Tuesday, December 20, 2016


                Every year about this time, I pull out Max Lucado’s book God Came Near. The pages of my copy have come loose from their binding and so I am careful to keep them in order. Max has a way of making us look at familiar stories from a different angle, through different eyes. This morning I read the chapter titled “Absurdity in the Flesh.” It recounts an experience Max had just after he graduated from college. He was working with an evangelistic ministry, and on this occasion, the leader was giving a presentation of the gospel to a group of students. A young man at the back of the room timidly began asking pointed questions about what the speaker was saying. As the young man listened to the answers he responded, Isn’t this all rather absurd?

                In truth, the plan of salvation, from a human perspective, is absurd. It does not seem that way to those of us who know it so well, but to those who only vaguely know the story, it seems unbelievable. The very heart of the gospel, John 3:16-17, goes against everything that we would expect.
    "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

                Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, the world has been in rebellion against God. God, the Creator and sustainer of this world, has every right to condemn this sinful world. He could, in a wink of an eye, wipe out the entire universe and start over. But instead, He patiently waited for the right time and then sent Jesus into the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Galatians 4:4-5

                The way that God sent Jesus into the world seems absurd. Not that Jesus was born into our world. That makes sense. It is the way he was born into our world. He was born through an unmarried virgin in a culture that would vilify and exclude her. She would become an outcast. God expected her fiancĂ© to accept her crazy story about an angel and the Holy Spirit and to take her as his wife. God expected this young man to accept the child as his son.

                From a human perspective, if God was going to send a champion to save His people, that person should be born into a powerful family at the seat of power. Instead, Jesus was born into a blue-collar family and lived in a backwater town on the edge of the country.

                If God was going to send a champion, he should have arrive on the scene with a great army to overthrow Israel’s enemies and to seize power. Instead, Jesus showed up as an itinerant preacher, with a ragtag group of twelve disciples, who were not even the cream of the crop.

                If God was going to send a champion, he should have stormed Jerusalem and established himself as the rightful heir to the throne of David. Instead, Jesus entered Jerusalem under a cloud of suspicion and ended up on a Roman cross.

                On top of all of this, after Jesus died and rose again on the third day, He should have claimed His victory right then and set everything right. But that is not what happened. After 40 days of periodic encounters with His followers, He left the mission in their hands and returned to Heaven.

                He promised to come back in power and glory. His followers have been waiting for that return for 2000 plus years. During that time, there have been multiple wars of various sizes, innumerable natural disasters, and a population explosion that has filled the world with over 6 billion people. Skeptics laugh at the idea that Jesus will return to make things right. We live today in the time that Peter wrote about so long ago.
    First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
    But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
    But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 2 Peter 3:3-10

                From a human perspective, God’s plan of salvation is absurd, but I think that is the point. If we could figure it out, if it all made sense to us, then it wouldn’t have the power that it does. The only way things could have worked out the way that they did was for God to be behind it all. And that is exactly God’s intent. In fact, the absurdity of the Gospel is wrapped up in Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-9.
    For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.

                God’s plan of salvation is truly absurd, and wonderful, and amazing, and beyond our comprehension. It is a gift to be received by faith.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016


                This past weekend was our first major snowfall of the season. As I was driving into the office this morning, I was thinking about the snowplow drivers who had to clear the roads. My mind went to one particular young man who plows snow for the county and attends Bethel periodically. On numerous occasions he has come to my office for a chat about life and struggles. God has allowed me to speak into his life.

                There have been many times when I have wondered if I am making any difference for the Kingdom of God. I definitely do not have the gift of evangelism. For all of the times I have given the invitation for people to come forward after a service to receive Christ, no one has responded. Not very impressive. If I compare myself to other, more dynamic pastors, I can get pretty discouraged. Then I remember my snowplow friend.

                We have not all been called to be evangelists, but we have all been called to be people of influence. As I look back over my years of ministry, I can think of many people God has placed into my life so that I might have a spiritual influence on their lives. I have not always been allowed to see the results of those encounters, but I know that God has used them.

                I am reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.  
    What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.  For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

                In a book I have been reading recently, the author made the point that we have to leave the results in God’s hands. We can try to generate results by our own efforts, but that will not really accomplish the goal. It is only as we faithfully do our part that the desired outcome is achieved.

                I have come to believe that I have been called to primarily be a planter of spiritual seed, a person of influence in other’s lives. Sometimes, God allows me to be in on the harvest. Most of the time I am not, but I know that I can leave the results in God’s hands.

                Whatever our walk in life, we can all be people of influence for the Kingdom of God. We can do this by genuinely caring about and caring for the people God puts into our circle of influence. These may be family, friends, or coworkers. We express the love of Christ with them in tangible ways by the way we treat them day by day. We can be people of influence by watching for opportunities to speak into people’s lives. I remember a time when I worked in the hospital that I had the chance to speak into the life of the head nurse after a crisis had occurred. If we genuinely care for people on a routine basis, when a crisis comes they will turn to us for words of encouragement and counsel. We can be people of influence by being honest about our faith. Instead of hiding the fact that we attend church, or are part of a small group, we can salt our conversation with references to these important activities in our lives.

                During this Christmas season, we have a great opportunity to be people of influence. There are so many who do not know the truth behind Christmas. Watch for opportunities to mention the awesome truth that “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”

Colossians 4:6
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Pull the Plug on Stereotypes

                No one likes to be stereotyped, yet it happens all of the time. In our world of political correctness, profiling people is a major sin. Yet, many are very willing to stereotype those who are opposed to their politically correct views.

                The allure of stereotyping is not absent in the church. In fact it has had a long standing history. The labels of liberal, conservative, fundamentalist, have long been with us. Given a person’s theological stance, these labels may be embraced or sneered at. Some labels that were intended to moderate the theological divide, such as evangelical, have morphed into a negative indictment. Surprisingly to me, evangelical seems to be taking flak from both sides of the theological continuum.

                But there is one label that I increasingly hear bantered about that truly causes me pause. The label is “American Christian.” This label is never used in a positive light. It is defined as complacent, uncommitted, spiritually lax. I want to challenge this label on several levels.

                First, it is a gross misrepresentation of a vast body of believers who happen to be Americans. It paints with a far too broad brush. By virtue of the fact that I am an American and a Christian automatically calls my faith and practice into question. This is not only unfair, it is illogical.

                Second, this label denies the reality that every culture influences the believers that live within it. Because America happens to be an affluent, influential culture, it is seen as a corrupting influence. Let me challenge this on two levels. First, we tend to see Christians living in other cultures only from a distance. We magnify their assets and ignore their deficits. Therefore Chinese Christians ( you can insert African, South American, Middle Eastern) are automatically more spiritual than American Christians because they live in China. The reality is that Christianity in these other places is just as much a mixed bag as it is in America. In some places far worse. Second, because America is affluent and influential, American Christians have been able to accomplish much for the Kingdom of God that Christians in other cultures could not. In fact, many believers in other countries would not be believers at all if it were not for these so called American Christians.

                My point is that being an American Christian is in no way an indicator of a person’s spiritual maturity. It is simply a description of the environment into which God has placed that person. I am not arguing that American culture has not influenced the church in America in general; it has. I am arguing that there are many committed, spiritually mature Christians who happen to live in America. To throw around the pejorative label of “American Christian” is an unfair indictment of the whole. It is time to set this label aside and get our focus back on encouraging one another to grow in our faith.

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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


                On this day in 1941, the Japanese navy made a preemptive strike on our naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians, and destroyed or damaged 19 U.S. Navy ships, including 8 battleships. The battleship USS Arizona remains sunken in Pearl Harbor with its crew onboard. Half of the dead at Pearl Harbor were on the Arizona. A United States flag flies above the sunken battleship, which serves as a memorial to all Americans who died in the attack. That attack launched America into WWII.

                This morning I read Hebrews 9. It speaks of Jesus’ role as our great High Priest. Under the old system, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies once a year with a blood sacrifice to atone for his sins and the sins of the people of Israel. This was a temporary cleansing that had to be repeated year after year. Verse 22 puts the whole thing into perspective. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. God had ordained that the penalty for sin was the shedding of blood.

                Pearl Harbor reminds us, in a graphic way, that the penalty for the sins of the world is the shedding of blood. It was a dramatic event in our history, but only one example of how a world dominated by sin always leads to the shedding of blood. Still today, innocent, and not so innocent, blood is being shed to atone for the sins of the world. But this blood sacrifice can never truly make things right. World War II changed the face of our world, but it didn’t change the heart of our world. So today we still have conflict in almost every corner of the world.

                But there is a solution; a final, once and for all solution. It is found in Christ. Hebrew 9:11-15 lays out the details.
    When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
    For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

                I fear that it will not be long before few people remember or care about the significance of December 7, 1941. The sacrifice made there will be lost in the dusty annuls of history, just as every man-made sacrifice will be. But the sacrifice that Jesus made on a cross outside of Jerusalem will continue to bring hope, forgiveness, and true freedom to all who accept it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


                Periodically I come across a book or an author that I resonate with. That has been my experience as I have been reading a couple of books from Larry Osborne: Accidental Pharisee & Spirituality for the Rest of Us. These two books have stirred up within me an old battle; a battle with persistent, undefined guilt. Let me put this into context so that you can more fully understand where I am coming from.

                When I was a boy, I had a deep desire to please God. From a young age, I longed to be connected with God and to serve Him. This deep longing, instead of causing joy, caused a persistent sense of guilt. I am not talking about the appropriate sense of guilt that comes from sin. I am talking about a vague, undefined sense of guilt that I was not measuring up. As I listened to sermons, I would come away feeling like I had to do more to be pleasing to God. Out of this sense of guilt, I felt that to prove myself to God I had to become a missionary. I saw this as the highest level of commitment to Christ. I set the course of my life to accomplish this goal, except that was not God’s plan for me. It wasn’t until I got to seminary that God gently, but clearly, redirected my path.

                I still battle with undefined guilt from time to time. The struggle emerges when I encounter people who are passionate for God in ways that I am not. The struggle emerges when decisions I make are not well received by others. I have come to realize that much of this struggle is not about pleasing God, but about pleasing others. I want others to see me as a committed, effective follower of Christ. I want others to like me. Both of these are wrong motivations to adjust who I am. I have to come back again and again to who God called me to be.

                As a runner, I have gravitated to a number of scripture passages that use running to illustrate the Christian life. One of those is Hebrews 12:1. 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. This passage is most often applied to resisting the pressures of the world, and that is true. But there is a deeper truth that I need to embrace, and it is found in the words, let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. What most often sidetracks me in my spiritual journey is trying to run someone else’s race and not my own. I am pretty vigilant to root out the sin that so easily entangles me. I am less conscious of the expectations of others that are placed on me and only add to a heavy burden of undefined guilt. I cannot run the race marked out for me, if I am constantly trying to run someone else’s race.

                In both of the books by Larry Osborne mentioned above, he addresses the issue of gift projection. As followers of Christ, we have all been given spiritual gifts. These gifts are intended to shape and guide our “race”. The problem comes when we begin to believe that everyone should have the same gift mix as I do, and therefore see things the way I do. When I do this, I am projecting my gifts onto someone else. Not only is that not my job, it hinders the cause of Christ. The other side of the coin is when I allow others to project their gifts onto me. When I do this, I hinder my progress toward the mission God has assigned to me. When I do this, I am burdened with guilt that plays right into the hands of Satan. It is guilt that wears me out and crushes my will. I know for a fact that that kind of guilt does not come from God. The solution to this hindrance is found in Hebrews 12:2-3. 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.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Hebrews 12:2-3
    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. [3] Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

                I think it is safe to say that the elections last week were a huge distraction. I read more articles on the internet last week than I have ever read in one week. The elections preoccupied my mind, which was not a good thing. I found myself traveling down numerous rabbit trails. It didn’t make for a productive week in many ways.

                Recently I finished reading The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. I was fascinated by how looking at life from the other side of the veil can change our perspective. In one of the letters, Screwtape instructed his nephew in how to use distractions to keep his “patient” from focusing on Christ. Screwtape told Wormwood to inflame petty grievances and inflate superficial pleasures. By doing this, he could keep his patient from realizing that he was slipping away from his faith in the Enemy (Christ). I felt that pressure on Sunday, as there were a number of things that distracted me from being focused on worship and the Word.

                Screwtape tipped his hand when he unwittingly gave the antidote for dealing with distractions. He told his nephew to keep his patient from realizing that they were distractions. He was to keep his patient off balance by making him think that he was focused on the right things.

                The way to deal with distractions is to recognize them for what they are; peripheral issues. Distractions are always secondary to the main point. We cannot avoid them, but we can guard against them draining us of our energy. We need to deal with them, but not allow them to dominate our lives.

                The key is to always be alert to Satan’s subtle schemes. 1 Peter 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Satan is always looking for ways to get us off course. If he can get us to veer by just a degree or two, we are soon way off track. The things he uses may not really be significant, in and of themselves, but if they grab our attention they can blur our spiritual vision. Here are a few suggestions for dealing with distractions.

- Don’t allow circumstances to dictate your thoughts and attitude. We have all experienced it. Things seem to be going along rather well, then someone makes a comment or a minor incident happens and our whole demeanor changes. One of the gifts of the Spirit is self-control. We are not victims to our circumstances. As someone once said, we are not live under our circumstances, but over them.

- Be aware of the areas where you are most easily distracted. All of us have areas in our lives that we might call hot buttons. If these hot buttons are pushed, we are instantly drawn in. We most often think of these hot buttons as negative things, but they could be positive or even neutral things as well. For me, one of those hot buttons is college football. The more aware we are of our hot buttons, the better we are able to manage them well.

- Keep refocusing on what is most important. I know it sounds trite, but we need to work hard to keep the main thing the main thing. Once we are aware of a distraction, we need to adjust out thinking. This needs to happen even as we deal with the distraction. Our reaction should be shaped by the main thing, our commitment to Christ.

- Deal with distractions quickly. Not all distractions are bad or wrong. Often God uses distractions to awaken us to something that He wants us to be aware of. The real problem with distractions is that they are time consuming. If we are not careful, a distraction can eat up huge chunks of time that we really need to be investing elsewhere. Getting upset over something is an example of a negative distraction. In Ephesians 4, Paul instructs to recognize what is going on and deal with it in a timely fashion.  "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26-27

                Distractions are a part of life. We will never live a life free of them. But we can live in such a way that they do not dominate our lives. Every distraction is an opportunity for us to grow in our faith.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016


                As I am writing this, people are streaming by my office door to vote in the 2016 General Election. As citizens of the United States of America, it is our duty to participate in the democratic process. The results of this election will affect all of our lives. Whatever the outcome, we have a responsibility to respond in a civil, respectable manner.

                As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a higher and far more important loyalty. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. This citizenship also includes certain duties and responsibilities. The way that we fulfill these responsibilities will affect our lives for the present and for eternity. So here are a few implications of our dual citizenship.

                We must always remember that we are citizens of God’s Kingdom, which supersedes all other citizenships.  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Philip. 3:20-21

                We must place our citizenship in God’s Kingdom ahead of any earthly citizenship. When the values of our earthly citizenship collide with our heavenly citizenship, we must choose to follow Christ. When the Apostles were threatened by the leaders of their community, they chose to stand with Christ, rather than bow to the pressure. Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." Acts 4:18-20    
                We have a responsibility to submit to the authority of those God allows to be in leadership over us. We live in a combative world. Instead of cooperating with one another for a higher goal, we tend to compete with one another for power. This year’s election process unmasked the ugly side of the democratic process. Yet God is in control of those who are in control, so we must submit to their authority. Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. Romans 13:1-5

                We are to actively pray for those who are in authority over us. When Paul instructed the church to support those in authority, Nero was on the throne, actively persecuting Christians. Yet, Paul instructed the church to take all of these secular leaders before the throne of God. We need to do the same thing. The most powerful tool we have to change our government and our world is fervent prayer.    I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Tim. 2:1-4

                We are to be the best citizens that we can be, without compromising our faith. Sometimes we are tempted to just withdraw from society and not be an active part of what is going on. We take a passive-aggressive approach to life. But the Bible doesn’t give us the option to sit on the side-lines and criticize. We are to be full participants in the life of our community and nation. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13:7 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. 1 Peter 2:12    

                We are to put our hope in that which is eternal and not in what is temporary. We have heard much about the negative consequences of whichever candidate is elected as the next President. There is much fear and anxiety from both sides of the aisle. Yet as Christians, we need to keep our perspective. Our hope should never be in a political party or in a national government. Our hope is in the Lord and in Him alone. All political parties, governments and nations will pass away, but the Kingdom of God will prevail. We indeed may face some new hardships because of the outcome of this election, yet we can take heart. This is not the end of the story. 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 Cor. 4:16-18

                By the time you read this, the election may be over. But whatever the outcome, remember that God is in control of those who are in control!


Tuesday, November 1, 2016


                How would we act differently if we knew, with certainty, the end of the story at the beginning of the story? Tonight is game six of the World Series. Cleveland has a 3-2 lead on Chicago. But I’m still apprehensive about the outcome, because in baseball anything can happen. But what if I could know for sure that Cleveland will win the World Series this year? I would approach the game tonight with calm assurance.

                We often live our lives with low levels of fear and anxiety. It is not that we are in a panic or are running scared. Yet we have an uneasy feeling that everything is going to fall apart. Satan continually sows the seeds of fear and doubt into our minds. This makes us timid and reluctant to take risks. Instead of being bold in our faith, we are tentative. Instead of experiencing the joy that Jesus promised us, we experience anxiety. Instead of tapping into the power of God, we see ourselves as weak and vulnerable.

                I want to let you in on a little secret: we win! Team Satan is on the losing side of the equation. Team Jesus has already secured the ultimate victory. So we have nothing to fear. When Peter gave his amazing confession of faith in Jesus, in Matthew 16, Jesus declared game over.   

   "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
    Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
    Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:15-18

                At the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus told his disciples to proceed with abandon because nothing could stop them from winning. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20) Notice how Jesus bookends the Great Commission. He declares that He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Then He ends with the promise that He will be with us to the end of the game.

                Throughout scripture, God continually instructs us to abandon fear and replace it with confidence in Him. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We should never forget that we are on the winning side of life’s ultimate game. Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we can face every challenge with courage and determination. Even if we face setbacks along the way, we will prevail in the end. That was the message that God gave to Joshua, as he prepared to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

    "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:6-9
                The same promise that God gave to Joshua He extends to us. We can face the future with bold confidence that we will have all the resources we need to face the challenges ahead and prevail.

                With the Presidential election looming on the horizon, there is much fear and anxiety circulating. Christians are very anxious about the implications of this election, no matter who gets elected. But this past week, I was reminded of a truth that we should never forget. God is in charge of those who are in charge. We can trust God to lead His church to the ultimate victory; it’s in the bag!

Romans 8:28
    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016


                We hear much about community today. Most people say that they desire to be in community. Many people talk about the value of developing community. Yet most people never really find genuine community. Instead, they settle for something less. They settle for a superficial, pseudo-community instead of investing the hard work in creating the real thing.

                As the body of Christ, we have been called to live in community with one another. Yet, our attempts often fall short. We create surface community that lacks any real depth. When the pressures of life come crashing in, our community crumbles. What does it mean for us to have real community with one another? To begin to answer that, I want to tell you a story.

                When I was getting ready to go to college, I signed up to participate in a three-week wilderness experience offered to in-coming freshmen. It was intended to prepare us for the challenges of living in a college community.

                I arrived at Honey Rock Camp in Wisconsin both apprehensive and scared. Before we reached the camp proper, the bus stopped and we were all told to leave our things on the bus and get off. As we assembled, the bus pulled away, leaving us out in the woods. A man with a clip-board stepped forward and started calling out names. I was assigned to a group of ten other freshman, with two upper class leaders. At that very moment our adventure began.

                For the next three weeks we canoed and backpacked through upper Wisconsin all the way to the UP of Michigan. During that time we were totally dependent upon one another. We carried everything we needed on our backs. We were given a topographical map and a compass and instructed to find our way daily from point A to Point B, without using any roads and without encountering other people. We had to work together to make sure that we all arrived safely.

                About half way through our experience one of our members pinched a nerve in his shoulder. He lost the use of his left arm. He was allowed to continue on the trip only under the condition that we carried his stuff for him. We all rallied around to make sure that he could finish with the rest of us.

                That trip is an example of what it really means to live in community. We needed to care for one another, encourage one another when things got tough, and work together to reach our goal.

                Jesus demonstrated for us what it means to live in community with Him. As we watch Jesus interacting with His disciples, we can see what He expects of us today. Jesus refused to settle for a superficial facsimile of community. Instead, He raised the bar high. He said that genuine community involves genuinely caring for one another. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35) Jesus illustrated what this looks like in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) Living in community involves taking the initiative to reach out to those in need.

                Jesus also demonstrated that genuine community breaks down barriers that divide us. It is so easy for us to retreat into our safe, homogeneous groups and “protect ourselves” from “those out there.” Jesus took the exact opposite approach. He intentionally shattered the barriers that divide us. He was often accused of associating with “the wrong people.” A case in point is the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a hated man in his community, yet Jesus intentionally reached out to him with love and compassion. The outcome was a transformed life.

                Jesus created community by investing in others. When He called his first disciples, He did it with an invitation to enter His life. “Come follow me.” Jesus intensely invested in the Twelve, sharing His passion, His purpose, and His pain with them. When Jesus was gone, these man turned their world up-side down.

                Let me draw a few practical implications from Jesus’ example about genuine community.
- Genuine community begins with an honest desire to share life with others.
- Genuine community is willing to include those who are often left out.
- Genuine community is more about sharing the mundane than experiencing the exciting.
- Genuine community is risking sharing our dreams, hopes, and desires with one another.
- Genuine community is being open and honest about our faults and failures.

                When we think about Jesus and community, many people want a sanitized Jesus. They 
want a Jesus of love without confrontation. They want an idealized Jesus, who conforms to their agenda, and who never offends or criticizes. But that is not the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus was at times raw and always real. He loved people passionately. Invested in people deeply. Challenged people boldly. He never settled for a watered down, lowest common denominator community. Instead, He constantly raised the bar and called people to live up to a higher standard. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24) If we want to experience genuine community, then we need to take our lead from Jesus.



Tuesday, October 25, 2016


                I was in the store the other day when the topic of Christmas came up. I remarked that we can’t start worrying about Christmas yet, until we get past Thanksgiving. The clerk responded, “No one pays attention to Thanksgiving, especially retail stores.” I think that is sad.

                Our world today seems to want to turn its back on traditions. Traditions are viewed as archaic and out of date. We are only interested in what is new and trendy. If it is not innovative or cutting edge, then it isn’t worth our time. Traditions are passĂ©.

                Several times last week I was reminded of the real value of traditions. We all have traditions that are a part of our lives. Some of these are specifically family traditions, some are community traditions, and some are religious traditions. Traditions help us remember what is really important. Traditions interrupt our frantic routines and invite us to reflect on where we have come from and where we are going. If we see traditions as a nuisance, we will miss out on what they have to offer to us.

                Throughout the Bible, God used traditions to remind His people who they were, where they had come from, and where they were going. For example, the Day of Atonement was designed to remind the people of Israel that they were the people of God, that their sin was an offense to God, and that God had provided a way to redeem them from their sin. The Passover was to be celebrated every year to remind the people of God’s deliverance and His great love for them. Even the Sabbath was intended to be a remembrance of God’s provision for His people. These traditions were to be celebrated in very specific ways. They were the same every year. They were intended to remind the people of some very important and specific truths.

                As followers of Christ, we too have traditions that God wants to use to remind us of our relationship with Him and His great love for us. When Jesus transformed the Passover meal into the Lord’s Supper he instructed His disciples to do it as a remembrance of Him.
                For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me."
1 Corinthians 11:23-25

                The celebration of Christmas and Easter are important acts of remembrance. We can complain about them, or we can try to “update” them. But by doing so, we will remove from them the reason they exist; to remind us of what God has done for us. The simple story of Christmas, the dramatic story of Easter, don’t need to be updated. They need to be entered, examined, and embraced. For all the trappings society has wrapped around these annual celebrations, the message is still there for those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. They call us to remember.

                We need traditions because we so quickly forget. We are so caught up in the present, in what is new and innovative, that we lose our perspective on life. We need traditions to remind us of where we have come from. We need traditions to remind us who we are. We need traditions to remind us to whom we belong.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-- Psalm 103:1-2

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


This past weekend was the Mankato Marathon. Around 4000 runners participated in the various races offered. Having run the Mankato Half Marathon last year, I know what those runners were experiencing. Before the race began they experienced a mixture of excitement, nervousness and apprehension. Their desire to run was strong, but there was also a few nagging doubts about how well they would perform. Once the gun went off, all of those emotions were replaced by a rush of adrenaline. For the first couple of miles they were pulled along by the surge of the crowd and the excitement that they were on their way. About half way through the race excitement changed to determination to keep going and finish the race. The final several yards of the race were pure adrenaline again as they saw the finish line, heard the crowd cheering, and gave everything that they had left. Then came after the race.

                Most of us do not prepare for after the race. We prepare for the race itself, but we are often surprised and sometimes overwhelmed by what happens after the race. After the euphoria of crossing the finish line and being congratulated, comes the letdown. I have experienced it after every race that I have run. Sometimes it is the letdown of, I could have done better. Often it is the letdown of, it’s over. I planned, training, dreamed about the race for months, then in a matter of hours it is over. There is an incredible letdown that occurs after the race.

                We experience this same letdown spiritually after some planned event or profound experience. The excitement going into the experience just seems to evaporate. It is replaced by either second guessing or a wish for more. That is why runners are always signing up for the next race. I experienced this letdown on Sunday afternoon. I was already disappointed that I was unable to run in the half marathon. I had preached at our Saturday night runners’ service and then again at all three services on Sunday. But in addition, I had also led worship at the 8:30 and 11:00 services; something that I enjoy doing. I was excited about Sunday morning, but when I walked out the door at 12:15, I felt drained and a little down. It was a very similar feeling to what I felt going home after the race last year.

                This emotional letdown “after the race” is a double edged sword. We are extremely vulnerable spiritually. Our emotional letdown can either lead us into discouragement or motivate us to get ready for the next race. Satan is going to do whatever he can to instill the seeds of discouragement. He is very good at exploiting our vulnerability. We need to be on our guard not to let him get the upper hand. Peter encourages us to be ready for Satan’s inevitable attack. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9

                God wants to use our emotional letdown to motivate us to prepare for the next race. The day after a race I have the overwhelming desire to go for a run. There is something inside of me that says, you have worked so hard to get to this point, don’t stop now. I start looking forward to the next race. That is the attitude that God wants us to have in the race of life. As we evaluate and reflect upon the spiritual event that we have just experienced, God wants to use that to motivate us to prepare for the next one. This is a critical moment for us, because it is too easy to give into the temptation to just coast for a while. Instead, God wants us to get right back into training for the next race that He has marked out for us. The writer to the Hebrews puts it far better than I ever could. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

                We need to remember that the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. We will not finish the race until we cross the line from here to eternity. Until that day, we need to run this race with joy, excitement, and perseverance, for the glory of God. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


                The general election is just around the corner, and the mess of our political system seems to get worse and worse. I have intentionally avoided watching the debates, because they are mean-spirited and lack any real substance. I don’t need the extra angst in my life.

                Every four years our nation is thrown into a “life and death” struggle for who will be in control. Each side demonizes the other. Each side digs up as much dirt on their opponent as possible. Each side works hard at discrediting the other side. The end product is a lack of respect and trust for which ever candidate ultimately prevails. I think it is fairly safe to say that the political process in America is unhealthy and ungodly.

                The Bible commands us to be the very best citizens that we can be. We are commanded to support those in leadership by regularly taking them before the throne of grace. I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior,  who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4) Because ultimately God places those in authority that He chooses, we are instructed to work under their authority, even when we don’t agree with them. Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority,  or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.  Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. 1 Peter 2:13-17

                Here is the pitfall that we must avoid. We must resist putting our faith in a political party, a political leader, or a political system. We are citizens of the United States of America, but we are also citizens of a much higher kingdom, the Kingdom of God. In my lifetime, Evangelicals have faltered by placing their hopes in a political party or candidate, rather than standing firm in their allegiance to the King of Kings. Time and again, grand promises have been made in order to win the support of Evangelicals, only to have those promises quickly forgotten. The plans and purposes of God will never be advanced by political means. In that way, the Kingdom of God is always subversive, working under, outside of, around, the current political system in power. As Jesus told Pilate at His trial, His kingdom is not of this world.

                I am afraid that whatever the outcome of the next election is, we will finds ourselves in a less than ideal situation. But instead of panicking or packing up and moving to Canada, we need to put our trust in the Lord. He knows exactly what is going on. He will empower and preserve His Church no matter what the political climate. The Kingdom of God will prevail, no matter what!

                As we face the elections on November 8, let the words of the Psalmist encourage you.

Praise the Lord.
    Praise the Lord, O my soul.
        [2] I will praise the Lord all my life;
        I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
     [3] Do not put your trust in princes,
        in mortal men, who cannot save.
    [4] When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
        on that very day their plans come to nothing.
    [5] Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
        whose hope is in the Lord his God,
    [6] the Maker of heaven and earth,
        the sea, and everything in them--
        the Lord, who remains faithful forever.
    [7] He upholds the cause of the oppressed
        and gives food to the hungry.
    The Lord sets prisoners free,
        [8] the Lord gives sight to the blind,
    the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
        the Lord loves the righteous.
    [9] The Lord watches over the alien
        and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
        but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
     [10] The Lord reigns forever,
        your God, O Zion, for all generations.
    Praise the Lord.
Psalm 146:1-10

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Psalm 19:12-14
    Who can discern his errors?
        Forgive my hidden faults.
    Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
    Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
        O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

                We don’t like to admit it, but we are engaged in a daily struggle with our old, sinful nature. We are living in what theologians call the already but not yet of our faith. The spiritual war has been won, but there are still battles to be fought. The closer we get to the end of the conflict, the more intense the enemy becomes. We have been saved by grace, through faith in Christ, but we have not yet experienced the fullness of our salvation. We have been justified by God, yet we are not yet made perfect. Our sins have been forgiven, yet we daily fight the battle with sin.

                King David understood this battle. His own experience had taught him that, even though his heart’s desire was to please God, his actions often led in a different direction. Psalm 19:12-14 bring into focus three areas of conflict in the internal struggle that we all face.

                We can be blind to our own faults. There are things in our lives that are not aligned with God’s plan for us, yet we are unaware of their presence. Let me use a physical example to make my point. A person can live with a certain physical condition all of their life and not know that it is a problem. They just assume that what they are experiencing is normal, until they discover otherwise. This happened to me. I lived with a certain physical condition growing up that I assumed was normal. Then, as an adult, I had a physical and discovered that my condition was the symptom of a problem that needed to be corrected.

                Because of the deceptiveness of Satan, we can live our whole lives assuming some aspects of our life are normal. But when the light of God’s Word begins to shine into our hearts, we understand that we have a problem that needs to be addressed. Satan is a master at slipping these hidden faults under our radar screen. We need to be constantly monitoring our life to root them out.

                We all, at times, walk into sin, with our eyes wide open. David calls these willful sins. We are like strong willed children, who when told not to do something intentionally do that very thing. All of us have our Achilles heel. There are certain areas of our lives where we are particularly vulnerable to sin’s allure. We know that giving in to those temptations is wrong, yet we suspend our better judgment and dive in. As soon as we have stepped over the line we know it, and are flooded with guilt and remorse.

                David was fully aware of his vulnerabilities. That is why he asked God to keep him from willingly giving in. As James reminds us, these persistent sins come from the residue of our sinful nature that is deep within our hearts. When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. (James 1:13-14) Like David we need to ask God to protect us from ourselves.

                We are in a constant struggle for control of our heart. It is one thing to call Jesus Lord and another to actually let Him be in control. Because God has given to us a free will, we have the responsibility to daily submit that will to the authority of Christ. This is not something we can do once and forget about it. It is a decision we make day by day, moment by moment. As Jesus said in Luke 9:23,
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

                Paul has given us some practical advice on  how to accomplish this. It is found in Philippians 4:4-9. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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.
                Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

                We all experience the struggle within. Our hearts truly desire to honor Christ, but our thoughts and our actions don’t always line up with that desire. The words of David are a prayer that we would all benefit from, if we started every day with them on our lips.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016


                I have been reading God in the Dock, a collection of C.S. Lewis’ essays. The other day I read “Meditation in a Toolshed.” Lewis described being in the semidarkness of a small shed and seeing a beam of light streaming through a crack at the top of the door. As he looked at the sunbeam, he saw particles of dust floating through the air. But when he looked along the sunbeam, he could see the sky and the leaves of a tree swaying in the breeze. His point was that there is a difference between observing something from the outside and experiencing something from within it. He goes on to make the case that we can become objective observers of life and of faith and miss the experience of living life and experiencing our faith.

                The Bible likens our faith to living in the light. Outside of Christ, we are living in darkness, but when we come to faith in Christ, we step into the light. As it says in Ephesians 5:8. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light… The Apostle John picks up on this same theme in 1 John 1:5-7. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

                Here is my point. There is a difference between observing the light of the gospel from outside of it and living immersed in the light of the gospel. Unfortunately, there are many theologians in our world who are very good at examining the light of the gospel from the outside, but are not walking in the light. They apply the tools of sociology, psychology, philosophy and textual criticism to dissect, analyze and “demythologize” the gospel. They insist on making the gospel conform to society’s current politically correct set of values. They know much about the light, but they continue to walk in darkness.

                Walking in the light is very different. It is allowing the light of God’s word to make sense of the world around us. It is seeing our world through the light, allowing it to clarify and enlighten our understanding of the world. As it says in Psalm 119:105, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Instead of looking at the light of the gospel from the perspective of an outside observer, we are to look at our world through the light of the gospel.

                The Gospel is never threatened by close examination. We are encouraged to study and explore God’s word with vigor. But we must be careful not to let knowledge of God’s word sidetrack us from living in God’s word. Paul addressed this in his argument about food sacrificed to idols. Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

                It is important that we know and understand our faith. Nowhere in scripture are we commanded to have a mindless faith. But, it is more important that we live in the light of our faith, in the real world, even when we don’t fully understand. We should never stop seeking for answers, but we should never let not having all of the answers stop us from living immersed in the light of Christ. 

Friday, September 23, 2016


                A little boy and his father go for a walk in the woods. Before they begin their adventure, the father leans down to the little boy and says, “Son, walk with me.” Setting off down the path, the father begins to point out some of the wonders of the forest. “There is an oak tree. That one is a maple tree. Look at the squirrel running across that branch.”

                At first the little boy stays close to his father, holding his hand. Soon he becomes overwhelmed by the wonderful things he sees. Letting go of his father’s hand, he rushes off the path to retrieve a huge pine cone. With a big smile on his face, he brings it back to show to his father. “That’s nice son. But you need to walk with me.”

                As the two turn a corner on the path, something up ahead catches the boys attention. Again, letting go of his father’s hand, he rushes forward to see what it is. When he gets to the object, he discovers a snake coiled up in the path. At first, he is curious about the snake, but then the snake hisses and strikes the air. The little boy becomes frozen with fear. He flinches as he feels his father’s strong hand rest on his shoulder. The father gently moves the boy out of harm’s way, picks up a long stick and scoops the snake off into the weeds. “Son, you need to walk with me. You don’t know what might be ahead.

                After a while the little boy begins to get tired. He starts lagging behind his father; his little legs unable to match the long stride of his dad. Looking back, the father says, “Come on son. Catch up. You need to walk with me.” The little boy stops in the middle of the path. “I’m tired. I can’t go any farther. Carry me!” Lovingly the father scoops up the boy and puts him on his shoulders. Together they continue their afternoon adventure.

                As this little story illustrates, there is a difference between having Jesus walk with us and having us walk with Jesus. At the end of the Great Commission, Jesus made a promise to us. “And I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus is faithful in walking with us, but we are not always faithful in walking with Him. If we are going to walk with Jesus, there are a few things that we need to do.

                If we are going to walk with Jesus, we need to adjust our pace to His pace. Like the little boy, we sometimes get impatient and want to run ahead of Jesus. On other occasions we get weary and lag behind. Jesus is constantly calling us to stay close to Him. As Paul says in Galatians 5:25, Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

                If we are going to walk with Jesus, we need to go in the same direction as Jesus. Too often, we want to take our own path and not follow Jesus’ lead. We rush here and there, looking for some treasure, some delight, some new experience. Patently Jesus waits for us, then calls us back onto the right path. When Jesus called His first disciples, he issued a simple invitation. “Follow me.” He says the same thing to us. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

                If we are going to walk with Jesus, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. Children get separated from their parents and get lost because they get distracted and wander away. We often get distracted and wander away from Jesus. We need to learn to keep Jesus in sight at all times. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:2-3

                There is no doubt that Jesus is walking with us. The question is, are we walking with Him? 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


                It is amazing to me how I can go through life and miss so much. I get caught up in my routine, focus on the task before me, and the rest of the world becomes a blur. It is a like the people I see working out at the gym. They are surrounded by activity, but with their ear buds in place and their music playing, they are oblivious to it. They just go about their routine, barely acknowledging those around them.

                I tend to be what might be called an office rat. Some pastors spend more time at coffee shops than they spend in their office. Not me. In order for me to get my work done, I have to have a controlled environment, with few distractions. I am also a creature of habit. I have a particular routine that I follow pretty much every week. When my routine gets unexpectedly altered, I feel out of rhythm. Therefore I tend to zone into my routine, and zone out other things.

                A week ago, I challenged everyone, at the end of our worship service, to put feet to their faith in some practical way. Being a task oriented person, I had in mind how I was going to personally meet that challenge. Developing a more robust ministry to international students is one of my goals for this year. So I arranged to meet with two international students to get to know them better and to ask for their input. But God had a totally different plan for me.

                On Friday, at about 11:30 AM, a young, homeless man walked into our office looking for help. He had stopped by the church twice before. On the first occasion, I gave him some money to get food. On the second occasion, I had turned him away. To put this in context, we get requests for help on a regular basis. In the majority of cases, we send them to the Salvation Army. When this young man showed up for the third time, something within me said, you need to help this man. I talked with him for a short time, trying to get an idea of his real needs. I gave him some immediate assistance, and promised more help, if he would furnish me with certain information.

                I want to say, at this point, that I believe these encounters were orchestrated by God. Normally, when a young man like this comes, I would send him to talk with our Associate Pastor. On all three occasions, when this young man appeared, I was the only pastor at the church. On the first two occasions, he arrived at unusual times, which limited my access to “normal procedures.” The third time around, God finally captured my heart. I saw a sincere, frightened, helpless young man. I could almost hear Jesus asking me, Dave will you care for this young man?

                We live in a world filled with needs. Most of us feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problems. We feel helpless to really make a difference. Therefore, we tend to steel ourselves against the bombardment of requests. To protect ourselves, we just say no. I understand that, but there are times, maybe many times, when Jesus calls us to drop our defenses and step out in faith.

                We need to ask God to restore a heart of genuine compassion within us. On one particular occasion, Jesus and his disciples were trying to get away from the crowds to get some needed rest. The pressure of the needs of the people were overwhelming them. So they got in a boat and sailed from one side of the lake to the other. But when they arrived, the people had beaten them there. Then Matthew records, When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36) Instead of sending the people away, Jesus sat down and taught them.

                There are two kinds of compassion. There is a pragmatic compassion, which sees a need and gives in order to get rid of the person. This kind of compassion is more about quieting our guilt than meeting a need. On the other hand, there is genuine compassion, which sees a person and gives to embrace them and share life with them. I am often guilty of the first, and need desperately to grow in the second.

                We need to ask God to open our eyes to the opportunities to serve others that are all around us. Because it is easy for us to pull into our own safe, little world, we often miss the chance to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Most of the time these are small acts of kindness, simple words of encouragement, or opportunities to open a spiritual conversation. These are around us daily, but too often we are blind to them. Like the song states, we need God to open the eyes of our hearts.

                Paul challenges us to open our eyes and take advantage of the opportunities God puts in our path. Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16) We take advantage of these opportunities by offering God’s grace to those around us in practical ways. At first, this will seem hard, but the more we train ourselves to respond with God’s grace, the more adept we will become at it. With all of the demands on us, this can seem overwhelming. But if we will be intentional and persevere, it will pay off. As Paul says, 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


Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Ephesians 5:15-20
    Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

                There is a big difference between “living the good life” and living a good life. Pretty much everything we see and hear today is holding out the carrot of living the good life. The poster child for this quest has been “the most interesting man in the world” who promoted Dos Equis beer. On scene, he was portrayed as having everything anyone would want. The problem with this quest is that it is always just beyond our grasp.

                “Living the good life” is a quest for self-indulgence, self-fulfillment, and self-satisfaction. It is based on money, power, and prestige. In many ways, it has become part of the fabric of American society. Our constitution says that we have inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today, people read this as life, liberty, and guaranteed happiness.

                The Bible gives us a vastly different picture of what it means to live a good life. First, and foremost, a good life is not self-centered, it is God centered. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:24-26, the only way to really gain life is to let go of it for him. When we hold onto the enticements of the world, they pull us down, and we sink further into a very selfish world. When we let go of those enticements, we are free to achieve the purposes for which God created us.

                In Ephesians 5, Paul gives us some specific steps to living a good life. First, we must live intentionally and wisely. There are many pitfalls and sidetracks along the way. We need to be careful about the choices that we make. The wise person doesn’t just look at the choice before him, but looks beyond that choice to the eventual outcomes. We live in evil days. If we live only for today, as the world calls us to do, we will forfeit our future.

                Second, Paul tells us to seek the Lord’s will. This is the point where many Christians get stuck, because they think of God’s will in very specific, individualistic terms. Who should I marry? What school should I attend? What career path should I take? These are not unimportant questions, but they are secondary to seeking God’s will. God has clearly defined His will in scripture. Jesus summarized it for us Mark 12:30-31. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

                The rest of the New Testament fleshes this command out for us in practical terms. For example, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. If you would take the time to look up the “one another” passages in the New Testament, you would comply an extensive list of practical examples of God’s will for you. It is as we strive to obey these things that God makes secondary choices more clear.

                Paul goes on to tell us that living a good life is the opposite of “living the good life” as defined by the world. Instead of being controlled by the value system of the world, we are to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. As followers of Christ, we have become new creations, with a new life within us. That life comes through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We can choose to resist the Holy Spirit and we will live with the internal conflict. Or we can willingly comply with the Holy Spirit and find the peace and joy that God has promised.

                Finally, Paul reminds us that living a good life means living well with others. “Living the good life” is most often about what I can gain. If a particular person adds nothing of value to my life, then I am free to turn away from them to someone who can give me what I want. Living a good life is discovering that we need one another. It is not so much about what I can get from another person as what can I give to them. It is living an others-centered life, just as Christ did. Jesus said that living for others is what will set us apart from the rest of the world. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35

                I come back to where Paul begins in Ephesians 5:15. Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. How we live each day of our lives is an investment in eternity. We can choose to chase “the good life” and at the end we will discover our bank account is empty. Our we can choose to live a good life in Christ, and when the end comes we will discover the eternal blessings He has stored up for us.