Wednesday, January 28, 2015


2 Timothy 4:6-8
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

                This past week or so has been a particularly stressful time. I spent several days in a row with a young man who is in hospice, in the hospital. He is at the end of his earthly race. He has not yet crossed the finish line, but it is in sight. At the same time, my father-in-law entered the hospital , having suffered a heart attack and three small strokes. On Monday morning, he crossed the finish line. He had a second heart attack and the doctors were unable to revive him. If that was not enough, I was informed that a dear lady in our church was diagnosed with bone cancer. To my surprise, she was in worship on Sunday morning, with her bright smile and cheerful attitude.

                All of this has had me thinking about finishing well. As I was running Monday afternoon, I thought about how we live as if tomorrow is a given. We assume that we have time to do all the things we need and want to do. Yet, the reality is that tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us. The Psalmist reminds us that life is fleeting.  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 103:15-16

                James is a little more blunt and not so poetic in his depiction of life. Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. James 4:13-17

                I have been keenly reminded this week that life is both uncertain and short. So it brings me back to my original thought. How do we finish the race well? Someone once gave me this piece of advice, which I have held onto. Whoever and whatever you want to be in the future, start being that today. The best way to finish well is to live well. Paul says that he fought the good fight. Because none of us know when we will approach the finish line, we should live as if it could be today. Paul challenges us, in Colossians 4, to make the most of the time we have. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Col. 4:5-6

                At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Colossians he laid out the foundation for finishing well.    For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14

                Even though the past week was very stressful for my young friend in the hospital, I believe he has fought the good fight and will finish well. Mrs. Johnson was in church on Sunday, even in the face of her news. She is determined to finish well. My father-in-law finished his race well. It is up to the rest of us to pick up the baton and keep the race going.

Hebrews 12:1-3
 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.

A Tribute

On Monday morning, my father-in-law, Howard Hawkins, went home to be with the Lord. We did not expect it. He had suffered a heart attack a week earlier, but was recovering well. Then on Monday morning, a second heart attack ended his life.

Howard was an amazing man who quietly and tangibly lived out his faith in Jesus Christ. I have pondered how I might summarize his life. It is a hard thing to do. I will miss him greatly.

Howard Hawkins

In an age of mass production, Howard was a craftsman
In an age of inflated egos, Howard was a humble man
In an age of greed, Howard was generous
In an age of broken families, Howard gently held his family together
In an age of faith in humanity, Howard put his faith in God
In an age of cheap knock-offs, Howard was the genuine article

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


                One day, a couple of years ago, I turned on the tap and the water came out cloudy and murky. At first, I thought that there was something wrong with my water softener. But, when I turned on the outside facet, which does not go through the water softener, the water ran brown. It became obvious that something was wrong with our well. The water level at gotten so low that we were pumping sand. We had to have a new, deeper well drilled. Once that was complete, and the pipes had been flushed, the water ran strong and crystal clear.

                The Bible warns us about letting our spiritual well run dry. If there is not a constant flow of fresh spiritual water replenishing our well, we will soon be pumping sand. In the ancient world, people would dig cisterns to catch and store rain water. The problem with a cistern is that the water quickly becomes dirty and stagnant. God used that image as a warning to us all about not tapping into His living water.

                "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13

                As I look back over this past year, I realize that I have allowed my well to get dangerously low. Instead of constantly drinking of the fresh, living water of Christ, I have been drawing from some stale cisterns. While I was on study break, God began to speak to me, in some subtle ways, that it was time to flush out the pipes and let the living water flow again. There are four things that I realized I need to do this year in order to refresh my well.

                I have committed myself to reading through the Bible in a year. This past year I had been meandering through the Bible in my devotions. I was not as focused as I should have been, so I was not really drawing the life from God’s Word that was there for me. A person does not have to read through the entire Bible to draw on its life giving water. What is important is that we are intentional about engaging with God’s Word regularly. The Bible is God’s guidebook for life. It can be our source of strength, comfort and direction, if we allow it to speak to our hearts.

                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 Tim. 3:16-17

                On my study break, I began reading a book on prayer, by Tim Keller. It has been a challenge and an encouragement to me. At the beginning of the book, Keller makes two very important points. First, prayer is our response to God, as He speaks to us through His word and His world. It is God who begins the conversation, not us. Second, the real point of prayer is not getting things from God, but getting to know God more intimately. I realized how my prayers had become a checklist of requests, instead of a conversation with my loving heavenly Father.

                A renewed commitment to genuine prayer is the second way that I can refresh my well. As I intentionally seek to have a dialog with God, I will be refreshed. Jesus is knocking at the door of my heart. He desires to come in and fellowship with me. I can invite him in as a friend, or I can keep him on the doorstep, like a door-to-door salesman.

                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. Rev. 3:20

                There is a third way that I can refresh my well; through reading. Many years ago, I set a goal for myself to read twelve ministry related books a year. In 2014, I only read six. Just as reading God’s Word refreshes my soul, reading other authors refreshes my mind. For the most part, books have become my mentors. They challenge me, encourage me, chastise me, inform me and delight me. I gain fresh insights from books. I gain new perspectives and am exposed to issues and people that I would not routinely encounter. Books can help me stay in touch with a broader context other than my narrow little corner of the world. Some people get the same help from podcasts and youtube videos. But, for me, books are still my best resource for fresh ideas and insights.

                Finally, and this is one of the hardest for me, is fellowship. Because of my introvert personality, it is easy for me to go solo. I am very comfortable working on my own, running on my own, working in my shop on my own. I need to be more intentional about engaging with others. God has called us to live in community, not to live isolated lives. I want to be more open to social interaction with others for fun, fellowship and support.

                And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

                God has already begun to refresh my well. It is not yet full, but the level is rising. Have you checked the level of your spiritual well lately? What can you do to keep your well fresh and full?        

Friday, January 16, 2015


                France continues to reel from the events of last week, when Islamic militants attacked Charlie Hebdo and massacred twelve people, then engaged in a stand-off with police and security forces, resulting in the deaths of four more innocent people at a Jewish grocery. The world was appalled by yet another senseless act of violence. The world of journalism feels especially violated. They have rallied around the slogan “Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie.”

                In the aftermath of this horrible tragedy, a confusing mix of conflicting messages has emerged. On one hand, we hear loud cries for the protection of free speech. On the other hand, we hear loud cries to clamp down on hate speech. If we could step back, and look objectively at what precipitated this event, we can see that the lines are very fuzzy between free speech and hate speech. The kinds of things published by Charlie Hebdo, from an objective vantage point, can be seen as hate speech. Yet, journalists all over the world are lining up behind their right to publish it.

                Let me be very clear. There is no excuse for the actions of those who took the lives of the people working at Charlie Hebdo. No words or cartoons, no matter how offensive, warrant the actions taken. The question remains, as Christians, how do we respond?

                Jesus made it very clear that our response must be one of compassion. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made a radical declaration. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48

                How do we live this out, in light of events like Charlie Hebdo? First, we must refuse to give in the hate. Anger is our emotional response to this tragedy. Hate gives substance to our anger and leads us down a dark path. Hate breeds hate. We are all destroyed when hate is given a free reign. If we let hate take over, Satan wins. My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20

                Second, we need to pray for all of those affected. We need to pray for God’s comfort for those who lost loved ones. We need to pray for those radicalized by Islam, that their eyes would be opened to the truth of Christ. We need to pray that the peace of Christ would reign in this situation.

                Third, we need to extend God’s grace in whatever way we can. Justice must be done, but grace must also abound. Again, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us to not take matters into our own hands, but respond to injustice with grace. "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42

                Paul echoed Jesus’ words in Romans 12:17-21. 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. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

                We are rightly outraged by the events that took place in Paris. We need to take a stand against such violence. At the same time, we must be careful not to throw gasoline on the fire. As Paul so rightly states, do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015


                There is something that has been puzzling me for a long time. Why is there a fascination with life on other planets, and why do we always assume that they are more advanced than we are? Why do we look to the stars for the answers to the questions we have on earth?

                It is puzzling to me that people who have no belief in God can believe in angels, spirits and extraterrestrial beings. There seems to be within us a desire to look outside of our world for the answers to the ultimate questions of life. Granted, not everyone does this. Many atheists and evolutionists believe that we live in a closed system that has no meaning or higher purpose. Survival of the fittest is the only true value. Everything else is arbitrary. Yet, when pressed about the origins of life on this planet, one prominent atheist suggested that it may have been planted here from another planet.

                It is an undeniable fact that even the most primitive cultures on earth have a god-consciousness. There is something hardwired within us that tells us that there has to be something out there. Although the expressions of this god-consciousness vary greatly, they are all addressing the same burning questions. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Who or what is in control of this world in which we live.

                Atheistic evolutionists have dismissed God from the equation, and have distilled everything down to natural selection. We are random products of a random universe. The life we have is all there is. There is nothing beyond this world, except, just maybe, other random ecosystems like ours. This answers some of the questions, but not all. It still leaves open the question of how all of this got started. It avoids dealing with the more subtle evidence that there is some higher meaning to life. Survival of the fittest cannot explain why we feel obligated to care for the weak and vulnerable. Natural selection cannot adequately explain the vast diversity of our world, some of which is very fragile and should, by all accounts, have died off. Evolution cannot adequately account for our emotions, or our desire to create beauty, or for beauty itself.

                Therefore, we keep looking up, hoping that the real answers are out there somewhere. The Bible clearly addresses this internal hunger that we all must struggle with. Solomon summarized this hunger in Ecclesiastes 3:11. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

                God has placed within us a desire to know Him. He stirs that desire through the world, which He created. Our world raises questions that we cannot easily explain. I was a biology major in college, and I know that the more science learns, the more questions are raised. God went one step farther, by speaking into the world through prophets, who communicated God’s desire for us to know Him. Ultimately, He answered the questions of life by sending Jesus into the world. In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-3

                The answer to the question of, is there life out there, is a resounding yes! But it is not the life people have been looking for. That life is not found in aliens or extraterrestrials. That life is found in God and revealed in Jesus Christ.

                In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  
                The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-5,14


                After a busy Christmas season, I am settling back into a more normal routine. I have been reading a book by Philip Yancey, titled Vanishing Grace. It has been very challenging. The overall premise of the book is that we Christians have lost our grip on the reality of God’s grace. Rather than being advocates for God’s grace, we have become antagonists to our world. We are viewed as negative, obstructive and out of touch with reality. In a general sense, we have lost our place at the table; we are only a faint voice in the public forum.

                After painting a rather bleak picture, Yancey goes on to show some powerful examples of grace-filled Christians, making a significant difference in our world. Yancey’s book is both a wake-up call and a note of hope. I have been challenged to re-examine my own understanding and application of God’s grace.

                Near the end of the book, Yancey tackles the question of morals and values. I have found this section most disturbing and challenging. He introduces something called evolutionary psychology, which claims that we are all controlled by a selfish gene. This selfish gene promotes the preservation of the gene pool, independent of any higher moral values. Moral values are seen in pragmatic, individual terms. I cannot go into all of the detail that Yancey does, but it is a chilling and sobering idea.

                We are living in a world that is rapidly moving toward a moralless, valueless society. The idea of right and wrong is constantly being assailed and challenged. The most common argument is, What right do you have to impose your values on me?

                The Apostle Paul warned us that this was the direction our world was headed. We should not be surprised. Look at Paul’s summary in Romans 1 and see if it does not mirror the world in which we live.
                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.
                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 1:18-32

                Paul’s words mirror the nightly news. My first response to the situation is indignation. This is closely followed by condemnation and a desire to mount a crusade for a return to traditional moral values. At this point, Yancey puts up a huge STOP sign, and rightly so. He convincingly makes the point that Paul’s world was not changed by a moral crusade, but by a Church that lived out of the grace of God, in the face of an immoral world. He calls us to do the same.

                I am humbled by my own failure to be an agent of God’s grace. In the face of the moral darkness that is all around me and the crumbling foundations of our society, I have to ask myself, how can I be light in this darkness? The only way we are going to change our world is by being the Church in all its fullness and glory. That means loving one another, caring, in practical ways, for the needs of one another, and extending the grace of God “to the least of these’ outside of the Church.

                We will never change our world through politics or social action. We can only change our world by fully living out the love and grace of God in our everyday lives.

                Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:26-31