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 passé.

                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.