Friday, March 28, 2014


                Sometimes, I just don’t get it. There are so many things in our world that don’t make sense to me. Others seem to understand, but that understanding eludes me. I don’t understand tattoos and piercings. I know that it is a part of the ethos of this current generation, but I just don’t see the appeal. I don’t get the obsession with cell phones. I see more and more people becoming a slave to their phone. It seems to be permanently attached to their ear. I resisted cell phones for a long time, because I didn’t want to be that accessible. We installed an answering machine at our house so that we don’t have to answer the phone every time it rings. There are so many aspects of our current culture that truly puzzle me. I know that I am old-fashioned, a kind of dinosaur in some ways, but sometimes I just don’t get it.

                I was reading in Mark’s gospel today and landed in chapter 8. Jesus had just performed a second miraculous feeding. He and his disciples jumped into a boat and began heading for the far shore of the lake. Let’s pick up the story there.

                The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. "Be careful," Jesus warned them. "Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod."
                They discussed this with one another and said, "It is because we have no bread."
                Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" "Twelve," they replied.
                "And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" They answered, "Seven."
                He said to them, "Do you still not understand?" Mark 8:14-21

                Jesus was trying to instruct his disciples about the negative influence of the Pharisees. They missed the point completely. Not only did they misunderstand about the bread, they still didn’t understand Jesus. Jesus’ words had to sting. Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?

                Those words hit home for me. I have been a believer most of my life. I have been a pastor for the past 30 years. Yet, there are still times that I just don’t get it. I read the Bible and the words seem foreign to me. I am often puzzling over bread, when Jesus wants to show me some spiritual truth. I am amazed how many times in the Gospels Jesus chides his disciples for being slow on the up-take. Time and time again, Jesus teaches the crowd with a parable, and as soon as the disciples can get Jesus alone, they plead with him to explain it to them. “We don’t get it, Jesus. What was that all about?”

                I know how the disciples felt. Many times, when I read the Bible, I feel so dull. I can read the words, but I miss the meaning. I plead with Jesus to explain it to me. There are many times of enlightenment; many times when things suddenly become crystal clear. A passage that I have read a thousand times, suddenly comes alive. God opens my eyes to some insight that allows me to genuinely connect with the scriptures. Then the fog settles again.

                I am so thankful that Jesus is patient with me, as He was with his disciples. He never gave up on them, even though they frustrated Him at times with their inability to comprehend. I am sure that I frustrate Jesus often. I am slow to learn the lessons that He wants to teach me, so He patiently tells me again and again, until the light goes on. I can almost hear Jesus’ words, Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?

                I find great comfort in the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 103.
    Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
    Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
    The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
    He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:
    The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
    He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
    For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
    As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
    As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
    But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children-- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
    The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
    Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.
    Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.
    Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion.  Praise the Lord, O my soul.

                There are many things in our world that I just don’t fully understand. But, I know the One who understands all things, and I will put my trust in Him.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


                I was reading in the gospel of Mark this morning and came upon the following story. That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" Mark 4:35-41

                We are living in very stormy times. Most of the moral and ethical moorings that have kept us relatively stable have been cut loose. It feels like we are floating free on a stormy sea, being tossed here and there by increasingly larger and more ominous waves. It is all too easy for us to yield to an overwhelming fear and a sense of hopelessness. At times, we even feel abandoned by God.

                The disciples were overwhelmed by the storm they were in. In a panic, they awakened Jesus and challenged his concern for them. Jesus got up, calmed the storm, and then confronted his disciples with stinging words. "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

                As I face the many storms of life, I can identify with the disciples. I often feel powerless to deal with the circumstances swirling around me. More than once, I have felt like I was about to drown. I have pleaded with God to calm the storm; to take away the discomfort and anxiety. As I read the above passage this morning, Jesus’ words to his disciples hit home; in fact they stung. Do you still have no faith?

                The true measure of our faith is not when everything is going well, it is in the midst of the storm. Do we really trust Jesus, when the waves are crashing over the bow of our tiny ship? Do we trust Jesus to guide us through the storm, or do we panic and take matters into our own hands?

                There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a moral and ethical crisis. Every day the storm becomes more intense. Every day we see more and more believers abandoning ship. Now, more than ever, we need to trust Jesus to see us through the storm. Over and over in the Bible, God tells us to not be afraid. Instead, He calls us to trust Him fully, especially when things are black and we cannot see what is ahead.

                When Joshua was perched on the edge of the Jordan River, ready to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land, Satan attacked him with a bout of fear. At that moment, God spoke words of challenge and encouragement to Joshua; words that we need to hear again today. “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

                Jesus has called His church to be light in an ever darkening world. He has called us to stand firm and not give in or give up. We can trust that He will not abandon us. He has already won the final victory. Through the Holy Spirit we have the power within us to stand against the storm.

                I have often found strength in Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4.
    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. 2 Corinthians 4:6-9

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

                As the storm continues to build around us, will we live in fear, or will we really trust Jesus?

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


Tuesday, March 25, 2014


                With the promise of spring, I have been thinking ahead to warmer weather and outdoor activities. Soon the snow will be gone and the grass will turn green again. Trees and flowers will begin to bloom. Already, I have seen the activity of the birds and heard they spring songs. There is a growing anticipation of new life.

                I recently preached a message on John 15, where Jesus made that statement, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” As I was studying, I came across some information about the care of apple trees. I happen to have two apple trees in my yard. Last year, one of them produced a bumper crop of apples. As I read the article about the care of apple trees, I realized that I need to get busy to prepare my trees now, so they can be fruitful this fall. I need to prune my trees, so that more of their energy goes into bearing fruit and less into branches and leaves. I also need to protect my trees from insects that can damage the apples. If I am not faithful, my trees will be fruitful, but the fruit will be bad.

                In my devotions today, I read Marks’s account of the parable of the sower. It is found in Mark 4:3-8."Listen! 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, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times."

                There is much that could be said about this parable. What caught my eye was the third clause. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. This brought me back to the idea that as a believer in Christ, I am responsible to be both faithful and fruitful. In one sense, I can be faithful, casting my seed generously about, but be unfruitful. If I am not careful about how and where I cast my seed, it may produce little or nothing. Unless the soil is carefully prepared, the seed will fail. I know this first hand from trying to grow grass in my lawn. Just scattering seed, without removing the weeds and adding topsoil to the clay, is not productive.

                I was also struck by the reality that I might be very fruitful, but be producing the wrong kind of fruit. If I neglect my apple trees, they will produce fruit, but it will be of poor quality. If I neglect my front lawn, it will be very fruitful; it will be covered in yellow dandelions. If I neglect the spiritual soil of my life, my fruit will be superficial at best.

                Sometimes, as church leaders, we put so much focus on being fruitful, that we fail to evaluate the quality of our fruit. I remember hearing about a church, many years ago, that set a goal of having the largest Sunday School attendance in the country. So on the appointed day, the pastor stood on the roof of the church and dropped coins for the children to claim. They met their goal, but what kind of fruit did they produce? We often invest in programs and gimmicks that promise to increase our attendance, but do little to produce quality fruit.

                When it comes to producing good fruit, we need to be both faithful and fruitful. In order to produce the best grapes, a vinedresser must cut away 2/3 of the blossoms. In order to produce good apples, a person has to prune away much of the growth of the tree. As followers of Christ, we need to focus on producing the best fruit that we can, not just as much fruit as we can. When we are both faithful and fruitful, we will produce fruit that is of good quality and that will last. 

Friday, March 21, 2014


                I took my first, spring, outdoor run yesterday afternoon. If you are not a runner, you may not understand how freeing that was. I have tried to continue to run during the winter on a treadmill in my basement. It exercises the legs, but doesn’t do much for the soul. Running inside is confining. The treadmill, not I, is in control of my run. It determines how fast I run, how far I run and the conditions of my run. There is no doubt that it is a good workout, it just isn’t very fulfilling.

                Yesterday was different. The air was crisp, with just a slight breeze. The familiar path was almost devoid of snow, although I had to hurdle a couple of persistent snow piles. It felt great to stretch my legs to full stride (unfortunately, not quite as full as in my younger days). As I ran, I was able to think and pray. God brought several things to mind that I was able to contemplate as the barren, snow-covered fields slowly passed by. When I returned home, I felt refreshed, in both body and soul.

                During the winter, we are mostly confined to the indoors. There are good aspects to this; nights in front of the fire, reading good books, etc. But during the winter, the days are shorter and the weather throws many obstacles in your way. We have had an above average amount of snow. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big problem, except this was the year my snow blower broke. Shoveling snow is much harder work then running the snow blower. Our driveway narrowed with each snow fall, increasing the height of the snow banks on either side, and adding to the feeling of being confined. Now, as the temperatures slowly, ever so slowly, rise and the snow melts, there is an increasing feeling of freedom.

                Lately, I have been running my life’s race in a confined space. In many ways, I have been in a winter season. The challenges of ministry have been piling up around me. At times, I have felt like the circumstances of life have been dictating how I run. As pressures have mounted, I have felt the energy and life being squeezed out of my soul. Yesterday, the hope of spring reappeared.

                I had the opportunity to meet with a young pastor who is new to our community. As we talked, I instantly recognized a kindred spirit. His words and emotions were a reflection of another young pastor who arrived in this community 26 years ago. I was uplifted by his honestly and humility.

                As I reflect on the events of yesterday, and how they have affected my spirit, I am reminded of words very familiar to me, found in the book of Hebrews 12.
                Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

                Spring is arriving! It is time to throw off the constraints of winter, and run with freedom the race that God has set before us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the goal of our faith, so that we will not give in to weariness and lose heart.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Breaking Through the Fog

                As I look out my window this morning, the parking lot is shrouded in a thick fog. I was surprised by the fog when I left my house, although I should not have been. There is much moisture in the air, as the many snow piles slowly melt in the warming temperatures. That moisture condenses in the cool air, blanketing the world in a white, opaque mist.  

                In some ways, I like foggy days. There is something mystical and mysterious about a world covered in fog. But fog can be very dangerous. A number of years ago a young mother with small children was killed when she collided with a school bus on a very foggy stretch of highway. I was driving up from Iowa once, when I was engulfed in a thick ice fog. Visibility went from clear to non-existent. Almost immediately, I came across cars in the ditch and multiple car crashes. We counted close to 20 such incidents as we inched our way north. Then we emerged from the fog and everything was clear again. It was amazing and very scary.

                I grew up with old horror movies. All of them used fog to portray foreboding and danger. The hero or heroine usually found themselves alone in the fog, with tense music in the background. You just knew that at any moment something was going to reach out and grab them. The old Sherlock Holmes movies were routinely set in a London shrouded by dense fog. The lesson I learned was that bad things happen in the fog.

                We live in a world that is shrouded in a spiritual fog. Paul describes this fog in 2 Corinthians 4:4. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Satan has done a masterful job of filling our world with spiritual fog. It is thick and confusing. It keeps people from seeing the light of Christ.

                Satan has created a thick moral fog. Today, morality is based on what feels good, and not on what is morally right. God has clearly stated that our sexuality is a gift from Him that is to be exercised and enjoyed within the bounds of marriage. Today, sex is a party game. We no long are disturbed by people living together before marriage or having casual sex with (sometimes) total strangers. We have reduced our sexuality to a physical, biological act, devoid of real purpose and meaning. We have opened the floodgates of sexual expression. Anyone who stands up for a biblical view of sexuality is labeled as a prude, a bigot or a subversive.

                The Bible clearly blows away this fog and shows it for what it really is; a distortion and misuse of God’s perfect design.  
                Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.
                Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
                Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:24-32

                Satan has also created a spiritual fog. For a time, the truth of the Bible shone brightly in many parts of our world. It was recognized as a guide to spiritual truth. The reality that Jesus is the one and only Savior of the world held sway. Then Satan turned on the fog machine and everything changed. Today, people are excited about spirituality, but not about Jesus. We are routinely told that there are many ways to connect with God and that there are many gods with which to connect. We are encouraged to create our own personalized belief system, while accepting everyone else’s personalized belief system as just as valid. To stand on the Jesus’ claim to be the exclusive Way, Truth and Life, is to be seen as intolerant and misguided. Truth has become relative. Everyone is invited to create their own truth.

                Again the Bible blows away this fog and shows how misguided it really is.
                The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,  since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
                For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1:18-23

                Fairly soon, the sun will rise high enough in the sky to begin to burn away the fog outside. Already things are becoming brighter and clearer. The only way to burn away the spiritual fog in our lives is to come into the light of the Son. As we allow Jesus to shine the light of truth into our hearts and lives, the fog of Satan with clear. But Satan does not give up easily. He will persist day after day to cloud our minds, hearts and souls. Daily we need to invite Christ to shine his light into our lives.

                This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." John 3:19-21

Saturday, March 15, 2014


                Fear is a powerful emotion. It can motivate us or immobilize us. It can force us to grow or cripple us. We live in a world filled with fear. If we allow fear to dominate our lives, we will live in reactionary mode. If we face our fear, we can overcome it.

                Satan uses fear to attack us, and to get us to draw back from engaging in our world. If we live in fear of the influences of our culture, we will try to isolate ourselves. We will build a wall of protection that can only keep fear at bay. It cannot eliminate our fear.

                We can live in fear of what other people think. We allow them to dictate who we are and how we act. Instead of living out our unique gifts and abilities, we seek to conform to others opinions; to win their approval. This too is a trap. Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. Proverbs 29:25

                We can live in fear of failure, which will inhibit our willingness to take positive risks. When we are afraid to fail, we make it impossible to truly succeed. Fear handicaps us.

                Above all, fear is evidence of a lack of trust in God. Fear is born out of uncertainty and a sense of having no control. When we live in fear, we are really saying that we cannot trust God to see us through. We all experience a kind of biological fear that is normal and healthy. Satan can take our biological fear and turn it into spiritual fear. As followers of Jesus, we do not have to live there.

                Paul reminds us that Christ replaces our spirit of fear with a spirit of confidence and hope.  For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Romans 8:15-16 We can trust our heavenly Father to watch over us and care for us.

                When Timothy was struggling with a sense of apprehension and fear, Paul wrote to him to encourage him not to give it. Unhealthy fear does not come from God, but from Satan. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7

                The antidote to fear is to rest in the love of Christ. The more that we recognize and embrace the depth of Christ’s love for us, the less room fear has to play havoc in our lives. As John says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18 When we trust the love of Christ, we can face the challenges of life with confidence. We can risk getting outside of our comfort zone. We can take a stand, even all alone, if we have to. Our confidence is in the strength and power of Christ, and not in our own strength.

                We live in a messed up world. We are confronted with threats from every side. But I refuse to live in fear. No matter what happens in this world, I am secure in Christ. In Christ, I will take my stand.

Romans 8:37-39

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014


                Our small group has been studying the book of Jeremiah. It has been challenging on many levels. It is uncomfortable wading through all of the declarations of doom and gloom. In Jeremiah 12, the prophet complains to God about the difficult path that he had been called to follow. In verse 5, God responds with these words."If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” Jeremiah is only at the starting line of his ministry. God is challenging him to man-up. In essence, God is saying, if you think this is bad, what are you going to do when things get really rough?

                There are some people who enjoy conflict for conflict’s sake. Most of us don’t. We would prefer the safe, comfortable path. The reality is that life doesn’t work out that way. As much as we try to avoid conflict it will always find us. So if we become defeated when the conflicts are small, what will we do when things really heat up?

                Nowhere in the Bible does it instruct us to go looking for trouble. In fact, Paul (who always seemed to be in trouble) tells us to reduce conflict and seek peace. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:17-18 Conflict for the sake of conflict is counter-productive.

                Jesus warns us that even if we do everything right, we are going to face conflict. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33 The real question for us is how are we going to handle conflict when it comes. The answer, in part, comes in Hebrews 12.

                Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:7-11

                God uses the conflicts of our lives to refine us. Some of the hardships that we face are of our own making. We make poor choices and face the consequences. God uses these to awaken us to our vulnerability. Some of the hardships that we face are caused by other people. God uses these to strengthen our ability to forgive and treat others with compassion. Many of the hardships that we face are caused by the fact that we live in a fallen, sinful world. God uses these to refine and strengthen our faith in Him.

                God has given us three important resources to turn to in times of conflict in our lives. The first is the Holy Spirit. As followers of Christ, the Spirit lives within us. He gives us strength that goes beyond our human abilities. When we are at the end of our rope, He is there to hold onto us. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. Romans 8:26-27

                God has given us His word, which has the power to heal our soul. The word of God isn’t an answer book for every question of life. It is a source of strength and comfort. It calls us back to Christ; the one who is sufficient for all of our needs. It reminds us that our little piece of the story is not the whole story. It assures us that God has not and will not abandon us. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

                God has given us one another. Sometimes we all need a Jesus with skin on. Christ has provided His body, the Church, as a place of refuge and strength. When we are feeling weak, we can go to a trusted brother or sister in Christ and find strength. Our faith becomes real when we share actively and intimately in one another’s lives. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

                By nature, I am a conflict avoider. Over the years, I have learned that just avoiding conflict is not realistic or even healthy. Instead, I have learned that I have to face conflict head on. It makes me uncomfortable. I feel the urge to run away. But, I must stand my ground and trust God to guide me through the storm. 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 6:13

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


                The pain started on Friday and progressed throughout the day. I dismissed it as indigestion. It would go away after a good night’s sleep. It did not. The next day the pain was still there; at times even more intense. I worked my way through the morning, fulfilling my obligations. I went home a little after 2:00 PM, ready to give in and consult the doctor.

                As we pulled up to Urgent Care, things looked eerily quiet. The parking lot was empty. My first thought was, great, they’re already closed. Fortunately, I was wrong. We walked into the empty waiting room and the cheerful receptionist signed me in. In short order, I was being examined. The doctor ruled out some of my fears, and prescribed a course of strong anti-biotics.

                Sunday morning finally dawned, after a rather sleepless night. I felt drained and the pain was still with me. I crawled out of bed, dressed, and headed off to church. Throughout the early hours of the morning, as I went through my last minute preparations, the pain was consistent. As I walked down the hall, to pray with the Worship Team, I wondered how I would make it through the morning.

                As I walked off the platform after the third and final service of the morning, I realized that I had not experienced the pain while I was preaching. I had some mild discomfort between services, but nothing significant. I walked back to my office, opened the door and was seized with a cramp. At that moment, I acknowledged that God had given me the strength I needed for the time I needed it.

                The Apostle Paul faced far greater distress than I am facing. He pleaded with God to take it away, but God refused. Instead, God gave Paul the gift of grace. Here is his story.

                To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

                God used Paul’s weakness to make him even stronger. Paul came to realize that no matter what he would face, the grace of God was strong enough to overcome it. He did not have to fear the future. He could be bold, and he was very bold. Paul refused to allow the obstacles before him to stop him from pressing on toward the goal of serving Christ. So, near the end of his life, in prison, with his death on the horizon, he could still live with confidence.

                I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
                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 3:10-14

                I am learning, first hand, the lesson of God’s grace. My pain has not gone away, even though I have prayed for that. My sleep has been restless, leaving me feeling tired in the morning. To be honest, I feel lousy, but I know that God will give me the grace to do what I need to do this week for Him. I will continue to take my anti-biotics, watch what I eat, and try to rest. But my strength comes from the Lord. And Lord willing, I will stand in the pulpit next Sunday and proclaim His truth for His glory. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


                Last week I had the privilege of escaping the Minnesota winter and basking in the warmth of Arizona. Just to put things into perspective, when we left Arizona it was 70 degrees. When we arrived in Minnesota three hours later, it was minus 12 degrees. What a contrast!

                One morning, we went out for breakfast at a local restaurant in Scottsdale. As we were waiting for our food, I glanced out of the window and saw a man, dressed in a suit, standing outside. What made him stand out was that he had an ear-bud in one ear. I commented that he looked like a secret service agent. A few minutes later, I saw another man leading a dog around each of the cars parked beside the restaurant. My first thought was that he was looking for drugs. I thought that was odd, given the location. Several minutes later, the mystery came clear. A cavalcade of police motorcycles roared into the parking lot, followed by several black cars and more motorcycles. The cars pulled up to the front of the restaurant and out stepped the Vice-President of the United States, Joe Biden. He entered the restaurant to the excited applause of the assembled diners.  

                Whatever your political bent is, the arrival of someone in such a high position causes a certain amount of awe and wonder. There is a thrill just being in the same space. It is exciting to be able to tell others that you have actually seen the Vice-President in person.

                There is a person far greater than the Vice-President who makes his arrival in our lives on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we often fail to recognize his presence. We go on with the routine of life as if he were not there. Yet this person doesn’t want to be gawked at from a distance. This person wants to sit down and have breakfast with us. This person is Christ.

                There is a passage in the book of Revelation that we often use for evangelistic purposes. Yet, in its context, it is written to believers (as well as unbelievers). It is Revelation 3:20.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Jesus says that He is standing at the door of our life, seeking entrance, so that He can have fellowship with us. He is just waiting for us to open the door. It is like the Vice-President standing at the door of that restaurant, waiting to come in, but no one noticed or opened the door for him. How ridiculous would that be? Yet, Jesus stands at the door of our life, and waits for us to open it to Him.

                I have been actively, intentionally living with the reality of the presence of God for the past couple of months. I was stirred by God’s words to Moses, when Moses asked Him what His name was, and He declared “I Am.” He is the God who is always present. We don’t have to go searching for Him. He is not hiding. He is not ensconced in a high castle, inaccessible to common folk. He is the God we meets us at the breakfast table every morning.

                One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 139. It reminds us that we are never far away from God’s presence. It is both a comfort and a challenge to me. It is a comfort, because I know that no matter what the circumstances are, God has not abandoned me. It is a challenge, because I cannot hide from God’s presence. I cannot live as if He doesn’t exist, or doesn’t know what I am doing. God is the ever present one.

                Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. Psalm 139:7-12

                When Vice-President Biden entered that restaurant, there was no way that I could have gotten close to him. He was surrounded by secret service agents and police. Had I tried to approach him uninvited, I would have been blocked. I could observe him from a distance, but not up close and personal. Not so with Christ.

                When Jesus walked this earth, he consistently made time for the people trapped on the fringes of the crowd; the women plagued with bleeding, the blind man on the side of the road, the leper who was forced to stay at a safe distance. His disciples tried to shield Jesus from the common people, but he would have none of it. Instead he took the initiative to reach out to all who desired to come close to him. He still does.

                Paul reminds us that the love of Christ is always available to us. There are not barriers that can separate us from the God who is.

                Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39

                I confess that it was exciting being that close to the Vice-President (even if I am not a fan of his). Somehow I need to cultivate that same excitement at the reality that I am in the presence of the Creator of the universe. I don’t have to admire Him from a distance. He wants to sit at my breakfast table and share life with me.