Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Romans 12:2
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

                At some point, every Christian struggles with the question of God’s will. What is God’s will for my life? When the question arises, it usually is focused of some very specific decision that needs to be made. Should I take this job or that job? Is it time to make a major move? Should I get married? Who should I marry? How should I handle my finances? What is God’s specific will for my life?

                All of these (and many others) are important questions with which to wrestle. God wants to play an active role in all of the decisions that we make in life. But I think that we often put our focus in the wrong place. Specific decisions, like what job should I take, are secondary to the bigger question. Who am I becoming? When it comes to God’s will, it is more about who we are becoming as a person, than what we are doing. The doing is important, but it needs to flow out of the becoming.

                The world puts its emphasis on doing. People are judged by the job they have, the car they drive, the house they live in, the influence they exert over others. The pattern of the world is all about getting ahead, succeeding, beating out the other guy, grabbing all the gusto you can get. Paul tells us that we need to start thinking in a different way.

                In a nut shell, God’s will for every person is that we would become more and more like Christ. God’s will is that we would think like Christ and then act like Christ. God’s will is that we would be changed from the inside out. When God sent Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel, Samuel was impressed by the outward appearance of David’s oldest brother. But God had a different perspective.    But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

                God cares about the circumstances of our lives, but He is far more concerned about the state of our soul. Who are we under the surface? That is really what matters to God. Who we are under the surface will guide and shape all of our decisions. When we are striving to bring our character in line with Christ, we will have discernment to make the outward decisions of life. In Colossians 3:17, Paul writes,    And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. What we do is important, but how we do what we do is more important to God. God has given us much freedom to choose our path in life. In many cases, one pathway is just as good as another. The more important issue is how we will glorify God by what we do.

                We all struggle with God’s specific will for our lives. As we strive to align ourselves with God’s general will for all believers, we can have more confidence in discerning God’s specific will.

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. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


                When I was in High School, I ran the two-mile race in track. Looking back, our coach put all of his emphasis on the sprinters and did very little to train the distance runners. His normal routine was to send us out on our own on a road run. At that time, the idea of wearing the correct shoes for each race was a new concept. Consequently, we all wore track spikes, no matter which race we were running. Track spikes are great for sprinters, but not so great for distance runners.

               Throughout my track career, I worked very hard, but I was not given much instruction about the best way to run my race. On one occasion, the coach sent us out on a road run on the dirt roads around the school. I laced up my track spikes and followed the leaders. Because I was not the best runner, I was always at the back of the pack, struggling to keep up with the others. As we crested a small hill, my track spikes caught in the rocks and I fell forward, landing on my knees and hands. Because I was at the end of the pack, no one noticed what had happened. They just kept running. I picked myself up, walked painfully back to the locker room, washed my wounds, and went home. I was back at practice the next day, but no one even noticed that I had left early.

                I have often equated the Christian life to running a long distance race. On Sunday, as I preached about what it means to be a child of God, I was convicted about my own struggles with sin. On this marathon race of faith, we all trip and fall from time to time. Most of us get up, brush ourselves off, and keep running. Much of the time we are nursing bloodied knees all alone. No one else knows about our fall. They all seem to be doing just fine, while we are in the spiritual locker room attending to our wounds.  

                It is all too common in the Church, as in the world, to put our focus on the spiritual sprinters, who always seem to be winning the race. We give little attention to the distance runners; the ones more at the back of the pack who are struggling to just keep up. If a sprinter falls, everyone knows. The spiritual medics are on the spot, getting the sprinter back up on their feet. If a distance runner falls, few people notice. They often attend to their wounds all alone. There are many reasons for this, but I know it to be true, because I have lived it.

                The Bible has several things to say to us about bloodied knees. First, we need to take responsibility for our falls. If we try to hide them or excuse them, we only set ourselves up to fall again. James was very straight forward about the need for us to the honest with ourselves and others. Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16) No one can help us bind up our bloodied knees, if they are unaware of them. We can unfairly get upset with others for not acting, when they were unaware of our need. It is important for all of us to have a spiritual confessor that we can go to regularly and reveal our bloodied knees.

                On the other hand, we all need to pay more attention to what is going on in other people’s lives. We may not know the specific issues that that person is facing, but we can be aware that something is amiss. It is not inappropriate to gently probe and seek to discover how we can help. Because, like my teammates in High School, we tend to be focused on our own race, we often miss the tumbles of others. Paul challenges us to intentionally be aware of how our teammates are doing. Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2

                There is one more thing we can do for one another. We can help each other run the race better. I have run several distance races in the recent past. There are two things that have always helped me to run those races better. The first are the crowds cheering for me as I run by. During the Mankato Marathon, there are cheer teams stationed along the course. Every time I come to one of them, and hear them cheering me on, I get a new spurt of energy. Hebrews 12:1 puts this into a spiritual perspective for us. After the many champions of the faith have been listed in chapter 11, the author brings us into the picture. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

                There is a second kind of encouragement that is even more powerful than those cheering from the sidelines. It is the encouragement from those running with us. On several occasions, as I hit a difficult place in a distance race, I have had a fellow runner come along side of me and encourage me to keep going. “You can do it! Don’t give up! You are going to make it!” If you are not a distance runner, it is hard for you to understand how those simple word, spoken by a fellow runner, can energize you. The very same thing is true in our spiritual race. When we are struggling with some hard spot in our race, having a fellow runner come along side of us can make all of the difference in the world. So Paul writes,  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

                We are all running a spiritual marathon. Along the way, we will trip, fall, and bloody our knees. Satan wants us to focus on those bloody knees and give up the race. Jesus comes along side of us, picks us up, and reminds us that He died for those bloody knees.

Psalm 103:8-14
    The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
        slow to anger, abounding in love.
    He will not always accuse,
        nor will he harbor his anger forever;
    he does not treat us as our sins deserve
        or repay us according to our iniquities.
    For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
        so great is his love for those who fear him;
    as far as the east is from the west,
        so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
    As a father has compassion on his children,
        so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
    for he knows how we are formed,

        he remembers that we are dust

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


2 Corinthians 4:7
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

                One of my favorite images in the Bible is Paul’s reference to us as jars of clay. It is an image I can identify with. Paul’s image of a jar of clay tapped into the common life of the people he was writing to. Every household had several clay jars that they would use for carrying water, storing food, or storing other objects. The famous Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in clay jars hidden in a cave. We know that when invading armies came, many people would take their most valuable possessions, place them in a clay jar, and bury them in the ground, with the hope that they would be able to come back later and dig them up. Jesus used this concept in Matthew 13:44 to illustrate the Kingdom of God. "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” This is the same image Paul is using in this passage. The treasure that he is referring to is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. The treasure within our clay jars is the truth of the Gospel; our salvation and relationship with God through Christ.

                I want to go back to the clay jar. Clay jars are serviceable, but they are also slightly fragile. A clay jar can easily be broken. As I have been doing some self-examination lately, I have come to realize that my clay jar has more than a few chips and cracks. The obvious cracks are physical. I have far more aches and pains now than I used to. At our recent 125th anniversary celebration several people told me that I have not changed, but I know that they are wrong. When I look back at pictures of myself, I can see the obvious physical changes that have taken place.

                What is not so obvious are the emotional chips and cracks. Over the past 35 years of ministry, I have accumulated quite a few. Every time a family leaves our church, for good reasons or bad, I feel it deeply. Every time I have to deal with a family in crisis, I feel another chip broken off. Every time a young person drifts away from the faith, I feel another crack forming. Every time I fail to fully live up to my commitment to Christ, I sense another crack forming. I can identify with Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11:28-29. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? The longer I have served in the church, the more keenly I feel the weight and burden of it.

                Now here is the good news! The treasure that is within my jar of clay is stronger than the forces pressing against it. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10) As I look back over 35 years of ministry, I can honestly say that what Paul wrote is true in my life. There were many times when I thought my jar of clay was going to break into pieces. But Christ sustained me, even though I sustained a few more chips and cracks. He is the one who continues to hold me together.

                More and more, the thing that energizes me and keeps me going is an increasingly clearer vision of eternity. It is eternity that puts all of the struggles of life into perspective. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19, If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. If there is nothing more than this life, then all of our struggles are for nothing. But the reality of eternity changes all of that. So Paul can say with confidence that all the chips and cracks are worth it. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

                We are all simple jars of clay. The decorations on the outside may be different. Some of us are decorated with elaborate patterns of line and color. Some of us are plain and simple. But under the surface, we are all simple jars of clay. Our strength does not come from the decorations on the outside, but from the treasure on the inside. As long as we are filled with the glory of Christ, the pressures of the world cannot overcome us.

1 John 4:4
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.