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.