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.