Thursday, November 29, 2012


Galatians 6:7 (NIV)
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

            It was just a small thing. It was my turn to make a display for our summer mission project to Ukraine. I was to highlight the family I had lived with the past three summers using pictures and descriptions. It was the kind of project that could be done in an evening. But as things go, I got busy and Sunday morning dawned with no display ready. I got right on it the next week and had a fine display ready for the following Sunday. But, that experience sparked a thought in my mind. My life has been punctuated with small failures.

            The problem with small failures is that they build up. Even though each failure may not be a big deal, there seems to be a cumulative effect in our lives. The more we dismiss or overlook these small failures, the more they become a pattern in our lives. For example, if I show up late for a meeting once, and do not consciously make the adjustments needed to correct the problem, showing up late for meetings may become habitual. This can have devastating effects on our lives. Small failures left unchecked in a marriage can cause huge rifts that are hard to bridge. Small failures left unchecked in our workplace may lead to us looking for another job. Small failures left unchecked in our relationships may create an atmosphere of mistrust. Small failures left unchecked in our spiritual life can lead to a spiritual breakdown.

            In the book of Galatians, Paul wrote to a group of people who were ignoring the small failures in their lives. They were slipping further and further away from the Lord. In Galatians 1:6-7, Paul writes, I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

            The Galatians allowed small failures to continue, until they gradually drew them away from Christ. It is like being gently carried by the ocean current. At first, you don’t notice that you are drifting. After awhile, you realize that you have moved a whole lot farther from shore then you had planned. Small failures can have the same effect. Their impact on our lives seems meaningless at first, but after awhile we wake up to the reality that we have drifted a long way away from where we want to be spiritually.  

            Paul reminds us that small failures matter. We cannot play games with God and expect to avoid the consequences. Paul states clearly, a man reaps what he sows.

            We tend to overlook small things in our lives because we don’t think they matter. But we are very wrong. For example, if a person has two or three dandelions in their yard they may ignore them, thinking that, because there are so few, they don’t matter. But if those dandelions are allowed to go to seed, the next year there will be dozens of dandelions. The same is true in our lives. If we allow small failures to go unchecked, they will multiply. Once they set down roots in our lives, they are very hard to get rid of. If we let them go to seed, we will reap a harvest of failure. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Joyce Kilmer. 1886–1918

I THINK that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

            This past week, my wife and I had the chance to travel to California and visit our son. While we were there, we visited Big Basin State Park. We drove along a very windy road in fog and drizzle to get there. As we drove, and as my stomach became more and more uneasy, I wondered if this trip was really worth the effort. We emerged from our car in the small parking lot at the heart of the park. Donning my thin jacket to shield me against the drizzle, we walked into the woods.

            As we walked along, I was immediately captured by the beauty and awe of my surroundings. The centerpiece of this park is the giant redwoods. They towered high above us as we walked. Their massive bodies, straight as an arrow, were thrust up into the air. We came to a particular tree, named Mother of the Forest. It stands 329 feet tall and is 70 feet in circumference at the base. When you stand at the base of that tree, you cannot help but be in awe of what God has created.

            The Psalmist gives voice to the awe that God’s creation stirs within us. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. Psalms 19:1-4 (NIV) Language, culture, or social status are not barriers to hearing the voice of God proclaimed through what He has made. When you stand at the base of one of those massive redwoods, you cannot help but exclaim praise and wonder. Even those who, for whatever reason, do not acknowledge God exclaim words of praise at his handiwork.

            The Psalmist also reminds us that the tree is a symbol of our relationship with God. Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Psalms 1:1-3 (NIV)

            When we put our faith in Christ, we sink our roots deep into his love and grace. He nourishes our soul, allowing us to withstand the stresses and pressures of life. He makes us truly productive people. Our “fruit” makes a difference for eternity. It is not just a passing fancy.

            When I see the amazing world that God has created, I stand in awe of His love for me.

Psalms 8:1-9 (NIV)
O LORD , our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Hebrews 11:13b (NIV)
And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

            A number of years ago I returned to Wheaton College for my class reunion. On that occasion, I was able to take my family with me. I had a great time showing my children all of the places that I had frequented when I was in college. We visited the biology department, where I had spent hundreds of hours. We walked the halls of Blanchard Hall, the iconic centerpiece of the college. I sawed them the classroom where I had taken a history course. I showed them the stairway that led up to the rifle range, tucked away in among the rafters of the attic of the building. I showed them the plaques on the wall of all of the Wheaton students who had gone on to become world missionaries. We found our way to Edman Chapel, where I was again taken aback by the overwhelming size and grandeur of the place. Finally we went to Trabor dorm, where I had lived three out of my four years on campus. We were able to enter the main lobby, but access to the floors was barred by a new security system. At that moment I was struck with the realization that I no longer belonged there. I was a stranger in a very familiar place.

            The Bible tells us that spiritually we are strangers in familiar places. We are born into this world as a part of it. As we grow and develop, we become comfortable with our surroundings. They become very familiar. They are the normal setting for our life. We feel very much at home. But, 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 we invite Christ to take control of our lives, a transformation happens. We pass from being a part of a world dominated by sin and enter into a world motivated by Christ. Everything changes. We begin to view our world differently. The places and things that were so appealing to us begin to lose their allure. We begin to feel less at home in this world.

            Several years ago, a friend of mine, from Mainland China, traveled home for a visit. He had become a Christian while studying in America. I talked with him about the changes he would experience. He assured me that nothing had changed and all would be well. 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 that they wanted to do for fun, while he was visiting, made him uncomfortable. In short, that was not his home any more. “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 the world. We have become strangers in familiar places. In Hebrews 11, the writer talks about the great people of faith. In verse 13 he states that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

            There is an old gospel song that we used to sing quite often when I was growing up. The first line of the songs states, “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.” In a simple way, that song has captured the reality of every Christian. This world is not home. We are on our way to our real home with Christ in heaven.

            But, there is a problem. It is possible for us to feel too comfortable here and to forget that this is not our home. When that happens, we set start to set up residence and settle in. I have worked with many international students over the years. Many of them came from countries that do n lot enjoy the standard of living that we enjoy 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. That is the way it can be for us as well.

             In 2 Peter 2, Peter challenges us to not lose sight of our true home. “But you are a chosen people, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” “Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (2 peter 2:9, 11-12 NIV)

            Whenever I travel to other countries, I always stand out as an American. I cannot help it. People can just tell. Can people tell that we are citizens of God’s kingdom? The old song had it right. This world is not my home. Although I can adjust to my surroundings, and ever feel comfortable in them, I don’t belong here. And neither do you. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An Attitude of Gratitude

                On Thursday, Nov. 22, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a unique holiday because it does not celebrate a specific event or person. Although it has historical roots, it doesn’t center on a historical event. The focus of Thanksgiving is to call people to reflect upon their lives and give thanks to God for the blessing they enjoy.

                When I was growing up in church, we often sang the hymn, “Count Your Blessing”, at this time of the year.  The words of that hymn were written by Johnson Oatman Jr. in 1897 and the tune was composed by Edwin O. Excell. Oatman was a layman who worked in a mercantile business and managed a large insurance company. He was also a licensed Methodist Preacher. He wrote over 5,000 hymn texts including “Higher Ground” and “No, Not One”. His counterpart, Excell, was a singing teacher. He traveled around the country establishing singing schools. He managed a successful music publishing business. He wrote and composed more than 2,000 gospel songs and published 50 songbooks. Their hymn “Count Your Blessings” played a significant role in the Welsh revival. It was sung at every service. The chorus of this classic hymn states, “Count your blessing name them one by one; count your blessing see what God has done. Count your blessings name them one by one. Count your many blessings see what God has done.”

                Our focus is too often on the negative things happening in our lives. We spend too much time complaining and grumbling. The outcome is that we get dragged down in spirit. We begin to see life with a perpetual dark cloud hanging over head, like Eore from Winnie the Pooh. As followers of Christ, we need to be reminded that a negative attitude is not something that please God.  The Bible tells us that we are to develop an attitude of gratitude. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

                With these thoughts in mind let me be a catalyst to get you thinking about your many blessings.
- I am thankful for my Savior, Jesus Christ, who left the splendors of heaven to walk this earth, to take my sins to the cross of Calvary and to offer me new life through him.

- I am thankful for the Holy Spirit we makes me uncomfortable at times, who reminds me of who I am in Christ, and who leads me (when I’m listening) into the paths of righteousness.

- I am thankful for my Heavenly Father who loves me beyond measure.

- I am thankful for my wife Suanne, who has been more than a partner in the ministry these past 30 years. She has been my friend, counselor, comforter, encourager, prompter, companion and soul mate.

- I am thankful for my three children, Jonathan, Adam, and Elizabeth. They have been a blessing in many ways and I would not trade them for anything.

- I am thankful for my unofficially adopted son, Osman, who has stretched me, challenged me and allowed me to see firsthand the transforming power of the gospel.

- I am thankful for the privilege of serving the same church for 25 years. During that time, I have had the privilege of seeing the Kingdom of God advanced through the lives of hundreds of people.

- I am thankful that in my ministry things have not always been easy or gone smoothly; because through these harder times I have grown stronger and deeper in our faith.

- I am thankful that I was born in America and that I get to live in Minnesota with its changing seasons and its wealth of environments, from farmland to wilderness.

- I am thankful for a heritage of faith from both my family and Suanne’s family.

- I am thankful to be alive during the most exciting, challenging and demanding time in human history.


Saturday, November 10, 2012


            If you are like me, you may be experiencing a far amount of disappointment right now. The election season has come to an end and things didn’t work out the way I would have liked. The danger for me right now is to let my disappointment turn into bitterness and anger. Neither of those things will accomplish God’s plans nor benefit me as a person. So I need to stop and ask myself how I am going to deal with my disappointment.

            Disappointment is a normal part of life. Most of us face far more disappointment than celebration. We are in the middle of football season. There are 32 teams in the NFL. 30 of them will end their season in disappointment. That is life. So if disappointment is going to be a regular part of our lives how do we deal with it?

            There is a story from the Old Testament that deals with extreme disappointment and loss. It is found in 2 Samuel 12. Let me set the stage. King David has had an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba that produced a child. Nathan the prophet has confronted David and he has repented of his sin. But Nathan has some bad news, the child will die. For seven days David fasted and prayed before God for the life of the boy. On the seventh day the boy died. Everyone was afraid to tell David. He had been so distraught, now what would he do? Let’s pick up the story in verse 20, after David learned that the child was dead.

    Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. His servants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!" He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." 2 Samuel 12:20-23

            There are a couple of observations that we can make from this passage that can help us deal with disappointment in life.

            First, it is right for us to give all our effort toward accomplishing our dreams, goals and desires. David lived a passionate life, not a cautious life. Too often, in an attempt to avoid disappointment, we choose caution over significant risk. Yet, it is only through taking risks that we can ever hope to gain. Like David we need to lay our dreams and desires before the Lord, with passion and enthusiasm.

            Secondly, when disappointment comes put things into perspective. When David learned that his son had died the days of his fasting ended. He intentionally and humbly submitted himself to the will of God. Then he got up and prepared himself for the next challenge of life.

            I have a tendency to hang onto disappointments. I relive them over and over again, thinking of all the things that could have been different. I am learning that, when disappointment comes, I must acknowledge it and then release it into God’s hands.

            Third, move on. David’s servants were surprised and shocked by David’s actions. They could not understand the abrupt change in his demeanor. David understood that staying in his disappointment was not a healthy place to be.

            We all can learn from David. For a time, disappointment will immobilize us. But as soon as we can, we need to let go and move on with life. I think Paul had that in mind when he penned the words of Philippians 3:13-14. “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.

            Many people worked very hard to accomplish some specific goals during our recent elections. For whatever reason, God did not allow those efforts to bear fruit. We can stay in our disappointment and stop moving forward. Or we can put our disappointment behind us and trust God to lead us into the future. When I was in college, a Christian song came out that said disappointment is God’s appointment to do a work in your life. I didn’t really understand that back then. I think I’m catching on. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Keeping Score

            In  Marcus Buckingham’s book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work, he talks about how our basic personality is hardwired into us and will not significantly change over time. Then, as an example, he tells about his five-year-old son. Listen to what he wrote.

            “My son Jackson is five years old, and already I know some things about him. For example, I know that Jack is passionately competitive. Not in the way that most kids are, with their vague preference for winning over losing, but in a deep-and-abiding-hatred-of-losing kind of way. If he’s watching his favorite football team on television and they start to lose, he can’t say in the room. He is compelled to run into the other room and bury his face in the sofa cushions. It’s a physical thing. His need to win is such an overwhelming force that, once it’s triggered, he doesn’t know quite what to do with himself.”

            Buckingham continues by saying that, whatever he is doing, Jack always wants to know the score. As I read about Jack, I began to see myself. In one of those “Ah-Ha” moments, I realized “that’s me.” I had to stop watching football for a while because, when the game got tense, I would get up and pace the room. If my team lost, I would be bummed out for the rest of the week.

            I realized that I share Jack’s passion for keeping score and his aversion to losing. I keep a running log. Each time I get out and run I record how far I ran and my time. If my time is better, or my distance more than the last time, I feel good. If not, I feel bad. I’m keeping score. Every Sunday before I leave church, I go into the church office and write down the attendance numbers. On Tuesday morning I record them on a spreadsheet and then compare them to a year ago. I’m keeping score. If I play a game with my family or friends I become very competitive. What’s the point of playing if you are not going to play to win?

            I have struggled with this for many years, especially when it comes to other churches. I have had to discipline myself not to ask another pastor what his attendance is or volunteer ours unless specifically asked. I have had to work very hard at not keeping score.

            Is it wrong to keep score? There are many examples in the Bible of keeping score. If you look into the Old Testament, you will discover that at the end of most of the major battles that Israel fought we are given the final score. It is the same in the New Testament. When Jesus fed the multitude in the wilderness, it is recorded that 5000 men were fed, not including women and children. In the book of Acts, after Peter proclaimed the Gospel to the people, it says in Acts 2:41, Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. So it sure looks like the Bible keeps score.

            On the other side of the equation, Jesus is very clear about not keeping score. In the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew 5-7, he specifically tells us that when we give or pray or fast we are not to keep score. In fact in Matthew 6:3-4 Jesus seems to completely prohibit keeping score. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

            Here are some helpful insights into how to deal with keeping score.

            Recognize the truth that the results do matter. People who are totally oblivious to results often accomplish very little. Results are the markers to tell us if we are making progress or falling behind. They are important.

            Acknowledge that the score is not what is most important. The score is only a temporary benchmark along the way to our higher goal. We need to acknowledge and evaluate the score, and then move on. Like baseball players who have to player 162 games a year, we need to celebrate each win, learn from each loss and then move on to the next challenge.

            Learn to give the score to God as a sacrifice of praise. In ministry, the score is an indication of how yielded we are to God’s leading and empowering. In life the score is an indication of how well we are using the skills and talents God has given to us. In either case, the glory is not ours but God’s. We can and should celebrate the score and then release it to God, without looking back.

            If I understand Buckingham, I will never lose my passion for keeping score. But I am learning to deal it in new ways. The other day, as I was running, I was thinking about this keeping score business. So as I ran, I verbally gave praise to God for the ability to run and the feeling of running well. When I got home I still recorded my time and my miles, but I’m not going to tell you the score.