Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Matthew 22:16
    They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.

1 Corinthians 4:3-4
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

                One of the things I have struggled with throughout my ministry life is the feeling of living in the shadows and being unrecognized. I have often felt that all of the recognition went to the pastors of large churches or to “successful” church planters who could boast of extraordinary growth. As the pastor of a mid-sized church that experienced moderate growth, I often felt ignored. I rarely saw pastors in my situation asked to speak at denominational conferences or pointed to as examples of faithful service. I often came away from conferences feeling beat up and more discouraged than when I arrived. Then one day, I realized that I was standing in a shadow of my own making.

                Pastors are notoriously susceptible to two major spiritual pitfalls; comparing themselves and their ministry to others, and feeling a lack of affirmation. I confess that I have fallen into both; and on more than one occasion. Pastoral ministry is demanding and often draining. There are so few tangible indicators of how we are doing that we grab ahold of whatever we can. That usually leads to an obsession with numbers. Worship attendance, number of baptisms, number of programs, number of hours spent in ministry all become focal points. Of course, numbers always lead to comparisons. How do my numbers stack up against other pastors’ numbers? A focus on numbers is a double-edged sword. Numbers are an important indicator of what is happening, but, given too high a priority, they lead us into the dangerous game of comparison and competition.

                The fuel that drives our competitive spirit is the desire for recognition and praise. Subtly we are looking for the praise of men to affirm our value and worth. Jesus made it very clear that when we seek the praise of men we are focused in the wrong direction. In the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew 5-7, Jesus didn’t soften His words when it came to seeking the affirmation of others. "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1) Jesus made His point very clear as He went on to address the issues of giving, fasting, and praying. When we do these important acts with the intention of gaining the praise of people, we take away their real value.

                I have often heard it said that in our worship and in our acts of service we need to play to an audience of one. That one being Christ alone. Hebrews makes it clear that our focus needs to be squarely on Jesus. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3) This passage highlights one of the key issues related to our spiritual journey. If we focus on other people, we will grow weary and lose heart. I can attest to that from firsthand experience. If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will not grow weary and lose heart.

                Weariness is a major issue for all Christians, but especially for pastors. Most often our progress seems slow and arduous. It is easy to become discouraged. The more that we succumb to the comparison game, the more discouraged we will become. To combat weariness, we need to keep the long view in mind. Just like to farmer who plants seeds in the ground and then has to wait for the harvest, so we need to cultivate spiritual patience.

                Genuine faithfulness will always be rewarded by God. Jesus made that clear in Matthew 24:45-47. "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”

                In a past century, a faithful missionary couple returned home to America after a lifetime of service on the foreign field. As their ship docked and the gangplank was lowered to the platform, they watched as a brass band began to play, welcoming their arrival. Soon a group of prominent men descended the gangway to the cheers of an assembled crowd. As they made their way into the terminal, the platform emptied, leaving the missionary couple to disembark unnoticed. The husband turned to his wife very discouraged. “We have faithfully served our Lord most of our life. Yet, no one seems to notice or care.” The wife smiled at her husband. “Dear, that is because we are not yet home.”

                Many of us stand is a shadow of our own making. We desire affirmation and recognition, and when it does not come, we get discouraged. We need to remember that God is not ignorant of our service. We will reap our reward, if we remain faithful.

Galatians 6:9
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Ephesians 3:16-17a
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

                This past weekend we stayed overnight with some friends in their guest room. I always feel a little self-conscious when we stay in someone else’s house. I am never quite sure how much liberty I can take. Can I hang my clothes in the closet or do I need to drape them over the chair? Which bathroom should I use? Will I disturb others if I get up in the middle of the night? How early can I get up and use the shower? Will I be in our host’s way in the morning? I always appreciate it when someone graciously allows us to stay with them, but it is not like being at home.

                Staying in someone’s guest room for a night or two is usually a positive experience. Living in someone’s guest room is a different matter. After a while, the dynamics in the house will begin to change. On one of our trips to Duluth, we visited Glensheen, an old stately house, which is open to the public. In the guest bedrooms there are carved pineapples on the corners of the headboards above the beds. In days gone by, pineapples were a sign of hospitality. If a guest overstayed their welcome, the pineapples would be removed from the headboard; a subtle hint that it was time for the guest to leave.

                On Sunday, I was reminded of a classic little book called “My Heart, Christ’s Home.” As the pastor was explaining the booklet, I began to wonder if we ask Jesus to live in the guest room of our heart. When we first encounter Jesus, we are excited to invite Him into our life. We are eager to get to know Jesus. But too often, we confine Jesus to the guest room of our life. That usually takes the form of Sunday morning worship. We are content to allow Jesus to live in that small space, but we are reluctant to allow Him access to the rest of our “house”.

                Revelation 3:20 is a classic passage that is often used to call people to faith in Christ. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. The irony of this passage is that it was written to believers; the church in Laodicea to be exact. When Jesus asks for entry into our life, He does is not asking to use our guest room. He is asking to take up residence in our life; our whole life.  He wants free access to our work life, our home life, our social life, our church life, our “private” life, our entire life. In Jesus day, to eat with someone was a very significant event. It represented acceptance and inclusion. You didn’t share a meal with a casual acquaintance. Jesus doesn’t want to be a guest in our life, He wants to be a regular part of our life. He is also inviting us to be a regular part of His life.

                We get the dynamics wrong when we think that we are inviting Jesus to become a part of our family. The reality is that He is inviting us to become a part of His family. He is the real host. In essence, He is inviting us to exchange our one room cabin for a place in His mansion. Instead of asking to temporarily use our guest room, Jesus is inviting us to sell our house and move in with Him.

                Does Jesus live in my guest room? It is a question each of us should carefully consider.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


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.

                For a number of years now I have been running in distance races; 5k, 10k, half-marathons. As I reentered the world of running, I came to grips with an obvious reality. I am at best an average runner, which means that I will not be the first one to cross the finish line. More times than not I will finish the race somewhere in the middle of the pack. That relates to the overall number of runners, as well as the runners in my particular age category. If my goal was to win every race that I entered, then I would end every race disappointed. But that has not been my goal. My goal has been to run the best race that I can, hopefully performing better than the last race. In distance races, progress is measured in seconds. For example: I finished the race 10 seconds faster that my last race.

                There is a life lesson to be learned from how we measure success in distance running. The only person we really need to compete against is ourselves. In our competitive world where we measure ourselves against others, we need to refocus our natural drive to compete. The wise person knows that the only competition that really matters is the one against yourself. Life is about being the best you that you can be. Seeking to be better than someone else will most often leave us far short of our real goal.

                Comparing ourselves to others in order to measure our success in life is a double-edged sword. On one side, it can lead us down the path of pride and an inflated ego. It is always possible for us to compare ourselves with those who are less successful. This can make us feel better than we should about where we are in life. It gives us a false sense of accomplishment. It also causes us to look down on others and feel superior to them. The other side of the equation is when we compare ourselves to those who are far out in front of us.  We live in a culture that artificially elevates prominent people. We are enthralled by the amazing “success stories” that popular media feed to us. As we compare our lives with the lives of the “truly successful” people, we find ourselves coming up short. This may be positive motivation for some, but it is discouraging for many. The gap is so great between where we are and where they are that we lose hope of bridging it. Their success becomes our failure and leads to discouragement.

                The Bible gives us a better way to measure our success. We are to measure ourselves against ourselves. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Each one of us has a unique role to play in the overall Kingdom of God. The more that we understand how God has gifted us and how we can use those gifts for His glory, the more we will be able to accurately measure our progress.

                A famous Rabbi once made the following observation. When I stand before God at the judgment, He will not ask me why I wasn’t Moses. He will ask me why I wasn’t me. We should pay attention to his warning. It is easy for us within the church to measure ourselves against the bright stars of the church. When we do that, we begin to pattern our lives after those bright stars. We try to act like them, talk like them, even dress like them. In the end, we are trying to be someone that we cannot be. When I stand before God at the judgment, He will not ask me why I didn’t measure up to Chuck Swindoll, or Bill Hybels, or Andy Stanley. He will ask me about what I did with the gifts and opportunities that He gave to me.

                Throughout the New Testament, the emphasis is not on emulating other people, but on being the best you that you can be. Peter addresses that in 1 Peter 4:10-11. 
    Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

                Paul challenged the idea of comparing ourselves with others in 1 Corinthians 12.
    Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
    The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" (1 Corinthians 12:14-16, 21)

                Each of us has the responsibility to compete against ourselves. This is never an excuse for laziness or complacency, but a call to grow and mature in our faith. As Paul says in Philippians 3:12-14, Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

                In the race of life, there is only one person that we need to compete against; ourselves. Our progress may be measured in great achievements from time to time, but most of the time it will be measured in small incremental steps. Each step taking us closer to the ultimate goal of being all that God created us to be.

Thursday, August 9, 2018


                I have been fascinated with science from the time as I was a little boy. I remember being intrigued as I peered for the first time at the wing of a fly through the eyepiece of my microscope. I bought science equipment at our local drug store, with the desire to do experiments, even though I didn’t know what that really entailed.

                Those early interests in science blossomed into a degree in biology at college. I almost didn’t complete my degree because I took too many biology classes. During my time in college I was able to dig deeply into the realities of our world. One of my favorite classes was a class in endocrinology. During that class, I was able to observe the significant changes that happen in an animal when a specific hormone was removed. I was also fascinated by my class in genetics. Working with fruit flies, I saw firsthand how genetic characteristics are passed on from one generation to the next. I also saw the changes that can take place in a population over time.

                During my journey through my biology degree, I encountered the theory of evolution. I quickly became aware of two very different applications of this theory. The one application is what I will call micro-evolution. This is the gradual changes that take place within specific species. This is the type of evolution that Darwin observed during his monumental discoveries in the Galapagos Islands. Everyone who has studied populations can attest to this type of natural selection.

                The other type of evolution is what I am calling macro-evolution. This is the theory that the kind of evolution we can observe within species took place between species to create new species. This is the classic microbe to man theory of evolution. After observing micro-evolution, Darwin extrapolated the concept to explain how all life forme;, moving from single cell organisms to the enormous diversity we see today.

                 I have been reading a new book by F. LaGard Smith that has masterfully exposed some of the insurmountable obstacles to macro-evolution. The title of the book is Darwin’s Secret Sex Problem. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is willing to take an honest look at the now universally excepted theory of evolution. Smith affirms the truth of micro-evolution while raising serious questions about macro-evolution. At the heart of his thesis is the question, how did male/female sex come into being. This issue is referred to as the Queen of evolutionary problems by those who champion evolution as the answer to life’s existence. One of the major sticking points is how did the process of asexual reproduction called meiosis evolve into what we know as sexual reproduction called mitosis. In meiosis, cells divide producing an exact copy of themselves. In mitosis, two different sets of chromosomes are mixed to produce a different entity, related to the parents but distinct from them.

                The story of creation, as recorded in the book of Genesis, is not a scientific treatise on how God created the world, but a clear and powerful statement that He is the author of all that we know and don’t yet know. In simple, clear statements, Genesis outlines a systematic creation event. Although it does not go into detail about the mechanism of how God created the different components of creation, it does give us some very important clues to the boundaries that God set for creation. Particularly relevant to the argument in Smith’s book is Genesis 1:20-25.
                And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." And there was evening, and there was morning--the fifth day.
                And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

                Multiple times the story records that God created living creatures according to their kind. The same thing is said about plants. The apex of the creation story comes with the arrival of man in Genesis 1:26-28.  
  Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

                It is time for us to take another honest look at a “theory” that has been presented as an established “fact”. Dr. Smith’s book is a good place to start an honest dialog. The diversity and complexity of sexual reproduction throughout the world seriously weakens the idea that all life gradually developed from the same source, unless we recognize that that source was God.    

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


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

                Do you ever feel like you are running through life and cannot stop long enough to catch your breath? That is the way Suanne and I have felt over the past couple of weeks. As we wrapped up our time at Bethel, things just got busier and busier. Everything came to a head on our last couple of days in Mankato. On our final Saturday, we were blessed to have 18 people come and help us move all of the furniture and big items out of our house and into storage. It was a monumental task. You would think that having that behind us there would be little to do; WRONG! The next three days were filled with packing and moving the small stuff that was left, interspersed with meetings, such as closing on our house and setting up a new phone service. Our ordeal finally came to a close at 12:30 AM Wednesday morning. With the last of our worldly belongings stacked in the garage or stuffed into one of our cars, we headed out of town, arriving at our destination at 2:45 AM.

                God blessed us with five days of rest on the North Shore of Lake Superior. We were able to visit all of our favorite spots and enjoy the chance to rest. I feel most of the weight off of my shoulders, although I am still decompressing from our whirlwind exit from Mankato.

                Jesus and His disciples understood what its was like to be on the run much of the time. The demands of the crowds were overwhelming. Mark tells us that it was so bad that they didn’t even have time to eat. At that point, Jesus called for a time out to give the disciples a time to rest. We know from the rest of the story that their rest did not last very long but, at least for a short time, they had the chance to catch their breath.

                We cannot always pull away from the demands of life and take time to rest. Extended periods of rest are a rare gift. But we still can find rest in the midst of our busy lives. Jesus offers us the kind of rest that enables us to shoulder the weight of responsibility without being crushed by it. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29

                There are a couple things Jesus tells us about finding rest in our fast paced, overwhelming world. The first thing is to recognize and admit that we are weary. Too often we mask our weariness with more busyness. Instead of catching our breath, we double our efforts. We are constantly being told that if we are not busy we are wasting time. So, we fill our lives with busyness and become more and more drained. Before we can deal with the problem, we have to be honest about the need.

                The second thing Jesus tells us is that we need to know where to go for help. People seek to deal with their weariness in many ways. It could be alcohol, entertainment, new experiences, or just vegetating in front of a computer screen or TV. These things offer us a temporary release from the weariness, but in the end leave us wearier. Jesus invites us to bring our weariness to Him. He is the one who can lift the burden from our shoulders.

                The third thing Jesus tells us is to let Him share our burden. It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t say that He will take the burden away. Instead, He offers to take some of the weight off of us. We were created to work, to be productive, to be engaged with our world. A life of total leisure may seem ideal, but it quickly leads to boredom and discontent. The solution to our weariness is not the elimination of all work, but the refocusing of how we spend our energy. When what we are doing is significant, it can energize us. Jesus invites us to partner with Him in significant ways. By doing this, our weariness is replaced with a sense of significance.

                Over this month I plan on taking full advantage of the rest that God has given to me. But I am looking forward to the next stage in my adventure with Jesus, as we transition to the position of interim pastor at Cavalier Baptist Church in Cavalier, North Dakota. Right now, I am catching my breath so that I can continue to run the race well.

Hebrews 12:1-3
    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.