Tuesday, September 30, 2014


             “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:9-10 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


                Our perspective in life is affected by our vantage point. When we are on the mountain top, we have a broad, wide ranging perspective. When we are in the valley, surrounded by thick underbrush, our perspective is very limited. There are many things that affect our perspective in life. It is affected by our environment, by our background, and by our life experiences. Because of these different influences, things get solidified in our minds. It becomes hard for us to see things from a different perspective. This is especially true when it comes to seeing things from God’s point of view.

                God made it clear, in Isaiah 55, that His perspective on life and the world are very different from ours. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

                One of the ways that our thoughts are very different from God’s thoughts is in the way we view ourselves. Most of us have a slightly distorted view of ourselves. Because of our life experiences, we have formed a self-image that conforms to those experiences. We tend to see ourselves in one of two ways. We either have too high a view of ourselves or too low a view of ourselves. For most of us, over time, these views are tempered and reshaped, but they tend to still fall on one side of the equation or the other.

                When I was a boy, for whatever reason, I had a poor self-image. Over the years, God has reshaped and refined my image of who am I, but I still struggle with some of the old insecurities from time to time. Recently I had two people, independent of one another, comment that they see me as a humble person, yet I don’t see myself that way.

                God sees us from a very different perspective than we see ourselves. His view is not distorted. It is an accurate portrayal of who we really are.

                God sees us as frail. No one wants to be seen as weak, so we do our best to project an image of strength. We do this even when we know that we are struggling. God sees behind our false front to the truth of who we are.
                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. Psalm 103:13-16

                God sees us as fallen. Sin is a bad word today. Few people see themselves as sinners. Instead, the prevailing opinion is that people are basically good, and given the right environment will rise to the occasion. We soften the concept of sin by couching it in terms of making a mistake. No one sins today, they just make bad choices. God sees the truth of our rebellious hearts.
                for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23

                God sees us as forgiven. The more we try to excuse or downplay our sin, the more we are left with a sense of guilt and emptiness. We know there is something wrong, but we do not know how to deal with it. God has offered us the thing we need more than anything else; to be forgiven. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the power of sin over our lives has been broken. When we put our faith and trust in Him, we experience the exhilarating freedom of truly being forgiven.
                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. Psalm 103:8-12

                God sees us as favored. In one way or another, everyone is striving for acceptance. We long to be valued, to be appreciated, to be loved. God not only understands our need, He graciously meets that need. First, He redirects our lives, so that we begin to experience our true purpose in life. When we put our faith in Christ, our old sinful life is replaced with a new life in harmony with God.
                Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
2 Corinthians 5:17
                But God takes this one step farther. He claims us as His own. He restores the relationship that has been broken by sin. He embraces us with a love that goes beyond measure.
                How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1a
                We have been created in the image of God, but because of sin, that image has been distorted. Satan has twisted our understanding of ourselves so that we spend our lives living a lie. Christ has come to restore the image of God in us. The more that we are willing to accept God’s perspective, the more that image shines through.

    Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


“And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.”
Hebrews 11:13b

            This past August, my wife and I took a trip to Michigan to pick up our daughter. She had been working at a Christian camp for the summer. We took an international friend along, so that he could see more of the country besides Mankato. On our way home, we made a stop at Wheaton College. I wanted to show our daughter and our friend where I had gone to college. I had a great time showing them all of the places that I had frequented when I was a student. We visited the building that housed the biology department, where I had spent hundreds of hours. To my surprise, the biology department was gone. We discovered that a brand new facility had been built to replace the old one. It was amazing. We walked the halls of Blanchard Hall and I showed them the classroom where I had history class, the stairs that led up to the rifle range, tucked in the attic rafters of the building, and the plaques on the wall that honored all the Wheaton graduates who have gone into full-time missions. We found our way into Edman Chapel and I was again taken aback by its size and elegance. We made our way to Pierce Chapel where the Men’s Glee club had practiced. There were many things about the campus that were so familiar, yet many things had changed. I was struck with the realization that I was a stranger in a familiar place.  

            As we move through the journey of life, we cross from one arena to another. For 18 years or so we live within the boundaries of our immediate family. During this time we move from elementary school to Jr. High to High School. Each of these stepping stones of life move us into new environments. We leave some places behind and learn to find our way in new places. Then, for many, it is on to college. For four or five or six years we live in the unique world of academics. We face new challenges. We learn what it means to live on our own and take responsibility for our actions. We often venture back to the old familiar places of our past, but with each passing year we feel less at home there. Then comes graduation and the “real world.” We are launched into the pursuit of a career and an identity. We establish our own home and our own family and we begin the cycle again. As we revisit the places we have frequented throughout our journey, they feel familiar, like renewing acquaintances with old friends. Yet, there is something different. We begin feeling less at home in those places. We begin to see ourselves as strangers in familiar places.

            The Bible tells us that spiritually we are strangers in familiar places. We are born into this world as a part of it. As we grow and develop, we become comfortable with our surroundings. They are familiar. They are the norm of our lives. This is home. But when Jesus comes into our lives all that changes.

            2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” When Christ enters into our lives, we experience a new reality. We pass from a world dominated by sin and enter into a world motivated by Christ. Everything changes. We begin to see things differently. The places that were so appealing and comfortable lose their allure. We begin to feel less at home in this world.

            Several years ago, a friend of mine from China traveled home for a visit. He had become a Christian while studying here in America. I talked with him about the changes he would experience. He assured me that nothing had changed and all would be well. When he returned to Minnesota, I asked him how things had gone. “Everything has changed,” he replied. His friends had married and settled into jobs. The things they wanted to do while he was visiting made him uncomfortable. In short, that was not his home any more. “I feel more at home in Minnesota than I do in China,” he concluded.

            The longer we walk with Jesus the less we should feel at home in the world. We have become strangers in familiar places. In Hebrews 11, the writer talks about the great people of faith in the church. In verse 13 he states, “And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” Aliens and strangers. There is an old gospel song we used to sing quite a bit. The first line went like this. “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.” In a simple way, this song has captured the reality of every Christian. This is not home. We are on our way to our real home with Christ in heaven.

            But there is a problem. It is possible for us to begin to feel too comfortable here, to forget that this is not our home. When that happens we set up residence and settle in for the long term.

            Over the years I have had the privilege of working with many international students. Some of them come from countries where the standard of living is not the same as here in the America. The longer these students stay here, the less they want to return to their home country. Some of them try to set up residence here, forgetting that they are aliens and strangers in a foreign land. That is the way it can be for us as well.

            In 1 Peter 2, Peter challenges us not to lose sight of our true home. “But you are a chosen people, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” “Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (2 Peter 2:9,11-12 NIV)

            Peter tells us three important things in this passage. First, we belong to God. He has redeemed us from sin and made us a part of His kingdom. Second, don’t lose your perspective. We cannot afford to accommodate ourselves to the world’s value system. If we do, it will have detrimental effects on us. Third, be different. When I have had the chance to travel to other countries, I always stand out as an American. People can tell. Can people tell that we are citizen’s of God’s kingdom?

            That old song was right. This world is not my home. Although I can adjust to my surrounding, and even feel comfortable in them, I don’t belong here. And neither do you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Making an Investment for Eternity

            As we go through life, it is easy to fall into a routine. Each day, each week, each month seem to follow the same pattern. From time to time, it is important to stop and reflect upon what we are doing with our lives. We should ask ourselves some important questions. What am I doing in my life right now that will outlive me? What am I doing that will make a difference both in the present and in the future? What am I doing right now that has the potential to affect eternity?

            Bill Hybels, in his book “Living Beyond Myself,” makes the case that when we invest our time, talents, and energy in the Kingdom of God, we are making a difference for all of eternity. Hybels believes that volunteering to serve others through the church or other organizations is the most exciting and rewarding thing that we can do with our lives. Do you believe him?

            There is an old army adage that says, “Never volunteer.” Most of us have taken that concept to heart. We do not routinely see volunteering as something positive or rewarding. Instead, we see it as a burden, an imposition, or an obligation. When we do serve, we do it with clenched teeth and an eye on the clock.

            I may be painting just a little too bleak of a picture. There are indeed times when we willingly serve. There are times when we even feel a sense of fulfillment from serving. But, too often, our volunteer experience falls short of Bill Hybels’ glowing recommendation. So how can we change serving from an obligation to a joy? Let me suggest a few tips for a better experience.
Find your fit. One of the most important things about having a positive volunteer experience is finding the right place to serve. We are often disappointed because we invest our energy into something we are not good at, or do not enjoy. God has given each of us certain talents and passions. When we are able to use our talents in the area of our passion, then we experience the joy and excitement of service. The best way to discover our fit is to experiment. Try serving in a few different areas for a short time, and see what resonates with you. Then really jump in. 
Be realistic. Many people, when they embrace God’s call to serve, go overboard. They start volunteering for everything and soon they burn out. There is nothing wrong with their passion or their gifts. They are just trying to do too much. When you embark on this adventure called serving, start slow. Resist the temptation to take on too much. Be realistic about how much time you have to invest, how much energy you have to invest, and how much responsibility you are able to carry. It is far better to serve well in one area of ministry than poorly in several.

Stretch a little. Most of us are a little timid to try new things. We like things that are safe and predictable. If we really want to experience the thrill of serving God we need to be willing to stretch. Let God push you beyond your comfort level. Explore areas of ministry that you would have never considered. You may discover that God has blessed you with more talent than you realize.

Encourage others who are serving. This may sound like an odd statement. After all, we are looking at finding our place of service. Yet, one of the ways that God has designed for us to find joy and fulfillment in service is by recognizing the efforts of others. Encouraging others as they serve supports them, enhances their experience, and opens our eyes to all that God is doing. When we start looking for ways to encourage others, we discover a whole new, positive world of service. In fact, the act of encouraging others is a spiritual act of service.

Keep your perspective. If we are going to find joy and fulfillment in service, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. We are serving Him and He is the one who will reward us. Paul reminds us that it does not matter so much what we are doing, but our attitude is while we are doing it.

            Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24

            Even if others do not notice our service, God does. In fact, service done in secret is especially sweet to God. Jesus made this very point in the Sermon on the Mount.

            "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
            "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4

            There are many ways that we can invest our lives for eternity. Some of these are in formal, well proscribed roles and some of these are informal and spontaneous. God has equipped each of us to play a significant role in His kingdom. As we discover more about the gifts, talents and passions that God has given us, we will find joy in using them for His glory.

    And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Talking About Timothy

            Do you ever see yourself in Scripture? Have you ever been reading about some person in the Bible and suddenly felt, “That’s me!” I have.

            One of my heroes in the Bible is Timothy. I can really relate to him. I admire Paul and Peter but I can’t really relate to them. I am in awe of the faith of men like Stephan and Philip, but I could never see myself in their shoes. But when I read about Timothy I can identify.

            Timothy was selected for service. On Paul’s second missionary journey he ran into Timothy in his hometown of Lystra. We read about this initial encounter in Acts 16:1-3:

            “He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”

            Something stood out about Timothy for Paul. Paul selected Timothy to become a partner with him.

            My Paul’s name was Charlie. I met Charlie my first year at summer camp. For some reason, which I still do not know, Charlie selected me to become a part of his team. From the time I was 14, until after I went to college, I was a part of Charlie’s ministry team. I wonder if Timothy was as surprised as I was to be selected. I know I was excited and scared all at once.

            Timothy accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. As we read through the New Testament, there are several names that keep popping up, and one of those is Timothy. As a partner in ministry with Paul, Timothy traveled extensively and was exposed firsthand to missions. He faced all the trials and troubles of Paul from the backseat, so to speak. Timothy is mentioned five times in Acts as a traveling companion to Paul. He is mentioned by name in eight of Paul’s letters to the churches.

            One of the greatest things Charlie did for me was to give me a call in the dead of winter one year. His request was simple. Would you like to go on a mission trip with me to Haiti this summer? Little did I know just how much that question would change my life. Charlie lit a fire within me that still burns today. From that night on I constantly thought about that trip. When the time finally came to go, God used that experience to cultivate a deep desire to serve Him full time. Needless to say I was not the same after I returned home. Charlie took me on a second mission trip to Mexico that only solidified God’s call on my life.

            Timothy had to be challenged to use his gifts. The implication from Scripture is that Timothy often held back. He didn’t mind riding in the back seat of Paul’s train, but he wasn’t too sure about taking the wheel. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul had to push Timothy to stop hanging back:

            “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:5-7

            All of my life I have hung back. I felt that I had certain abilities, but I never felt the freedom to use them. Even when God put me in a place to step out and use my gifts, I often waited for others to take the lead. There have been two pivotal times in my adult life when God used others to challenge me to use what God had given me. The first took place in Seminary. I was pursuing ministry, but on my terms. God used two professors to confront me with my gifts in preaching. Because of them, I abandoned my path and started following God’s. The second time happened during my Doctor of Ministry studies. I was a part of a small cohort group. We would often meet together to work on assignments. On one of those occasions an older and more experienced pastor turned to me and said, “Dave, you are the leader of this group. So lead.”

            I think Timothy and I would have a lot to talk about over coffee. Timothy was tapped for leadership. At some point along the way Paul decided that Timothy should stay in Ephesus and give leadership to the church. It was a key church with much responsibility and many challenges. Timothy may have been surprised by this new assignment. After all, he had been a constant traveling companion with Paul. He may have assumed that he would continue to do that indefinitely. We know that Timothy was not very comfortable with this idea at first, but he was obedient. From every indication God blessed Timothy’s ministry there.

            My dream was to be a medical missionary in Haiti. I trained as a Lab Technician so that I could serve the Lord and stay out of the spotlight. But God had very different plans for me. Instead of going to the mission field, He called me to be a pastor. In 1987 God placed me here in Mankato. Over the past 27 years I have struggled, stretched, grown, agonized, rejoiced, cried and celebrated. There have been times when I was ready to give up and times I could not imagine giving up. Time and again God has called me to take on the mantle of leadership, which I have done—often reluctantly. But I can say, without qualification, God has blessed me and the ministry He has given me to do here.

            Timothy needed encouragement. I find it fascinating that two of the books of the New Testament are letters from Paul to Timothy. After all of his experience traveling with Paul, Timothy still needed encouragement to keep going.

            In many ways those two letters were written for me. I too easily get discouraged or retreat into my old timid ways. But through some wonderful friends and colleagues, God continues to send me “letters” of encouragement not to give up. To those “Pauls” in my life, I say: “Thank You, from the bottom of my heart.” When I get to heaven, one of the people I want to sit down and talk with is Timothy. I’ll bet he has red hair and freckles, like me.