows.  Put some salt on ice and watch things start changing.  Taking a stand on matters of propriety, morality, philosophy, ethics, values and conduct is going to exact some sort of price at the hands of those whose values are different than yours.

We should expect nothing less.

Years ago, my oldest son (now 26, but around 10-11 at the time) was on a city baseball league that made it to the playoffs.  He was a pitcher and was scheduled to pitch one of the playoff games.  The problem was that the game was scheduled for 10:00 on Sunday morning.  At 10:00 on Sunday mornings, our family is in church.  No exceptions.  Everyone on the team knew that we didn’t miss Wednesday nights or Sunday services for baseball.  Thus, he got there late and was a relief pitcher instead.  Now a decade and a half later, I have no recollection whether or not we won the game, but we do still talk about taking a stand for our priorities as a family.  We had told the coach that the first day of practice.  Sometimes we’d come to a game right after church as it was a few innings old and sometimes we left a game a few innings early to get to church, but it was church first, baseball second.  We didn’t ask for special consideration, we didn’t start a petition drive to change the game times, we didn’t gripe when it meant that he didn’t get to play as much.  It was just the price of having priorities that were important to our family.

(I often wonder if all the professing Christians in the country had a priority scale that placed spiritual matters before athletic events, if sports leagues would not be forced to take that into consideration when scheduling games.  I’m old enough to remember when they didn’t give homework on Wednesday nights so as not to interfere with Wednesday night church services and this was in PUBLIC SCHOOLS.)

Part of bearing the “shame” of the cross is to pay the price with patience that doing right costs us.


For years, I’ve watched Orthodox Jews refuse certain foods and walk rather than drive to places on the Sabbath without complaint because of their beliefs.  I’ve seen Muslims stop and drop on their prayer rugs in the middle of airports during their pre-appointed prayer times.  I recall Jehovah Witnesses not participating in Christmas parties at public schools and Seventh Day Adventists not being able to play ball games on Saturday because of their religion.

So my question for evangelical believers today is “When was the last time you paid a price for taking a stand?”  So many of us seem bent on “blending in” so as not to “turn people off” and as a result — we’ve watered down the change that the Gospel should be having in our lives.  Today, dropping swear words and consuming adult beverages with the boys is considered an act of cultural evangelism as we emphasize relevance over holiness.  Our priorities are such that we adjust our lives around schedules that are filled with vacations, entertainment, recreation, work, athletics, etc… and if it is convenient, we’ll even slip a worship service or a ministry task in there from time to time….but as long as it doesn’t “cost” us too much.  We’ll sit silently while someone defames our Savior’s name with staccato emphasis and yet, some Muslims are quite willing to behead you for drawing a cartoon of Muhammad.    (I’m not suggesting we use violence, but do you think it is wholly inappropriate to request someone to stop staying “Jesus Christ!” as a curse in our presence and then kindly explaining why that name is special to you?  Does the name of “Muhammad” have greater value than “Jesus”?)

If we are to be salt and light in the world, then it might just mean we get turned down for a job (I experienced this a few years ago — passed over for a job at a charter school in favor of someone significantly less qualified because my resume was “too religious” — something that is potentially illegal, but let’s face it….it happens.)  We might have to turn off our cable in order to tithe or give to missions.  We might not be invited out with the important business associates because we’re not going to play drinking games or hit the local strip club and that may effect our job evaluation.  We might pull our kids out of an assembly or request an exemption from a certain course lecture or even not allow them to attend a certain party or school activity (ie…an amusement park’s “Night of Horrors” — something we faced in a Christian school in Miami that my children attended) and get labeled as “one of those” parents.

Right things are seldom easy and easy things are seldom right.

Just some things to ponder as we navigate this interesting culture in which we have called to be ambassadors and in which we are called to be ‘aliens’.

Signs of an Unhealthy Church

1healthyRecently, I’ve been doing some reading regarding unhealthy and even dangerous assemblies which call themselves “churches”, but which possess characteristics that defy the healthy components of a church we see discussed throughout the Book of Acts and many of the Pauline epistles.  Just for the sake of discussion, I offer a few warning signs of what I would call unhealthy churches.  Perhaps after reading these you might want to debate some of my conclusions or add a few warning signs of your own.

1. Does your church leadership tightly control the flow of information within its ranks suggesting that anything that is negative or which questions something is ‘rebellious’ or ‘gossip’?

2. Does the pastor use public shaming as a method to gain the compliance of followers or does he use the pulpit as a place to “call out” individuals who have crossed him?

3. Are all the previous pastors “unwelcome” back to where they once served and is there a rather regular cycle of pastoral resignations or dismissals marked by infrequent long-term pastoral ministries?

4. Is the pastor of the church the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or interpreting Scripture?

5. Does the pastor and leadership foster an attitude that frequently suggests that it is “them/us” against “the world” and that outsiders are constantly “out to get them”.

6. Are you instructed to dis-associate with any former members, being warned that they are “evil” or “back-slidden” and to be avoided and/or shunned?

7. Is leaving your group to join another church equal to leaving God?

8. Is the power of the church held by a single person (usually the pastor) or in a board that is unaccountable or outside of a defined Biblical role or office?  Does the governing board act like a board of directors more than a board of spiritual advisement and leadership or accountability?

9. If the church or leadership is questioned or challenged is it viewed consistently as a “spiritual attack”?1pointer

10. Are there a significant number of related parties that serve on the governing board or on the ministry staff?

11. Do you sense fear of rebuke or retaliation for respectfully voicing a contrary opinion or position?  Is there a freedom to disagree agreeably on non-doctrinal matters of lesser significance?

12. Is there a pattern of an inability to get along with others you would clear identify as members of the body of Christ but who may not hold all of the same position on non-doctrinal issues?

13.  Is there an unusual allegiance to a school/university, association, fellowship, tradition or “camp” which promotes a sense of spiritual superiority for those in the “group” and a disdain or spiritual deficit among those who aren’t?

14. Are the primary sermons more often personal diatribes or topical addresses that reflect the position of the pastor or association rather than expositional studies and explanations that examine the Scripture?

15.  Are there political, financial, educational or other non-Biblical demands made of the membership in order to fit within the fellowship or to be eligible for leadership?

This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but simply to open some discussion.  Feel free to jump in and share your thoughts.  What did I miss and where am I off base.  The lines are open for your calls!

Pimping for Hollywood Again?

Some have asked me if I’m supporting the upcoming movies about “Noah” and “The Son of God”. I don’t care much one way or the other if people go as long as they know that historically, Hollywood does a LOUSY job of accurately portraying Scripture on the big screen. As for me, I don’t plan on seeing either movie at a theater, if ever. The church where I serve as a pastor isn’t using the movies as some sort of evangelistic outreach as many churches are. I have been reminded of an article that I wrote about 7 years ago wherein a “rethought” my participation in the great “Passion of Christ” movie debut in which I coined the phrase, “Pimping for Hollywood”. This article and the phrase were latter cited in Warren Smith’s excellent book, “A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church”. Because there are some similarities, I thought I’d post a link to that article here:

Merry Christmas 2013 from the Burrells

Holidays Family Shot 2013

We gave up sending Christmas cards several years ago.  With the popularity of Facebook, blogs and Twitter, it was one of those traditions that just seemed easy to discontinue along with our home telephone landline.  Instead,  I like to use this blog to catch up with our friends and family who might be interested in a quick synopsis of our year.

elliesmileThe Lord is always better to us than we deserve and 2013 has been no exception.  The absolute highlight of our year was the arrival of sweet Ellie, our first grandchild.  Her debut was in April, and after putting mom through 33 hours of labor, she was well worth the wait!  Justin and Megan are wonderful first-time parents and we love the fact that they live not far from us which allows us regular Poppy and Mimi time.  She has the best qualities of both her mommy and dad and at this point, has zero…I mean ZERO bad qualities.  :-)  I’ve turned into “that grandpa” and find myself scrolling through my own facebook photos just to look at her.

Other than her arrival, we actually had quite a quiet year — and we’re not complaining.

Julie continues to be the best mom ever to our two remaining homesters.  She taught a Bible study at our church, Life Fellowship last Spring and this Fall.  She spends a lot of time on the road shuttling two teenagers back and forth to work and to their other activities.  She loves it when Justin and Megan have to work out of town together and she gets to be Mimi for a day or so keeping an eye on Ellie.  She’s definitely the favored grandparent on the Burrell side and if I’m holding Ellie when she walks by, there is a sudden (and sometimes loud) request for a transfer of possession.  But once she gets old enough to spoil……things will be different!

I continues my work as Executive Pastor at Life Fellowship Church and as a Professor and Faculty Mentor for Liberty University.  Working two full-time jobs doesn’t leave me a lot of spare time, but that’s a good thing as I’d get in trouble if I didn’t stay busy.  I was asked to develop a couple of classes for Liberty and did an on-campus course last January.  The church is in the middle of a $6,000,000 construction project which I’m overseeing so 2014 promises to be busy as well on the church side.  I enjoyed taking missions trips to Cuba and Vietnam this year and will visit Cuba again in 2014 as I enter my 12th year of working with national pastors there.  I’ve been invited back to Vietnam to teach for two weeks in 2015 and am already looking forward to that.  I had a few minor health issues this year mostly due to age and not enough exercise (who has time for THAT), but other than a few aches and pains from aging and an “old man fall” I took in the driveway last fall, I’m doing great.

Nathan has returned to Charlotte and gotten off the road for work.  He has his own place in town and works in a nice restaurant in Ballantyne.  We enjoy seeing him regularly though he’s putting in a ton of hours.  He still likes to hoop it up when he gets a chance though he’s starting to realize that middle-age can sneak up on someone quite quickly.

Megan and Justin’s business, Gambol Photography has really exploded this year and they do a lot of weddings and family photography.  They’ve won several awards for their work and are in the process of hiring a couple of assistants so that they can double their booking schedule.  They traveled with us to Missouri for the 4th of July holiday and have made several trips to Lynchburg to see Justin’s family.  They are active at our church and so it’s good to catch Sunday lunch with them many weeks.

Katie is seventeen and still working at Chick-Fil-A.  She took Driver’s Ed this year and we’ve located a special college in Wisconsin she’s hoping to attend in a year or two if everything works out for her.  She often does volunteer work at church and stays pretty busy socially with a few very close friends.  She’s a master at Facebook and other social media connection points and likes keeping in touch with her friends and family that way.

Josh is sixteen and continues to home school via Liberty Online.  Every afternoon, he goes to work at a local dry-cleaners that is close enough to our house for him to walk to it.  He is Mr. Personality and knows just about every neighbor for blocks around.  The good part of that is that he often gets hired to do odd jobs for them.  He also volunteers at church and takes a big load off of dad every Sunday by helping him get everything set up and organized.

We took our bi-annual trip to Missouri last summer to visit my family.  It’s always great to see my mom, sisters and their clans.  We do a big cook-out and fireworks thing on the fourth and spend a lot of time eating, fishing, shooting and enjoying country living.  In June, I was invited to return to our former church in West Palm Beach, Grace Fellowship, to be a guest speaker as they are without a pastor at this time.  Julie and I had such a great time seeing old friends and making new ones.  We returned to WPB in November for the wedding of a dear friend and I was able to reconnect with some friends whom I first met 20 years ago in Albania and who are now all U. S. citizens and remain wonderful parts of our lives.  I was asked to stay over and speak at Grace Fellowship again and to help with the dedication of their new campus expansion property which we prayed for when we lived there in the 80′s and 90′s.  It felt like home and we truly enjoyed it.  From time to time, we spend a few days at our lake house in Lake Lure, but it is difficult to spend as much time as we’d like there due to the kid’s schedule and work.

In 2014, Julie and I will hit the 30-year mark as we celebrate our anniversary on August 4th.  We hope to take a cruise somewhere if we can ever agree on an area to visit.  wedding

As we reflect on God’s goodness to us this year and throughout our lives, we are humbled to be part of His family, to enjoy so much in our daily lives and we anticipate the future with absolute confidence in His Sovereign plan for us on this earth and in eternity.  We’d love to hear from each of you as you are able.  We are all on Facebook, I am on twitter and I will warn you up front, putting nonsense on my social network is a bad habit of mine, so brace yourself if you decide to connect.

May the Lord bless you and your family in the year to come!

Dan, Julie, Katie and Josh

Jack-Booted Fascists of the Radical Left Take on Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson


In one of the most insane moves since Coke introduced “New Coke” to a fan base that didn’t want corporate eggheads messing with the things they enjoyed, A&E announced tonight that they are suspending Duck Dynasty star and patriarch Phil Robertson for personal remarks he made opposing homosexuality.  Instantly, the twitterverse lit up with boycotts, outrage and disgust — similar to that found when the LBGT extremists took on Chick-Fil-A because the founder also expressed his personal opinions.

Once again, the public is shown that “tolerance” is a one-way street and the First Amendment doesn’t apply to those who dare refuse the group think of political correctness.  Every time the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD or any other LBGTQ spokesmen gets the vapors over someone daring to question their lifestyle choices, some corporate scaredy cat freaks and throws freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right to free expression of unpopular thoughts or opinions under the bus faster than one can say “Rosie O’Donnell”.

Hopefully, the rocket-scientist dropouts at A&E will get a hopper-full of email post haste which might drive them to their senses.  Care to drop the fine folks in charge an email expressing your opinion (while you still can without getting kicked off the internet)?  Here’s the contact email:

Here’s a list of the A&E Stations:

Here’s a link to the article announcing the decision:


Paul Walker — A Reminder to Those Who Teach in Christian Schools

Paul WalkerLast night, my Facebook feed lit up during the football games — not with crowing by Auburn fans, but in shock from Paul Walker fans.  He was a Hollywood actor tragically killed in a fiery car crash yeasterday afternoon in Santa Clarita, CA.

Frankly, having never seen a single “Fast and Furious” movie, I had never heard of him, but a lot of people really enjoyed his acting apparently.  I wanted to learn a bit more about him, so I did some searching and came across this article.  Walker professed to be a Christian and even shared his testimony.  Apparently, a major factor in his spiritual life was the education that he received at an evangelical Christian school.  As one who has spent over 30 years in Christian education at every level from classroom teaching to administration to graduate school professor, this was an important reminder to me.

Some of the students in our classrooms will grow up to be quite influential people.  Few people know that rocker Marilyn Manson attended a Christian school in Canton, Ohio for a time.  I knew one of his teachers.  Of course, he didn’t go by “Marilyn” at the time.  Shannon Breem from FOXNews fame graduated from North Florida Christian School in Tallahassee which was a prominent school in the association I served as President (FACCS) and she also attended Liberty University where I teach.  For better or worse, many students will pass through the classrooms of Christian schools around the world.  I’m so proud of many of the students who have been in one of my classes or schools in the past as they have become leaders of influence as adults.  I doubt that many thought Paul Walker would grow up to be a celebrity when he was a typical, punky teen in a Christian school — but he left his mark with his career and now with his death.

To all who teach young people in schools, public, private or Christian, I’m reminded of the great privilege it is to do so.  I used to have a speech that I gave to teacher’s conventions years ago entitled, “The Hand that Holds the Chalk, Shapes the Future”.  We may use dry-erase markers in today’s classrooms, but the principle is still the same.

Paul Walker looked back on his education at a Christian school as the base of his spiritual training that moved him away from Mormonism into a real relationship with Christ.  I hope his fans are consoled by that fact and my many friends in Christian education are challenged by it.


20 Years of an Unlikely Friendship

The late motivational speaker, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones used to say, “You will be the same in ten years as you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet.”  That has always been true in my life and I’ve kept a list of the Top Ten most important books I’ve read and Top Ten most life-changing people I’ve met over the years.  Today, marks a 20-year “anniversary” of a friendship that many would have considered “unlikely” for both of us.  It is a friendship with a person who ranks in my “Top Ten” of people who have changed my life.

My friend, Candy Hatcher, reminded me over the week-end that it was 20 years ago today that I wrote a rather “pointed” “letter to the editor” in The Palm Beach Post that was published.  I took substantial umbrage from what I felt at the time was an unfair characterization of the “Religious Right” in Florida politics.  Candy was a special features writer (and an excellent one at that) who would do series on tough topics ranging from deficits in the Child Protective Services program in the state, to issues of crime and punishment and on this occasion, into politics.  I’m known to have a sharp pen at times.  I defend myself by noting that no one reads boring prose.  Others will point out that the pen can be mightier, and even more painful, than the sword.  I will confess that I have swung back and forth on how to reach a balance on that observation for years.  I still have a level of writing dualism that can be both offensive and effective, so the journey continues.

To my surprise, within hours after publication of my letter, I received a phone call from none other than Ms. Hatcher asking to come sit with me in my office and discuss my letter.  Oh….and she was bringing her editor.  It was the beginning of a friendship.  The meeting was emotional.  We both left that meeting and those that would follow with a broader perspective of those who might be on their other side of some imaginary fence politically and professionally.  I hope I changed the way she viewed pastors and people who sincerely hold to an evangelical/fundamental view of Scripture.  I know she changed the way I viewed journalists and those who might be a bit more left of the political center than I had previously experienced.

A lot has changed in twenty years.  Neither of us still live in Florida.  Candy got married to a great guy the week of 9/11 and her professional life has taken her to Seattle, to Chicago and now to Virginia and she continues to do the kind of writing that she’s best at — human interest stories that poke you in the heart and punch you in the brain.  As for me, I’ve distanced myself from most of the political connections I’ve previously had and while I am still keenly aware of (and vocal about) political matters, it’s more of a hobby with me and no longer a cause.  I don’t know this to be a fact, but I hope our friendship has provided Candy with a window into the world of conservative evangelicals in general and the pastor’s perspective in particular.  She has earned my respect professionally and personally though I’m sure we differ on things politically still.  I hope I have earned enough respect from her where she can see that conservative Christians really want a lot of the same things that more liberal people do, we just differ significantly on who should take the lead on achieving those solutions.

I wanted to list a few things I have learned from this friendship today.  Because of that initial interaction, I have changed my behavior when I am at odds with an opposing view point.  Since that day, I’ll have lunch with gay and lesbian activists, I have had good conversations with my US Representative and mayor (now Governor of NC) on areas in which we disagreed, I have allowed myself to even be interviewed by so-called “alternative” magazines like Creative Loafing and survived the experience and actually enjoyed the interaction with the reporter and I find myself more anxious to talk about differences personally than simply lobbing missives across cyberspace.

Here’s some of what I learned:

1. Those who don’t think like me are more like me than I realized.

Journalists are people too.  They have feelings, they have hobbies, they live in neighborhoods and they are just trying to do their job most of the time.  I’m still convinced there is a leftward bias over-all, but I’ve changed as to why I think that is the case.  I think it is because too few journalists know conservatives in general (and conservative Christians specifically) and many Christians are so cloistered in their own little community, we have no occasion to interact with others who don’t think just like us.  But I’ve enjoyed discussing travel with a leading gay activist in our community, I enjoyed debating philosophy with a lesbian Unitarian pastor at a luncheon, I have appreciated learning of how others go about helping others who are in need even if we likely vote completely opposite.  In the end, we’ve got families, friends, hobbies and interests that form bridges of communication and friendship and that’s important whether we are on the same side of other issues or not.  And when I realized how we conservatives are viewed by those left of center, I understand why they might not want to have lunch with us.  That coin of perception has two sides and both of them aren’t accurate.

2. It’s foolish to believe stereotypes.

My “liberal” journalist friend, Candy — she’s been a Baptist about as long as I’ve been a Baptist.  All journalists are not atheists.  Most of them love God, their church and their country. And lest you be tempted to lump then together with a few bomb throwers on cable news or the internet, let’s not do that so we don’t have to be lumped in with the likes of Benny Hinn or Mark Sanford.  I think Candy discovered that evangelical Christians don’t want a theocracy.  They aren’t trying to control everything.  Not every pro-lifer silently cheers when someone does something outrageous outside of an abortion clinic.  We aren’t intent on thumping people with Bibles and we’re not some sort of evangelical Taliban.  We just love God, our family and our country — in that order.  We want a healthy place to raise our kids.  But then, so do journalists.  We each probably make really good neighbors, in fact.

3. Talking is better than shouting.

On this day when Washington is in absolute lockdown/gridlock, would to God that they would/could put aside the partisanship that makes the capitol so toxic and just sit down and have a decent conversation and look for agreement.  I might have a penchant for verbal firebombs and even people like Ann Coulter and Stephen Colbert can make me snicker a bit with their acerbic wit.  But let’s be honest….it does nothing positive.  Nothing.  It just creates walls.  No one is ever going to be convinced to change because of shouted rhetoric and heated diatribes.  The world would likely be better off if the talking heads at both MSNBC and Fox News would simply shut up.

4. You learn more from your critics than from your “friends”.

Both pastors and journalists can have a tribe of people who constantly feed them complements and blow petals of good will their direction.  We also can get roasted by incendiary blasts of criticism that would make a steel girder wilt.  But sometimes, those critics tell us what others don’t have the courage — or the observational skills — to tell us.  Every so often I’ll pop off on Facebook or in some blog article or whatever that Candy will read and she’ll shoot me back a sharp little retort.  She’s almost always right.  I spouted some nonsense about a columnist from the Orlando Sentinel one time without reading the article thoroughly and Candy called me on it and made me look like the fool I really was.  (Thank you, knee-jerk reaction — once again, you’ve delivered humiliation to me.)  We can learn from everyone if we’re not too arrogant and bone-headed to realize that perceptions are as powerful as reality and that we’re not always right about every single thing that comes down the pike.  Candy has earned the right to bust my chops when I need it and I hope I’m a more careful thinker and writer because of it.

5. Disagreement doesn’t have to be personal.

Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I have a tendency to run toward debates, not away from them.  I love hardscrabble verbal exchanges.  Until, of course, they become personal.  Then it isn’t fun anymore.  When I make someone cry because I’m being a jerk, it haunts me for weeks.  When I get defensive about something, I find that it can make me isolate or get bitter.  What happened?  It got personal.  Sometimes it’s OK to just shrug one’s shoulders and say, “I see it differently” and then move on.  Not every disagreement has to be blown up to theological or philosophical proportions.  So you like Obamacare.  I don’t.  Doesn’t make you morally superior because you care about those that fall between the cracks.  It doesn’t make me morally superior because I believe in smaller government, free enterprise and rugged individualism.  It just means we see it differently.  Next topic?

6. Good friendships don’t have to have proximity to endure.

I love the internet age.  Via social media, email and other new-fangled tools, we get to stay connected.  You can criticize Facebook all you want and act like you are too sophisticated to enjoy it, but I like it.  (And I bet you are a Facebook stalker yourself if the truth be known.)  I like hearing how my former students are doing, who is having kids, who is running a business, who needs prayer and who is enjoying success.  I haven’t seen Candy in over a decade — in spite of the fact that I keep asking her and her husband to swing by when they come back to her home state of North Carolina.  But a couple of years ago, I was awake in the middle of the night, struggling with the state of my life at that moment and feeling pretty cruddy about things, when I got an email.  (I just happened to be online at the time.)  It was an email from Candy.  She told me at about 4:00 in the morning that she had me on her mind for some reason and experience told her that when that happened, she should pray for whomever the Lord had placed in her thoughts.  So she just wrote to tell me that I was in her prayers.  I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.  I mean, I’m the dude that blasted her work in a public diatribe.  She hadn’t seen me in years.  Yet, she not only was sensitive enough to God’s voice in her life to realize He was speaking to her, she let me know that we were good enough friends that she would resp0nd by praying for me.  Now that’s a friend.

There’s more that I could share that I’ve learned, but I’m leaving for Vietnam in a few hours.  I wanted to post this before I leave and because it was the anniversary of my letter.  Here’s what’s cool.  Everyone who knows me knows that I love Cuba and go there often for ministry.  Candy and John love Cuba and go there for ministry as well.  Guess who sent me a Facebook message this week telling me that she was praying for me as I go to Vietnam?  Yep….Candy Hatcher Gregor.  She’s my “liberal” (and she really isn’t all that liberal — I just like to tease her) journalist friend and she’s my prayer partner.  I’m her “thinking fundamentalist” friend (and no, that term is not oxymoronic in my case— usually, at least) and I’m her prayer partner when she and/or her husband go to the mission field.  I’m so glad she didn’t just ditch my opinion in her “stupid critics” file that day twenty years ago.  I know if she had, I would be a far different person than I am today.  And that wouldn’t have been a good thing.

Five Ways to Kill a Public Presentation

boring seminar photo

I’ve watched interesting subjects, content-rich seminars, lectures by fascinating people and important messages that needed to be communicated all go down in flames as the individual responsible for delivering the presentation takes exciting material and turns it into something about as exciting as watching paint dry.  It likes watching someone torture a kitten — just senseless and sad (and a bit enraging.)  Today I present to you five sure-fire ways to kill a public presentation.

1. Read to your audience

Nothing says to a group of people, “I consider you to be dullards who are too lazy to learn on your own” than droning on and on by reading your presentation to them or by reading long quotations from others to them.  It is quite acceptable to insert (and read) a brief quote, maybe even a salient paragraph, from a renowned expert for emphasis and content enrichment.  But c’mon — don’t write your entire speech out and then drone on over it.  If you are going to do that, just print out copies for everyone.  Distribute them as they walk through the door and dismiss them shortly thereafter.  And for anyone who would mention that piece of lore that “Jonathan Edwards read ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’.” to his audiences, I would say — 1) Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, 2) You aren’t Jonathan Edwards and 3) your audience isn’t a bunch of puritans who have never been exposed to such modern niceties as TV, radio, the internet, public libraries, Twitter, etc….  Trust me on this one.  Reading your speech will result in subtle evacuations as people pretend to get a phone call or even a call from Mother Nature, just to escape your unimaginative (and lazy) efforts.

2. Don’t Move

You will not find a single public speaking guide that encourages you to stay in one spot as if someone had super-glued your Chuck Taylor’s to the floor.   Motion attracts attention and reduces focal fixations which lead to mental “checkouts”.  Move around, flail your arms if necessary, bend over, kneel down, do laps around the podium if necessary — but keep the audience watching you and wondering what you are about to do next.  Or you can simply stand still enough that spiders will build webs between you and the lectern while birds build nests in your hair.

3. Don’t Use Illustrations

I’ve heard some say that using illustrations prevents you from spending more time on content and that the audience should be disciplined enough to just sit there and take in the information.  This is kind of like announcing to your staff that “beatings will continue until morale improves.”  Even Mary Poppins understood that “just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”  Illustrations provide connection points, application examples, mental breaks and personal interaction with the audience.  Next time you are listening to a public speaker, watch the reaction of the audience when he/she uses a personal illustration.  You’ll see heads come up, attention shift, people will lean slightly forward, facial expressions will take an an aura of anticipation and the room dynamics will completely shift.  I’ll offer more suggestions in this area in a future article.

4. Keep your voice even

Don’t allow for passion.  Keep the tone mono.  Don’t fluctuate volume, speed or intensity.  Seriously.  Do. Not. Do. It.  You’ll awaken them from their naps.  THEN you might have to actually be involved with them.  We wouldn’t want that, would we?

5. Ignore your audience

If people are nodding off, that’s THEIR problem, amIright?  They should be eager to listen.  It’s obviously a sign of poor character and intellectual laziness.  If people stop coming to your seminars, sermons, lessons, etc…, well, obviously it’s because they can’t handle substantive teaching, right?  If you see people playing “Candy Crush” and “Angry Birds” on their iPhones — it’s just one more demonstration that the fall of civilization is just around the corner.  Heaven forbid that the speaker might actually notice that he/she is losing their audience and do something creative to inspire interest or connection.  All you are required to do is get through the material and fill up the time.

Hopefully, you aren’t trying to kill your presentation, nor your audience when you are engaged in public speaking.  Being aware of your audience and the responsibility you have as the speaker to engage them will change your delivery and challenge you to try different techniques to make them leave your presentation wondering where they time went and wishing they could have gotten just a little bit more.

Dan BenchDan Burrell holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and is a former classroom teacher, current college professor and past-president of the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.  He has co-authored two books for teachers and has extensive experience in training classroom teachers, story tellers and communicators around the world.


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