Saturday, August 31, 2013


                When I think of grace, I can’t help but reflect back on my Dad’s Ford LTD. When I was in High School my Dad allowed me to drive his car. On more than one occasion, that led to my Dad extending grace to me.

                It was winter; I was a new driver. We had a two-car, attached garage at the side of our house. The approach to the garage was a slight incline. On this occasion, the driveway was icy and snow-packed. The garage doors were on the side of the house and not the front, so I had to make a turn to line up the car with the opening. I was trying to be cautious, because I was still not confident about threading that big car through that “narrow” opening, so I was going slow. The front wheels of the car bumped onto the cement floor of the garage; then I paused. Big mistake. I applied a little too much gas to get the car up the incline, the rear-wheel drive tires spun on the ice and the car slid sideways into the frame of the garage. Not knowing what to do, I gunned it and forced the car into the garage, scraping the side of the car as I went. The scrape is probably still on the doorframe. I know my Dad was not happy, but he extended grace to me. He didn’t yell. He didn’t take the car keys away. He did instruct me on how to best put the car in the garage.

                On another occasion, I was driving the Ford down the freeway at about 60 miles an hour. It had been raining and there were large puddles on the road. I had a friend riding with me and we were listening to the radio, and probably singing along. I hit one of those large puddles and the car began to hydroplane. Before I knew it, the car was in a spin and out of control. We left the pavement and plummeted into the grassy area in the middle of the highway. We did several complete revolutions before we came to a stop. My friend told me afterward that he saw the cement culvert fly by his window and was sure we were going to hit it and flip. I was so shaken up that my friend had to drive us the rest of the way to our destination. When we arrived, I sheepishly found my Dad and told him what had happened. The first thing that he said was, “are you OK?” Then he suggested that we look at the car. In the parking lot, my Dad broke out laughing. The car looked like someone had spray-painted it with grass. Again, my Dad didn’t yell or take my keys away.

                I am so thankful that I have a Heavenly Father who is even more gracious than my Dad. He has entrusted me with a piece of His creation. He cares about it very much. He also cares about me. Almost every day I do something that mars that creation. My Heavenly Father has the right to punish me, but instead He extends grace.

                The Psalmist captured the heart of God’s grace in Psalm 103. The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children-- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

                My Dad realized that I had already learned a hard lesson from my mishaps with his car. He didn’t need to scold me. My Heavenly Father knows that when I mess up, what I need is compassion, not condemnation.

                As Jesus came to the end of His journey on earth, He met with His disciples for one last Passover meal. John tells us, in John 13, that Jesus taught them an important lesson about service and about forgiveness. Jesus took the role of a servant and washed the disciples’ feet. This had to be an embarrassing time for them, but not for Jesus. When He came to Peter, Peter objected. Here is the interchange that took place.

                He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"  Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." John 13:6-10 (NIV)

                What I want to focus on is when Jesus says, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.” Jesus was not talking about being physically clean; he was talking about being spiritually clean. Once we have received Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are clean in God’s sight. But every day we encounter the filth of the world, just like walking on the dusty, dirty roads of Palestine. So daily we need to come back to Christ and, figuratively, have our feet washed. This is not an issue of salvation, but an issue of fellowship.

                In Jesus day, when a guest came to a person’s house for a meal they would have their feet washed as they entered the house. It would be very rude for them to recline at the table with dirty feet. So it is with us. Every day Jesus invites us to dine at His table. We need to make sure that we come with clean feet.

                The story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is a powerful example of the grace of God. Jesus did for them what they were unwilling to do for one another. In a similar way, Jesus is always ready to wash our feet, if we will submit to His love and grace. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


                I have often been puzzled by the notion that if you are a thinking, rational, scientific person, there is no room for faith in your life. I want to strongly suggest that this is a flawed assumption. If it were not for people of faith, who believed in a God who created our world with order and meaning, there would be no science. I know that today science rejects faith, but it was not so in the beginning.

                I have a degree in biology and a love for science. I also have a degree in theology and have an even deeper love of Christ Jesus. I strongly believe that these two spheres can live in harmony with one another. They do not have to be adversaries as they are today.

                Science seeks to answer the question, how do things work. Science is based on observation and experimentation. It carefully examines the components of an object or situation and seeks to understand the mechanism by which it functions. So, for example, biology seeks to understand the mechanisms of living things. When I was in college I took a class in endocrinology. Through varies experiments we learned how hormones and the organs that produce them affect the individual. We know that certain hormones produce certain traits in the individual. Remove the hormone from the system and those traits are diminished or disappear altogether.

                Theology seeks to answer the question, why do things work, or why are things the way they are. Theology also uses observation but informed by revelation. It begins with the premise that the world was created with both order and purpose. Theology focuses on the meaning of life, not just the mechanics of life.

                One of the ways in which science and theology differ is that science is focused on a pragmatic approach to life, while theology is focused on a moral and ethical approach to life. I am not saying that science ignores ethics. It just starts from a different place. In its efforts to expand our knowledge about our world, science tends to run far ahead of ethics. Their mantra is, “Is this possible?” Theology begins from the other end. It examines the possibilities and asks the question, “Is this moral or ethical?” 

                One of the hallmarks of science is having an open mind to all possible explanations, no matter how unlikely. More than once, the unlikely explanation has turned out to be the right one. Yet, when it comes to the Divine, many scientists reject that possibility out of hand. They sneer at religion as superstition, myth and fantasy. A form of social elitism as permeated the soul of science. They look upon people of faith as backward and unintelligent. Science has succumbed to that ancient temptation to want to be God. By eliminating the possibility of a transcendent God, science has taken His place.

                By eliminating God from the picture, science has opened the door for the dehumanization of mankind. Without God there is no ultimate meaning in life. Without God we are just another animal form fighting for a temporary existence on an insignificant planet. Without God meaning is drained out of life itself. Without some outside, ultimate standard by which to judge our actions, anything goes.

                Let me return to my original idea. Science and faith do not need to be at odds with one another. In no way does belief in a transcendent God hinder the work of science, except in holding us accountable for how we use our discoveries. Belief in God does not stop us from exploring to the fullest extent the world in which we live. Belief in God gives meaning and purpose to our discoveries. Are we really improving the quality of our life by expunging any real meaning and purpose from it? 

Saturday, August 24, 2013


                He came walking into my office with a broad smile on his face. “Tell me about this church,” he said. That began a conversation that led to a young man becoming a believer in Christ and being baptized. Let me fill in the blanks to the rest of his story. I’ll call him Paul (not his real name).

                Paul grew up in a predominantly Muslim country. His family was nominally Muslim. In Paul’s teen years, his mother and father separated. Paul went to live with his two unmarried aunts who were Christians. While Paul lived with them, he explored Christianity out of curiosity, but not seriously. He was skeptical about religion in general, but he saw a real difference in his aunts. Their love and kindness overflowed to Paul. They cared for his every need.

                Paul followed a fairly normal course of life, attending University after high school. He began to long to expand his horizons, as so many young people do. He traveled to Malaysia to study English. It happened that his English teacher was a Christian. Following his time there he returned to his home country. His goal was to further his studies in Australia. As so often happens, economics got in the way. The last place he wanted to go was America, but that is exactly where he ended up.

                America is a large country with thousands of universities from which to choose. How was Paul going to find his place in this vast sea of options? He did what so many do today, he turned to the internet. He found a website, designed for international students, which gave information about American universities. He was attracted to Minnesota State University, Mankato by its relatively low cost and the promise of an in-state tuition grant for international students. Without any real knowledge about the place he was going, he set his course for Mankato, Minnesota.

                He spent his first semester in Mankato getting used to the new culture and environment. Having grown up in a large city, Mankato seemed like a very small town. He returned to his country for the summer and reconnected with his aunts. Upon his return to Mankato, in the fall of the next year, he was prompted to explore a church on a busy corner adjacent to the university. It was then that he walked through our doors, into my office and into my life.

                After our initial meeting, I met with Paul a couple more times. Then, on one of those occasions, he announced that he had made his decision and he was ready to become a Christian. I carefully explained what that meant and he affirmed that he wanted to take that step. Within the month I had baptized him as a new believer in Christ. We continue to meet on a regular basis as his faith and our relationship grows.

                As followers of Christ, we often only get to see one stage in a person’s spiritual journey. We may encounter them at the beginning, when they are just starting to explore faith. We may meet them in the middle, as they grapple with the claims of Christ on their life. Sometimes we get the privilege to be present at their spiritual birth, when they cross the line from unbelief to belief. Often we get to walk with them as they grow in their faith.

                I know from many years of experience that it can be discouraging and frustrating not knowing the whole story. I have invested in a number of individuals over my 30 years of ministry. Most of them have moving on in life. Some were exploring Christianity, some came to faith and some were strengthening their faith. In the majority of cases, I do not know where their journey has led them. All I can see is that one short stretch of time when they were an active part of my story. I often wonder if my efforts have accomplished anything. Is my investment worth the time and energy?

                I was reading in 1 Corinthians the other day and came across a passage that encouraged me to keep making the investment. Paul was addressing a controversy in Corinth. The people there were dividing up into different camps. Each camp claimed to follow a particular spiritual leader. These leaders were all honorable, solid messengers of Jesus Christ. The problem was that the groups were using their allegiance to divide the church. In order to counter this destructive influence, Paul gives us some needed insight into the process of leading a person to faith in Christ.

                What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NIV)

                Paul made it clear that we all have a part to play in helping others come to faith in Christ. In my friend Paul’s case, his aunts planted the seed, his English teacher watered it, and I had the privilege to be present at the harvest.

                Those who study evangelism say that in our world today it takes a minimum of seven significant encounters with different Christians before a person is ready to make a commitment to Christ. We don’t know where we may be in that chain of events. We might be their first encounter, or a middle encounter, or the final encounter. Whichever it is, we all play an important role.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Galatians 6:9-10 (NIV) 

Thursday, August 22, 2013


                The 1960’s was a monumental turning point in the cultural landscape of America. Young adults rebelled against the well-established norms of society. All forms of authority were called into question. The “Establishment” was vilified. Long held moral standards were abandoned. Religion was deemed irrelevant. We rushed head long into a world of relativism and self-indulgence. “Live for the moment” became the rallying cry of a generation. One cynical pundit put it this way. Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse.

                Today we live in a world that is greedily consuming the fruit of the cultural revolution of the 60’s. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned us about those who would lead our world into a course of self-destruction. "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Matthew 7:15-16 (NIV)The fruit of the 60’s is in abundance; and it is rotten fruit. Our cultural revolution promised unrestrained happiness and abundance. What it has produced is heartache and hopelessness.

                Every day the moral fabric of our world is unraveled a little more. Restraint of any kind has almost been completely eliminated. We clamor for more and more freedom to do whatever we desire, and then sob uncontrollably when people throw off restraint and follow their evil desires to a tragic end. We are told that man is basically good, and given enough freedom and self-determination, he will do what is right and proper. Then we are surprised when it doesn’t turn out that way. We willingly abandon the idea of universal truth, moral standards and the idea of right and wrong, then call for justice when a young man walks into a theater and guns down innocent people. We are reaping what we have sown, and we don’t like it.

                Paul warned us about the decline of our world in Romans 1:18-32. It is a long passage, but worth reflecting upon in its entirety.

                The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.
                        Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

                Paul’s words read like today’s news. This is the world in which we live. We have a choice to make about how we will face this world. We can embrace it and live for the moment, disregarding any future consequences. We can slip into despair and try to isolate ourselves from the decay. Or we can choose to be agents of redemption and renewal. The early Church was a small band of seemingly powerless individuals who turned their world up-side down. God can do that again.

                The first step is for us to get our own perspective right. Out thinking has been shaped by our culture. Unknowingly we have absorbed values and beliefs that are faulty. We need to reprogram our thinking before we can recreate our world. The only way to do that is to surrender our lives to the control of Christ. As Paul puts it, we must become living sacrifices. As we yield control of our lives to Christ, He will renew our thinking.

                Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

                The second step is to become positive change agents in our world. The moral shift in our culture today began with a few dissenting voices calling for change. They were determined to get their message heard and accepted. They were relentless. The results are obvious.

                Jesus has called us to be just such change agents. Instead of tearing down the morals and values that God has ordained, we are to build them up, one person at a time. We are being shouted down in the public forum, but we can still shift the tide in the coffee shop, the classroom and the neighborhood. As followers of Jesus, we have the power to change our world, if we will live out our faith in genuine ways. Jesus called us salt and light. He said that these are inherent qualities in one who is His disciple. Therefore, it is up to us to exercise those qualities to the best or our ability.

                "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)

                We do not have to tackle this daunting task alone. We have an ally who will go with us into every battle. He will empower us to stand against the storm of cultural relativism and moral decay. We can take our stand because we know that in the end God will prevail.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


                At this time of the year, we often think of new beginnings. Although, technically, the year begins on January 1, in reality, for most people, it begins on Labor Day. Labor Day marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. For families with young children, it means that the daily chaos of summer is over and the children are moving back into the ordered life of academics. For those who serve in the church, it means that the level of activity will escalate. University students will return, bringing renewed vitality to Sunday morning. The relative quiet of our building during the summer will be transformed back into a bustle of activity. Even those who do not have children at home sense the shift in the tide as fall approaches.

                God designed our world with a certain rhythm of renewal. Those of us who live in the upper Midwest are keenly aware of the rhythm of the changing seasons. Unconsciously we resonate with this natural rhythm of the world around us. We have come to expect new beginnings. It is often what gets us through a long winter.

                God is the author new beginnings. Not just the new beginnings in the natural world, but new beginnings in the spiritual world as well. These new beginnings range from monumental to mundane. Each in its own way enhances the rhythm of life.

                The most important new beginning is coming to faith in Christ. We are born into this world on the wrong side of the tracks. Sin is our natural bent and we are carried along in a direction that leads us away from God. The Bible makes it clear that we are all in the same boat spiritually. …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,… Romans 3:23 (NIV) But God has offered us a new beginning in Christ. When we put our faith in Him, we become a new person, change direction and head toward God. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

                Our transformation into new creations in Christ is not the end of our new beginnings. As we stumble along this new path, trying to find our way, we often make mistakes. We fall back into old sinful patterns, or make choices that we know displease God. It is like becoming distracted while you are driving and running your car into a ditch. At those times, God comes along with His spiritual tow truck and pulls us back onto the road. The Holy Spirit makes us aware of our blunder. Then God holds out His hand and restores us to fellowship with Him. He gives us a new beginning in our walk with Christ. 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) What a relief to know that our failures are not fatal or final.

                As we journey along the road of life, we are faced with many challenges. These obstacles test our faith, tax our resources and drain our energy. Often at the end of a day, we slump into bed thinking, I cannot go on. Then the morning comes, and with it new energy. The source of that energy is the grace of God. Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV) He gives us the grace we need each day to face the challenges before us. Like the manna in the wilderness, we cannot store up God’s grace for tomorrow. We must trust Him to provide what we need one day at a time.

                The more that we learn to trust Christ, the more we experience the power of His grace. If you have ever ridden on a tandem bike, you can understand how this works. The person in the front controls the bike. The person in the back must trust the person in the front and follow his movements. If the person in the back fails to lean when the front person leans, it throws the bike off balance. So it is with us and Christ.

                The Apostle Paul must have struggled with this, because God put a situation into his life that forced the issue. To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV) Paul had to learn to completely trust Christ, especially in the difficult times. So do we.

                As we continue our journey through life, we will never come to the end of the new beginnings that God has for us. God is in the process of conforming us to the image of Christ. He won’t stop until the process is complete. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 7:21 (NIV)

                No one likes a person who plays games with them or manipulates them for their own ends. A person who says that they are your friend, only to get something out of you, is not your friend in reality. A person who does favors for the purpose of obtaining leverage at a later time is a deceiver.

                In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns believers against the false prophets who manipulate others for their own purposes. He calls them wolves in sheep’s clothing. With smooth, soothing words, they lull people into a spiritual lethargy that leaves them vulnerable. They speak boldly about the glory of our faith and the expanse of God’s love, while downplaying the demands of discipleship. They convince people that the road to heaven is broader than it is and lead them into a false faith that cannot save them.

                At the end of this section (Matthew 7:15-23), Jesus adds a chilling warning. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'  Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

                These words of Jesus should cause all of us to pause and reflect upon our spiritual journey. We can easily let our focus be outward, seeking to unmask the false prophets among us. It is safer and more satisfying to point out the flaws in another’s spiritual fruit. It is more sobering to inspect your own.

                This is a passage of scripture that I have struggled with all of my life, and especially since I became a pastor. I deeply desire to be genuine in my faith, but I am intimately aware of how often I fail to live up to it. I know how easy it can be to be self-deceived. We all are quick to explain or excuse our failures, while we condemn the failures of others. I need to regularly examine the fruit of my life to see if it is good, flawed or rotten.

                Jesus highlights two ways in which we can spiritually deceive ourselves. The first way is by placing our faith in saying the right words. We can convince ourselves that because we have mastered the language of faith that we are living in faith. In many ways, it is like a child saying the pledge of allegiance to the flag in school. The child knows all the words, and can recite them accurately, and yet it really doesn’t affect how he lives his life. I grew up in a time when we recited the pledge every morning at school. But when the notice came from the draft board many young men looked for any way possible to get out of serving.

                It very possible for us to learn the basic doctrines of our faith, learn how to form an acceptable prayer, sing hymns and praise songs with gusto, and still be far from God. We gather at church to pledge our allegiance to Christ, but when he calls us to serve we look for every excuse we can for why we cannot comply. Jesus made it clear that unless our words are reflected in a measure of obedience to the will of God, they are meaningless.

                The second way that we can deceive ourselves is through fervent activity. We live in a culture that is driven by causes. If a person can find a cause and throw themselves into it, they feel like they are making a difference. The cause becomes a substitute for following Christ. The cause may be very worthwhile and noble. It may even reflect the values of the Kingdom. The problem is that the cause becomes a way for a person to prove himself to God and to himself. God has to love me because I care so much for the poor or the marginalized or the oppressed. God wants us to care about these people, but not as a substitute for serving Him.

                Many young Christians fall into this trap of activism as a way to validate their faith. It is called “works righteousness.” They hear the message that salvation is a free gift from God through faith in Christ. They desperately want to accept this good news.  Yet, they still feel like they must earn it. So they embark on a never ending journey of trying to be good enough for God. I can speak about this with authority, because I have walked that path. I had to come to the place where I surrendered all of my efforts and placed my life in God’s hands. It is a constant struggle to not slip back into that trap.

                Jesus said that there would be many people who spend their whole life doing amazing things trying to win brownie points with God. Instead of receiving the free gift of salvation, they will try to put God in their debt. They will stand before Christ at the last judgment and say, “look at all I did for you.” Christ will respond, “I never knew you.”

                How can we be sure that we are not playing games with God? The most important thing we can do is focus on developing our relationship with Christ. Before we can truly serve Christ, we need to sit at His feet and learn what it is that He wants us to do. We need to be more focused on being followers of Christ than on being doers of good deeds. Our good deeds must flow out of our commitment to Christ. As James says, we must humble ourselves before Christ, so that He may lift us up in due time. (James 4:10)

                When Jesus went to dinner at the home of Mary and Martha, Martha was consumed with doing for Jesus. Mary was focused on being with Jesus. When Martha complained to Jesus about Mary’s lack of activity, Jesus responded that Mary had chosen the better way. There was nothing wrong with Martha’s activity. The problem was that she was more focused on doing for Jesus then being with Jesus.

                To be a true follower of Jesus, we need to continually align our lives with Christ. We will not do this perfectly. We will make many mistakes along the way. But our focus must always be on being obedient to everything that Christ commands. We must be disciplined to submit everything we do to Christ’s authority so that our actions reflect his glory. We must fight against letting anything or anyone beside Christ to sit on the throne of our lives.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)

Thursday, August 8, 2013


                A young man was passing through a large airport between flights. As he began to make his way toward his gate, he came upon two moving walkways standing side by side. For some reason there was no barrier between them. One was moving toward him and the other moving away in the direction he wanted to go. He stepped onto the walkway and allowed it to carry him forward.

                This moving walkway was rather long and the young man became bored. He thought to himself, I have plenty of time before my next flight. I don’t need to be in a hurry to get to the gate. Maybe I can have some fun along the way. He looked around cautiously, and seeing no one, he hopped over on the opposite moving walkway. He stood facing forward as the walkway carried him backward. After a short time, he hopped back onto the first walkway, allowing it to carry him forward. He did this several times, each time letting the walkway carry him a greater distance.

                Hopping onto the backward moving walkway, he waited a long time before acting. Suddenly he heard the warning. You are coming to the end of the moving walkway. At this he hopped back over the divide and passively moved forward again. This became his new game. Each time he waited just a little longer after he heard the warning before he jumped. On one occasion his heal actually hit the grate at the end of the walkway just as he hopped off. He laughed and felt as if he had won the game.

                Chuckling to himself, he let the walkway carry him forward for some time. Then he hit upon another idea. Could I sort of run in place with one foot on each walkway? He began tentatively with a slow gait. As his left foot hit the backward walkway, he was pulled back. As his right foot hit the forward walkway, he was pulled forward. He quickened his pace to try and decrease the distance he was either pulled back or advanced. He was so engrossed in what he was doing that he completely forgot about the time.

                An announcement came across the loud speakers that caught his attention. It was the final boarding call for his flight. He had just shifted his weight to the backward walkway. He twisted his body to move quickly in the other direction, but his foot caught on something and he fell. His body landed on the backward walkway, but his head hit the metal divider, knocking him cold. His limp body was dragged along until it collected in a crumpled heap at the grate. As the walkway scraped against his side, a familiar message rang out. Danger, you are coming to the end of the moving walkway. But the young man didn’t hear it.

                Seat 27A was empty as the plane rose into the sky. The passenger holding that seat never showed up.  


                Throughout the Bible we are warned that we cannot live in two worlds at the same time. We cannot have one foot in the World and one in the Kingdom of God. People have often called this trying to straddle the fence. I have often thought that the idea of straddling the fence doesn’t quite explain it. For in fact, a person can straddle the fence, even though it may be uncomfortable.

                The parable of the two moving walkways is a better image. The World system is constantly pulling us in one direction and the Kingdom of God is pulling us in the opposite direction. The World is moving us farther from God and the Kingdom is moving us closer to God. A person who tries to move in opposite directions at the same time will be torn apart.

                In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes it clear that there are two moving walkways in life. One is broad and easy and leads to destruction. The other is narrow and challenging, but it leads to life. It may seem fun or exciting to try to balance between the two walkways, but Jesus makes it clear that we cannot win that game.

Matthew 6:24 (NIV)
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Mark 6:31 (NIV)
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."

                Summer is a great time to unplug for awhile and get some rest. I just returned from a two-week vacation that gave me the opportunity to do just that. I spent the first week with my entire family in Michigan. During the second week I had the opportunity to share one of my favorite places in the world with an international friend, the North Shore of Lake Superior. Both experiences were great.

                One thing that I observed while I was on vacation is how hard it is to truly unplug. While we were together as a family, several people yielded to the temptation to be on their iPad or their smart phone checking up on friends and the latest news. I too gave in a few times, as I checked the baseball scores on my Kindle. I’m not saying that this was bad; it was just interesting how a group of people could sit in the same room and be engrossed in their personal technology.

                But I experienced this in an even keener way on my short trip up to the North Shore of Lake Superior. We pulled into the public parking lot at Canal Park, Duluth heading for lunch at Grandma’s restaurant. As I walked to the pay station, I saw a group of four people that I recognized. They don’t live in my town or in Duluth, yet here we were meeting on the shores of the big lake. The next day, as we were walking around Grand Marais (over 100 miles away from Duluth), we ran into one of the people we had seen in Duluth the day before. That night, as my friend and I were eating our dinner in Silver Bay, a woman approached me who I had traveled with to Ukraine several years ago. My international friend looked at me with surprise and said, “You can’t go anywhere without seeing someone you know.”

                Jesus faced the very same thing, only to a much greater extent. Everywhere he went people recognized him and wanted his attention. The Gospel of Mark records a time when the demands of the people were so great that Jesus told his disciples it was time to unplug. To paraphrase, Jesus said, guys we are all exhausted. We need to unplug for a while and regain our energy.

                Mark 6:32-34 records what happened next. So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

                Jesus took his beleaguered group to a solitary place to recharge their batteries. Some people figured out where they were headed and beat them to the spot. If this would have happened to you or me, we might have been tempted to try to escape or at least to tell the people to let us alone. But Jesus responded in a different way. He saw the people’s deep need and he had compassion on them.

                Most of us live busy lives, filled with more activities than we can manage well. It is important for us to regularly take time to unplug and recharge our batteries. This is the idea behind the discipline of solitude. Sometimes the voices of the world are so loud that we cannot hear the voice of God calling to us. It is in those times of solitude that we can reconnect with our Savior. Jesus practiced solitude on a regular basis, so that he could connect with his Father. Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35 (NIV)We would do well to follow his example.

                On the other hand, Jesus never gave into the temptation to isolate himself and hide from the crowd. Being an introvert, I enjoy times of solitude. The danger for me is that I often enjoy them too much. If given the choice of spending time with others or spending time alone, I would choose being alone. But we have not been called to live isolated lives. We have been called to live in vital community with others. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (NIV) That is exactly what Jesus did.

                When Jesus saw the crowd, he didn’t try to escape. He saw an opportunity to minister to some pretty needy people. Even though his energy was low, he tapped into the energy of the Father and made a positive contribution to many people’s lives.

                 When I was on my trip, I could have chosen to ignore those people that I saw. That has always been a genuine temptation for me. But I knew that the right thing to do was to encounter them, and by doing so share a positive moment of joy. It didn’t take long and it cost me little, but it was a valuable thing to do.

                As we move through life, we need to regularly unplug from the routine of life to realign our heart and soul with Christ. But, we should never totally disconnect from others.

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)