Saturday, September 29, 2012


            There is a common ailment that is spreading rapidly in the US. It is called Gastroesophageal reflux disease; better known as Acid Reflux. This is caused by partially digested food and stomach fluids moving back up into the esophagus (throat) from the stomach. When this happens, a person experiences a burning sensation in their throat and chest. This may be accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth. There are a number of things that can cause this condition. Stress, the use of alcohol, smoking, and obesity are a few of the common causes. If this condition is left untreated it can cause damage to the throat. If you have ever experienced this condition, you know how uncomfortable and irritating it can be.

            The Bible talks about a spiritual form of acid reflux disease. It is called bitterness. Bitterness is experienced when some perceived injustice or hurt occurs in a person’s life. There are several factors that contribute to the onset of bitterness. When a person feels that they have been betrayed by another person, bitterness can set in. When a person feels that they have been intentionally harmed by another person, bitterness can set in. When a person experiences discouragement or disappointment, bitterness can set in.

            Just like with acid reflux, left untreated bitterness can do internal damage to a person. Bitterness damages a person’s soul; making them hard and unforgiving. Bitterness distorts a person’s perspective on life. Instead of seeing and rejoicing in the positive things, a bitter person focuses only on the negative. Bitterness damages a person’s relationships; both with God and others. It becomes a barrier to trust and vulnerability. The person who hangs onto bitterness pays a high price.

            In Ephesians 4, Paul challenges us to get rid of bitterness, along with a few other detrimental attitudes. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV)

            There are several things that a person can do to deal with acid reflux. Taking antacids will deal with the immediate symptoms, but will not cure the problem. To cure the problem a person needs to watch what they eat, lose weight and reduce their stress level.

            Paul gives us a way to deal with the real cause of bitterness, and not just mask the symptoms. Be positive and proactive in your interactions with others. Much hurt is caused by what we say. Words are very powerful. Take control of your speech. Weigh your words carefully before you let them escape into the environment, never to be retrieved. When we encourage others and seek their best, our attitude is transformed. We stop focusing so much on ourselves and begin to value others, as Christ does.

            When you become aware of the beginning of bitterness, take action right away. Our tendency is to savor our bitterness for a while. Don’t we have the right to feel hurt or abused? We cannot control our reaction to negative circumstances in our lives, but we can control our response. If we allow bitterness to linger, it will begin to take control of our heart. Instead, as soon as we are aware of it, take steps to eliminate it.

            Practice kindness and compassion. These are the greatest antidotes to bitterness. Not only should we seek the best for others, we need to think the best of others. We have the ability to be nice on the outside and angry and bitter on the inside. Genuine compassion begins with the attitude of our heart.

            Actively forgive. Forgiveness is so hard for us. We want others to pay for their wrong doing. We want them to feel some of our pain. Forgiveness is letting go of our “right” to judge the other person. Christ had every right to condemn us, but instead he forgave us unconditionally and without holding back. When we consider how Christ has forgiven us, there is nothing that we cannot forgive in another person.

            Acid reflux is persistent. If you let down your guard, it quickly flairs up again. So it is with bitterness. This is not something we can deal with once and forget about. It requires constant effort to recognize and defuse bitterness before it has a chance to take hold and do damage.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


            Recently the world watched in fascination and disbelief as the Arab Spring unfolded. Long-standing regimes were toppled as people took to the streets and demanded change. At first, the West applauded the courage of those people to stand up to oppression. Now, we are watching in disbelief as the Arab Spring has exploded into violence, chaos and hatred. As one commentator put it, the Arab Spring unleashed the tiger and no one can control it.

            What we are witnessing is the power of community. When people band together, they can accomplish things that seem impossible. As we are witnessing, the power of community can be used for good and bad. What began as a desperate bid for freedom has turned into a massive power struggle for control.

            There is another example of the power of community that is far more positive. It is found in Acts 2:42-47. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

            This seemingly insignificant little community of people changed their world. They were knit together not for political or economic reasons, but by the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Instead of trying to seize control, they practiced compassion. Instead of demonstrating in the streets, they worshipped together in the Temple. Instead of vying for power, they shared all that they had with one another. They were a truly radical community that took everyone by surprise.

            Who were these people that caused such a stir in their world? Paul gives us a snapshot of this radical community of faith. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (NIV) This ragtag group of followers of Jesus made such an impact on their world that the people of Thessalonica accused them of turning the world upside down.

            God is still using this community of faith to turn the world upside down. He isn’t doing it with rallies in the streets. He is doing it through communities of faith coming together to demonstrate the love and compassion of Christ in tangible ways. He is doing it through a small band of believers in Nigeria who are turning the tide on the AIDS epidemic. He is doing it through Christian relief organizations that bring people together to pack meals that will feed starving children in Haiti and around the world. He is doing it through Christian ministries on university campuses that come along side of young adults at a critical time in their lives and help them find their way.

            God has called us to be His world changing community. As we strengthen our connection with God and with one another, we can be empowered to do amazing things. Working together, as a community of faith, we can accomplish far more than any one of us could do alone. We may never be the lead story on the evening news, but we can change our world, if we work together.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8 (NIV)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Drawing Close to God

            We live very distracted lives. With all of the technology available to us, we never truly disconnect from the noise. Social networking has become the master of many people’s lives. I recently saw a report on the news about latest hazard on the street; texting and walking. A person can be listening to music through their ear buds, texting a friend and walk right out in front of a car. Many people are so accustomed to being “plugged-in” all of the time that they have forgotten how to be quiet.

            As followers of Christ, we are just as guilty as everyone else. We fill our lives with all the same distractions. We have been enticed into a 24/7 mindset that allows no room for quiet contemplation and reflection. We think that always being connected makes us more productive. We enjoy the constant stimulation that comes from non-stop entertainment. We convince ourselves that friendship means being instantly available at all times.

            I don’t think God is pleased with all of our self-imposed busyness. God does not need or want our noise. He never intended for us to live 24/7 lives. What God wants, more than anything else, is our undivided attention. We can become so busy, even doing God’s work, that we miss God.

            In Psalm 46:10, King David expresses the very heart of God. "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Let’s see if we can unpack this powerful verse.

Be Still
            Do you have a hard time being still? The Hebrew word for “still” is “raphah” which means to cease, to stay, to be idle. What is implied is to stop what you are doing. Often, before we can truly draw close to God, we need to stop whatever we are doing.

            Being still is hard for us in our busy world. It is harder and harder for us to slow down. It is also harder to find quiet. We are surrounded by noise most of the time. It is not that we can’t control some of it. Instead we choose to invite noise into our lives.

            If we are going to draw close to God we need to learn how to be still. There are many good excuses for not slowing down, but excuses only keep us at a distant from God. If we want to hear his voice, if we want to know his direction, if we want to feel his love, then we must be still.

    Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; Psalm 37:7a

And know
            We live in an information age. Knowledge is power; at least that is what we are being told. In our pursuit to stay on top of things we cram our heads with information, but do we really know anything?
The Hebrew word for “know” is “yada” which means to properly ascertain by seeing. When David says “Be still and know” he is not telling us to add new data to our database. He is telling us to experience God.  He is inviting us into a different and far better level of knowledge. He is inviting us to encounter God for ourselves.

            Our faith is not solely based on facts. Facts are important, but facts can be cold and sterile. Our faith is based on a relationship with the Living Lord. God does not want us to settle for knowledge about Him but to really know Him.

I am God
            The sin of Adam and Eve, and all the rest of us, is that we want to be God. When David writes “Be still and know that I am God”, he is challenging our understanding of ourselves. In brief, David is saying that God is God and we are not. When we realize that God is God and we are not it frees us from a great burden. We are not responsible for running the world, or even our little corner of it. We are not responsible to make everything right, or correct every problem, or make sure that everyone is happy. We can leave all of that in God’s hands.

            David is also saying that the God who revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush is the ultimate, only true God. When Moses encountered God in the wilderness he asked God for his name. God responded to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' " (Exodus 3:14)

            If we are going to break free from the trap of living distracted lives, we will need to be very intentional. Here are a few suggestions.

            Plan a regular time each day when you unplug from the distractions of the world. Spend time alone with God and His word. Let Him speak to your soul.

            Set realistic boundaries in your life. Refuse to be a 24/7 person. Determine to shut off your phone, computer, TV and radio at a specific time each day. Give yourself permission to start your day distraction free. Use that time to connect with God

            When you are tempted to fill your life with noise, stop and ask why. Be intentional about your use of entertainment. Don’t just use it to fill up time or escape from reality. Ask God to show you all the things you are missing when you retreat into your private, plugged-in world.  

             David’s profound words in Psalm 46 are an invitation to encounter the ultimate reality. When we let God be God in our hearts we can face all of life with confidence and joy. David did!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Timothy and Me

            Do you ever see yourself in Scripture? Have you ever been reading about some person in the Bible and suddenly felt, “That’s me!” I have. One of those people I identify with in the Bible is Timothy. I see so much of myself in him. I admire Paul and Peter, but I can’t really relate to them. I am in awe of the faith of men like Stephan and Philip, but I could never see myself in their shoes. But when I read about Timothy I can identify.

            Timothy was selected for service. On Paul’s second missionary journey, he ran into Timothy in his hometown of Lystra. Acts 16:1-3 relates this initial encounter.

            He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

            Timothy caught Paul’s attention. Something about this young man stood out from the crowd. Paul handpicked Timothy to become a partner with him in ministry.

            My Paul’s name was Charlie. I met Charlie my first year at summer camp. For some reason, which I still do not know, Charlie selected me to become a part of his team. From the time I was fourteen until after I went to college, I was a part of Charlie’s ministry team. I wonder if Timothy was as surprised as I was to be selected. I was excited and scared all at once.

            Timothy accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. Throughout the New Testament there are several names that keep popping up. One of those is Timothy. Timothy is mentioned five times in Acts as a traveling companion to Paul. He is mentioned by name in eight of Paul’s letters to the churches. As a partner in ministry with Paul, Timothy traveled extensively and was exposed firsthand to missions. He faced all the trials and troubles of Paul from the backseat, so to speak.

            One of the greatest things Charlie did for me was to give me a call in the dead of winter one year. His request was simple. Would you like to go on a mission trip with me to Haiti this summer? Little did I know just how much that experience would change my life. A fire was lit within me that still burns today. From that night on, I constantly thought about that trip. When the time finally came to go, God used that experience to cultivate a deep desire to serve Him full time. I was not the same person when I returned home. Charlie took me on a second mission trip to Mexico that only solidified God’s call on my life.

            Timothy had to be challenged to use his gifts. We can infer from Scripture that Timothy often held back. He didn’t mind riding in the back seat of Paul’s car, but he wasn’t too sure about taking the wheel. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul had to push Timothy to stop hanging back.
            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. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:5-7

            All of my life I have hung back. I felt that I had certain abilities, but I never felt the freedom to use them. Even when God put me in a place to step out and use my gifts, I often waited for others to take the lead. There have been two pivotal times in my adult life when God used others to challenge me to use what God had given me. The first took place in Seminary. I was pursuing ministry but on my terms. God used two professors to confront me with my gifts in preaching. Because of them, I abandoned my path and started following God’s. The second time happened during my Doctor of Ministry studies. One day our small cohort group was meeting together and an older and more experienced pastor turned to me and said, “Dave, you are the leader of this group. So lead.” I think Timothy and I would have a lot to talk about over coffee.   

            Timothy was tapped for leadership. At some point along the way, Paul decided that Timothy should stay in Ephesus and give leadership to the church there. It was a key position, with much responsibility and many challenges. Timothy may have been surprised by this new assignment. After all, he had been a constant traveling companion with Paul. He may have assumed that he would continue to do that indefinitely.  We know that Timothy was not comfortable with this idea at first, but he was obedient. As He obeyed, God blessed Timothy’s ministry there.

            After my trip to Haiti my dream was to be a medical missionary. I trained as a Medical Laboratory Technician so that I could serve the Lord and stay out of the spotlight. God had very different plans for me. Instead of going to the mission field, He called me to be a pastor. Over the years I have struggled, stretched, grown, agonized, rejoiced, cried and celebrated. There have been times when I was ready to give up and times I could not imagine giving up. Time and again God has called me to take on the mantle of leadership, which I have done, often reluctantly. But I can say, without qualification, God has blessed me and the ministry He has given me to do.

            Timothy needed encouragement. I find it fascinating that two of the books of the New Testament are letters from Paul to Timothy. After all of his experience traveling with Paul, Timothy still needed encouragement to keep going.

            In many ways those two letters were written for me. I too easily get discouraged and retreat into my old timid ways. But through some wonderful friends and colleagues, God continues to send me “letters” of encouragement not to give up.

            When I get to heaven, one of the people I want to sit down and talk with is Timothy. I’ll bet he has red hair and freckles, just like me.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


            In 1974 J.I. Packer wrote a classic book called Knowing God. He makes an interesting observation at the beginning of his book. He points out that there is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God. That statement has had a profound effect on me.  
            While teaching a class on the Doctrine of God, I was struck by how easy it is for us to learn a lot of facts about God and yet not really know God. My greatest desire is to truly know God.
            One of God’s attributes that captured my attention is His omnipresence. I have always heard omnipresence defined as God is everywhere present. I have always accepted that in a theoretical sense, but it didn’t really seem real to me. Then I read the definition in Wayne Grudem’s book on systematic theology. “God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.”
            As I read that definition and pondered it, I was struck by its implications. God is not just present in some amorphous, intangible way. God is present in all of His glory and power, all of His attributes, right here, right now. God is fully interactive with my world. I have not been able to let go of that thought.
            I try to live in the reality of His presence. I try to always recognize that God is truly with me. I don’t know how to explain how that makes me feel. I guess the best word is awe. I am in awe of the fact that God is completely and totally present wherever I am.
            I have often gone to Psalm 139 in a time of crisis to bring assurance to others. As I contemplate God’s omnipresence, this Psalm has taken on much greater meaning and significance.

Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24
    O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
    You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
    You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
    Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.
    You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
    Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
    If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
    If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
    If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 
    For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
    I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
    My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
    How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
    Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.
    Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
    See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

            We serve a God who is incomprehensible yet knowable, boundless yet present with all His being. I stand amazed in His presence, literally!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Piercing the Fog

I am sorry for being AWOL (Absent Without Leave) last week. I was sick, which messed up my schedule and put me under a significant time crunch. But, I am back. I hope the following thoughts are an encouragement to you.

            A couple of winters ago my wife and I took a little excursion to a neighboring town. We went there to visit a British shop (which was closed) and to eat in a British pub (which was open). As we drove to and from the town we encountered varying degrees of fog. It was a persistent fog that refused to give up and go away.

            Fog does strange things to our world. Fog has a way of distorting the familiar. It can hide our world in a thick blanket of damp coldness. Or it can make the countryside appear to be the image through an improperly focused lens. Fog can be dangerous. If it is thick enough, it can blind us to what is ahead. In winter it can add a thin layer of slick ice to seemingly dry roads. Overall fog makes our world dank and dreary. By obscuring the sun it robs us of both light and warmth. It can seep into our souls; wrapping our spirit in its clammy blanket.

            There are times in life when we feel like we are living in a fog. It is not a physical fog that we know will one day soon be banished. It is an emotional and spiritual fog that can hang on for extended periods of time. This fog can distort our world just like its more tangible cousin. When we live in a fog, we can’t see things clearly, as they really are. Instead, we begin to see distorted shapes that take on an air of foreboding. Living in a fog is dangerous because we become blind to real dangers, while we are running from imaginary ones. We are more likely to slip and fall emotionally, spiritually or morally when we live in a fog. So what can we do to pierce the fog? Is there a way out? The answer is the same for both tangible and emotional fog. To pierce the fog we need light; the light of the sun (Son).

            We can hold onto the truth that the light is there. As we were driving the radio people were talking about the dreary weather. One of them interjected that the sun was still there, even if we can’t see it. If we are going to pierce the fog, we need to hold onto the reality that the Son is always with us even when we cannot see Him. When our world looks distorted we need to hang onto what we know to be solid and true. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:20b

            We can seek the light. A real problem for many people is called seasonal affective disorder. During the winter months, when light is at its minimum, many people feel discouraged and lack energy because of the lack of sunlight. Some people find relief from this disorder through the use of a special full-spectrum lamp. This lamp simulates the light of the sun. When we are living in an emotional/spiritual fog we can find relief by going to God’s word. The Bible is a genuine source of the light of Christ. It is available to us at any time. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105

            When the fog settles in, look ahead and visualize a positive future. It is not unusual in the winter to have a very long stretch of overcast, dreary weather. As each overcast morning dawns, it gets easier to slip into the negative idea that we will never see the sun again. But we know that the sun will win out in the end. The fog and clouds will not last. A day is coming when the sun will break through and dispel the gloom. The same is true emotionally and spiritually. Although our dark days may hang on we can look ahead to a different reality. The day is coming when the light of Christ will break through and allow us to see things clearly again. This will happen sometime in our immediate future and ultimately when he comes to take us home to be with him. He will not leave us in the fog forever. If we will reach out to him he will pierce our fog and flood us with his light.

John 8:12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

1 Corinthians 13:12
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.