Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Psalm 118:24
    This is the day the Lord has made;
        let us rejoice and be glad in it.

                Today begins a stretch of family time for me. My parents arrive today for a three week visit. By the end of the week, my family will arrive for the week of Christmas. This is a time we have been looking forward to and anticipating for a long time. And we all know what will happen; it will be over all too quickly. We spend months anticipating a special time and, when it comes, it flies by.

                Have you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere, and when you got there, you missed your turn because you didn’t slow down? I think that is the way we often live our lives. We are in such a hurry to get to the next thing that we fly by the present. We miss the joy of the moment because we don’t know how to slow down.

                Mary and Martha were good friends of Jesus. Although we don’t have many details, it seems that Jesus visited their home often. On one particular occasion, Martha got so caught up preparing for Jesus’ visit that she missed it.

                 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
                "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42

                Although we would like to think that we are like Mary, we are much more like Martha. We tend to get caught up in the details of life, only to miss the joy of life. We spend much time preparing and little time enjoying. That is especially true during the Christmas season.

                In a broader sense, Jesus addressed our frantic lives in Matthew 6:31-34. So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

                The challenge that we all face is to prepare for the future, but to live in the moment. Even as we prepare for some big event, we can slow down and enjoy the process of getting ready. When the event comes, we can slow down and savor the joy of the moment. And in everything, we can praise God for the gift He is giving to us right then.

                There will be many amazing moments in the weeks ahead. Don’t be in such a hurry that you miss them. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


Ephesians 6:10-13
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

                I have been rereading Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines. Candidly, I have been struggling with it. As Willard has laid out the significance and the importance of the spiritual disciplines, I have found myself resisting. All the residue of a “works righteousness” faith has come to the surface. I fully understand the principles, but I am struggling with the proper application. What does it really mean to practice spiritual disciplines in the “real world”?

                Ephesians 6 gives us the answer in a nut shell. We practice the spiritual disciplines in order to perform well when the battle is on. Let’s look at this from the perspective of a professional football player, a concert pianist, and a soldier. Although each of these individuals are engaged in very different activities, they all fallow a similar pattern. Each of them spends hours and hours practicing certain drills. These drills may seem tiresome and repetitive, but they are essential to the individual being able to perform. These drills develop what is called muscle memory. The body is trained to respond in a certain way without having to really think about it. This is essential for the athlete, the concert pianist, and the soldier. In the heat of battle, there is no time to stop and think about what to do. In those moments when everything is on the line, a person needs to be able to respond quickly. This can happen only if the person has been trained well.

                I read about a concert pianist who was asked why he still practiced 8 hours a day. His response was telling. “If I do not practice for a day or two, I notice the difference. If I do not practice for a week, you will notice the difference.” Football players do some amazing things during the game, only because they have practiced those skills for hours and hours. Soldiers are able to overcome amazing obstacles, only because they have been thoroughly trained.  A concert pianist can make a grand piano sing, only because he or she has spent hours and hours practicing.

                So what does this have to do with spiritual disciplines? Everything! Paul tells us that we are engaged in a spiritual battle with the dark forces of our world. If we are going to be able to stand in the face of those forces, we need to be trained in godliness. When Paul tells us to put on the armor of God, he is talking about practicing spiritual disciplines. This is not a passive endeavor, but an active pursuit. Like the athlete, the soldier, and the concert pianist, we need to be practicing our spiritual skills regularly so that, in the heat of battle, we can respond in God-honoring ways. Great athletes, great pianists, great soldiers don’t just show up for the big moment. They have trained tirelessly to be ready to perform at their highest level. Spiritually we cannot just show up. We need to train faithfully to be ready to be used by God in the heat of battle.

                Practicing the spiritual disciplines is not easy, but it is rewarding. If we want to make a difference in our world for Christ, then we need to train for battle.

Hebrews 12:11
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Psalm 46:10
"Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

                Let’s be honest. At this time of the year, with all of the holiday hype, it is very easy to get distracted and lose our focus on what is important. We can spend too much time preparing for holiday events and not enough time enjoying them when they come. We can get focused on meeting expectations, real or perceived, and miss the experience. We can focus on the stress of the season and miss the meaning of the season. This time of the year highlights how easy it is for us to substitute the urgent for the important in our lives. We face this challenge throughout the year, but at the holidays, it is amplified.

                The Psalmist challenges us to take time to stop, quiet our hearts, and get focused. For all of the debate about the commercialization and secularization of Christmas, this season of the year still makes people think about Jesus. God is exalted in the displays of lights and the music playing over the shopping fray. Many people will miss the message, but for those who will stop long enough to listen, it is still there, loud and clear. Prominently displayed alongside of Santa and his reindeer is the nativity scene. As I drive to and from church each day, I see a simple nativity scene, displayed by a local business. It seems to me that the more some people try to drive Christ out of Christmas, the more they put the focus on Him.

                We can get discouraged about the mission of the church. As we look at our world, we can begin to believe that we are losing the spiritual war. At these times, we need to stop and refocus our minds on the power of Christ to prevail. Paul addressed this when he wrote to his protégé Timothy.
    In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 2 Timothy  4:1-5

                As followers of Christ, we need to take the time to be still and rest in the reality that God is God. He cannot be dethroned, no matter how hard the world tries. The light of Christ may seem dim at times, but it can never be extinguished. In fact, the light of Christ is shining as brightly, or even brighter, than it ever has. For example, our ministry partners at Call Of Love have begun an on-line TV station on YouTube. Their target audience is Arabic speaking people around the world. The station has been available for just over one month, and already they have had hundreds of requests for more information and many people have placed their faith in Christ.

                As we go through the holiday season, let us make the most of every opportunity that God gives to us. Let us enjoy and rejoice in our families. Let us celebrate the greatest gift; a Savior has been born to us! Let us shine the light of Christ brightly into our world. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Hebrews 10:25
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.

                We spent Thanksgiving this year, with my extended family, in North Carolina. Thirty of the Banfield clan were present for Thanksgiving dinner, plus a few extras. I had the chance to connect with family members that we don’t get to see on a regular basis. It reminded me of how important it is to stay connected. Even as family, it is easy to let distance and demands keep us apart. Times like Thanksgiving remind us of how important it is to stay connected to the family.

                We live in a disconnected world. Even with all of the various forms of social media, we can, and often do, live isolated lives. We can substitute virtual reality for face to face reality. Even though I talk with my parents every Monday night on the phone, it is not the same as sitting in their living room holding a conversation.

                Recently I picked a book off of my shelf that I read several years ago. It is “The Spirit of the Disciplines” by Dallas Willard. In the opening chapters, Willard talks about how we have separated our physical life from our spiritual life, as if the two are not connected to one another. Consequently, we do not experience the transforming power of our faith. He makes the case that our faith needs to be integrated into every aspect of our lives. What we do with our physical being, on a daily basis, affects our ability to experience the power of God. We are spiritually weak, because we are not living out our faith in tangible ways.

                One of the foundational aspects of living out our faith is staying connected with one another. We were not created to live life as a solo adventure. We were created to live lives connected in meaningful ways to one another. That is one reason why the Bible often equates our faith to being a part of a family. The family is the basic building block of every society. When the family breaks down, the society breaks down. It is true of the Church as well. If we do not stay connected to one another as the family of God, the Church will be weak and ineffective in our world.

                Acts 2:42-47 describes the life of the early church.  This snapshot of the early Church shows the power of staying connected. The key is that they lived life together on all levels. Because of this radical style of community, others took notice. Daily, new people were added to the fellowship. They were offering, in tangible ways, what people were missing; a sense of genuinely being connected with others.

                Whenever my family gets together, we spend time remembering things from the past. One story leads to another story. We are soon caught up in past adventures. One of the things that God told the people of Israel to do was remember what He had done for them in the past. They were to tell the old stories to new generations. The same is true for the Church. One of the ways that we stay connected is by reminding each other of the many ways that God has been at work in our lives.

                Whenever my family gets together, we bring each other up to speed on what is going on in our lives now. For instance, my younger brother has opened an art gallery. We spent time, as a family, poking around the corners of his facility; both what people get to see out front and what they don’t get to see in the back. As the family of God, we need to spend time sharing with one another what is going on in our lives; both what people can see on the surface and what they cannot.

                When my family gets together, we spend a lot of time eating. The joke in my family is that we cannot get through the day without having three square meals. There is something powerful about eating together as a family. As the family of God, we need to spend time breaking bread together. Not just in formal settings at church, but at informal settings in homes and at various eateries. Sharing a meal with other members of the body of Christ can be a powerful bonding experience.

                When my family gets together, we play games and have fun together. On this recent trip, my niece and nephew set up a projector and screen in their back yard and we watched movies outside, while we roasted hotdogs and marshmallows. As the family of God, we need to have fun together. In fact the more we can demonstrate the joy of the Lord, in tangible ways, the more attractive we become to the world around us.

                Acts 2 tells us that as the Church lived out what it means to be the family of God, God added to their number daily. Lost people today are not looking for amazing worship services, as important as these are. They are looking for a place to belong; to experience genuine community. They are looking for a family. If we really want to see lives transformed for Christ, then we need to actively stay connected to the family.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Heart of Gratitude

Psalm 100:1-5
A psalm. For giving thanks.

    Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
        Worship the Lord with gladness;
        come before him with joyful songs.
    Know that the Lord is God.
        It is he who made us, and we are his;
        we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

    Enter his gates with thanksgiving
        and his courts with praise;
        give thanks to him and praise his name.
    For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
        his faithfulness continues through all generations.

                There is a funny thing about being thankful; you cannot do it silently. There is really no such thing as being thankful, if we never express our thanks. We can think about it, contemplate it, even prepare for it, but if it never comes out in a tangible way, it is sterile and meaningless.

                This is Thanksgiving week. Many people this week will give a nod to thankfulness, but will not truly engage in it. For a person to really demonstrate a thankful heart, there are at least three things that must be included.

                Our thanks must have an object. There is no such thing as generic thankfulness.  Genuine thanks is directed toward a person or an entity. David makes it very clear that the object of our thankfulness is God. As James tells us, God is the giver of all good gifts. Everything that we have and enjoy comes from the hand of God. He is the one, above all, who deserves our gratitude.
                Our thanks must be specific. We need to identify what it is that we are thankful for. The more specific that we are, the more authentic is our gratitude. David models this for us in Psalm 103.

Psalm 103:1-5
Of David.

    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--
    who forgives all your sins
        and heals all your diseases,
   who redeems your life from the pit
        and crowns you with love and compassion,
    who satisfies your desires with good things
        so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

                Our thanks needs to be expressed. Thankfulness is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. Thankfulness is active. If we are truly thankful, it just has to come out. We cannot help it. David tells us that our gratitude should be expressed with shouts of praise and with exuberant worship.

                Thanksgiving can be a full, hectic day. There are many activities that can and will capture our attention. Be sure to include time to express your thanks to God and to the people God has placed in your life.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Mark 6:31
 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."

                Every Tuesday, as I come into my office to begin my week, I review my calendar. As a part of our weekly staff meeting, I prepare a report that reviews things I did last week and things that are on my schedule this week. Today, as I put my report together, I recognized that we are entering into the season of busyness. The holidays and the end of the year come together to make for a perfect storm of activity. This week I have several extra activities to add to my regular agenda. As we enter fully into the holidays, that will only increase. All of these activities are good things, but the cumulative effect can be a little overwhelming.

                The Gospels tell us that as Jesus’ public presence increased, so did the demands upon his time. When the word got out that Jesus had healed a leper, people swamped Jesus. Mark tells us that it got so bad that Jesus had to stay out of towns and villages. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:45b) Wherever Jesus went, the crowds followed. At times the demands on Him were so great that he didn’t even have time to stop and eat. Jesus’ disciples were worn out and so was Jesus. They all needed some rest.

                In our world today we have made busyness a virtue. People love to brag about how busy their lives are. We have confused busyness with productivity and purpose. They are not the same. Busyness is just as prevalent in the Church as it is in the secular world. Many Christians measure their spiritual health by how busy they are, yet that is a false measuring stick. Someone has rightly said, If Satan can’t make believers sinful, he will make them busy.

                We all know that busyness can actually rob us of the joy of the holiday season that is before us. I cringe every time I hear someone say, “I can hardly wait until the holidays are over. I just want to be done with them.” This is one of those times of the year when we should be filled with joy, excitement and anticipation, not dread. We should be enthusiastically giving thanks to God for all that He has blessed us with. We should be wholeheartedly celebrating the truth that Immanuel has arrived.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

                What can we do to enter into the season of busyness without being overwhelmed and losing our joy? The key is what Dr. Richard Swenson calls “margin.” In order to fully enjoy this season, we need to intentionally make some space in our lives. Throughout the Gospels we are told that Jesus regularly slipped away, by himself, to pray. Jesus intentionally created space in His life so that He could handle to enormous pressure that was placed upon Him. As we enter into the season of busyness, let me suggest a few things we can do to keep from being overwhelmed.

- Intentionally plan down times.
                A wise man once told me, Dave, if you don’t take control of your schedule, everyone else will. We cannot blame our busyness on anyone else but ourselves. If you don’t plan in time to recharge your batteries, you will run out of energy long before the season is over. Jesus regularly slipped away from the crowds to recharge His batteries. Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)  

- Be selective.
                You do not have to say yes to everything. Choose to give priority to those activities that bring you the most joy. Try not to over-book  your schedule. Even Jesus did not do everything. He was willing to leave some things undone, in order to accomplish what was most important.  I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.(John 17:4) There will always be activities that we are obligated to attend, but there are many more that are optional. Be wise about what you say yes to.

- Be fully present where you are.
                One of the major dangers of the season of busyness is to always be looking beyond where you are to the next thing. When we do this we live anxious lives and we lose the joy of what we are experiencing in the present. Jesus was always fully present wherever He was. The story of Jairus and the woman with the bleeding disorder highlights this in His life. (Mark 5:21-43)

- Choose to embrace the joy of the season.
                Our attitude makes all the difference in the world. No matter what façade we put up, our attitude will show through. The Bible tells us to choose to rejoice. 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. (Philippians 4:4-7)

                There is no real escape from the season of busyness, but we can manage it well. This should be a season of great joy and delight; a season of thankfulness and anticipation. Embrace the season, and let Jesus surprise you with His joy.

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.



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Responding to the Sutherland Springs Tragedy

Romans 8:15-17
    For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

                We were all shocked to hear of the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Spring, Texas. There is no way to explain an incident like this. Our hearts go out to that congregation and to those families. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ and we mourn with them.

                In the face of an incident like this, we experience many mixed emotions. Our first response may be disbelief. How could anyone attack a church as they are worshiping? Our disbelief may quickly change into anger and frustration. We will be tempted to rush to “solutions” that punish the innocent along with the guilty. Ultimately, our hearts will turn to fear. This is the place that Satan wants us to go. He wants us to circle the wagons to protect ourselves, and in so doing, isolate ourselves from the world we have been called to reach for Christ.

                So what should be our response to this horrendous event. Paul’s words to the Romans can help to guide us.

    Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
    Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
    Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21

Let me suggest several things to lead us forward.

- Pray for the community of Sutherland Springs and for the congregation of First Baptist. Ask God to enfold them in His arms of love and to bring the comfort only He can provide. Send a letter to the congregation expressing your prayers and your desire to stand with them during this difficult time.

- Refuse to give in to fear, which will either immobilize us or lead us to respond in anger.

- Stand firm in our faith and resist the temptation to isolate ourselves. The best way to dispel the darkness of our world is to shine the light of Christ’s love brightly into our world.

- Be intentional about engaging those around us in positive ways. It has been said that the most effective way of defeating your enemy is to make him your friend.

- Live exemplary lives in our community. The more that we live out our faith in practical ways, the more we can transform our community.

- Put our trust in the grace and power of Christ. Although we cannot protect ourselves from all potential evil that could be done against us, we can stand firm in the power of Christ. Our hope, our lives, our eternity is in His hands. We can trust Him to give us the grace we need to face any challenge.

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.” 


Philippians 3:10-14
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

                I was a distance runner in high school. I ran the two mile race, which at that time was the longest race at a high school track meet. The two mile race was eight times around the track. It was a taxing race. No one had instructed me about the way to pace a race, so I would start out fast, slow in the middle and fade at the end. Yet, every time I finished a race, I felt like I still had something left in the tank, so to speak. I was always disappointed in myself that I had not given my all.

                Since I have gotten back into running, I have been conscious of pacing myself and not leaving too much in the tank at the end. With each of the five half-marathons that I have run, I have sprinted the last stretch to the finish line. It actually felt good to give everything I had left to cross the line at full speed.

                I think that is the way the Apostle Paul must have felt. Paul had faithfully run the race of faith. He had endured many hardships along the way. It would have been easy for him to coast to the end. But he did not! Right up to the end of his race, he kept his eye on the goal. He wanted to expend all of the energy he had to win the prize. When the time came, he sprinted across the finish line.

                No distance race is won in the last hundred yards. It is won by running consistently, mile by mile. The Christian life is the ultimate long distance race. It is demanding and exhilarating at the same time. It takes determination and stamina. If we are going to be able to sprint to the finish, like Paul, there are a few things we need to keep in mind.

                We need to constantly remind ourselves why we are running the race. Paul’s highest goal was to know Christ. That should be our highest goal as well. We do not run this race to look good to others or to fulfill some religious obligation. We run this race to draw closer to Christ.

                There are two ways we can understand the word know. In one way, to know is to accumulate knowledge about. It is based on facts, information, observations. I can know another person pretty well and still remain at a distance from the person. For example, I know a lot about Abraham Lincoln, but I will never be close to him. The other way we can understand know is to be intimately connected with another person. To know a person in this sense is to be in a close, personal relationship with them. It goes beyond knowing facts about the person to really knowing the person. That is the essence of what Paul was saying. It is the reason we run the race. We want to know Christ intimately and to be known by Christ intimately.

                We also need to remember that the race is not over until we cross the finish line. Even though Paul wrote to the Philippians near the end of his life, he recognized that he still had much ground to cover. He had spent many years getting to know Christ, yet he felt that he had not yet come to the end of what he needed to discover.

                As we run the race of faith, we need to strive to go deeper and deeper with Christ. We do not want to settle for a superficial relationship. Instead, we want to explore the heights and breadth of Christ’s love for us. We want to know more about His character, as we strive to be like Him. We want to live lives worthy of our relationship with Jesus.

                Lastly, we want to give our best, right up to the end of the race. The image Paul gives us is of an athlete exerting every ounce of energy to win the prize. Paul was not talking about winning his salvation. He was determined to give his best all the way to the end of his life.

                Too often, we Christians get to a place in our life where we just coast in our faith. Maybe we were sprinters early in our race, but we have lost our drive. We focus more on what we did in the past than want God wants to do through us in the present. Paul challenges us to keep up the pace, no matter where we are in the race.

                My parents were always active in our home church. My father was the church chairman for 50 years. He faithfully led worship every Sunday. He, along with several other men, led our Christian Service Brigade program. My mom sang in the choir, helped organize church dinners, and assisted with Pioneer Girls. When they retired, it would have been natural for them to slow down. They didn’t.  They began volunteering with the Josh McDowell ministry, now called GAIN. Twice a year they would travel from Ohio to Pennsylvania to work in the warehouse organizing supplies for the ministry. Once a year they would travel to Belarus to help distribute Operation Christmas Child boxes and other supplies to schools and orphanages. They did this well into their 80’s. They continue to press on toward the goal.

                When I cross the finish line, I don’t want to look back and regret that I left too much in the tank. I want to cross the line at a sprint. How about you? 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Ephesians 1:1
    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
    To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

                Today is known as Halloween. It has roots in age-old European traditions. It originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of fun activities for kids like trick-or-treating and carving jack-o-lanterns.

                Within the Roman Catholic tradition, Saints is a term that is used to designate specific heroes of the faith who have demonstrated extraordinary faith. This has led to the idea that Saints are a limited number of these very special people and all the rest of us would fall into a different category.

                In the New Testament, the distinction between saints and sinners is less clear. Throughout the New Testament, the word “saints” is used 45 times; all in a general sense to mean a group of believers in Christ. The Apostle Paul routinely used the word “saints” to refer to all believers.  Rather than being a special class of people, the New Testament uses “saints” as a designation for all who have genuinely placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The word “saint” is closely linked with the idea of holiness. Saints are the holy ones; the ones set apart for God’s service.

                When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we called out of a life of sin and into a life of holiness. This is not an optional add on to our faith, but the very core of our faith. As Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4:22-24, You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. We have a significant part to play in living up to our title as a saint. But it does not all depend upon us.

                The good news is that it is Christ who makes us into saints. He is the one who redeems us and takes away the penalty for our sins. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, (Romans 8:1) Not only that, but Christ then gives us His righteousness. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-24)

                Now here is the rub; most of us do not see ourselves as saints. Instead, we see ourselves as sinners. We still have the idea that to be a saint is to be perfect in all that we do. This line of thinking is really a trap, which leads us into the death spiral of works righteousness. We spend our lives trying to earn God’s favor, while all the time being weighed down by the burden of our sin. We are trying to be our own Savior, instead of embracing the truth of what Jesus has already done for us.

                The truth that we must come to grips with is that we are both saints and sinners, at the same time! When we look in the mirror we see the sinner. When God looks on us, He sees the saint, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. The Christian life is living in that dynamic tension. We have been justified before God, and we are being sanctified to become like Christ. We are a work in process. Paul highlighted this tension in his own life. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)

                The saints in Corinth were a contentious, obstinate bunk. The saints in Galatia had lost their way. Yet Paul embraced both groups and challenged them to live up to who they were in Christ. Real saints still struggle with sin, but they don’t let sin have the last word. Real saints understand that the race is not over until they cross the finish line. Real saints have their eyes on the goal and are striving to be holy just as Christ is holy. We are all a work in progress and we all need to challenge and encourage one another along the way. That is why Paul calls for us to pray for all the saints. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)

Ephesians 4:1-3
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Looking in the Mirror

Romans 12:3
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

                Each morning, as I look in the mirror, I see more things that I don’t want to see. I see more wrinkles on my face and less hair on my head. I see bags under my eyes and a sagging neck. (My kids tease me that I have developed a waddle.) I also see spots on my skin that were not there before. The image that I have in my mind of me and the image I see in the mirror do not match.

                Last week, I attended a conference with a number of other pastors. As I listened to the presentations, I felt like a young, rooky pastor. Then I realized that I was as old, if not older, then most of the pastors there, and had as much, if not more, experience. My perception of myself did not match the reality.

                All of us have a distorted view of ourselves. In many ways, we see ourselves as better than we are. From a physical point of view, we usually think we are in better shape than is true. This comes to light when we engage in some physical activity and then wonder why our muscles ache so much. From a spiritual point of view, we often think we are doing better than we are. This too comes to light when our faith is put to the test.

                Paradoxically, we also see ourselves as worse than we are. I often fall into that trap; downplaying my strengths. I compare myself to others and feel less than adequate. I am timid to fully engage in activities that I am more than competent in, because I am afraid I will not measure up. The fear of failure can be a powerful de-motivator.

                The Apostle Paul challenges us to routinely look in the mirror, God’s mirror, to get an accurate image of ourselves. When Paul tells us to think of ourselves with sober judgment, he is instructing us to take an honest look at both our strengths and our weaknesses. We can summarize what we will discover in two ways.

                From a human point of view, we are far weaker than we think we are. Because of sin in our lives, we are truly handicapped. Satan wants us to take pride in our own abilities and to depend upon our own strength, but he is setting us up for a fall. Jesus highlighted this malady in at least two of the churches mentioned in Revelation 3; the church at Sardis and the church at Laodicea. To Sardis He writes:  These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Revelation 3:1) And to Laodicea He writes:  You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)The antidote to this overinflated view of ourselves is found in 1 Peter 5:5-6. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

                The other side of the equation tells us that, in Christ, we are far stronger than we think we are. Timothy struggled with a lack of confidence in his ability to serve Christ and the Church. Paul reminded him that, when God calls us, He empowers us. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7) When we rest in the power of Christ, we are more than competent to face the challenges of life. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:37, No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. The key for us is to tap into Christ’s strength.    Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. Ephesians 6:10-11

                I went to see my doctor yesterday, for a regular check-up. After we reviewed my blood pressure and my lab results, we talked about the half marathon that I had just run. He asked me if I would ever run a full marathon. I told him that I would not, because my knees would not handle it. He leaned forward and said, “Do you know what that is? That is wisdom.” Knowing our strengths and our limits is wisdom, whether that is physically or spiritually. It is good for us to look in the mirror on a regular basis. It helps us to keep an accurate view of who we really are.

James 1:22-25
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Unity not Uniformity

                There is much talk today about diversity. Diversity is being held up by our culture as a primary virtue. The more diversity that there is, the better. Yet, making diversity the goal has had an unintended consequence; we have sacrificed unity. The motto of the Untied States of America is “E Pluribus Unum”, out of many one. We used to regard America as the great melting pot, where people from diverse backgrounds could come together around common hopes and dreams. Whether that was ever really true, today we have become a nation divided by our diversity, not unity in our diversity.

                The Church has always struggled with the issue of diversity and unity. From the very beginning, the solution that the Church came up with was to strive for uniformity. In other words, to be accepted as a genuine believer in Christ, a person had to conform to all the Jewish laws and requirements. This caused a major split between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. It came to a head at the first Jerusalem council, where Paul and Barnabas made the case for unity in Christ over uniformity. (Acts 15)

                Paul articulated the true ideal of unity, in Christ, in both his letter to the Galatians and to the Colossians.
    There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28  
    Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:11

                Paul was not denying our diversity, but raising our unity, in Christ, above all of the things that would naturally divide us. In fact, Paul often used diversity as a tool for sharing the Gospel.
   Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

                Throughout history, the Church has struggled with the conflict between unity and uniformity. Up until the time of the Reformation, the Church lived under the banner of uniformity. Everyone had to conform to the norms and traditions of the Church, or be excluded. The Reformation ushered in a time of great diversity in the Church, with which we are still living.

                Today, we are struggling to regain our unity in Christ, without negating our real diversity. We don’t want a generic, lowest common denominator church, where unity for unity sake is the banner. Neither do we want a rigid, legalistic church, where uniformity is the expected. What we want is genuine unity that allows for honest disagreement, without causing divisions.

                Paul set the standard for us in Romans 14:1-8. Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
    One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. The essence of this passage has been summarized in this way. Unity in essentials, Freedom in non-essentials, Charity in all things.

                Satan is working overtime to fragment the Church. He is effectively sowing the seeds of conflict as the moral and social battles of our society have filtered into the Church. Uniformity excludes and keeps people away from Christ. Diversity for diversity sake divides us into smaller and smaller camps that are ineffective in reaching others for Christ. The goal is real unity that knits a diverse group of people together, in a miraculous way, under the banner of Christ. True “E Pluribus Unum” can only be achieved through humble submission to Jesus Christ.

John 10:14-16
 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”


Tuesday, October 10, 2017


John 4:13-14
Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

                I turned on the faucet and noticed that the water was a dark color. I didn’t think too much about it, until I turned on the faucet on the outside of the house. The water ran brown! We contacted the neighbors, with whom we share a well, and asked them to check their water. We discovered that our well was going dry. It was beginning to pump sand. We had to have a well driller come in and sink a new well for us.

                There are times in our lives when our well runs dry and we begin to pump sand. That was the case with the Samaritan woman Jesus met at Jacob’s well. Jesus had sent His disciples into town to get food, while He rested at the well. It was noon. While He was resting, a woman from the town came to draw water.

                It is important to note that it would have been unusual for a woman to draw water at noon. The women would come in the morning and in the evening when it was cooler. It would have been a social time, as well as a functional necessity. This woman was intentionally avoiding the other woman, by coming during the heat of the day.

                Jesus struck up a conversation with this woman, and soon revealed that she had sunk a number of wells in her life; all of them going dry. With the reality of her dry wells exposed, Jesus offered her water that would truly satisfy her soul. He invited her to sink a well in the one relationship that could sustain her and satisfy her deepest needs.

                Most of us don’t identify with the woman at the well. We view this story from a distance. We tend to apply it to those people out there who have not come to faith in Christ. I want to suggest to you that, even as followers of Christ, we can dig dry wells. Here are a few common wells that we dig.

                We can sink our well in the popular culture of the day. It is so easy for us to do this, because we are enticed to buy in every day. We can buy into being relevant and cutting edge, with the hope that it will make us effective in ministry. But because popular culture is so fluid, we soon become spiritual chameleons. We find ourselves always just one step behind the latest trends. One day we wake up in flip-flops and ripped jeans, only to find that everyone else is wearing Armani suits. The deeper we sink our well in popular culture, the more we pump sand.

                We can sink our well in all of the latest technology. Technology is a great tool, but a brutal task master. Just like popular culture, technology changes at a rapid pace. Often, by the time we have secured all of the latest technology, it is out of date. We are constantly being told that there is a newer and better version that we have to have. Social media can begin to dominate our lives and drain us of energy. The deeper we sink our well into technology, the more sand we pump.

                We can sink our well into the approval of others. We are all susceptible to this, to one extent or another. Ministry is all about building relationships, but it is easy to make the approval of others more important than the goal of serving Christ. Seeking to meet everyone’s expectations, so that they will like us, is another dry well that pumps sand.

                Even pursuing theology can become a dry well. When I was in seminary, our President warned us that the greatest danger we would face in seminary was that we would become theologians and lose our faith. Good theology is essential to our faith, but when it becomes our primary focus, it dries up. Intense study can morph into a passion to be right and to prove how smart we are. We find ourselves fighting marginal battles, over obscure points of theology, for the right to be king of the theological hill. We are soon sucking sand.

                Ministry itself can become a dry well for us. We can create programs and systems to advance the work of the Gospel. These are not bad, but when they become primary, they begin to drain us dry. We can put more and more effort into maintaining “our” ministry. We give all of our energy to keep the ministry afloat, which requires us to sink our well deeper and deeper. Soon, we are sucking sand, again.

                After we have sunk a number of dry wells, we find ourselves sitting next to the Samaritan woman, longing for water that will sustain. It is there that Jesus will meet us. There is only one source of living water, and that is Jesus. If we are not sinking our well deeply into our relationship with Him, we will run dry. The means of drawing water from Jesus’ well are not unknown to us, but they are often neglected. There are four basic tools we need to sink our well deep in Christ.

                The first is regular, personal study of God’s Word. We don’t study the Bible to gain theological knowledge or to learn interesting Bible facts. We study the Bible to grow closer to Christ. We study, not to speak to others, but to allow Jesus to speak to us. As Colossians 3:16 says, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

                The second tool is prayer; both individual and corporate. Prayer is one of the ways that God shapes and molds our hearts. In prayer He makes us aware of the things He wants us to focus upon. In prayer, we learn to depend upon Him and trust Him. Through prayer, God wants to reveal His majesty and glory to us. Prayer is not an Amazon wish list, but a dynamic dialog with God.

                The third tool is fellowship. God did not design the Christian life to be a solo journey. Colossians 3:16 goes on the say, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. Hebrews 10:25 resonates with Paul’s words. 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. We can encourage one another through corporate worship, but we also need to interact one-on-one and in small groups throughout the week. We are most vulnerable when we are alone. We are strongest when we stand together.

                The fourth tool is service. Jesus made it clear that if we want to tap into His living water, we need to sink our well into service. Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:42-45

                Overall, the key to sinking our well in the right place is humility. Our wells go dry because our focus is on us and not Christ. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1 Peter 5:6


Tuesday, October 3, 2017


2 Corinthians 3:5
Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.

                Have you ever been called incompetent? I have. It happened to me twice while I was working at Samaritan Hospital in St. Paul. I was hired as the night Lab Technician on weekends. I was the only one on duty Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. After I was hired, I was informed that I would have to do EKGs. That was something that I had not been trained to do. I was given a half hour introduction on how to perform an EKG and then I was on my own. The first time one was ordered I messed up. The Doctor on duty that night pronounced me incompetent. That little incident pushed me to make sure that I got it right the next time. On another occasion, a lab test was ordered that I did not recognize. I told the nurse in charge that it was not on my STAT list. I soon received a call from the attending physician who informed me that I was wrong and told me I was incompetent. That too spurred me to make sure that I was ready to perform that test the next time it was ordered.

                There have been many times, over the past 35 years of ministry, that I have felt incompetent. I encountered that feeling on my very first day as a young associate pastor. The Senior Pastor was out of town and the message came into the office that one of the church members had died. I was dispatched to go and comfort the grieving widow. I felt completely unprepared to face this delicate situation. As I drove to the home of the widow, I prayed that God would give me the right words. I do not remember anything that I said that day, but a unique bond was formed with that widow, which has lasted for decades.

                I have often felt inadequate as a leader. Yet, through the years, God has continually placed in positions of leadership. Many of those times, others have affirmed that I was to lead. On a couple of occasions, I have been told that I was inadequate for the task, yet God still used me to lead through that difficult situation. What I have learned over the years is that my competence is not dependent upon my talents and skills. My competence is dependent upon yielding my talents and skills to God and allowing Him to use them for His glory.

                Think of how many leaders in the Bible were basically incompetent to lead, until God got a hold of them. Think of Moses, Gideon, David, Peter. All of these men had major flaws, yet God used each one in a powerful way. Moses was a fugitive; reluctant to go back and face Pharaoh, full of excuses why he was the wrong choice. Gideon was timid, scared, and full of self-doubt. David was young and inexperienced. Peter was brash, often speaking before he thought; jumping into situations that he should not have.

                All of us could use incompetence as an excuse for not stepping up to the plate in service for Christ. I can tell you, from firsthand experience, that Jesus doesn’t accept that excuse. He didn’t accept it from Moses or Gideon, and He will not accept it from us. If He calls us, and He has, then He will empower us to accomplish the mission.

                Paul understood this clearly. Paul had all of the theological training that one could want. Yet, when it came to serving Christ as an Apostle, he felt out of his depth. He had to learn that his skills and talents could take him only so far. At some point, he had to rest in the power of God to take his efforts to a new, higher level. That is exactly what happened. Paul was constantly dealing with those who called him incompetent to lead. Instead of attacking them and defending himself, he turned to Christ. He was able to draw strength from the truth that it was Christ who empowered him to spread the Gospel and lead the Church. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

                We all feel incompetent at times to serve Christ. We all have excuses about why we are inadequate and why God should use someone else. The bottom line is that none of our excuses matter. When Jesus calls us into service, He makes us competent to serve, whether others agree or not. Our confidence is in Christ and not ourselves. As Paul says, in Romans 8:31, What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


1 Corinthians 10:12,
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!

                What does it mean for us to have godly character? It is an important question, but not an easy one. Quick, easy answers to what it means to have godly character mask a lack of genuine understanding. Godly character is not something we can apply to our lives from the outside, like a veneer. Godly character begins at the core of our being and permeates every aspect of our life.

                As a woodworker, I prefer solid wood to veneers. A veneer is a thin layer of an expensive wood that is glued to a cheaper wood to make it look better. On the surface, a solid piece of oak looks just like a piece of pine with an oak veneer. If you sand the one piece of wood enough, you will soon break through the veneer and expose the pine below. If you sand the solid piece of oak, it will remain true.

                The same principle is true for us. If our character is merely a spiritual veneer, when the trials and pressures of life rub against us, our true character will come through. If our character is genuine, the trials and pressures of life will reveal that as well.

                One of the reasons to use a veneer is to get a consistent look, without flaws. Veneers are created to look perfect. When working with solid wood, you often encounter small flaws that make the look less than perfect. If the image of my character is too perfect, then it is most likely a veneer. If on the other hand small flaws are evident, then it is more likely the real thing. So what are the general qualities of a godly character?

                A person with a godly character is genuinely humble. Humility is not a trait that is valued today. As a society, we celebrate the bold, the arrogant, the self-promoting. The truly humble person is lost in the shadows. In some ways, humility is seen as a weakness, not a strength. Yet, God places great value on being a person of humility. In Proverbs 3:34, Solomon writes: He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. James picks up on this and takes it a step farther.
    But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
    "God opposes the proud
        but gives grace to the humble."
    Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:6-10

                A person with a godly character has a realistic understanding of their strengths and weakness. The problem with a veneer character is that it promotes a false understanding of ourselves. We begin to believe that the façade we have created is genuine, when it is not. Paul challenges us to be honest with ourselves about the true nature of our character. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Romans 12:3

                A person with a godly character focuses more on what God thinks than on what people think. We put on spiritual veneers to impress others. We want to be seen as more spiritual than we really are. We want others to be impressed by our godliness. Genuine godly character looks for God’s approval above the approval of people. Paul was constantly struggling with people’s opinion about him. In Galatians 1, Paul puts his cards on the table, so to speak. Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

                A person with a godly character is gentle toward others, full of grace. One of the sure signs of a veneer character is our negative response to others when they rub against us. In the heat of the friction that is caused, our true character will come through, in the form of anger, bitterness, resentment. What we want to come through is grace. A person with a godly character may have a negative immediate response, but they will deal with the other person with real gentleness and grace. Conflict is always a test of our character. 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. Galatians 6:1

                A person with a godly character knows that they are unfinished. Remember that the goal of a veneer is perfection. A veneer character will always protect the image of perfection. Genuine, godly character recognizes the rough edges and imperfections. A person with a godly character sees themselves as a work in progress. They are always striving to smooth out the rough edges and work through the imperfections of their lives. Instead of hiding their unfinished state, they acknowledge it in appropriate ways. They don’t make excuses, they take steps to strengthen their character. I truly admire the Apostle Paul for this quality. He saw himself as a work in progress right up to the end of his life.
    I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
    Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:10-14

                We are all works in progress. God is in the process of shaping, molding, and refining our character.  As we faithfully cooperate with Him, we will more and more reflect His image and glory into our world. Let’s not settle for a veneer of character, but strive for true, godly character that goes all the way to the core of our being.

Philippians 1:3-6
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017


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.

                I have always believed in prayer. I have practiced the discipline of prayer most of my life. I have dedicated specific times in my day and in my week for prayer. But, I have always struggled with prayer. Too easily I fall into routine patterns. Too easily my mind wonders and I lose focus. Too easily I see prayer as a last resort, instead of my first response to every situation.

                I recently reread Ben Patterson’s book Deepening Your Conversation with God. Ben is open, honest, and candid about his own spiritual journey. There are so many things that he shares with which I can identify. His last chapter on corporate prayer was especially convicting. He points out, with lazar focus, that we have made prayer a personal endeavor and lost the power and significance of corporate prayer. He boldly suggests that one of the reasons that the church in America lacks power is that it lacks corporate prayer.

                My wife and I have been reading the Mitford books together. The main character in these books, by Jan Karon, is Father Tim, an Episcopal priest in a small North Carolina village. The author has a remarkable handle on the life of a pastor. One of the things that always catches my attention is the way that Father Tim prays. His prayers sound formal, even memorized, yet ring true and genuine. In part, because of Father Tim’s prayers, and in part, because I want to reignite my devotional life, I pulled a book off of my shelf called A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants. It comes from a distinctly liturgical context, but it has been a fresh addition to my devotional time.

                One of the aspects of this guide is that it gives a written invocation and benediction for each week. The authors suggest that a person use these prayers daily. On the surface, these prayers are old fashioned and a little stiff, but their sentiment is powerful. I have begun rewriting these prayers for my own use; adapting them to my style. It has been refreshing.

                There are two ways that we most often approach prayer. First, we approach prayer as a formal duty that we dispense as quickly as possible. Second, we approach prayer as a last resort, a desperate plea for help from God. Neither of these approaches lines up with the biblical concept of prayer. Prayer is intended to be an ongoing dialog with God; a perpetual conversation, which informs all of our lives. Paul simply says, pray continually because this is God’s will for you.

                As I have struggled with prayer over the years, there are three things that keep coming to the surface. God wants us to pray often, pray broadly, and pray specifically. Paul combines all three of these observations at the end of his description of the armor of God in Ephesians 6. Look carefully at what he writes.

    And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
    Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephes. 6:18-20
                Paul instructs us to pray on all occasions with all the resources of prayer that are at our disposal. He tells us to pray for all the saints, because we are not on this journey alone. It is important that we broaden our focus beyond our personal needs. Then he concludes by telling us to pray specifically for the advancement of the Gospel.

                Prayer is not a formality to be gotten through so we can get on with the real work. Prayer is the real work. Prayer is the power source that we need to be able to accomplish what God wants of us. Without genuine prayer, we are flying blind in a spiritual fog, with no real sense of direction.