Tuesday, December 31, 2013

When the Game is Over

                The end of a year is always a time to pause and reflect upon the journey that we are taking. As we look back, we can evaluate our progress or lack thereof. As we look ahead, we can plan our strategy for the future. But there is a time coming for every one of us when our journey will end and the game will be over. The final score will be tallied and it will be determined if we were winners or losers in life.

                This time of the year is the culmination of the college football season. For many teams, their season has already ended, but for a few, what happens in the next week or so will define their whole season. Throughout the season, the coach has made innumerable decisions, some good and some bad. Each decision has changed the outlook of the game and the season. As long as there is one more game to play, there is still a chance to have a positive impact on the outcome. When the final game is over, there is no going back and changing the outcome. So it is in life.

                God placed me in another uncomfortable place recently. I was called to the hospital to sit with a family as they waited the outcome of their loved one’s battle for life. I tried to give as much comfort as I could, but mostly I listened as the family talked about their loved one. They reflected upon the journey he had taken and the decisions he had made. They pleaded for a little more time to be put on the clock. I left with the outcome still hanging in the balances. As the patient was whisked away on a medical helicopter, I met the doctor in the hall. “I don’t think he will make it.”

                On my way home, I reflected on my experience. I was unable to give that family any lasting hope, because, as far as I could determine, they had chosen to play the game without God on the sidelines. In football, if the game is close at the end, there is always the chance for a Hail Mary pass and a spectacular catch in the end zone to turn defeat into victory. Unfortunately, there are very, very few Hail Mary passes at the end of life. As the final seconds tick off the clock, the cumulative decisions of a lifetime determine the final score.

                Many people begin asking the most important life questions at the very time when it is too late to act upon them. Many people live their lives without conscious thought about God, then wonder where He is when the end of the journey looms large in front of them. Some do find that the door of life is still open to them, but many more sink into overwhelming doom; the weight of their life decisions pulling them away from God instead of toward Him.

                The hope that Christ offers us needs to be embraced now, in the present. It is not a safety net that we leave unused until the end of the game. True hope for the future is shaped and formed by the multitude of positive decisions we make throughout the entire game. It is not something that can be grasped in desperation in the final seconds.

                Jesus is holding out hope for all who will receive it. But a person must take advantage of the opportunity before them. They cannot put off their decision, expecting to get another chance later. In a football game, there are only a limited number of opportunities to score. A good team makes the most of every opportunity. They may not get another one. So it is in life. Isaiah made that clear in Isaiah 55.

                Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. Isaiah 55:6-7

                The Apostle Paul picks up the urgency of Isaiah’s words in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2. As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.

                In a football game there is a limited number of plays to be called. Each decision combines to determine the final score of the game. So it is in life. Each of us has a limited number of decisions that we can make. Each decision shapes us for our eternal destiny, each one plays a part in the final score. For when the game is over, there is no going back to change things.

                We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

                As we move into this new year I want to challenge you to ask yourself the question, who is calling the plans in my life? None of us knows what this next year will bring, but we can face it with confidence, if we have put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The clock is ticking, the game is winding down. If we have put our faith in Christ, the outcome is not in question. We have already won.

                For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Sunday, December 22, 2013


                The first Christmas was a confusing, bewildering, exciting, amazing time. The known world was thrust into frantic activity by the decree of Caesar to take a census. It would have been easy enough except everyone had to travel to their ancestral home. The Jews are very clannish, like the Scots. To make the census more palatable to the Jews, the authorities tapped into their ancient loyalty to their patriarchal tribes. So it was that Joseph and Mary had to travel, at a most inconvenient time, to the town of Bethlehem.

                The trip would have been an ordeal. It would normally take 3-4 days to walk to Bethlehem from Nazareth, but with Mary being very pregnant it took longer. Like all expectant fathers, I’m sure that Joseph didn't want Mary to overdo it. So they made their way, slowly, to Bethlehem because Joseph came from the line of David, the King.

                Joseph may have puzzled over the irony of his connection to Bethlehem. He was anything but the son of a king. A simple carpenter, living in a small, obscure village on the fringe of the nation. He was a man who worked with his hands, not one who gave orders and ruled a nation. Of the line of David. A more unreal thought couldn't have passed through his mind.

                When they finally arrived, Bethlehem was bedlam; there were people everywhere. It had not been designed for this influx of humanity. Every available accommodation was taken; occupied by some weary traveler, anxious to get registered and go home. The atmosphere was not festive, it was tense. Nerves were on edge, tempers were short. Roman soldiers roamed the streets adding to the uncomfortable feeling in the air. A young couple, arriving late, were viewed as a nuisance, an inconvenience, an unwanted burden.

                They found shelter in a stable. It was probably a cave that had been enlarged, with a fence and gate to keep the animals in. Like most caves, it would have been musty, slightly damp and dirty. The stale air, mixed with the aroma of the animals, would have made for a pungent atmosphere. But near the back of the stable, the young couple would have a measure of privacy. Privacy that they dearly needed, for the time for the baby had arrived. Had they been accommodated in the inn, they would have been crowded in with other guests, exposed to the curious stares of strangers. In a strange way, God provided a private room for his son to be born into our world. Possibly shielded by the oblivious animals, Mary gave birth to the son of God. 

                In the villages of Israel, the birth of a child was a major event. The whole village would be in anticipation of the arrival. When the baby entered the world, it was customary for some local musicians to gather outside of the house and herald the birth with music. Soon the whole village would be informed and a collective celebration would take place.

                There were no mistrals waiting to announce Jesus’ birth. But God was not going to let His son’s birth go unnoticed. He sent His messenger to a group of Temple shepherds who were staying with the flock out in the field. The sky blazed with the glory of God and one or two of these hardened men may have wet their tunics. We know that they were not just startled, they were terrified. The message the angel gave was one of comfort and joy. Don’t be afraid, God has just fulfilled his promise to send the Messiah into the world. Here is the really good news. You marginalized, blue collar laborers are included. The Messiah has come, not for the religious elite, but for the common people; for all the people! He is just over there in Bethlehem. You can find him, wrapped tight in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger.

                At that moment the sky exploded with the praise of heaven. If one angel is enough to terrify a person, consider what a whole army of angels would do. God sent his angelic army to celebrate the most amazing miracle that has ever happened, that will ever happen. God invaded our world in the form of a vulnerable baby.

                The shepherds were stunned and amazed. As the night sky returned to its normal appearance, the shepherds were moved to do something they would never even consider doing. They left the flock, unattended in the field, and rushed to town. They searched every cave, stable and barn looking for the baby. When they found him they were stunned into silence. At the sight of the baby, they knew it was all true. Their silence was broken with uncontrollable praise. They left the bewildered young family, and raced through the sleepy streets proclaiming the good news. Although everyone who heard the news was amazed, there is no record that they went to check it out for themselves. The morning was dawning. The busy day was ahead of them. The census demanded all of their attention. So they forgot what they had heard and went on with life.

                God chose a very unlikely cast of characters to participate in this monumental event. A young girl, a rough carpenter, a group of smelly shepherds. He didn't choose the elite, the informed, the upper crust. He chose common people, and he still does.

                Paul reminds us that none of us have a claim on God’s gift because of our social status or reputation. We are recipients of the gift because of His great love. 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. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.1 Corinthians 1:26-31

                The Christ of Christmas is our Savior purely as an unmerited gift from God. 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 boastEphesians 2:8-9

            You have heard the story, you have been invited into the story. How will you respond? Will you respond like the people of Bethlehem, and go on with life as usual? Or will you take your place with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds? 

Saturday, December 7, 2013


                As an Associate Chaplain at a hospital, I have sat with many people during times of stress and crisis. I have listened to many cries for help; many cries of desperation. A loved one’s life is hanging in the balance and the distraught relative intones over and over again, O God, O God, O God. A family is given bad news and they respond in anger. “Where is God when we need Him?” Because God created us with an innate desire to be in relationship with Him, when we are at our lowest and all of our human resources are depleted, something within us cries for God. It may be a cry for help or a cry of anger, but it is almost universally there.

                I have encountered many people who live their lives independent of a relationship with God. As long as everything is going well, they have no place for God in their lives. The name of God, if it is used at all, is used as a mindless form of profanity. Then the bottom drops out and they  blame God for abandoning them. For them, God is not a friend and companion, but a benevolent stranger who is supposed to be there for them when they need him. He is the spiritual rescue squad who is supposed to be on call, ready to respond to their emergency.

                The Bible makes it clear that we have a choice in the way we live our lives. We can live in relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, or we can live without God being an active part of our lives. It is wrong to say that God is absent, because he is always, everywhere present. But we can live as if he does not exist, or at least as if he has no place in our everyday lives. There will come a time when every human being will stand before God and give an account of their life. It will either be a time of terror or a time of welcome home. The determining factor will be if Jesus was our friend or a stranger.

                There is a challenging passage of scripture found in Matthew 25. Jesus describes that time when all of humanity will stand before Jesus’ throne. The people of the world will be divided into two groups; one on His right and one on His left. Jesus will turn to the people on his right and extend a hand of welcome. “Welcome home friend. I have been looking forward to this day. You have lived life well, you have served with honor, so now come and celebrate with me.”

                Then Jesus will turn to those on his left and he will say the most chilling thing that any human can hear. “You lived your life as a stranger to me. You had no thought of me and lived as if I did not exist.  Depart from me. I never knew you.”

                Right now the door is open to anyone who will come to Jesus. The invitation to be Jesus’ intimate friend is there for the taking. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20 Jesus desires to have a meaningful relationship with us, but he will not barge his way into our lives. He is the ultimate gentleman. He patiently waits for us to open the door and invite Him in.

                Today I will perform a funeral. It is a solemn reminder that our life on earth is short. One day the clock will run out for us all. When that time comes, will Jesus be standing there welcoming us home as a dearly loved friend, or will He still be a stranger?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Physician, Heal Thyself

                I sat with my friend and talked about my apprehension. Looming before me were two significant encounters that I felt inadequate to handle. Both of the encounters had been hanging over my head for days, and I had become very anxious. I expressed my feelings of inadequacy to my friend, as he patiently listened. After I had unloaded my stuff, he paused for a moment, as he often does, before responding.

                “Dave, you may not feel adequate for the task, but that is not the way others perceive you. You do have the ability to convey compassion in a genuine way. God has placed you into these situations because He wants to use you. Someone else could have been called up to fill this role, but they weren’t. God has called you to be in this place.”

                As I walked to my car, in the crisp morning air, I felt encouraged, but not entirely anxiety free. For several days, I had asked people to pray for me concerning these situations. I asked for prayer again, as our staff gathered for our weekly prayer time.

                I walked into the first encounter, still with a high level of apprehension. As I faced the person I came to meet, I expected bitterness, anger and resentment. What I saw was peace, acceptance and a big smile. I immediately relaxed and we had a great visit. I read a couple of passages of scripture that I had selected in advance. We prayed together, and I returned to my car with a sense of relief.

                As I got in my car, the words of Paul, in Philippians 4:6-7, came flooding into my mind. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. How often had I encouraged others to take those words to heart, yet I was failing to do it myself. I was allowing anxiety to take over my heart. As I continued to reflect on this, I was reminded (with just a little amusement) of some of the verses I had just read; verses intended to comfort another person. 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. Psalm 139:23-24 This morning, as I knelt before God, I confessed my anxious heart and asked for His forgiveness.

                My second encounter is still before me. I will be walking into an uncomfortable setting for me. I will be seeking to speak God’s words of comfort to a group of people who may not be sympathetic to those words. I would like to say that all of the anxiety is gone; but it is not. On the other hand, I have a sense of peace about it. I am trusting God to give me the right words to say that will accomplish His purposes. The results are in His hands, not mine.

                Before I became a Pastor, I was a Medical Laboratory Technician. I routinely stuck other people with needles. I always assured them that I would do it with a minimum of pain. Many people were anxious about the procedure, but I assured them and “plunged” forward. Yet, in all of my training and beyond, I was never able to stick myself.

                As a pastor, it is my role to share God’s truth with others. At times that truth seems painful and hard, but I assure people that it is for their good and God’s glory. But I still have a hard time “sticking” myself. So this week, I clearly heard God’s message to me. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. It is time for me to put those words into action in my own life. “Physician, heal thyself.”

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


                When a crisis comes crashing into our lives, our whole world stops. Whatever the crisis is, it becomes the most important thing in life. Everything else is put on hold. All of our energy is used to deal with the attack on our well-being. When we are in the midst of such an overwhelming crisis, it is easy to think that others don’t care. They seem to go on with their lives, unaffected by the deep hurt that we cannot escape. Although we may not say it out loud, we are thinking, what’s wrong with these people? Don’t they understand how hard this is? I know the reality of this; I have walked in those shoes.

                Shift your perspective 180 degrees. Over the past year, I have had a number of people in my fellowship who have been faced with significant crisis. For each of them, their crisis is the most important issue in the world. For me, as a pastor and a friend, I am being asked to carry each crisis as my own. The problem is that there isn’t one crisis to focus on; there are several, all of which are demanding my full attention.

                When I was in college, my fellow students and I often complained that our professors acted as if their class was the only one that we were taking. We had the impression that each professor thought his or her class was the most important and therefore had the right to command all of our time. And so it is when people are in crisis. Because the crisis is so overwhelming to them, they want everyone else to give it their full attention. But, as with my class load in college, we have other things that also demand our attention.

                Paul makes a powerful statement about exercising compassion in Galatians 6:1-5. Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.

                Before I go any further, I want to point out that Paul is talking about helping someone who has fallen into sin, but the principles he gives us apply to the broader context. So for now I want you to replace (temporarily) the word sin with the word crisis. There are a number of principles that can help us to find the right balance of compassion at a time of crisis.

                Don’t assume that you have the answer for the person in crisis. Some of us have a strong need to fix things. Someone comes to us with a problem or a crisis and immediately we begin designing a plan for how to fix it. Stop! Only God can fix whatever the real issues are. Our role is to come along side of the other person and walk with them.     

                Beware of losing your perspective. When a person is in crisis, their perspective becomes distorted. They tend to see things through a gloomy fog, which makes everything look bad. Our role, as the compassionate helper, is it keep our perspective and help the person in crisis see things differently. When Paul says watch yourself or you may also be tempted, he is warning us about buying into a negative attitude. It is common, in our attempts to comfort another, to reinforce their negative feelings. Instead, we need to point the person back to Christ and his loving care.

                Get close enough to share the burden. Many people instinctively distance themselves from people in crisis. We all have struggles in life, and we are not eager to add to the list. As followers of Christ, we need to put away our fear and get close enough to care for the person in crisis. The key word here is share. Many people in crisis want someone else to take responsibility for their situation. That is unhealthy. We can support and encourage, but we cannot take responsibility for the other person’s journey.

                Stay on course personally. I mentioned earlier that people in crisis think others don’t care because they don’t put the rest of their lives on hold to “be with” the person in crisis. In truth, that is the last thing the person in crisis needs. What they need from others is their strength. That strength only comes when the person maintains a healthy life. Each person needs to know their limits. They need to balance compassion with caring for their own needs. A physician we contracts all the diseases of his patients is of little help to them. The only way we can truly be of help to others is by carrying our own burden well. This means that we cannot put our life on hold for the sake of the other person.

                There is a phenomena that has emerged in our world. It is called compassion fatigue. When some crisis hits, there is an initial outpouring of help, which then diminishes over time. When numerous crises hit, one after another, the outpouring of help begins to dry up. People just don’t have anything left to give. Whether we are in crisis or coming along someone in crisis, we need to practice compassion compromise. Those who can offer help need to step up and give what they can. Those in crisis need to allow others to continue to live life, so that they can draw from their strength. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Christmas: A Prelude to Greatness

                As I have entered into my “mature years”, my taste in music has gravitated to classical, especially orchestral music. I find classical music enriching, relaxing and uplifting. Much of classical music follows familiar patterns. There is usually a prelude, of some sort, that introduces the major musical themes of the piece. Often these themes are contrasting: dynamic and bold vs. calm and subtle. This is followed by several movements that develop the major themes. The piece then comes to a climax at the end, which again emphasizes the major themes of the music.

                Christmas is a BIG DEAL. For many people, it is the climax of the year. It is a time for families and friends to get together and celebrate their connection. It is a time of giving and receiving. It is a time of extravagant parties and intimate gatherings. It is truly a joyous time. But Christmas is not really the climax; it is the prelude to God’s symphony.

                If we look closely at the accounts of Jesus’ birth, as recorded in Matthew and Luke, we can see all the themes of Jesus’ life introduced. We see joy and sorry, conflict and struggle, and ultimate victory. Christmas sets that stage for a life of greatness.

                The main theme is introduced with the announcement of Jesus’ birth to Mary. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." Luke 1:30-33 The child to be born to Mary will be no ordinary child. He will be great, in fact, he will be a king.

                The main theme of the story is further defined when the angel comes to Joseph.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:20-21 Not only will this child be a king, he will be a Savior. God has established the main theme of his symphony.

                There are two secondary themes that are introduced during this prelude: joy and sorry. The theme of joy is introduced by Luke, as the shepherds are informed of the good news of Jesus’ birth. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2:8-12

                Matthew advances this theme with the arrival of the Magi. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11

                Even as the theme of joy is lingering in the air, the black cloud of conflict begins to build.  When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." Matthew 2:13

                Throughout the rest of God’s symphony, Jesus develops and lives out the themes introduced in the prelude. The climax comes some 33 years later, when Jesus emerges victorious from the tomb on Easter. But God has one more movement to His symphony, and it is yet to be played. For one day, Jesus will return in power and glory to claim his rightful place on the throne forever. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013


                The Thanksgiving holiday is less than  two weeks away. Stores have already rushed on by it to start promoting Christmas. In many ways, Thanksgiving has become the Cinderella of American holidays. It is tucked away in a corner and gets a minimal nod. It is viewed as less important than the more lucrative holidays. Even Halloween gets better billing than Thanksgiving.

                Maybe this is as it should be. Thanksgiving is not about making money, it is about rediscovering gratitude. Thanksgiving is a humble holiday that prefers the intimacy of the dining room table to the spotlight of public acclaim. Thanksgiving calls us to something much higher; it calls us to stop running and reflect upon our life. It calls us to be honest about just how blessed we really are. It ultimately calls us to express our thanks to the giver of all good gifts.

                We are born into this world selfish, self-centered individuals. We all begin life believing the world revolves around us. We expect to be cared for, waited on and pampered. We have to be taught to be thankful. I can still hear my mother instructing me to say thank you. We have done the same thing with our children. The point I want to make is, being thankful is a conscious choice. It is far easier to complain. It is far more common to focus on what we don’t have instead of being grateful for what we do have.

                King David challenges us, in Psalm 103, to remember all that we have to be thankful for. Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—He goes on to expound on all the blessings that God has showered upon us. I could fill the page with blessings that we all take for granted; air to breathe, food to eat, clothes to wear, places to live. Instead, I want to raise the bar a little higher and remind us all about the eternal blessings that can be ours through faith in Jesus Christ.

Salvation through Jesus Christ: Ephes. 2:8-9
    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.

Forgiveness of our sins:  1 John 1:9
    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Renewal of our relationship with God: 1 Peter 2:9-10
    But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, 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. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Strength to face the challenges of each day: 2 Cor. 4:7-9, 16-18 
    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. 
    Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

The companionship of the Holy Spirit: John 14:15-18
    "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Peace: John 14:27
    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Hope to the future: 1 Peter 1:3-4
    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you,

Joy: John 15:9-11
    "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Spiritual gifts: 1 Cor. 12:4-7
    There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

The Bible: 2 Tim. 3:16-17
    All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

                When we stop and reflect upon all that Christ has done for us, we have no reason to complain. We don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to choose to live a life of gratitude. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

No Artificial Additives

    For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
Colossians 2:9-10

                In many ways we live in an artificial world. We have learned how to create amazing facsimiles of many natural things. For example, the entry way of my house has a wood grain floor, but it isn’t really wood. It’s a form of vinyl. We have developed artificial flowers that sometimes look better than the real thing. We have learned to mimic natural flavors. Many of the products that we consume daily have listed, as part of their ingredients, artificial flavors. Because something is artificial doesn’t necessarily mean that it is bad, but it is not the genuine article.

                Paul warned the church at Corinth about settling for an artificial faith. There were those who wanted to include artificial additives to faith in Christ. These additives seemed strong and powerful, and at times better than the real thing, but they led people away from genuinely following Jesus.

                We face the same struggle today. The world is offering us many artificial additives that try to imitate true faith in Christ. These artificial additives are supposed to enhance our faith. They tell us that Jesus is fine, but he is not enough. He is only a part of a much larger and richer spirituality.

                Many people drink diet pop. They often tell me that it isn’t bad, once you get used to it. I have never gotten used to diet pop. It always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So it is with artificial faith. We can get used to it, but if we are honest, it leaves a bad taste in our mouth. Paul gives us some insights into living additive free in an artificial world.

                In an artificial world, we need to hold onto the genuine article. Paul reminds us that faith in Christ is the genuine article. Everything else is a cheap substitute.

                It is very common today to find imitation products for sale. This is actually a billion dollar business. These products look like the genuine article, but they are really cheap knock-offs. Some of them are fairly honest about what they are doing. They put their own labels on the product and let you know they are a copy. Some try to pull the wool over our eyes. On a trip to Ukraine, I visited a village market. They had all manner of goods for sale. At one stall they had athletic apparel. Prominently displayed was a hat with the NIKE swoosh across the front and under that the letters NICE. It was a nice hat, but it wasn’t a genuine NIKE.

                In our world today, there are many imitations of genuine faith in God. Some of them bear their own label and declare that they are the better way. Some try to pass themselves off as a form of faith in Christ. If we look closely, it becomes clear that they are not the genuine article.

                In an artificial world, we need to beware of spiritual additives to our faith. Paul warned the Galatians that false teachers were leading them away from the pure simple gospel of Jesus Christ.

                 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. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Galatians 1:6-9

                Paul was not afraid to challenge those who wanted to add something else to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He felt that this was one of the worst forms of treachery and deception. He knew that Satan is a master at twisting the truth to lead people astray.

                 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. 2 Cor. 11:13-15

                We need to be on our guard that we are not polluting the gospel with spiritual artificial additives.

                In an artificial world, we need to celebrate the real thing. We don’t have to add anything to the gospel, because it is complete. Christ is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to us. When we put our faith in Christ, we have all that we need.

                For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10

                For many years, Coke’s slogan has been “It’s the real thing.” A number of years ago, Coke did a couple of experiments. They decided to introduce some new products to capture more market share. One of these experiments was New Coke. They adjusted the formula to what they thought people wanted. It was a flop. In fact, New Coke tasted like Pepsi. Another experiment that flopped was Clear Coke. People just couldn’t get used to Coke not being brown. Both products failed because they were not the “real thing.”

                There are many “new” approaches to spirituality today. They come in just about any form that you might want. Many people are buying into them, but, in the long run, they will all fail. Why? Because they are not the real thing.

                Jesus made it clear that he is the real thing. If we want to encounter God in a personal, transformational, eternal way, we have to go through Jesus. Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

                There is a commercial on the radio that uses the tagline, “Why settle for artificial snacks.” Paul might challenge us with the tagline, “Why settle for an artificial faith?” Jesus offers us the genuine article, with no artificial additives. He invites us to put away our spiritual junk food and seek what will really brings us life.

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 

Saturday, November 2, 2013


                One of the challenges in life is finding your style; a style you are comfortable with. Mine is business casual. I enjoy wearing sport coats, although usually without the tie. I reserve t-shirts and blue jeans for my day off and for vacation. My children give me a hard time, because in their minds I am always “dressed up.” For me, it is what I am the most comfortable in.  
                I also like hats. I am not talking about baseball caps. I am talking about wide-brimmed hats, gentleman’s hats, hats with a little class. I have always been a little timid about wearing hats, because I felt self-conscious. Recently I decided to throw caution to the wind. I purchased a genuine fedora and a Stetson trilby. Now that the weather has turned cooler, I wear one of them every day.

                The problem with finding our style is that we often allow it to be overly influenced by the opinions of others; or at least to our perceived understanding of those opinions. So what we tend to do is look around at our community and adjust our style to the norm. We would rather live in a style that is not really us, than stand out in a crowd and feel awkward. It takes a certain amount of courage to own your unique style.

                As followers of Christ, we need to discover and live out our God-given style. This plays out in two specific ways.

                First, we are called to live out a style that is uniquely different from the world around us. We are called to stand out in a positive way and not blend in with the prevailing style of our world. Every Christian is challenged to live a distinctly Christ-like life-style. As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:1-2 Paul expands our understanding of our style in Ephesians 5:1-2. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. This should be every Christians “base” style.

                Here comes the rub. Just as we tend to conform to the style we see in the world, we can start to conform to a new, generic “Christian” style. We start looking around at other believers and try to mimic what they are doing. We become cookie-cutter Christians. That is not what Christ has in mind for us.

                Just as there is a basic “Christian style” that we are all to conform to, there is a unique, individual style that Christ has for each one of us. We often think of this in terms of our spiritual gifts, but it is more than just that. It is a combination of our gifts, talents, personality and passions. As these elements are brought together, our unique, Christ-shaped style emerges.

                Paul talked quite a bit about gifts. He gives lists of gifts. He challenges us to use our gifts. He makes the point that we don’t all have the same gifts and that every gift is valuable and important. In Ephesians 4 he gives a powerful summary about the purpose of our gifts.

                It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
                Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:11-16

                Christ wants us to discover our unique style in Him, and then put it to work for the good of the whole. Our ultimate goal is to see everyone become the person Christ created them to be.

                Styles in fashion come and go. They are transient and ultimately don’t make any lasting difference in our lives. But our spiritual style is eternal. It is the way that we live out our faith and demonstrate to the world that we are a follower of Jesus. Jesus wants to use our unique, individual styles to open the doors of faith to other people. So what s your style? Whatever your style is, embrace it. It is the way God has equipped you to make a difference in your world.

    And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:17

Friday, November 1, 2013


Hebrews 11:1
    Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

                I have been thinking a lot about faith lately. What does it mean to live a life of faith? I was asked recently to give a talk about Daniel, as an example of living a life of faith. From our perspective, Daniel was amazing. He took bold stands in incredibly difficult situations and triumphed through faith in God. It is easy to think, I wish I had that kind of faith. I am quite sure that Daniel faced all the stress and apprehension that we would in those circumstances. Daniel had to step out in faith, not knowing what the outcome would be. He was willing to trust God, full speed ahead.

                I have the tendency to live life timidly. I am cautious and calculated, not bold and spontaneous. When we go on vacation, I book all the motels in advance. It gives me a certain sense of security when I travel. Recently, my wife and I took a week of vacation and traveled up the Mississippi River from Lacrosse to St. Paul. We decided that we would take each day as it came, not planning out the whole trip. We actually embarked on our adventure without having booked all the motels in advance! Scary!

                It is natural for some of us to live life at “all ahead slow.” We move tentatively, not wanting to take a wrong turn. We act cautiously, trying to control all the variables, as much as possible. Surprises are not welcome; detours are to be avoided at all costs. This may seem like the safe way to live life, but it is not a life lived by faith.

                Living a life by faith is more like “full speed ahead.” Already my cautious side is rebelling, so let me clarify. Living by faith does not mean being reckless, foolhardy or rudderless. It does mean taking positive risks, even when, especially when, we cannot see the outcome. Living by faith is carefully listening to God, seeking to understand the direction He wants us to go, and then boldly stepping out with confidence in Him.

                The truth of scripture is that faith always comes before sight. If we can see the other side clearly, then it is not faith. John Ortberg shared this insight about faith. “Where things are possible, faith is impossible.” Those are scary, but true words. God called Abraham to leave everything he was familiar with and go to a land God would show him. God called Moses to leave the security of the back side of the desert and challenge the most powerful leader of his day. God told Joshua to pack up the people and move across a flooded Jordan River to take the Promised Land. In each case, these men had to trust God and step into the unknown before they saw the fruit of their faith. Full speed ahead!

                Living “full speed ahead” requires three things. It requires that we have confidence in Christ’s call. It requires that we have clarity about the direction we are going. It requires that we have the courage to move forward.

                Many people stumble over the question of God’s specific will for their life. How do I know what God’s will is for my life? The problem is not that Christ hasn’t called, it is that we are looking for the wrong things. We would like a detailed road map of our life. This comes from our need for security and certainty. Christ doesn’t give us a road map, he calls us to follow Him. That is what faith is all about. Our confidence is in our Guide, not in knowing what is coming. The Bible is very clear about Christ’s general call on all of us. Jesus summarized it in two commands. Love God with everything that you have and love people. As we sincerely practice doing these two things, all kinds of amazing opportunities open up to us.

                As our confidence in Christ grows, our ability to boldly move forward increases. When I first began actively running again, I was a timid runner. At my first couple of races, I placed myself near the back of the pack. When the gun went off I stepped out tentatively. My confidence in my ability to run the race was low. The more I trained, the more my confidence increased, and it changed the way I approach a race. Now, when it is possible, I get as close to the front as I can at the beginning of the race. When the gun goes off, I sprint forward, quickly putting some distance between myself and the pack. Then I settle in to my pace and run my race. I have learned that if I hold back, I get caught in the pack and cannot run freely. I have also learned that it doesn’t matter if runners pass me along the way, as long as I maintain my pace.

                A funny thing happened to me at one particular race. My niece and her husband decided to run in the same race. It was their first race running together and they were a little unsure about it. I told them that I wasn’t a fast runner and that I would run with them. We took our places at the starting line, the gun when off and I took off. After about a ½ mile, I looked around me and my niece and her husband where nowhere to be seen. We laughed about it later. They told me that when the gun went off they started jogging, but I shot forward at full speed. So much for running together.

                Living by faith is scary. It is full of “what ifs.” Living by faith is putting our lives in God’s hands and letting Him be in control. But living a life of faith is the only way to experience the full measure of God’s blessings and grace. Hebrews 11:6 makes this point very clear. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

                Three guys who knew what it means to live by faith were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They three young men faced a life and death challenge and stepped out in faith, full speed ahead. They were given the choice of worshipping an idol or losing their lives. In the face of some pretty overwhelming odds, they demonstrated the most amazing level of faith in God.

                 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." Daniel 3:16-18

                These three young men demonstrated “even if” faith. They boldly took their stand, not knowing what the outcome would be. They stood firm in their faith in God and refused to compromise. FULL SPEED AHEAD!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


                I have seen a commercial lately that has really disturbed me. It shows people opening up their new iPhone and being totally mesmerized. The tagline at the end of the commercial says, “We know that you don’t want anything to come between you and your new iPhone.” How sad.

                Because of the commercial nature of our society, we are constantly being told that there is something missing in our lives. If only you buy this product, you will be happy. But that is a lie, because has soon as the next generation whatever comes out, you will be told that your old thing won’t make you happy. People are chasing an artificial happiness, fueled by promises that at best can bring a momentary lift. The outcome of this chase is discouragement.

                When we put our eyes on the wrong things, we find ourselves spending our energy, time and resources on things that don’t last. Jesus warned us against making the material stuff of this world our primary goal in life.  Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Luke 12:15 Solomon discovered this truth the hard way; he lived it out to the full. At the end of a life of indulgence, he came to this conclusion. Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 5:10

                Solomon’s father, King David, knew the answer to true contentment in life. He let us in on the secret in Psalm 103.
                Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. Psalm 103:1-5

                First, David challenges us to get our focus in the right place. He calls for us to let God reign in the very depth of our being. The reason we chase after all the stuff of the world is that we are trying to fill a hole in our soul. We have a deep longing for meaning and purpose. Satan tells us that we can fill that hole with material pleasures, but they all fail. The only way to fill the hole is to let Christ be at the center of our lives. When we do that, everything else falls into place.

                Second, David challenges us to actively remember and celebrate all that God has done for us. We all tend to be like sports fans. We quickly forget the past and want to know, what have you done for me today? All that matters is the present. This leads to constant dissatisfaction on our part. When we are consumed with “the next thing”, we lose sight of both the past and the present. We cannot see the blessings that God is pouring into our lives, because we are already looking down the road. David puts up a huge, spiritual stop sign. STOP, and take the time to reflect. There is an old hymn that says, count your blessing. Name them one by one. Count your blessings. See what God has done. A good way to regain a positive focus is to take a blank sheet of paper and begin to write down all the blessings that God has given to you. As the list grows, your eyes will be opened to the abundance of God’s grace.

                Third, David challenges us to let God revive our soul. When we consider what Jesus did for us on the cross, how can we not be thankful. When we consider the inheritance that we have in Christ, how can we not be thankful. When we consider God’s active presence in our lives, how can we not be thankful. The blessings of God are for now and for eternity. It is the best both/and we can have. Right now Ford has a commercial where they declare that “and” is better than “or.” From a spiritual perspective, I can say AMEN! Through Christ we can experience God’s love, mercy and grace now AND for all of eternity. “And” is definitely better than “Or.”

                David makes a powerful statement at the end of this passage. “…who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.” I want to make two observations about this. First, when we are focused on Christ, the desires of our heart will line up with God’s will for our life.    Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 Second, God wants us to enjoy life and the material things of this world in positive, God-honoring ways.   Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
1 Timothy 6:17 God is not stingy or an ascetic. God created this world with innumerable pleasures for us to enjoy. He is like a parent, who delights in seeing their children enjoy the gifts he has given them.

                It is easy for us to fall into the trap of discontent and discouragement. Almost everything in our world is leading us in that direction. There is another path that we can take; the path of gratitude. Stop, reflect, and rejoice in the abundance of God’s grace.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

We Are God’s Masterpieces

                When my children were in elementary school, I volunteered to teach a simple art class once a month. It was called Masterpiece Art. It’s not that I’m an expert in art. The materials were all prepared in advance; I just had to make it come alive for the children. Each year we studying a different aspect of art. For example, we studied classic portraits, landscapes, and still life. We studied specific painters like Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Georgia O’Keefe.  One of my favorites was when we studied American western art.
                Much of what we studied would be classified as masterpieces. These were the defining works of particular artists. Each masterpiece bore the imprint of the artist. A Rembrandt is recognized by the style of the artist and is very different from a Picasso. Each masterpiece is unique. Although some artists painted the same theme over and over again, each painting had unique qualities that set it apart from the others. The untrained eye might think they were copies of one another, but the trained eye can clearly see the differences.
                We don’t often think of ourselves as masterpieces. We can see all of the flaws and the imperfections of our life. We look around and we don’t seem all that different from everyone else, at least on the surface. But the Bible tells us that we are God’s masterpieces. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephes. 2:10 The word workmanship can be translated masterpiece. I want to invite you to attend spiritual masterpiece art class. Let’s explore some of the amazing qualities of God’s masterpieces.

We were created on purpose and for a purpose.
                Few of the great artists painted mechanically. What makes their art stand out is that they painted with purpose and direction. God doesn’t create generic people. He creates each of us uniquely, with purpose. God created us to do good works. Not just any good works, but good works in Christ Jesus. He created us to move in a direction that will demonstrate his glory through us.

We were created to reflect God’s image.
                A number of artists have painted self-portraits. They hoped to capture the essence of themselves and preserve it for all time. That is exactly what God did when he created us. We are the only part of creation that bears the image of God. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27

 We were created to reflect God’s glory.
                Every masterpiece reflects the skill and the passion of the artist. We were created to demonstrate the glory of God. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:18

We were created to live in relationship with God.
                Every artist has a particular bond with their work. For the best artists, a painting is not just a piece of work, but an expression of themselves. God created us to have a special bond with Him. His love for us is so strong that He sent Jesus to redeem us.

                There is a famous painting by Rembrandt called The Night Watch. It has been known by that name for centuries. Recently some specialists in the preservation of art endeavored to clean the painting. What they discovered startled everyone. The painting was not a night scene after all, but a morning scene. Dust, dirt and soot from candles had so darkened the painting that it took on a totally different look than the artist intended.
                Because of sin, our masterpiece has been marred. God’s glory has been dimmed by the soot of the world. God’s image has been twisted. Christ comes into our lives as the master restorer. He comes to clear away all the filth of sin and restore us to what God intended. In fact, he actually creates us all over again. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

2 Cor. 5:17 

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Running in the Dark

                During the fall of the year, the days begin to get shorter and darkness descends early. This poses a problem for the avid runner. It becomes a race against the setting sun to get a run in before darkness shrouds the trail. Soon the race is lost and what is left is running in the dark.

                I strapped on my headlamp, adjusted by reflective vest, and headed out into the night. There was no moon, so the darkness was complete. The thin beam of my headlamp could illuminate only a small space in front of me; just enough space for my next footfall. Ahead of me, I could see the cars rushing past on the highway, but the blacktop in front of me was invisible. I turned the corner at the end of my driveway onto the short, dangerous stretch of highway that would lead me to the trail. There, illuminated by the lights of passing cars, I was able to see more of the features of the road. After a short distance, I crossed the road and descended onto the bike path. Separated from the roadway, with no streetlights, the bike path lay before me dark and black. If it were not for my headlamp, this run would be impossible.

                It is scary running in the dark. My daughter and I tried it once. We just ran to the end of our driveway and back; a distance of half a mile. I knew the driveway intimately. I had walked it many times in the daylight. But in the dark it was transformed into something unknown. My running became more and more tentative. I was unsure of my next step. Not being able to see what was right in front of me, I stumbled; over nothing. The darkness transforms the familiar into the unknown. At the end of our driveway, we stopped and walked back to the house. Our feet glided forward with tentative steps, rather than striding forward with confidence.

                We are running the race of life in the dark. At best, we can see what is immediately before us, but no more. We cannot see what is around the next corner. We can speculate about tomorrow or next year, but in reality they are shrouded in complete darkness. We blindly push forward, hoping for the best. In the darkness we often stumble and sometimes fall. We are tripped up by real obstacles and imagined ones. In the darkness, reality is twisted and misshapen. Some attack the darkness with boldness, while others become tentative, and some are immobilized. Without some kind of light to guide our way, we are hopelessly doomed to stumble through life.

                Many people are facing the darkness with faulty headlamps. They may be trusting in politics, philosophy, religion or even science. These things give some light, but not enough. They are like dim headlamps, whose beam barely makes it to the ground. The illumination that they give, compared to the vast darkness around us, is barely enough to make it possible to take the next step. At best, they can illuminate what is immediately in front of us, but are hopeless the illuminate beyond that with any certainty.

                There is a source of light that has the power and intensity to pierce the darkness. The beam of this light illuminates the path before us, so that we can run with boldness. That light is found in God’s Word. King David expressed the power of that light when he wrote these words in Psalm 119:105. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The word of God has the power to illuminate the dark corners of our world. It helps us to see life more clearly. It illuminates both good and evil. It alerts us to the obstacles in our way and gives us the confidence to face them. Like my headlamp, it allows us to see what is before us and run with boldness.

                The word of God is revealed in the Bible, but it is not limited to the pages of an inanimate book. The Word of God is personified in the person of Jesus Christ. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
                The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-5, 14

                Jesus came into the word to invite us to come out of the darkness and live in the light. He demonstrated what it means to live in the light. He issued an open invitation for all who will to join him in the light. By putting our faith in Jesus, we can run our race of life in the light.

                This is a light that will not grow dim or burn out. It is an eternal light the remains intense and piercing, no matter how dark the world gets. In fact, as the world gets darker, the light grows brighter. Through the Holy Spirit this light becomes a very part of our being. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6

                We have a choice to make. Will we keep running in the darkness, or will we run in the light? We enter the light by putting our faith in Jesus, but we run in the light by daily choosing to follow him. John clearly sets the choice before us. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7

                Running in the dark is scary and unpredictable. Running in the light gives us confidence and hope. Jesus invites us to run in His light.


Thursday, October 17, 2013


                We live in a world built on discontent. Every day we are being told that whatever we have is not enough. The message that we hear is be dissatisfied with what you have. You deserve better. There is a commercial for a particular cell phone company that plays on this discontent. They show images of people enviously comparing their cell phones with the new phones of others. There is another commercial that shows two men grilling together. One has the latest smart phone, while the other has a three year old phone. The message is clear; be discontent with what you have. Whatever you have right now is not good enough.      

                The Bible warns us about falling into the trap of discontent. The quest for the newest, the best, the biggest robs us of the joy of life. Always striving for something new, we fail to appreciate and enjoy what we already have. Never being satisfied leads us into jealousy, greed, and pain.

                The Bible warns us that striving after more and more of the things of this world is an insatiable hunger. Solomon wrote about this in Ecclesiastes 5:10. Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. The gap between more and enough is infinite. As long as we are striving for more and more, we will never be satisfied with what we have.

                Living a life of discontent plagues us with self-inflicted wounds. We cause ourselves pain and then curse life for being unfair.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 Discontent clouds our perspective and causes us to make foolish decisions. Discontent can become a driving force that will temp us to compromise our values in order to get what we want. Discontent is a barrier to growing in our relationship with Christ.

                Paul gives us the antidote for discontent in 1 Timothy 6:6-8. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

                We can counter discontent by putting our trust fully in Christ. When we put Christ on the throne of our life, we can rest in his love and care. Jesus told us to not waste our time worrying about the stuff of the world. Instead he said to focus on trusting Him. So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33

                We can counter discontent by holding onto the things of this world loosely. God has blessed us with material things for our good, but when we attach too much importance to them they become idols. Paul reminds us that everything we have is a gift from God. We can take none of the material stuff of the world with us when we die. So value it, use it, but hold it loosely. Corrie Tenboom was imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII for hiding Jews from the Nazis. She lost everything in that experience. Later she said this. “I have learned to hold onto the things of the world loosely, because it hurts so much when God has to pry my fingers off.” Good advice for a discontented world.

                We can counter discontent by rejoicing in what we have. So often in life we forfeit the present for some hoped for future. We fail to see the gift in our hands because we are focused on wanting something else. Paul said, be content with what you have. Enjoy the gift in your hand to the full. I know as a parent, I am more likely to give my children another gift, if they value the one I have already given to them. Paul lived out his own advice. He saw both sides of the stuff equation. He was able to keep his balance because he kept his focus on Christ. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

                The fight against discontent is a daily struggle. Each day we need to renew our commitment to trust Christ with the substance of our life. The best way to do this is to begin every day with thanksgiving to God. Each day is a gift. Each breath is a gift. Every good thing we have is a gift from God. By giving thanks we value the giver over the gift. That is truly the essence of contentment.

    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


Wednesday, October 9, 2013


    After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: "Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them--to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.
Joshua 1:1-3
                One of my many short-comings is that I tend to be timid. When others rush forward, I tend to hold back. I came to learn that my reluctance stems from a need to be given permission to act. That need was implanted in me back in elementary school, when I had to learn to raise my hand and wait for the teacher to call on me. Unfortunately, that lesson kept me captive for many years.

                I became fully aware of my reluctance to step forward a number of years ago. I was working on my doctorate. My cohort group was gathered for a group project. We weren’t making progress, and I was getting a little frustrated. The elder statesman of our group turned to me and said, “Dave, you are the leader of this group, so lead.” It was a wake-up call for me. Throughout my life God has placed me in leadership positions. Over and over again he has had to remind me,  “Dave, you are the leader of this group, so lead.”

                That was the situation that Joshua was in. He had faithfully served as Moses’ aid. Up to this point, he had lived in the shadows, watching and learning. God was preparing him for an important task. When the day finally came, Joshua was not sure he was ready. God told Joshua to move out of Moses’ shadow and lead the people into the Promised Land. God gave Joshua two amazing promises. He told Joshua that He had already given the land to Israel. He also told Joshua that it was up to him to claim the land. Everywhere that he placed his foot would be his.

                God reinforced His command with words of promise and challenge. Three times in the next few verses God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous.
    "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Joshua 1:6

    Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Joshua 1:7

    Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

                God’s message to Joshua is a message we need to hear today. In many ways the Church has become timid. We have allowed secular society to set the agenda for life. We have passively allowed ourselves to be marginalized. Our voice in the public forum is faint at best. We have been anything but strong and courageous. It is time to step forward and claim the Promised Land.

                One of my favorite characters in the New Testament is Timothy. I like Timothy because I can identify with him. He was Paul’s understudy. He traveled with Paul, learned from Paul and worked alongside of Paul. Then one day, Paul told Timothy it was time for him to lead. He left Timothy in charge of the church at Ephesus, while he continued his itinerant ministry. Timothy was a little overwhelmed at first, so Paul wrote to him to encourage him. In essence, Paul told Timothy that it was his time to lead, so lead. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he exhorted him to be bold. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 2 Tim. 1:7

                The experiences of Joshua and Timothy stand as a challenge and an encouragement to us today. We do not have to passively stand by and watch the world plummet toward hell. We have a right and a responsibility to step into the fray and claim territory for Christ. Here are a few of the lessons we can learn from Joshua and Timothy.

- Claim God’s promise to be with us wherever we go. We are not alone in the world. Through the Holy Spirit, the power and presence of Christ are always with us.

- Be strong and courageous. Be willing to take bold risks for the cause of Christ. Don’t hold back, but press forward in the power of Christ.

- Claim territory for Christ. We cannot do this from a distance. As God told Joshua, we need to put our feet into action. We can begin by claiming our family for Christ. Then our neighborhood, our community, our town, our state, our country, and finally our world. The early church had no political power, yet it turned the world upside down. We can do the same thing.

                God has given us permission to claim the land. He has promised to give us success. He has promised to go with us. The only thing that is holding us back is us. It is time to set aside our fear and apprehension and cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

    Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Matthew 28:18-20