Saturday, December 26, 2009

After 28 years, it was time for a new tradition to start.

In March 2009, my wife's Aunt Lee passed away. For the last 50+ years, she has had Christmas Eve at her house. It started many years ago when Grandma Hertel was bed ridden. To honor and celebrate with her, they moved the family gathering on Christmas Eve to her house on Baynton Street in Grand Rapids. (Imagine 30-40 adults with children in a 800 square foot home - yeah it was close and the windows were all steamy by the time we left, but it was a fun tradition It was only in the last two years that we could not have it at her house because of her age (she was 93 when she passed into glory).

This year we did not have a tradition, so I hope we started a new one - celebrating communion together, remembering why Jesus was born and watching home movies. This "tradition" probably won't last for 53 years, but it was sure nice spending time together as a family and I hope that we can do it next year too.

Things change....don't mean they have to change for the worse; sometimes they just change because they have to.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A year to remember...... It is hard to believe all that our family has been through this year. All the issues with my mom's health (near death experience, 6 months of hospitalization, paralysis, modifying the house, modifying life), my father-in-law having a low speed head on collision (because he blacked out, a concussion, physical therapy, modifying life) and now my grand mother dying.

True, she was 89 years old. She had lived a long and fruitful life - a hard life, but a fruitful one. She was ready to go; she had just moved in a nursing home because she could not take care of herself anymore (she was in the home 10 days before she passed away). She is home; home with her Savior. But come on - now?

For a couple of days I felt emotionally numb. I really did not know how to grieve; or maybe I just didn't have any more grief in me. I found myself just resting in the fact that she is with God, that she is at peace and not struggling with the junk of this life anymore. Maybe I am just emotionally wore out to the point that I have to trust in God to carry me.

It has been a hard year; a hard year in my family, a hard year in ministry, a hard year as a leader. A hard year all the way around.

Life is hard; God is good.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

There are a lot of people going through a lot of tough things right now: some are making good choices, some are making poor choices. The differing responses to the adversity started me thinking. I learned in my high school days that we have two responses to conflict: fight or flight. I see these responses in people who are facing adversity: some embrace it and work through it, some run away from it and hide.

Fighting or embracing adversity is what I believe God desires for us. Writers of the New Testament (James, Peter, Paul) teach us that trials work at strengthening our faith. When we embrace adversity and work through it, we are stronger. It is interesting to me that this is THE path that God has selected for making us stronger, more committed, more like Jesus.

What happens to someone who runs away instead of embracing adversity? My experience and observation is their heart hardens and bitterness, anger at God, frustration that is taken out others and/or abandonment of God (and a lot of other negative behaviors) ensue. They carry a deep pain in their soul that affects their attitudes, actions and words. They begin to be physically affected - either in their facial expressions or in their health. They begin to blame others for their adversity. They lash out at people around them. Everything centers around them and their pain. Frankly, they are not very nice people to be around.

The cool thing is that God never stops pursuing them.

My prayer for the folks that I work with who find themselves in the midst of adversity is that they embrace it now, because God will not stop pursuing them until they are completely broken and are willing to embrace it (they have reached the point where they have no other alternative). God patiently waits for them, patiently calls them, patiently continues to work with them. (Examples: Jonah and Moses.)

Embrace and be strengthened; flee and be hardened. Those are the only two alternatives to dealing with adversity.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My family and I like to watch the TV show "Monk"; a story about a OCD detective who has extraordinary perception skills. It is the shows last season and last night was part 1 of the finale. Monk has been poisoned and is going to die in 2-3 days unless and anecdote can be found. One of the characters is commenting on Monk's life - "I used to think that Monk was less than human; he was missing something. I now understand that he saw a whole lot more than we did; he was fully human." (I can't remember the exact words, but it went something like that.)

I have been thinking about how there are quite a few things that are right below my emotional surface right now. I find myself emotional about my mom, marriages that are in shambles, the future relationship of my kids with God, the friends that I am praying find God, young girls who are cutting themselves to get attention; things like that. I find myself crying out to God for these situations. I see and feel the pain that sin has caused in these relationships. This is not the way God designed it to be - full of pain and brokenness.

I believe that the reason last night's episode of Monk set my mind going was his extra ordinary perception and the realization of one of his co-workers that this caused him pain. I looked at the amount of pain that I feel as I look at the sin racked situations around me and realized that it was puny compared to what God must feel every moment of every day; in its completeness and fullness. I can run and hide from it; I don't think of it all the time. He cannot hide from it; He experiences it in it fullness all the time.

I probably have written about this before. However, understanding this once again causes me to worship Him, causes me to understand how gracious He is toward me and helps me understand what Jesus went through in the Garden of Gethsemane when He was facing the weight of the sin of the world on Him. He did that for me; He did something that I could never do; look into the face of evil and defeat it.

Keep your eyes open today and see the effects of sin around you. I don't ask this so that you can be depressed; I ask this so that you can place your hope FULLY in the one who conquered sin and will worship Him more fully.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

OK, my kids don't like me sometimes. There are times when they ask me for something they want. I tell them it is OK to get it, but they have to use their money to purchase it. As you can imagine, the tone changes and suddenly it is not as important as it was when they asked me to pay for it. When I ask them to pay the cost, they are forced to evaluate whether it is "worth it" or not.

I call this the value scales - is the cost worth what I am going to receive. Picture a scales - one side of the scales is labeled "COST"; the other side of the scale is labeled "PERCEIVED VALUE". We all have the value scales embedded in us - we are constantly evaluating whether what we are doing or buying is "worth it".

If something has no cost, then ANY value will tip the value scales toward the "PERCEIVED VALUE" side of the scale. I will always take something that has no cost but even a minimal perceived value. (Have you ever wondered why people always take free stuff that they just end up throwing away? There is no cost, so even if there is a very, very small value, the value scales tell me that it is worth it so I take it.) If something has a high cost, then we weigh the perceived value of it. If we don't think it will be "worth it", the value scales are tipped toward the "COST" side of the scale. We don't pursue it because we do not believe that the cost "outweighs" the value we will receive from it.

The value scales have large ramifications for our spiritual life. David expressed a part of it this way - I will not offer anything that costs me nothing (2 Sam 24:24). He understood that offering something that cost nothing indicated to God that it had little value to him. Paul said it this way in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4;17) - our light and momentary troubles is working for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all. He looked at the value scales and said the cost that I am paying now with all the trials I am going through is "worth it" because I will receive some eternal reward that outweighs them. (Note that the only way one can make this statement is by looking at eternity through the eyes of faith.)

A teacher I listened to on the radio said it something like this - if we properly value the heavenly prize, we will sacrifice and endure now so that we will achieve later. We have to look at our behavior today in light of an eternal value scale. What costs we pay today, will provide worth in the future. If we don't believe that our current actions will have eternal consequences (good or bad), we will live like the man in Luke 12:19 who lived his life under the "eat, drink and be merry" philosophy. Consider this today - keep an eternal perspective in your value scales!

PS I have found that it is necessary to teach this scales to my children. If I continually indulge them without having them count the cost, I do them a disservice and train them to be self centered consumers instead of disciplined spenders.

Monday, November 09, 2009

I visited my mom in the hospital last night (yes she is in the hospital again [H1N1]; she is on the back side of it, but still has some breathing issues). The last time I visited she told me that she felt useless. That statement pierced my soul. Of course she can't move much of her body, she is very weak, she has to rely on people to do most everything for her - by all PHYSICAL accounts she is useless.

My encouragement to her was that in God's economy, she was not useless. While she may feel useless, God was not finished with her yet. The fact that she was alive was enough to prove that God still had a purpose for her - He still had a mission for her to accomplish.

While not really being sure what this mission is, I am convinced that as long as we are on this planet and able to function, the Great Commission in Matthew 28 applies to us. I encouraged my mom by saying that in this phase of her life she may experience her greatest ministry yet - having faith in the midst of very trying life circumstances; of holding onto the truth that God is at work through her even though life circumstances will not allow much physical movement.

This is what walking by faith looks like. Believing that God is at work even when we can see it or feel it. Believing that God is at work IN and THROUGH us, even when we can't "produce". Staying committed to Him and doing, thinking and living like Christ will put us in a position of being used by Him - whether we realize it, whether we feel it, whether we see it or not.

Monday, November 02, 2009

I have been reading Nehemiah again for a leadership class that I am teaching. We were in chapter 1-2. A couple of leadership principles that struck me:

1. Leadership is initiated by a call - Godly leaders receive that call from God. Leaders see chaos and are called to bring order to it. The call is the initiator and sustainer of their leadership. (Nehemiah spent many days praying, weeping and fasting and then he moved.)

2. Leaders have a plan or develop a plan of attack.

3. People often know what needs to be done in a situation; they just don't/can't do it. Leaders also know what needs to be done; they do something about it or help others do something about it. (The walls laid in rubble for 70 years after the temple was built; it took Nehemiah to catalyze the people to build the wall. After 70 years of rubble, it took 52 days to complete the rebuild).

More to follow......

Friday, October 23, 2009

Heard a good sermon last weekend at a men's retreat by Tom Harmon (see It is called his 60 second sermon and is three statements. Good things to think about.....

1. Life is short; death is certain
2. Life treats us all differently; death treats us all the same
3. Where are you going to go when you die and what is your hope based on?

Let that sink in for a while....

Monday, October 12, 2009

BTW: Sorry that I have not written more in the past couple of weeks.
This is an email that I wrote to a guy that I met with last week. God has been doing some pretty incredible things in his life. He was a bit frustrated at all the Christian mediocrity around him. This was the counsel from I John that I gave.....

Have been thinking about our conversation on Thursday. The emotion and content of it seemed very familiar to me as I was meditating on it. I now remember! About 5-6 years ago, a group of 4-5 guys were asking me when we were going to “go deeper and get more meat” in our services. This question always plagued me as I was coming out of the services and the Spirit was speaking to me about something. I wrestled with this question for a few months with these guys.

The Spirit finally led me to I John – where he talks of spiritual children, spiritual young men and spiritual fathers. It seems to me that you have been going through, and are in the last stages of, a transition from a spiritual child to a spiritual young man. Think of a transition from being a baby and boy to being a young man. You didn’t want just cereal anymore, having someone cut your meat for you seemed demeaning, you didn’t want mom and dad to always tell you what you need to think and do, you began to explore the world through your own eyes, emotions and thoughts, etc. It seems like this is the transition that you have made.

A couple of things to think about……

1. Embrace this as a significant transition in your spiritual life (duh).
2. Understand that you will think and act differently from others who are still in the child stage. Don’t knock it, but understand that you are now the one who is called to mentor and help them become spiritual young men.
3. You will never look at things the same again.
4. You will begin the journey of spiritual freedom; not needing to rely on anyone but the Spirit to teach you things.
5. You will become more and more dissatisfied with life as you know it now. You will begin to learn how to control your life and not have your life control you (thoughts, passions, desires, etc. will align with God things).
6. You will be passionate about God and sometimes that passion will squeak out in ways that is offensive to others. Remember the words of Paul to Timothy – gently instruct those around you.
7. Spiritual children will not understand what you are going through; spiritual young men and spiritual fathers will.

Away we go! Continue to explore and allow God to continue to work!!!!! Don’t become frustrated in the journey; especially with those around you.

Your fellow traveler….


Sunday, September 27, 2009

After talking to lots of people who are struggling in life I have developed a formula for successful living (RIGHT........).

How to live a powerful (or overcoming) life in 5 easy steps:

1. Be committed to your relationship with God - even when the going gets tough, you must stay committed to Him. Commitment to God looks like trust and obedience. If you don't trust, you will not obey. If you don't obey, you will not be connected to the source of power.
2. Fill yourself with God's word. This is the powerful, offensive weapon that God has given us.
3. Walk by faith. Don't listen to your emotions or to your reason; listen to the Spirit as He teaches you which way you should go. (Your emotions and logic can fool you into believing something that is not truth.)
4. Persevere in the midst of trials. Your power will grow.
5. Give glory to God through everything. Your relationship will the power source will grow.

These steps will connect you into the powerful and victorious life God desires for you. A gross over simplification, but these are the main points. More to follow......

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I had a chance to talk to the people ministering in our Family Ministries area yesterday. Looking at their faces told me they were tired - worn out by the toils and stresses of ministry. I had some "good" news for them: Isaiah 6. I am not sure why God led me to this passage (probably because I wanted to get to Isaiah 40 by way of chapter 6).

The area that I landed on was God's response to Isaiah's question "How long am I supposed to go to the Israelites?" God response will not win the "cheer of the year" award:

ISA 6:11 Then I said, "For how long, O Lord?"
And he answered:

"Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,

ISA 6:12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.

How is that for a rallying cry? How is that for motivation? God's answer did nothing to charge me up, encourage my spirit or rally me toward greatness. It was downright depressing.

As I thought of how this translated to leadership and followership, I understood on a deeper level that God is not asking me to produce results. He is asking me to open my hands and heart (here am I send me; 6:8b) to be His servant. He is asking me to be His hands, feet and voice to a lost and dying world; to represent Him. He is not asking me to produce anything - He is going to take are of that (besides, if I produced something than the glory will go to me).

I need to keep this in mind when the person I am talking to about obedience to God chooses to move away from God rather than to Him; OR when someone who I have invested many hours of time finds victory and takes huge steps of faith. God simply wants to use me as His vessel (not that I abandon the emotions of grief and joy over these situations; just gain some perspective when they happen). This gives me a perspective on what to expect, or rather what not to expect, in ministry. Thanks Isaiah for doing the hard work and recording it so I can learn!

Monday, September 14, 2009

We completed a long day of planning on Thursday. There were several take-aways, but the one has really stuck in my mind as I have meditated on our work was "form vs. function".

What does that mean (and why are you thinking about that in the first place)? Kind of cryptic, I know, so let me see if in a short blog, I can define the terms a bit. (OK, it turned out this was not a short blog; my mind started racing.....sorry.)

Function - the core reasons that you exist (basically your mission). Form - the methods that you choose to use to meet or perform your core function. Function should be immutable; it should never change. Form should appropriately change to address needs, changes in culture, etc.

This is especially poignant in church work. The core function/mission of the church should never change - it always should be about making more and more obedient disciples (there is a whole lot of discussion that can be had on other things that people have moved into the core functions of the church as an organization that I really don't think are Biblical, but we will leave that for another time). What should change are the methods (forms) of how we use to meet our mission/core function.

The problem is that sometimes people turn the "form" into a "function". The function of the church is to have weekend services, the function of the church is to have small groups, etc. No, those are forms that we use to meet the core function.

It is appropriate to stand up for, argue for and even die for the core functions of the church, because they are rooted in Biblical commands from our Savior and Lord. However, when we move a form to a function and stand up for, argue to and even die for, we are mis-informed and our zeal is mis-appropriated (think Pharisees here).

Worshiping forms (a form of idolatry one could say - ouch), results in a couple of things as I see it:
- The devil, who is a pretty smart guy, changes his strategy and we begin to lose ground because we are using an old form to combat a new strategy.
- People begin to leave the church because because they begin to intuitively understand that truth and life is not found in forms and they cannot connect with our mission through old forms.
- Arguments erupt over keeping form of ministry the same year after year.

We have all seen it; a church that had a vibrant ministry 50 years ago is dying because they are using out dated forms that don't connect with the culture they are trying to reach. It is a sad reality of many churches that are unwilling to change because they have too much invested in a particular form - they are dying. The devil has moved on to a new strategy: they haven't.

Just an aside; Paul changed his form of ministry. When he was in a Jewish synagogue he used one teaching strategy (rooted in the Old Testament); when he was in a Greek place of learning, he used another strategy (see Acts 17). He made an emphatic statement: to the Jew I became a Jew, to the Greeks I became a Greek in order to save some. He understood that he had to change his form in different settings in order to meet the mission of making disciples.

OK, here is the tough part. Where am I (and you) worshiping a form of ministry? What program, strategy or tactic are we holding onto as sacred because we have so much invested in it? Are we destined to repeat the mistakes of our past where our forefathers held onto a form of ministry as a core function, instead of constantly looking at the core function and openly and honestly asking the question "Is this form the best method to accomplish the core function?"

I am afraid to ask this question sometimes because it could, and probably should, rock my comfortable and historically defined church world as I know it now.

OK, more hard work and something to keep in front of me so that we can remain effective in our ministry.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

There are a few verses in scripture that kind of scare me..... Both James and Peter quote this verse from the Old Testament: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. The first part of this verse is really quite scary - God can stand in opposition to me. Not a good place to be - in opposition to the God of the Universe. I think that this should be enough to keep me humble.

Friday, August 28, 2009

I have been thinking this week about change; moving my heart away from sin toward holiness. I am convinced the critical first step in this process is brokenness; brokenness of MY spirit. I think this is what Jesus meant when He said to "pick up our cross daily to follow him" or what Paul meant when he said "I die daily".

I have found that if I am not totally broken over my sin; if I even have a hint of self righteousness, I will not have the impetus to change. When I am broken; when I really understand the impacts of my sin and weep before God to change me: then I will change.

I have witnessed people who make the statement: I know that I have some things to change, but..... That "but" stops them from changing; from seeing their sin, from confessing and repenting and ultimately from changing. They will blame others (like Adam - that woman you gave me....) and never do the hard work of change. They do not assume responsibility; they have an "out" to NOT change (it wasn't me and therefore I really don't have to change).

I have learned that in order to effect change in my life, I have to assume 100% responsibility for disharmony in relationships. I have to assume responsibility and not make ANY excuses. I have to be broken over my sin and the effects of it. THEN I can begin to allow God to affect the process of change in me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This is a note that I wrote to someone who has been struggling with faith for the past couple of years.....

I have been struggling through life over the past weeks. the MRSA virus still is wreaking havoc on my mom - still paralyzed from the waist down and very weak. She is not going to die because of it, but her life is most likely going to be wheel chairs and vans and assisted living from here on out.

My struggle has been with God. Why did this happen (I know that one ? sin)? Why did He let this happen? That is the tough one. My mom is a strong believer and a faithful servant for many, many years. It just does not seem fair. It really isn?t fair, because fair is eternal separation, but this doesn?t seem like a good gift that God promises to give. Here is what I have had to learn ? trust. Trust that God is at work and that, in the midst of living in a world that suffers the consequences of sin that WE chose, He will still redeem. I have to believe that He loves my mom and dad and that He has some greater glory in store for them.

This is the only thing that helps me make sense of this all. Only through the eyes of faith can I see God in this mess. I have seen Him show up in the way that my mom influences those around her. I have seen Him show up in keeping her alive. I have seen Him show up in drawing people toward Him that needed a tug, I have seen Him show up in helping me understand what is real and what is just temporary. He is there, I just want Him to be there to completely heal my mom. I keep reminding myself of the words of Jesus ? not my will, but thy will be done. Hard prayer. Hard to release. Hard to love God through this. I am convinced though, that it is the only way.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

What would you think, do, feel, etc. if Jesus were to knock on the door of your house and want to come in and visit with you? I was thinking about this the other morning as I was meditating on Jesus washing the feet of the disciples in John 13. As I read the response of Peter to Jesus' desire to wash his feet thought of what my response would be?

Several possibilities went through my mind: a great big hug, treating him like a friend that I had not seen for a long time; a hand shake and warm welcome; tears of joy because I finally was able to look at him face to face; terror, like if a police officer were to show up and inform me of some bad news; or a complete dismantling of my inner being resulting in me fainting. I am not sure which of these is the correct response; they all seem like viable alternatives to me.

I was challenged in my spirit that one attitude that I might feel would be "justified": thanks Jesus for washing my feet; I have served you all these years and thanks for the payback. As I pursued that thought line in my mind, I was drawn to the "good son" in the prodigal parable that Jesus told. He was ticked off because dad celebrated the return of the scum ball son who had squandered wealth and really wished that his dad was dead. It was almost like he was saying "you owe me; I stayed home and didn't get to live a wild life" (hear "like I kind of wanted to; I was the responsible one"). This attitude is an attitude of pride; of self centeredness; of failure to recognize true mercy and grace (after all, it was his dad's money not his).

After being challenged in my spirit about this attitude, I began to pray that I would not become arrogant and prideful in what GOD is accomplishing through me and around me. I was challenged to remember that it is HIS work and HIS fruit and HIS resources (Psalm 24:1). I believe that the appropriate response to Jesus at my door is one of being unworthy to stand before my Lord; not because of my sin (that is gone), but because of the EXTREME amount of kindness, mercy and grace He has given me that is radically disproportionate to what I have given Him.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Short one today or maybe I should say challenge of the day. How can I expect to hear from God if I don't spend time listening? Yeah, I pray and meditate, but amount of actual clock time that I put in? Not thinking it is enough. I look at prayer like the lottery - I want to win $1,000,000 with only a $2 investment: I want to hear a lot from God but I don't want to spend the time listening. Not going to happen - won't reap the benefit if I don't put forth the effort.

Now comes the hard part - changing my behavior patterns of life to give me more margin to do what I know that I need to do. How quickly I am convicted of something and then fall right back into my old patterns.... I am a sin filled man.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Prayer confuses me sometimes. I believe that most of this springs from my belief that God is sovereign and that He is good. Using these two beliefs as my foundation, I tend to approach prayer from an ?it is going to be what it is going to be? perspective. I don?t say this out of bitterness, but out of a trust in the goodness and love of God - He can do whatever He pleases and He is going to do what is best for me because He loves me.

I was studying in Colossians last night and was confronted with a prayer request of Paul (4:3). He asked the church in Colossae to pray that a door would be opened to him so that he could preach the gospel to other people. As I read through the letter again, several prayers sprung up. In the early part of the letter, Paul prayed that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of God?s will (1:9). Paul reported in the closing of this letter, that Epaphras, their spiritual father, diligently prayed for them that they would stand firm, mature and trust (4:12).

I have begun to explore this hypothesis: what if our requests to God are to be centered around maturity of believers and expansion of the kingdom? This would be consistent with our mission in life to reach and teach. I am beginning to explore what the prayers of New Testament are and see if they fit into this hypothesis.

I do know that the scripture teaches prayer is also for asking. In the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples, he told them to pray ?give us this day our daily bread?. (However, in the Sermon on the Mount he did indicate that we were not to worry about food, clothes or shelter because God know our physical needs and will take care of them. What if the prayer that Jesus taught was more about acknowledging that God gave the bread then it is requesting that He give it ? some Greek person will have to look that one up and report to me ? out of my league!)

Something to think about.....

Monday, July 27, 2009

OK, I am spoiled; spoiled rotten. I am not saying this from a positive or "cute" perspective; this is a real negative on my character; something that has shamed me as God has put me in the middle of a situation.

I was talking to a friend in Vinnitsya, Ukraine. She was making $300 a month working for the city government as Director of International Affairs (a typical for an employee in Ukraine). She was told by her boss that she could make more money by accepting "favors" from people (basically bribes). As a Christian, she told him that she could not accept bribes because it was not right (which did not go over well with her fellow employees). Because of the poor world economy, her wages recently cut in half......

Here it becomes complicated. She has been living in a "flat" (apartment) that she had to move out of (a LONG story...). She has been searching for months to find one, but has not been able to find one that she can afford. Apartments are kind of hard to find - well, really impossible to find. We have been praying for her and she finally found one!

What she found is an apartment that will probably fit in 1/4 to 1/2 of most of our houses or apartments. Things are small and cramped and everything is on top of everything. Hard to find; hard to live in from my perspective - she was ECSTATIC about finding somewhere she could live; praising God for what He had supplied. She kept repeating over and over again how good God was to her.

This is where I was shamed. I was rejoicing with her, but wondered what I would do if I had to move into something like this: probably not be very happy. I realized that I am spoiled with the goodness that God has blessed me with. It also is challenging me to look at the things that I am doing and determine what I REALLY need, what I want and where I am just plain spoiled. I am asking God to help me re-orientate my thoughts and life to move me away from being spoiled to using the resources He has given me to further His kingdom. Ask yourself this question and evaluate how God would have you change your life habits. Put yourself in situations where you can rub shoulders with people like my friend who is praising God in the midst of her situation (it really puts life in perspective).

Thursday, July 09, 2009

I was helping move my mom to Mary Free Bed this AM and there was a steady stream of nurses and physical therapists that came in to say goodbye. They all wanted to keep in contact with her and know where she is at in her recovery process (impact #1). One gal commented that it was the bright spot of her day when mom went to PT (impact #2). Her nurse and her had a good cry just before they wheeled mom out of the room; their friendship had made a mutual impact on their emotions and lives (impact #3). The ambulance guy commented as he observing all this “wow, she must be a favorite around here” (impact #4).

It is sometimes hard to understand how God is going to redeem this situation. I often under my breath murmur the word “unfair”. But through the eyes of faith I believe that God is at work, God will redeem and that in some way He will heal this planet because of the testimony and faithfulness of my mom and dad. It really stinks to have to go through this and it makes me long for heaven and God’s fullness even more, but I know that in the midst of a sin-cursed world, the light of God is shining in people’s hearts because of the light of God in my mom and dad’s eyes. They have chosen to believe and trust; they have chosen not to become bitter and angry.

I know that this goes without saying, but keep praying for both mom and dad (those who have journeyed with me through this). Your prayers are aiding them in keeping the faith and in being a testimony to those around her that see her every day. Thanks for being a part of their life and bearing this burden with our family. Only God knows the shear volume of tears, the prayers and the groanings that have been given up for mom and dad. I know that He hears us and I know that He is moved.


Monday, July 06, 2009

This one will be a bit on the theoretical side, but it has been rattling around in my head so here goes.....

I am constantly struggling with living a missional life - keeping in front of me the reason for my existence; fulfilling the Great Commission that Jesus gave us just before He physically left this planet (go and make disciples). I have come to believe that I am so influenced by my history that I operate within a set of church cultural norms instead of really being able to listen to the Spirit about what methods and means I should use to accomplish this mission.

Now don't get excited; I am not going to suggest something wild and crazy doctrinal position that defies the logic and principles of the scripture. By most accords, I am, and will stay, doctrinally conservative. However, means and methods are not doctrines. I believe that it is what I am challenged with. The means and methods that we use seem to be bound in history (because the examples in scriptures are varied and commands are not specifically about the methods).

History is not bad; it informs us of the future. However, the purpose in what we are doing has to be more than just "this is what we have been doing for years". All of these means and methods have had their place in history. They were started with Godly direction and purposes. Somewhere along the line it seems that the principle behind the method have been lost and the practices have been maintained as a matter of course.

What if we started with a clean white board and asked the question - "What methods do we need to employ to create more and better disciples in today's culture?" I don't know if we are afraid to do this because we are afraid of the answers or we simply have not thought in this vein before. My challenge is to think through this and let the Spirit guide me.

PS There are current movements that are interested in re-establishing house churches. Not a bad thing, but it seems to me that it still misses the point. it is a return to another method, not a return to principles of obedience to the charge Jesus gave us (this is not true in all cases for sure, but it seems like there are elements of this movement that are simply looking to recapture a small church look and feel and still are not asking the foundational question).

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

We were talking this morning about the process of sanctification; becoming more like Christ. Paul speaks of us being changed from glory to glory, of being washed by the water of the Word, of us being renewed - several different ways of illustrating the sanctification process. From a pragmatic sense, sanctification takes a few steps:

1. I recognize that I have a problem area of sin (someone else generally points this out!).
2. I really believe that it is a problem that needs to be changed.
3. I begin the sanctification process by confession of that sin.
As the Spirit begins His work, I:
4. I feel remorse AFTER I commit the sin, confess it and ask for forgiveness from God and others.
5. I feel remorse WHILE I am committing the sin, confess it and ask for forgiveness from God and others.
6. I know when I am ABOUT to commit the sin, I still commit it and then confess it and ask for forgiveness from God and others.
7. I know when I am ABOUT to commit the sin, I still commit it "80%" of the time, but I do see victory "20%" of the time. I still confess it and ask for forgiveness from God and others.
8. As I continue to be sanctified, the percentage of time that I commit the sin goes down. I still have to confess it and ask for forgiveness from God and others.
9. I begin to obey naturally and find victory over the sin through the power and work of the Holy Spirit.

This is a simplification of a complex process! The reason I wrote this is because sometimes I feel guilty about my sin - that I am not more holy - which causes me to believe that I am never going to change (maybe my expectation of the pace of change is too great). I read in Colossians 1 and believe that I have been reconciled to God and am holy, blameless and without accusation before Him. However, sometimes my heart and my head don't match up. At these times, I need to focus on what God thinks of me; not what I think of me> I need to understand that, through His Spirit, He is helping me gradually change from who I was to who I am. Understanding this releases me from the guilt of my sin (that I know is from Satan).

In my areas of sin, it took me a long time to develop the sinful behaviors; it is going to take a long time to remove it's scars! Thank God for His patience, His Word and His Spirit.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I have been studying Colossians and was challenged by Paul's description of the Christian's lives in Colosse and Laodacia. He had never been there, but he had heard about their faith in God and their love for the saints. Paul stated that this faith and love sprang from the hope that they had of the heavenly prize. Their life behaviors were controlled by their focus - that one day they were going to stand before their Savior and receive reward; a GREAT reward. They ordered their life and behaviors around their focus - heaven and being in the presence of Jesus.

Here is my issue...... I intellectually know that God will give me a great reward - that the hope that I have in heaven is beyond my imagination. However, in my heart I sometimes struggle that this is really true. When I look at the world around me and see the pain that Christians suffer (in particular my mom), it is hard to believe that God is good; it is hard to believe that my reward is going to be really that good if life on earth is not that good. Again, I mentally understand that God is good and gives good gifts to me (see James 1:17). It is just hard to rectify the gap between my heart and my head. When this gap begins to form, my heart begins to minimize the value of my heavenly reward.

Here's the problem: if I don't believe that what is laid up in heaven for me is that good, then my hope will not be placed in it like the Colossian's was. I will not order my life around the future. I will become short sighted and live more for reward today than for eternal reward. In essence, I will live my life more like "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die" instead of living for the hope that is laid up in heaven for me. When I loose my focus on this hope, I CANNOT have the faith and love that spring from this hope (seems like a statement of the obvious doesn't it).

How do I overcome this? I have to remind myself that sin is at work destroying the goodness of God, that God IS good and that I am not living for today. It is that simple. I have to believe what God says instead of believing what my heart and my senses say.

I also know that if I find myself not living in faith and loving others, I can be assured that my hope is misplaced. A monitor to keep my focus on the right thing!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

OK, so it has been a while since I have written anything. I still have not settled into a rhythm of life with family, mom, kids and work. It seems like I am always running around or trying to rest my mind....

Monday my wife and I turned 25 years old. It is hard to believe that we have been married 25 years - the time has zipped by. It seems like just yesterday we were walking down the aisle and then trying to start our life together despite a rocky start on our wedding night (if you want that story, ask my older brother; it was mostly of his doing).

What have I learned in 25 years of living together with my wife....

1. Marriage is hard. There are times when I did not like my wife; never stopped loving her; just didn't like her. It takes total commitment during these times to focus on obedience to God about the covenant that I made with her. Kind of like God must feel when I sin and He has to rely on His covenant with me.

2. Kids are the hardest part of a marriage. It seems like most of the friction that we have in our marriage is in the area of raising our kids. This is not to say that kids are bad, it is just saying that they are the lightning rod to teach you about how different you are. Because of the way we were brought up in two different families, our different approaches to life, our different focus on what areas of training are needed, etc. I have found that we have the same goals, we just try and reach the goals with different strategies (which causes friction!). I find that when we are alone without the kids we revert back to what it was like sans kids. having said that, I think that having kids has given me the greatest potential to identify what parts of me need changing and what parts of me need to grow.

3. Loving someone is hard; being loved is hard. I really don't like it when my wife talks to me about something in me that is sin. I know that she is doing it for my good, but it still stinks. It is hard to be loved; I mean REALLY loved. it is also hard to love. I really don't like confronting my wife - I would rather have peace (short term) instead of emotion. Loving her is sometimes hard and I have to wade through it and not shut her down.

4. It is worth it. I know that this will be true ultimately and I see glimpses of it almost everyday (sometimes big, sometimes small) if I am aware.

5. Whenever I do a wedding, I focus on Ephesians 5 - the part of marriage being a picture of Christ and His bride; the church. I feel constrained to love my wife and have a good marriage so that others can understand what Jesus' commitment to His bride is. It is infinitely harder for Him but I want to be a good picture!

Not a real romantic picture of marriage, but hey what did you expect from an engineer!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ten weeks today. It was 10 weeks ago today that my mom started her journey into trying out every machine the medical community has, and my dad has been with her every step of the way: hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

This is my dad's typical day. Wake up; eat breakfast; drive to the hospital; stay there all day (except if my brother takes him out for lunch); drive home at night; get something to eat; go to bed. The days are sometimes broken up by a dentist appointment or having to mow the lawn, but he spends hours and hours of time with mom. He has not missed a single day of being with her.

The day this happened to my mom, my dad's world changed from winters in Florida and working part time in the summer to one job - caring for his wife. It takes a big man and a loving husband to abandon whatever his plans are/were to care for his wife. To look forward and see a "bleak" (from a worldly perspective) future, to see all his plans changed, and yet in the midst of this to serve a woman day after day, week after week who cannot serve him - that is the stuff that real men are made of.

You are my example dad; you are my hero.
My mom moved this week from her room in Spectrum on Fuller to another Spectrum facility on Kalamazoo. Another step in the process for her as her body heals. Still struggling a bit with varying blood pressure, but still making incremental improvement. That is not why I am writing this entry.....

I was in the room a bit early to help my dad move my mom's "stuff". As we were dialoging and packing, nurse after nurse came in to say goodbye to my mom - not just the people that were assigned to her that day, but lots of nurses who had worked with her over the 6 weeks she had been there. The thing that impressed me was the words that these professionals used: we are going to miss you, thank you, stop back and see us, we want to know how you are doing; a couple of them even were shedding tears about her leaving.

Do you know that this told me as I watched this unfold? My mom had an impact on the people in the hospital; a deep impact. They were positively influenced by her smile, her attitude in the midst of a bad situation, her kind words to them, her "thank you" every time they served her, her gentle touch on their arm as they were helping her......I could go on.

I can't begin to describe to you all the stuff that my mom struggles with every day and the things that she has to work at that we all take for granted. In the midst of all the trauma of life that she has to face, she is having a positive influence on the people around her.

It is a great honor for me to have this woman as my mom. She is an example to me and to others of what having joy in the midst of trials should look like. Thanks mom.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I went to a wedding last night. It was a rather short wedding ceremony, but it reminded me once again of one of the purposes of marriage. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the church at Ephesus (5:22-33). Paul is addressing some order issues in marriage: wives submit to your husband and husbands love your wives. For centuries this has been a topic of debate - what does this mean and what does it look like in practical terms. Paul answers this question - this profound mystery is about Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32): marriage is to look like the relationship that Jesus has with His church. The church always submits to Jesus as the head; Jesus loves the church and gives Himself for it. Interesting that there is no room for selfishness here; there is only room for sold out giving to one another.

Why should our marriages look like this? This is so hard and so counter-cultural. I believe that what Paul is trying to teach us is that marriage is an earthly picture of a heavenly reality: a visible illustration of the invisible love that Jesus has for His church. Our marriages should be SOOOOO submissive and SOOOOOO loving that people can see what the relationship between Jesus and His church looks like. It is primarily a evangelism tool to help people understand Christ!

Now I have to do something about it......

Sie note....... It is interesting to me that Jesus gave himself for the church. I often think that this was a bad investment on His part. What did He get for his investment in this relationship? A person like me, who is self centered, who doesn't really think about Him as much as I should, who doesn't serve Him with all my being. Not a great return. The picture for marriage is that: don't expect a return on investment.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

We are preparing for our big Memorial Day weekend of putting down mulch around our landscaped areas. There are several things we have to do to prep for this, the first of which is to weed the beds. As I was popping and pulling weeds the other day I noticed something: the weeds were growing faster than the plants. When the creeping rose, day lillys, purple cones, shasta daisies and all the other annuals that we have planted were just starting to poke out of the ground, the wild mustard, dandelions, mint weed (??) and other weeds were in full growth mode; choking out the annuals. If I am not diligent in removing the weeds, they will over take the annuals. I have to pull them, cut off their supply of sun with mulch, strengthen the good plants with water and fertilizer, maybe even spray weed kill. (Of course I was lamenting the curse of Adam and Eve while I am pulling them.....)

As I was pulling weeds, I realized something about the weeds in my life (a metaphor for the sins that plague me or that I struggle with). They grow fast; much faster than the "goodness" that I desire to be manifested in me. Just like I have to be diligent in removing weeds from my annuals, I must be diligent in removing weeds from my life. They will not naturally go away. They will not die and let the good plants grow. They will multiply; they will choke out the good that God wants to see in me.

The lesson for me: stay at it; keep pulling the weeds out of your life. Join me in pulling weeds!!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wow, two in one day...too much on my mind I guess. I was reading Job last night and in chapter 19 of the record of this conversations, he is lamenting the feeling that everyone has not only abandoned him, but now is also giving him terrible advice. He also feels like God has made him a target and is out for him. After these laments, he makes these statements:

JOB 19:23 "Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
JOB 19:24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
JOB 19:25 I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
JOB 19:26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
JOB 19:27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes--I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!

OK, I just have to say WOW. I cannot believe that in the midst of feeling abandoned by his friends, family, servants, kids from the town; every one in his circle; and God, he makes a faith filled statement like this. What an example of hope in the midst of travail!!!!!!!!

This is what I have to focus on today - God, MY redeemer, lives today. Despite everything that is going on, the trouble around me, the trouble within me; my redeemer lives.
I met with a friend last week who has been "in the saddle" for many months now. He, like me, is trying to balance family, parents, work, relationship with God, etc. He told me that he was in a "have to" phase of life. He was not serving and doing things out of passionate desire, but out of duty, knowing that it was the right thing to do. I completely understood - I find that this is where I am right now with all the things in life that are necessary for me to do right now. I cannot check out and need to stay engaged, but it seems like I am doing it out of duty and not out of joy.

I think that we all have those seasons in our lives - seasons where we are mentally and spiritually tired. Yet in these seasons, it is imperative that we continue to pursue God and serve others - even if it is out of duty. It is not that we don't love God or love people, it is just that we are serving out of our reserve and not out of our excess. It feels like the spring that was feeding our well and that used to overflow to God and others has stopped. Instead of ending our pursuit of God and others, it is in these times that we must start using the water that was in our well; our reserve if you will (I hope that you are catching the analogy....takes to long in a blog to develop it fully).

I know this season will pass. I know I will have an encounter with God like Elijah did on the mountain of God and He will give me a fresh vision and the energy to execute it. (Read 1 Kings 17 - 19 for the record of this event in Elijah's life; it is a great read.) I just have to wait and continue to serve Him and others believing this is truth. In other words, I have to have persevering faith right now, even though I don't have the feeling.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The last two weeks have been so crazy that I have not had the time to sit down and put some thoughts down. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that I had 19 meetings last week. Now I love meeting with people, but come on....

I have found a huge conflict in my roles over the past two weeks - father, husband, provider for the family, employee, employer, son, brother, consultant, child of the King...... It seems like these roles are in constant conflict because of the time of year. This happens every year at this time, but this year seems especially poignant because of the health issues with my mom.

It is hard to find margin during these times - margin to fill my soul, margin to spend time, real time, in the important relationships in my life, margin to develop as a person. I know this is only for a season, but when you are in the midst of it, it doesn't feel like there is an end point. This year is especially poignant because I really did not have margin while we were in Florida (and at the hospital every day) to regenerate.

I know in the midst of this that God wants to teach me something. I think what that "something" is revolves around finding rest in Him, moment be moment, day by day. I am reminded of the words of Isaiah (40:29-31): He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I believe that this is what God wants of me - to wait on Him and Him alone; not on my strength, not in my power, but in His. There are many other things that I could write about this, but that is for another day. Right now, I am trying to figure out what waiting on Him looks like. I know that the result is that I will not be weary, so I know that I have more learning to do!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It has been a while since I have written. Coming back from being away from the office for 3 weeks yielded a whole bunch of work and catching up that I needed to do. I feel like I just came up for air.

I have been working through Job lately because of what has happened to my mom. There are several stages that Job went through as he went from rich and religious (and, by the way, highly acclaimed by God Himself; see chapter 1), to having nothing but his house (tent) and sores all over his body. I could relate somewhat to Job and his catastrophic loss.

I am still working through the record of Job, but I really don't like how it ends. Sure, his wealth is restored and he had 10 more kids (imagine how long that took; restoration of his life was not a quick process!!!!), but God never answered his question. Read chapters 38-40 where God is talking to Job. He never answers the "why" question that Job has asked for several chapters.

I have thought about why God didn't answer it. I am sure there are several answers as to why, but one might be "because you wouldn't understand it". I think the essence of what God was driving at with Job in chapters 38-41 was - "I am God and you are not. I understand these things, you don't and you can't."

I used to think that when I got to heaven, I would ask God why and He would give me an answer. I am not so sure of that anymore. He may give me an answer, but I may never be able to understand. I will never have the mind of God and therefore will never be able to comprehend what He can (although I have eternity to learn!!!). His mind is infinite; my mind is not. As Isaiah wrote:

ISA 55:9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I am OK with that - still another reason why I am not God and never will be.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

One more thing...... I was thinking about trusting God today. Mom had a rough day to today. She had a 103 degree fever that the doctors cannot figure out the source of and her lungs still have fluid in them (quasi-pneumonia). I had to remind myself again, that she is in God's hands and that He is in control.

I had a learning.... I trust God more with my mom's eternal destiny that I do with her humanity. I trust Him explicitly to take her to heaven if she were to die; I have a hard time trusting Him with her life while she is in the hospital.

Kind of inconsistent isn't it....... Something to work on.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

1CO 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

This was a statement made by Paul to the Corinthian church. I am beginning to understand the depth of what Paul is was trying to convey..... I have been at the hospital with my mom for the past two weeks and watching her "eat" through a feeding tube in her nose. She gets chocolate or vanilla protein shake; which she obviously can't taste. I find myself feeling something odd when I sit down and have a bowl of soup, yogurt or a hamburger. I began to understand where those feelings come from - I am hurting because she is hurting; she is my mom and I am very deeply emotionally vested in her.

I think this is what Paul wants us to experience within the body of Christ. We should be so emotionally vested in our brothers and sisters in the Lord that when one of them hurts, we hurt; when one of them is honored, we rejoice! I have to confess that often I do not weep and hurt for those who are hurting in my church family like I do for my biological family. I don't spend a ton of emotional energy really seeking the Lord for them. I am not really deeply emotionally vested in them.

I am beginning to understand that I have to emotionally invest BEFORE I will hurt with them. I am challenged to seek the Lord for those in my fellowship like Moses did for the Israelites (40 days and nights; read Deut. 9). This is where God wants me to live; only then can I really experience community; the oneness that God desires me to have with my brothers and sisters in the Lord. Start with me; start really emotionally investing in those around you; weep before the Lord for them.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about love as I have been sitting in my mom's hospital room. My mom is not very lucid and she is very weak. She has tubes in her and is on a ventilator. She cannot communicate because of the tubes in her mouth and because she is weak. She blinks her eyes and raises her forehead when she hears us. From an external perspective, my mom is not really beautiful. She is never going to make it on the cover of a fashion magazine in her current state.

But I love her; my heart is after her; my thoughts are about her future. I really don't care if my mom will ever walk again. I really don't care if my mom will ever be able wave at me again. I really don't care if she can ever talk to me again. I still love her and I know that she still loves me. Those physical things do not define my love for her - I love her for who she is and what she is. I love her because she is my mom and I will do anything in my power to care for her. Period. There is nothing more to say than that.

These thoughts have brought me to God the Father. I understand a little more how He loves me. I will never make the cover of a fashion magazine. I will never be the "best" at something. I will never be perfect. But that does not matter to God. He loves me for who I am. He is my dad and I am his child and He cares for and loves me. Period. There is nothing more to say than that.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It is Thursday now and I am still in Florida. Mom is doing better, still working on getting off the breathing machine. Things are moving each day - slowly but surely. As I sit in her room, watching her breathe through tubes, be fed through tubes, monitors all over, machines, wires, tubes, alarms, lights, alarms....... my mind tells me "this is not my mom". In a sense this is true. My mom was active. She was vibrant. So in a sense, this is not her.

However, and that is a big however, there are things that define my mom that can never be taken away. Memories of who she is, her impact on my life, her impact on the family, her testimony to the world around her - these are things that also define her. I am going to make a jump, so hang on (my mind was whirring, so not sure if this jump will make a lot of sense). My mom is an eternal being - there are things about her that will last forever: her faith, her relationships, her life.

It really helps me to view the things in this life in the light of eternity instead of from a temporal or earthly perspective. From an earthly perspective; this is bad. From an eternal perspective, it is an event that God wants to use in His on-going development of my mom, my family, those in her circle and me. (That sounds really cold and unemotional - not meant to be.) As the writer of Hebrews records about Abraham (11:10) - he viewed this planet as a temporary stopping place because he was looking for a city whose foundation was God. I have to keep that perspective or this whole thing does not make sense.

It is times like this that I am reminded of what Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthian church:

2CO 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. [17] For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. [18] So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

This is true of my mom; this is true of me; this is true of all of us who look at things from an eternal perspective.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I am sitting in a hospital room in Orlando Florida. I like Florida, but I do not like it now. My mom is in the hospital. I just learned that she, unless there is a miracle, will not walk again and may never move her arms and may even need a ventilator to help her breathe. Four weeks ago, she was healthy. Four weeks ago she was golfing. One surgery and an infection later, we find her in a desperate state.

It is times like this when I don't really understand life and God. My mom is a saint and I have rarely, if ever, heard her speak a disparaging word about anyone. It just doesn't feel fair that this happened to her - that sin in the world would take its toll on her body like this.

Life is hard, sin really stinks, God is good. I am not sure right now how God is good, but I know that He is. My soul is aching now - seeing the effects of sin on my mom.

I really cannot fathom how God deals with all the pain caused by sin in the world. He experiences it all the time; simultaneously all the effects of sin are seen and felt by Him. I guess that is why He is God - He can handle it. I can barely handle one event - that is another reason why I am not God.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I was thinking as I was driving this morning about the future of the church; a whole lot of thoughts converged at once. It was probably spurred on by my stopping at a church that I would consider "aging" or "old school" (choir, everyone in suits, etc.), studying Daniel and finishing the book "unChristian". (Note: this is not meant to be a comment of arrogance; it reflects my style preference. This church is doing a good work.)

The encounter with the church made me think about the future of my church. Sure we are culturally relevant now, but in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years will it be? Will people who are now 10, 12, 14 years old consider my church "old school" and not relevant in 30 years?

These thoughts were spurred by the perspective that the world has on Christians as reflected the book "unChristian". How are we to meet our commission of being Jesus ambassadors in a lost world, when we can't get over the "Christian" hurdle, let alone get them to come to a place where a bunch of us "Christians" meet?

I think the key to this problem is taking the church to them. Relevance will be essential because we will have to bring the gospel to their context, not expect them to come to ours. (It will not matter how "old school" we look as a church because we are not designing the church programs for them.) We will REALLY have to understand how to bring the good news of God into brokenness like Jesus and Paul and Daniel and Moses did.

This will be messy for sure. It will take a long time. It will be done in the strength of the Spirit. It will require us to show up (see my last post). Novel concept isn't it?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

So I was wondering why the Spirit lead me to study Daniel after reading the book unChristian..... I think, at least in part, I am beginning to understand. As I was reading the first 5 chapters of this letter, my camera angle moved from Daniel to King Nebuchadnezzar. I am beginning to believe one of the main purposes of Daniel and his friends was to be a light to Nebuchadnezzar; the leader of the most powerful nation at his time.

How did they do it? What where their methods? What can I learn on how to evangelize people around me that are not in particular seeking God?

A little background..... When Daniel was deported from Israel he was put in a 3 year development program (see chapter 1). It was in this setting that he "resolved" not to eat the king's meat or drink his wine because, as a God follower, it would defile him in some way. That commitment was privately made between Daniel, his friends (Rack, Shach and Bennie - thanks Veggie Tales) and the head of program.

One year into this development program, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that no one could tell him what the dream or the interpretation was. The lack of response moved the King to order that all the sorcerers and astrologers be killed; including those in training (i.e. Daniel and his friends). Long story short, Daniel was able to tell the king his dream and was elevated to ruler over the province of Babylon. Daniel's testimony to the King was: "No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries." (Dan 2:27, 28) Nebuchadnezzar's response to God revealing this dream through Daniel? "Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery." (Dan 2:47).

Not too much later, Rack, Shach and Bennie found themselves in a position where they were required to bow down to an idol Nebuchadnezzar set up. They didn't and found themselves in in a fiery furnace. Before they went in, they told the king: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Dan 3:16-18) The king watched as Rack, Shach and Bennie were saved by God and responded: "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way." (Dan 3:28-29)

What methods did Daniel and his friends use in their processing with Nebuchadnezzar? What tactics? I think that I can summarize their methods in this way - they showed up when called on. They didn't strategize how to "get into see the king", they didn't have a special sermon prepared, they really didn't even talk about the love or grace of God, they just lived out their faith, they really were not even trying to be his friend. They showed up when called and pointed to God as their God, their provider and their protector. They followed after God and obeyed Him. HE put them in situations where they were to testify of Him. HE put them in circumstances that required them to act out their faith. They had to obey and testify about God. God took care of the rest..........

What is my responsibility in the process of evangelism? First, I have to have and live, moment by moment, the kind of faith that Daniel and his friends had then I put myself in a position that God can use me. Then I have to show up when and where God calls or places me. I mean REALLY show up. Not just be there, but be ready to, in whatever circumstances I find myself, testify of power, the goodness and the glory of God. That is my responsibility; that is my charge.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My group has starting looking at Daniel - a pretty incredible man......

Daniel was probably born in the midst of a national revival. King Josiah had worked hard on radically changing the religious landscape of Israel. Josiah rebuilt the temple, tore down idols that his father and grandfather and the nation had worshiped, celebrated the Passover like it had not been celebrated in a while and generally was passionately attempting to obey the law of God. God was pleased with his actions.

Then the bottom fell out. Egypt attacked and conquered Israel (they were kind of provoked by Josiah) and made them pay tribute to them. Josiah died and his son became king - for three months. The new king did not follow God, but instead worship idols. After three years, Nebuchadnezzar pushed Egypt back to its borders and overran Israel. After a siege, Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and deported the best and brightest of the nation - including Daniel and his friends.

I wonder what Daniel was thinking as he was being taken to Babylon. He was never going to see his mom or dad, his brother ans sisters, his homeland again. Was he grieving over the loss of life as he knew it or worrying about what his life in a strange country would be like; under the thumb of a conqueror. What would you be thinking or feeling? I probably would be asking "why God? Why did you allow Babylon to capture us? We were obedient to you. Josiah sought you with all his heart; he cleansed the land; WE worshiped you. Why have you abandoned us? This just isn't fair; we worship you and you reward us like this?"

Well......that is not what Daniel did. He responded in faith and obedience to God. Daniel 1:8 records that he "resolved in his heart" to not violate directions from God. He resolved not to eat the provisions of the king. We are not told why, but we do know that whatever it was, it would "defile" him (was it pork or some other forbidden meat?????). He did not abandon his faith in God even after being deported. He did not give up on God, even in the midst of outwardly seemingly horrible circumstances. He RESOLVED to live an obedient life, believing that it was the path to blessing: even when there was proof to the contrary.

Now there is a challenge!!! Live a life of obedience to God, even when everything around you is telling you that it is not worth it. I guess you could say that what Daniel did DEFINES faith - obeying even when you don't think or feel that it is going to be worth it.

Because I know the rest of the story, I know that Daniel lived in the place of blessing. I need to follow Daniel and live in the place of obedience, in the place of blessing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I was thinking yesterday morning about the "priesthood of believers". Kind of an odd topic I know, but I have frequently heard this term used in the context of not needing church leadership. Something does not ring true in my spirit about this because of the affirmation of church leadership in the scriptures. In a culture of individualism, the "I don't need anyone to help me" perspective can fester and isolate people from the plan of God. In a culture of equality, the "there are no leaders, we can all get to God" perspective can thwart growth and removes protection that Biblical leadership is to provide. (OK, those last two sentences may seem a bit hyperbolic, but I hope you can see where I am going.)

A couple of background statements to help understand where my mind has been....... I believe, as Peter (I Pet 2:9) and John (Rev 1:6, 5:10 and 20:6) said, we are a kingdom of priests and that we do have access, because of what Jesus did, to the very throne room of God. What an AWESOME reality to consider. The whole "access to God" thing has been quite distorted because for many years, people were led to believe that they needed a pastor or priest or reverend as an intermediate between them and God (which is not true or Biblical). To some degree, we are trying to dig out of this historical hole.

On to what I think the point of Peter and John were making...... When I started this exploration, I went back to the Old Testament and looked at what the Levitical priesthood's position was and what the focus of their duties were. Positionally, they were the only ones who could go into the presence of God; and that only once a year. Positionally, they were the only ones who could handle the sacrifices. They were positionally unique. As I began to examine their function or duties (see Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Dueteronemy), that had to do stuff like look a people's skin to see if they were healed, teach people how to access God, review clean and unclean, etc. - all sorts of interesting things that were directly related to the lives of the people around them.

As I thought about this, it became apparent to me that the function of the priest was to lead people to God; to help them understand how to relate to God; to serve as examples of how to live a life that was dedicated to service of the Holy God. They were appointed by God to lead the people to God; not to isolate them from God.

So what does the kingdom of priests that Peter was talking about look like? What is my FUNCTION as a priest? I beleive that my priestly function is no different that an Old Testament priest's: is to lead people to God. Yes, I have the BENEFIT of being able to directly access God, but my FUNCTION is to lead people to a relationship with God. The reason for my priesthood is to serve; serve the people around me by being an example and by leading them to God. At its core, my priesthood is missional; it really is synonomous with the Great Commission that Jesus gave us to go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey the words of God (Matt 28).

I am afraid that what I have latched onto before this time is the BENEFIT of being a priest, without understanding its function. Yes, I do receive the benefit, but I have the responsibility of leading others to a deeper relationship with God.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

OK this is abnormal (3 blogs in 4 days), but things are flying at me right and left.

Our group just finished the book unChristian today. Frankly, I am embarrassed the was the next generation looks at Christians (judgmental, hypocritical, too political, sheltered, love with an agenda, etc.) . I understand, to some degree, I have had a part in fostering this image. That doesn't make me feel much better about the situation.

One of the most convicting pieces was a reference to Isaiah 58 where God talks about what He really wants to see in a fast. It is worth a good read and meditation.....

The thought that crossed my little brain as I was thinking about our reputation as Christians is "return on investment". The church has spent billions and billions of dollars over the past 20 or so years in ministry. What is our return on investment? A bad perspective of the title Christian, people staying away from church in droves and a reputation of Christ being "one of many" Saviors. OK, not a very good return on investment.

The question is - what am I going to do about it.............

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I heard today that the founder of Habitat for Humanity passed away earlier this month. My heart was saddened. I don't know much about this guy, but his abandonment for the cause of affordable housing is inspiring. I was reading a book last night where Isaiah 58 was referenced (read the chapter, it is convicting). One of the verses (v. 7) in this chapter tells us that God is looking for those who "provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe him". These actions are not passive things like belief, prayer or hope, they are active (hence actions...) that should spring from belief, prayer and hope.

I think the key to this is looking into the faces of those around us as if we are looking into the very face of our Savior. Jesus said if you serve the least of these you are serving me. This is how I have to approach life today - that I am here to serve Jesus. He may look like a co-worker, a friend, my wife, my kids, etc. - but when I serve others, I am serving Him.

OK, I am overwhelmed.

Monday, February 09, 2009

I had someone ask me to blog about creation, science and God. Wow! Huge topic to talk through and dialogue about.

I have to start by saying that I am a literalist - a believe that God literally created the heavens and the earth. I do not ascribe to evolution of the species from an single cell to me. I just cannot believe something random created something this organized. I understand there are seemingly random occurrences in the universe, but I believe that these only seem random to us who have a limited view on the whole scope of the universe and of God.

Having started there, I also do not want this to be fodder for argument. There are those who ascribe to a literal 7 day creation and those that ascribe to a longer time period. I don't want to argument about this. Actually, I really don't even want to give my view on this because it may spawn discussion that wastes emotional time and thinking energy. Suffice it to say that I have committed brothers in the Lord that have varying views on this topic who I know love God, are committed to obey the ways of Jesus and are trying to build His kingdom. I in no way want to take away kingdom building energy and use it on this topic!

There are some things that I mull over as I think of this topic. These are statements or questions or ponderings - figure out which is which!!!!!
  1. When the scriptures say "God created", I believe that literally. My defining statement about creation is found in Paul's letter to the Colossians 15-17: He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. I cannot say it any better or any clearer than this.
  2. When Genesis 1:1-2 says "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." it does not define when the beginning was and what formless and empty are. I don't think we are smart enough to do that either.
  3. When scripture talks of God separating earth from sky and water from land, these were not separated in Genesis 1:1-2. There was something that existed before He separated them. I am not sure what it looked like; I am not sure of its age. The rocks (notice I did not say humans or animals) on the earth could be billions and billions of years old. I don't know when in the beginning was and when God started the process of making the formless and empty earth. I don't know Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek so I cannot parse the "in the beginning" statement too much. Someone much smarter than I chose to interpret it this way using these English words.
  4. God created Adam with a built in history. Adam was not a baby when God created him. Did Adam have a historical Carbon -14 dating? Did God create the rest of the universe with a built in history? Don't know. Could He have? Absolutely.
  5. How did God set the stars in place? Did He place them one by one in a location? Did He use a "big bang" to move them from a central position? Don't know. All I do know is that GOD SET THEM in a place - the mechanism is not defined for us. We can guess all we want, but God has not chosen to reveal this detail to us. It is not worth arguing about the mechanism. It is worth arguing about God putting them where He wanted them (refer to #1).
  6. Dinosaurs confuse me. They are real for sure (duh...), but why did they and when did they become extinct is beyond me. As I look at recent history, it does not surprise me that something like an extinction happened (consider the buffalo....). The flood could have had a part in this, but hunting to extinction is not beyond the scope of humans!
  7. The Bible is not meant to be a science text book. When God said subdue and rule over the earth, I believe He meant for us to figure it out. Science is the discipline that we use to figure it out.
  8. Any science text book is not the Bible. In our limited brain, we cannot understand everything that happened in creation because it was supernatural. We should be able to figure out more about God's creation as we continue to explore! We will never totally understand the entirety of creation because there are supernatural influences in creation that are beyond our scope of understanding!!!
  9. Spending time arguing about this is a distraction to our real charge - make disciples. If we are arguing about this, we are not making disciples.
  10. I really believe that most people cannot get their arms around evolution and believe deep down inside them that there was a God who designed it all. Paul wrote to the Romans and David wrote in his songs, that creation testifies to God. Just like a vast majority of humans have a basic understanding of right and wrong, so too does a vast majority of humans have a basic understanding that something designed this whole thing. If this is not true, then Paul and David are liars (which they are not).
  11. This is not a huge issue for the next generation.
  12. I believe that science is confusing for most people. There are a select few who have the responsibility to help us unlock the wonder of this creation. Those that use science to turn people away from God will be held accountable for this. Science is meant to help us understand God more, to worship Him more; not to deny His existence. I pray that all scientists will eventually come to worship a divine creator as they continue to explore. (I know that at some point they will bow their knee before Him, I just hope it is sooner and on this earth rather than later when they stand before Him).
  13. The universe is way too big for a human to understand.
That should be enough to get your brain moving! As I said (twice), this is the kind of thing that I don't want to spend a ton of time on - I am not an expert in this area and I can alienate a lot of people from what is real (Jesus) by being too dogmatic in this area. Let's tread lightly and gently in this area so that we don't polarize over a very complex issue. This should not be the lightning rod of our spiritual conversations with people. If they need to get through this issue, then maybe. Let's start with Jesus and His aid in helping us get to a God who loves us and then begin to put creation in that context.

Monday, February 02, 2009

More on differentiation......

As I have thought more about differentiation, in addition to the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control) being a visible differentiator, I thought of a few more things. Followers of Jesus also are visibly:
  • Forgiving - not harboring bitterness against others
  • Gracious - accepting of those around them realizing that God is in the process of calling all of us and/or changing us
  • Generous - giving of our time, treasure and talent to others
  • Focused - understanding that we have a mission in life
  • Humble - understanding that God is all in all and we are all in Him
  • Others centered - probably a euphemism for love, so...
  • Not anxious - knowing that God will keep His promises and provide
  • Not complainers - content with what God has provided and when He has provided
I have met lots of people that possess a some or quite a few of these characteristics. In fact, most of us have some of these visible characteristics built into our personality. Those who are not followers of Christ may be focused, gracious and at peace, but are they also humble, others centered and generous? Some may be gentle and kind, but are they at peace and are they focused? I think that the real issue is that if we are a follower of Jesus, we will exhibit ALL OF THESE CHARACTERISTICS, not just a few of them. This is the standard that is set before us.

I have to admit that I am a bit overwhelmed by all of this. When I look at this standard I have two choices - to give up and live defeated or to commit to allowing the Spirit to make these things come alive in me. I choose the latter. I know that this is His job (He has a lot of work to do!!!). I choose to look at this standard, not as a personal short coming (although it is), but as a goal to work for. I want to be a light to the world of what Jesus looks like. I am realizing that the only way that I can do this effectively and without hypocrisy is to look like Jesus in every way.


Friday, January 30, 2009

I visited a man last night who was friends of my parents and our neighbor many, many years ago. He was in an assisted living care facility; the ripe old age of 88. It was nice to catch up on memories of past years. I recounted the time that I was in our front yard and was tossing up a baseball and hitting it and how one of my errant hits went through one of his windows. We laughed as I talked of how upset my mom was who, after telling me not to hit the baseball in the front yard, was watching me the whole time through the front window. We talked of more things, his time in the army during WWII, his work at Meijer and at Keeler Brass, his house and the neighborhood that we used to live in. He spoke of his boys; what they were doing and where they were living.

I then asked about how he was doing since his wife passed away. His comment to me was "she is still with me; she is not well, but is still with me". This struck me odd, because I thought that I remembered that his wife had died just a few weeks before. My bad, I told myself: a social faux pas that I hoped did not insult him too much. He then began to reminisce about his wife, Gerry, and their 66 years together. "She is a wonderful woman; best wife in the world. I was so lucky to have a wife like her. She was awesome." He spoke of her in alternating present and past tenses, addiing to my confusion about whether she was alive or not. He spoke of how he visited her "most everyday; she is in a big room on the second floor and spends most of her time in bed." "She is not well", he stated, "doesn't get out of bed, but yesterday when I visited her, she took my hand and chided me for not spending more time near her". He then continued to tell of how she was in his room until recently, when the attendants decided that it would be best to move her because she was up 3-4 times per night. He was confused as to how they got her to the second floor; "stairs or they must have an elevator" he said, but he really couldn't understand how it happened.

The odd thing is that this was a single story building, so I knew that something had happened to Gerry and that she had most likely passed on like I remembered. After telling this story 8 or 10 times and telling me how much he missed her and loved her, I realized that his short term memory was gone and that Alzheimers was setting in. I was grieved in my heart that this was happening to this man who was still very physically capable of getting around.

I write all this to give this one thought - it was incredible to me that his love relationship with his wife made such a profound impact on him, that his mind would not let her go. He had created a fantasy of her being upstairs, of her being able to talk to him in loving or scolding tones, of him being able to hold her hand, of him being able to see her and be in her presence "almost every day". The power of love between this man and his wife would not allow him to separate reality from fantasy. I know that the Alzheimers played an active role in his repeating the story over and over again, but he kept repeating THIS STORY, not a story about what he had for lunch today; not repeating a story about he TV set; EVERYTHING he spoke of related back to his wife. Seeing the power that the love of his wife and the pain of separation from her had on him overwhelmed me and caused me to weep.

As I was driving home, I began to think of how much God must love us. Not that God has Alzheimers at all, but if this man was so altered by his love for his wife, how does the infinite love that God has for me affect Him? Better yet, how should I be affected by my love for God? Should I be so altered that if I were to have Alzheimers I would speak over and over again of the love that I have for my Savior and the love that He has for me? This is my passion - to be so moved with the love of God for me that I speak over and over of Him. Convicting and moving all at the same time.........

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Differentiation........ Our Wednesday morning guys group has been talking about differentiation - what is the difference between someone who purports to be a follower of Jesus and someone that doesn't. Something that is observable. This is harder than it sounds. We started by looking at Nehemiah and how it was his goal to re-establish Jewishness - no work the Sabbath, no inter-marrying, the tithe, feasts; some of which appeared to be "common" to the religions around them; some of which did not (Sabbath and inter-marrying). We then began to think through the distinctiveness of those committed to obey Jesus as compared to other organizations. Adding to the discussion is a book "unChristian" that one of the guys recommended. It is a summary of how 16-29 year olds look at Christians - not too favorable.

We basically landed on two observable items (that are related) - showing love for each other and the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, meekness, self control). Note that it says "fruit", not "fruits". They are a unit. They all come. I think that it a differentiator - a Jesus follower, who has the Spirit of God, will evidence all these characteristics in increasing measure. My personality type does not struggle with evidencing some of these, but others are hard - especially when pushed by someone who is being a jerk.

I have begun to focus on allowing the Spirit to work in and through me instead of me working on these things in my own power. I believe that this is the primary differentiator between those committed to obey and follow Jesus than other organizations.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I have had a thought (not really ground breaking, but....): what if the way we have structured church in North America has actually served to stunt growth rather than facilitate it? Are the expectations that we communicate in the area of personal growth and evangelism so tied to the idea of the church gathering that we have lost our personal identity and responsibility?

I believe that the church was given for primarily two things - to encourage us in our Christ walk (Heb 10) and to equip us to minister to those in body of Christ and to those outside the body of Christ (a.k.a. evangelism) (Eph. 4). When the church gathering utilizes a "do-it-for-me" format, does this send the wrong message? Does it tell people that "we will do your worship, Bible study and prayer for you; leave it to the professionals". Does this format teach us to be spiritually lazy?


Monday, January 12, 2009

This is my first post. My hope is to use this forum to record some thoughts and initiate conversations. I think and learn by dialogue - dialogue with others and dialogue with the Spirit of God through the Scriptures and prayer.

This is a new forum for me - a more public forum. The media does not scare me at all. I love the thought of engaging a broader world. What scares me is that I love it. Things like this have a tendency to consume one's energy and help one loose one's focus on what is real and eternal. I can dialogue for the sake of dialogue, exploring minutiae and nuance and missing the point. There will come a time when I have to say "that is all I have to say about that" and discipline myself to not go back to it. I have been attempting to stay focused on what is important so I am afraid that this might detract from that!

I probably won't be a regular "poster". Thoughts come at random times for me about random subjects. Life comes at me from a variety of fronts - father, husband, pastor, coach, business owner, pastor, friend, brother, son, Bible study, group interaction, entrepreneur, developer...God uses the funniest times and funniest places to bring things to my attention.

So let's start the adventure......