Tuesday, August 27, 2019


1 Thessalonians 5:6
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.

                Yesterday, Suanne and I took a little trip to International Falls, MN. It was a trip of 220 miles one way. It took us about four hours to reach our destination. Our motivation was that we have always wanted to visit International Falls and we will probably never be closer than we are right now. So, we jumped into the car at 8:30 AM and headed out of Cavalier, ND toward Minnesota.

                We had a great day, even though it rained for a better part of it. We had lunch in Warroad, the walleye capital of the world. We drove through Baudette and Roseau before we finally came to International Falls.  Along the way, we followed the Rainy River, which is the boundary between the US and Canada. While in International Falls we visited Voyageurs National Park, Rainy Lake, and the Largest Smokey the Bear statue in the world. On our way home, we stopped to see Lake of the Woods, although because of the overcast skies we could only see a little part of it. It was a full day.

                As we headed for home, the sky was overcast and dark. We drove in rain much of the way, sometimes hard rain. As the sun began to set behind the dark clouds, I knew that I would have to be particularly vigilant, because it was the time when the deer are on the move. We had seen several deer along the side of the road and so I knew that I had to keep my eyes open. Sure enough, as I was traveling at 60 mph, a deer appeared in my headlights, crossing the road in front of me. Fortunately, I saw it in time to hit the brakes and not the deer. Later, well after dark, two coyotes ran across the road in front of me as well. The last two hours of our trip I was constantly scanning the sides of the road watching for any sign of movement. We made it home without any trouble, but my muscles were pretty tense. The entire time, I was reminding myself to stay alert.

                As we travel through this journey of life, the Bible tells us to stay alert as well. If we lose our focus, or get distracted, we can easily run into trouble. Just as I had to watch for deer along the sides of the road, there are at least three things that the Bible tells us we need to be alert to.

                We need to be alert to the attacks of Satan. We all know what it means to be distracted while we are driving. We can get so enamored with the scenery around us that we fail to adequately watch the road in front of us. So it is with our journey of life. Satan is a master of distracting us from the dangers that lay in our way. Satan is always looking for an unguarded moment in our lives when he can spring and attack us. Peter reminds us that we need always to be alert to the danger that Satan poses.
    Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

                We need to be alert to the way we live our lives. We don’t need Satan to attack us in order for us to get off course. We are very capable of doing that ourselves. How many car accidents have happened not because a deer jumped out in front of the car, but because the driver was distracted by something within the car, like their cell phone or an animated conversation with a friend.  Many of the accidents that happen on our spiritual journey happen because we have lost our focus. We have become overconfident or overly fearful. We may have just become complacent and taken our spiritual life for granted. There are many ways that we can lose focus and hit the ditch spiritually.

                In Ephesians 6, Paul instructs us to put on the full armor of God so we can take our stand in this world. Part of being well equipped is staying focused. So, at the end of that passage he includes a call to stay alert.
    And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)

                One of the greatest dangers while driving is being too tired and falling asleep. In a similar way, if we are not taking care of ourselves spiritually, we can become spiritually weary and fall asleep. In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul challenges us to stay awake and alert as we journey through life.
    So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. (1 Thessalonians 5:6)

                There is one other area where we need to remain alert, and that is concerning the return of Christ. The idea of Christ’s return has, in many ways, been placed on the back burner today. Yet, Jesus thought it was so important that He spent some of His last hours warning His disciples to be ready for His return. (Matthew 24-25)

                I have heard of cases of people falling asleep in an airport and missing their flight. In a spiritual sense, many people are sleeping, when it comes to preparing for Christ’s return. Although we do not know when Christ will return, we know that He will. Jesus challenges us to always be alert to that possibility. We are to live every day as if He could return today. We need to be ready for Him when He comes.
    Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. (Mark 13:33)

                As darkness descended last night, I did my best to stay alert to any danger that might cross our path. As spiritual darkness continues to descend on our world, we need to be all the more aware and alert.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


Mark 9:38-40
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.”

                I had a great experience this past weekend. Every year for the past nine years, the people of our community have hosted a Christian music festival called Off the Charts. It opened on Friday evening and ran until noon on Sunday. The music was loud and the city park was packed. For three days the name of Jesus was proclaimed in a variety of ways. It culminated with a community worship service in the park. What impressed me the most was how the entire community came together for one weekend and celebrated Jesus.

                I have never been a concert goer. I had a negative experience when I was in seminary that soured me on “Christian” concerts. I have harbored some negative feelings about musicians who used their popularity to espouse their personal theology. I have struggled with how, in general, as a society, we allow musicians and actors to direct the course of our lives. I have been all too quick to chalk it up to 2 Timothy 4:3. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

                One of the things this past weekend reminded me of was that God uses many different approaches and a wide variety of people with very different personalities to get His message across to our incredibly diverse world. I don’t have to be a fan of loud music and smoke machines to see that God can use that as a way of reaching a particular group of people.

                I have been rereading Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne. The main point of his book is that we fall into the trap of being a Pharisee when we begin to judge others by our standards and not God’s. God has created each of us differently. Some of us like classical music, some like country music, some like rock and roll. Some of us prefer loud and boisterous, while others prefer quiet and subdued. Some of us respond better to the KJV, others to the NIV, and still others to the ESV. Not everyone shares the same preferences, yet God is pleased with all of us who claim the name of Jesus.

                This very issue came up one day as Jesus and His disciples were traveling around doing ministry. John came across a man who was casting our demons in the name of Jesus. John immediately tried to put a stop to that because “he was not one of us.” Jesus countered John’s exclusive approach to ministry by telling him not to stop the man, “for whoever is not against us is for us.”

                How often have I judged someone else’s ministry in a negative light because he was not one of us? Most of us are very quick to write off those who don’t worship like we do, or sing like we do, or use the same words as we do. Yet Jesus reminds us that He uses many different people with different approaches to reach this world with the Gospel.

                The Apostle Paul was probably the master at adapting his approach to his audience to gain the greatest impact. He constantly challenged the status quo in order to get the message out to as many people as possible. Paul was willing to adapt his method in order to better communicate the message.

                Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

                It is all too common for those of us in the church to waste our energy judging how other groups do ministry, instead of focusing on proclaiming the Gospel to the best of our ability. Instead of casting stones at those who do ministry differently from us, we need to link arms with them. I am not suggesting that we water down the Gospel. What I am suggesting is that there is more than one God-pleasing way to get the job done.

                This last weekend was good for me. It reminded me that I can celebrate what God did even if it was not my preferred style. I don’t have to be enthralled with the contemporary Christian music scene to appreciate that God is using it to reach the hearts of so many.

Luke 9:49-50
"Master," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us."
 "Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you."


Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Matthew 5:45b
    He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

                It is raining today. For the people of northern North Dakota that is a blessing. We have had a very dry second half of the summer. Our lawns are brown and the farmers are concerned about the crops. Today’s steady rain is the very thing we need. For us it is a real blessing.

                The people who live in southern North Dakota and Southern Minnesota have a different perspective. They have had an extremely wet summer. The sight of more rain is not greeted with joy. Instead of seeing the rain as a blessing, they see the rain as a burden.

                We all have a mix of responses to rain. When there is too little, we long for more. When there is too much, we long for less. We want rain to keep our lawns green and the crops growing, but we don’t want it on the weekend when we have plans. The farmer prays for rain, while the family going camping prays for dry weather. When it comes to rain, you cannot please everyone all of the time.

                The Bible uses rain as a symbol of God’s grace. It represents both God’s general grace and His specific grace. God’s general grace is His provision for all humanity regardless of their faith. God’s specific grace is reserved for those who put their trust in Him.

                In both Leviticus and Deuteronomy, rain is seen as a blessing from God for those who faithfully trust Him.  

Leviticus 26:3-4
    If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit.

Deuteronomy 11:13-15
    So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today--to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul-- then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.

                For a people who lived close to the land, rain was a matter of life and death. If they did not get timely rains, they could be faced with genuine hardships. As the people of Israel entered the Promised Land, God told them that, if they remained faithful to Him, He would provide the rain that they needed at the proper time. It was a tangible symbol of God’s grace to them.

                God also uses rain as a way of showing His grace to all humanity. When the rains come, they do not just fall on the field of the righteous, but on the field of the unrighteous as well. Although God could withhold the rain from them, He chooses not to do so. Instead, He choses to bless all people, with the intent of drawing them to Himself.

                Jesus used the grace of God, in the form of rain, to instruct us about how we should relate to those around us. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus makes a radical statement about God’s grace and our relationship with others.

    “You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

                Jesus used rain as an expression of God’s extravagant love and grace toward all people. Although God has the right to withhold His grace from the unrighteous, He choses not to. Instead, He showers His grace upon them in very tangible ways. He calls us to do the same thing. Instead of seeing people as our enemy, as someone to oppose, we are to see them through the eyes of God’s compassion. When we respond to our enemies with grace, we have the opportunity to win them over.

                Paul makes it clear that the best way to overcome an evil person is to surprise them with grace.
    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:
    "If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
        if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
    In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

                Jesus said that when we respond to our enemies with grace, we reflect the glory of God and demonstrate that we are truly His. To be like God is to take the unexpected path of grace. It is to show love and compassion to all people, even if they do not respond in kind. Many people will not understand our response. Some will see it as a sign of weakness. But, if we are consistent, what they think is weakness will clearly to be shown as strength.

                It is raining today. You may see the rain as a blessing or you may be disappointed by the rain. Whatever your attitude is today, I want you to see the rain as a tangible symbol of God’s grace. It is God’s grace poured out on all of humanity. It is also a call for us to share that same grace with those around us.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


James 4:1
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?

                The tragic shootings in El Paso and Dayton have again inflamed our country. Our hearts break for the people of these two cities, as well as for ourselves. The fabric of our nation is not just frayed, it seems to be unraveling at an alarming rate. As a nation, we are constantly asking the question, “Why?” Many are quick to cast blame on others. They point at a lack of gun control, racism, violent video games, and the like. No doubt these things have played a role, but they are not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is to be found in heart of every person.   

                James pulls no punches when he reminds us that the source of all this evil comes from a heart alienated from God and others.

James 4:1-3
    What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

                When these tragedies take place, we are quick to point fingers and cast blame on others. Yet we often fail to look in the mirror and own our part. The real answer to why people act this way is that their heart is ruled by sin. Again, James is clear about the motivation that would lead someone to such a deadly conclusion.

James 1:13-15
    When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

                So what is the solution? New rules and regulations may moderate the violence, but they will never stop it. The only real solution is to transform the hearts of people. This can only be done through the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am not talking about the watered down, cultural Christianity that is so common today in America. I am talking about the robust faith that Jesus demands of all who will follow Him. 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.” (Luke 9:23)

                The Bible promises us that when we genuinely turn to Christ in faith our lives will be transformed into something new and very different. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17) God wants to change us from the inside out. That is really the only way we can truly be different people. It is the only real solution to the violence in our world today.

                In light of this new tragedy, what can we do to make a difference in our community and in our world? Let me suggest a few steps we can all take.

- The first step is to humbly and daily lay our will at the feet of Jesus. Jesus said that we need to daily die to ourselves and allow Him to direct our path.

- Next we need to ask God to change our attitude toward those around us. We need to cultivate a Christlike attitude that will become our default. This means putting the interests of others above our own. (Philippians 2:3-8) It also means genuinely grieving with those who have been directly and indirectly affected by this tragedy.

- Another thing we can do is actively practice hospitality in all of its forms. The more that we get to know the people who live around us, the less likely we are to wish them harm. (1 Peter 4:9)

- Above all we need to practice genuine love for others. Too much of what we call love today is superficial and hollow. The love that Christ wants us to demonstrate is a robust, sacrificial love, just as He loves us.

                As a nation, we need to take reasonable steps to curtail the growing violence in our country. But any steps we take will only be bandaids not cures. The only genuine cure is found in a transformed heart through the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4:31-32
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.