Tuesday, April 26, 2016


                Throughout my life I have found myself caught in a dilemma. What does it mean to be a good example to others without being self-promoting? Let me explain. Growing up I received the clear message that promoting yourself is pride, and pride is a sin. Both James and Peter warn us that “God opposes the proud.” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5) In Matthew 6, Jesus makes it pretty clear that we are not to show off our righteousness before others.  "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1) I really took these things to heart, so I determined never to talk about myself, or what I was doing. I lived my faith in quiet isolation.

                But along the way, God kept putting me in positions of leadership. These were not positions I sought out. In fact, I tried to avoid them, but God would not let me. As I entered into greater leadership roles, I was constantly told to lead by example. I was supposed to show others how I lived out my faith so they could follow me. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus commanded us to let our light shine in the world. “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” On more than one occasion, Paul tells us to follow his example and to be an example for others. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1) Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12) In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness… (Titus 2:7)

                I hope you can see the dilemma I found myself in. Jesus says, don’t do your good deeds before men, and do your good deeds before men. James says, God opposes the proud, yet Paul says, look at me and follow my example. If I share openly about the ways I am serving God, it opens the door to pride. If I remain silent about the ways I am serving God, I am hiding my light under a bushel basket. I still struggle with this dilemma today. Here are a few insights I have gained that have helped me to manage this on-going struggle.

                Be genuinely humble. James tells us to humble ourselves before God and He will lift us up. (James 4:10) What does it mean to be genuinely humble? In essence, it means not intentionally putting the spotlight on yourself. And when the spotlight finds you, deal with it gracefully. I like how C.S. Lewis describes humility. Being humble is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. I had to come to the realization that I was too worried about what others would think of me, instead of rejoicing in what God was doing in me.

                Genuinely give God the glory. We can give God the glory in an honest way, or in an artificial way. Here again is an area where I have struggled. Whenever someone complimented me, I would always downplay their compliment and say something about it being all about God. I have learned that my response was artificial and not genuine. I am learning to acknowledge the gifts and talents that God has given to me in positive ways, and rejoice in God’s goodness to me through them.

                Resist being the hero or the goat. Two traps that we can step into is to either portray ourselves always as the hero of the story or always as a failure. Neither approach is right; neither is honest. Instead we need to be realistic about our faith journey. What we are called to do is to invite others to become fellow travelers with us. That means we need to show them that we know where we are going, but that we are still learning along the way. We can openly share both our successes and failures. Our focus should be to highlight how God is transforming our lives through the power of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

                Be discerning. There are times when it is appropriate to share our personal story and there are times when it is not. Knowing which is which takes godly discernment. God has called me to share some personals experiences one-on-one with people, to encourage or challenge them, that I would not share up front on Sunday morning. A big part of leading by example is understanding your context and sharing in an appropriate way.

                As followers of Christ, we are called to lead others to Him through our words and deeds. Daily, whether we recognize it or not, we are setting an example for others. The choice we have to make is, what kind of an example will I be?

1 Peter 2:12

    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

Thursday, April 21, 2016


               Since I was in high school, I have liked the idea of backpacking. We did some camping as a family, and I thought it would be great to be able to take that to the next level. I liked the idea of getting away from the beaten path and getting out into the wilderness. I still have the Sierra Club book that I bought back then. But, for the most part, my experience was all theoretical.

                After I was accepted to Wheaton College, I was given the opportunity to go on a program called Vanguards. It was a true wilderness experience set in the back country of Wisconsin and the UP. Wheaton owns Honey Rock camp, which was the launching pad for this three week adventure. I went into that experience all excited about finally getting to do some real backpacking. Little did I know how much it would put me to the test. The first day of our experience took place at camp, where they gave us some basic training in canoeing and in using the equipment we were issued. Then it was on the trail for the better part of three weeks.

                The first week was spent canoeing north. At the end of that week we relinquished our canoes, shouldered our backpacks, and headed into the wilderness. We were given a compass, a topographical map, and a daily destination. The rules were that we had to avoid populated areas and we could not use any established roads. Each day, two of our team were selected to determine the course for the next day, and to lead the team. Our official leaders were there to keep us out of trouble, but they made us lead. At the end of each week, we had to find our supply depot, which had our food and other necessities for the next week. At the end of the three weeks we arrived on the shore of Lake Superior in the UP of Michigan. After a three day solo experience on the lake shore, we were picked up by the camp bus and transported back to Honey Rock for a day of debriefing. Before that experience was over, I was pushed to my limit, only to discover that I could go farther than I thought.

                 I didn’t have any opportunity to continue my backpacking adventure until I moved to Minnesota. I discovered that Minnesota is a prime place to get in touch with nature, up close and personal. On my family's many trips to the North Shore of Lake Superior, I discovered the Superior Hiking Trail. When my boys were in high school, we took a couple of long weekend backpacking trips. Each trip was a learning experience. Each trip offered new challenges.

                Since then, I have led two men's backpacking trips on the Superior Hiking Trail for men from our church. I am hoping to be able to carve out the time to lead another one this year. 

                In my office, I have one of those tin signs that depicts a wilderness experience. At the top of the sign it says, “Partners in the Voyage.” It reminded me that the spiritual life is a journey, not unlike a backpacking trip. We begin the journey with great enthusiasm, but little knowledge of what lies ahead of us. We soon discover that the journey is harder than we thought it would be. There are times of great excitement, interspersed with unanticipated challenges. We quickly discover that this is a journey best shared with others. I could go backpacking on my own, but it would not be as much fun, and it would be more dangerous. I can try to live the Christian life on my own, but it is not as rewarding and it is far more dangerous.

                The Bible says much about being partners on this life-long journey. One of the most well-known passages is Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

                There are some important spiritual truths in this passage for all who embark on the adventure of this spiritual journey.

                We make better progress in life when we work together. When you are backpacking with others, you push each other to give your best effort. It is not really a competition. It is more a drawing out of full effort; not wanting to let the others down. Solomon put it this way in Proverbs 27:17. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
                When we work together we accomplish more than if we try to do it on our own. Paul refers to this as being a part of the Body of Christ. He reminds us that God’s design for the Christian life is that we would take this journey together. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12) 
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27)
                Later Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the importance of working together. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:16)

                There are times when we all stumble and fall. We need a companion to help us get back on our feet. There are two incidents from my wilderness experience that illustrate this important truth. There were ten of us on my Vanguard team, plus two upper class leaders. One of our team members was a small guy, who I’ll call Eric, because I can’t remember his name. Eric did fine while we were canoeing, but once we had to carry our heavy backpacks, things got a little more difficult for him. Sometime during our second week, Eric pinched a nerve in his shoulder, which made his left arm go completely numb. Our leaders took Eric to a doctor who diagnosed the problem. He said Eric could continue on the trip, but he could not carry any weight. Each of us took some of Eric’s equipment so that he could continue with us.

                Because of Eric’s arm, he became the defacto head of the line. Although he was not the daily leader every day, he would be the one out front of the group. One day we hiked across a marshy area with Eric out front. Another team member, call him Bruce, was following right behind Eric. Suddenly Bruce dropped straight down into the ground. At that point we discovered that we were hiking on a floating bog. The extra weight of Bruce’s backpack had caused him to break through the top layer. He was suspended there; his backpack saving him from going all the way through. Together we hauled him out of the hole.

                On this spiritual journey there will be times when one of us will need extra help. There will also be times when one of us will step into a spiritual hole, and need someone to pull him out.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)

                Having a fellow traveler helps us to overcome the inevitable discouragement that we will face along the way. On my last men’s backpacking trip, my two companions were not in as good of shape as they thought they were. The initial excitement of hitting the trail soon faded, and they began to feel the weight of their backpacks. It would have been easy for them to give up and cut the trip short. But we encouraged one another to keep going.

                There are many times during our spiritual journey when the weight of life will wear us down. We can become discouraged and want to give up. It is at those times that we need others to come along side of us and encourage us to keep going. I have a couple of friends that I can turn to when discouragement begins to creep in. They don’t have all of the answers, but they can lift my spirits and give me the courage to keep going.

                One of the greatest gifts we can give to one another is the gift of encouragement. We all need it, but we don’t all get it as regularly as we would like. During these unsettled times, we need to be intentional encouragers. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)  
               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)

                A lone traveler is vulnerable. Those traveling together can offer a greater sense of security and protection. We are often braver when we are with others, then when we are on our own. 

                One of my fears whenever I am backpacking on the North Shore is that I will run into a bear. Having other people with me lessens some of my fear. I figure if there is more than one of us, we can scare the bear away more easily.

                We have an enemy who is far more menacing and far more cunning than a bear. The Bible describes Satan as a roaring lion. He is always looking for an opportunity to attack the vulnerable or the unprotected.  When we band together, we are better equipped to fend off Satan’s attacks. 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 )

                On this journey, we can follow Christ’s lead. Ecclesiastes says that a cord of three strands in not easily broken. The glue that holds us together is not our determination, or our skills and talents. It is our faith in Christ. Our strength comes from Him. He has not only set the course for us to follow, he has traveled the course before us.

                I mentioned that we had two upper class leaders on our Vanguard team. They were there to watch over us and keep us from making any real bad mistakes. They were able to guide us on our journey because earlier in the summer they had taken the same trip. They knew the path we would be taking, as well as how to get us out of the wilderness if an emergency arose.

                The Bible assures us that Jesus has already blazed the trail before us. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

                We can trust Jesus to lead the way, and to give us the strength we need for the journey. 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)

                I hope to be able to do some more backpacking in the future, if the Lord allows. But every day, I am on a journey of far greater significance. It is a journey of faith that will last until I stand in Christ’s presence in eternity. We are all on this journey. Christ wants us to travel together; partners in the journey.      



Wednesday, April 20, 2016


                What causes you to become afraid? All of us have things in our lives that cause that uneasy feeling in our chest, that butterfly feeling in our stomach, that semi-panicked feeling in your head. Fear is a normal part of life. We cannot avoid it, but we can learn to discern its cause and deal with it in appropriate ways.

                Fear serves a positive role in our lives. It alerts us to potential danger. It engages our senses so that our awareness is heightened. It focuses our attention on what is most important at this moment.

                Fear also can have negative effects in our lives. It can cause us to be overly cautious and unwilling to risk. It can immobilize us so that we do not act appropriately. It can become irrational and cause us to have a distorted view of our situation. Irrational fear leads to anxiety, which can dominate our lives and drain us of our vitality.

                Over 60 times in the Bible God tells His people “do not be afraid.” When God says this, He is not talking about natural fear, when we are faced with imminent danger.  He is talking about living in a state of fear that undermines our trust in Him.

                One of my favorite passages of scripture is Joshua 1:9. 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 had just stepped into the sandals of Moses; pretty big sandals to fill. He was already anxious about leading this unpredictable group of people. Now God has commanded him to lead them across the Jordan River to conquer the Promised Land. That was a tall order indeed. We can understand if Joshua felt more than nervous. So God tells Joshua to be strong & courageous and to not be afraid. God had already assured Joshua that he would lead the people into the Promised Land and that he would have success. Those where great promises, but a little hard to grasp as Joshua stared at the swollen Jordan and the fortified cities beyond. So God assured Joshua that he would not be going alone. As God had been with Moses, so He would be with Joshua. With that assurance, Joshua confidently lead God’s people into the Promised Land.

                As we face the fears of our lives, there are several things we can do to keep fear in its place. First, we need to identify the source of our fear. We should ask ourselves the question, why am I afraid? Am I afraid of failing? Am I afraid of getting hurt? Am I afraid of conflict? Why am I afraid.

                The second thing we need to discover is why am I in this situation? Am I here because I did something unwise, or is this a part of the normal course of life, or has God lead me into this situation for a purpose? Each situation will take courage to face, but a slightly different approach.

                If this is a situation of my own making, then I need to approach it with humility. I need to confess to God why I am afraid and ask for His strength to confront the issue. Then I need to humbly enter the situation seeking forgiveness and reconciliation, if that is what needs to happen.

                If my fear is vague, nonspecific, and irrational, then I need to take it to the Lord and ask Him to give me a clear understanding of my situation.

                If the cause of my fear is a normal part of life, such as giving a presentation in front of a group, then I need to approach the situation with the assets that God has given to me. I can ask God to use my study, experience, and talents to give me the courage to face the situation with confidence.

                If I find myself in an unusual situation, one which God has placed me for his purposes, then I can go to God for the strength and the courage I need. If He has put me into this situation, then I can trust Him to guide me through it.

                One of the things that can help me to face a situation that makes me afraid, is to have someone go with me. God’s promise to Joshua is His promise to us as well. “I will go with you wherever you go.” Whatever it is that causes us to be afraid, we can face it in the power of God.   


Tuesday, April 12, 2016


                This past weekend was a particularly draining experience. We had multiple events, which overlapped with one another, and which I was expected to have a part. Each of these events, in themselves, was a positive experience. Each one was purposeful and touched the lives of specific people. Collectively, they were overwhelming for me. I came to Sunday morning already drained of energy. As I sat alone before the first service, I prayed, Lord, you need to speak through me this morning, because I don’t have much left to give.

                Many people thrive on frenetic activity. They are energized by multiple contacts with people and multiple involvements, which swirl together in a whirlwind of activity. I am not one of those people. There was a time this past weekend when I felt something akin to panic. I needed to just get away from the situation and be alone. To be honest, I felt a little guilty about that, but I was getting overwhelmed.

                I am sure that there were times when the Apostle Paul felt overwhelmed by all that he was involved in. Even though it looks like he fell on the extrovert side of the personality equation, the weight of his passion for the gospel laid heavy on this shoulders. He expressed his personal struggle in 2 Corinthians 11:28-29. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? I can honestly say that I know how he felt.

                There came a time when the pressures of life got a little too heavy for Paul. He referred to it as his torn in the flesh; some obstacle that kept him for fulfilling his potential, at least that is what he thought. He cried out to God to take this torn away, but God gave Paul a different answer. To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

                Rather than taking away the things that Paul saw as a hindrance, God gave Paul the resources to face the challenge. Throughout his ministry, Paul hung onto the grace of God as the source of his strength. So much so that in Philippians 4:13 he could state, I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

                There have been many times that I have prayed for God to just take away the pressure, the challenge, the stress that I was facing. In each case, God did give me relief, but not by taking things away. Instead, He gave me a greater awareness of His presence and His strength. I felt that Sunday morning, as I stepped up onto the stage to deliver a difficult message, with little energy of my own to accomplish the task. Into my personal emptiness, God poured His energy and strength.

                We all face challenges every day. Some are small, small are enormous. If we try to handle these stressors on our own, we will soon be drained. But we don’t have to do that. We can lean on the strength of Christ to guide us through. That is a promise.

John 16:33

    "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


                We are only nine days past Easter, yet the glory of that day has already begun to fade. We have settled back into the routine of life. Routine is important for us, because it acts as a buffer to the many challenges of life. Imagine what it would be like without a certain amount of routine in your life. You would have to constantly think about and make a decision about everything that you do. It would be like being an infant all over again. How do I brush my teeth? How do I get dressed? What goes on first? How do I take a shower? How do I start the car? How do I get to work? What am I supposed to do at work? You can see that without routine, our normal lives would be overwhelming.

                Routine is a healthy aspect of our lives, but it can also dull our senses. Routine can allow us to live life on auto-pilot, without really thinking about what we are doing. It can hinder us from being intentional about things that are really important. Routine can so fill our days that, when we get to the end of the day, the activities of our day are a fuzzy blur. Routine can keep us from examining our lives. It can keep us from asking the question, why am I doing what I am doing? What is its purpose? Are there more important things in which I should be investing my energy?

                The resurrection of Jesus changed the dynamics of life. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we no longer have to live in bondage to sin. Instead, we have been called to live new lives in Christ; resurrection lives. That means that we need to break free from some of the old patterns of life that we are so comfortable with, and live differently. It means that we are living for a higher purpose than getting through the day. The Apostle Paul addressed this challenge in Romans 6:1-14.

    What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
    If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
    Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
    In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

                There are several implications of Paul’s teaching in Romans 6. The first is that, if we are followers of Christ, we can no longer go on living in the old routines of life. We have been called to live new lives in Christ, and that means breaking free from some old, sinful patterns.

                The second implication is that we need a better understanding of sin. We tend to automatically think of sin in big terms: stealing, immorality, lying, dishonesty, etc. For most of us, these are not real issues, yet sin is an issue for all of us. Sin in our lives is much more subtle and well entrenched. It is so much a part of our normal routine that we don’t recognize it. So what does sin look like for most of us? It is living primarily for myself, rather than to honor God and serve others. It is seeking prosperity over meaningful purpose. It is going with the flow of society, rather than living intentionally for Christ. It is seeking my pleasure over fulfilling God’s plan for my life. It is holding a grudge and allowing bitterness to take root in my life, rather than forgiving others and seeking genuine reconciliation. I think you can get the picture.

                The third implication, then, is that we need to be much more intentional about the way we live our daily lives. We need to develop new patterns of living that become our new, godly habits. We need to be aware of what is going around us spiritually, and seek to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We need to honor God with more than just our mind. We need to intentionally honor God with how we act in our tangible, physical world.

                If we are followers of Jesus Christ, we died with Him on the cross, and we have been raised with Him to new life. Therefore, our lives should be radically different from the world around us. We are no longer dead in sin. We have been made alive in Christ. The way we live our daily lives should reflect that new reality.