Monday, January 30, 2012


Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

                One of the classic debates in Christianity is the very practical question of who directs the life of the believer. Is it all God? By this I mean does God set the course for each human being and we are bound to follow it? Is it all man? By this I mean does man have total control over the events of his or her life? Or is it some combination of both?                The Apostle Paul seems to indicate that the answer lies in a partnership between God and man.
                Nowhere does this seem more evident than in the realm of prayer. Prayer is really forming a partnership between me and God. Prayer is not passively asking God to act and then sitting around waiting for the results. Prayer is more like a high level strategy meeting, where options are discussed and a course of action determined. For example, I pray for wisdom to lead a meeting, and then I organize an agenda and lead the meeting. I don’t expect to show up at the meeting and miraculously discover the agenda neatly typed out and waiting for me. Maybe this is a better example. I become aware of a specific need that a family has. They are struggling financially and finding it hard to make ends meet. I pray that God would provide for them. Then I go to the grocery store, buy a bag of groceries and deposit them at their house. Did God answer that prayer? Did I just take matter into my own hands? Or was this a partnership? I think the last option is true.
                Paul tells us that we have the responsibility to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Obviously he is not talking about earning our salvation. He made that crystal clear. What he is talking about is the practical responsibility that we have to live out our faith. We do this in full knowledge that we are not in control. Yet we have the responsibility to act. We cannot sit by passively and expect God to miraculously change our lives. God has told us what to do; now we have the responsibility to do it.
                The other side of the partnership is that God is actively at work within us giving us the desire to do His will. He is like the prompter off stage helping the actor to remember his lines. He is like the coach who shows the athlete how to perform and then encourages her to do it. He is like the life coach who helps a person determine the direction they should go and then cheers them on. God gives us both the will and the power to act.
                The key to the partnership is cooperation. We can choose to ignore God’s direction or we can choose to follow it. Our choice determines the outcome. In the Old Testament God often gave the people of Israel an option. He would say if you will do what I say this will be the outcome and if you choose not to do what I say this will be the outcome. Then God let them decide.
                I remember being at a High School track meet watching my sons compete. There was a gifted, but undisciplined, athlete on the team. He finished his race and collapsed on the grass near the coach. He laid there complaining that his legs hurt. The coach told him to get up and walk in order to stretch out his muscles. This would relieve his discomfort. I can’t, he moaned. The coach tried to encourage him, but he could not force him to get up.
                How often are we like that athlete? We encounter some difficult situation and we cry out to God. He directs us to take some action, but we complain that it is too hard. He promises us that if we will trust Him our situation will change. He doesn’t force us to act. The choice is ours.
                The Christian life is an unequal partnership with God. God is definitely the stronger, more powerful partner. But He is also gentle and compassionate. He knows what is best but He refuses to force us to do it. Instead He invites us to voluntarily obey Him. He gives us the chance to play an active and meaningful role in fulfilling His will in our world. He is patient. He often lets us move at our own pace. He is always present and He never gives up on us. He can see the potential in us that we cannot see. He encourages us to develop that potential guided by His skillful hand.    

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The God of Reformation

Romans 8:28 (NIV)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

                We often apply the above verse to difficult situations that we find ourselves in. We have a health problem or an economic set back and we trust God to redeem it. But are there limits to “in all things”? Can God take even our utter failures and bring good out of them?
                I have been teaching a class on Church history. It has been interesting to see the many and varied pathways the Church has taken to try to accomplish the Great Commission. One of the things that I have been struck by is the reality that the Church has made many mistakes and has messed things up enormously and yet God has taken these situations and used them to accomplish His purposes. A prime example is what happened during the time of the Protestant Reformation.
                The Reformation took place between 1517-1648 AD. It was a time of tremendous upheaval in the Church. The Church had become intertwined with the secular government. It wielded great influence over the lives of the people; from the kings and princes down to the common peasants. In many ways the Church was in the driver’s seat; calling all the shots.
                People lived in fear of going to hell. The Church was the gate keeper to heaven. Only those who were connected with the Church were assured of salvation. The Church used this influence for some less than noble ends. They convinced the people that they could atone for their sins by purchasing indulgences from the Church. The moneys raised in this way were being used to build massive cathedrals, especially in Rome. In addition, the people were told that they could free their relatives from purgatory by buying indulgences. People were motivated and the money flowed in.
                Into this situation stepped a man by the name of Martin Luther. Luther was a devote man who, because of a close call with a lightning strike, had committed his life to be a monk. But Luther was consumed with guilt over his sin. He would spend hours in the confessional outlining all of his sins in the minutest detail, and driving his confessors crazy. In an effort to free themselves from Luther the Church assigned Luther to be the chair of Biblical Studies at Wittenberg University.
                While teaching at Wittenberg, Luther engaged in an intense study of the book of Romans. When he came to Romans 1:17 something clicked. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." The righteous will live by faith not by works. The weight of guilt dropped off of Luther’s shoulders and the reformation was born.
                Luther never intended to break ties with the Church. His desire was to correct the course of the Church and bring it back in line with Scriptures. Those in authority did not look kindly upon Luther and a religious firestorm erupted that changed Europe and the World. During the course of the Reformation many good and bad things happened. Yet God used all of them to refine, renew and advance the Church.
                There are many today who bemoan the state of the Church. There is no lack of fodder for this. We don’t have to look too far to see the many ways that the Church has failed to live up to its calling. These things should not be ignored. We need to take them seriously. But let us not forget that God is able to take even our failures and use them for His glory. Just as He did during the time of the Reformation, God is refining His church. It is painful at times; embarrassing as well. Yet people are coming to faith in Jesus in unprecedented numbers. Missiologists tell us that, around the world, the Church is experiencing a “Pentecost” every day.
                The good news for each of us is that God is more than willing to take our mistakes and failures and transform them. This does not mean that we shouldn’t do everything we can to live up to our calling in Christ. It does mean that we can trust God to “reform” us and bring glory to Himself. I for one am very thankful. The grace of God is truly sufficient for all who put their faith in Him. 

Friday, January 20, 2012


I had a conversation today that reminded me of how difficult it is at times to make good choices. We are faced with the need to make choices all of the times. Many of the choices we make are pretty minor. Whether I have a hamburger or a chicken sandwich for lunch really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. On the other hand which job opportunity I take will have significant affects on my life. We often agonize over the decisions that we have to make. We are afraid of making the wrong decision, yet not making a decision is just as bad. As followers of Jesus, we face the added pressure of wanting to know and do God’s will.
                Choosing between options is a significant part of our walk with Christ. There are several occasions in scripture where people were commanded to choose. For example, Joshua 24:15. “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." Jesus instructed us to consider carefully our options before we make our decision. "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'” [Luke 14:28-30 (NIV)] Obviously making good decisions is an important thing, so let’s take a closer look at it.
                Whenever we make a choice for something we are also making a choice against something else. In other words, every choice comes at a cost. For example I knew a young adult that was looking for a summer job. This person put in applications at several places. One place called him back and offered him the job, which he quickly accepted. A couple of days later he received another call from another place offering him a job that paid more than the first job. Having accepted the first job he struggled with what to do. If he turned down the second offer he would have to accept less pay. On the other hand if he accepted the second offer and quit the first job he would do damage to his integrity. In the end he decided that his integrity was of more value than the extra pay.
                I believe that God allows us to make these kinds of decisions and then works through them. Sometimes our choice is clearly between a right decision and a wrong decision. At other times it is deciding between a good choice and a better choice. Paul tells us that whatever decision we make God is still an active participant. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. [Romans 8:28 (NIV)] There are certain things that God wants to accomplish in our lives. This will become a reality if we truly seek Him. Sometimes we take the straight path to that goal and sometimes we take the long way. Either way, if we are seeking God, we will find Him.
                I have often been asked how a person can know the will of God for their life. Usually when this is asked there is a specific choice facing the person. Do I take this job or that job? Is this the right relationship for me? Should I stay where I am or move somewhere else? These are not unimportant questions, but I would suggest they miss the point of seeking God’s will. Seeking God’s will is not about making the right choices. It is about aligning my life with God.
                The starting place in determining God’s will is His word. If I could summarize God’s will for my life and your life it would be Jesus’ words in Mark 12:29-31. "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." These verses give us the framework for making choices in life.
                There are many other verses that expand on God’s will for us. An example is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. The first step to finding God’s will for me is to put into practice the things that God has already made clear. What this does is it aligns my will with God’s will. Now when I am faced with a specific choice I can make my decision out of a godly context. The Psalmist states it this way in Psalm 37:4.  Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
                Here is where faith comes into play. I have a decision to make. I run the decision through the filter of what I know is God’s general will for me. Then I ask myself, what is the desire of my heart? Taking into consideration all of the material factors I make my choice and trust God to work through that. Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not advocating making foolish or hasty decisions and expecting God to clean up my mess. I am saying that if I am truly seeking God’s will, then whatever decision I make God will use that to guide me in his direction.
                Let me give you a very personal example. When I was in Jr. High God took hold of my heart in a profound way. After going on a mission trip to Haiti I was convinced that God was calling me into full time service. I set my sights on becoming a medical missionary. I was sure that God was calling me to go back to Haiti and serve Him there. From that point on I set my heart on accomplishing that goal. I majored in biology at college and then attained an Associate Degree in Medical Laboratory Technology. I did everything I could to prepare myself to be a medical missionary. But something didn’t seem right. I did not feel spiritually prepared to take on that role. So I enrolled in Seminary. During my first year in Seminary God tapped me on the shoulder in a clear way and redirected me into pastoral ministry. I have now been a pastor for 30 years. I still have a heart for missions, but that was not the path that God wanted me to take. Some may think I wasted all of those years preparing to be in missions. I can tell you that God used those experiences to shape me into the person I am today. He took my choices and used them for His glory.
                The choices that we make in life do matter. They shape our character. They set the direction of our lives. But we don’t have to be paralyzed over making decisions. I believe that we have more freedom than we realize. God is not wringing His hands hoping we don’t mess up. He gives us the chance to choose which raw materials He gets to work with and then, with great delight, He uses those raw materials, like a master craftsman, to create a unique work of art. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012


    When my son was in High School he was a member of the swim team. One year our team qualified for True Team State. True Team State competition is an exciting event, even more so than the traditional State competition. In State competition swimmers compete as individuals. At True Team they compete as a team. Everybody scores, from top to bottom. Ten teams competed at the State meet. For each individual event there were 40 competitors. The person who finished first earned 40 points for his team and the person who finished last earned 1 point. What makes this competition different from all others is that the greater the depth you have on your team the better your team will do. I looked up the True Team website. I was impressed by the title of the page. True Team: Where Every Athlete Counts.
            I think Paul would have liked the True Team idea. In fact he wrote about something very similar to it in 1 Corinthians 12. The Corinthians were having an ego problem. They had become very competitive among themselves, vying for position in the church. Paul wrote to them and reminded them that they were the body of Christ and that every part of the body counts.
    The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ….
…But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
    Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. [1 Cor. 12:12, 24b-27]
            Paul emphasized that everyone has a place on the team. The body of Christ is not just for the elite. The church is not made up of a few stars and a bunch of spectators. Just like our human bodies are made up of many diverse parts so the body of Christ is as well. It takes all of the parts performing their particular function for the body to be healthy. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. [Ephesians 4:16]
            Paul also emphasized that no one part of the body can stand alone. In our society we value individualism. We are taught to stand on our own two feet, and there is some merit in that. But when it comes to living out what it means to be a part of the body of Christ we need to embrace the reality that we need each other. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" [1 Cor. 12:21] God has placed us in an interdependent relationship that keeps us connected to Him and to each other.
            Finally Paul made it clear that we should not devalue our place on the team. I was caught up by the excitement that surrounded the slower heats at the True Team competition. If a swimmer in a lower heat could post a time better than someone in the next heat he could move up in the scoring. No one just swam their heat. They gave it everything they had. In the body of Christ we all count. Although our roles are different they all matter to the overall effectiveness of our work for the Kingdom of God.
    Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. [1 Cor. 12:14-15]

            God has placed us together as a spiritual team. He has assigned each of us roles to play that will accomplish His purposes and advance His Kingdom. Not only do we need to discover our place on the team, we need to celebrate it!
            The True Team competition was designed so that every athlete would count. God has designed the church in the same way. Whether our contribution is small or great it matters. Maybe we should adapt the True Team motto: The Church: Where Every Member Counts.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Is There Room in the Middle for Me?

What’s the point of prayer?

                Our small group is beginning 2012 with a study of prayer. We are using Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? This study has raised an important question for me that I have struggled with for some time. What is the point of prayer? I have heard sermons on prayer, read books on prayer and talked to other believers about prayer. In the main there seems to be a lot of ambiguity about prayer. I wish I had the definitive answer to how prayer works, but I don’t. What I do have are some honest reflections on prayer.
                The question that I want to tackle is, “Does prayer really change anything?” Here is my struggle. I find myself caught between believing that God knows everything, past, present and future, and believing that God has invited me into being an active participant in shaping my world.
                If I believe in strict predestination then prayer becomes irrelevant. Predestination tells us that God has already determined who will be saved and who will not be saved. The individual has no opportunity to change this. So then it is totally irrelevant for me to pray for the salvation of my lost friend because in the end it doesn’t matter. If my life is a story already written in God’s book then what is the point of praying about decisions that I am going to make. The outcome is already predetermined. If God’s actions are unaffected by my input then why give it in the first place?
                On the other side of the equation, if I believe that God is waiting for my input before He acts then doesn’t that diminish God? Can I really tell God what to do and expect him to do it? The “name it and claim it” approach to prayer seems to put me on the throne and makes God my servant.
                I am uncomfortable with both ends of this spectrum. I believe there is a middle ground that honors God’s sovereignty and allows for meaningful involvement on our part.
                First, we can establish the truth that prayer is meaningful because it is something God commands us to do. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)] If, as Paul states, prayer is part of God’s will for our lives, then it must meaningful. This idea is reinforced by the fact that Jesus regularly spent time alone in prayer.
                We can also establish that Jesus and His disciples taught that prayer has the power to affect our world. Jesus taught the disciples to ask for what they needed from God. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)]  What is clearly implied in these verses is that in order to receive a person must first ask. Later Jesus told His disciples that they could ask for whatever they wanted in his name and he would do it. When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus he asked them to pray for his effectiveness as a preacher. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. [Ephesians 6:19-20 (NIV)] Clearly Paul felt that the prayers of the Ephesians would make a difference in his world. Finally James makes probably the strongest statement about the power of prayer to affect circumstances. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. [James 5:16 (NIV)] These passages, and many more, clearly imply that prayer has the power to change things. The question then remains, “In what way does prayer change things?”
                One of the answers that I have often heard is that prayer changes us. I agree. Prayer enhances my relationship with God. When I engage in honest prayer I draw closer to God. I experience His presence in a fuller, richer way. When I neglect prayer I pull away from God. Prayer also changes my attitudes toward the world and other people. Jesus commanded us to pray for our enemies. By doing this we begin to see them through God’s eyes. All of us have an imperfect view of our world. Prayer helps refine our view and bring it in line with Christ’s view. Prayer relieves me of guilt, challenges me to change and inspires me to act. Prayer causes significant changes in my life personally.
                I also believe that prayer has the power to change the circumstances of our lives. Here is where things get complicated. God is sovereign. That means that God can do whatever He wants to do. He does not have to answer to anyone or get advice from anyone. Yet God invites us to pray about the circumstances of our lives. If every detail of my life is carved in stone in heaven then why would God invite me to pray about decisions and events in my life? Because God is sovereign it means He can control every detail of life, but it doesn’t require that he does. I believe that God, in His sovereignty, has allowed for some wiggle room in our lives. Let me use a couple of illustrations to explain my point.
                My wife, Suanne , and I received a GPS system for Christmas. The day after Christmas we made the trip between our home in Mankato and Suanne’s sister’s home in Wisconsin. We decided to use this as a test for the new GPS. We put in our destination and the GPS gave us several options. It gave us the fastest way, the shortest way and the way the best utilized freeways. All three ways would get us to our destination, but each was different. On the way home we again used the GPS. Being very familiar with the trip we deviated from the GPS on several occasions, choosing to take an alternative way. In each case the GPS system recalculated our trip and again gave us directions.
                In a similar way I believe that God gives us options in our journey in life. These options do not take away God’s sovereignty. If we think of God’s will as the desired journey, there may be several ways to reach our destination. God gives us some freedom to choose the way we want to go. Each choice opens up new options and eliminates others. I also believe that God allows us the freedom to deviate from his will. He will always provide the way back, but it is up to us to take it. If I set the destination on my GPS for the Twin Cities but ignore the directions and head for Chicago it is not the GPS’ fault. It will faithfully try to get me back on track. It is up to me to respond.
                Here is another way to think about it. Every parent desires for their children to grow up strong and to become mature young adults. Early on parents make most of the decisions for their children. The children have very little freedom. But as the children grow their parents gradually give them more and more freedom. Wise parents let their children make choices, take risks and even fail. It is all part of the process of maturing. There is a point beyond which parents will not let their children go. At these points they will step in and take charge of the situation. At a certain point in their lives, children are faced with the choice of submitting to their parents or rebelling against their authority. So it is with God. We are God’s children. He allows us to make choices along the way, even some bad choices, to help us to grow and mature. If we are wise, we learn to listen carefully to God’s direction in life. If we are not wise, we rebel against His authority and face the consequences. We see this over and over again in the experience of the people of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament. At any point God can, and sometimes does, step in and overrules our choices. But God is not diminished by giving us the real opportunity to choose.
                So let’s get back to the question of prayer. Prayer has the power to change the circumstances of our lives in dynamic ways. In some ways it is like our spiritual GPS system. We make our requests and God gives us the direction to go. His answers are based on our requests. God is not obligated to give us what we want or to change a certain situation. Yet He often responds to our prayers by doing exactly that. Because God has perfect knowledge and I don’t, He sometimes steps in and adjusts my will. On other occasions, as my Heavenly Father, He is delighted to grant my request. Like a loving parent God allows us to make requests that affect the course of our lives. He wants what is best for us, but He will not force us to accept it. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why are we in such a hurry?

                Every year, in January, I attend a pastors’ study break. Normally I would do this at Trout Lake Camps, north of Brainard, MN, but this year is different. Instead of driving north I drove south to Pine Lake Camps in Eldora, Iowa. When I arrived I discovered that all the other pastors who had signed up for the retreat had cancelled. So my study break has been transformed into a silence and study retreat.
                I always have high expectations for study break. I have a long list of things that I want to accomplish. This year is no exception. Consequently, I find myself in a hurry from the very minute I arrive. I feel the self-imposed pressure to produce. Unfortunately this pressure often makes me less productive instead of more productive. Instead of taking the time to reflect and contemplate, I push ahead trying to force inspiration to come. You can imagine how effective that is.
                What this reminds me of is that we live our lives in fast forward. We find it difficult to slow down. If we are not filling our time with some activity then we feel disoriented and uncomfortable. We don’t even have to be productive; we just have to be busy. We are so busy racing from one thing to the next that we are in danger of missing life itself.
                As I write I can look out of the window and see barren trees surrounding a partially frozen lake. Every inch of open water is occupied by noisy Canadian geese telling all their friends to hurry up. A bald eagle lazily soars over the scene and then lands in a dead tree. As he gazes down onto the densely packed flock of geese, he probably wonders what all the fuss is about. I’m wondering the same thing.
                God did not create us to live at light speed. He created us to live with space in our lives that gives us time to stop, relax and reflect. I don’t think it was by accident that Jesus came into our world at a time when the chief mode of transportation was walking. Although the gospels depict a life filled with activity, we know that Jesus intentionally took time to slow down. There had to be long hours of walking from place to place with his disciples. These would have been times to talk and laugh and observe the world and to be silent. On a regular basis Jesus excused himself from the crowds and went to quiet places to pray and be alone. Jesus refused to live life in a hurry. At the end of his life he was able to pray, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4)
                I routinely get gift catalogues that offer things with catchy phrases on them. Some of these phrases are funny, some are profound and some are insightful. There is a common phrase that keeps showing up. It is this. “Be still and know that I am.” If you recognize the phrase you know that it is taken from Psalm 46 and that it is incomplete. The phrase actually says, “Be still and know that I am God.” What makes this phrase so challenging is that it comes in the context of frantic activity. The rest of the Psalm speaks of turmoil and conflict. In the midst of all of this frantic activity God says “STOP!”
                We all need to stop regularly and reflect upon our lives. From the beginning God designed us to take regular times of rest. He felt it was so important that He dedicated one of the Ten Commandments to rest. "Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.” [Deuteronomy 5:12-14 (NIV)]
                When we live our lives in a hurry we miss so much of what is most important. We miss connecting in meaningful ways with God. We cannot develop a close relationship with God on the run. It takes time dedicated to prayer, study of His Word, and spiritual reflection. If we are always on the run, we miss developing deep relationships with others. We settle for superficial encounters. In order to really get to know another person we have to invest unhurried time. Another thing we miss is this amazing world that God has given us to delight in. Nature has become just a backdrop to our lives. We have reduced this amazing world to a scene saver on our computer. To really appreciate this amazing world you have to get out and encounter it first hand; and that takes time.
                For Christmas this year we purchased Michael Palin’s series “Around the World in 80 Days.” At the beginning of the series Michael makes a profound observation. When all you do is travel by airplane you never see the world; you only see the inside of airports. So Michael embarked on an around the world adventure using whatever transportation he could find except airplanes. What he has done for the rest of us is he has helped us to see the world at ground level.
                I believe God wants us to be productive in life. The Bible is very clear about us not wasting the opportunities God gives to us. But I also believe God wants us to see the world at ground level; preferably at a walking pace. If we will do that we will be pleasantly surprised by what we discover. God is patiently waiting to engage us in powerful ways. We’re the ones in a hurry. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012


                My Christmas revelry and New Year’s joy were tempered by an expected, yet unwanted event. My friend Jim ended his struggle with cancer sometime during the night of January 2. For the past two months God gave me the privilege of walking with Jim on his last mile on earth. We had the chance to talk about faith and heaven, doubts, fears and hopes. Jim walked his last mile with a calm assurance that this was not the end of the story. Jim was an adventurer and he told me that he was looking forward to his next great adventure.
                As I struggled to support and encourage Jim I shared with him a passage of scripture that has taken on new meaning for me. It is found in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV).
                        Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
                Watching someone slowly die is a sobering experience. I found myself torn between wanting to turn away and wanting to be present for Jim as much as possible. I did a little of both. Along the way God spoke to me as I watched Jim live out the truth of these verses.
                There are so many things that weigh us down in life. We often allow the things that scream the loudest grab our attention while the things that really matter slip into the shadows of life. We get discouraged because our plans don’t work out. We become anxious over things that we will barely remember a few months from now. But when the clock of life is ticking loudly and you know that the end is near all of those inconsequential things fade.
                I watched as Jim moved from doubts and apprehensions to a calm assurance. He no longer cared about the things that dominate our lives. Instead he focused on helping his family walk this journey with him. His focus shifted from what was temporary to what is eternal.
                We are all wasting away, just like Jim, only at a slower pace. This body that we care so much about is, as Paul puts it, only a tent, which will one day be folded up and put away. What is really most important is what is inside of the tent. Is our spirit growing? Are we gaining an eternal perspective on life? Is our focus on what is passing or on what is lasting?
                I have been reminded that we are just fragile jars of clay. But God has placed within these imperfect vessels His eternal glory. When we begin to understand this, we are able to face the challenges of life with greater confidence and calm.
                But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (NIV)
                Jim has walked his last mile on earth. It was a difficult journey in many ways. But even as Jim’s body faded his eyesight improved. He began to see more and more clearly what is most important. He reached out his hand and took the hand of Christ. On January 2, 2012 Jesus escorted Jim through the final steps of his journey and welcomed him home.