Tuesday, April 30, 2013


                As I was doing my devotions this morning, I was challenged with the thought, what if I am wrong about life after death? We all know that some day we will die. We don’t dwell on that thought. That would be too depressing. But, it remains always in the back of our minds. The reality of death raises the question, what comes next? Is there life after death, or is this all there is? People have struggled with that question forever, coming up with many different answers.

                As a follower of Christ, I have come to believe and put my trust in the promise of eternity. By putting my faith in Christ, I am assured of spending eternity with him. That was the clear promise that Jesus gave to his disciples in John 14.

                "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:1-6 (NIV)

                In the face of realistic doubt, Jesus gave his disciples realistic hope. Most of my life, I have staked my life on that hope. But even with a lifetime of faith behind me, as I move ever closer to the end of my life, I experience times of doubt. What if I got it wrong?

                There was another committed man who struggled with doubt, and his name was not Thomas. It was John the Baptist. John was an amazing man. From his birth, God set him aside for special service. He was the forerunner to the Messiah. He was clear about his role. He fulfilled it with passion. Then Jesus showed up.

                Jesus and John were cousins. They were only six months apart in age. It is very possible that they had contact with one another as they were growing up. In fulfillment of his calling, John went to a wilderness area along the Jordan River and called people to repentance. His message was radical. No longer can you rest on your heritage. You must repent of your sins, be baptized as an act of cleansing, and live differently from now on. Even though this message was radical, and offensive to some, people flocked to John. They wanted to be sure that they got it right. Then one day Jesus showed up on the banks of the Jordan. John was taken by surprise. Jesus didn’t fit the pattern, and John knew it. In fact, John tried to switch roles with Jesus, but Jesus insisted upon being baptized. It seems from that point on John recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah, or did he?

                As John faced the reality of his death, he struggled with doubt. Did I get it right? John had been arrested by Herod, because he had called Herod on the carpet for his immoral actions. As John was in prison, he had time to think. It was there that his doubts began to haunt him. He just had to know the truth. So he sent two of his disciples to Jesus to make sure.

                John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'" At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." Luke 7:18-23 (NIV)

                Jesus told John to examine the evidence. Rather than give John a straight answer, Jesus offered him tangible proof that He was the Messiah. Many had come before Jesus claiming to be the Messiah, but only Jesus actually fulfilled the tangible requirements. I believe John went to his death convinced about who Jesus is.

                When I examine the evidence of Jesus’ life and teaching, I find confidence to face the future. Jesus stands alone among all the religious leaders that the world has ever produced.

                There came a time during Jesus’ ministry when the crowds became disillusioned with Jesus. The things that he was teaching them were hard. They were not the words the people wanted to hear, so many of them turned away from Jesus. At that critical moment Jesus turned to his chosen disciples and asked them if they wanted to leave as well. Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." John 6:68-69 (NIV)

                When doubts begin to arise in my mind, and I contemplate all the other options available to me, I come back to the same conclusion that Peter had. Where else can I go? Jesus is the only one who has the words of life. So when death comes, and I walk through that dark curtain that separates this world from the next, I fully expect to find Jesus standing there, waiting to welcome me home. I’m staking my life on it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


                In 1974, J.I. Packer wrote a classic book titled Knowing God. At the beginning of the book he made a profound distinction between knowing about God and knowing God. That is a very challenging thought. On several occasions, I have taught a theology class at my church. One of the greatest dangers of studying theology is that we can learn many facts about God and never really encounter Him personally.

                God created humanity to know Him personally. Humans are the only part of creation made in the image of God. Humans are the only part of creation that has the ability to consciously recognize God. Every society, culture and people group on earth has to deal with the question about God’s existence and His identity.

                Theologians have tried to answer our questions about God by creating handles that we can grab onto. One of those sets of handles is called the attributes of God. These are defined aspects of the nature of God that are intended to give us greater understanding. At the top of the list are the “omni” attributes. God is omniscient, meaning that He knows all things. God is omnipotent, meaning that He is all powerful.  God is omnipresent, meaning that He is everywhere present at the same time.

                I can easily embrace the concept that God is all powerful and that He knows all things. I have a harder time getting my head around the idea that God is always present everywhere. Because I am bound by time and space, my understanding of God is hindered. It is hard to fathom how God could be present in Thailand, Russia and Minnesota at the same time. Yet, the Bible makes it very clear that He is.

                When I ponder the idea of God’s omnipresence, I am struck by its implications. God is not present in some amorphous, intangible way. God is present in all of His glory and power right here, right now. God is fully interactive in my world. The idea that God is fully present, all of the time, for me is awe inspiring.

                King David was keenly aware of God’s presence in his life. He found great hope and comfort in that reality. In Psalm 139, he expressed his awe at God being so intimately engaged with his life.

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

                I have often used this passage to give hope to people going through difficult times. I have often turned to this passage when I have needed encouragement. But this reality is not just for the difficult times of life. It should remind us that God is present in our lives every single day. He desires to reveal more of Himself to us. He doesn’t want us to just know about Him; he wants us to know him.

                There are many people in our world today that live with a vague knowledge about God, but who do not know God. The Apostle Paul encountered this when he traveled to Athens. He was disturbed that so many people were looking for God, but they had not found Him. So he proclaimed the good news about Jesus to them. Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. Acts 17:22-23 (NIV)

                We do not have to settle for knowing about God in some vague way. We can know Him personally. He isn't far away. He is right here, waiting for us to recognize His presence.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Delighting Our Father

1 John 3:1a (NIV)
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

                I have three children who are all now young adults. I have in my possession a number of items that have been given to me by my children over the years. These items were not purchased in a store or mass-produced in a factory. Each of these items was lovingly made by the hands of my children. Each of these items is of great value, not because of what they are, but because of who made them and what they represent.

                I have been reading a book by Paul Rude entitled Significant Work. He has hit a chord that resonates with my very soul. The premise of the book is that we have falsely divided our lives into sacred and secular activities. We see the sacred activities as significant and the secular activities as ultimately meaningless. Unfortunately, we spend the majority of our lives engaged in secular activities. Therefore, the majority of our life is meaningless, or so we have been led to believe. Paul points out that this idea is a lie from Satan to rob us of the joy that God intends for us to experience.

                I have long fought this battle in my own life. I grew up believing that, if I was a really committed Christian, I would become a missionary and serve the Lord in some unreached corner of the earth. Anything else would be settling for second best. I have come to realize that I had a major misunderstanding of God’s design for life. I have come to understand that there are some basic principles that God has designed into life that completely obliterate the artificial sacred/secular divide.

Principle #1: We were created to live in a loving relationship with God as our heavenly Father.
                We all know that the one thing, above everything else, that adds value to life is having loving relationships. We can have all the money, power, and influence in the world, yet without loving relationships it will all be meaningless and hollow. The great baseball player Ty Cobb ended his life with these words. “If I could do it all over again, I would have friends.” He made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame and ended life as a lonely, dejected man.

                The one thing that will give meaning and purpose to life is being in a loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. There is nothing more empowering than to know that we are loved by God with an everlasting love. As John writes, we are his children!

Principle #2: Our Heavenly Father is delighted with us when we use our talents to their fullest.
                Every parent is delighted when they see their children growing and learning. As a child matures, a pattern begins to emerge that gives clues to the way that child is hard-wired by God. Some children are musical, some are analytical, some are mechanical and some are artistic. Parents take delight in watching a child develop and use their talents to the fullest.

                God has given each of us talents and skills. He delights when we use these talents and skills to their fullest. In Colossians 3:17 Paul writes this.  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. Paul does not draw a line between sacred activities and secular activities. He says whatever you do. I have come to embrace this as foundational to living a life pleasing to God.

                I am an amateur woodworker. I enjoy creating things out of wood. I have made small trinket boxes and large pieces of furniture. I could go to the store and buy these items, but it would not be the same. I see woodworking as a gift from God, and so I try to do it for His glory. What I mean by that is I try to do my very best on every project. I have yet to create the perfect piece, but as my skill grows the end product gets better and better. I believe God is delighted by this.

                Paul tells us that, whatever we do; we are to do it in the name of Jesus. This means that we are to intentionally submit our actions to His authority. In its purest form, I think this means actually thinking about how I can delight God with what I am doing. This is not limited to “sacred” activities. I worship God by using the talents He gave me to honor Him. Every time I finish a project I feel like a child giving his school artwork to his parents.

                Paul also tells us to do it with thankfulness. The trend in life is to approach our work with dread. We see work as a necessary evil that must be endured. We need to see that work is actually a gift from God. Our strength, physically, emotionally and intellectually, comes from Him. Whatever it is that we spend the majority of our lives doing, we can do it with a thankful heart.

Principle #3: If we live our lives to delight our Heavenly Father, whatever we do will not be wasted.
                Someone once said that our life is God’s gift to us. What we do with our life is our gift to God. We can live every day as a gift to God, no matter what we spend it doing. When I was a young man, just beginning to venture out on my own, someone gave me this piece of advice. Whatever you do along the way, always give your best and view every activity as God’s training ground for your life. I can honestly say that I have tried to put this into practice. It has made an enormous difference in my work experience. I have worked at a fast food restaurant, a couple of retail stores, a couple of hospitals and in the church. The attitude that I brought to my work environment had a profound effect on each situation.

                Paul challenged the blue-collar workers of his day to do their work for the glory of God. Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. Ephesians 6:5-8 (NIV) I know that sometimes we can feel like slaves at work. We feel abused and taken advantage of by those in authority over us. We can let this sour our attitude, but Paul tells us to lift our gaze a little higher. We are not serving a company or a boss, but Christ. Our work should always reflect that.

                When we work for the glory of God, he will prosper us. Not necessarily materially, but definitely spiritually. He will make us aware of his delight in us. We can serve the Lord in whatever occupation we may find ourselves. So Paul challenges us to not give in to the lie that our efforts are meaningless. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Is There Hope?

                The events of this past week have again shaken us to our core. It is hard to imagine why two young men would choose to indiscriminately attack innocent people. We will never fully understand why they chose to attack the spectators at the Boston Marathon. It leaves us with the question, is there any hope?

                Hope is a strange thing. We cannot live without hope, yet we often take it for granted. Hope is strong when everything is going well, yet is severely shaken when things go wrong. Hope is fragile, yet it is resilient as well. Some people give up hope easily, while others hang onto hope when it seems like all hope is gone.

                I want to be clear about what I am talking about when I refer to hope. Many people use the word “hope” as a synonym for wishful thinking. I hope I win the lottery. I hope it is sunny for my picnic. I hope the Cleveland Indians win the World Series. This is not the kind of hope that I am talking about. Instead I am talking about the kind of hope that is a confident assurance in a trusted entity. Closely related to hope is faith; trusting fully in someone or something that is trustworthy.

                The Bible tells us that we have a living hope that can never be diminished. That hope is in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

                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, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

                Our hope is anchored in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If it were not for the resurrection, our hope would be futile. But Christ has been raised. He has conquered sin and death on our behalf. He now gives us hope that we too can have victory over sin and death in our lives.

                Our hope is secure in Christ. Many people worry about their retirement. Will Social Security be there for me when I retire? Will my savings be enough? Because of our relationship with Jesus Christ, through faith, we have an eternal inheritance kept for us in heaven that can never be diminished or taken away from us.

                Our hope is resilient because of Christ. Everyone faces struggles and hardships throughout their life. Some people allow those hardships to overwhelm them and rob them of hope. Others persevere through hardship because their hope is eternal not temporal. The resilience of our hope is not dependent upon the amount of difficulties we face or don’t face in life. It is dependent upon the substance of our hope. The substance of our hope is Christ. So Paul can write the following words with confidence.

                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. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

                Our hope is being rewarded by Christ. Faith in Christ is not wishful thinking. Faith in Christ is a solid conviction that we are under his care. The more we look to Christ for strength, the more we can face the challenges that life throws at us. There are several passages of scripture that can become words of assurance for us when the path gets rocky.

                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 (NIV)

                And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)

                Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:1-5 (NIV)

                The truth is that we will face many more unexplainable events in our lives that have the potential to shake our hope for the future. We need to take them seriously, but we cannot let them take over our lives. Our hope is not in a political system or economic stability or even our personal safety. Our hope is in the saving, transforming, and enduring power of Jesus Christ. So as we face the next Boston Marathon tragedy, we can hold onto the promise of Jesus.

                "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NIV)

Saturday, April 6, 2013


1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

                When I was a teenager, I attended a training conference for men and boys who worked in a boy’s ministry called Christian Service Brigade. The speaker made a statement that has stuck with me all of my life. He told us that whether we realize it or not we are role models. Someone is watching us and making choices based on what they see. We do not have the choice about being a role model; we are. The choice we have is what kind of role model we will be.

                The reality of that statement became very real to me a number of years later. All during my junior high and high school years I worked at a summer camp run by Christian Service Brigade. I would spend five weeks each summer working as a junior counselor. Each week a different group of boys would come and fill my cabin. We played games, took hikes, learned new skills and had times of devotion. The emphasis of the camp was to help young boys grow in their faith. I grew enormously during those years.

                A number of years later I returned to the camp for a reunion. A young man came up to me and introduced himself. He told me that he had been in my cabin one summer. Then he said that he was planning to attend seminary because of something I had told him back then. He quoted my words, which I did not remember, with reverence. That young man had made a very significant decision about his future based on my example. I was humbled and awed.

                I have never forgotten that experience. I have been a pastor for over 30 years. Every time I step into the pulpit, or walk down the hall of the church, or meet someone at a store, I remember that people are watching. I have no choice about being a role model. The only choice I have is what kind of a model I will be.

                Paul wrote a very similar thing to his son in the faith, Timothy. Paul had left Timothy in charge of the church in Ephesus. He had confidence that Timothy had the right stuff to lead. But Timothy had a tendency to be a little timid. So Paul wrote to encourage him and to challenge him to be the role model Paul knew he could be.

                Paul told him to not make excuses for not assuming his responsibility. Timothy was relatively young. He was probably in his early 30s. Paul challenged him to refuse to let his age keep him from serving Christ fully.

                Many times, on our journey of faith, we can find excuses for not being spiritual leaders. I am too young. I don’t have enough experience. I don’t have enough time. I am not talented enough.  I have personally tried to use all of these excuses and more. None of them hold water. No matter where we are in life, we have the opportunity to lead. Someone is watching us. The choices we make will shape how they progress in their faith journey.

                Paul outlined for Timothy, and for us, five areas where he needed to be an example.
- Be an example in speech. Words are far more powerful than we often realize. The words we choose to use make a difference. If our words are abusive, crass or vulgar, they with lead people away from Christ. If our words are loving, compassionate and gracious, they will lead people toward Christ. Paul challenges us to be careful with our words. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

- Be an example in life. As powerful as our words are, our actions are even more powerful. People are skeptical of our words until they see them acted out in our lives. If my words and actions do not match, people will believe my actions every time. James is very straight forward about this in James 2:15-16.  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

- Be an example in love. Love is one of those words that has almost completely lost its meaning today. What most people mean by love is passion. The concept of unconditional care, concern and compassion has almost disappeared. People see love, not as a commitment, but as a passing feeling that can easily be transferred from one person to another. More than any other time in history, Christians need to be an example of genuine love. Love is more than a feeling. It is a commitment to seek the very best for another person, even at a cost to ourselves. That is the kind of love Jesus demonstrated toward us. It is the kind of love that He wants us to demonstrate toward others. Our love must be tangible, practical and genuine. Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18 (NIV)

-Be an example in faith. Ultimately our lives are shaped by what we put our faith in. As believers, our faith is firmly grounded in Jesus Christ. Paul challenges us to live lives that demonstrate our commitment to Jesus. Does our faith shape our lives, or is it just an optional add-on to our lives? We are called to set an example for others to follow. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)

- Be an example in purity. We live in a very impure world. Every day we are bombarded with things that challenge our purity in mind, heart and soul. We are all tainted by the influence of the world. But we know that, through Christ, we can be cleansed and we can live differently. Rather than give in to the pressure of the world, we can daily commit ourselves to live pure lives for Christ. When we fail we know that Christ is there to pick us up and put us back on the right track. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (NIV)

                Make no mistake. Someone is watching you. They are making life choices based on what they see. Look around you. Open your eyes to the people in your circle of influence. God has placed them in your life so that you might be an example to them. What kind of an example will you be? People are watching!