Friday, February 21, 2014


                We are wrapping up our second blizzard and our fourth snow event in the past week. This latest installment of winter wonderland dumped eleven inches of snow and made my driveway impassible. Ironically, the sun is shining brightly, even as the wind continues to howl. It reminds me that we are not as much in control as we think we are.

                For all of our advances in technology, we still cannot control the weather. We can track it, predict it, endure it, even fight it, but we cannot control it. This morning several people labored to clear a path from our houses out to the highway. After lunch, my wife and I took a walk to the mailboxes. The piles of snow on either side of our driveway are chest high. As we turned the corner out of our house, past our windbreak, we were confronted with an undulating series of foot-high snowdrifts. I had been debating about going into town to keep some appointments I had for this afternoon. After our walk, I knew it was fruitless. Even if I could get out of the drive, I would have an incredible time getting back in.

                As human beings, we labor under an illusion of power and control. We have great abilities to reorder our world. We can literally move mountains. Yet, a February blizzard can still bring our activity to a halt. We can move the snow out of our driveways, but we can’t stop it from falling. We can plant a windbreak to shield our house from the wind, but we can’t stop the wind from blowing. We can drill wells and draw water from the earth, but we can’t make it rain to replenish those wells.  

                This latest blizzard reminds me of a conversation that Job had with God. God had allowed Job to go through some monumental trials. He basically lost everything, except his life. He was a righteous man, and could not understand why life had gone so wrong for him. He trusted God, but he also complained to God. I would have preferred for God to give a straight answer to Job, but He didn’t. Instead, God reminded Job about who is ultimately in charge. For four chapters, God pummels Job with unanswerable questions. Here is just a taste. (Job 38:1-30)

                Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
                "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
                "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'?
                "Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.
                "Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
                "What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!

                "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no man lives, a desert with no one in it, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?

                When God was done speaking, all Job could do was sit in humble silence. He had met his match and he knew it. He raised the white flag of surrender, and declared God the winner.

                Humanity, in our arrogance, often boldly declares that we have discovered the secrets of our world. We laugh at God’s interchange with Job, as if it represents a past ignorance. Yet, for all of our advanced knowledge, we still have not mastered the created world, let alone the God who created it. We may be able to explain a few things better than Job, but we still cannot control the elements. A little snow and a strong wind can still shut us down. Like Job, we should recognize the awesome power of God and sit in humble silence before His mighty hand.

Psalm 147:15-18
    He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
    He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes.
    He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast?
    He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


                Today I have come to a greater understanding of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11:28-29.Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

                Over the past two weeks, I have been put in the position to carry other people’s burdens, and the weight is getting very heavy. Last week, I meet with a couple struggling with their relationship. I also met with a family who were facing the death of their loved one. On Tuesday, I led the family through the process of formally saying goodbye. Yesterday, I sat with a couple who are heart-broken over a rebellious child. This morning, just after I arrived at my office, I encountered a young man who is battling cancer. He had tests done yesterday, and the news was not good. I am trying to help a family that is struggling with a child who is significantly questioning his faith. This morning, I heard about a family that may be leaving our church. My heart echoes Paul’s words. I face daily the pressure of my concern for the church. I feel so weak and inadequate to meet the needs presented to me.

                I have begun a preaching series on getting to know Jesus. I began the series with the story of Moses meeting God at the burning bush. In that encounter, God reveals Himself as the “I AM”, the God is always present. That truth, although not new to me, has grabbed my heart. I am seeking to live daily in the reality and the presence of the God who is. I am discovering that Satan doesn’t like it when we get in tune with Christ. So he starts throwing those flaming arrows at us that he is so famous for. I am feeling their impact.

                A men’s group that I lead is going through the video series “Wild at Heart.” One of the underlying messages of that study is that every man struggles with the question, Do I have what it takes? Right now Satan is throwing that question at me. The answer that he is whispering in my ear is, no you don’t. It is a lie, but a powerful lie.

                I confess that I am feeling weak right now, very weak. But I also know that Christ works through my weakness. I am holding onto the promise that God gave to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. 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.

                In Ephesians 6, Paul makes it clear that we are in a spiritual battle. In order to meet the challenge we need spiritual weapons.

                Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:10-18

                I am doing my best to equip myself with God’s armor. But right now, I feel like the best I can do is just stand. The weight of ministry is great, but the strength of Christ is greater. So I will continue to seek him to get me through.

Matthew 11:28-30
    "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

                Many children have been taught a simple prayer to say before they go to bed. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take.” We don’t often think about it, but sleep and death have much in common. The Bible often refers to death as sleep.

                In one sense, sleep is the ultimate act of trust. When we go to sleep, we let go of conscious life. We close our eyes and trust that we will open them in the morning. We are, for the most part, unconscious of our surroundings while we sleep. We have no control over anything that is happening around us.

                Sleep is a very important aspect of our lives. We cannot survive long without sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause physical and emotional trauma. On one occasion, while I was in college, I stayed up all night studying. (Not a great idea.) The next morning I made my way to my first class. I was the first one to arrive. I slumped into a seat and just stared at the desk in front of me. As I stared mindlessly, the desk began to smoke. The smoke emerged from the top of the desk and rolled over the sides onto the floor. I watched in fascination as the smoke enveloped the desk. Then the door to the classroom opened and the smoke instantly disappeared. I was hallucinating because of a lack of sleep.

                God designed sleep as a way to revitalize our body and our spirit. During sleep the muscles of our body relax and repair. The body goes to work rebuilding itself. Energy is shifted away from voluntary motion to internal activity. Not only does our body get to work, so does our mind. Scientists have determined that one of the functions of dreaming is to help us process all of the information we have taken in during the day. We have all had the experience of struggling to figure something out. After a good night’s sleep, the answer seems to magically emerge. Our mind has been sorting and decoding information all night. Sleep is essential to our overall well-being.

                So what does sleep have to do with death? The Bible often refers to death as sleep, because for the believer, it is a temporary loss of consciousness. Physical death is the birth canal into eternal life. We go to sleep on this earth and we awaken in the presence of Christ.

                We can approach physical death either in a state of trust or anxiety. For those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, their approaching death is a fearful thing. They do everything in their power to fight against it, right up to their last breath. For them, death is not slipping into sleep, but descending into unknown darkness. Many people are afraid that there is nothing on the other side of death. Therefore they hang onto this life, even when it is painful and ugly.

                On the other hand, those who know Christ can face death with confidence. It is not that we don’t value life, it is that we can face death without fear. Jesus has parted the curtain of death for us. As the time of his death approached, he comforted his disciples with the truth that physical death is not the end of the story.

                    "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:1-3

                Jesus parted the curtain of death and revealed that there is a place of rest on the other side. That place of rest is entered through placing our trust in Christ. Thomas asked Jesus how to get to the Father’s house. Jesus assured him that it was through faith in Him.

                    Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:5-6

                For the believer in Christ, death is the ultimate restorative sleep. All the hurts, wounds and damage that has been inflicted upon us in this life are repaired for eternity. The anxiety, questions and doubts that often plague us are wiped away. We are welcomed into an eternal home that can never be taken away from us. What we see as a tragic goodbye on this side of death is really a joyous welcome home on the other side.

                There have been times when I struggled with the thought, what if I go to sleep and never wake up. As followers of Christ, we don’t have to be anxious about that. We can sleep in peace, because we know that no matter what happens we are secure in Christ.

                Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


                Recently I heard an interview on National Public Radio with a man who has written a book about dealing with our anxieties. He talked about all of the phobias people have. It seems like there is a phobia for almost everything. I found a list on the internet of 530 different ones.

                The author, who suffers from several phobias himself, talked about ways to overcome our anxieties. He said that one of the factors that helps people deal with anxiety is the quality of resilience. It seems that some people are genetically disposed to being resilient, but that everyone can grow in their ability to be resilient.

                If there was anyone who demonstrated the quality of resilience, it was the Apostle Paul. He faced an enormous amount of pressure in his life. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul chronicles his many misadventures.    Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 2 Cor. 11:23-29

                From a human perspective, we would not fault Paul if he developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yet, Paul not only survived, he thrived. He summarized his ability to handle whatever life threw at him in Philippians 4:12-13. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

                As followers of Christ, we have the resources to be resilient in life. These resources don’t come from us, but from the Holy Spirit living within us. We all face challenges in life, but we do not have to be overcome by them. We can persevere because of our relationship with Christ.

                For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:6-10

                I want to remind you of some of the resources we can tap into to help us be resilient in life.
We can have resilience because we know we are not alone in the journey of life.
    Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
                When Joshua was faced with the task of taking the people of Israel into the Promised Land, he felt overwhelmed. God assured him that He would not go alone. God would go with him. When we face the challenges of life, we do not face them alone. Christ has promised to always go with us into each challenge.

We can have resilience because we know the ultimate end of our story.
    Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26
                Admiral James Stockdale, a prominent POW during the Vietnam War, was able to persevere through his ordeal in Hanoi, because he never gave up his faith that he would prevail in the end. We know with certainty that we will prevail. No matter what the world throws at us, we are secure in Christ. We know the ultimate end of the story.

We can have resilience because we have the Holy Spirit within us.
    You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 1 John 4:4
                When we put our faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives. He empowers us to face the challenges of life with confidence.

We can have resilience because we know that God works through our weakness.
    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 12:9-10
                Paul faced a physical challenge that dominated his life. He pleaded with God to take it away, but God refused. Instead, God told Paul that he would give him the strength to overcome his weakness. We all face challenges in life that make us feel weak. We are the most vulnerable when we try to face these challenges on our own strength. Our strength is quickly depleted, but God demonstrates the extent of his power through our weakness.

                As followers of Christ, we have an inexhaustible source of resilience that can bring us through every trial. Paul reminds us that, no matter what the situation is that we face, we can overcome through Christ.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28