Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Ecclesiastes 1:9
    What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

                When I was young, I would read the Bible and wonder how it applied to me. The stories were interesting, even exciting, but they didn’t seem to connect with where I was living. The things the Bible talked about seemed to come from another world. I don’t think that way anymore. More and more, the things the Bible talks about are being acted out in this present world. I am experiencing the scriptures in real time.

                Many of the recent events we have experienced could have been taken right out of the pages of the Bible. The recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage reflects the moral and spiritual decay that Paul wrote about on Romans 1.

                 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

                A number of years ago, I was involved in a debate with an atheist that took place at MSU. This passage came up in the midst of the debate, and my opponent mocked it. “That is not the world I live in.” Yet, Paul describes exactly the world in which we all live.

                The recent natural disasters we have witnessed point us back to the book of Revelation. It is hard not to see the things Revelation talks about coming true before our eyes. We are living the scriptures in real time. The question before us is, how do we respond to our times?
                Jesus was clear about our posture in the face of unfolding history; be alert, be prepared and be ready. In Matthew 24, Jesus gives us some insights into His return and what we should do to prepare.

Matthew 24:36-47
    "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
    "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
    "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.    

                First, He tells us that no one knows the time when the Son will return, so we can dispense with our elaborate schemes to set a date. Second, we should be alert to the signs of the times. Although we cannot know when Christ will return, we need to be alert to what is going on around us. Third, Jesus tells us to be busy doing what He has called us to do. The very best way to be ready for Christ’s return is to actively serve Him, using whatever gifts He has given to us, for His glory.

                As the days get darker, we may be tempted to withdraw into our relatively safe enclaves. This is the very thing we cannot do. We have been called to be salt in a decaying world and light in a dark world. We are needed more than ever in the public forum. We may not be able to change the world, but we can make a difference for eternity for one other person. It is by sharing the love of Christ, which we have experienced, with others, that we can make a significant difference in our world.

                Paul lived in very difficult times, yet he didn’t give in to bitterness, fear, or anger. Instead, he faithfully shared the good news about Jesus. His advice to us is to take the high road; endure hardship, love others, and glorify God.

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.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015


1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

                We pulled up in front of the traditional looking church building with plenty of time to spare. Suanne and I had invited a couple of friends to join us as we visited this church. The doors were open, but there were only a couple of people inside. Within a few minutes, others began to arrive. We were warmly welcomed by several people. Finding our seats, near the front of the church, we settled in for the service.

                The service was different from what we are used to, yet familiar. There were songs of praise, scripture readings, and prayers. I felt a genuine sense of the presence of God, even though I could not understand the words being spoken. The service was in Chinese.

                I had been asked to preach for this Chinese church, by a good friend. He and his wife had been students in Mankato, and had attended our church. They were very active in reaching out to other Chinese students. Through them, we developed an extensive network of contacts, within the Chinese community. They had been a blessing to us. Now it was my turn to be a blessing to them. Their church is currently without a pastor. They are seeking qualified people to fill their pulpit, while they search for a new pastor.

                The time came for me to take my place on the platform. I had chosen to share a message on encouragement. As I began to speak, I felt a little uncomfortable; not quite myself. But as I got into my introduction, I could feel the Spirit of God empowering me to speak words of encouragement to these people. As I looked out at the faces of these Chinese believers, I was emotionally moved. I was struck with the responsibility to genuinely feed this little flock, not just fill a time slot in their service. I also was struck with what a privilege is was to share my heart with them.

                After the service, I was encouraged by the response of the people. Especially the genuine thankfulness of my friend, Jay. He expressed how much I had helped him to grow in his faith, while he was in Mankato. Now he was being called upon to give leadership to this church. He doesn’t feel adequate for the task, so he was so appreciative of my willingness to assist him.

                I went to that church to encourage a small group of believers. I came away encouraged by that same group. They embraced me with grace and appreciation. They were genuinely thankful that I had preached and that we had come to join them.

                One of the greatest gifts we can give to one another is encouragement. There are so many things that discourage us. The environment in which we live does more to cut us down than to build us up. Satan is constantly attacking us, seeking to steal away our joy. He wants to isolate us and immobilize us with fear, frustration and futility. We desperately need words of encouragement.

                Throughout Paul’s letters, he continually calls us to practice encouragement. He does it through example, as well as specific teaching. Even though Paul often had to deal with difficult issues in the church, he always found some way to build up the body. He encouraged others by sending his representatives to them. He encouraged others by writing to them. And he encouraged others by regularly praying for them.

                The writer of Hebrews understood just how important encouragement is for us. Near the beginning of his letter, he challenged his readers to actively encourage one another so that they might not fall prey to sin’s trap. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13) Notice that he calls for daily encouragement. We all know that negative things can quickly overshadow the positive. We need a daily dose of encouragement, if we are going to be strong in our faith.

                Later in his letter, he again stresses the importance of mutual encouragement. 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 10:25) Hebrews reminds us that the spiritual battle will continue to heat up. As we draw ever closer to the return of Christ, Satan fights harder to distract and sidetrack believers. So it is essential that we band together regularly to encourage and build one another up.

                On the very heals of my encouraging time with the Chinese church, Satan shot me with a discouragement dart. I found myself living under a cloud for the next day. But God is reminding me that He is faithful, and that He will not abandon me. Like King David, we need to take our discouragement back to God, lay it at His feet, and allow Him to lift us up again.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Proverbs 19:21
Many are the plans in a man's heart,
        but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.

                Expectations are powerful things. We carry them with us wherever we go. They shape the way we look at our world and interact with others. Some of our expectations are clear to us and to others. Some of our expectations are clear to us and hidden from others. Many of our expectations are only revealed when they are not met.

                This past weekend I led our Men’s Backpack Trip on the Superior Hiking Trail along the North Shore of Lake Superior. That area is one of my favorite places in the world. I thoroughly enjoy the north woods. I also enjoy the challenge of roughing it in the back country. I poured over my maps and selected a segment of the trail that I thought would be suitable for our group. It was a stretch of the trail that I had covered several years ago with my sons. The total distance of the segment was 28 miles. I knew that might be a stretch, but I was confident that we could make it.

                We began our adventure with high spirits. We were a little late getting started, but our first stopping point was only 9 miles in and we had at least 7 hours of daylight before us. We secured our packs and headed up the trail, literally. This first segment was a climb; often a pretty steep climb. Our pace slowed considerably as our energy quickly drained away. At 8 PM we were still 2 miles or more from our campsite. It was starting to get dark and we were exhausted. So we found a clearing on the edge of the ridge, unrolled our sleeping bags, and collapsed right where we were.

                We rose early the next morning and hit the trail. It was a beautiful day and we made our way through the woods. The trail was more level and we progressed fairly well. We took regular breaks and had lunch on an idyllic little island on an inland lake. We made our final destination for the day at around 3 PM. We staked our claim to the campsite just before another couple arrived. Soon a second couple arrived, and instead of having the campsite to ourselves, we shared it with two other parties.

                The next day we had ten more miles to covered to make our designated pick-up spot. It became obvious that we did not have the energy to cover that distance in the time we had. We made several attempts to contact our “support team” and arrange a closer meeting spot. We successfully connected and emerged from the woods eight miles short of our original goal.

                This was a very good trip. We had no rain, no injuries and the bugs were tolerable. Yet, several of my expectations were not met. I had to adjust my expectations as we went along to conform to reality.

                In many ways, life is like our backpack trip. It is a great adventure and we have many expectations about what we will encounter and what we will do. All of us begin the journey of life with enthusiasm and energy. Then the realities of life confront us and clash with our expectations. Our energy and enthusiasm begin to wane. For a time, we hang onto our expectations and will them to be fulfilled. There comes a time when we have to adjust our expectations to coincide with reality. We realize that some of our expectations will never be fulfilled.  

                The book of Proverbs reminds us that all of our plans are tentative. We shape our plans and our expectations with limited knowledge and understanding. But God sees the whole picture. He knows what is best for us and how best to accomplish that. Many times, what is best for us clashes with our expectations. This causes conflict within us. This conflict is a part of God’s plan to shape us and strengthen our spiritual muscles.  

                James advises us to embrace these conflicts as an opportunity to grow. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:2-4

                It is good for us to set goals that will stretch us. It is also wise to know when it is time to adjust our expectations.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Ecclesiastes 1:9
    What has been will be again,
        what has been done will be done again;
        there is nothing new under the sun.

                Yesterday I finished reading C.S. Lewis’ little book, Letters to Malcolm, Primarily on Prayer. In the final chapter, Lewis comments on an article that had criticized his approach to faith. His attackers, which he identifies as “liberal Christians”, took issue with his insistence on the supernatural.

                “They themselves find it impossible to accept most of the articles of the “faith once given to the saints.” They are nevertheless extremely anxious that some vestigial religion which they (not we) can describe as “Christianity” should continue to exist and make numerous converts. They think these converts will come in only if this religion is sufficiently “demythologized.” The ship must be lightened if she is to keep afloat.”
                “By the way, did you ever meet, or hear of, anyone who was converted from skepticism to a “liberal” or “demythologized” Christianity?” (Letters to Malcolm, page 118-119)

                Those words were written over 50 years ago, and yet they are still relevant today. There still are those within “the Church” who seek to ignore, explain away or discredit any mention of the supernatural. They do this at a time when interest is spirituality and the supernatural is on the rise. People are looking for a spiritual experience without God, and especially without Christ.

                The words of Judges 21:25 ring as true today as they did when they were first written. In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. We live in the days of total personal freedom; I have the right to believe and do whatever I want. There is no absolute authority. I am my own authority.

                Paul warned us that these days were coming when he wrote to the church at Rome.   
                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. Romans 1:21-25

                This is the world in which we find ourselves. People love animals more than they love people. They are fascinated with angels, while denying the existence of God, who created angels. They worship the work of their own hands, instead of the Creator who placed everything into their hands. In essence, God has been taken off of the throne and humanity has climbed on.

                This rejection of the truth, as Lewis pointed out, has infiltrated the church. We might understand this, if it were confined to spiritually illiterate people. But this infection is rooted in some of the highest, most intellectual and respected levels of the Church. Those who should be leading the way are often leading in the wrong direction. They use their high position to call into question and degrade anyone who holds to “traditional” biblical beliefs; like the deity of Christ, the resurrection and salvation through faith in Christ alone. As Paul tells us, they have created their own “faith structure” and have enticed many to follow them.  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3

                One of the things that I really appreciate about C.S. Lewis is that he refused to get flustered by the attacks of liberals and secularists alike. Instead, he calmly, faithfully and boldly stood his ground. He articulated the faith in terms that most people could understand, and then allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work. His commitment to stay true to the Bible has profoundly influenced many to follow Christ.

                Even in the days of the Judges, when there was spiritual anarchy, there were those who remained faithful to the truth of God. They calmly stood firm and God used them to bring revival and renewal to the land. God is calling us to stand firm on the solid foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ. The stormy waves will continue to break against that foundation, but they cannot prevail. If we will stand firm, God will use us to bring revival and renewal to our land.

 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58