Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Habakkuk 3:2
    Lord, I have heard of your fame;
        I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.
    Renew them in our day,
        in our time make them known;
        in wrath remember mercy.

                One of the gifts that God has given to us as human beings is the gift of awe and wonder. We have the ability to be amazed by the world that God has created. A beautiful sunset can take our breath away. The view from a high vista looking down into a green, lust valley can be inspiring. The sight and sound of waves crashing on the shore can thrill us. We were created to stand in awe of all that God has done.

                David expressed this poetically in Psalm 19.
    The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
    Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
    There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
    Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
    In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, (Psalm 19:1-4)

                Paul David Tripp has called this signpost beauty. All of creation was created to be a signpost pointing toward God. God placed the capacity for awe and wonder in us as a means of drawing us to Himself. When we see the beauty of our world, we should ask, where did this all come from? Who is the artist? Who is the architect? Who is the creator? The created world declares the glory of God.

                This past week, I had the chance to travel to the North Shore of Lake Superior for a couple of days. My wife and I took a couple of international students with us, to expose them to the beauty of Minnesota’s north woods. It was a great experience. As we shared some of our favorite spots with them, we got to see them in a new way, as if we were seeing them for the first time. In fact, we discovered a couple of gems that we had somehow missed in our many trips up north.

                As followers of Christ, we can clearly see the hand of God in all of the natural beauty that is around us. For those who do not believe in God, they stop short of the goal. They are genuinely in awe of the created world, but make its beauty the end goal. Instead of turning in praise to God, they focus only on His creation.

                Paul captured the world in which we live with his words in Romans 1:21-23,25. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
                They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.

                Although people in our part of the world may not actually make idols and bow down to them, they have made idols of the created world in many ways. Instead of recognizing the hand of God, they try to explain our world through their own wisdom and observations. It is not that these are necessarily wrong or bad. It is that they fall far short of the truth. They see themselves as the masters of the world, instead of God’s stewards of His world.

                As followers of Christ, we should be the first to point out the beauty and wonder of our world. We should be at the forefront of exploring all that God has created. And as we do this, we can point past the signpost toward the one who made it all happen. We live in an amazing world that should regularly take our breath away. We should tap into the awe and wonder that God has implanted within our hearts. As we do that, we can give praise and glory to God. We can and should stand in awe of the one who made all of this a reality.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Psalm 103:1-2
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

                We can be forgetful people. We can forget the source of our well-being, our prosperity, our very life. As a society, we have fallen into the trap that Moses warned the people of Israel about before they entered the Promised Land.
   When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Deuteronomy 8:10-11
    You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. Deuteronomy 8:17-18

                Today, when people are confronted with their obligation to give praise and thanks to God, it is more likely that they will respond with, “it is only what I deserve.” As followers of Christ, we can easily fall into this trap as well. We can begin to believe that God’s blessings are our right and that God is obligated to make sure that we get them. We can take the grace of God for granted and fail to give God the praise.

                It seems like David was fully aware of this danger. He challenged himself to never forget what God had done for him. God chose David to be the king of Israel when he was just a shepherd boy watching his father’s flocks. God protected David from the wrath of King Saul. God expanded Israel’s territory under David’s rule. God gave David great prosperity. All of these things were temptations to David; temptations to take the credit and forget the source. So David wrote Psalm 103 to remind himself from where all that he had came.

                Paul David Tripp shared an encounter that he had with a man from another country. He asked the man to give him his honest opinion of America. The man was hesitant at first, but after Paul encouraged him, he spoke. His response was telling. “In America, you have so much and you complain so much.” There are two dangerous responses that we could make to this accurate indictment. We could defend ourselves and try to explain that he was wrong. Or we could beat ourselves up and determine to give up everything. I believe both responses are faulty.

                The response that God wants from us is joyful praise and thanksgiving to Him. Paul states it well in 1 Timothy 6:17. Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. We have a loving, heavenly Father who wants us to fully enjoy all the blessings that He provides. He also wants us to always keep things in perspective. He is the source of our blessings, and He deserves our thanks and praise. Again, Paul makes this clear in 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. God has not called us to live the life of the joyless ascetic, but the life of the joyful child of God. We should never take for granted God’s blessings, nor should we ignore them as if they were of no value. Instead they should be a catalyst for genuine praise to God.

                At the heart of this is the question, to what are we looking to give us a sense of well-being and contentment. If we are looking to the things of this world, we will always be disappointed. But if we will look to Christ, He will fulfill that deep need for genuine contentment.

                Paul learned that lesson, and we can learn from him. I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:10-13

                We should never be ashamed of God’s blessings. We should never be reluctant to accept God’s blessings. Instead, we should receive them with joy and give them back to God in praise.


Friday, July 14, 2017


                This past week, our staff was sharing some of their personal experiences from when they first came to faith in Christ and when they entered into ministry. What was evident in their stories was a high level of excitement. There were stories of dramatic changes happening when they put their faith in Christ. There were stories of an overwhelming passion to share the Gospel and to make a difference for Christ in the world. It was encouraging and challenging. We also talked about how that excitement and passion has been tempered by the realities of life and of ministry.

                As I listened to their stories, I felt a certain sense of loss. Let me explain. I grew up in the church; in a solid Bible believing church. I grew up in a solid Christian family, with faithful committed parents. I crossed the line of faith at a very early age. There was no dramatic transformation; it just felt natural. At age 13, I began to come to grips with the realities of following Jesus. At that point, I really began to take my faith seriously. But I never had a dramatic, spiritual experience. There was none of the excitement and passion that I heard in the stories of my colleagues. Instead, it was a solid determination to live out my faith as best as I could.

                Growing up in church, I heard many conversion stories; some first hand and some recounted by our pastor. It seemed to me that they all shared the same story line. Someone had really messed up their life, they hit rock bottom, and then Jesus came into their life and changed everything. The stories were thrilling, but they left me feeling uneasy. I could not point to any dramatic turnaround in my life. I felt like I was missing something. I wondered if my experience was real, because it did not match what I was hearing. I found myself longing for one of those over the top experiences.

                Throughout my journey of faith, I have seen much evidence of the transformational power of Christ in my life. God has allowed me to experience various cross-cultural experiences that have changed my perspective on the world. God has routinely placed me into positions of spiritual leadership, even when I have not sought them. For the past thirty years, I have had the amazing privilege of shepherding the same congregation. We have seen many ups and downs, but through it all, God’s grace and provision have shown through. But I am still looking for that over the top experience.

                Currently, I have several people in my life who are filled with excitement and passion for  ministry. They seem to have the ability to easily step into the lives of people and share their faith. They are driven to get out in the world and make a significant difference for the Kingdom of God. As I interact with these amazing people, I wonder what is wrong with me.

                Throughout my life, I have been a steady state Christian. I am committed to Jesus Christ. I am committed to my calling as a pastor. I am committed to seeing lives transformed by the love of Christ. But if you were able to measure my life on the excitement scale I’m afraid I would barely move the line. I have faithfully followed Christ for the vast majority of my life. There have been momentary times of excitement and passion; seasons of determination to make a difference, but no over the top, sustained excitement.

                As I reflect on my life, I realize that I must be honest about and OK with who God created me to be. He gave me a deep desire to serve Him, coupled with an introverted, low-key personality. He gave me a passion to preach the Word, coupled with an awkward shyness in large crowds or unfamiliar situations.  God made me the way He wanted me to be, gifted me the way He wanted to gift me, and intends to use me according to His plan. I realize that I am guilty of comparing myself with others. While some people struggle with an inflated view of themselves, I tend in the opposite direction. So I take solace in people like Moses, Gideon, and Timothy who saw themselves as unqualified and unworthy of being called into God’s service.

                When I struggle with a sense that something is missing from my life, I find encouragement the following thoughts.

- I need to have a realistic understanding of who I am in Christ and live up to that. 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.

- God has called me to be me. The only person I need to compare myself with is the person God wants me to be.  Galatians 6:4-5
    Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.

- God has gifted me in a particular way and He wants me to use that for His glory. 1 Peter 4:10
    Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.
- I don’t have to hold back or be reluctant to use the gifts God has given to me.  2 Timothy 1:6-7
    For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Detours in Life

                This coming weekend is our church's big, 125th Anniversary celebration. We have been planning for this event for almost a year. Yesterday, the city blocked off Balcerzak Rd., the main way of getting to our church. It is possible that it could be reopened by this weekend, but I doubt it.

                Life is full of roadblocks and detours. Just about the time you begin to make some significant forward progress, something happens to slow you down and force you to change course. Several years ago, I was driving with my parents around Chicago. My Dad was following me in their van, so we decided to leave the freeway and take a secondary road, hoping to face less traffic. We were wrong. The traffic was pretty much bumper to bumper and every time we were able to get up to the posted speed, we hit a red light. It was a very frustrating couple of hours.

                Satan loves to throw roadblocks and detours in our way. He often uses the roadblocks of frustration, anxiety, disappointment, and fear to slow us down and get us off course. He wants us to get our eyes off of Christ and onto our circumstances. How we respond to these obstacles can either stop us in our tracks or become an opportunity to grow in our faith. God can use these to draw us closer to Himself. When we are faced by some unexpected roadblock, we can find relief by taking it to Christ. 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. Philip. 4:6-7

                But not all of the roadblocks and detours in our lives come from Satan. Sometimes God is the source of these course corrections in our lives. At the time, it might be hard for us to recognize God’s hand in our circumstances, but when we look back, we can see it clearly. The Apostle Paul gives us two prime examples of God’s roadblocks and detours.

                God placed a physical roadblock in Paul’s life to help smooth off some of his rough edges. It is recorded for us in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.  To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

                Paul’s first response to this roadblock was exactly like ours. He assumed that this was a bad thing and prayed that God would quickly remove it from his life. But God had another plan. God wanted to use this roadblock to refine Paul. Paul was a highly driven man. Once he got the bit between his teeth, there was no stopping him. So God placed a significant roadblock in his way. Paul needed to recognize that he had begun to depend more on himself than on God.  Once Paul saw his situation from God’s perspective, he was able to embrace the lesson and move forward. It is important to note that God did not remove the roadblock, but left it in place as a constant reminder of Paul’s dependence on God.

                The second incident was more of a detour than a roadblock. This detour is outlined in Acts 16:6-10. Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

                God had a reason for putting a detour sign in Paul’s life. Paul was having a significant impact on the towns and villages of Asia Minor. His success was actually limiting what God wanted to do with Paul. So the Holy Spirit stepped in and closed doors, which had previously been wide open. I’m sure that at first, Paul was frustrated and confused. Why was God keeping him from continuing his fruitful ministry? The reason was that God had something better for him. Because of God’s detour, an entire new field of ministry was opened.

                I have faced my share of roadblocks and detours. My journey into pastoral ministry would have never happened, if God had not thrown a few roadblocks and detours in my way. At the time, I was confused and often frustrated. I did my best to work around them, but often that only led me to another detour, until God had me on the path He wanted me to be on.

                What are the roadblocks and detours God has placed in your life? How has God used them to direct you into His path?

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


Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Philippians 4:4
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

                Yesterday was Independence Day. It was a day to celebrate the birth of our nation. On July 4th, 1776, the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was presented to the Continental Congress. After the preamble, of this significance document, the next paragraph begins with these oft quoted words. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has become a sort of American battle cry. Because people define the sentiment of this phrase differently, every stripe of political party has claimed it as their own.

                For some time our nation has been fragmented into often adversarial groups. It seems like the fabric that was woven together back in 1776 is unraveling. The sense of patriotic pride that once held us together in the past has all but drained away. It has been replaced by a cynical pessimism, which has left a dark cloud hanging over our collective heads.

                If I have pained a dark enough picture, let me shine some light into the darkness. Yesterday, we hosted a cookout at our home. Nineteen people of various ages assembled for a time of food, fun, and fellowship. During the several hours that we were together, new connections were made, existing connections were affirmed, and laughter filled the air. When the gathering finally broke up, everyone left with a smile of their face and a little more joy in their heart. That gathering, and many others like it, was a tangible example of what our Founding Fathers meant by life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is not about warring political parties or conflicting systems of government. It is about the freedom to gather together and share life with one another without fear or apprehension.

                The principle of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not specifically stated in the Bible, although its roots are firmly established in its soil. What is explicitly stated in Scripture is a much higher goal; the pursuit of joy. Joy in the Lord is the theme of the entire book of Philippians. Throughout the book, Paul challenges us to pursue joy. The heart of his argument is found in Philippians 4:4-7. 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.

                The foundational truth that we need to understand is that real joy is found in our relationship with the Lord. Happiness is based on our circumstances. When our circumstances change, our feelings of happiness change. Genuine joy transcends our circumstances. It is based on our relationship with Christ. The more that we grow in our relationship with Christ, the more our joy increases. This joy is present, even when our circumstances are not great.

                Experiencing the joy of the Lord is a choice that we make, which depends upon what we focus our minds on. If we choose to focus on the negative circumstances of life, we will rob ourselves of our joy. But if we keep our minds focused on Christ and what He has done for us, we can experience joy even in negative circumstances. Paul tells us to train our minds to focus on God’s goodness. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

                Pursuing the joy of the Lord will transform our lives. If we will take the things that disturb, upset, and confound us and lay them at the feet of Jesus, He will replace them with something far stronger; His peace. The peace of Christ is a sense of well-being that sinks deep within our soul. It gives us the strength to face any challenge that life throws at us, with confidence and courage. Why? Because our hope is in the Lord. Paul faced circumstances that most of us will never have to encounter, yet he was unwavering. He had found the source of his strength in Christ. And so he could write, I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

                The pursuit of happiness can be addictive. Because it is based on changing circumstances, it requires greater and greater input and diversity to satisfy. But that feeling of happiness is transient and lasts only for a short time. The pursuit of joy is additive. It draws us along toward a closer relationship with Christ, adding to our current joy. It has a genuinely cumulative effect that is building toward an ultimate culmination in His presence. So Paul encourages us to actively pursue the joy of the Lord.

Philippians 3:1
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.