Thursday, December 11, 2014


Psalm 46:10
    "Be still, and know that I am God;
        I will be exalted among the nations,
        I will be exalted in the earth."

                In the midst of this busy Christmas season, it is easy for me to tell myself, I am just too busy to take the time to do my devotions. After all, I have a sermon to write, a funeral to prepare, a men’s group to get ready for, and extra services to organize. I am just too busy.

                I felt that way, as I came into my office this morning. But, I sat down in my chair, opened my Bible and read Psalm 46. Vs. 10 jumped off of the page."Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." I was struck with the reality that nothing I have to do is more important than spending time with my Lord. Nothing is more important than reading the Bible and holding a conversation with God in prayer.

                I must confess that busyness is often just an excuse. I have time to do many things other than the projects I am working on for church. Yet, I can claim busyness as an excuse to not visit a shut-in or to not spend time really engaging in God’s Word. For me, at least, busyness is one of Satan’s most effective weapons. I can hide behind the façade of busyness. I can use it as a protective shield to deflect interruptions to “my” schedule. It gives me a convenient excuse for inaction; an excuse that people will readily accept. No one seems to question busyness. Everyone seems to assume it.

                Jesus never let busyness rule his life. He was hard-pressed from dawn to dusk by people demanding his time and attention. Yet, Jesus was never in a hurry. He always found time to be alone with the Father. He always found time to engage in what was really important, not just what was demanding and urgent. While Jesus was on the way to minister to Jairus’ daughter, he took the time to stop and heal a woman who had been plagued by a bleeding disorder for twelve years. I am sure that Jairus was anxious, but Jesus was not. (Mark 5:21-36) When Jesus was eating dinner at the home of Mary and Martha, Martha was frantic about all that needed to be done. Mary, on the other hand, sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him. When Martha confronted Jesus with this injustice, Jesus told her to settle down, sit down and spent time with him. (Luke 10:38-42)

                The real issue is not action vs. inaction. It is purposeful action vs. frenetic activity. It is having the insight and wisdom to know what is most important and what is secondary. Let me give you two examples.

                Several years ago, early on a Sunday morning, a young man arrived to deliver the donuts for our coffee time. As he was about to leave, he knocked on my door and asked the inevitable question. “Are you busy.” My first response was, “yes, I am getting ready for the service.” I stopped and asked a couple of quick questions. He was struggling with his lack of desire for spiritual things. I arranged to meet him at a later date, and he went on his way. He never showed up for the appointment. I regret that I let busyness get in the way of a significant spiritual encounter.

                Yesterday, I was working on my sermon for Sunday, when a knock came at my door. It was a woman who I had worked with at the death of her mother. I invited her in and offered her a seat. She began to open up about some things that she was struggling with. We probably spent a half hour together. When she left, she thanked me for taking the time to talk with her, because, “I know how busy you are.” I was glad that I had set aside what I was doing to give this woman a listening ear.

                James says that man’s anger does not accomplish God’s purposes. (James 1:20) We could rightly insert the word busyness. Man’s busyness does not accomplish God’s purposes. If I am too busy to spent time reading God’s word and praying, then I am too busy. If am too busy to stop what I am doing and talk to a person in need, then I am too busy. If I am too busy to exercise and care for my physical body, as God desires, then I am too busy. Some of my most encouraging and meaningful encounters have happened when God interrupted my busy schedule. Someone has said that interruptions are often God’s divine appointments.          

                During this amazing, busy time of the year, I need to be intentional to stop and sit at the feet of Jesus. After all, is not that what Christmas is all about!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


                I am not a classic morning person. It takes a hot shower and a cup of coffee to get me going. But I really like early mornings. I enjoy being the first one up in the house; when everything is quiet and before the busyness of the day has erupted. I enjoy being the first one to arrive at church, so I can have some genuine quiet time. I like seeing the first rays of the sun peaking over the horizon. I like early mornings.

                It all began back in college. I was the dining hall manager for breakfast. That meant that I had to be at the dining hall by 6:00 AM every morning to start the process of setting up for breakfast. I loved emerging from my dorm, after a fresh snowfall, and making the first set of footprints across campus. I would enter the quiet dining hall and begin arranging things for the morning; making coffee, arranging the carts of plates and silverware, checking in with the baker, and grabbing one of the first fresh donuts coming from his amazing machine. At about five minutes to seven my crew would come stumbling in. At 7:00 AM, I would unlock the doors for the first students. I have liked early morning ever since.

                When my children were still at home, I would get up early and make their breakfast, before they headed off to school. I still get up early to have my breakfast and to start my day with some quiet time with the Lord. I do not make it every morning, but the majority of the time I start my time in the office with devotions and prayer. It sets the tone for the rest of my day.

                The gospels tell us that Jesus used the early mornings as His time to be alone with the Father. Once the sun came up, Jesus was pressed, from all sides, by people demanding His attention. By evening, He was exhausted. Yet each day, He would rise early, to be refreshed and renewed for the challenges ahead of Him.

                Mark gives us a snapshot of Jesus’ daily experience in Mark 1:32-37.
                That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
                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. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!"

                Not everyone is at their best early in the morning, but, for me, it is the most refreshing time of the day. Most days are filled with demands, expectations and deadlines. There is always someone or something clamoring for your time and attention.  But early in the morning, it is quiet. The world is still. There is time for quiet reflection. There is time to get prepared to face the day.

Lamentations 3:22-23
    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.


Thursday, December 4, 2014


Psalm 127:3-5
Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

                We gathered in the large room, filed with round tables and decorated for Thanksgiving. There was much small talk, as we greeted people we had not seen for some time. The word was given and we all found our places at the tables. Each place was marked with a leaf bearing a name. My three nieces, who shouldered the responsibility of organizing this event, took their place at the front of the room and greeted the assembled clan. Then, in turn, a member of each of the four generations represented there rose and asked a blessing on this significant event. We wiped tears from our eyes as the final Amen was said. Then we descended on the tables, laden with more food than we could possible consume. Our long awaited Thanksgiving reunion was underway. For the rest of the day we basked in the joy of a family gathered.

                In a world filled with disjointed, dysfunctional, wounded families, it is a unique experience to gather with four generations of one family, intact. I was able to reconnect with two cousins I had not seen in decades. I was able to spent time with both of my brothers and their families. I was able to relish moments with my parents, who are both in the late 80’s and doing remarkably well. For one week, we gathered in North Carolina and celebrated the gift of family.

                As I reflect upon my experience, I am struck by the enormous blessing I have been given. It is all too easy to take our family for granted, or worse to find fault with our family. But family is a gift that is to be treasured. It is the foundation for all civilization and culture. It is the training ground for life. It is the port in a storm that can give us the strength to go on. It is the place of joy that can enrich and enhance our lives. It can be all of these things and more, but it is not for far too many.

                For many people, family is a negative experience. It is a place of abuse and conflict. A place that drains, rather than sustains. A place to be avoided.

                That was never God’s design. God desires that we all find our place in His family. In our human efforts, we fall short of God’s design and intent. But God has provided a place for all who will take it, in His family. In Christ, we belong, we are valued, we are safe. Through faith in Christ, we can transform our natural families into supernatural families; families connected by more than genetics. We can enter into a eternal family that will never pass away. It has been may privilege to experience both an intact, healthy natural family and God’s eternal family. For those who have not shared in my blessing, there is hope. That hope is found in Christ Jesus.

                As the Apostle John wrote to a group of oppressed and possibly discouraged people, he extended an amazing word of hope. 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! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3

                John’s words of hope are great news for all of us, but especially for those who feel abandoned, abused and rejected. We belong! We have a place! We are loved! When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s forever family. We move from a life dominated by darkness into the light of the glory of God. We have hope for the future and for eternity. The resources that we need to face the challenges of life are available to us, in abundance. All we have to do is ask.

                My family experienced an amazing gift this past Thanksgiving; an unprecedented gathering of family. As we gathered in worship on Sunday morning, I was aware that our gift is enhanced, enriched  and expanded by our family of faith. Membership in that family is open to all who will accept Jesus’ invitation to come in.

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.
1 Peter 2:9-10

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


                Eli knew that he had been selected for a great honor, but he was still apprehensive. He was one of the priests who would carry Ark of the Covenant, across the Jordan River, before the people of Israel. It was just getting dark, as he stood by the banks of the swollen river. The water rushed by him; it seemed to overwhelm him. As darkness fell, he lifted his eyes to heaven. God of my fathers, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I know that this is what you have commanded, but my heart is wrapped in fear. Give me the courage to do what you have called me to do.

                As the first light of dawn appeared on the horizon, the priests took their places in front and behind the Ark. All the people were assembled. There was an air of anticipation, excitement and apprehension. Joshua addressed the people with words of challenge and encouragement. “Today the Lord will do an amazing thing in your sight.” The command was given, the priests grasped the long poles and shouldered the Ark.

                Eli was the first priest on the right front. His eyes were firmly fixed on the rushing water before him. Joshua gave the command, and the priest began to slowly walk forward. They descended a gentle slope, which lead into the shallows of the river. Eli could feel the cold water engulfing his feet. With the weight of the priests and the Ark behind him, he kept moving forward. The water began rising on his calves. He could feel the first signs of the strong current pulling on his legs. Involuntarily he closed his eyes and steadily moved forward.

                Wait, something is wrong! He could no longer feel the tug of the river. Eli quickly opened his eyes. He was walking on dry ground. For a great distance to his right and his left, there was no water, just dry ground. As the priests reached the center of the river, they stopped. The command was given and the people streamed across the now dry river bed. Eli was overwhelmed. He no longer felt the weight of the Ark on his shoulder. He began to quietly speak words of praise to Jehovah, as the tribes of Israel passed by him in perfect order.

                As the last of the people climbed the far bank, twelve strong men came to the place where the priests stood. Each man selected a large, smooth rock and hefted it onto his broad shoulder. Finally, Joshua gave the command, and the priests resumed their march across the dry river bed. As the last of the priests stepped onto the far bank, Eli heard the sound of rushing water. He glanced back to see the river quickly refill. It again rushed by at flood stage. A collective cheer went up from the people.

Joshua 3:14-17
    So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
Hebrews 11:1
    Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12

                Yesterday was Veterans’ Day in America and Remembrance Day in Europe. It was originally created to remember and honor those who served and died in WWI. November 11 marks the day that the armistice was signed, ending that world conflict. Over the years Veterans’ Day has been expanded to include all veterans up to today.

                As I reflected upon how conflict and war has changed since WWI, I thought of the parallels with the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. In WWI and WWII, the battles lines were clearly marked. It was obvious who the enemy was and who your allies were. Those distinctions started to blur in the Korean War and almost disappeared in Vietnam. Today, in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no clear defining lines for who is friend or foe.

                In the spiritual battle that we face, the defining lines have definitely been blurred, especially in America. In many parts of the world, there are still very clear distinctions between Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers. In certain places, there is open conflict, with the church being actively persecuted and oppressed. In some places, there is an uneasy truce, similar to North and South Korea. There is still antagonism, but there is some room for Christians to practice their faith opening. In America the defining lines have all but disappeared. With a façade of cultural Christianity, Satan is waging a spiritual guerilla war. Officially we have complete freedom of religion, but in practical terms that freedom is constantly under attack and being confined and restricted.

                Both open conflict and subversive action are dangerous, painful and costly to the Church. Open conflict tends to unify the Church and draw it together. Subversive conflict tends to divide the Church and push us apart. Open conflict often results in the loss of property, social status and even life. Subversive conflict results in a watered down gospel, a degrading of morals and a general loss of faith. Both forms of satanic attack are real, powerful and dangerous. One form is easy to see, while the other is harder to detect. The Bible warns us to be on our guard against both forms of attack.

                Paul warned the church in Corinth to be discerning about what influences they allowed to shape the church. 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 Corinthians 11:13-15

                Peter challenges us to stand firm in the face of Satan’s attacks. He is looking for any vulnerable place where he might gain an advantage. Peter calls us to stand firm along side of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9

                The biggest difference between those who face open conflict and those who face subversive conflict is perception. Those in the openly persecuted church know they are in a battle. They live with the reality daily. Those of us who live in the comfortable West often forget. We let our guard down. We compromise. We become complacent. All of these play right into the hands of the enemy.

                The hardest battle to fight is the one that you don’t know you are in. We in America need to open our eyes and our hearts. We need to pray for and support our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church. We also need to embrace the reality that we are under siege as well.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Ephesians 6:11-13


Tuesday, November 4, 2014


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

                I really hope things work out. I hope things get better after the elections. I hope the Christmas season goes well. I hope my health holds out. I hope my money lasts. I hope we don’t have a bad winter like last winter. I hope, I hope, I hope.

                Life is full of wishful thinking. We all do it, almost unconsciously. We have been programmed to believe that the future will be better than the present, and that everything will work out for the good in the end. But is that realistic? Is that even honest?

                Some people want to link faith and wishful thinking together. They contend that, what we call faith, is just another name for wishful thinking. Is it? I don’t think so. There are some very significant differences between genuine faith and wishful thinking.

                Wishful thinking is not based on anything solid. It is a desire for something better, with no real assurance that something better can or will happen. Faith, on the other hand, is solidly based on God and His promises. The everlasting God is the foundation of our faith. As the writer to the Hebrews states it, it all begins with recognizing that God exists and that He is faithful.  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. (Hebrews 11:6)

                Faith is based on the solid promises of the Living God. What God promises, He fulfills. God’s track record is more than excellent; it is perfect. As we look back, we can see how God came through for those who trusted Him. Unlike financial planning, God’s past successes do guarantee God’s future faithfulness. Ultimately, all of God’s promises come together and are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Cor. 1:20) Our confidence in God’s promises is on solid ground.

                Wishful thinking tends to be passive. It takes a wait and see attitude toward life. Instead of actively working toward a preferred future, wishful thinking lulls people into inactivity. Genuine faith is the exact opposite of this.

                Genuine faith motivates us to work toward the fulfillment of God’s promises. It allows us to take risks, knowing that God will use our efforts to accomplish His purposes. In fact, faith demands action. James makes that very clear in James 2:14-17. What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 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? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

                Genuine faith energizes us and gives us the courage to keep going, even when things are difficult. Because we have confidence in Christ, we can see beyond our immediate circumstances to a better outcome. Paul assures us that our faith is not misplaced. 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 Cor. 15:58)

                Faith and wishful thinking are miles apart. Wishful thinking creates an artificial sense of hope and well-being that evaporates in the face of reality. Genuine faith creates a solid foundation upon which to build, so that we can face the storms of life and prevail.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Black and White or Shades of Gray?

                I grew up with a very black and white faith. As a Christian, there were certain things that I would never do and other things that I must do. There were certain things that I had to believe and other things that I had to reject. In many ways, living with a black and white faith was very safe. I had my internal checklist, which kept me well within the boundaries of orthodoxy. But there was a down side to it as well. It created a certain amount of guilt when I strayed into an area that was not clearly delineated in the Bible. Growing up in the 60’s, long hair, rock-n-roll, and fast dancing were the norm for young people. All three of these things were added to the list of don’ts for a good Christian kid. So the night I went to a dance at the junior high school as a part of the AV team caused me many hours of guilt. You might chuckle at that now, but it was serious to me then.

                Growing up in an independent, fundamental church, I was suspicious of, and even a little afraid of, people who attended churches with a denominational label. To me, they fell outside of my black and white world. Then I went to college. Attending a Christian college, I was exposed to many kids who came from very different church backgrounds than I did. I quickly discovered that most of them had a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. We shared many of the same beliefs. Even though they carried a denominational label, they really lived out their faith. My black and white world began to take on a few shades of gray.

                An experience that stands out for me can serve to illustrate my point. I became friends with a young man who had been in the Army, and had returned to go to college on the GI bill. He was a couple of years older than me, although he was in my class. He was serious about his studies and about his faith. While he had served in the Army, he had picked up the habit of smoking. Definitely on my “Christians don’t do this” list. It was against the rules at my college to smoke, but this young man was hooked. One day he asked me to do him a favor. He asked if I would drive his car out into the country so he could smoke. I did, and a friendship developed. I still think smoking is an unwise choice, but I learned that it is possible for a person to be a genuine Christian and struggle with this habit.

                Several years later, I attended seminary. Many of my professors intentionally exposed me to a wide spectrum of theological thinking. Much of it was orthodox. Some of it was liberal. They did this intentionally to help us understand the complex world of theological thought. I found it stretching, refreshing and challenging. Their goal was not to make me a liberal; the opposite was true. Their goal was to prepare me for the world I was about to step into. One day, my roommate came home from class, obviously frustrated. “Why don’t they just tell us the truth,” he blurted out. He didn’t want to struggle with the breadth of theological thinking. He wanted black and white answers.

                Recently, I have been reading a book that, from my perspective, comes across with a very black and white theology. The author aggressively and dogmatically makes his case that all Christians should do certain things. He calls into question the faith of those who don’t fall neatly within his black and white boundaries. I want to be clear that I do not disagree with many of the principles that he sets forth. He is right to challenge us to take our faith more seriously and stop coasting in our comfortable “church” experience. What I struggle with is that there is no gray in  his message. For one who grew up with a black and white theology, his message is simplistic and judgmental. As I read, I feel some of the old, unrealistic guilt of my past creeping back in.

                There are some fundamental truths about the Christian faith that are non-negotiable. God created the heavens and the earth. Man was created in the image of God. Sin came into the world through Adam and Eve, and has infected all of the human race. Jesus came to redeem a lost world. Jesus alone is the answer to our sin. Salvation comes through faith in Jesus alone. The Bible is God’s word; to be our authoritative guide for faith and practice. These are foundational.

                But, I have learned over the past 30 years that, when it comes to living out our faith, there are many valid ways to do that. Unity in Christ does not mean that we all look alike, sound alike and act alike. There is no such thing as a cookie cutter Christian. God created each one of us with a specific personality and a specific set of gifts and talents. He wants to use this diversity to reach a very diverse world. Some Christians operate on the front lines, while others function more quietly in a supporting role. As Paul wrote, some plant, some water, but God gives the increase. Each of us has a part to play, and we will be held accountable for that. But we will not all play the same part.

                I admire enthusiasm and passion, but it must be tempered to be effective. Enthusiasm without solid truth does damage to people. Truth without passion is dead. Jesus’ life was characterized by passion and compassion, by truth and grace, by confrontation and extravagant love.

                There still is much black and white in my Christian life, which causes me to struggle and examine my faith. I am learning that the grace of God demands that I accept a little gray in the way other believers live out their faith. I am also learning to take the Gospel more seriously and myself less seriously.     

    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.
Galatians 6:1-5


Friday, October 24, 2014


    O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  
Psalm 63:1

                David was a most unlikely choice to become king of Israel. He was the youngest son of his father Jesse. When God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel, Jesse left David out in the field, tending sheep. After God had rejected all of Jesse’s sons, Samuel asked if there wasn’t another son. So he asked Jesse, "Are these all the sons you have?" "There is still the youngest," Jesse answered, "but he is tending the sheep." Samuel said, "Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives." So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one." So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:11-13

                Jesse overlooked David, because he was the youngest, but God did not. God chose him for service. It was not an easy path for David. He was brought into the service of Saul, to soothe Saul’s troubled mind. David proved himself when to stood against Goliath. Saul took issue with David and, for a number of years, pursued him throughout the desert, seeking to take his life. Twice David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, yet he refused, choosing to trust in God. When Saul was killed in battle, David did not rejoice. He mourned. As king, David united the people of Israel, expanded their territory and brought glory to God. He also had some major failures, which caused him much grief. Through all of the ups and downs, David never forgot that he had been called to serve God.  When God summarized David’s life, He called David a man after my own heart.

                We live in a celebrity culture, which elevates the bold, the beautiful, the athletic, and the attractive. Like Samuel, we look at the outward appearance of people. When we compare ourselves with the elite of our world, we fail to measure up. Instead of being inspired, we are discouraged. I could never do that, we tell ourselves. We disqualify ourselves from service. We settle for being spectators rather than full participants. But that is not the way God sees things.

                Paul addresses our false perspective in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. 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."

                Like David, we have been selected for service. God wants to use our gifts and talents for His glory. We may feel like unlikely candidates to do great things for God, but God can see what we cannot. God is not impressed by our assets, or put off by our deficits. What God looks at is our heart. If we are willing to seek Him, above everything else, then He can use us to do some amazing things. If we will take whatever we have to offer and lay it at His feet, He will multiply it for His glory.

                As the youngest son in the family, David was an unlikely choice to be king. Indeed, he was a truly talented and attractive young man, but that is not why God chose him. God chose him for service, because his heart was in the right place.

                We have been chosen for service to the King of Kings. Instead of offering Him excuses, let us offer Him our hearts.

    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.
1 Peter 2:9

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


                I am told that sharks must always be moving forward to survive. If they stop for any length of time, they will die. In some ways this is true of us as well. Life is all about moving forward. When we stop, we die. I know people who were old when they were 40, and people who are still young at 80. The difference is that one has stopped moving forward, while the other continues to strive toward the future.

                Throughout this past summer, I trained for and looked forward to running the Mankato half-marathon. It was a goal to strive for; motivation to get out and run. Finally, on Sunday the long awaited event happened. I joined with about 3,500 others, in the crisp morning air, to put our bodies and minds to the test. It was a glorious day for a long distance run. I started the race strong, struggled near the end, and pushed toward the finish. When I crossed the finish line, I felt a sense of accomplishment and joy.

                On Monday, with the race behind me, my focus had already shifted. Talking with my parents on Monday night, our conversation centered on our family gathering over Thanksgiving. I reported how the race had gone, but it was no longer the focal point. We were already looking to the future; moving forward.

                Life is a series of anticipated events. We spend far more time preparing for, looking forward to an event, then the actual event itself. If we are wise, when the event comes, we enter fully into the moment and experience the joy of the moment. But no matter how exciting an event is, it never truly satisfies us. The joy we feel is temporary. Almost before the event is over, we are looking forward to the next big event.

                C.S. Lewis wrote about this feeling in Surprised by Joy. He talks about how real, lasting joy is always just out of our grasp. We get tantalizing tastes of joy along the way, but if we try to grab a hold of them, they evaporate. His conclusion was that our desire for joy leads us on to the only lasting source of joy, Christ. We spend our lives striving for that goal, which we will fully experience one day, in the presence of Christ. We were not created to live forever in this fallen world; we were not created to be satisfied with this fallen world. We were created to live forever, in relationship with God, in His perfect world. All of our lives we are drawn toward our heavenly home by this unsatisfied longing for pure joy.

                Paul expressed a similar thought in Philippians 3. In verses 7-11, Paul expresses his overwhelming desire to know Christ fully; to be united with Christ completely. Then he clarifies the journey that he was on.

                Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

                Paul was not satisfied with past accomplishments. He was unwilling to mark time and coast to the end of his life. Instead, he continued to press forward. He knew that he had not attained his goal. He had tasted the goodness and joy of Christ. His longing had been energized. He refused to be satisfied with anything less than the fullness of Christ.

                As followers of Christ, we can never be satisfied by past experiences; no matter how exciting or fulfilling. Those who live in the past, who stop moving forward, die a slow death. We were created to always be moving forward toward our fulfillment in Christ. No matter what we think we have accomplished, we have not yet reached the ultimate goal. The Apostle John expresses it well.

                Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3

                Keep moving forward!

Friday, October 17, 2014


“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know you that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1:2-3 NIV

            A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical. One of the things I did, during that time, was ride my bike every morning. One morning I was greeted with overcast skies and the promise of rain. The air was cool and slightly damp. I zipped up my jacket, put on my helmet and gloves and mounted my bike. A gentle breeze greeted me as I rode out our long driveway toward the road. This isn’t too bad, I thought. Once I was on the bike path, I began to pick up the pace.  I was feeling strong. The pedals rotated smoothly and easily. I looked at my watch. I was making good time, so I decided to extend my ride, and go to the next intersection, beyond my usual turn-around point. I had intended to gradually extend the length of my ride anyway. It seemed like the right day to do that.

            I reached my new turn-around point, with no problem and a lot of energy. As soon as I made the turn, I knew why I had made such good time. A virtual wind tunnel accosted me. What had been a brisk, easy ride became a battle against the wind. I shifted down, ducked my head and pushed for home. My pace slowed to a crawl. Each stroke of the pedal was an effort. My heart began beating more quickly and the sweat started forming on my back. I no longer gazed across the open farmlands. Instead, with head bent low, I focused on the pavement in front of me.

            All of us face resistance in life. It comes in many forms. It comes in the form of the stiff wind of a co-worker, who seems to do everything possible to keep us from succeeding. It comes in the form of the coldness of a relative, who not only rejects faith in Christ, but finds subtle ways to mock our faith. It comes in the form of the relentless drain of health issues that never quite get resolved. It comes in a multitude of  forms. It comes to all of us.

            What are we to do with this resistance? How are we to handle it? There are different ways to deal with resistance in our lives. We can complain about it. This feels good at the time, but it doesn’t change anything. On my bike ride, I could have stopped and complained about the wind, but that wouldn’t have gotten me home. We can submit to the resistance. This is the passive approach. When we do that, it blows us farther and farther away from where we want to be. It would have been easier for me to ride with the wind, but if I had, I’d still be pedaling. We can choose to fight the resistance. This is a very popular approach today. As a society, we are quick to strike back, when others oppose us. In the end, this only serves to make us weaker and the resistance stronger. It would be like me trying to blow against the wind to turn it around. There is another way to approach resistance. We can stand up to it. If we do, we become stronger and better able to handle new resistance in the future.

            James tells us that resistance plays a positive role in our lives. In James 1 he writes these words. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know you that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV) James gives us an interesting approach to resistance in our lives. He tells us to use the resistance in our lives for our benefit. He gives us three insights into turning resistance into growth.

            First, keep a healthy attitude. James says, “Consider it pure joy” when you face the trials and pressures of life. I have to admit that joy is not my first response to resistance. When I turned my bike toward home, and that stiff wind hit me in the face, I didn’t respond with, “Isn’t this wonderful. I get to ride against the wind all the way home.” On the contrary, I thought to myself, boy did I make a mistake.

            On the surface, it is hard for us to equate pure joy with the trials and pressures of life. Yet James has a point. It comes in the word “consider.” Trials and pressures are a normal part of life. In most cases we have little or no choice in whether or not we will face them. But, we do have the choice of how we will face them. We can choose to let the resistance we face have a negative effect on us, or a positive one. James tells us to intentionally look positively at the trials of life. Let me give you an example.

            In the book of Acts, we read about the trials of the early church. As the church was beginning to develop in Jerusalem, it faced resistance from the religious leaders. On one occasion, the religious leaders had the Apostles arrested and put in jail for preaching about Jesus. Before their release, the Apostles were flogged and ordered not to preach in the name of Jesus any more. Most of us would have left that place like whipped dogs, with our tails between our legs. But not the Apostles. In Acts 5:41 it says, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” They chose to face resistance with joy.

            When we face resistance in our lives, we too can choose to consider it joy. Our joy is not in the resistance, but in what it signifies. When we face resistance in our lives, because we are actively living out our faith, we can rejoice because we know we are heading in the right direction. Jesus told us that in John 15:18-19. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

            The second thing we learn from James is to persevere. To persevere is to persist in an endeavor despite resistance and difficulties. In other words, don’t give up. When we face resistance, the temptation we face is to give up and coast. As I was struggling on my bike, against the wind, and my legs were beginning to ache, I wanted to stop pedaling and just coast. But you can’t coast when you have a stiff wind in your face.

            If we are going to persevere in life, there are three things we will need to do. First, keep our eyes on the goal. When I’m biking my goal is to make it home. In life, our goal is to be like Christ. We cannot let resistance take our eyes off the goal. No matter what happens in the short term, our long term purpose remains intact. Paul puts it this way in Philippians 3:13-14. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Second, stay the course. The temptation, when resistance comes, is to go with the flow. But when we do that, we will always go in the wrong direction. Instead, we need to be even more intentional about staying focused. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “...let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV) Third, keep pedaling. If you are facing resistance at work, keep doing your job to the best of your ability. If you are facing resistance at home, keep loving that person. If you are facing resistance from within, discipline yourself to keep doing what you know is right. When you are riding a bike, there is only one way to get home, by pedaling. In the Christian life, there is only one way to maturity; keep moving forward, one step at a time.

            There is a third thing we learn from James about facing resistance. The result of having the right attitude and of persevering is maturity. Resistance doesn’t have to be destructive in our lives. In fact, when it is handled in the right way, resistance can be very constructive. I didn’t like pedaling against the wind on my morning bike ride, but I knew that, if I kept doing it, I would become stronger. None of us like facing trials in life, but, if we face them in a godly way, they will make us stronger.

            James gives us a clue about what he means by the word mature. He qualifies it with the word complete. Not lacking anything. Spiritual maturity is, in part, having all the resources we need to face the situation before us, and knowing how to use them. Maturity is not a destination, but a process. Instead of being static, maturity is dynamic, ever changing and growing. What it means to be mature changes as we move through life and face new challenges. The more resistance we face in life, the more opportunity we have to add to our storehouse of resources.

            We do  not have to wonder if we will face resistance in life. Resistance is a given. The question is, how will we face resistance when it comes?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


            I got up this morning in time to see the peak of a lunar eclipse. I could see the shape of the moon in the western sky, but it was dull and faded looking. As the minutes passed, a sliver of bright light began to emerge at the top of the moon. It continued to work its way down the face of the moon until it was almost completely uncovered. As I drove to my office, I was blessed by two contrasting sights. On the western horizon sat a large full moon, with just a hint of shadow at the bottom. On the eastern horizon I could see a bright orange glow as the sun began to rise. It was a magnificent sight. At that moment, I thought of the words from the Psalmist; the heavens declare the glory of God. This morning was a visual, tangible example of that very truth.

            I settled into my chair at my office to begin my morning devotions. I wrote several thoughts in my journal, including some remarks about the glory of the morning. Then I opened my Bible to the place marker. The words leapt off of the page.

Psalm 19:1-6
    The heavens declare the glory of God;
        the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
    Day after day they pour forth speech;
        night after night they display knowledge.
    There is no speech or language
        where their voice is not heard.
    Their voice goes out into all the earth,
        their words to the ends of the world.
    In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
        which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
        like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
    It rises at one end of the heavens
        and makes its circuit to the other;
        nothing is hidden from its heat.

            This was no coincidence. God was clearly speaking to me about His glory and His presence. The message was clear; I am here!

            There have been times in my life when I have struggled with feeling God’s presence. In my head, I know the reality of God. I know that He is, and that He is everywhere present.  Yet I struggle with feeling like He is far away, or is not paying attention to me. King David often struggled with these very same thoughts. He recorded them over and over again in the Psalms.

            Over the past couple of months, I have been struggling with discerning God’s leading and direction in my life. I have wondered about what God’s plan might be. I have dreamed about what could be, and have had some of those dreams dashed. I have agonized over the feeling that I may have lost my way, or that I may, in some way, be hindering God’s plan. Just this week, several things have happened that will directly affect my journey in the near future. I have faced these decisions with both hope and apprehension. Then the dawn came.

            This morning I was reminded that God is still on the throne. I don’t know all that the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. Whatever the outcome of recent events, God’s plan will move forward. God’s glory will be revealed.

Psalm 19:1
    The heavens declare the glory of God;
        the skies proclaim the work of his hands.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014


“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:”
Ecclesiates 4:9 NIV

            Normally, when I run, I run alone. This is an issue of pragmatics. It is just easier to fit my running into my schedule that way. Earlier in the summer, I decided to organize a group run on Saturdays to prepare for the Mankato Marathon and to promote Team Bethel. My effort was not very successful, but, on one occasion, a young college guy showed up to run with me. We ran from church to county road 90 and back; a distance of six miles. As we ran, we talked about running, church and life. When we finished our run, I was struck by a couple of thoughts. We had kept up a pace faster than I normally run, but I did not feel winded. While we were running, I felt relaxed and energetic. I actually ran better, because I ran in partnership with someone.  

            The author of Ecclesiastes came to that conclusion many centuries ago. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV) he writes these powerful words:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

            Partnership is an important aspect of life and one that is often neglected. The emphasis in our society has been on individualism and making it on your own. We have accepted this as the norm; the way things are supposed to be. But the outcome of this philosophy has been disastrous. More than any other time in our history, people feel abandoned, alone, insecure and hopeless. Why? Because, for the most part, they are facing life, and all of its challenges, alone. We have learned the hard way that you just cannot lift yourself up by your own bootstraps.

            The author of Ecclesiastes makes a strong case for interdependence above independence. He begins by asserting a basic principle. Two are better than one. Over the years I have learned the reality of this principle. It is not that a person cannot do things on their own. They can. But, we can do more and better work if we work together. Consider a couple of simple examples. Folding a set of queen sized sheets and blankets is much easier if you have a partner. Washing dishes goes much faster if you have a partner. Almost any building project becomes easier when you have a partner. Pick almost any aspect of life and you will discover that two are better than one. Ecclesiastes goes on to give us some practical applications of this principle.

            Two are better than one when we are facing hard times. Several years ago, we took a trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior and we invited Suanne’s grandmother to go with us. She was in her early 80’s at the time. One day we were taking a walk in one of our favorite woods. Grandma, who was always game to go along, was walking with us. As she walked, she caught her foot on a root and feel into the underbrush. For a second, everyone froze as we watched her spill to the ground. Then Suanne shouted, “Help her up.” Snapping out of my immobility, I jumped over a fallen tree and helped Grandma off the ground. Fortunately, she was not hurt, but she did need help to untangle herself from the underbrush.

            All of us have times in our lives when we “fall down.” Ecclesiastes tells us that at those times it is better to have a friend to help us get back on our feet again. I have often found this to be true when I have faced times of discouragement or failure. To be able to go to a trusted friend and sort out the issues is invaluable. I have had many opportunities to work with people who are facing life’s trials alone. They often come to me out of desperation, because they have realized that they cannot face these situations on their own.

            Two are better than one when we feel insecure. On my many trips to Ukraine, I have always felt a sense of insecurity going through customs. Entering a foreign country can be a challenge. I knew that I had nothing to hide, but in a country like Ukraine, you never know what to expect. On the other side of customs was a set of electronic doors that opened as you approached them. Every time I went through those doors, I was faced with a sea of unfamiliar faces. Then I would see my contact person and a wave of relief would flood over me. Knowing that there was someone there to guide me through took away my anxiety.

            Ecclesiastes tells us: “If two lie down together, they keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” We often use the term warm to refer to our emotional state. When we feel secure, loved and confident, we feel warm inside. When we feel insecure, unloved and afraid, we feel cold. Life has a way of stealing our emotional warmth. Our individualistic approach to life tends to make for cold, hard people. But when we can come along side of each other and support and encourage each other, then we can begin to warm up as people. It really does take two to make for a truly warm person.

            Two are better than one when we are under attack. In Acts 9 we read the story of Saul’s conversion. Two interesting things happen to Saul shortly after his conversion that demonstrate the reality of the need for partnership. Acts 9 tells us that Saul began boldly preaching the gospel of Jesus in the synagogues in Damascus. Some believed because of Saul and some resented him. A group decided to put an end to this nonsense by killing Saul. Some of his new friends found out about this plot and helped Saul escape. In Acts 9:25 it says, “But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” What a humbling experience for Saul, yet what a valuable lesson. When we are attacked, we need help. But, Saul still had more to learn. When he arrived in Jerusalem, instead of being received with open arms, he was rejected by the church, out of fear. Another man, Barnabas, came along side of Saul and defended him before the church. Because others were willing to stand with Saul in his time of need, he was able to go on and be a powerful force for the Kingdom of God.

            There are going to be times in our lives when we feel attacked. If we face these times alone, we are vulnerable to being overcome. But if we can face these situations with a partner, we are better able to withstand the attacks. This does not mean that we will also overpower our adversaries. It does mean that we will be less vulnerable and better able to stand our ground.

            Finally, Ecclesiastes concludes that there is strength in numbers. I grew up in an independent church. It was a good church. I received solid biblical teaching and gained a strong foundation for my faith. But, being independent, we didn’t have any ties with other churches. I often felt isolated and confused by this. When I attended seminary, I learned about the Baptist General Conference. The BGC is a group of churches who have bonded together to accomplish common goals. Being a part of the BGC helps me to face the pressures of life better, because I have friends I can lean on.

            Partnership is an essential part of our spiritual journey. When we were called by Christ to follow Him, we were called into a community of faith. As Paul says, we are the body of Christ, and each one of us is part of it. I am a better follower of Jesus, because I am a part of a worshipping community. I am a better follower of Jesus, because others are accompanying me on the journey. Two are better than one!

Thursday, October 2, 2014


“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
Galatians 5:7 NIV

            It was my turn to make a display for our summer missions project to Ukraine. I was to highlight the family I have lived with for several summers, using pictures and short descriptions. It was not a big project. It was the kind of a thing you could do in an evening. But as things go, I got busy and Sunday morning dawned with no display ready. I did get right on it the next week and I had a display ready for the next Sunday. But that experience sparked a thought in my mind.  My life has been punctuated with small failures.

            As I look back over my life, I can honestly say that I have not experienced any major failures. Oh, there was the time I set up the EKG wrong and got the doctor  upset. But he was only running a routine test, and I learned a big lesson from that mistake. But, as I examine my life, there have been a rather large number of small failures that have piled up over the years. Things like promising to pick up milk on my way home from work and then not remembering until I pull into the garage at home.

            In the book of Galatians, Paul wrote to a group of people who were ignoring the small failures in their lives. He was watching as they slipped further and further away from the Lord. In Galatians 1:6-7 he writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- which is no gospel at all.” Then in chapter 3 verse 1 he writes, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” And again in Chapter 5 verse 7, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” I think the overall answer to Paul’s inquiry is “small failures.”

            The Galatians allowed little things to go on that gradually drew them away from the central truths of Christ. It is like being gently carried by the ocean current. At first, you do not notice the drift. But after a while, you realize that you have gotten a lot farther from shore than you had planned. It is the same with small failures. Their effect on our lives seems meaningless at first, but after a while we wake up to the reality that we have drifted a long way from where we want to be. At the end of his letter to the Galatians, Paul gives some insights into dealing with the small failures of life.

            First, small things matter. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Galatians 6:7  (NIV)

            We tend to overlook small things in our lives, because we don’t think they matter. But we are very wrong. Living out in the country, one of the things that we battle constantly is dandelions. We can never seem to get ahead of them. If a person has two or three dandelions in his lawn, he may ignore them, thinking there are only a couple. It is no big deal. But that person would be very wrong. If those dandelions are allowed to go to seed, the next year, where there had been one or two plants, there will be a dozen or more. The same is true in our lives. If we allow small failures to go unchecked, they will multiply. Once small failures set down roots in our lives, they are very hard to get rid of. Paul tells us that small failures are like dandelions. If we allow them to go to seed we will reap a harvest of failure.
            Second, small things have big consequences. “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap a harvest of destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8 (NIV)

            Every year we plant a vegetable garden. One of the things that my wife does not like about gardening is planting seeds. So many of the seeds we plant are tiny. It is hard to get them spaced properly. But out of those small seeds comes a harvest of vegetables and flowers.

            We planted a wildflower mix in a corner of the garden. Some of the seeds were minute, yet that corner of the garden exploded into a jungle of color and aroma. Some of the plants in that patch of garden were four feet tall. Small seeds can produce big results.

            Paul reminds us that our actions in life are like those small seeds. If the seeds we sow are
worldly, we will soon find ourselves in an overgrown weed patch. If the seeds we sow are godly, we can be sure that we will develop a beautiful garden where both God and we will be delighted.

            Last, if we manage the small things well the big things will take care of themselves.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 (NIV)

            Every garden is a little battlefield. It is an ongoing contest between the flowers & vegetables and the weeds. Each is competing for the vital resources in the soil, which they need to grow. In order to assure that the vegetables and flowers are healthy and productive, the weeds have to go. This is not a onetime event. It is a constant battle to keep the weeds out of the garden.

            Sin has a way of creeping into our lives like weeds. It intermingles with the good things in our life. Left unchecked it will choke out the good. Jesus talked about this in the parable of the sower.

            Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear." Matthew 13:3-9 (NIV)

            In order for us to reap a harvest of righteousness, we need to constantly be rooting out the seeds of sin. This is much easier to do, if we deal with sin while it is still small, before it has firmly taken root. We do this by confessing our sin to Christ. Ignoring our sin is not an option. We must deal with it.

            If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9

            Our life, our character, our reputation are built on small things. Small failures and small successes comingle to create the big picture. If we manage the small things well, we can be assured that big picture will turn out alright.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


             “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)

            It is harvest time in southern Minnesota. The fields are full of tall corn with brown, dry leaves, with the last hints of green. The fields are full of short, golden brown bean plants, as the warm winds gradually draw the moisture from their leaves. Some fields have already been harvested; some are not quite ready. Many farmers expect an abundant crop.

            Harvest time is a time filled with anticipation and reward. But we all know that the harvest did not just happen. Much hard work went into producing this crop. The spring began with an abundance of rain, and fields too wet to plant. Throughout the summer there were anxious times when rain was scarce. Farmers did all that they could to work toward a good harvest. Now they are reaping the benefit of their diligent efforts.

            The Bible equates our lives to a farmer’s field. Throughout our lives we plant seeds that we hope will produce a positive harvest. There are times when this seems very difficult; times when the conditions of life seem to work against us. There are times when we see great progress and promise. There are anxious times when we see little progress or promise. Our job, like that of farmers, is to be faithful to the task; to persevere when times are tough and to be diligent about all the small details of life. It is this diligence that will yield a spiritual harvest.

            Sometimes we get tired of dealing with all the small details. We wonder if they really matter. We are tempted to let them slide. But, if we neglect the small things, we often pay a high price.

            I learned that lesson in a very tangible way several years ago. We had asked a young couple to house-sit for us while we were on vacation. Before we left town, I showed the young man how to run the riding mower. We were to be gone for two weeks, so the lawn would need to be mowed at least once. What I failed to stress was that you had to mix oil with the gas when you were running the mower. It was just a little thing, but... when we got home, I discovered a repentant young man, and a ruined mower. He had failed to put oil in the gas and had blown a hole the size of a baseball through the side of the engine. Being diligent about the small things does matter.

            Paul tells us that, if we want to reap a spiritual harvest, we need to be diligent. We need to keep our eyes on the goal and deal with all the details along the way. We cannot just hope for the best, we must diligently work toward the best.

            There are many things that can discourage us along the way. We can become discouraged when we do not perceive significant progress. We can become discouraged when we do not see immediate, tangible results. We can become discouraged when the effort we exert does not seem to be rewarded. At these times, Paul tells us not to become weary of doing good.

            As one person has put it, we can become weary in doing good, but not weary of doing good. I know both sides of that equation intimately. There are times when I get tired while doing the work to which God has called me. I expend much energy in Kingdom work, which then requires times of refreshment and rejuvenation. That kind of weariness has a pleasant taste. It is the weariness of giving all you have and feeling good about it. But, there are also times when I just get tired of putting out the effort. Progress is often slow and costly. I begin to wonder if my efforts are worth all the struggle.

            When I find myself in one of these down times, I need to be reminded of the big picture. There will be a harvest, if I do not give up. Paul reminds us that the harvest will come in its proper time. We get discouraged because we get impatient. But, we cannot rush the harvest. It takes time. If we give up, if we stop short of the goal, we will lose out.

            Every year we plant a garden. The reason that we do this is to produce a crop. We plant tomatoes, beans, onions, squash, cucumbers. What if, in the middle of the summer, we went out to our garden to survey our progress. We look at all of the green plants, but find no fruit. If we decide at that point to give up on the garden, to pull up all the plants, and till the soil, we will lose out on the harvest. Because, the harvest comes, not on our time table, but at the proper time.

            The harvest that we are working for is not measured in bushels of corn or baskets of tomatoes. The harvest we are working toward is measured in lives transformed but the love of Christ. That harvest does not come all at once, like the fall harvest in southern Minnesota. That harvest comes a little at a time, over time. It requires that we faithfully cultivate relationships, so when the time of harvest comes, we are ready.

            Paul challenges us to take advantage of every opportunity we have to do good. I have learned that doing good, in the norm, takes the form of doing small things. Most of the good we do comes in bite sized pieces. I cannot think of anything that I have done that could be called grand or magnificent. My ministry has been a string of small things, done over time. The key is not the size, but the act. Paul says, whenever you have the chance, do good. We often miss more chances than we realize. But, each time we intentionally reach out to another person in the name of Jesus, we plant a seed in our spiritual garden. God, the master gardener, cares for those seeds so that one day we can reap the harvest. But, it is up to us to plant the seeds. If we do not plant the seeds, there will be nothing for God to nurture on our behalf. As Paul says, we need to take every chance we have to plant the seeds of good deeds.

            If we are faithful, the harvest will come. That is a promise from God.