Wednesday, February 29, 2012


                Chameleons are fascinating creatures. There are approximately 160 different species of chameleon. Some species are able to change their skin colors. This is what they are best known for. Their range of colors include pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, light blue, yellow, turquoise and purple. The primary purpose of being able to change their color is social signaling. They tend to show darker colors when they are angry.  Males show lighter, multi-colored patterns when courting females. They also use their ability to adjust their color as a form of camouflage. Some species can actually adjust their colors to match the vision of a specific predator so that it is harder for them to be seen. 
                Not all chameleons belong to the reptile family. There are many species of human chameleons as well. In fact, I have found myself falling into this category from time to time. In an effort to fit in, I will unconsciously adapt my outward behavior to the situation around me. I may begin to speak in a different way or pick up certain mannerisms in order to fit in. Whenever I become aware that I am doing this, I become slightly embarrassed. I feel like I am not being totally honest.
                There is nothing wrong with wanting to fit in with others. The danger is that we can forget who we really are, or worse, compromise who we are. In our efforts to conform to others, we can lose our sense of identity.
                Being a chameleon is a way for us to hide our true feelings. We can portray an air of confidence when we are really unsure and anxious. We can put on the false front of having everything together when inside we are falling apart. We can mask our anger so that we don’t have to confront an uncomfortable situation.
                We can use our ability to adapt to manipulate others. We can put on a false air of concern, which encourages others to become vulnerable. Then we can use their vulnerability to our advantage. We can tell people what they want to hear so they will respond positively to us. Intentionally adapting our outward behavior to manipulate others undercuts our own ability to develop trust.  
                Most often we use our ability to adapt as a means of hiding. When I was in jr. high and high school I perfected the ability to blend into the surroundings so that I would not stick out. Those who did stick out became targets for the kids that felt they had something to prove. In the workplace we can adjust our actions and attitudes to fit into the culture and hide from unwanted scrutiny. It is so easy to follow the lead of the crowd, even when in our heart we know the crowd is leading us in the wrong direction. There are many “predators” out there. No one wants to be an easy target for them.
                In Romans 12:2, Paul warns us about becoming spiritual chameleons. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
                We become spiritual chameleons when we make our faith a Sunday activity rather than a life-style. Many people are very serious about their faith on Sunday morning, but put it on the shelf for the rest of the week. The principle of separation of Church and State has transformed into the separation of my private life and my public life.
                We also become spiritual chameleons when we adapt our beliefs and values to those being espoused by the most dominant person at the time. I have had the experience of being with a group of pastors who hold a certain theological position very strongly. The temptation is to just keep my mouth shut rather than cause trouble. By not saying anything I can blend in without really buying in.
                Satan has done a masterful job of manipulating society to move it away from God. Things that would have been unheard of even 50 years ago are commonly accepted today. Values and morals are seen as flexible according to the circumstances. The idea of any absolute standard of truth or right and wrong is ridiculed as narrow minded and unacceptable.
                Paul tells us that we need to fight hard against being spiritual chameleons; against just blending in. He was a realist. He understood the pressures that people are under to conform. He knew that many people had given into the pressure from time to time. He challenged them and us to make a fresh start; to stand our ground. This is not done by adopting some new outward persona. Conforming to some external expression of religion is still conformity. Instead Paul challenges us to open our minds to God’s transforming power. We do not have to live our lives in fear because Christ as overcome the world. We don’t have to worry about our self-worth or about being accepted because Christ has already accepted us unconditionally. We don’t have to worry about “being found out” because Christ has already forgiven us of all our sins.
                There are many occasions in life when it is entirely appropriate for us to fit in. It is appropriate to wear a suit and tie to a wedding and cutoffs and a t-shirt to a 4th of July cookout. It is appropriate to use the language of computers and business in the office and the language of faith in a small group Bible study. What we must guard against is portraying an image that is not honest about our true identity. Paul challenges us to be fully who God made us to be. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Romans 12:3 (NIV)
                Chameleons may make great pets. It is fascinating watching them when they change their colors to adapt to their surroundings. But living life as a spiritual chameleon is not such a great idea.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


                This weekend we will be visiting Bethel University with our daughter. She is considering attending there in the fall. My wife Suanne and I both attended Bethel, as well as our two sons. Bethel is a very familiar place for us. Whenever I visit Bethel, I am reminded that I am only a visitor on campus. I don’t really belong there. As I watch the students hurrying from class to class I realize that they live in a different world than I do. Although the buildings are very familiar, I have moved on to a different place in my life.
                We all experience this feeling. As we progress on our journey through life, we are constantly moving from one reality to another. As we move out of one phase of life and into another, we must leave the old phase behind. When I visit my family in Ohio, I am struck with the realization that, although I grew up there, that is no longer my home. The places I frequented are still familiar, but I’m now a stranger in my home town.
                The Bible tells us that spiritually we are strangers in familiar places. We are born into this world. We grow up as a part of this world. We are comfortable with our surroundings. This is home. When Jesus comes into our lives, all of that changes.
                2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” When Christ enters into our lives, we begin to experience a new reality. We pass from a world dominated by sin and death. We enter a world motivated by the love of Christ. Through our relationship with Christ, we view our world differently. The places that were so appealing and comfortable lose their allure. We begin to feel less at home in this world.
                Several years ago a friend of mine from China traveled home to visit his family. He had become a Christian while he was here. I warned him that he might find things very different back home. He assured me that nothing had changed. When he returned to Minnesota, I asked him how his trip went. “Everything has changed,” he replied. His friends had married and settled into jobs. The things they wanted to do while he was visiting made him uncomfortable. “I feel more at home in Minnesota than I do in China,” he concluded.
                The longer we walk with Jesus, the less we should feel at home in this world. We have become strangers in familiar places. In Hebrews 11, the author talks about the great people of faith in the Church. In verse 13 he states, “And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.”
                There is an old gospel song that puts this feeling into perspective. “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.” Those lines capture the reality for every Christian. This is not home. We are on a journey to our real home with Christ in heaven. We should never let ourselves get too comfortable here and forget where we are headed.
                Over the years I have had the privilege to work with many international students. Some of them have come from countries that don’t experience the freedom that we have here in America. The longer these students stay in America, the less they want to go home. Some of them try to set up residence here, forgetting that they are aliens and strangers in a foreign land. Spiritually, that is the way it can be for us as well.
                The old song was right. This world is not my home. Although I can adjust to my surroundings, and even feel comfortable in them, I don’t belong here. And neither do you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)
I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

                I don’t have a dramatic conversion story. I grew up in the Church and never left. I remember when I prayed to receive Christ as a small child of five, in the basement of our church after Sunday School. I vividly recall the night at camp, sitting by the campfire, when I fully surrendered my life to Christ. I was thirteen. That’s it. I have had my ups and downs along the way, but I never left the camp, so to speak.
                There were times in my life when I felt guilty for not having a more powerful story to tell. I heard stories of people who were caught in the grips of drugs and alcohol, and God miraculously saved them, completely turning their lives around. I listened to people tell how they had lived for themselves, chasing after all the world has to offer, and then they met Jesus and found incredible peace and freedom. I often thought that I have nothing to share in comparison to these people. I wished that I had a better story to tell.
                A few years ago I was talking with someone who has one of those incredible stories of redemption. He had been heading in the wrong direction at full speed. Then he met Jesus and his life was miraculously changed. I expressed my feelings of “evangelistic inadequacy.” He stopped me and said, “Are you kidding? Your story is far more incredible than mine.” I was surprised and a little puzzled. He went on to explain that it’s easy to follow the world. It doesn’t take any courage to fall in line with everyone else. God had to rescue him because he had made a mess of his life; and that was nothing to glory in. The truly incredible story is when someone resists the negative influences and stays true to what they believe.
                I am thankful today that I don’t have an amazing redemption story. Most people who have those stories have paid a high price for them. God does use them, but I don’t believe that it is God’s plan A for life. On the other hand I do not see myself as heroic in any way. My struggles and failures are just not as evident to those around me. In some ways I have stayed true to my faith more out of fear than anything else. I have also discovered the rich inheritance I have in Christ, for which I would not trade anything. When I have faced the challenge of walking away from Christ, I come back to Peter’s words when He was faced with the same choice. “Where else can we go? You have the words of life.”
                For those who have never left Christ’s camp, rejoice in the great gift you have received. You do not have to carry the scars that come from wasted years of running away. You have learned to say “no” even when you have wanted to say “yes.” You have learned the discipline of obedience and perseverance. You have the ability to tap into the wise counsel of God with confidence. You have earned the rewards of faithful service to our King.
                Satan continues to entice us with the excitement of the world. That temporary excitement can never compare to the joy one has from maintaining a long-term relationship with Christ. As I look back over my life, God has blessed me with experiences that I would never had if I had followed the crowd. My world is larger than it ever could have been without Christ. My awareness of Christ’s presence has sustained me even in the most difficult times.
                I will continue to rejoice when I see God rescue a person from the grips of sin and destructive behaviors. That is amazing. But I will rejoice even more over every person who has persevered in their faith in the face of enormous pressure to conform to this world. We don’t have to bear the wounds of a life lived in sin to experience the amazing grace of our Heavenly Father. 

Friday, February 17, 2012


                I’ll call him Jeff. He was thirteen years old, a member of my youth group and full of life. Then the bad news came; Jeff had leukemia. Jeff was amazing. He never lost his positive spirit, even during the darkest times. He went through all of the standard treatments. He lost his hair. He received a bone marrow transplant. We prayed earnestly for Jeff to be healed. Jeff fought valiantly, but a year and a half later Jeff died.
                We have all experienced it in our spiritual life. We earnestly prayed for something and it didn’t materialize. I’m not referring to trivial things like winning the lottery, getting a parking spot or passing a test. I’m referring to praying for things like healing or the restoration of a relationship. When these prayers seem to go unanswered they can cause discouragement and disillusionment. What do we do when our prayers seem to go unanswered?
                When our prayers are unanswered we have a choice to make. We can give up on God or we can draw closer to God. I have a friend who struggles with depression who, because of his depression, chose to forget about God. I also know others who have faced incredible difficulties and, because of those difficulties, are closer to God than ever.
                The Apostle Paul went through his own experience of unanswered prayer. It is found in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. His experience gives me hope for those times when heaven seems to be shut against me. Here is what Paul wrote.
                To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
                This passage has helped me to deal with the disappointment of unanswered prayer. I see some helpful insights that can guide me through my own emotional wilderness.
                Paul was not afraid to pray boldly for what he wanted. He was burdened with a particular ailment. We don’t know for sure what that ailment was, but my guess is that Paul had an eye problem. (Check out Galatians 4:15 and Galatians 6:11) It may be that Paul was going blind. This man who performed miracles and healed in the name of Jesus boldly asked for a miracle for himself. Paul’s example teaches us not to hold back when we pray. Jesus himself opened the door for us to ask boldly for what we need and want. Just because I have not experienced a specific answer to prayer on one occasion, I should not stop expressing my heartfelt wishes to God.
                Paul was persistent in his request. He didn’t ask once and then stop. When he says that he asked three times, I’m sure that we can conclude these were times of intense prayer. Sometimes we give up on prayer before we have even begun. God’s answer may be just around the corner.
                Paul accepted God’s answer. Instead of healing Paul, God gave Paul a heightened awareness of His power and grace. Paul saw that in some ways he could be more effective for the cause of Christ with his weakness. His weakness became the backdrop to the power and glory of Christ.
                Paul recognized that there was a reason behind God’s refusal to answer his specific prayer. Paul had a big ego, with a capital “E”. He was a powerful speaker. He could influence people. He had a unique experience with Christ. We still look at Paul as a super-Christian. Paul’s persistent thorn in the flesh stripped him of his arrogance and self-reliance.
                I personally wish I had as clear of an understanding for why my prayers go unanswered at times. But when God chooses not to remove me from the difficulty that I am facing, I rest in His answer to Paul. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
                Many times when I feel like my prayers are not being answered I give in to the thought that maybe there is something wrong with me. Maybe I don’t deserve what I am asking for or my faith is not strong enough. Then I am reminded that it is not about me at all. It is about God’s glory and power being demonstrated in our world. At those times I am reminded of another favorite passage of scripture.
                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)]
                I will never fully understand why some prayers are answered and others are not. I know that the future holds more opportunities for me to trust God with my unanswered requests. What I am learning, ever so slowly, is to look for the blessing that lies behind the disappointment.

I Asked

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve
I was made weak, that I might learn to humbly obey

I asked for health, that I might do greater things
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things

I asked for riches, that I might be happy
I was given poverty, that I might be wise

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things

I got nothing I asked for—
But everything that I had hoped for
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered

I am, among all, richly blessed

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


                When I was student in seminary I became aware of a prominent pastor in the area. He led a very large and influential church. Some of my classmates secured internships in his church and through them I began to hear stories about this man. Some of these stories were less than flattering and I began to form a less than positive picture of this man. I came to believe that he was aloof, cold and uncaring. A number of years later, while I was working on my doctorate, I took a class from this man. For the first time I actually encountered him face to face. What I discovered was that my image of him was completely wrong. He was articulate, approachable and genuinely caring. He completely won me over the day he agreed to have lunch with me…at McDonalds! A friendship began to develop that has continued through the years.
                Many people have a similar negative attitude toward God as I did at first toward my friend. They have heard rumors of what God is like. These rumors tend to lean toward the negative, so people get the idea that God is aloof, distant and uncaring. But they have it wrong.
                There is another angle to this story that is very important. My image of my friend would have remained unchanged if he had not invited me to get to know him. The only way I was going to really understand his true character was by him revealing it to me. The same is true about God. God has not left us on our own to figure out who He is. God has revealed himself in ways we can all understand.
                God has revealed himself through the world that He created. His fingerprints are all over it. Romans 1:18-20 tells us that God has revealed much about himself through creation.  The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. But there is a problem. What we can learn about God from creation is like the rumors I heard in seminary. Creation gives us a cloudy, vague image of God. It tells us that He exists and that He is powerful, but it doesn’t give us the full picture.
                God supplemented this general information with more detail through His prophets. Throughout human history, God has used people as His spokesmen to reveal a clearer picture of His character.
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, [Hebrews 1:1 (NIV)] This would be similar to us talking with a close associate of the person in question. They can give us some first-hand impressions. These serve to clarify our knowledge about God, but still leave us short of knowing God.
                When Jesus came, He opened the door for us to move from rumors to genuine relationship. On several occasions Jesus made it clear that He was the ultimate revelation of the character and person of God. …but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.  [Hebrews 1:2-3 (NIV)] By getting to know Jesus we get the chance to really get to know God as well. It is an open invitation to enter into a positive relationship with the creator of the universe.
                I am so glad that I was able to move from rumors about a distant pastor to a relationship with a friend who has encouraged and supported me on my pastoral journey. I am even more glad that I have moved beyond a vague, cloudy image of a distant God to a relationship with my Heavenly Father who cares for me more than I will ever fully comprehend.

Psalms 103:8-18 (NIV)
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children-- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

                What does the word “sanctuary” mean to you? Is that word tied to a place, an emotion, an experience? We often call the room in a church building where worship services are held a sanctuary. Some people speak of finding sanctuary from the pressures and stress of life.
                The word sanctuary is defined as a consecrated place of worship; a place of refuge and protection. When I was a boy the “sanctuary” in our church was viewed as sacred space; meaning it was not to be used for anything but spiritual activities. In my travels I have experienced some amazing sanctuaries. I have walked down the aisle of an enormous, echoing cathedral; embellished with awe inspiring art and vivid stained glass windows. Yet the environment seemed cold and lifeless. I have worshipped in a tiny room crammed with common people trying to stay warm while they sang praise to God in a language I could not understand. Yet I felt a spiritual bond with those people. The presence of God was overwhelmingly evident. I have come to regard sanctuary as more of a spiritual environment rather than a specific, tangible place.
                Where do you find your sanctuary? Many people find their sanctuary in a well organized worship service, surrounded by other sincere believers. Many find their sanctuary in a small group experience, where they can share their life with others on a more intimate basis. Many people find sanctuary out in nature; walking down a wooded path or gazing out over a vast sea. I have experienced sanctuary in all of these places. But lately I have discovered that, in a strange way, running is my sanctuary.
                For me, running has become a way to disengage from the routine of life. When you are gasping for air it is hard to focus on that spreadsheet that you need to create. The truth is that when I am running I have the chance to really commune with God. There are no phones to answer or papers to write or e-mails to sort through. When I am running it is just me and God. At the beginning of a run my thoughts are very pragmatic. I am thinking about setting my pace, monitoring my breathing and generally struggling to stretch out stiff muscles. Within a short time I settle into an easy pace and I am now free. Issues, that I have been struggling with, come flooding into my mind. For a while, I will chew on these thoughts. Then I will start to pray. These prayers are not formal or even organized. They are a free-flowing conversation with God. I feel free to praise God for my surroundings. I feel free to challenge God with things that bother me. I feel free to implore God to act. Just as running limbers my muscles and purifies my physical body, so it limbers my spiritual muscles and purifies my mind.
                Often when I am running I become “very” creative. Some thought will strike me and I will begin to outline how I would write that into an article. At these times my pace often quickens, as I hurry toward home to capture these creative thoughts before they sink back into the murkiness of my mind. I have often refined a sermon on a run. I will mentally rehearse what I have prepared; feeling it out before God. Many articles I have written were born on a run.
                Above all else I find sanctuary as I consciously run in God’s presence. I express my wonder to God as I marvel over the very ability to run. I take in the changing environment around me and give praise to God for His creativity. I feel the tension and stress of my life begin to drain away and I thank God for His mercy. When I have not been able to run for a time I feel the loss of connection with God. I find myself longing for sanctuary.
                King David understood the need for sanctuary. In Psalm 27 he expressed his longing to be in God’s presence. One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. [Psalm 27:4 (NIV)] Throughout the Psalms he expresses his desire to find rest in God.
                Jesus understood the need for sanctuary. He didn’t find it in the Temple or in the Synagogue. He found it on the hillside, alone with the Father.  Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35 (NIV)
                Where do you find sanctuary? We can find our sanctuary in many places. We don’t have to be limited to a specific room in a church building. Sanctuary is finding our sacred place where we can rest in the powerful, loving presence of God. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012


“I am looking forward to the next great adventure.”
Jim Moore (1973-2012)

Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

                I entered the room with apprehension. I had received word that Jim was back in the hospital. Jim had been diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. He had aggressively pursued the options that were before him, but he had taken a turn for the worst. For a number of personal reasons I was reluctant go see Jim. Another friend was at the hospital at the same time, so I set my fears aside and we went. It was not only the right decision; it set me on course for a profound journey.
                Jim looked forlorn, like someone who had lost their best friend. He was discouraged, sick and a little angry. I had no words to comfort him. The doctors had told him that he had come to the end of his options. He was determined to continue the fight, but how? I stood mostly in silence as my friend did most of the talking. In those few moments I determined to walk with Jim to the end.
                Over the next two months I visited or called Jim a couple times a week. He had been released from the hospital and was at home under Hospice care. Our phone calls were usually very short. Neither Jim nor I were much for talking on the phone. My visits would last between 15 minutes and an hour. During those times I tried to share words of hope from the Bible. And I listened to Jim’s stories.
                When Jim was first diagnosed he knew that the chance of him being cured was slim. While he still had his strength, he decided to live life to the fullest. So many people in Jim’s position sink into a hopeless state of inactivity. Not Jim. He decided to wring the most out of whatever life he had left. So he began doing things that he had always wanted to do.
                He went skydiving. After all, what was the risk really? He was dying. So off he went. Of course being his first and only skydive, it was a tandem dive. There were two other pairs in the plane. His pair was last. He watched as each pair disappeared through the door. His heart pounded with anticipation and fear. Then it was his turn. He was out of the door before he knew it; falling helplessly through the air. He loved it. He said that it was one of the most amazing things he had ever done. “You really have to do it more than once”, Jim quipped, “because it goes by so fast.”
                Jim loved to travel. He joined with his mother and sister and took a trip to New England. None of them had ever been there before, so it was a great adventure. Jim was an accomplished photographer. He had always used a camera with “real” film. This time he brought a digital camera. It took him a while to get used to it. No longer did he have to wait for just the right shot. Instead he could take pictures at will; and he did.
                Jim had always wanted to buy a “cop car”. He got on the internet and found Through them he bought his cop car. It was big and black. All of the outward trappings of a police car had been removed, but you could still tell. It was a cop car through and through.
                Jim also wanted to fire a WWII machine gun. He found a place that would allow him to do it for $45 a minute. He forked over the money and fired away with glee. “How many people who have never been in the military get to shoot a machine gun?”
                After Jim’s final stay in the hospital his adventures ended. He no longer had the strength to get out. So he sat in his recliner and read or listened to music or watched old Star Trek episodes. It was during this time that I would come and visit. We would talk and I would share about faith and heaven. On one occasion we were alone; his mom and sister were out shopping. Jim took the opportunity to ask the kind of questions that he didn’t feel comfortable asking in the presence of others. We talked about what heaven might be like. He expressed his apprehension over a heaven that is dominated by a never ending church service. I agreed that that image didn’t seem very appealing. Then I shared some insights I had gained from reading C.S. Lewis. He began to embrace the idea of heaven being a place of perfection, where we are free to explore and discover for all of eternity.
                On one occasion I brought him a copy of Steps to Peace with God. That little booklet became an anchor for him. He read it over and over, devouring the simple truth of faith, forgiveness and a forever future with Christ. As he drew closer to his last days he became calm. He was not afraid of dying. He confided in me that one night he had a dream that he had died. When he woke up in the morning he was genuinely disappointed. He told me that he was excited about the next great adventure that lay before him.
                I received the call as I arrived in my office. Jim was gone. In the early morning hours he had slipped from here into eternity. I went over and stayed with his mom and sister until the funeral home came to get him. I had not seen Jim in person for about a week and I was shocked. He lay in his bed looking like a Holocaust victim. But Jim was not a victim. Jim was a victor. Jim had not clung to physical life; he had embraced eternal life.
                We spend so much of our lives running away from eternity. We distance ourselves from the reality of death. We live as if this life will never end. But deep in our hearts we know the truth. We live in fear of the future.
                My time with Jim was a gift from God. Through Jim, God reminded me that I don’t have to live in fear. He also taught me to value every moment that I do have on this earth. Time is short for all of us.
                The Apostle Paul lived his life running toward eternity. He knew the value of this life and the treasure of the next. In Philippians 1:21 (NIV) he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” When Paul wrote those words he knew that his time on earth was short. Like Jim the sentence of death hung over his head. As best as we can determine, Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians from a prison in Rome. It would not be long before he would be executed for his faith. But Paul never gave up the fight. In fact Paul ran hard toward eternity. He refused to let anything get in his way.
                Paul knew that he had not finished his race. From a human perspective he had every right to coast. He had accomplished so much for the kingdom of God. He had opened the door for Gentiles to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He had planted churches through Asia Minor. He had witnessed before kings and princes. He had written letters of challenge and instruction that we still read today. Yet Paul knew that he was far from perfect. There was still work for him to do.
                Paul continued to press toward the goal. Paul knew Christ as intimately as anyone who lived, but he was not satisfied. He wanted to know Christ more. Even as he faced his own death he strived to get closer to Jesus. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. [Philippians 3:7-11 (NIV)] Paul ran toward the goal until the very end.
                As the time drew close Paul wrote to his closest disciple, Timothy. He wrote words of hope and encouragement. Paul was eager to experience the next great adventure. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. [2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NIV)]
                Our world is doing its best to run away from eternity. As followers of Christ we can run toward eternity. As we run, we need to make the most of every opportunity we have. For us to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


                We have all heard the truism, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” There is truth in that statement. We all know that we need to look ahead and plan for where we want to go. It is the prudent, reasonable thing to do. Without some kind of planning we wander aimlessly and unproductively through life. Yet our obsession with making plans can actually get in the way of what God wants for us. Isaiah reminds us that our best very best plans often fall short of God’s plans for us. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. [Isaiah 55:8 (NIV)]
                My own life experience is an example of how our plans can sidetrack us. When I was in high school I went on a mission trip. On that trip I felt God calling me into fulltime ministry. Because I was helping at a hospital in Haiti, I assumed that God was calling me to become a medical missionary and serve in Haiti. From that point on I made my plans with that goal in mind. I spent six years preparing. Then God directed me to go to seminary. There He radically changed my course. I had to let go of my plans and accept His. It was not easy, but, looking back now, I know it was the right decision.
                We can get caught up in trying to plan out every detail of our lives, and miss what God is trying to tell us. In fact, when we put our hopes in our plans, we fail to really have faith and trust God. So what should we do? The Bible gives us some clear guidance for facing our uncertain future.
                First, we have the responsibility to plan for the future. God does not want us to sit around and wait for a lightning bolt to crash down and show us the way. Neither does God want us to live only for the moment. Spontaneity is great from time to time, but we cannot live there. God expects us to use the minds He has given us to bring order to our lives. Solomon uses some colorful word pictures to challenge us to take up our responsibility to plan.
                Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest-- and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. [Proverbs 6:6-11 (NIV)]
                God has given to us great freedom to set our course in the world. With that freedom comes responsibility. Not planning for the future is not an option.  As we plan we need to examine carefully the information that we have. What are our options? Then we need to seek God’s direction. Based on what we know what seems to fit God’s purposes best? Based on what we know, we then can make plans for our next steps.
                Second, we need to hold our plans loosely. Here is where we often mess up. We do our homework and make our plans. Then we sink them into concrete. Even the best plans must be flexible. An inflexible plan is bound to fail because no one can foresee all of the variables. Again Solomon gives us some sound advice. In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.  [Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)] Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. [Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)]
                We need to remember that God is an active participant in all of our plans, whether we acknowledge Him or not. Once we have made our plans we need to submit them to Him. We can expect things to change. We can expect to encounter unexpected twists and turns. Ultimately God is in control and not use.
                That brings us to the last thing about planning. Trust God with your plans. Proverbs 3:5-6 says it best. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
                God knows what is best for us. We can trust Him even when we can’t see the reason behind the things that happen. When we submit our plans to God, He will direct us in the best way. This may not be the easiest path, but it is the best path.
                I recently had an experience that is forcing me to put my plans in God’s hands. I had grabbed a hold of a course of action that I felt was the best. I was already acting as if a certain thing was going to happen. Then my plan fell apart. At this point it looks like that thing I wanted is not going to happen. I’m disappointed, but I am learning anew to trust God. The future is uncertain, but trusting God is sure. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


                I have taken the psychological tests and they all say the same thing. I am a people pleaser. I like to be liked. Doesn’t everybody? There is just one problem. I can’t please everyone. As hard as I try, I will always fail to live up to someone’s expectations.
                We spend an enormous amount of our energy trying to conform to other people’s expectations. At work we try to be the employee our boss expects. This might include working longer hours, taking on extra projects or giving up our weekend. At school we try to be the person our peers expect. We are careful to dress the right way. We adjust our attitude toward our teachers to match that of our friends. We may even modify our academics to fit in. In our neighborhood we try to be the neighbor others expect.  We do this through the way we maintain our lawn, how often we paint our house and how many cars we leave parked in the driveway. Without even thinking about it we are constantly conforming to external expectations.
                This is not always bad. Our society would be in a real mess if none of us lived up to our corporate expectations. The problem comes when we sacrifice what we know is right in order to please others. We become human chameleons, changing our colors to match whatever situation we are in. If we do this enough, we lose touch with who we really are.
                Jesus was constantly faced with the pressure to live up to other people’s expectations of him. Many people wanted Jesus to be a political leader. They saw the potential of such a power man being in charge. So they tried to get Jesus to conform. He refused. One of those times was right after he had fed the 5000. John 6:15 records Jesus’ response.  “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
                On another occasion people expected Jesus to set up a free clinic and become their permanent health care system. Again he refused.  The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.  Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!" Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. [Mark 1:33-39 (NIV)]
                Probably one of the most dramatic examples of Jesus’ refusal to conform to others’ expectations is seen in a confrontation between Jesus and Peter. Peter had high expectations for Jesus. He recognized that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Peter’s head swirled with all the implications of that. So when Jesus declared that he would have to die, Peter would have none of it. In dramatic fashion Jesus shut Peter down and set the disciples straight.
                        From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."  [Matthew 16:21-23 (NIV)]
                As followers of Jesus, we need to have a clear understanding of who Christ wants us to be. His expectations of us should trump all others. Jesus summarized those expectations when he told us to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Everything we do needs to be processed through those two filters.
                We also need to seek to understand the unique role God has planned for us. As Paul tells us, we all have different gifts and talents. These gifts and talents shape who we are. When we embrace them, we experience fulfillment and God’s pleasure. When we try to be someone God did not create us to be, we experience frustration and anxiety.
                We can never fully get away from external expectations. We need to have the insight to sort through which of them are realistic and which are not. We have to have the courage to say no, when that is appropriate. We need to develop the humility to conform, when that is appropriate. As Paul states it in Romans 12, let’s get a good handle on who God created us to be, and then let’s live that out with excitement and enthusiasm.
                For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. [Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)]
                I will always struggle with the desire to please others. But above all I want to please Christ.