Tuesday, December 18, 2018


                For most of us, the story of Christmas is just that, a story. When we read the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, everything seems so neat and clean. We can sit in the comfort of our home and read the story and feel all sentimental and warm. In fact, most of our images of Christmas are of families gathering together in joy, peace, and harmony. Christmas is a time when people generally treat each other well. We actually go out of our way to be nice to others. There is much to be said for the positive influence that the Christmas season has on us, even if it is short-lived.

                The reality was very different for Mary and Joseph. They didn’t get to read the story in a comfortable setting; they lived it moment by moment. They did not know how the story would end. They didn’t know what would happen along the way. They had to step out in faith and trust God to lead them.

                For Mary and Joseph, Christmas was a total disruption of their lives. It would be an understatement to say that the news of Mary’s pregnancy or the edict of Caesar that set them on the road to Bethlehem was inconvenient. The realities of that first Christmas were life changing in every way.

                In a day when a girl could be stoned for becoming pregnant outside of marriage, Mary was placed in an extremely vulnerable place. In a time when the marriage covenant was taken far more seriously than it is today, Joseph risked everything to take Mary as his wife. In a time when God had been silent in Israel for 400 years, to believe that an angel from the Lord had spoken directly to you was an enormous leap of faith. The reality of Christmas was anything but comfortable or warm and cozy. Mary and Joseph staked the rest of their lives on the message they had received from God, knowing that no one else would or could really understand.

                We are in the enviable position of being able to be spectators to the Christmas story. We can watch it unfold, without the drama of having to face the difficult steps along the way. But I believe that God is inviting us to not just observe Christmas, but to live it ourselves.

                John 3:16 tells us, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God sent Jesus into the world to radically change our lives. To have eternal life is to allow God, through the Holy Spirit, to take up residence in our lives. When we place our faith and trust in Jesus, the trajectory of our life is changed, just as it was for Mary and Joseph. The message of Christmas is that God is calling us to carry Jesus into our world.

                Mary and Joseph were entrusted with Jesus. It was their responsibility to care for him. They were given the enormous responsibility to prepare Jesus for the day that He would step out of the shadows and into the spotlight of His public ministry. In a similar way, we have been entrusted with the task of taking Jesus into our world. Our job is to prepare the way so that others might encounter Him. As Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

                The Christmas season gives us an awesome opportunity to carry Jesus into our world. We do not have to settle with being observers to the Christmas story. We can live out the Christmas story through our lives today. Just as Jesus invaded our world so long ago, He continues to invade our world through each one of us. The message of Christmas continues to ring loud and clear. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


1 Corinthians 1:26
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

                I have been average most of my life. For the most part, I was an average student at school. I graduated from college with an average GPA. I wasn’t inept at sports, but I wasn’t great either; I was average. I have always been of average height and weight for my age (except at birth, when I weighed in at over 10 pounds). The last half marathon that I ran, I crossed the finish line in the middle of my age group and in the middle of all of the runners; average. There are a few things I do very well and many things I don’t do so well. On balance, I am a pretty average guy.

                I have sat through a number of talks from key, church leaders who have told me that unless I am excellent at what I do, I am wasting my time. At one of those events the speaker actually informed the crowd of pastors that the majority of us should quit because we were, at best, average.

                Larry Osborne, in his book “Accidental Pharisees”, reminds us that, by definition, the majority of us are average. It is impossible for everyone to be above average. If you are familiar with the Bell Curve, you will remember that the big bubble is in the middle and not the ends. As human beings, we tend to congregate in the middle.

                One of the problems that we have in the Church is that we elevate certain aspects of ministry and downplay all of the others. A person who excels at preaching or teaching is seen as a more excellent Christian than a person who cannot speak in front of a crowd, but is excellent at showing mercy. We elevate the evangelist who stands in the spotlight, while we forget the sound guy who sits in the shadows and makes the big guy look and sound good.

                You can make a compelling case that we should strive for excellence in everything that we do. Afterall, if we are serving Christ, shouldn’t we give Him our best. But the dark side of striving for excellence is pride and arrogance. There is a difference between striving for personal excellence and measuring your excellence against others. In truth, everyone who proclaims the goal of excellence in their area of giftedness is often blind to how they are less than excellent in a number of other areas.

                One of the reasons I like to compete in long-distance races is that everyone is a winner, not just the person who crosses the finish line first. When I run, I am not competing against all the other runners, I am competing against one runner; me. In the Christian life, we are not in competition with one another to see who is the better Christian. We are competing for the goal of being the best Christian we can be.

                The truth is, in an age that worships excellence, we will not all be excellent. As believers, we will not all attain the level of excellence of Billy Graham or Rick Warren or John Piper, and that is okay. The Bible is full of average people, who put their faith and trust in Christ, and faithfully followed Him. That is what Jesus is expecting from each of us. It is okay to be an average Christian as long as you are being the best, average Christian you can be.

                Paul reminded the Corinthian believers that they were nothing outstanding or special, but God used them to do some amazing things. As Paul said: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:27-31

                It is a good thing to strive for excellence in your life. Be the best you can be, but then be content with that. There is some God-given ability in all of our lives where we will excel beyond the norm, but in the majority of our lives we will be average. Too often the quest for excellence puts the focus on us instead of God. We need to think less about ourselves, our personal score card, and think more about glorifying God in all we do.

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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

                We have fully entered into the Christmas season. A sure sign of this is the proliferation of “Christmas” movies that are now appearing on TV. If you happen to have access to Netflix or the Hallmark channel, you can fill your days with such movies. Many of these movies are rather sugary sweet. The prevailing message is that Christmas is a time for sentimentality. I would like to suggest that the true message of Christmas is not sentimentality but courage.
                Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. The purpose of Advent is to prepare us for and lead us to the birth of Jesus. Unfortunately, we have a rather sentimental view of the Christmas story. We focus on an idealize image that sanitizes the realities of the genuine event. The truth is that God asked two people to be extremely courageous in the face of challenges they would rather avoid.

                In Luke’s gospel, we are invited to listen in on a conversation between the Archangel Gabriel and a young girl named Mary. Mary is pledged to be married and is looking forward to all that entailed. Marriage meant security for the future. It meant the promise of children and establishing a home. Mary’s expectations were most likely pretty simple. She would live an uneventful life as the wife of the local carpenter. She would have children and raise her family. She would live out her days in the familiar surroundings of her community. When Gabriel showed up, all of that changed.

                Look carefully at what God was asking Mary to do. He was asking her to risk her marriage to Joseph, her security for the future, her reputation in the community, and her dreams of a quiet, simple life. To accept what God was asking her to do was to take a very difficult path. God was asking her to risk everything and trust Him beyond trust. For her to accept was a supreme act of courage.

                In Matthew’s gospel, we get to see Joseph’s side of the story. Joseph was living in anticipation of his marriage to Mary. According to tradition, he would have been preparing a home for them to live in. As a carpenter, he may have been spending all of his extra time crafting the furniture that would equip their new home. Joseph would have been anticipating having children who would carry on his name. He would pray that God would bless him with sons. He anticipated living a simple life as the village carpenter in the familiar surroundings of his community.

                When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, his dreams evaporated. His dream of establishing his family within the community, with the woman he loved, was shattered. Everyone would know that Mary was pregnant before the wedding. The tongues of Nazareth would be wagging. Either Joseph had failed to exercise self-control or Mary had been unfaithful. Either way, their marriage was ruined before to had a chance to begin. Matthew tells us that Joseph struggled with the decision about what to do. He really loved Mary, but he could not marry her under these circumstances. It was just too big of a hurdle to get over. He had no choice but to end their relationship.

                But God stepped in and challenged Joseph to set aside his fear and to trust Him. He informed Joseph, in a dream, that this was all a part of God’s plan for the redemption of Israel. The road before them would be hard, but God would go with them. He was asking Joseph to exercise unprecedented courage and to go forward with his marriage to Mary.

                Both Mary and Joseph had a decision to make. Both had to make their decision alone. Both had to trust God and trust each other. Both had to exercise courage. Both chose to risk everything to do what God was asking of them.

                There is very little value in this season if our focus is on temporary sentimentality. It can make us feel all warm and fuzzy for a time, but it will not change our lives. But if we understand that this season is calling us to be people of courage in our world, then it can change our lives. Just as God asked Mary and Joseph to trust Him completely, He is asking us to do the same thing. He is asking us to carry Jesus into our world. It will mean that we will not fit the common patterns of life. It means that people will misunderstand and even find fault with us. It means that our plans will be altered. But it also means that we will step into the most exciting adventure possible.

Luke 1:38
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

Luke 9:23-24
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


                If I am honest with myself, I spend too much time living in the shadows. One of the greatest fears that many of us have is being exposed. There are parts of our lives that we do not want to be made public for any reason. We do not like to feel vulnerable. For all of the talk today of living a transparent life, few of us actually do. There is a part of our lives that we intentionally leave in the shadows. John Eldridge has said that there is a question that plagues every man. “Am I good enough?” “Do I measure up?” Many of us spend our lives trying to prove ourselves, which usually means we hide our faults and our vulnerabilities.

                One of the most well-known chapters in the Bible is John 3. We are quick to embrace verses 16-17. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  We are not so quick to move on to verses 19-21. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." If we do venture into these verses, we usually use them as a spotlight on those people out there, and not as a mirror into our own hearts.

                Because we are in the process of being sanctified, our lives are a mix of what is good and what is evil. Our desire is to emulate the good, but we are afraid of exposing that which is not so good. I know from personal experience that it is a frightening and humbling experience to be exposed. We are in a constant battle between the light and the darkness. Therefore, we find ourselves, at times, living in the shadows.

                Paul talks openly about this struggle in Romans 7.
                We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
                So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:14-24)

                There are many scholars (who are much more qualified than me) who explain this passage as Paul’s pre-conversion experience.  I believe that this was Paul’s constant struggle throughout his life. I know that it has been mine. The more that I grow in my faith, the more aware I am of all of the ways I fall short. I am keenly aware that I have vulnerabilities. I periodically stumble and fall, then I beat myself up for not measuring up. Praise God that the balance of my life has fallen on the side of the light, but I cannot deny that there are still parts of my life in the shadows.

                Paul answers the question he posed with a resounding expression of praise. Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25a) Later on in Romans, Paul makes one of the most amazing and encouraging statements for all who struggle. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2) It is not that the struggle has gone away; it still remains. But in our struggle, we know that we have the ultimate victory in Christ Jesus. Paul’s words give me hope in the midst of my struggles. Instead of giving up the fight, I fight harder to move out of the shadows and into the light.

                I have been rereading Larry Osborne’s book “Accidental Pharisees”. Today I was reminded of how we can create a spiritual fa├žade to hide behind. Like the bully who beats up on others because he is insecure, so we can project a kind of spirituality that hides our insecurity and vulnerability. Coming into the light does not mean being perfect, it means being genuine. It means being honest with our struggles and dealing with them instead of trying to hide them.



Saturday, November 17, 2018


              In many ways, Thanksgiving is the forgotten holiday. Many people rush past Thanksgiving in their headlong plunge into the Christmas shopping frenzy. For many people, Thanksgiving is just a day to overeat and watch football. When you leave God out of the Thanksgiving picture, it does seem to be rather hollow. Because there is confusion about the true meaning of Thanksgiving, some people have substituted a new tradition called Friendsgiving; a time to celebrate your friends.

                Being thankful is one of the things that the Bible repeatedly challenges us to do. In the Psalms alone, we are challenged to give thanks 20 times. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he tells us that thankfulness is at the heart of God’s will. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
                As I have been reflecting on Thanksgiving, I have been aware of so many things for which I am thankful to God. Let me share with you a short list of things I want to give thanks to God for.

                Having been prompted recently to think about my experiences in Ukraine, I am reminded of things I take for granted every day. I am thankful for central heating, paved roads, indoor plumbing, and fully stocked grocery stores.

                This year, Suanne and I will be traveling to Michigan to spend Thanksgiving with our family. I am thankful for a reliable car that will transport us from the frozen tundra of North Dakota to the less frozen sands of Western Michigan. I am thankful for the opportunity to spend time with our two grandsons. I am thankful that our entire family will be together.

                I am thankful for 31 years of ministry at Bethel Baptist Church in Mankato, MN. I am thankful for the lessons that God has taught me along the way about what it means to be a pastor. I am thankful that God has been patient with me as I have grown in my faith and in my skill as a pastor. I am thankful for all of the people I have been able to invest in spiritually and all of the people who have invested in me. I am thankful that God allowed me to invest the vast majority of my ministry in one place.

                I am thankful for the opportunity to continue doing ministry in Cavalier, ND. I am thankful for a church that desires to grow in their faith and in their influence in the community. I am thankful for people who have embraced us and made us feel at home in a new environment.

                I am thankful that I have free access to the Bible. I am thankful that the Bible is God’s living word, which speaks into my life. I am thankful that the Bible is relevant in every culture and to every generation.

                I am thankful for my wife, Suanne, who has been my partner in life and in ministry. She has made me a better person and a better pastor.

                Above all, I am thankful that I am a child of God, through my faith in Jesus Christ and what He has done for me on the cross of Calvary.

Hebrews 12:28
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


                I have been attending a weekly men’s Bible study. We have been studying the book of Hebrews. Sometimes our discussions get pretty deep. This morning was one of those times. Our group is made up of men with a variety of backgrounds and a wide range of theological understanding. At times our discussion elevates to the rarified air of profound and often confusing theology. When this happens, I will often try to bring us back down to ground level. This morning, after the Bible study was over, one of the men stopped by my office and thanked me for putting things in simpler terms.

                When Jesus was teaching the crowds profound truths about the Kingdom of God, He used stories that they could all identify with. He took common situations and common objects and used them to illustrate deep theological truth. I am sure that the Pharisees, who loved arguing the subtler points of the Law, thought that Jesus was simplistic, but He was able to communicate on a level that common people would understand.

                I am a reader, and so I have read many books on theology and our faith.  Some of those books have left me cold. All that the author has to say is true, but he communicates it in a way that makes it confusing. It is as if we have something profound to say, we need to say it in the most complicated way possible. The books that I resonate with the most are those where the author relates theology to real life situations. In order for me to grasp abstract concepts, I need to see them in concrete terms.

                Years ago, in order to sharpen my skills as a communicator, I enrolled in a course on writing children’s books. One of the first lessons that I learned from that course was in my writing to show rather than tell. I can state a fact; the black cat entered the room. Or I can show my audience a black cat; the cat curled itself around the corner of the doorway and sauntered into the room. The sun played off of the sheen of its black coat as she padded her way toward her favorite chair.

                Just like in writing children’s stories, we need to learn to show people theological truth rather than just state the facts. One of the gifts that God has given to me is the ability to see theological truth in common things. When I preach, I am always looking for some way to connect the people to the truth in terms that they will comprehend. My role is not to impress people with the depth of my knowledge, but to instruct people in the truth of the Gospel. The less complicated I can make that the better.

                I just finished rereading a book by Larry Osborne titled “Spirituality for the Rest of Us.” In that book, he makes the case that we have made following Jesus more complicated than we need to. In our attempts at being spiritual, we have made discipleship more complex and confusing than it needs to be. We have raised the bar so high that few people will ever attain it. To paraphrase what Osborne is trying to tell us, we need to get our heads out of the clouds and keep our feet on the ground.

                I have run across a poem several times in my reading that has often challenged me. The essence of the poem is that we have a choice of how we will live out our faith. The author uses a door into a garden to illustrate his point. He speaks of those who, having walked through the door, venture as far into the garden as they can and as far from the door as they can. But he states that he prefers to stay by the door, to help others find their way into the garden.

                There is a place for deep theological study. There is value in venturing into that rarefied air. There is also the need for us to keep our feet on the ground, so that we can help others find their way.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5
    When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018


                As I write this, the Cleveland Browns football team has won 2 games, lost 6 games, and tied 1 game. In comparison to their performance over the past two years, this is success. Compared to the rest of the NFL, this is failure. Success is a very relative concept. It all depends upon what standard is used to measure it.

                I often vacillate between seeing myself as successful and as unsuccessful. To be honest, most of the time I lean toward the unsuccessful side of the equation. It is a personality fault of mine. I tend to be far harder on myself than others are. But just to put things into context, for the past 31 years I served as the Senior Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Mankato, MN. When I began, we were a congregation of about 75 people. When I left, our average Sunday worship attendance was 240. That looks like success. But if you look closer, you will see that there was a time when we were averaging about 400 in worship. We failed to break through the 400 barrier and fell back to 240. That looks like something less than success.

                I have been rereading Larry Osborne’s book “Spirituality for the Rest of Us.” In that book he reminds us that God’s measure of success and our measure of success are radically different. God weights success more heavily on the side of faithful service, rather than on tangible results. It is not that results are not important, but they are not the final word about success. Many who have had amazing tangible results have proved, in the end, to be failures in God’s sight.

                In my devotions today, I read the parable of the ten minas, as recorded in Luke 19:11-27. In this parable, the master gave ten servants each on mina. One mina was an amount of money roughly equivalent to three months wages. The master charged his servants with putting his money to work for his benefit. After a while, the master returned to settle accounts with his servants. The parable records the results from only three of the servants. The first servant returned the original mina plus ten more. The second servant returned the original mina plus 5 more. The third servant returned the original mina. The master was pleased with the first two servants. They were both commended for their faithful service. The master was not happy with the third servant. He was deemed unfaithful and cast out. The master measured the success of his servants by their faithfulness to the task, not their results.

                I have struggled with the idea that God measures success by faithfulness. Too often I have heard Christians excuse the lack of results by claiming that they have been faithful. I believe that true faithfulness will bring results. The results may not be dramatic, but they will be there. You can make the case that in the parable, the third servant was faithful in guarding his master’s money, but he was negligent in not accomplishing anything with it. We cannot use faithfulness as an excuse for not trying.

                In the end, God is going to judge our performance on what we have done with what He has given to us. He is not going to judge us against what others have done with what they have been given. God expects a return on His investment, but the real return He is seeking is faithful service for Him.

                Here is the really good news. If we faithfully stay connected to Jesus, the results will come, and God will be pleased with us. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) If we are faithful in our service for Christ, we can leave the results in God’s hands.

                True success is far more profound and meaningful than numbers of people attending a worship service or the number of dollars placed in a savings account. True success is measured by how faithfully we accomplish the task that God has given each one of us to do. God has entrusted us with time, energy, and material resources. How we use these for His glory will be the measure of our success in life. Our success may come in the form of raising our family well, or being the best employee we can be. It could mean leading a small group Bible study, or leading an entire congregation. It could mean being a good neighbor to the people who live around you. One day God will settle accounts with us, and He will measure our success by how faithful we have been at living our life for His glory.   

1 Corinthians 4:2
    Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

Luke 12:42-44
    The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018


                 It has been a time of major transition in my life. Back in July, I retired from my church in Mankato, MN after 31 years of ministry. It was the right thing to do, but it disrupted my life in many ways. The biggest thing that my retirement did was it shattered my routine.

                The entire month of August was a time of change and transition. The normal routine that I had enjoyed for so many years had disappeared. Then, at the beginning of September, we transitioned into a new ministry in North Dakota. As the interim pastor of the church, my role is different than it had been in Mankato. There is less definition and structure than I was used to having. I have struggled to discover a new routine that fits the expectations and responsibilities of my new role.

                During this time of transition one of the things that has suffered is my weight. For a variety of reasons, my weight, which had been stable for many years, has climbed and I don’t like it. The lack of a stable routine has been a contributing factor, but not the only factor in play. One of the things that was sacrificed during this time of transition was my exercise routine. Although I tried to maintain some form of regular, physical activity, it is obvious that I have fallen behind. Couple this with too many late-night snacks and you can get the picture.

                During my devotions, the thought came to me that losing weight and spiritual growth have some profound similarities. Both take discipline and routine. There are at least three connecting points between losing weight and spiritual growth.

                In order to lose weight, a person must watch what they eat. I love to eat. It is one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy going out to a restaurant for dinner. I enjoy meeting a friend for coffee. I delight in munching on snacks while I watch a football game. All of these things work against my goal to lose weight. If I am going to be successful, I must discipline my eating. I need to be sure that I am eating the right foods. I need to monitor how much food I eat and when. And I have to learn to say no at times.

                Our spiritual growth is contingent upon what we consume. Just as there is physical junk food, so there is spiritual junk food as well. Spiritual junk food satisfies an immediate desire but actually makes us spiritually lethargic. If we are going to grow spiritually we need to be careful about what we take into our minds and hearts. We need to feed regularly on God’s word. If we are not spending time regularly in the Bible, we will soon become spiritually malnourished. We can supplement our intake from the Bible with uplifting materials in the form of books, movies, music, podcasts, sermons, and the like. The more that we consume the right kinds of spiritual food the stronger we will become.

                In order to lose weight, a person needs regular exercise. Managing our diet is not enough to shed those unwanted pounds. We need to burn them away with physical exercise. For me, this comes in the form of running, but there are many ways that a person can exercise. For exercise to be effective it needs to push us. We can fool ourselves by engaging in forms of exercise that really don’t accomplish much. Walking to the end of the block and back twice a week might allow you to check the exercise box on your to-do list, but it won’t help you lose weight. We have to be ready to push our bodies to the level where our bodies are forced to use up some of the energy we have stored in the form of fat.

                In a similar way, if we want to grow spiritually, we need to engage in some genuine spiritual exercise. This entails taking what we have been learning from the Bible and putting it into action.  If the totality of our spiritual exercise is showing up for an hour worship service on Sunday morning, we will not make much progress. There are many ways we can exercise our spiritual muscles every day. It begins with the way that we treat those people around us. The more that we demonstrate a Christ-like character in our everyday world, the more we will grow. Beyond this we can exercise our spiritual muscles through serving others. Start a small group Bible study. Adopt an elderly person in your neighborhood. Mentor a child. Go on a mission trip. Teach a Sunday School class. Volunteer at the food shelf. Get off the spiritual couch and get involved.

                Above all, in order for a person to lose weight, they need to be consistent. The reason why most diets fail is because people fail to be consistent. As I have learned firsthand, when a person is inconsistent with their eating and exercise habits, they begin to lose the battle with their weight. A person may be able to coast for a short time, but sooner or later their lack of consistency will catch up with them.

                Consistency is one of the keys to spiritual growth. There really is never a time when we can just coast spiritually. We are either moving forward or slipping back. Establishing a healthy spiritual routine and sticking with it is essential to our spiritual growth. Just as we need regular food and exercise to remain physically healthy, so we need regular spiritual food and exercise to remain spiritually healthy. At first, establishing a healthy routine seems daunting, but once you settle into a spiritual rhythm it becomes much easier.

Philippians 2:12-13
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Matthew 13:31-32
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

                Have you ever considered the amazing power encapsulated in a seed? A single seed contains everything that is necessary to grow an entire plant. Stalk, leaves, flowers, and fruit are all enclosed within a tiny seed. The potential in every seed is far greater than the size of the seed.

                We used to have Morning Glories in our garden. They produce an abundance of small seeds. Every year they would reseed themselves in the garden. They were so prolific that we had a hard time keeping them in check. Their seeds were small, but never insignificant.

                Too often we view ourselves as small seeds with little potential. We compare ourselves against the abilities and achievements of others and conclude that we are insignificant. We put limitations upon what we can accomplish based on our perception of ourselves. But God sees us differently. He sees the great potential, which He has placed within each one of us.

                I have been called to serve a small church, in a small town, in northern North Dakota. Because of this assignment, I have been doing some reading about doing ministry in a small, rural community. It is a new experience for me. One of the things I have learned is that it is easy for a small church to begin to believe that they are insignificant and cannot accomplish much for the Kingdom of God. They compare themselves to large urban ministries and get discouraged. But in God’s eyes, no church is insignificant, no matter how small.

                The spread of the Gospel in our world is like the spread of the Morning Glories in our garden. It is a matter of many small seeds being planted, which produces amazing results. The church I am serving began with 13 charter members, yet today there are over 100 people who worship together in this congregation. Those seeds that were planted 125 years ago are still producing results today.

                Jesus’ disciples struggled with a sense of insignificance. They were not the cream of the crop. They were common, ordinary men who responded to Jesus’ call to come and follow Him. They made many mistakes along the way. At times they became very discouraged. Yet God used those common, ordinary men to turn they world upside down. Jesus planted the seeds of faith in their lives, which blossomed into a Gospel movement that spread throughout the known world.

                There are many things happening today that cause us to be discouraged. We feel small and insignificant in the face of social pressures that are leading many away from God. What can we do that will make any difference at all? When we feel small and insignificant, we need to take our eyes off of the world and get them back on God. With God all things are possible, no matter the size of our seed.

                Wherever we are in the world, what ever circumstances we are in, God wants us to plant our small seed of faith right there. As we trust God to use us, He will produce through us a harvest far greater than we can imagine.

Galatians 6:9-10
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


John 8:12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

                I had been meeting with Jim for several weeks, explaining to him what it means to become a follower of Jesus. Then the day came when Jim was ready and he prayed to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior. We met at our regular time the following week. The first thing that Jim said to me was, Pastor Dave I am mad at you. Why, I asked, what did I do? He said, after I prayed last week, I can’t listen to the radio any more. Have you listening to what they are saying in those songs? It is so wrong! The light had just gone on for Jim.

                People who do not know Jesus are living in a darkness of which they are totally unaware. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:4, The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. People do not see the world as it really is. Instead, they are blind to sin and its realities. For them, it is just the way life is. When a person comes to personal faith in Jesus Christ, the lights get turned on.

                Sometimes, when we don’t understand something, we will say that we are in the dark. When we begin to comprehend something, we say the light went on. It is not by accident that the cartoon image of someone gaining understanding is a lightbulb above their head. When comprehension comes, the light goes on. Just as physical light reveals things as they are, spiritual light helps us see the reality of the world around us.

                Jesus said that He is the light of the world. Jesus was not talking about physical light, but spiritual light. The people of Jesus’ day were in the dark about what it really means to have a relationship with God. They were caught in a religious system that had obscured the reality of who God is and how we are to relate to Him. Jesus came to turn the lights on. He began to reveal the truth about God’s nature, His character, and His compassion. Where the religious system offered guilt, Jesus offered grace. Where the religious system demanded works, Jesus called for faith. Where the religious system put their focus on outward appearances, Jesus put His focus on the condition of people’s hearts.

                Back in 1988, I took a mission trip to the Philippines. I was assigned to work with a young Filipino pastor in a small village. I was given a room in a small apartment with two young, single men. My first day in the village I encountered some of the largest cockroaches I have ever seen in my life. Cockroaches come out in the dark, so every time I turned on the light in my room, there was a mad scramble of cockroaches escaping the light. In an attempt to limit my contact with these creepy crawlers, I slept with my light on.

                As Jesus began to turn the lights on, many people began to run for cover. They were trying to hide from the truth that was exposed by the light of Christ. Jesus revealed the affect of His light in John 3:19-21. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

                The light of Christ still causes some people to run for cover. They do everything in their power to extinguish the light, or at least to dim the light. The light of Christ is just too threatening to those who are living in darkness. At the same time, there are many who are drawn to the light of Christ.

                We have been given the responsibility of reflecting the light of Christ back into our world. Once we have stepped out of the darkness and have embraced the truth, we then need to shine Jesus’ light to those around us. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

                We have the opportunity to turn the lights on for those around us. Not everyone will respond in a positive way but, if we are consistent, we can encourage others to step out of the darkness and into the light of Christ.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018


                The Christian life is a team sport, yet we often act as if it were a solo event. Every successful football, baseball, hockey, or basketball team has to develop effective teamwork. If one player focuses on himself, the entire team suffers. Teams spend hours and hours learning to work well together. Every player has to not only learn their role, but how they connect with the other players. No one plays a team sport in a vacuum.

                If we are going to be successful in our Christian life, we need to learn some spiritual teamwork. We have been called to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves. In I Corinthians 12, Paul reminds us that we are part of God’s team. Paul refers to this team as the body of Christ. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27)
                  Every team has a training regimen that strengthens the individual player and trains them to work together. God has given to us His spiritual training regimen in His Word. These spiritual team-building exercises are identified by the phrase “one another.” These “one another passages” give us the daily exercises we need to be the spiritual athletes that God has called us to be.

                The foundation for God’s team-building regimen is found in John 13:34-35. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

                An essential for any team to be successful is team cohesion. The players on the team need to be committed to the team and their teammates. If there is dissention on the team, it will not be able to preform at its best. A player who focuses only on his performance will hurt the whole team. A player that actively helps another player advance will enhance the whole team.

                It is the same with the church. As members of the Body of Christ, we need to be first committed to Christ and then committed to one another. Dissension and spiritual showboating will always weaken the church. Jesus raised the bar of expectation when He said that we are love one another with the same sacrificial love that He has loved us. The various “one another” passages give us some practical examples of what it looks like to truly love one another.

    Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12:16)
                There is a lot of class and social divide in our country and in our world. As Christians we have been called to bridge those gaps by humbly extending our hand of friendship to others.

    Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:7)
                Too often we want people to conform to our expectations before we will embrace them. If Christ had done that, none of us would be saved. Christ calls us to embrace people as they are, and then grow together from there.

    Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)
                We most often get impatient with others because they do not conform to our wishes. The counter to that is to be humble and gentle. I like how C.S. Lewis defines true humility. True humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

    Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
                One of the hardest things for us to do is forgive. When we feel wronged, we want justice. But we need to remember that if we received justice from God, we would be doomed. Instead God has treated us with unbelievable compassion and kindness. He calls us to do the same.

    Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
                We live in a very competitive world. We are told constantly to stand up for our rights, grab what we believe is owed to us, don’t let anyone get ahead of you. I see that every time I drive on the freeway. There is always someone who just can’t stand driving behind another car. As followers of Christ, we need to reverse the popular trend and learn to submit to one another. Biblical submission can be defined as voluntarily setting aside my needs, wants and desires for the good of the other person. When we voluntarily submit to one another, we grow stronger, not weaker.

    Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)
                None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes along the way. If we will remember that basic truth, it will be easier for us to bear with the mistakes of others and forgive them.
    Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
                This is an exercise that is sorely needed, yet often neglected. There is so much that discourages us today. We all need to be encouraged. You can do that for someone by sending them a hand-written note, calling them on the phone just to talk, or going out to coffee together. All of us can use an encouraging word to strengthen us in an often-discouraging world.

    And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 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. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
                Along with encouraging one another, we need to have the courage to challenge one another to grow in our faith. Most athletes will tell you that they make the most progress when they train with and against someone else. That is why corporate worship is so important to our spiritual health. An isolated Christian is a vulnerable Christian and often a weak one as well.

    Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9)
                If I could rephrase this, I would say, give joyfully of yourself to others. Hospitality doesn’t have to be extravagant or complicated. It really means sharing your life with another person. But to be effective it needs to be done with the right attitude.

                Just as athletes discipline themselves daily to accomplish their goal, we need to daily discipline ourselves to reach a much higher goal. None of the things that the Bible tells us to do to be God’s team are impossible, or even that hard, yet they all take intentionality and effort. If we would seek to practice these disciplines regularly, they would transform our lives individually and corporately.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


Galatians 5:13
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

                One of the foundational truths of our faith is God’s amazing grace toward us. By virtue of our sinful nature, we all deserve God’s punishment, but, by His grace, He offers us the exact opposite; Life! For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23) The life that God offers us in Christ is something we do not deserve, nor can we earn it. It is an amazing free gift. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesian 2:8-9) When we accept this gift of God’s grace, we are set free from the power of sin. Sin is no longer our master. Although sin still remains a reality in our life, it is no longer in control. We now have the freedom to honestly choose how we will live. And that is where the rubber meets the road.

                People understand freedom in different ways. Today, the dominant concept of freedom is the right to do whatever I want to do without interference from anyone else. No one has the right to define for me what is right or wrong. As long as I am not hurting someone else, I have the freedom to define right and wrong for myself. I am free! Or am I?

                All freedom comes with boundaries. Freedom without boundaries is anarchy. Freedom without boundaries leads to death. A fish is free to swim wherever it chooses within the boundaries of the ocean. It is not free to venture onto dry land. An astronaut may be free to venture into space, but he is not free to leave his spacecraft unaided. A driver is free to travel down whatever highway she chooses, but she is not free to drive the wrong way or at excessive speeds. Genuine freedom always has boundaries.

                Paul had to deal with this in his letter to the church in Rome. He had made the case that because of God’s grace we are free from the obligations of the Law. Because, no matter how well we keep the Law we cannot earn our salvation, God has given us His grace. It is the grace of God that has set us free from the demands of the Law. So, some took this to mean that grace removed all restraints. In fact, they were claiming that the grace of God allowed them to live however they liked. Paul had to quickly put an end to this fatal misunderstanding. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:1-4)

                Paul wanted the Romans, and us, to know that God’s grace freed us from the power of sin, not that it gave us the right to indulge sin. As Paul stated, we have been set free to live a new life; a life of righteousness in concert of Christ. Paul was making it clear that there are definite boundaries to our freedom. We are free to live within the boundaries that God created for us. It is within those boundaries that we experience the life of Christ.

                With freedom comes choice. With choice comes responsibility. Paul tells us that we have a choice to make. Will we choose to live in God’s grace or will we choose to abuse God’s grace? The way we live our daily lives matters. By the choices we make, we are declaring to whom we have given our allegiance. Will we use our freedom to honor Christ, or we will use our freedom to indulge our sinful nature? This is a decision each of us must make every day, every hour, every minute of our lives. Paul puts it into very practical terms in Romans 6:11-14.

                In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

                Living in God’s grace is not an intellectual exercise. Living in God’s grace means actively choosing to follow Christ in everything that we do. It is choosing to use our freedom to honor Christ with our daily lives. We will not always get it right. There will be many times that we will stumble and fall. Many times we will get off track. But that is where the grace of God steps in. We are like children learning to ride a bicycle. We often lose our balance and fall, but God is there to pick us up. And when we finally gain our balance, we are free to experience a whole new dimension in life.

Ephesians 4:1
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.


Thursday, September 27, 2018


Colossians 3:13
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

                The climate in our nation today is one of unforgiveness. The current trend is to openly criticize and condemn. Instead of trying to build people up in a positive way, we are looking for ways to cut people down. This is not confined to one group; it is an epidemic that has infected most of our public discourse. As followers of Christ, how are we to respond?

                There are several passages of scripture that speak directly to this situation. The first is Matthew 7:1-5.
                "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
                "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”

                Jesus made it clear that taking a condemning stance toward others only makes matters worse. He reminds us that the way we treat others will dictate how they respond to us. It seems that people are oblivious to this fact today. They openly criticize others, yet are offended when they are criticized in return. Jesus called for honest self-evaluation before a person tried to correct another. There are things in everyone of our lives for which we need forgiveness. By taking an honest look in the mirror, we will approach others with greater humility and compassion.

                At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus stressed just how important forgiveness really is.
                Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
                For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:12,14-15

                Jesus sets a condition upon our receiving forgiveness from our Heavenly Father. The measure of forgiveness that we can receive is directly in proportion to the measure of forgiveness we offer to others. In one sense God’s forgiveness toward us in Christ is unconditional. Yet, in a practical way, we will continue to live under the weight of our sin if we are unwilling to forgive others. Why is this true? Because unforgiveness is a sin in itself. And as John tells us in 1 John 1:9, we receive forgiveness of our sins when we honestly confess them to God. An unwillingness to forgive others is in reality holding onto our sin. Therefore, God cannot forgive what we are unwilling to admit and relinquish.

                Paul picked up the practical application of what Jesus was teaching in his letter to the Colossians. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13) Our response to others is to stand in stark contrast to how the World responds. Just as God has offered us His amazing grace, we are offer that same grace to others. Instead of holding onto our resentments and offenses, we are to bear with the frailty of others and forgive them. Then just to make his point crystal clear, he states that we are to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. There is not wiggle room here for holding onto our grievances. Jesus knows all about us and yet has forgiven us. He calls us to do the same for one another.

                Peter reminds us that Jesus’ words were not idealistic chatter. Jesus lived them out to the very end of His earthly life. When Jesus was unjustly condemned, He did not lash out at His enemies. Instead He forgave them.

                When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:23-24)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Luke 10:41-42
"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."

                Since I was in Jr. High School, I thought of myself as a relational person. I spent my summers working as a counselor at a summer camp. I went on two mission trips. I was actively involved with our Christian Service Brigade group at church. I assumed that I was a people-oriented person. Then I took my first personality inventory and, to my surprise, I discovered that I am a task-oriented person. I am much more of a doer than a relater.

                It wasn’t that long ago that I finally realized that I am project driven. I am motivated by short-term, well-defined projects. Give me a specific task and I am on it. I am not great at maintaining things over the long haul. Even though I thrive on routine, I bog down when it comes to sustaining routine objectives that require on-going energy and enthusiasm.

                Being naturally task-oriented, I have had to work hard at being genuinely relational. Some people are naturally relational. They effortlessly enter into other people’s lives with joy and enthusiasm. They are energized by connecting with people; all people. I know a person who, placed into a room of strangers, would connect with everyone of them before the evening was over. I would be fortunate to connect in a meaningful way with one or maybe two people in the room.

                Leith Anderson once told me that we are all like Legos. Each of us has a certain number of snap-on points. When our snap-on points are full we cannot add any more relationships. I have a limited number of snap-on points. Therefore, I have had to work very hard at connecting with people. God has been very gracious to me, and has allowed me to develop a number of close, significant friendships over the years, but I will never be the relational magnet that some others are.

                Being a doer, I am most comfortable working on a specific project. If I can manage the task on my own, all the better. One of the huge growing edges for me has been learning to work with others in meaningful ways. It takes more time. It is not always the most efficient. It is often messy. But I know that it is what God wants from me. We have not been created to travel through life as a solo. We were created to live in relationship with God and with one another.

                One of the problems that we face is that we live in a world were doing is valued over being. If a person is not busy doing something, they are wasting their time. We fill our lives with activities at the expense of genuine relationships. What is true of the world is true of the church as well. We value programs over people. We equate busyness with effectiveness. We have become a tribe of doers.

                Currently, I am in a position where my prime task right now is building relationships. Building relationships takes time. So, I have been internally struggling with the sense that I should be doing something, when what I really need to do is slow down and genuinely relate to people.

                Martha is often given a hard time for being task oriented instead of people oriented. What Martha was doing was necessary. She did it out of love for Jesus. She genuinely wanted to serve. Her real problem was that, instead of serving with joy, she served with resentment. Why can’t Mary be as task-oriented as I am? There is work to be done. She is wasting time!!! Does any of that sound familiar? The issue is not what Martha was doing, but how she was feeling on the inside; her attitude. Mary took the time to be with Jesus. Martha was missing the chance to really be with Jesus, because her attitude had become a barrier.

                I genuinely love Jesus and want to serve Him. But I tend to measure my commitment to Christ by what I do more than who I am becoming. I can fall into the trap of trying to impress Christ with all that I am doing for Him when what He wants is for me to walk with Him. I value the task, He values the relationship. The two are not mutually exclusive. As James reminds us in James 1:22 we need to be doers of the Word. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22) Jesus said that if we really love Him we will obey (do) what He commanded. So, what does Jesus want us to do, above everything else?  "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31)
                All of us need to understand who we are. We need to balance our doing with our being. We need to be faithful at the task, while, at the same time, being intentional about developing the relationship. Each of us will naturally gravitate in one direction or the other. If you are task-oriented, like me, you will have to work harder at building relationships. If you are people-oriented, you will have to work harder at accomplishing the task. Bottomline, the most important thing is not what are we doing, but who are we becoming in Christ.

Philippians 3:7-11
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 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.