Friday, August 31, 2012


            Recently I had a discussion with my staff about some theological issues. We struggled with the divide between predestination and free will, Calvinism and Arminianism. We were in agreement but it stirred within me an ongoing struggle. Where do I take my stand?

            Ever since the Protestant Reformation the Church has struggled with theological division. Groups that fought to gain the freedom to worship as they pleased denied other groups the same privilege. Lines were drawn based on how people interpreted Scripture and which leader they followed. Complicated theological systems were devised and then vehemently defended. These divides remain strong today.

            This is not a new problem for the church. It has been a part of the fabric of the church from the very beginning. Paul addressed it in 1 Corinthians 1:10-12. I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Paul returned to the issue of division in chapter 3. What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NIV)

            Paul’s point is clear. God has chosen to use individuals to help guide us on the path of faith. These individuals are servants of Christ entrusted with the responsibility to point the way. But they are not to be the focal point of our faith. Our faith is in Christ Jesus alone.

            In 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, made a bold statement about the corruption in the Church when he nailed his 95 Theses of Contention to the door of the Wittenburg Church. Several years later, in 1521, he stood before the Diet of Worms Council and refused to recant what he had written. It is reputed that he ended his defense with this now famous quote. “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

            Today I want to take my stand as a follower of Jesus Christ. I owe a debt of gratitude to those who have gone before me and paved the path of faith. There are many who dedicated their lives to the study of Scripture so that we might have a better understanding. But none of them got it completely right. No path, paved by man, is the final word on the sovereignty and grace of God. Ever since I was awakened in seminary to the struggle between the different theological camps, I have struggled to find my place. I am not comfortable on either end of the spectrum; agreeing with some tenants and disagreeing with others at both ends. So here I am. I take my stand in the theological no-man’s-land in the middle.

            I believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ and what He did for all people on the cross. I hold to the truth of John 3:16-17 that Jesus came for the salvation of all the world. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

            I believe that people must choose to follow Jesus as an act of their will.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. John 3:18 (NIV)

            I believe that our salvation is a free gift from God that we do not deserve, that we cannot earn, yet we must receive by faith. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

            I believe that once a person has received this gift from God they are sealed in Him for eternity. They cannot lose their salvation. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV)

            I believe that God is sovereign and has the right and the power to do as he wishes in all circumstances. His sovereignty does not restrict Him to act along certain lines or to respond always in the same way. He has the right to interact with individuals, people groups and nations in different ways as He determines. His sovereignty is in no way diminished by allowing some people to freely choose to follow Him, while he specifically chooses others to be His servants independent of their will.

            I believe that people are responsible for the decisions that they make and how they live their lives. God will hold us responsible and reward or punish accordingly. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (NIV)

            What I have written will not end the debate over which theological system is the best. That is not my intent. I confess that there is much about the mystery of the Gospel that I do not comprehend. I believe there is room for a diversity of ideas within the unity we have in Christ Jesus. In no way do I want to add one more theological system to the mix. What I want to do is take my stand, not as a Calvinist, or an Arminian, but was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


            It has been an extraordinarily dry summer in southern Minnesota. Usually I have to mow my lawn at least once a week at this time of the year. I really haven’t had much to mow for two months, except for weeds. My grass is brown and crisp, but the weeds are green and lush. Something is very wrong with this picture.

            I am already starting to think about winter. I decided that it was time to fill in the cracks in my driveway before the winter ice and snow make them even worse. In order to do this, I had to first get down on my hands and knees and pull the weeds out of the cracks. Weeds can grow anywhere, even in the cracks of asphalt. Some of the weeds came out easily, while others took quite a bit of effort. What I discovered, as I sweated in the hot sun, was that the weeds have long tap roots that go deep into the soil to draw up the moisture, as opposed to my grass, which has an extensive root system, but a shallow one.

            As I was pulling weeds I thought about the similarity of weeds and sin in our lives. We don’t have to do anything for weeds to grow. All we have to do is neglect them and they will flourish. Even in dry conditions the weeds will continue to do better than the grass. The same is true with sin. We don’t have to do anything to cultivate sin in our lives. We have a natural bent toward sin, so if we neglect dealing with our sin it will flourish. Especially in those times when we are spiritually dry, sin has a way of taking over.

            Paul talked about the struggle we all face with sin in Romans 7:14-20 (NIV). We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

            Weeds flourish because they have taproots that they drive deep into the ground. This allows them to draw up moisture that is unavailable to other plants. The longer a weed is allowed to grow, the deeper its taproot goes and the stronger it becomes. Some of the weeds I pulled had thin, spindly taproots, while others had taproots the diameter of a pencil. Sin is like that as well. Sin has a taproot that goes deep into our very souls. It draws its life from things that are hidden deep within us. The longer we allow a sin to remain unchecked the stronger that sin will have a hold on our lives. The bigger the taproot of sin, the harder it is to deal with.

            James warned us about this in James 1:13-15 (NIV). When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

            When you are pulling weeds, you need to try to pull out the whole root. If you break off the root or only pull off the top of the plant, the weed will grow back. You can even bury what remains of the weed, but in a very short time it will emerge again. Most of the time, we only deal with the symptoms of our sin. We see some obvious fault in our life and try to eliminate it. Soon we are faced with the same situation again, sometimes in an even stronger form. That is because we have not dealt with the root of the sin. If we deal with the surface issues, but leave the root intact, the sin will re-emerge. It is much harder to dig down and get at the root of a sin, but it is the only way to successfully eliminate it. Many times we will try to bury our sin, rather than deal with it. We hide it under good intentions or good works. But the sin continues to grow and influence our life. At some point it will push its ugly head back up through the soil of our good intentions.

            Physical weeds are one of the consequences of the Fall. To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:17-19 (NIV) After Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil, God cursed the ground and caused it to produce weeds. We have been fighting the battle with weeds ever since. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden, they opened the door for sin to enter the world. Sin has infected our world ever since. Every human being has fought the battle with sin.

            My neighbors use a lawn service that controls the weeds in their lawn. (Something, unfortunately, that is not in my budget.) It is not that they have no weeds, but they have far fewer weeds than I do. The good news spiritually is that Christ has given us the victory over sin. No longer are we slaves to our old sinful nature. We now have the power to resist sin and even uproot it from our lives. We will never to totally free from sin, until we stand perfected in His presence, but we can live lives no longer dominated by sin. Through Christ, we can have victory in this ongoing battle.

1 John 1:8-9 (NIV)
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

            We took our daughter to college this past week. It was a bittersweet event. It is hard letting go.

            For a number of very good reasons, our daughter decided to attend college in North Carolina. We live in Minnesota, which means we had a two-day drive to get her where she needed to go. The trip down was long, but it was also fun as we shared the journey together. The day after we arrived we met her roommate and her parents for the first time. We had a delightful meal together and then visited their home in South Carolina, just 12 minutes away. The next day we got to play tourist in the area. My younger brother and his family live in the area, so they introduced us to a couple of the local attractions. The next day we moved our daughter into her room and she began orientation at the school. Saturday evening about 7:00PM we said our goodbyes and drove back to my brother’s house. The next morning, early, we began our journey home. It was nothing like our journey down to North Carolina. The van seemed very empty and quiet. The miles ticked along as we put distance between our daughter and us. We knew it was the right thing, but it was still hard. It felt very strange when we arrived home to a very quiet and empty house.

            As I reflect upon our experience, there are a couple of things that come to mind. Children are a great blessing from God. As parents we sometimes forget this truth. At times our children test us and stretch us and frustrate us, yet we don’t want to let them go. God uses children as a tool in His hands to shape and mold us as people. They highlight our weaknesses and challenge us to work on the rough edges of our lives. Children also add depth and breadth to our lives in ways that nothing else can do. The Psalmist tells us that we are blessed if we have many children.

Psalms 127:3-5 (NIV)
Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

            Our children are given to us as a trust from God. It is possible for us to begin to believe that our children are, in some way, our possession. The comedian Bill Cosby once quipped to his son, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.” Our children are not our possessions; they are our responsibility. We have the responsibility to nurture and care for them. We have the opportunity to shape and mold their lives. We can do this in a positive, God honoring way or we can do this in a negative, selfish way. God expects us to invest in the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of our children. We do this through both our words and our actions. Some of the most important lessons our children learn are “caught” rather than “taught.”

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV)
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 strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk long the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

            We must hold onto our children loosely because there comes a time when we must let them go. For the first 18-20 years of their lives, children are under our care. The goal of this time is to prepare them for the day when they will launch out into the world on their own. It is the day we all looked forward to and longed for when we were young. It is also the day our parents were the least excited about. Our primary role as parents is not to protect our children from the world, but to prepare our children to face the world. When the day comes when we open our hands and let them fly free, we need to trust God to continue to nurture and care for them. After all, He is much better at it than we are.

            We have three children. They are all young adults, making their way in the world. They will always be our children, but they will never again be in the same relationship that we had when they lived at home. We have all entered into a new, hopefully deeper, richer relationship as they become the people God created them to be. Our nest is now empty, but our hearts are full of a little sadness and much joy. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Romans 12:3 (NIV)
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.

            After I turned 55, I took a refresher driving course sponsored by AARP. To be honest I resisted doing it, but my insurance company promised me a discount if I did, so I gave in. One of the things the course stressed was that, as a person grows older, their blind spots increase. When driving a car, there are places to your side and behind you that you cannot see with your mirrors. These are your blind spots. You have to be very intentional to actually turn your head and look into these blind spots to see what might be hiding there. As a person grows older, and their eyesight weakens, these blind spots get larger.

            I have been reminded recently that, just as we have blind spots while driving, we have blind spots in how we see our lives. As we grow older, our spiritual and relational blind spots get bigger. We stop noticing things that could have negative consequences in our lives. Unless we consciously examine these blind spots they will continue to grow. Paul challenges us not to become complacent in this area. Instead he challenges us to regularly examine our lives and discover our blind spots.

            One of the dangers of blind spots is that it is easier to see them in others than in ourselves. When someone cuts us off on the highway, we get upset because they didn’t see us. Yet we are sometimes oblivious to the times we do that to someone else. In the same way we can easily spot a self-centered person, while missing our own selfish tendencies. So let’s take a look at a few common blind spots.  

            One of the common blind spots that many of us struggle with is making ourselves the center of the universe. You would think that as we grow older we would quickly recognize this one, but we often don’t. In fact, we often don’t think this is true of us. From our perspective, we are always respectful of others. Yet, in practice, we are often oblivious to the needs and desires of others. We take for granted that what we want or what we think is the right thing. We don’t stop to think how our words and actions are received by others.

            It takes conscious effort on our part to be aware of this blind spot. Instead of acting as if my opinion is the only one that matters, I need to stop and consider the other person first. It is not wrong to be aware of my own needs and desires, but it should never be to the exclusion of others.

            Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4 (NIV)

            Another blind spot that I have become aware of is allowing myself to just go through the motions. Routine is a part of our lives. In fact, we could not survive without some routine. Routine allows us to accomplish regular tasks with a minimum outlay of energy. Routine can also rob us of the vitality of our lives. We get in a rut of doing the same things over and over again. We are not really excited about them, nor do they bring us great pleasure. Yet we persist in our entrenched ways.

            The only way to break out of our routine is to consciously change things up. This is a combination of planning and spontaneity. At first, we may have to intentionally plan to do something in a different way. For example, if you always eat dinner in front of the TV, you may need to plan to move to the dining room, set the table and actually force yourself to hold a conversation. On the other hand, having the courage to do something out of the ordinary at the spur of the moment is also necessary. Remember, routine is not necessarily bad, but it can become a trap if you let it.

            That reminds me of another blind spot. I have been struggling with this one quite a bit lately. It is holding in depth conversations with yourself in your mind, but failing to communicate the content of these conversations with those who need to be informed. If you are married, or part of a family, your decisions and actions are not exclusively yours. They need to be made in the context of a shared life experience, because your decisions affect the lives of other people. Therefore, communication is essential. Yet many couples tend to truly communicate less and less the longer they are together. Instead, they make assumptions about what the other person is thinking and feeling.

            Let me highlight just one more blind spot. That is the tendency we all have to take one another for granted. As we become more and more comfortable in our relationships, we often stop working at them. Instead we begin to coast, assuming that things will continue on smoothly into the future. This is a very dangerous blind spot. Many people have awakened from their relational sleep to discover that their relationship has dissolved. This can happen on the spiritual level as well as the interpersonal level. If we neglect our relationship with Christ we will drift away from Him. He never stops loving us, but we can stop responding to his love.

            Our relationships with God and with others are too important to take for granted. Spiritual and relational blind spots can have very serious consequences. We all need to regularly stop, examine our lives and identify our blind spots. Once we know where they are, we need to consciously work to minimize them. We will always have blind spots in life, but we can learn how to recognize and deal with them.

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


            I just returned from a two week vacation to Germany and Norway. We have friends who serve at Black Forest Academy in Kandern, Germany. We also have a former exchange student, friend who lives in Norway. Our daughter has wanted to visit our friends in Germany for the past several years. When our exchange student left us a year ago we promised that we would visit her in Norway. Our daughter graduated from high school this past year and will be leaving for college in one week. So if we were going to make this trip it had to be this summer.

            This trip, from start to finish, was a gift from God. There were many ways that God blessed us, but I want to focus on three.

            God blessed us with the privilege of traveling as a family. I know that there are many who will never be able to make a trip like we just completed. I don’t take that for granted. God allowed us to travel with our daughter and our middle son. Experiencing new things together has always been a big part of our family. We enjoy being together and exploring new places. Our son is studying in California, so we had not spent time with him since Christmas. It was a joy to reconnect in Minneapolis and travel to Europe together. Family is a gift from God. Many people do not enjoy close family relationships. There are many broken and dysfunctional families in our world. To be together and enjoy being together is something to be celebrated.

            Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate. Psalms 127:3-5 (NIV)

            God blessed us with the renewal of friendships. We have known our friends in Germany for about 25 years. For about half of that time they were part of our church. For the other half they have been located elsewhere. We have maintained our relationship from a distance. Having the opportunity to spend a week with them in their home was a treat. They introduced us to their community and the surrounding area where they live. Exploring a new place with someone who is in the know is a gift in itself. So often we travel to a place and miss some of the best things there because we are unaware of them. When you have a personal guide you see things better. Again, this was a shared experience. It strengthened the bond that we already had with this family. We now have a much better understanding of their ministry and their life.

            In Norway we had the opportunity to develop a relationship with our exchange student’s family. We had hosted them briefly when they came to Minnesota to pick up their daughter. On this trip we got the chance to enter into their lives. They invited us to experience their world in a very personal way. As in Germany, they became our tour guides to show us the wonders of Norway; and there are many.

            God blessed us with a new appreciation of his awesome creation. We live in southern Minnesota, which is relatively flat with many open spaces. We were transported to the world of mountains, rivers, and seas. In Germany we were introduced to the majesty of the Alps. Kandern is located in a valley. The streets are on an incline and you have to go up to get out of the village in any direction. My leg muscles were put to the test as we hiked into the Black Forest and as we meandered down the side of a mountain in the Swiss Alps.

            I was in awe of the surroundings in Germany, and then we went to Norway. Our friends there live on the edge of the North Sea. The best way to describe their setting is that it is the convergence of mountains, fields and ocean. Our friends in Germany live in a neat, German village. Our friends in Norway live on the rocky, majestic farm, with small fields enclosed by rock walls leading down to the water’s edge. They raise beef cattle and sheep, as well as fish for the bounty of the sea. The days were long, with wonderful lingering evenings. The air was cool and fresh. The pace was determined but leisurely. From a visitor’s view it was idyllic.

            As I looked around I was reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 1:20. 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. It is hard to believe that people can live in a place like Germany or Norway and not believe in God. His handiwork is evident everywhere that you look.

            The mixture of family, friends and God’s amazing creation was a gift that I will cherish for a long time. God gave me a chance to renew my spirit in magnificent fashion. I want to fully celebrate the gift that He has given to me. We all need to go to the mountain top from time to time and get a new glimpse of God’s goodness, so that we can descend into the valley of everyday life and serve Him with all of our heart.