Sunday, December 26, 2010

Had a great Christmas day with the family. We spent all day together - opening presents, playing games and doing a bon-fire. The day ended with watching a movie or basketball. All in all, it was a great day.

My children are older now so they are able to earn their own money and purchase their own gifts for us. It was fun to see them prepare, purchase, wrap and watch as their siblings and parents opened their gifts - the gifts that they had bought with their own money.

I have noticed that, as a family, we seem to enjoy giving gifts and giving to others. Watching the excitement in my kids eyes as I opened the gifts that they had purchased for me, confirmed that the joy of giving gifts is something that is deep in our souls.

On Christmas Eve I was thinking about gifts and giving. I know that a portion of Christmas has been distorted by materialism - by the desire to receive. However, I believe that one of the essences of Christmas is giving. John 3:16 confirms this: for God so loved the world that He gave..... Christmas, at one of its roots, is about giving. God giving. Jesus giving. Mary and Joseph giving. Paul reminds us of the words of Jesus - it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35). He adorned this virtue with His whole life.

The joy of giving is a reflection of God that is written within our souls. We experience joy when we give because we are reflecting His character, His actions, His image. When we give, we feel joy. We pursue that. We earn money, spend time thinking about what someone would like, drive around shopping and getting the gift - because we desire to see the joy of watching our beloved open the gift, seeing the joy in their eyes, experiencing their joyous hug. It is a great feeling!

I think that this is a joy that God feels when we receive his gifts to us. I believe that He wants us to feel this. I believe that He wants us to give us away so that we can feel this. It is part of His nature that He wants to become part of our nature - giving.

PS - It is not his intent that we seek the feeling of joy - it is a by-product of an action, not something that we should seek in an of itself. It is His intent that we give ourselves away and in giving, experience the result: joy.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Was reflecting this morning on the life of Jesus. Being Christmas, we are focused on his birth; his advent from the presence of God to earth; his beginning as a child of poor parents. All this is definitely worthy of reflection - the wonder of it is beyond comprehension.

What entered my mind as I was thinking of his birth, was his life. He lived thirty years of life before he started his public ministry. He grew up with his brothers and sisters, probably went to the local school (synagogue), helped his dad out with chores around the house, washed dishes with his mom - grew up as a kid. Yes, there is one "breakout" that are recorded about his childhood (his parents leaving him in Jerusalem at a feast and him reasoning with those in the temple), but other than that, we don't have much.

It appears that he was quite a student. He was referred to as "teacher" a few times in his public ministry and was even allowed to read in the synagogue on a Sabbath (usually reserved for traveling rabbis). Not much else is known or recorded about his life - which means to me that it was pretty ordinary as lives go.

Thirty years. Thirty years of growing in favor with God and man. Thirty years of walking in obedience. Thirty years of learning more about his Father in heaven. Thirty years of understanding how to listen to the Spirit of God and follow. Thirty years of dealing with bullies, talking to hurting people, playing with his friends, listening and counseling to his neighbors, teaching the younger kids around him about God - living life.

And then. And then there was a break out. And then he started his public ministry which lasted less than three years. Thirty years of growing up; thirty years of investment and then a few short months of ministry. (Mind you the most important ministry in the world, as humanity hung in the balance.....)

The ordinariness of Jesus life, the obedience year after year, the growing in faith and knowledge - struck me. So often I separate normal life and ministry. So often I look for that "one big thing" that I am to do with my life and I look over the preparation. I believe that I am, that we, are being prepared for ministry (think Esther....). Perhaps it will be a huge "break out", perhaps it will a point in time when someone crosses our path that needs us to minister to them: I don't know what it will be. However, I do know several things:

1. It will happen. We have been commanded to minister and the opportunities will present themselves.
2. It probably will not happen on my time frame (especially mine because I am impatient).
3. I need to be ready when it comes.
4. I need to be watching, no intently looking, for opportunities and seize them when they come.
5. I need to be about the work of preparation - KNOWING that an opportunity to minister is going to come.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I still am having a hard time getting over some of the language that Paul uses in his letter to the church at Ephesus. A good chunk of chapters 4 and 5 speaks to our relationship with others in the church and our relationship with those outside the church. In this section, he uses pretty emphatic phrases such as "let no" (4:29) "there must not be a hint" (5:3), "be very careful" (5:15; vs. be careful); coupled with a whole lot of "do not"s.

One of the points he is trying to make here is the distinction between those that call themselves children of God and are part of His family, and those that are not. Basically - if you call yourself a son of God, if you have been adopted into the family (chapter 1), then you should behave in a certain way. The behavior of a son of God should be distinct from the world around you.

Potential pitfall: Paul is not saying behave this so that you can be identified as a child of God, he says behave this way BECAUSE you are a child of God. This type of behavior is a natural artifact of being a son of God (see Gal 5:22-25 for the evidences of the Spirit being in us).

Here is my challenge.......... As I look through the instructions of Paul relative to how I am supposed to relate to the world around me (not partner with it; v. 7: expose darkness; v. 11) and how I really relate to the world, I see a disparity. If I am honest, there are times, lots of times, when in some way I "partner" with the world and fall into the deception that it will give me something in return (5:6). It is hard work to ferret out all the ways that I am entangled - even just a little bit - in the ways that the world says to behave vs. the way God wants me to.

The more I am entangled, the more I do not behave as "light". The more I am entangled, the less I look like a son of God. The more I am entangled, the more I look like the everyone else in the world and the luster, the glow, the radiance of God is not evident in my life (which means that others cannot see Jesus in and through me).

Paul is challenging me to do the hard work to see where I am entangled, repent and seek forgiveness from God and seek to change. Join me?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Christmas shopping at the mall. Need I say more?

Well, maybe I do. I loved watching the people. I loved watching the joy on some peoples faces; hearing the laughter and some of the weird Christmas music at American Eagle.

I am trying to work really hard during this season to keep a proper focus. It is hard for me to not move into being a Scrooge when I see what has happened to the season. Perhaps The Grinch said it best - "oh the greed, the avarice". Trying to buy presents for people who really don't need anything is hard work....arghhhh.

I am going to choose to look beyond that this year. I choose to look at the smiles on people's faces which comes from giving to others. I choose to hear the laughter that comes from the joy in peoples hearts. I will pray that the joy that the season brings will help people to understand that giving is an example that Jesus gave us and joy is the Godly result of giving. I pray that people will not just see the Jesus in a manger, but will see the Jesus that wants to give them.

Choose joy with me!!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

I am an engineer. Sad commentary and statement to some, but true. I think with the left side of my brain, I like things orderly (cue the Monk episode), I love straight lines (why waste time and money on curves), I try and optimize every process in life (try it - it will drive your wife crazy) and I love things symmetrical. OK, it is off my chest.

There is a lady in who attends our church - an artist named Glenna. She is not an engineer. She is right brained and loves curved lines. She talks to me about all kinds of weird stuff like colors and shapes and moods set by environments. It really is crazy talk - my left brain doesn't comprehend!

The beautiful thing about Glenna is that she is persistent in her message. After observing her art work and listening to the stories of those who attend our church (which has a kid friendly atmosphere), I now understand (and value by the way) what she is talking about. I understand that when a kid walks into a place that has trees, park scapes, benches, tastefully bright colors: something will happen in their spirit (as well as their parents). They will intuitively understand that they are valued, that someone is thinking about them, that this just might be a place where they will learn some fun things. It opens the door for them to learn.

The physical atmosphere is only a part of the total package - the relational atmosphere is huge! If you do not have people that care, if you do not have people that are excited, if you do not have people that take the time to develop some sort of safe relationship, the physical atmosphere is all for naught. Kids and people will flow to care and be ready to learn.

I believe that atmosphere is also important for parents. They need to understand that you value them and their children. The parents will understand that you will really care for their kids if you really care for the environment they are in - the two go hand-in-hand.

Think of going to a restaurant that has a great atmosphere and lousy service/food - you don't go back. Think of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that has GREAT food but is dirty and greasy - you won't be back.

Environment is important. It is not the message, but is sets the tone for the learner to hear the message. Take it from an engineer.....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Listened to a talk by Chris Wright from Langham partnership from the Cape Town 2010 Conference (see if you are interested). His basic premise was that one of the greatest inhibitors to the world wide spread of the gospel is the lack of obedience and the idolatry of the church - Jesus body. He reviewed how this happened to Israel in the Old Testament and how we are sliding into idolatry of various forms (my comments: position, building projects, ways of doing church, etc.).

I have been reading and studying in Ephesians 4. The precursor to this section is chapter 2:

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

We, as a collective group called the church, are a dwelling place of God. We are a living, growing vibrant dwelling where God lives through His Spirit! THAT is amazing!

He then comes to chapter 4. I found it interesting that in this chapter he jumps between a couple of main themes - personal issues and living within the community of the church. I think what he is trying to teach me is that the statements relative to personal issues; the charge to change personally and live a life worthy of the calling your have received (4:1), is only useful when placed in the context of the church community. Paul instructs us to personally change so that we can have a positive, building, life giving impact on the community of believers.

Note a couple of examples:

28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

The directive is to stop stealing. Why? He does not say so that you will be a better testimony (although that is true). He does not say stop stealing so that you will not get in trouble with your boss or be arrested (although this might also be true). He says not to steal so that you can contribute to the community; so that you can share with God's people who are in need (see Romans 12).

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

The directive is to not "waste words" (unwholesome talk) but only speak life giving words. Why? To build up, to benefit those that hear you. To strengthen the community around you.

If you read through this chapter, you will see how Paul jumps from personal directives that will help a person be more holy, to the reason for this: building up the community called the church. We are to be holy, so that we can help others. Period. We are not to be holy so that we can gain some advantage; so that we can curry some favor with God: we are to be holy so that we can help others be holy so that the "temple of God"; the dwelling place of the Spirit of God; his church; will be beautiful.

Just think of how attractive that would be to a world who is looking for hope, for love, for grace, for spiritual direction. Just think if we really set our minds to being holy and then intentionally looked to build others up, how drawing that would be!

Again, I find that God is calling me to change my mindset from me, to others. Again I see that the purpose for my holiness is not me, but others. Again I see that the path of blessing is giving and not getting.

You would think that I would have that one down by now.........

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Worked yesterday to install some insulation to keep the cold out and the warmth in - winter is pending and yesterday was a nice day (at least weather wise) to do some of that kind of work. I had to work with some wood to stabilize a floor area, some metal (picking it up) and fiberglass insulation.

In the process of working on this, I some how got a small sliver in my pointer finger. I did not realize that I had it until a few hours later. I could tell that something was there - confirmed by the feeling my pointer finger with my thumb. The sliver just barely stuck out; but I could feel it. I could see the small black spec in my finger, but I could not pull it out with my other fingers or with my teeth (I know - yuk - but I was sitting in the stands at a football game and did not have access to tweezers).

After a while I forgot about it, until it rudely reminded me this morning that it was there. It was kind of red and inflamed and was sore to the touch. My body knew that this was a foreign object and it was working to protect itself.

I asked my wife to pull it out with her tweezers. OUCH, it really hurt when she tried. We picked at it with a needle, I squeezed it hard and she was finally able to pull it out as i was wincing in pain. While she was helping me, she made a statement - it is funny how something so small can produce so much pain. A very interesting statement..........

I immediately thought of an event in the Garden of Eden - a small bite of a piece of fruit which produced cataclysmic results: death to the human race.

I really believe that this is true in our existence. Seemingly small sins can produce a large amount of pain. A harsh word. A wrong touch. A pattern of small indiscretions. A lack of action. These are small things that can result in huge tremors in relationships. The small slivers of life - things that are out of place - can cause much pain if they are not immediately removed.

The question that I have to continually ask myself about my heart, my actions, my speech, my attitudes, my direction: is there anything out of place; any slivers that I need to remove..

Monday, November 15, 2010

Here we are on the first day of firearms dear hunting season. Wow. Where has the year gone! Soon there will be snow and shoveling of the driveway; the warmth of a fireplace on a cold and windy day - good things to look forward too!

Spent some time with another church last week - talking and working through some issues with them; hopefully helping them see a better way to use the resources God has given them.

I know that this should not surprise me, but it surprised me the resistance to really even think through what a different way of ministry would look like. I know, I know. People don't like change. People like to stay where they are at (or else they would have moved a long time ago). There is comfort in staying the same.

Two things happened in my spirit. First, I was reminded of the Israelites after they left Egypt. They wanted to go back. The journey through the desert and rocky crags of Midian and the Sinai was hard (OK, classic understatement - it was extremely difficult for a people who were not nomadic by upbringing to suddenly become nomadic). Although the desert and rocky crags were a place of blessing; a place where God showed up time after time in a miraculous way; they wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt, just so they could have some food. Never mind that slavery was hard; never mind that Pharaoh had slaughtered their children; never mind that the task masters over them were instructed to treat them harshly. It was a known place and it had some side benefits. They did not want to change; they did not want to walk the journey to a better place that God had for them.

Secondly, how hard it is for me to change. I get into a rhythm of life that I like. I settle into a way of existence that is probably not the best thing for me, but it is comfortable and known and not bad. The last line is the killer - not bad. Not the best, not good for me; just not bad. I find that if I settle too long in places like this, they become rooted in my fabric and I buck against change.

Here's the problem. I kind of like myself. There are always some things that I want to change, but really not bad enough to do anything about it. I think that is why it is so hard to change. Unless the value of change exceeds the amount of pain I will experience if I stay the same, I tend to stay the same.

This is where humans differ from animals. We can choose to change - even if the apparent pain is not greater than the perceived value of change; even if we change for a future return. We have the ability to understand "investment" - paying for change now for a future better state. We can look at a circumstances and decide to and make a plan to change.

And the beauty of it all is that God gives us of His Spirit to help us!!!!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hard to believe that October is ending today. Where has the year gone.......

Was surfing through the radio channels this morning and landed temporarily on a program about "happiness". Now normally I would turn it over right away, but I was lured in for a few moments by a guy talking about Jacob and his wrestling with the angel (see Genesis 32):

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."

He commented on the last sentence of this section. He said that as he traveled through life, he has learned a perspective of not letting go of a painful circumstance until he learned what the blessing was; he would not let himself mentally move on from a trying situation in his life unless he learned what blessing God wanted him to learn through it. A very mature view of life.

My mind was immediately drawn to James 1 - consider it a joy when you face trials because the testing of your faith is intended to bring completeness, maturity, wholeness (my abbreviated version of James 1 mind you; read it for yourself to see the whole context).

It seems though, the rest of culture is set up for pleasure and pain avoidance. Advertisers proclaim "you deserve a break"; vacations are billed as "escapes", pharmacists dispense drugs to help us avoid pain (not all bad mind you, but when we seek a pill for everything....), etc., setting itself in direct conflict with this perspective.

What if, instead of trying to escape pain and uncomfortable situations, we embraced them as learning experiences? What if we had the perspective of "I will not leave this situation until I have figured out the blessing that God has for me"? I think that we would be a bit more desirous of walking through pain instead of around it, less likely to run away from pain and a bit more like Jesus.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I know that I am in a dry period in my life when I have nothing to say; when nothing is moving or over flowing from my heart.

This is one of those periods.......

I define dry periods as when I am not personally experiencing fullness of life, which results in the overflow of life to others. It is not that I have nothing to say (because i like to talk!), it is that I have nothing meaningful to say; nothing that comes deep from my heart as an overflow of what I am learning from God. I feel robotic - going through the motions of life; more of a survival mode than a living mode. The dry periods cause me to be emotionally "monotone" - no real ups, no real downs, just -----------.

It is during these time I really don't want to talk to people - not because I don't like them, but because i believe that I have nothing that will actually minister to them.

Before I depress you too much, I know what I need to do. David, the greatest King of Israel, went through these times (read some of his song lyrics in the Psalms). Jeremiah has the title of "the weeping prophet" and recorded a portion of this life in a book called "Lamentations" (not a "upper" book).

It is times like these when I have to plug back into the true power source; when I have to spend some time being and not doing (which is hard for a type A person); where I have to be still and listen for the voice of God through his Word, through the outflow of others people's hearts (songs and readings) and simply to allow the Spirit to minister to my spirit.

People say that ministry is hard - taxing on the spirit because your job is to constantly give yourself away to others. In reality, this is true for every believer.

When you find yourself dry, reconnect with God on a heart level (not just a mind level), weep over the things that Jesus weeps over, rejoice over the things that Jesus rejoices over and be still and listen.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

We have been working through Ephesians as a church over the past few weeks. In his letter to the church, Paul spends about 15% of the letter (OK I am an engineer, cut me some slack on the statistics....) talking about how the Jew and Gentile are now one church. He makes a special point with the Gentile believers about being part of the family vs. aliens, foreigners, separate and excluded.

The amazing part of this section to me is what Paul tells the church about their mission:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms..... (3:10)

Instead of Israel being the agent of God, the church, this marvelous amalgamation of those who knew and practiced the law, who were instrumental in God's plan to make Him known to the world (the Jews) and those who were "far off", whose religious practices included temple prostitution, riotous living, adultery, etc. (see II Cor. 6:9), is the agent. The church is now the agent to bring the testimony of God to the world and to those in the heavenlies. To reveal to the universe the grace of God, the love of God and the redeeming nature of God. The church!

An awe inspiring task if you ask me!

Sometimes I look at the church (which includes me by the way) and wonder why God chose it as the agent to adorn Him. Fighting, lack of focus, sectarian, judgmental, petty; are all words that come to mind when you ask people about the church. Not a really good agent sometimes....

The reality is that God has chosen the church. Period. There is not a Plan B. The church. Period. God has NO OTHER PLAN. So instead of getting down about the state of the church, I chose to look forward and say we must improve, we must be the kind of place that is attractive to people who don't know Jesus. Not attractive because of gimmicks or entertainment, but attractive because Jesus is lifted up (remember John 12:32) by obedience to His commands and a passion for people like He had!

As part of the church, I am part of the design of God to represent him to the universe. WOW! I probably ought to move beyond the amazement phase and really start having this impact my life. I need to think, talk, act, go places, etc. that represent whose I am and what I am charged with. Not to look and dress like an idiot, but to be the kind of person that every can see that I am different in my walk, talk, direction of life, finances, etc.

Friday, October 15, 2010

We were studying Nehemiah in our leadership gathering on Friday. One of the first settings is Hanani, Nehemiah's brother, coming back from a trip to Jerusalem. Nehemiah inquired about the condition of the people there that had returned from exile in other kingdoms. The report from Hanani: they are in trouble and they are disgraced.

Nehemiah's response teaches me something......he wept (in fact it records that it impacted him for several days). His heart was broken over the condition of his homeland. Mind you, a homeland that he most likely had never been to, that his parents and probably his grandparents had probably never been to either. And he still wept - remarkable.

I think this is the first step in change - my heart has to break; I have to weep over the situation; I mean really weep; really be broken. Only then I will really understand, deep down in my soul, that something needs to change. Only then will I be energized to make the change that needs to be made.

I guess the question is what does my heart need to break for? I am reminded of Jesus words as he looked over the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives - O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing (Matt 23:37). How this must have broke his heart - he longed for them to hear him; they were not willing. I think this is where God wants my heart to break. Jesus gave us a command - go into all the world and teach others about him.....

My heart has to break for the world around me; then my behavior will change.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Attended a funeral today for a man who was the father of a friend of mine. I knew Bernard from the late 70's.

This man had been a soldier, a husband, a father, a grand father and a pastor. What struck me the most is that this man had been ministering to people for 60 years; faithfully serving smaller congregations, families, couples and individuals. He had been there through the good times and the bad times, through times when there was joy - the birth of a new child, a marriage, graduation - and through times when there was sorrow - relational stresses, death of a child, a marriage that dissolves, health issues. He spoke at my high school graduation and was near the Fisk family a few days later when their daughter, who just graduated, drowned at a graduation party.

He saw many things and carried many burdens with people through his 60 years of ministry. Up until the end of his life, he was ministering to people at the assisted living place he was staying. He talked to me a few times about visiting an old neighbor of mine who was living in the same place he was. His desire to care and pastor and to teach the words of life from the scriptures never left him.

Thanks Bernard, for a life example of faithfulness. Thanks for being true to God and holding forth his words as the word of life. Thanks for a job well done. Rest in peace and enjoy walking with your Savior and your God.

Friday, October 08, 2010

We studied John 13 in our leadership gathering today - the record of Jesus washing the disciples feet. We looked at a few other events in the journey of Jesus with his disciples.

We looked at a few passages in the relationship between Jesus and his 12 closest disciples (apostles): Matthew 16:13-19, 18:1-4, Mark 9:33-37 and 10:35-45. (If you get a chance, take a look at these passages.) They paint a picture of a group of guys, destined to be the leaders of the new movement called the church, who are fighting and arguing about who is the greatest. It seems that their biggest concern was "who is going to be top dog in the pecking order". In our world, there were arguing about who was going to be the vice-president, the secretary of state, head of the senate, etc. You get the picture that they were focused pretty much only on themselves. Jesus teaching and examples did not seem to make a difference in their thought processes.

They enter the last meal that they are going to have with Jesus before he is crucified and they are still thinking about themselves. They aren't thinking about washing the feet of their fellow travelers.They aren't thinking about common courtesy. (It is the job of the host to provide a servant to do this, lowest of low jobs. There was no official host, so it was left up to someone in the room. They weren't going to do it!)

Put yourself in this situation..... If you were arguing and posturing to be the greatest, there is NO WAY that you would be thinking about washing some one's stinking feet. Well surprise, surprise, surprise - not one of them takes a step toward providing even a common courtesy toward their "friends". They were thinking about themselves.....

So Jesus stands up, takes of his outer garment, puts a towel around his waist and starts washing their feet. He wasn't thinking about himself - he was thinking about them. In 40 days or so, he was leaving the kingdom in their hands - he needed to do something so they would understand that their focus as a leader was to be on others. He tells them this - you have seen me do it, now go do it for others. Not wash their feet, but serve them, focus on them, don't use them for your benefit, lead them for their benefit and their growth.

Am I going to follow the way of the towel or the way of me? Am I going to focus on others or on me? Am I going to serve or seek to be served? Good questions to focus on.....

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Was at a marriage conference this weekend - "Love and Respect". It was a great conference, if you ever get a chance to go, it is well worth it. It has been a very busy time over the past weeks, so my wife and I decided that we needed to dedicate this weekend for this conference, even though it meant missing some kid things.

Whenever we go to marriage conferences, we always end up having pretty intense discussions.(Isn't that one of the reasons we are supposed to go?) These discussions usually end up talking about something that I thought was "under control", but really isn't. I guess that I always think that I am farther along than I think I am. it kind of stinks to know that I still have lots of room to improve in my relationship with my wife - how I treat her, how I understand her, how I relate to her.

This really is a reflection on my whole spiritual life. I think that I am farther along than I am; I think that I am more holy than I am; I don't really realize how much I need to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus. It is always good to be humbled. It doesn't feel good, but it is necessary. It keeps me understanding that I need God and I need Him to deliver me from sin every day.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Had an opportunity to do a wedding last weekend. I love to do weddings; it is one of my favorite things to do as a pastor. People are excited, there is joy on people's faces, old friendships are rekindled, relatives are seen that have not been seen in a while - it is just a time for celebration!

As I was thinking about what to say at the wedding, my mind was drawn to the mystery of relationships and the mystery of marriage. Agur, one of the contributing authors of Proverbs, wrote this:

"There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:

the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden.

How these four all relate together is a bit mysterious to me (especially the snake on the rock one), but I totally understand the last one. Because I meet with the couple for several times before the ceremony, I get to watch their love develop and see the mystery of the way with a man with a maiden. I love it!

I think that God and this author have something to say about the mystery of a committed relationship. There is something that happens in a relationship of marital commitment. Not just a commitment to live together; not just a commitment to share physical intimacy; not just a commitment to share finances - a commitment to a life long, a "I am giving myself totally and only to you" relationship with each other. I watch how the way of a man with a woman and the way of a woman with a man develops as they move toward marriage - they understand, and most take very seriously, that they are committing their lives to one another; that this is an "all in" kind of thing. Watching that deep love of commitment develop is truly a mystery!!!

The second mystery that still amazes me is the "two become one" thing (see Matthew 5). I was always taught that 1 + 1 = 2. The mystery of marriage is that 1 + 1 = 1. Have NO clue how that happens, or frankly even a small understanding of what that means, but I know that it is true because God said it and Jesus confirmed it when he was on the earth.

I have been married for 26+ years and there are times when I don't feel like my wife and I are "1"; I sometimes feel we are two separate people. However, when my heart and her heart are knit together on a topic, when my mind thinks about not what is best for me what is best for us, when our actions, although with different approaches, are unified - then I get a glimpse of the glory of what oneness of soul can be like with someone. And guess what, I like that oneness....Still a mystery to me how this supernaturally is accomplished and I know my mind is too small to figure it out, but I can enjoy the fruits of it!!!!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I have not written anything about the political realm in this forum - there are plenty of places out there that will address political issues that are there for your reading enjoyment! However, I heard something on the radio this morning about government finances and I felt compelled to write this.

Question: how long can we continue to operate outside of Biblical principles as a nation and stand? How long can we mortgage our future, spend more than we take in, have no savings for a rainy day and rob from one account to spend in another account and still be viable as a nation?

The words from Paul's letter to the church at Galatia ring in my ears: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. he one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Gal 6:6-8 NIV). The answer to my question above - not forever or God is a liar (and I know that is not true).

It boggles my mind that every financial planner, every Biblical concept of money, teaches you to spend less than you make, give some money away to charity and save the rest for times when you need funds. That is NOT the example that our government is setting for us.

What if, from a Democrat Party perspective, instead of trying to tax the rich to give to the poor a vision of what helping others who are less fortunate was painted and celebrated. Remember WWII, Katrina and 9/11 - when there are problems in this nation, people respond. Instead of creating divisiveness and sects, what if the Democrats starting telling story after story after story of life change as a result of helping your brother in need, instead of demanding that you help?

What if, from a Republican Party perspective, instead of trying to push against the Democrats they talked about how a CEO can use the resources he has been given to create more jobs, to create homeless training programs, to aid in job training programs. What if a culture of giving was set forth as a vision and celebrated, instead of a culture of greed and self indulgence.

What if every one started talking about fiscal responsibility - spending only what we have? What if we limited the size of government and government became a cheerleader not an overlord, not trying to have government solve all the problems, but LEADING in a way to paint visions of what responsible living can look like? What if they engaged the creativity and heart of the American people in solving problems and stopped putting roadblocks up?

OK, enough whining. But I truly, truly, truly believe that if we don't begin, once again, to operate on Biblical principles, we will not be around much longer and our influence to speak to a lost and dying world about Jesus will be gone. To use a picture of the churches in the first part of Revelation, God will remove our lamp stand and the light that comes from it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

OK, this is going to be a long one. I wrote this letter to a pastor in Ukraine. It flows out of my desire to help him focus his energy in leading a church over there. it also challenged me to focus my energies. Here goes...........

I have been thinking about a couple more things that have sharpened my focus at Ada. I have been asking myself the question – what is the purpose of the church as an organization? A lot of answers to that question came to my mind. To help the poor, to feed the hungry, to give praise to God, to worship together, to evangelize, etc. I then began to think about it in these terms: when I stand before God, what is he going to judge me, one of the leaders of His church, on? What are his commands to me as leader of the church? What am I supposed to accomplish so I can hear the words “well done pastor” from my Savior’s lips?

As I have been reviewing the directives in the New Testament, there are tons of commands for individual believers – how they are to relate to God, how they are to relate to other believers and how they are to relate to non-believers. In fact, a vast majority of the commands are given to guide the behavior of individual believers in their relationships with others. There are a few commands that are given to church leaders and most of these are found in the letters to Timothy and Titus.

The more that I think and read scripture about this the more I believe that when I stand before God, I will have to give an account as a pastor for the following things:
  • Did I teach people how to do the work of the ministry (Eph 4:11)?Also, did I release my congregation to do the work of the ministry.It does no good to train them if I don’t release them to do the work and then celebrate with them what God is doing through them?
  • Did I teach people how to be mature in their walk with Christ (Eph 4:12); not only the facts about Christian living (knowledge), but also modeling Christ-like behavior in my day-to-day activities, praising someone when they behaved like Christ and teaching people what a practical faith looks like (for example, when someone is not behaving in a Christ-like way, do I sit down with them, help them understand how God would want them to behave by showing them scripture and then teach them what this could/should look like)?
  • Did I keep them from false teaching (I Tim 1:3; 4:1-11,13) and teach them the Word of God; not my opinion, not my views on life, but the Word of God?
  • Did I set an example for the believers of what Christ-like behavior was supposed to be (4:12)?
  • Did I direct the affairs of the church well (5:17)?
  • Was I impartial in my work and teaching within the church (5:21)?
  • Have I entrusted the work to faithful men who have entrusted it to faithful men (II Tim 2:2)?
  • Do I remind and warn those in my care (2:14)?
  • Do I teach, rebuke, correct and train to equip my congregation (3:16-17; 4:1-2; Titus 2:13)?

Notice what this list does not contain. It talks nothing about feeding the poor. It talks nothing about orphans. It talks nothing about creating community. It talks nothing about gathering the people together to worship. It only talks about discipleship – preparing people to do the work of ministry. That is what we are going to be judged on as leaders of His church – how many people did we equip to do the work of the ministry and what did we teach them.

I realize that this might be a overly simple view of what the church is to be. I understand that in order to equip people to do the work of the ministry that we sometimes have to model certain behaviors such as worship, caring for orphans and feeding the poor; but this is not our core function and never should be. These behaviors SHOULD be a natural reaction to discipleship – the work of the ministry that our congregation members need to be doing IS worshiping, feeding the poor, visiting those in prison, helping the sick, etc. (see Matthew 25:31-46). OUR job is to disciple; their job (and ours as individual believers for that matter; if we don’t model it, then our congregation won’t do it) is to do the work of the ministry.

Sorry about the length of this one. Hope that it helps...

Friday, September 10, 2010

What a week! The work week ended with a large number of people wearing pink at the Lowell stadium. Great event that took tons of planning and work to get it set up, execute the event and tear it down (that's tomorrow). I am always amazed at what can happen if people put their minds, hearts and hands to it.

Puts me to shame though. I have the greatest command, the greatest God and the greatest gift in the whole world and sometimes I don't put forth the energy that I should to tell others. It is easy to become complacent; easy to let others do it; easy to just write in blogs.....

In Genesis 11, Moses recorded the commentary of God on the Tower of Babel. This was his comment: "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." The people were bent on evil, so God scattered them so they could not build their tower to the heavens.

A friend of mine uses this for his business seminar - if your employees have one language, one focus and work as one, then there is nothing that cannot be done. This should be true of the church - we have one focus (or more appropriately one command) and one God - there is nothing we should not be able to do.

Unfortunately, it seems like we lose the focus we are supposed to have and focus on other things. I am not sure that when we stand before God to give account of our activities he is going to worry about what our church buildings looked like, what kind of carpet we selected, how many different ministries we had, how many we had attend our services, even how many of the poor we fed. He is going to ask us did we obey his commission to us - did we go and make disciples, did we use all our energy, were we totally focused, did we use our head, heart and hands to make disciples.

Something to think about and work at........

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I was talking to a friend on Friday over lunch. He was relating to me how he drove over the other side of the state to make a hospital visit. It was six hours of driving for a 30 minute conversation. He talked about how he was so glad that he went and how he was able to be with this woman and her husband just before surgery, comforting them, praying with them, being with them in a time of uncertainty.

He asked a question that surprised me. "I wonder how much of that visit was selfish and how much of it was selfless?" He went on to explain that he had been thinking about if going traveling this distance, of meeting with this woman was about making him feel significant and good than it was for her. He confessed that some of that was probably in his motives somewhere.

I began to think about this. How much of what I do, think and feel is really about me and not about God and others? I thought of an experiment that I do not want to do - take a piece of paper and make three columns. One column titled "Selfless Things", the second titled "Selfless/Selfish Mix Things) the last column titled "Selfish Things". My fear if I did this experiment is that I would have a very small list in the first column (if anything), hopefully a longer list in the middle column and probably a very long list in the last column.

The fact that I came to this conclusion troubled me. I have walked with God for many years, I pursue a relationship with him, I try intentionally live a life that is Godly, I try and use my finances to help others, blah, blah, blah. That what it felt like: blah, blah, blah.

I was struck with two things during this mental exercise:

First, the whole sin thing is pervasive IN ME. I mean, it has a huge foothold on me - even though I think that I am a pretty good person. When I really understand my heart and really look at my motives, I really am not a good person. I am selfish a LOT of the time - even in the midst of acting to be selfless, some selfishness creeps in. Someone said it this way - we all draw from a polluted well. Paul said it this way in a letter that he wrote to a church in Rome - the things that I want to do I don't and the things that I don't want to do I do (see Romans 6-8).

Second, God is EXTREMELY gracious. Even when one of his children is not where He wants them to be - even when I act for myself a ton of the time, He still loves me, works with me, cares for me and wants my best. He is NOT waiting for me to sin so that He can whack me. The death of Jesus took care of all the punishment for my sin. He is though, working, moving, trying to help me, through His Spirit, to root out the sin junk in my life.

All the more reason to worship Him....

Monday, August 23, 2010

It is funny how God uses so much in nature to teach us lessons. Not really that funny I guess; He designed it so He could illustrate how things work. Kind of like living parables.

I was doing some work in my yard tonight. I have some areas in my yard that are more crabgrass than they are grass. It seems almost pandemic this year. I mix weed killer in a tank sprayer so that I can treat only the areas that have weeds.

As I was spraying areas that had crab grass, I noticed something: weeds travel in packs. Around the crab grass there was clover, a random dandelions, a bit of buck horn, etc. Rarely was there just one weed or one type of weed. It seems as if the weeds find the weakest spot in the grass and then get a foot hold. The areas where the grass is thick and full and has a good root system, there doesn't seem to be room for weeds.

I know that this is a generalization and there is no guarantee that weeds will not form in "good" grass, but it seemed to be a pattern in my yard.

As I pondered this, it seemed to be a reflection of sin in our lives - it kind of travels in packs. This may say more about how we let sin into our lives than it does about sin itself. When we open the door and allow a sin in, we don't "close the door". It's as if we are inviting sin in.... With the door open, other sins start to walk in and take residence. They are always outside the door waiting to get in. When they see opportunity, they come in. (The scars of the old nature leave us highly susceptible to the return of sin.)

How do we weed sin out of our lives? First we have to recognize it as a weed. Easier said than done sometimes. Second, we have to do the work of rooting it out. This really is the work of God, but our role in rooting out sin is confession (see I John 1:9). This last step is the where the time is spent. Recognition/confession, recognition/confession, recognition while the weed is growing/confession, recognition of the weed seed/confession: repeat.......

Monday, August 16, 2010

Read a troubling article this afternoon about youth and the church. The fact that struck me was that in 2007 a study showed that 70% of 18-22 year olds are abandoning the church.

I have been struggling with this with my kids. My oldest is 21 and in her 4th year at college, with an 18 year old not too far behind. I work at a church and have grown up in the church, so this next statement, that I have made to my older kids, has tormented me a bit: "You don't have to go to church, you just need to have a spiritual input into your life".

What I started to realize is that, as a parent, I was "going to church" as a euphemism for "spiritual vitality and growth". By continually pushing going to church, I was missing the real point - you have to connect with God.

This is a fine line to walk as my kids have been developing in their relationship with God. There are things that they must learn - there are facts and knowledge from the scriptures that they have to have. I see no problem with making my 7th (soon to be 8th) grader go to church, go to the Jr High class and attend LifeLine (our church's version of student ministry). However, as my older kids begin to move "out of the nest", I found that I needed to challenge them to begin to make their own spiritual decisions.

After my daughter's first year at college, I recounted how many times I asked her "did you go to church?" I realized that I was nagging her about an activity, not challenging her about where she was getting spiritual input. (I hoped this would be at a church, but it turns out that Campus Crusade for Christ was instrumental in her growth.)

I am thinking that if we want to reach the next generation, we have to be more concerned about guiding them through their spiritual journey PERSONALLY, not relying on an organization called the church to do this. I hope that the church can be a tool in that journey (in fact I am staking a good chunk of my life on it), but what this article tells me that the journey is going to have to start at a different point and take a different path than I and previous generations did. It is going to be a harder path because it is going to take more work, but I think that it will be worth it.

See this link for the article.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A couple of years ago, I removed the sand from the kids sand box with the intent of planting a garden. My youngest daughter and I worked on tilling the garden with a borrowed rototiller. We then planted beans, corn, sunflower, watermelon and squash seeds the week before Memorial Day.

The first thing to pop up were weeds - lots of them. We spent time hoeing and pulling weeds to allow the plants to sprout. After a couple of weeks, the seeds sprouted! It was so cool to watch the expression on my daughter's face as we looked at the sprouts.

Then it was more weeds. Weeds, weeds, weeds. Lots of work to keep the vegetables growing and the weeds down! The sprouts grew, the plants flowered and small beans began to form. It wasn't log before had beans!

The reality is that what I wrote in a a couple of paragraphs took about 60 days of time and many hours of labor. I was reminded of what Paul said to the church in Galatia:

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

We understand this - planting comes first and then harvesting. However, we want the time between harvesting and planting to be measured in minutes, not weeks and months. The reality is that there is a lot of time between the planting and the harvest. Tilling, weeding, hoeing, weeding, keeping the rabbits from eating the plants, thinning the plants, weeding....lots of time and work and THEN there is the harvest.

Paul is enjoining us to believe that we WILL reap a harvest; keep planting, keep weeding, keep the rabbits out - you will reap if you continue to obey. God gave us a garden to illustrate this eternal principle!

(PS Anyone want some tomatoes?)

Friday, August 06, 2010

Have started studying Joshua. Four times in the first chapter the words "be strong and courageous" are used. Note two of these times....

1:7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.

The beginning thought and the end thought of this section are "be strong and courageous". Sandwiched right in the middle is the counsel to be obedient; radically obedient. Be careful to obey ALL the law; do not turn; do not let the law depart from your mouth, do everything written in it.

Remember that 37 years before this command was given, the Israelites had failed to enter the land because of lack of courage. They had wandered for 37 years in the desert until all the men over 20 years old died. God did not want a repeat. They did not want a repeat. They needed courage to be obedient; to move into the land and take it; to be the purveyor of God's justice in a totally evil culture. They needed the strength and the courage to obey; to faithfully obey.

Be strong and courageous: VERY hard to do when the siren song of sin is calling you to move away from God. Radical, 100% of the time, doing everything that God desires obedience is tough. It takes strength of character, it takes sustained courage of conviction - it is just plain hard.

What is God saying to me? What is he asking of me? Do I have the strength to radically obey regardless of the circumstances? Do I have the courage to stand in the face of evil and obey? Do I have the depth of faith to totally obey? Am I strong enough to walk in faith when my emotions tell me to walk another way? Good questions......... Something to pray for and to prepare for - I know that the day that I need to be strong and courageous is coming.

PS Note what the result of radical obedience it: then you will be prosperous and successful. Quite a promise.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Sorry that it has been while since I have written. Was on vacation for the past two weeks and fully intended to write, but my laptop decided to fritz, so...... (it is fixed now; it was waiting for me when I arrived home).

We traveled to Tennessee to stay for a while in the mountains. We rented a place that was on the side of a foot hill of the Smokies, a few minutes off the main drag.

It was a week of stark contrasts. The place where we were staying was off the beaten path, winding roads, pastoral settings (with the occasional dumpy place thrown in), hills, etc. Not a lot of people around.

It struck me as I drove through the Smoky Mountains, that there is intrinsic beauty in God's creation. Walking through the Smokies and finding waterfalls reminded me that God did us a HUGE favor by creating such a beautiful place. What if He had created everything in black and white? What if He had created everything flat? What a boring place this planet would be.

But He didn't. He created and said that it was good. It is good. It is beautiful. It is amazing to see the creativity of His handiwork and understand that he gave me eyes to see this and a place to experience it!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Had some sad news a while ago. A guy, who has been married to his wife for 30+ years, bailed: moved away, took his "stuff" and left her here.

A little background.....This family has been in our church for over 10 years; Christians even longer. The guy was active in men's ministry events, was in a small group and organized some social events. Bottom line: not a stranger to church or to God's expectations. THIS is why the whole "moving away from my wife" thing bothered me.

I had a chance to talk to the guy about this decision. My words to him were "You know what you need to do. You know what God wants you to do. It is going to be hard. It is going to take time. You have to live by faith and believe that when God asks you to do something, it will be the best: not the easiest, not the smoothest, but the best. You cannot live by your life solely by what you feel. You have a decision to make either trust God and do the hard work of being a husband or not." His decision was "not".

His decision really troubled me - why would a guy who has been involved in the church and in a relationship with Christ for so long, abandon obedience for what he felt? There are probably a thousand answers to that question (too much for me to pontificate here....).

The bigger question is related to me. How many times to I make decisions, think thoughts, or do things based on what I feel I should do? How often do I act on a gut feeling or an emotion, instead of being obedient to what God commands or desires? I know this happens more than I would like it to.

I KNOW that if I DON'T have a habit of practicing obedience, even in the smallest of things, I will default to my feelings or me in tight spots. I know that if I am not practiced in obedience and self control, I will not be able to "turn it on" at the appropriate time when I really need it.

The charge: live an "aware" life: aware of those around you, aware of yourself, aware of what God wants you to believe and do. Practice awareness and obedience so that when the big things come up, it will be natural for you to do what God asks you to: even if you don't feel like it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I have started reading and thinking through the life of Joshua - the guy who was the second leader of the nation of Israel. He got the job after Moses passed away.

In the opening chapter of the book that records his leadership ventures, the phrase "be strong and courageous" comes up several times (four if I count correctly). If you turn back a few pages to Deuteronomy 31, you will see if pop up again when Moses is talking to the people and to Joshua.

I began to wonder if Joshua was a bit of a scardy cat - I mean over and over again he was instructed by Moses and by God to be strong and courageous.

Remember that Joshua was one of the 12 spies who was sent into to check out the land (see the story in Numbers 13). He and Caleb where the only two that reported to the people that, although the people where beg and their cities walled, God could help them take the land that was promised to them. Doesn't sound like someone who is scared.

Fast forward the clock 37 years. A few battles and a lot of wandering in the desert later, God is instructing Joshua to be strong and courageous. Why? Could it be because the last time they were at the threshold of moving into the promised land they were scared? Could it be the last time God was ready to fulfill His promise to them they shirked back and did not operate in faith? Probably.....

OK, now here is the tough part. How often do I do that? How often do I shirk back from faith, start to worry, move away from belief in God and follow my own path that is paved with my fears? How often do I chicken out and NOT believe what God has to say? More than I care to admit I am afraid.

I believe that I need these words everyday -

Joshua 1:7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

Lord, help me to be strong and courageous today as I encounter situations and circumstances and relationships that are going to try to move me to fear; attempt to move me to not have faith; attempt to move away from you.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thought that what I sent to my dad would be a good post....Sorry it is kind of long.

On the occasion of Father’s Day 2010


Sorry that I didn’t get a card. I have developed this habit of writing my heart instead of trying to buy a card and then writing it by hand in the card!

I have probably said this before, but I want to repeat it because it is more true know than ever – I am so grateful for the testimony of fatherhood that you have set for me throughout the years. You got up every day, went to work, provided for the family, disciplined us, drove many, many miles to your job instead of moving us and loved mom.

My standard of being a dad has been you and how you fathered me. I know that I have made mistakes; I know that you made mistakes. But I always knew that you loved us and were serving us. I just need to say thank you once again for loving me and setting an example for me.

I was reviewing and thinking about the stories that you and mom were telling as you reviewed the places that you lived. Living near your parents and helping them, living near mom’s grandmother and helping her, buying the farm for your folks – you have lived a lifestyle of service to your parents; a lifestyle that has obediently honored them and who they are. I know that this was pleasing to God and was an incredible example to me. I know that, even though I did not know all of this until recently, the fact that we have built our house the way we did, the fact that our hearts are for caring for those around us and our family is a direct reflection of the example that you set for us. The fact that you are caring for mom the way you are is no surprise to me – it is ingrained in your character to care and serve.

Thank you dad for all that you have done for me and all that you are. That you for setting an incredible example of service motivated from a heart of love. Thank you for showing what true love is – not an emotion, but a dedication to put the needs of others on the same plane as your needs.

I love you dad and thanks.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Last weekend was my son's graduation open house - the final step in him moving from high school to a new phase of life. The last 9 months have been filled with "lasts" - the last tennis match, the last high school class, the last basketball game, the last sports banquet (for him), the last time we will see all his buddies together in one place, the last time our house will be filled with teenage boys eating our food and playing basketball in our family room: the emotions are sometimes hard to take. This is the bitter part of the last few weeks.

The sweet part is watching him grow - from a little boy with mud on his clothes, to a young man who has a caring heart and a ton of potential. The excitement about what can be and what will be is sweetness to the soul.

As a dad, this is a huge milestone - releasing your son into a tough world, knowing that he is going to make mistakes, knowing that there are things that he needs to learn, knowing that life is going to hit him sometimes and knowing that you cannot be "the parent" anymore: you have to be the coach.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

I was driving home last night from a graduation open house, minding my own business, when a deer jumped out into the road. Living out in the country like I do, this is not an uncommon occurrence, so I know how to react - hit the brakes, slow WAY down and look for another deer - one of the things that I taught my kids (where there is one deer there is usually another).

Sure enough, another deer popped out of the tall grass on the side of the road. Only this one was a bit different - it was a fawn. It stood about 18" tall and looked like it hadn't grown into its legs. As soon as it saw my car, it stopped and then did something wild - it laid down, drew its legs in and put its head down on the road. It looked like it was trying to curl up into a ball and make itself as small as it could so that it could hide (probably pretty effective in tall grass, but not so much on asphalt).

The fawn's reaction was instinctive. Laying down is what it was wired to do when it sensed danger. It's mom did not teach it that; it's dad didn't draw a diagram, paint a picture or make him practice that - he did it naturally.

It made me ask this question - what do I do instinctively when danger comes? Where do I go mentally? Where do I go emotionally? Where do I go spiritually?

God has hard wired some mechanisms into us to deal with danger. Way back in high school, I learned that when danger comes, human instinct is to either fight or run.

The scripture talks about both of these responses. Paul, in one setting, told Timothy to "flee" from the love of money and youthful desires (I Timothy 6:11, II Timothy 2:22). In another, he told the people of Corinth to flee - to run away from sexual immorality and idolatry. (1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 10:14). These are dangerous things that we are to run from. (You probably want to read the context of the references I gave above so you better understand what Paul was driving at.)

There are other times when we are to stand and fight. James, one of the early church leaders, told us to resist the devil. Paul wrote a complete section of a letter to the church in Ephesus about the armor of God that we need to take on so we can resist the attacks of the devil.

Paul placed dangers into two camps - those that we are to run from and those that we are to fight.

The things we are to run away from are, quite frankly, sins. We are not to dabble in them; we are not to become friendly with them; we are to run away from them - get as far away from them as we can. There is a challenge for me - are there areas in my life that I am flirting with sin? Kind of toying with it? Not being in too deep, but not really running away from it (doing WHATEVER I need to do to stay away from it)? Yeah...............somethings I need to work on there. The Psalmist said it this way - Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me... Psalm 139:23-24

The things we are to fight are attacks from the devil. They will come. Satan is like a roaring lion seeking who may he devour (I Pet 5:8). Doubt, fear, guilt, accusation - these are all attacks from the evil one. We are to fight these given the defensive and offensive weapons God has given us. (Spend a little time in Ephesians 6, in particular verses 10-18. Also take a look at Matthew 4:1-11 and see how Jesus faced the attacks of the Devil.)

As you walk through your day, begin to realize the things that you are to run from and the things that you are to fight. Run hard and fight hard today!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Have you ever had one of those days, or better yet weeks, where you feel you have taken one step forward and three steps back? A week where it seems like everything you do turns to junk? A week where you look at how you spent your time and feel like it was a waste of time because nothing good seemed to happen?

I know that you have been there. I am there this week. Things that I finished last week were destroyed by something and I have to redo them. Areas that I thought I was making good head way in, seem to be falling to pieces. It kind of depressed and frustrates me and makes me feel like giving up ("what's the use" attitude).

What is hard is that I usually am a very positive person. When these times come they hit me kind of hard because it feels like an extreme move (from a pretty positive to low).

What do you do when you find yourself in these periods in your life?

I try and remember some things:

1. My identity is not fixed in what I do or what I accomplish.
2. My identity is not fixed in what other people think about me.
3. My identity if fixed in Christ - God thinks of me as His son because of what Jesus did for me. He cares what kind of week I am having, but it will NEVER change the way He thinks about me.
4. What do I need to learn through this? Is there anything that I can do different in the future to avoid situations like this? Am I not seeing something clearly? Am I doing something sinful that God wants to point out to me?
5. Is there someone I need to talk to that can aid me in #4?
6. Do I have the right perspective? Does it really matter in the grand scheme of eternity? If no, let it go. If yes, then pray about it.

Mind you, it still doesn't change the circumstances of the week. Life still is hard. However, it helps me frame the week in the proper context - the context of "God is at work in me and through me and He loves me".

Have a great week! (Ha Ha).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In the midst of a teaching on being a shepherd, Jesus makes this statement in John 10: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (v.10)

I had a thought about this passage - when Jesus said that he came to give us life, what was there before he came? If his death gave us life, what was there before his death? By the statements of Jesus, we know that it wasn't life - it was something else.

Let's make this a bit more personal. What did I have before Christ? What did I have before I accepted his death, his substitution, his resurrection and his Lordship in my life? Simply stated: death. Kind of a simple answer and yet the difference between what I had and what I have is profound.

For the first time I can experience life as God designed it!

I had to write that as its own paragraph, because I want you to think about that for a moment. Dwell on it. Understand where you came from (death; or as Paul put it "meaningless existence") and where you are now meaningful existence).

My prayer is that this impacts me and you today as you understand who you are and whose you are.

(BTW, from a macro, worldwide view, if you spend some time in Romans and Galatians, you will have a better clue as to what existed before Christ's death - the law of sin and death. That is a good study to further your understanding of who you are now as a believer in Christ.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Was listening to a song on the way into work this morning - not even sure who sings it, but the theme of the song was "you are all I need" (the "you" in the song was God). Great thought in principle - very hard to do practically.

I know that it is true that He is all I need; but it sure seems that I run to other things when I am needy. When my emotions are low, I run to my wife, a couple of hours with an old movie, a nap, etc. When I need love, I run to those around me. When I need affirmation, I look to my job, my bank account, my kids, my wife, my fellow employees, my friends (OK, I can keep going here for a while, but you get the point).

Is He all I need? Yes. Is he all I want? Yes. Do I practice this with any degree of success? Well.....

My problem is that in some areas of my life, God is not my default setting. When I face a tough challenge, sure, but in the day to day, grind it out, what is life going to bring to me today world, He is not always my first choice. When life kind of sneaks up on me, when I am not diligent in paying attention to my soul and my relationship with God, I drift to other default positions.

He IS all I need. He IS sufficient to meet my every need. He IS all that I really, really want deep down in my soul. Now if only my hands would follow that all the time............

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Today is mother's day. I believe that this day will forever by etched in my mind because of what my mom went through in 2009. There are some statements and scenes that I cannot get out of my mind.

Perhaps the most poignant is when my sister and I were driving from the airport to the hospital I asked my sister if she was ready for mom to die. She immediately broke down sobbing "no, I'm not; I am not" in a broken canter; trying to breathe in between sobs.

I wasn't ready either.....

The hardest thing that I have ever had to do in my life, I had to do that day: walk into the hospital room and see my mom near death. I remember pleading with God not to take my mom. I have never prayed so hard in my life. God did not take my mom that day. She lost something physical that day, but we didn't lose her: her personality, her memories, her mind, her wisdom, her humor.

Life is a struggle for her physically now and it probably will be for the rest of her life, but I still have my mom.

These things have forever shaped me and my prayer life. I find myself more angry at the affects of sin, more aware that life is short and fragile

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

There are times when I hear verses of scripture that need no commentary - this is one of those. Yes, there is context of a disobedient nation that surrounds these verses, but the principles are still the same.

All that I ask is that you pause and worship the Lord for what He has done for us and what He does for us every day. Thank Him today that through the blood of Jesus, we experience His on-going compassions and mercies.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Foundation #9 - Replace the bad with the good

My family and I were reading in Luke last night and we came across this passage in Luke 11. In verses 24-26 Jesus talks about an evil spirit leaving a man, the man getting cleaned up and in order and the spirit coming back to reside there again - only this time with 7 of his evil friends. Jesus makes the closing comment: the final condition of that man is worse than the first.

This is a foundational truism: you can't just take away the bad and "clean" yourself up. You have to replace the "bad" with the "good". If the house is left unoccupied, the "bad" will come back with a few of his bad friends and really make a mess (sounds like a bad high school party flick doesn't it).

What does this look like in practice? We see this all the time. After school programs that engage kids in sports or learning activities are started to "keep kids off the street". The program is attempting to fill idle time (which, as the proverb says idle hands are the devil's workshop) with positive activities for the mind and body. The hymn I sang when I was younger - Count Your Blessings - was a statement of looking at the good things that God has given you instead of focusing on the seemingly negative circumstances.

As you work on growing yourself, remember this principle. You cannot tell yourself that you are going to stop a certain negative behavior (watching too much TV, eating too much, etc.) without filling it with something good (serving somewhere, reading the scriptures, taking a class, etc.).

As you train your children (for those of you that have them), when you tell them to "stop doing that", you must also pointing them toward a positive behavior pattern: "let's go do _______" or "what if you were to do _________ instead". Notice that this will take some thinking and creativity on your part, as well as some of your time!!!

Principles so far:
#1 You reap what you sow
#2 God is good all the time
#3 Fruit of the Spirit is the yardstick
#4 Forgiveness is a key to unlocking spiritual growth
#5 Love God, love people
#6 The heart is revealed by what someone says or does
#7 Worrying accomplishes nothing
#8 Trials are an essential part of life

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Have been thinking about something over the past few mornings relative to the mission of the church. I have read a lot of mission statements for churches that basically say this: "our mission is to make disciples". Rooted in the Great Commission that Jesus articulated just before he left the earth (Matt. 28), this is a Biblical directive.

The question I have is "Who was this command given to; to the church as an organization or to individuals?"

Most churches have taken this as a directive to them as an organization. Because of this organizational focus of the Great Commission, I have found most people view their mission as "getting people to go to church". Once they have completed this mission or job, they assume that "the church" will make them a disciple. I have heard statements like "if I can just get them to come to church, then......." and "I have invited them to come to church hoping that the church can help them change". As someone who works at a church, that burden is too much to carry because there is no way the pastor is going to understand and participate in the context of each person's life in order to understand how to disciple them.

I believe that the Great Commission was a personal command - it was given to you and to me. It is our job, as individuals, to introduce our friends and the people in our life circle to Christ and, if they accept Him, to help them understand what living a life that is pleasing to Him looks like. We facilitate this by understanding where they are at, bringing God to light in their life situations and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded.

This puts a whole new spin on the church as an organization doesn't it. If the mission of the church is not to make disciples, what is its mission? Why do we as Christians need to gather together? I believe the church's mission is twofold: equip (Eph. 4:11-12) and encourage (Heb 10:25) individual Christians to make disciples. The mission that Jesus gave believers is hard; we need to understand how to do it, we need to understand how certain commandments apply in certain situations, we need encouragement in staying true to our mission because it is hard and we loose focus, etc. That is why we need to gather and why we need pastors, evangelists and teachers.

Maybe a better mission statement for a church would be "to equip and encourage believers to make disciples". Needs some linguistic work, but the focus is that the church as an organization is to support individual believers as they complete their mission of making disciples.