Friday, May 23, 2014


                There was an incident recently, in our town, that resulted in some significant injuries to a young man. In an attempt to piece together what actually took place, the police asked for eyewitnesses to come forward and tell about what they saw. Eyewitness accounts are often used to verify what happened or to fill in details that are not readily obvious.

                As I was reading in the Gospel of John today, I ran across a statement that made me stop and think. It is in John 19:33-35; part of the account of Jesus’ death on the cross. Here it is.

                But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

                Did you see it? “The man who saw it has given testimony.” John wants us to know that this account was verified by an eyewitness.

                Many people struggle with the validity of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. They question if they are accurate or just made up to support a religious system. If a person will look closely, they will discover the telltale signs of an eyewitness account. Some of these signs are obvious, like John 19. Some are more subtle. But they are there throughout the gospels. Together they build a solid case for the truth of the gospel accounts. Here are some things to look for.

                There are details given that do not add to the story line. They could be left out and not change anything. The only explanation for them is that they really happened. Keep in mind that literature of the first century is not like literature of the 21st century. Today, when we write a story, we put in much detail to create an environment for the story and to keep the reader engaged. In the 1st century, this was not the case. Writing was more plain and to the point. That is what makes these extra details stand out. One of my favorite examples of this is found in Mark 14:51-52. It is a part of the account of Jesus’ arrest in the garden.

                A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

                Another thing to look for is references to specific people, by name, who are not primary characters in the story. There is only one reason to name these people. They were real and they were known by those who would be reading the story. We expect to see the names of the disciples or prominent people, but not the names of people in the crowd. Here is a telling example.

                A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. Mark 15:21

                Notice that Simon is very specifically identified. He was from Cyrene and he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. The story would have proceeded well if it just said a man from Cyrene, but it doesn’t. Instead, Mark wanted people to know exactly which man from Cyrene this was. We can assume that the readers of this gospel knew Alexander and Rufus. There would be no other reason to include them.

                The obvious thing to look for are straightforward eyewitness testimonies. I have already included the account in John 19, but there are others as well. There are three that stand out for me as bedrock. One is by John, one is by Peter and one is by Paul. Each claims to be eyewitnesses to the truth of Jesus.

                That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
1 John 1:1

                We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 2 Peter 1:16-18

                For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

                We have a pair of Barred Owls living in the ravine by our house. We can hear them calling to one another, by they are hard to see, because they blend in so well with their surroundings. This morning, as I was eating my breakfast, I looked out the window and saw the owl sitting in a tree in our front lawn. I was able to get a long distance picture of it before it flew away. But I assure you that it was there. I saw it with my own eyes.

                We can trust the accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, because the people who were there have recorded for us their eyewitness accounts. They saw him with their own eyes.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


                Let’s be very honest. Sometimes serving Christ and His church is downright hard. It can become a grind, a burden and a drain. There are days when I really do not want to get up and go to my office. I have had stretches of time when I was reluctant to open my e-mail, because of what I was afraid would be there. There always seems to be another crisis to handle, another conflict to manage, another assignment to be fulfilled. There are days when it feels like it would just be easier to walk away. But, when God has called you into a place of ministry, walking away is not an option.

                Our small group is wrapping up a study in the book of Jeremiah this week. If anyone ever understood the challenges of ministry, it was Jeremiah. In the first place, he did not ask to be God’s spokesman to a rebellious people. In the opening chapter of the book of Jeremiah, God calls him to be his spokesman.

                 The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." "Ah, Sovereign Lord," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child." But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the Lord. Jeremiah 1:4-8

                Jeremiah felt completely inadequate to take up role to which God called him. I fully understand that feeling. I had a feeling that God was calling me into His service early in my life, but I spent many years running away from that call. I tried various ways to reshape the call to be more comfortable for me. God would not relent. Instead, He used my personal insecurities to move me to the very place He wanted me to be.

                God assured Jeremiah that he would not be going into battle alone. God himself would go with Jeremiah and direct him. I had to come to the place where I accepted, not only God’s call, but God’s empowerment. I was not going to do this alone. God was going to work through me.

                Throughout Jeremiah’s ministry, he was faced with many challenges and obstacles. The message that God gave to Jeremiah was not a feel-good message. The people did not want to hear it. He faced ridicule and abuse from those to whom God sent him. At one point, Jeremiah had had enough. He took his complaint to God.

                You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.
                "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 12:1-2, 5

                Most of us have been in the place Jeremiah was in. We have worked hard to follow Christ and serve Him to the best of our ability. Our efforts do not seem to bear much fruit. We look at those who disregard Christ, and they seem to have it made. We get discouraged and begin to complain to God.

                God did not let Jeremiah off of the hook. Instead, He told Jeremiah that what he had been experiencing was only the beginning. There would be harder tests ahead. But God renewed His commitment to be with Jeremiah and strengthen him. God is not in the business of making our lives easier. He is in the business of refining us and equipping us for His service. We will face hard challenges, but we will prevail, if we keep trusting Him.

                Fast forward to the end of Jeremiah’s story. All that Jeremiah predicted came true. Jerusalem was besieged and fell to the Babylonians. The city was destroyed and the people were taken away to exile in Babylon. When the city fell, the king of Babylon singled out Jeremiah. He honored Jeremiah for following God’s commands and let Jeremiah go free. Jeremiah was vindicated! Or so it seemed. As soon as the Babylonians left, there was trouble. Jeremiah was forcibly carried off to Egypt with another rebellious group of Israelites, who refused to listen to the word of the Lord.

                The truth is that the spiritual battle that we are engaged in will not end for us until God takes us home to be with Him. As long as we are on this earth, the enemy will find ways to disrupt, discourage and disillusion God’s servants. The Apostle Paul fully understood this, but he was able to rise above it. He saw each battle as one more opportunity to serve Christ and advance His kingdom. Paul was able to look beyond the current situation to the ultimate victory that is ours in Christ Jesus.

                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. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
                It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
                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 4:7-18

                Life never got easier for Jeremiah, or Paul, or for those of us who seek to serve Christ with all of our hearts. But we know that one day we will stand in Christ’s presence and we will hear those ultimate words of commendation. “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your salvation.”

Friday, May 9, 2014


                I am working on a couple of projects in my workshop right now. I am working on building a new bedroom set. I have two nightstands completed. I have several pieces cut out for the headboard and footboard for the bed. I also have a toy dump truck almost completed and I have started to cut out the pieces for a toy backhoe.

                I often have several projects going at the same time. I really enjoy the process of cutting the pieces to size and fitting them together. What I don’t enjoy is the staining and finishing. First, I have to sand everything to a very fine surface. Then I apply the stain, which takes 24 hours to fully dry. Then I apply several coats of clear finish. Each coat takes several hours to dry and requires more sanding. It is a slow, tedious process that keeps me from doing anything else in my shop.

                As a pastor, I have a number of projects going at the same time in my ministry. Some of these are long-term projects and some are more immediate. Some are very time sensitive, while others are very important, but not urgent. Like working with wood, there are parts of this process that I enjoy and parts that I get bogged down on. I often stumble when I get to the finishing process. Although I have done it numerous times, I still struggle with getting a project from paper to implementation. Unfortunately there are some projects that slip through the cracks and remain unfinished for far too long.

                As I was engaged in my devotions this morning, God drew my attention to Paul’s words in Philippians 1:3-6. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

                It would be fair to say that Paul had many projects going at the same time. God had called him to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. He took his calling very seriously. Paul traveled far and wide, sharing the good news of the gospel, and planting new churches. He did not do this all on his own. God gave him traveling companions who assisted him, as well as gifted new believers in each town and village. Paul often got a new church going and then moved on to another town. These new churches were like the beginning stages of my woodworking projects. Paul would identify some key leaders, give them some instructions and then expect them to begin assembling the parts. He would check back regularly to see how they were progressing. At times he had to undo what had been done and start over. At other times, all that was required was some strategic shaping and sanding.

                I subscribe to Wood magazine. Every month, it provides me with detailed plans for a number of projects. It was from that magazine that I got the plans for the toy dump truck and for the bedroom set. The plans tell me what I need, how to cut and shape the pieces and how to put it all together. Without the plans, it would be far more difficult. But the plans are only writing and pictures on paper. I have to take those plans and transform them into tangible results.

                Paul knew that God has a master plan for redeeming a lost world. God had revealed those plans to Paul, and Paul, in turn, revealed them to others. It was up to Paul and the leaders of these baby churches to take those plans and turn them into tangible results. But unlike the plans in Wood magazine, God was (and is) an active participant in the process. The plans are His and ultimately the end product is His as well. What God starts, God finishes. There are no unfinished projects with God. The reality of that is what kept Paul energized. He knew that he could not accomplish the enormous task God had given to him alone. Only if God worked through him, could Paul see things brought to completion. Paul was able to live with confidence, because he knew that success did not depend totally on him.

                As a pastor, I often fall into the trap of assuming that the success or failure of my ministry rests completely on my shoulders. It does not. I have a significant role to play, but I am not in this alone. God raises up other workers to partner with me. God oversees the entire project. And in the end, God does the finishing work. Most of ministry is made up of long-term projects. At times it seems like we are making no progress. But we can be confident that the projects that God begins, God finishes.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Passion: Intense, overwhelming feelings

                The word passion can be used in a variety of contexts. It can relate to the intense feelings between a young man and a young woman. It can relate to the drive for a particular sport or activity. Or it can refer to the deep motivating force of a person’s life.

                Most people are passionate about something. It could be music, sports, business or a particular breed of dog. A person with little passion is a colorless person. Passion is a part of what it means to be human. Passion stirs something deep within us and motivates us to act in a certain way. When our passion is aroused, other things fade into the shadows. Passion can be overpowering; taking over a person’s will. Passion can be channeled in a positive direction or in a negative direction.

                The Apostle Paul was a passionate person. As the Pharisee Saul, he passionately persecuted the infant church. He saw it as his duty to wipe out this threat to the established order. When he crashed into the risen Jesus, everything changed. He did not become a passive person. God redirected his passion toward advancing the cause of Christ in the world. Paul became dominated by the passion to know Christ and to make Him known. He summed up his passion in Philippians 3:7-14.

                But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 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.

                There are some important lessons we can learn from Paul about passion.

Passion is intentional and focused.
                A passionate person without a focus is merely hyperactive. True passion is focused on something of value; at least to the individual. Others may not understand a person’s passion, but if that person truly values something, their passion is genuine. There are many things that can stir the passion within us. Not all passions are of equal value, but all passions burn hot; at least for a time.
                Paul’s passion was for Christ. Paul had known religion, prestige, and power. All of these faded in the light of knowing Jesus Christ. From the time Paul met Jesus, face to face, on the road to Damascus, until his death, he was focused on getting to know Jesus better. He devoted all of his life to a single cause; making Jesus known to the world. God used Paul’s passion to transform the known world of the time.

                I wish that my passion was as white hot as Paul’s. Deep down, I am devoted to Christ, but my passion ebbs and flows. There are times when it bursts forth with great energy. There are also times when it is a slow burn. Not all of us can live with the level of intensity that Paul demonstrated, but we can all be passionate about Christ.

Passion puts things into perspective.
                Paul had achieved many things in his life. He had attained all the important credentials of his society. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Philippians 3:4b-6) Paul willingly set all of these aside in order to know Christ. All of his accomplishments were temporary. They had become a barrier to his true quest.  In comparison to knowing Christ, his accomplishments amounted to nothing.

                We are often impressed with credentials and accomplishments. We tend to evaluate our worth by the medals we have earned; be that degrees or positions or acquisitions. All of these things are only temporary. Their shine quickly wears off. They will all perish. But knowing Christ is of eternal value.   
                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 4:18

Passion requires action.     
                When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was in prison, nearing the end of his life. He had every right to coast to the end. Instead, he turned up the heat. He realized that the race is not over until he crossed the finish line. So he determined to give it every ounce of energy he had.

                Because we had a severely cold winter this year, we used our fireplace a lot. I would bring in wood, build the fire and light it. Soon it would be blazing, sending comforting warmth into the room. But my work was not down. I had to tend to the fire, if I wanted it to continue to blaze. It meant rearranging the burning wood and adding more fuel regularly. If I failed to do that, the fire would burn down to coals and then go out.

                Our passion for Christ is like that fire. When we first come to faith, our passion burns bright. We think it will never dim. But over time our passion begins to burn low. Unless we continually add fuel to our passion, it will smolder and go out. It can be rekindled, and Christ often has to do that for us, but we lose out if we let it fade. Paul never stopped fueling his passion for Christ. We would do well to follow his example.

                God has placed within all of us an energy source called passion. We have the freedom to use that passion as we wish. We can choose to channel our passion toward temporal things or toward eternal things. On what are you spending your passion? 


                My goal is to begin each day with a time of prayer, Bible reading and devotional study. I don’t make it every day, but I am able to maintain a pretty consistent schedule. This morning, as I was praying and reading the Bible, administrative thoughts kept intruding into my thinking. There are a half dozen e-mails I need to write. I need to find the leadership training materials that I used a few years ago. I have to update my calendar. Soon, my mind was far from connecting with God.

                Distractions are a part of life. Our minds are always multi-tasking. Even as we are talking with someone, our mind is processing something else. These distractions can lead us in different directions. They can lead us closer to God or farther from God.

                Satan is a master of subtle distraction. For those of us who are devoted followers of Jesus, a direct frontal attack often doesn’t work. We are on our guard against things that we readily recognize as inappropriate or unhealthy. We can quickly recognize the hand of Satan and activate our defenses. So Satan uses a different tactic. He floods our minds with seemingly innocent thoughts, such as the e-mails I need to write. He inserts these thoughts at times when they will divert our attention from Christ. He uses them to subtly redirect our thinking from connecting with God to the pragmatic issues of the day. There is nothing evil about the thoughts; they just cloud our thinking and distract us from what is most important.

                Martha was a conscientious, committed follower of Jesus. She was also task oriented (like me). So on one occasion, when Jesus was visiting her house, she got very upset with her sister Mary, because Mary chose to listen to Jesus instead of getting things done.

                As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
                "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42

                There was nothing wrong with what Martha was doing; in fact it was necessary. But she was distracted from what was most important.

                Satan stirs up the Martha in all of us. He emphasizes the tasks that we need to accomplish, as a way of distracting us from listening to Jesus. When this happens, we need to capture those thoughts and give then back to Jesus. By acknowledging the distraction, we can refocus on what is most important. I will often stop and write the thought down, so that I can move on.

                We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

                The other side of the issue is when God distracts us. There have been times, when I was praying or reading, that an issue of importance, or a concern that I have, keeps popping up in my mind. I try to set it aside, but I cannot. Often, I have discovered that the issue is something that God wants me to bring to Him in prayer. When we realize that prayer is a dialog and not a monolog, we become open to God entering into the conversation.

                Many times, my prayers descend into a routine. I find myself praying about the same things in the same way. At the same time, there are often significant matters that I have been struggling with, which I fail to bring to God in prayer. On many occasions, these are the very things that God keeps bringing to my mind. I want to settle for spiritual small talk, while God wants to go deeper, much deeper.

                Paul challenges us to be honest with God about the genuine concerns that we carry like a burden on our shoulders. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

                It is not always troubling issues with which God distracts us. There have been times when I have felt a distinct need to pray for a person, or about a situation far removed from my day to day experience. The thought comes out of nowhere. I have learned to pay attention to those thoughts. Often, God is calling me to intercede for that person or situation.

                Paul was very sensitive to God’s leading in his prayer life. His letters are filled with snapshots of his continuous conversation with God. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, Philippians 1:3-5

                Life is full of distractions. I have come to realize that I am basically a task oriented person. I often see distractions as inconvenient and  unproductive. I have had to learn that, sometimes, God uses distractions to get my attention, and move me in the direction He wants me to go.

                Satan wants to use distractions to divert us from what is most important. Christ wants to use distractions to redirect us. Whatever the source of the distraction, if we pay attention, we can take it captive for Christ.