Monday, December 31, 2007

What Will 2008 Be Like For You?

“If money were no object, what would you do for the rest of your life?”

Many of you have been asked that question before as a facilitator or life coach sought to get you to think “outside of the box” and dream a dream or see a vision.

Pastor Craig Groeschel recently posed the question to about 50 Christians. He expected that some would respond with:

“I’d volunteer my time at the Crisis Pregnancy Center.”

“I’d adopt children from a third world country.”

“I’d mentor young inner city kids.”

Sadly, the most common answers orbited around personal comfort. Instead of Spirit-led, selfless responses, virtually everyone gave answers like:

“I’d quit working, buy a nice car, a new house, a boat.”

“I’d travel.”

“I’d hire people to help me around the house.”

Then Craig asked these same 50 Christians, “Besides ministering to your family, what do you believe is the number one, most important thing that God wants to accomplish through you?”

The most common answer was, “I don’t know.”

Craig was dismayed and commented, “Do we really think God sent His Son so our greatest life’s goal would be a new boat? Do we think He created you and me uniquely and wonderfully, with all our gifts and passions, so we wouldn’t have to work another day in our life? Or even worse, just so we would stumble around for years, ignorant of our reason for existence?”

Craig’s survey and comments have stirred my own reflections about my life and about the lives of those that I love. There’s nothing magical about the turning of a page of a calendar. But, it does serve as a worthy time to determine--

“Why am I here? What needs to happen this year to successfully address my life purpose?”

Blessings on you and yours as you embark on the next part of life’s journey.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tom Brady Asks "The" Question of Life

New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady appeared on 60 Minutes Sunday. Brady is only 30 and already has “Hall of Fame” credentials. He’s a 3 time Super Bowl winner; 2 time Super Bowl MVP; named to the Pro Bowl 4 times; and last week was named the AP Male Athlete of the Year.

He dates actresses and supermodels and is considered one of the most desired bachelors in the world. My wife saw Brady on TV tonight, didn’t know who he was or what the TV program was about but immediately gushed, “Wow he’s good looking!”

Brady makes millions of dollars and by most standards would seem to “have it all”. Yet, as Steve Kroft conducted the interview the following statement was made--

“Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater
out there for me? I mean, a lot of people would say, ‘Hey man, this is what is.’
I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think, ‘God, it’s got to be more
than this.’ I mean, this isn’t, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.”

Innately Brady knows there is more to life than professional success, international fame, and exorbitant wealth. What is it?

I could quote great saints and theologians through the centuries. I could pass on dozens of scriptures which I believe to be the word of God. I could point to contemporary thinkers and philosophers. But, when I first heard Brady’s comments the words of a 6 year old boy came to mind.

A few years ago I was sitting with a group of children. I had asked them to bring something in a small brown paper sack that made them think of God. I took turns opening the bags, examining the contents, letting the child comment on its meaning and then I tried to tie it all together with a Bible lesson.

One child opened his bag and took out a donut and a small round pastry that we commonly call a “donut hole”. The 6 year old said, “This makes me think of God because I’m like the donut with the hole in the middle. God is like the donut hole. I have a hole in my life that only God can fill, just like the donut hole goes in the middle of the donut.”

Tom, that is what the “more” is that you innately know is missing from your life. I don’t mean to be insulting with the simplicity of such a claim but Jesus did say that if one responds to the Gospel he must do so as a child. It is simple faith in the saving work of Christ.

I’m praying for Tom Brady to find and experience Christ this Christmas. And, dear reader, I pray the same for you. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Is Christmas About to End or Begin?

We’ve almost arrived at December 25. Will that be the end of Christmas or the beginning for you?

For most North Americans December 25 will mark the end of Christmas. Most of us began encountering Christmas decorations and Christmas “sales” before Halloween. In recent days one can’t drive near a mall or post office without encountering traffic jams with last minute shoppers and shippers trying to take care of the mission of getting and giving gifts.

For most December 25 will be a welcomed conclusion to a commercialized and pressurized Christmas.

For some December 25 will be the beginning of Christmas. For centuries the church celebrated Advent for four weeks preceding Christmas. This was/is a celebration of anticipating the birth of Christ. December 25 then marked the beginning of the 12 Days of Christmas (remember the song?) that would conclude on January 6, Epiphany.

Epiphany is the climax of the Advent/Christmas Season. The word means “to make known” or “to reveal”. Though the day also began to commemorate the arrival of the wise men to worship the Christ child, Epiphany was the day to look ahead to the mission of the Church, the “revealing” of Christ to the world.

Traditionally Protestant churches focus on the mission of making Christ known from Epiphany until Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent and the celebration of Easter.

This year Meadowbrook Church, where I serve, will be experiencing this ancient path of celebration, worship and mission. Although I spend a lot of time considering ways to make the Gospel of Christ make sense to a contemporary world, I’m looking forward to walking an ancient path across the coming weeks.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

This Is The Truth

I reflected on this video several times. The way the message is turned upside down by God so that it is full of hope and purpose is part of what stirs me.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No Time For Pretending

What a horrific episode in Colorado on the weekend of December 9. A disturbed young man, Matthew Murray, first went to a YWAM (youth with a mission) training center in Arvada and killed two people and then went to New Life Church in Colorado Springs and killed two more innocent people.

A church security guard shot Murray in the church hallway before he could kill anyone else. Murray then took his own life with a self-inflicted shot. Apparently he was loaded with guns and ammo and planning to kill many.

What would you imagine the gathering for worship at New Life Church to be like the following Sunday? Unfortunately I’ve been around enough churches for enough years that I truly feared the church would put on a demeanor of “overcomers who will fear no one but God” and similar bravado. I believe in being an overcomer and having high trust in God that casts out our fear.

But I also believe that trauma, tragedy and loss deserve sadness, grief and mourning. Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

According to the Denver Post, Sunday December 16 the church was filled and Pastor Brady Boyd (pictured) led the church in praying for the families of the victims and then preached about tribulations, noting that many people in many places have endured some of life’s greatest difficulties.

One church member was quoted as saying that we’ve mourned long enough and that “it’s time to put this behind us.” Well, come on. One week, seven days is by no means too long to spend on significant life issues like, “Why did this happen?”; “How do we forgive someone like Murray?”; “How do I begin to feel safe at church again?”; and so many more questions.

Most of us are in a hurry to put painful experiences in the past. However, most of us who hurry don’t really succeed in putting painful experiences quickly into the past. Rather we end up suppressing the pain and then pretending that everything is okay.

To those in pain everywhere, Colorado, Omaha, Iraqi and Afghan battle fronts, the unemployed, the sick, the abused and so many more, turn to God with your pain. The Bible says, “Cast your cares upon Him. He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

In prayer and with friends who will “be with you” in painful times, ask your questions aloud, cry, be angry and by God’s grace filled process, begin to trust and hope again.

Friday, December 14, 2007


This morning I began my regular routine of cutting into an apple for my breakfast. I have an apple about four days a week. I buy a lot of apples.

I was reminded this morning that no one ever really buys an apple. When I go to the store and pick up a granny or gala or red delicious or my favorite, honey crisp, I inspect the apple visually and physically. I look for defects or bruises and I feel for mushiness. That being said, what I end up buying is an apple peal. I take it by faith that inside the peal will be a tasty apple.

This morning I cut into my apple, which had no bruising and felt firm, only to find out that on the inside it was rotten. How could that be?

When it comes to apples, bananas, watermelons, etc., we are always inspecting the outside and by faith believing that the inside will be what we’re hoping for.

Something that is the same on the inside as it appeared on the outside has integrity. I was surprised and disappointed this morning that my apple didn’t have integrity since it appeared to be a healthy and edible apple but was in fact rotten and ruined on the inside. My apple was a hypocrite.

Within seconds of my feeling disgusted and disappointed with my apple I felt a nudge by God’s presence. It was if He was saying, “You look great on the outside. I want you to tend to the inside.”

Inside of me there remain rotten places of anger, covetousness and pride. While I go about my work responsibilities today I also have some life work to do.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Grace Greater Than Our Sin

Twenty-six years ago Tammi Smith (pictured) was a 15 year old grief stricken girl. Her half-brother, Robert Sellon, was brutally murdered by 17 year old twins, David and Michael Samel in a Grand Rapids, Michigan pool hall.

Michael was sentenced to 35-55 years in prison. David was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Soon after the killing Tammi went to the county jail where David was being held and cursed him for destroying her family.

Today, Tammi is an advocate for the release of David and Michael. What happened?

In short, Tammi became a follower of Christ. About 6 years ago it occurred to Tammi that Michael would be coming up for review with the possibility of parole. She wondered if he had changed so she wrote him a letter. Michael wrote back, and so did David.

A regular correspondence developed between the three of them including the sending of birthday cards and Christmas cards. Tammi, with the grace and power of God, had chosen to forgive her brother’s killers. God’s grace further enabled her to have friendship with the Samel twins.

When reading this story I was reminded of an old hymn, “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”. One verse of the hymn says,

“Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His
grace receive?"

Tammi received God’s grace and now bestows God’s grace. People think that she is crazy to forgive her brother’s killers. She thinks that she is simply responding to a work of grace that God is doing in her heart.

Tammi takes out and lays three pictures side by side, Robert Sellen along with David and Michael Samel. Tammi then asks people to pick out the one that is her brother.

Tammi then explains, “All three of them are. I may have lost one, but I gained two more.”

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Senseless, Sadistic Slayings, a Part of Christmas in the 1st & 21st Centuries

Robert Hawkins was a 19 year old high school dropout that had been kicked out of his home by his family. Befriended by another family who reported that Hawkins was perpetually depressed, Wednesday Hawkins went to a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska. There he pulled out a gun, began firing into a crowd, killed eight people and then himself.

Hawkins left behind a suicide note that said he loved his parents and left his Jeep to his mother. He also commented that he would no longer be a burden to anyone and that he would now be famous.

With premeditation Hawkins took the lives of eight innocent people that he didn’t know and thereby sought to make something of his name. One mall patron commented, “It’s a terrible way to start the holiday season.”

As I imagine the grief of those whose loved ones were killed I’m saddened, angered and somewhat mystified. More will probably be said later about the psychological state of Hawkins and some will no doubt suggest that he was something of a victim himself. Those conclusions may address his suicide but not the killings.

Just as I did with the Virginia Tech killings, (see my post here) I’m going to contend again that what we’re seeing is evil. There is evil in this world and there is an Evil One who works evil against humanity. It is the presence of God in the lives of believers and in this world that holds evil in check to the degree that it is. Remove God from this world and we haven’t even begun to see how evil everyone and everything can be. It would be like removing the sun from this world, leaving it to complete pervasive darkness.

Please hear me carefully. I’m not trying to condemn Hawkins, his parents or anyone else in proximity to this tragedy. I’m simply pointing out that the reason the coming of Christ into this world and into our lives is Good News is because this world and our lives are bad news.

This was just as true at Christmas in the first century as it is in the twenty-first. You may recall that when the wise men came seeking the Christ child so that they could worship Him, King Herod evilly commanded that all the children in Bethlehem that were two years and younger should be put to death. Why, because Herod wanted to maintain a name for himself. He was not going lose his fame and name to some baby in a barn.

Friends, as fun as Santa and reindeer and trees and presents can be, that sentimental and commercialized expression of Christmas distracts us from the reality that we live in a broken and fallen world that desperately needs a Savior.

Saint Nicolas Day, December 6

Yes, there really was a Saint Nicolas! In the 4th century in the country that we now call Turkey, Nicolas was a follower of Christ and a servant of the church who eventually became a bishop.

Renowned for his generosity, on one occasion Nicolas secretly gave a gift of gold coins to a family in need by placing the coins in the stockings that were hanging over the fireplace.

Gift giving secretly in the night, stockings over the fireplace, candy canes, and seasonal concern for the needy are all traced back to the real St. Nicolas, a man of faith who lived his life in devotion to Christ.

After a Roman imprisonment for his faith, Nicolas was later released and participated in the formation of the Nicene Creed. He died on December 6, 343 AD.

I’m reflecting today on the life and example of a Christ follower from long ago and I’m inspired to continue the journey of becoming like our Savior.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Christmas is a "Highlight"

When I was a kid Christmas was a highlight of the year. I looked forward to getting out of school. Out of town family came to visit. We would devour a delicious turkey dinner. And, most of all I would get to open presents!

As an adult Christmas is a “highlight” in a completely different way. Like a yellow marking highlight pen draws your attention to a word or sentence that is buried in a page of words and sentences, Christmas tends to highlight life realities that are buried in “life pages” of experiences.
Recently I served with my Rotary Club to put on an annual Christmas party for challenged families that live in the Redmond area. We matched up forty something children with an adult shopping buddy and took them to a local department store and bought them clothes and toys. Afterward we all had breakfast with Santa and enjoyed a magic show.

The following Monday I received a few calls on behalf of the families who had been invited but didn’t come. Mostly the parents were simply dysfunctional and irresponsible and didn’t get up and drive to the party. Now they wanted to know if they could still get money to go shopping on their own. They live this way all the time and the children frequently suffer because of it. It is highlighted and more obvious at Christmas.

For many, marital tension will run high over the next few days. Financial pressures will squeeze. Dissatisfaction with the status quo will be acute. Others who have had a low grade depression will sink further.

I’m not trying to be gloomy. It’s all just “highlighted” for me at this time of year…..and that’s not bad.

It’s difficult for us to see and appreciate Good News if we’re not well aware of the bad news. Life is hard. For many, life is sad and debilitating.

Christmas is not only a highlight of what is broken in this world but it is THE highlight of God’s provision for brokenness, Jesus Christ.

I’m praying that we all get the Christmas “Presence” that we most need.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Speaking of God's Sovereignty...

As I mentioned in my last post, I was scheduled to speak about the sovereignty of God Sunday at Meadowbrook Church. During those preparations my life encountered multiple examples of God’s sovereignty.
Friday night my wife and I had a date. We were going to Seattle with friends to see the 10th annual production of The Black Nativity, which I highly recommend. However, as we were getting dressed the power went out at our house. Ever tried to match socks with a candle?

Saturday morning I was a part of my Rotary Club’s annual Christmas party for financially challenged families. I matched up 43 children with adult “shopping buddies” and off they went to buy Christmas gifts and then returned for breakfast with Santa. Our area was hit by a snow storm. Some families couldn’t find our location. Some volunteers weren’t showing. The store with whom we had made arrangements for the shopping wasn't prepared for us. It finally all happened well but was extremely crazy for a couple of ours.

Then I went home to work on my “sovereignty” message. The power that came back on at my house went out again. Meanwhile, along with my co-pastor we were trying to decide whether we would be able to have a church service because the snow was accumulating, eventually about 6-8 inches around my house.

Sunday we did have our worship service and I humbly shared some thoughts about “a big God who involves Himself in the small details of life.” The message will be uploaded here sometime this week if you want to listen. But the reason that we were able to meet is because another storm system moved through, only this time it was driving rain and wind gusts between 30-50 mph. The snow quickly disappeared.

Sunday night Meadowbrook was to present The Living Nativity as a part of the Redmond Lights annual celebration. On the Sammamish River Trail we have a choir singing carols, costumed actors in a stable with live animals. Last year about 6,000 people caught the production. This year no one saw it because we had to cancel it late in the afternoon. The weather was just too difficult.

So, here I am Monday morning reflecting on the past 72 hours where everything I was involved in was out of my control. Though diligent plans had been made for activities that were designed to bless other people I had no control to carry out those plans. Some of our plans happened while others did not. In all of it God was present and active in ways that could be seen and in ways that couldn’t.

Life is indeed a mystery to us but never surprising or puzzling to God. Because I’ve experienced the goodness of God and I’m convicted about His loving character, I trust that He not only knows what He is doing with life’s details, but that it is all working together for a redemptive plan.

This week I’m going to give another talk about God’s sovereignty. I’m already curious about how this week will play out.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Who Can Speak of the Sovereignty of God?

This coming Sunday I will deliver the first of a series of talks on the sovereignty of God based upon the Gospel of Luke and specifically around the birth narrative of Jesus Christ. The study and preparation has been personally stirring and inspiring. It has also been humbling.

First, I’ve been humbled because I have been freshly reminded how big and infinite God is and how small and finite I am.

Second, I’ve been humbled because I’ve taken on the task to speak of God’s sovereignty and I realize that I cannot do justice to the topic. Oh I’m more enthused and passionate about God’s sovereignty than ever. Words are just inadequate and my limited use of words is even more inadequate to do justice to the topic.

Third, I’ve been humbled because God’s attention to the details of life so that I might discover Him, draw near to Him and engage in relationship with Him is unspeakably loving, generous and filled with grace.

My assignment, to describe the indescribable, reminds me of those times in my childhood when my Mother would give me a task that was too big for me. I couldn’t do it as well as her but I certainly grew because of the effort.

I can’t wait until Sunday to gather with fellow believers so that we might worship an awesome God. I pray that you will also have a worship-full weekend.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"August Rush" is Metaphorically Moving

Spoiler Alert: I may say more about this film than you care to hear if you’re planning on going to the theater and seeing it.

I knew the basic storyline before entering the theater. A young couple becomes pregnant. The child is raised apart from the biological parents. Somehow music is a factor in their connection with one another.

That’s all I’ll say about the plot. Though the story is completely predictable I wanted to go along for the ride and see it unfold. Early on I was captured by the story because I was not just watching the story of a few characters on the screen. I saw the essence of every person.

The mother, father and child each have music “hard wired” into their soul. It must find expression and when it does, when music is liberated from their innermost selves, it is beautiful, compelling and powerful. I believe that every person has the “music” in their soul. Everyone has a “song” playing in and around them. The question becomes, “Can you hear it?”

The tagline of the movie is, “The music is everywhere. All you have to do is listen.”

For me the music became a metaphor, a picture of the Holy Spirit of God. Like the characters in the movie that often heard and played music that others didn’t completely “get” or comprehend, so it is with those who are touched, embraced, or “sung to” by God’s Spirit.

As the disconnected movie characters somehow intuitively played the song that was within, there was always some hope that the playing would more fully connect them with themselves, and the music would somehow draw them all together.

So it is with God’s Spirit. I have literally met people from all over the world who have become alive to God’s Spirit and when we have spent time together there was an inexplicable connection and affinity, like musicians who meet for the first time and begin to jam.

In the movie there were adversarial and dark figures that sought to exploit the music and prevent the life connection, but the music/Spirit could not be overcome in the end.

I was inspired as I was reminded that God’s Spirit persists in the pursuit of our lives. I pray that you will listen for the music.

Friday, November 23, 2007

What Does It Take To Sink Your Ship?

Friday a Canadian owned cruise ship hit an iceberg in the region of the Antarctic some 700 miles south of the tip of South America and it appears that the ship is going to sink. The Explorer had 91 passengers, including 13 Americans. All passengers and crew members were successfully rescued by a passing ship.

When the Explorer hit the ice a hole the size of a fist was punched into the hull. The ship was in the midst of a 19-day cruise of Antarctica that allowed passengers to observe penguins, whales and other forms of wildlife.

What a picture of life. We’re cruising through life doing our best to enjoy the journey and something below the surface punches a hole in our ship and we’re in danger of sinking.

It doesn’t take much. A hull of steel in frigid waters is compromised by ice.

We are now officially in “holiday waters” cruising toward an idealized Christmas. We’ll make careful plans, spend a lot of money, overextend ourselves and leave our ship/life exposed to icebergs (some hidden and some obvious).

How will you navigate these waters/holidays? When I centralize my focus on the Christ of Christmas I don’t come so perilously close the commercialized and idealized icebergs that lay in wait to sink me.

A CHRISTmas thinks about God and others more than self.
A CHRISTmas engages in worship and service more than buying stuff.
A CHRISTmas experiences holy days instead of holidays.
A CHRISTmas inspires life rather than exhausting life.

I’m not suggesting that I won’t attend a party or buy a gift for anyone. What I am saying is that I will enter these waters with an awareness that there are cultural and relational icebergs all around that could sink my ship.

I pray God’s blessings upon you this season.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


This Thursday is an American favorite holiday; Thanksgiving. We’ll spend time with friends or family. We’ll eat delicious meals. We’ll enjoy football games. Some will enjoy a nap. What’s not to like about Thanksgiving.

Did you know?

1. The year we first started celebrating Thanksgiving nationally?
a. 1492
b. 1621
c. 1776
d. 1812

2. The year that Thanksgiving was established as a national holiday?
a. 1787
b. 1863
c. 1939
d. 1954

3. Who protested the bald eagle as the national bird?
a. George Washington
b. John Adams
c. Ben Franklin
d. Alexander Hamilton

4. How fast can a turkey fly?
a. 15 mph
b. 25 mph
c. 55 mph
d. Turkeys can’t fly

5. This Thanksgiving how much turkey will be consumed?
a. 190 million lbs.
b. 390 million lbs.
c. 690 million lbs.

Answers to these questions are below. That’s some of the American background to thanksgiving. The point that we must not lose is that the American experience was based upon biblical precedent. Though the pilgrims may have been thankful to the so-called American Indian because he helped them grow corn and other crops, the main expression of thanks was to God.

The pilgrims credited God with their safe travels across the Atlantic; their surviving the first winter; and then their bountiful crops.

The Bible is a record of men and women through the centuries who lived day in and day out thanking God as a matter of lifestyle. What I want to suggest to you today is the act of giving thanks is so important and so powerful that we dare not limit it to one day a year but rather must adopt a lifestyle that I’m calling “ThanksLiving”.

Every person in the Bible that we might want to point to as a model or mentor or hero practiced ThanksLiving. How do we get there? Allow me to make two brief suggestions that are by no means exhaustive.

It takes perspective in order to be thankful. Do you have perspective on your life and circumstances? Do you realize that you are materially in the most blessed 5% of this world’s population? Do you have your health? Do you have people that love you and care about you? Do you have opportunities to express your interests, gifts and abilities? Is your life connected to God?

If you had to answer yes to all or most of those questions then how is it that 90% of the time you don’t think about all your blessings? Answer: because you live taking it for granted rather than taking it with gratitude.

Humility is the state where one thinks much of God and little of self. Self-centeredness and pride think much of self and little of God. The latter breeds a sense of entitlement. Humility breeds gratitude to a great God who gives me things I don’t deserve.

An old hymn exhorts us to, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings see what God has done.”

Let’s move from Thanksgiving as one day a year to ThanksLiving every day of the year.

1. 1621. Subsequent thanksgiving experiences were sometimes a fast.
2. 1863 under a decree by President Abraham Lincoln
3. Ben Franklin, who also suggested the turkey as the national bird
4. 55 mph. Turkeys can run 20 mph.
5. 690 million lbs. 97% of us will consume turkey

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Do You Have Room For God?

I have a friend who designed his house a few years ago. He purposefully designed the bedrooms to be relatively small by today’s standards. The bedrooms had just enough space for a bed and dresser. He also designed the house so that it did not have a den or bonus room.

These design decisions were not based upon economics. My friend makes plenty of money and is very successful in his field. Rather, my friend’s house design decisions were based upon love.

If you’ve noticed over the past few decades, the average American home is getting larger in square footage while the number of family members is getting smaller.

Do you realize that in--
1970 the average household size was 3.14; the average house was 1,400 sq ft
1980 a household size was 2.76; the house was 1,740 sq ft
1990 a household size was 2.63; the house was 2,080 sq ft
2000 a household size was 2.60; the house was 2,330 sq ft

Now it is not unusual for multiple rooms to have telephones, televisions, computers and video games. My friend has two children and one wife. He wanted a home where they would have togetherness. The bedrooms are adequate for sleeping and dressing. To read, do homework, use a computer or watch television one has to be in the living room. My friend actually designed a house where doing life together happens in the living room. Many homes today don’t even use the living room.

These days you have to be intentional and strategic to have significant family connection. The same is true for connecting with God. Home theaters, iPods, Blackberry’s and “surfing the net”, not to mention work and recreation, can become so consuming that we literally don’t have time to develop connection and relationship with God.

For many of us it takes extraordinary “downsizing” of life to have room for God.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What's Missing?

I was in a meeting today with a Wilderness Awareness instructor. He was very articulate and passionate about the importance of our getting outdoors and getting in touch with creation and with ourselves. Some of the anecdotes he shared about the learning experiences of his students was fascinating.

As my new friend talked of learning “bird language” and what difference it makes to be able to tell what birds perceive at any given time in the wilderness, he shared a brief story from his own childhood.

He grew up in California and had the opportunity as a child to often be outdoors and enjoy running down paths and eating wild blackberries, etc. Later as an adult who was engaged in wilderness studies he discovered what a robin sounded like. He recalled how delighted he was to hear and recognize the sounds of a robin.

Sometime later he went back to California to visit with his family. In his old neighborhood he was surprised one morning to hear a robin. He walked a bit and discovered that there were robins all around where his parents lived and he wondered how he could have missed the delight of a robin through all of his growing up years.

Then it occurred to him, “What if I had never learned to distinguish the sound of a robin? Robins could have disappeared and I would never have known it.”

Immediately I was struck by how grateful I am to be able to recognize the invisible presence of the Living God. I recognize how blessed I am to be able to hear His inaudible but discernable voice.

My new friend’s question took on a greater importance to me as I wondered, “If God were to disappear and no longer choose to be present among humanity how many would even know that He departed?”

My first thought was that God could disappear and those that had never experienced Him wouldn’t know He was gone. Upon greater reflection I had another thought.

The robin’s disappearance may be missed by few. However, it seems to me that most of the world would know if God disappeared and I’m not only talking about the community of faith. The Bible claims that it is God who not only created our world but He continues to hold it all together. (see Colossians 1:9-18)

It is God’s presence that continues some kind of containment on sin and wickedness. If God were to withdraw everyone would know that something catastrophic had taken place, just as surely as if the sun had disappeared, because our world would become dark with rampant, unchecked depravity.

My new friend stirred me to become more aware and conversant with the outdoors. How much more important is it that we become conversant and relational with God?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What's the Deal with October 31?

Tonight I’ll be home with bags of candy so that I can answer the door bell dozens of times and hand out treats to children dressed up as pirates and princesses and a variety of other outfits.

Halloween was a simple and fun night for me when I was a child. In my costume and with my brother I’d race to as many houses as I could in the time allotment my mother gave me for “Trick or Treating” and haul in enough candy to last until Christmas. Today Halloween has become the second biggest commercialized “holiday” surpassed only by Christmas. The day has gone way past children roaming neighborhoods for candy to elaborate parties, sexy costumes and “devilish” entertainment.

And, within many Christian circles Halloween has taken on complicated and controversial dimensions. Some Christians choose not to participate in Halloween at all because of its roots in ancient Celtic practices and the occult. Others choose to seize and transform Halloween into a harvest festival or autumn party. Some are downright combative that they will not allow the “dark side” to rob them and future generations from simple childlike fun that they enjoyed years ago.

Few may be aware that October 31, 1517 was the day that the great reformation was launched with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. Luther’s theses debated the Catholic practice of indulgences and that act eventually launched what would become the protestant church.

November 1 had historically been celebrated as All Saints Day where the church would have a variety of worshipful observances around the remembrance of the saints. All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day, would often begin on the night before or All Hallows Eve (thus Halloween) with worship that celebrated the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper.

Whatever the secular impression or observance of October 31, it is a significantly spiritual day, both of Light and darkness that should be addressed with godly discernment and wisdom.

Monday, October 29, 2007

T-Mobile Has a More Biblical Phone

Today T-Mobile unveiled their newest entry into the specialty phone market, called Shadow. It has a big screen that slides up to reveal a key pad and has software with eye-catching graphics. According to Chief Executive Robert Dotson any similarities or comparisons with Apple’s new iPhone end there.

Shadow has a 20 key pad like a Blackberry but is touted to be more fun. The screen features a string of icons. The first one is a link to myFaves where pictures of your favorite people stare at you. A scroll wheel allows you to toggle among the icons.

There’s a full web browser, Wi-Fi, a 2-megapixal camera capable of taking video and a music player. It can sync with Microsoft Outlook and has stereo Bluetooth.

So, if you’ve read this far you’re thinking, “What do you mean that the phone is more biblical?” Dotson grabbed my attention when he said that the iPhone is “a great product…but it is an experience built around me. It’s a self-indulgent product where I can sit down and have all the experiences that are important to me.”

Instead, he said, the Shadow is about the people who are most important in your lives. “It’s a we-, it’s an us- phone.”

If there is anything that has defined and described American life in recent decades, especially the Boomer generation, it has been the never ending focus on “me”. If there is a key word that describes the life of a Christ-follower it is “we”.

Becoming a Christian is not only about my giving my ultimate allegiance to Christ but that I express that allegiance by loving others well. Loving others is most often expressed in highly committed, deeply substantive relationships that the Bible calls “community”. The life transformation that God is at work to do in Christians cannot happen without “we”.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

When Ceremony Overshadows Conviction

ABC News reports that David Brooks, the former CEO of DHB Industries, has been arrested for embezzling company funds. DHB Industries is the leading body armor provider for US soldiers in Iraq.

Among the list of charges is that Brooks spent $10 million on a bat mitzvah party for his daughter. For $10 million Brooks was able to have Aerosmith, 50 Cent and Don Henley of the Eagles perform along with other extravagant party experiences such as gift bags for 150 kids that included iPods and video cameras.

A bat mitzvah is the female version of a bar mitzvah. In Jewish tradition when a girl is 12 years old or a boy reaches 13, they are said to become “a daughter (bat) of the covenant” or a “son (bar) of the covenant”. It marks a time of assuming responsibility for one’s relationship with God. These days the bat mitzvah ceremony or party tends to overshadow the substance or meaning of the girl becoming a woman of God. That’s certainly the case in the Brooks story.

Similar things happen in Christian traditions of christening or confirmation or baptism. Most glaring in my opinion is the modern day wedding where 95% of the attention is given to the one day ceremony and reception/party rather than the marriage the wedding is supposed to launch.

This Christmas many will endure candlelight and communion services so they can get on with opening presents and gatherings where they will overeat and over drink.

The David Brooks trial will focus on how he ripped off his company, investors and customers. There will be no mention of how he has cheated his daughter of a real encounter with the living God of the universe.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Transformation vs. Hypocrisy

While scrolling through headlines to see if there was anything in today’s news that I wanted to read I came across “Troubled Belltown nightspot to become evangelical church”. I clicked in and read with interest about Seattle’s Mars Hill Church buying the former nightclub with plans to open another satellite of their church. Mars Hill now has about 6400 people that participate in their church at 5 different locations. This would be the sixth.

I’ve been to Mars Hill several times. It is a special church. I believe that the Belltown location will be a blessing to those that live nearby and give it a try.

For the past couple of days I’ve been reading a recently released book, “unChristian” by David Kinnaman. Based upon a significant amount of research the book claims that many today don’t draw near to Jesus Christ or to the church because of perceived hypocrisy. Statistically 85% of those surveyed said that “hypocritical” was the way they see Christians. I don’t like that statistic but I also can’t disagree with it.

I love the Church (the institution and the people). I also see a lot of hypocrisy. However, I think a great deal of hypocrisy happens because of a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christ follower.

For example, with the Belltown location becoming a Mars Hill church, I can promise you that Mars Hill will not simply put their sign out front without changing what happens inside the building. You will no longer go into that building in order to get intoxicated or to watch provocative dancing. That location will be changed inside and out.

Therein is the problem for many “Christians”. According to the data in “unChristian” most Christians believe that the chief mark of being a Christian is that you become a “good person”. That mentality leads many to focus on the outside of their lives. Focusing on behaviors is like Mars Hill focusing on what kind of signage they are going to put outside the new Belltown location. Rather, there must be a focus on transforming the inside.

God’s not interested in Christians pretending that they care about others or acting like they are generous. God’s plan is to transform us so that we are compassionate and giving people.

The word “hypocrite” comes from the ancient Greek theater and referred to actors who wore a mask and pretended to be a character. What’s happening in your life? Is there a focus on internal surgical change, or external facades and masks?

Friday, October 19, 2007

When Substitutes Are Insufficient

Today’s Seattle Times reports that Sea-Tac Airport is attempting to head off holiday controversy this year. As you may recall, around Christmastime 2006, a rabbi contacted airport authorities and demanded that an eight foot menorah be prominently displayed somewhere in the airport. Why? Because he thought that was only fair since there were Christmas decorations displayed throughout the airport.

The Christmas decorations the rabbi referred to were decorated trees, not a crèche or Christian nativity scene. The airport authorities reacted swiftly by removing all the decorated trees literally in the middle of the night in hopes of avoiding controversy. Their thought was that no decorations of any kind would equal no controversy. They were wrong.

An uproar exploded that went national in what most considered overreacting, political correctness gone crazy and another episode in the “culture war”. I truly had some sympathy for the airport authorities because their real job is ensuring that we have safe and efficient airline transportation, not PC holiday decorations.

This year the airport authorities have planned “wintertime decorations” that are free of all religious implications. The pictured model is of handcrafted birch trees nestled in imaginary snow drifts.

Some cultural commentators will no doubt be adding this story to their list of evidences that there is a war on Christmas with the intent of suppressing if not removing Christmas in the ongoing attempt to secularize America. These issues are of interest and importance to me but they are secondary at best.

My first concern is about the prevalent and many times unconscious substituting that takes place in the lives of my friends. Sea-Tac is going to substitute wintertime decorations for Christmas or Hanukkah decorations. What’s ever so much more important is when we substitute spirituality for relationship with God.

Getting outdoors and being inspired or moved by the lakes or mountains is wonderful but it is no substitute for a relationship with God. Having days off of work to gather around a table for a “thanksgiving meal” begs the question, “To Whom are you giving thanks?” Just having an attitude of gratitude is insufficient. The coming insanity around gift buying and gift giving is void of eternal significance if one fails to connect with and celebrate God’s gift to us in Christ. The Sunday ritual of sleeping late, reading the paper, drinking coffee and watching football is an awful substitute for experiencing God in a faith community of worship.

Some substitutions don’t matter a lot. Other substitutions are the difference between true living and mere existence.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Insults, Political Correctness and God

October 19 an animated Hollywood feature, “The Ten Commandments” will be released by Promenade Pictures. I saw a couple of trailers and it looks good. I’m interested to see it. Some terrific actors bring their voices to the characters.

During these days of promotion apparently a little controversy has erupted with Disney Radio because they took the Promenade ad and edited it. At a point in the radio ad where the character Moses is being introduced, the lead in description was supposed to say, “Chosen by God, Moses…” Radio Disney edited out “Chosen by God”.

Initially Radio Disney told Promenade that according to their broadcast standards and practices the words “chosen by God” should be omitted. After word of this decision got out to other media Disney Radio said that the phrase was confusing and still later they said it had to be edited for time.

One Promenade exec questioned, “Who are they afraid that they’re going to offend? Everyone knows the story of Moses and that he was chosen by God.” You can read more about the controversy here.

The previous question of course falls into the murky pit of political correctness. It seems that we learn of some group or person being offended every day by the ever changing PC norms.

As I read this story I immediately said out loud to myself (yes, I talk to myself while reading), “Who are they going to offend…what if they offend God?”

That launched me into more personal reflection. What’s going on with me? Are there thoughts, actions or inactions from me that offend God?

God has been so compassionate and patient with me. When I fail to extend that to someone else I think it is an offense to Him. God has been very generous with me. When I lack generosity toward others I believe it is insulting to Him. I could go on.

We would do well to take a few moments right now to confess and repent of our offenses.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ann Coulter, Donny Deutsch and Intolerance

Donny Deutsch hosts a television program on CNBC called “The Big Idea”. This past Monday he interviewed columnist and author Ann Coulter. The primary reason anyone hosts Coulter on their show is for ratings. She is very provocative and will often say shocking things. It makes people think, it makes people angry and it makes people tune in to a program and thereby brings ratings.

Without recounting the entire interview (you can read it here) Deutsch came to a point in the conversation where he asked Coulter if “it would be better if we were all Christian.” Coulter shot back quickly, “Yes.”

“We should all be Christian?” Deutsch repeated.

“Yes,” Coulter responded, asking Deutsch, who is Jewish, if he would like to “come to church with me.”

Deutsch went on and on with shock and incredulity that Ann would be so prejudiced and intolerant that she would want everyone to be Christian. Deutsch compared Coulter to the President of Iran who wished that Israel would be obliterated.

Come on Donny, if you had a guest who was selling a product or idea he or she would think that everyone needed to “buy” his product or idea. That’s the nature of things when you believe something is true. I believe that Christianity is true. It is the greatest gift and blessing in my life. If I wish that everyone was a Christian and enjoyed God like I do isn’t that love on my part?

Donny, you pointed out that you’re Jewish. One blogger commented that wouldn’t you think it was a good thing if the President of Iran became Jewish? Donny, if you could pray one prayer and the President would become Jewish, wouldn’t you want that?

At the same time, the last thing I would want is my Christianity or Deutsch’s Judaism to be forced upon someone. Freedom is the opportunity to accept or reject faith, ideas, experiences, products, etc. So Donny, I would think that Ann's desire for all to become Christians is not intolerant but rather your insistence that she and every other Christian not have such desires IS intolerant.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Life Change Through Community

Today I sat in a meeting that was attended by a friend of mine, Chip Kimball. For those of you that live in the Redmond area, Dr. Kimball is the superintendent of the Lake Washington School District, a district that serves 24,000 students and consistently performs near the top of several national scores.

Someone asked Chip to share some of his personal story. He has a doctorate from the University of Southern California, a master’s degree from Eastern Washington University and a bachelor’s degree from Whitworth College in Spokane. That’s not surprising since he is a professional educator.

What was surprising is that Chip was kicked out of high school in central California for lack of performance and lack of attendance. Later he was able to re-enter high school and he finished with a 1.8 GPA on a 4.0 scale! What happened?

Chip’s story is one of a dysfunctional family. With a lack of support and motivation at home Chip said that he basically disconnected from his peers and school teachers and administrators. His parents eventually kicked him out of their home and he was befriended by people from a local church. Eventually he worked for a while in a church camp and by providence, met a faculty member from Whitworth, a small liberal arts Christian college.

After formally meeting with this prof and the president of the school and asking for a shot to succeed in college they admitted Chip on a probationary basis. Chip excelled and now he is the superintendent of one of the finer school districts in the US.

But the piece of Chip’s story that has stuck with me through the day is that the difference in his performance was rooted in a sense of connection. There was a significant disconnect in high school with family, friends and faculty. In college it was just the opposite as Christian professors and fellow students cared about him, befriended, supported and in a word, “loved” him. While there he met and married his wife and now has a daughter attending Whitworth.

Many of you know that my youngest son attended and graduated from Whitworth and likewise had a powerful experience of Christian community.

I have the privilege of working everyday as an “architect of Christian community”. I get to design systems and create experiences and train leaders who facilitate community. Working “on” community every day and every week sometimes has me so immersed in it that I don’t always get to see the outcomes of Christian community. Today I got to see a living testimony of community.

How real is the experience of community in your life? What’s your story?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Disturb Me

I sat in a session today with Craig Groeschel, a pastor from Oklahoma. He began his talk by asking each of us to pray a two word prayer, “Disturb me.”

Groeschel went on to talk about how many of us live as practical atheists. A practical atheist is one who says he believes in God but then lives like God doesn’t exist. If God exists then it would be reasonable to assume that one would order his entire life around God rather than around self. If God exists one would be more concerned to please God than please people. If God exists one would give more attention to developing an internal character that honors God than an external persona that impresses man.

When Groeschel finished speaking, my opening prayer had been answered. I was disturbed.

I definitely think about God a lot, all through the day. I pray often. I seek to see what God is up to around me and discern whether He is inviting me to do something, to participate with Him in some way. However, the Bible tells us that out of our heart flows what is in our heart. I still long for more stuff when I have everything I need. I still feel competitive with others in a way that seeks to soothe my ego. I still get flashes of anger over inconsequential things and fail to get angry about injustices in the lives of so many.

What flows out of my heart reveals how much there remains of an old life that is dead. An old dead life that is allowed to resurrect is a result of self being enthroned and God being de-throned in my heart. Practical atheism.

“God, I pray that you would disturb those who reflect with me on these things.”

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Learning in Unexpected Ways

I’m in Atlanta for a few days of continuing education. I’ve been in a session with about 11,000 ministry leaders and the sessions have been fascinating. The programming and staging and music are fresh and stirring. Some of the presenters are familiar and some are new to me. I’ve gleaned important things to think about from all.

However, the presentation I may have learned the most important lesson was from the least impressive. This nationally known speaker and author of several books that I will leave nameless was as off as I’ve ever seen a professional be.

I’ve heard him speak at least three other times on a national stage. He’s good and his content has been important for me to learn. But his presentation today was unlike anything I’ve ever seen from someone of his caliber. The speaker was distracted several times by a variety of things in the house. He forgot his main points which are featured in his latest book so you know that he knew his content. What’s more he would start to tell a story and then realize that the story was supposed to go with a point that he was going to make later. He literally did this three times and would just say jokingly, “Hey, I’m telling you this story at the wrong time. Remember this story for something that I’m going to say in a minute.”

What did I learn? I learned how to handle a bad moment. I do a good bit of public speaking. It’s important to me to speak as well as I can every opportunity I have. Part of that is driven by a desire to honor God and part of that is a desire to bless people who have graciously given their time to listen to my talk. I feel a keen sense of stewardship about my speaking.

But honestly there is still a percentage of my motivation to speak well that is driven by the fear of looking like an idiot or sounding like a fool. Today’s speaker was a living picture standing before me of one of my greatest fears. At times when preparing to speak I've had a lot of anxiety that I might have an off day like today’s speaker. And yet, there we were in the moment and he had a little self-deprecating humor, sputtered through to the end and then got off of the platform. No meltdown. No big apology. It was just an off day for an otherwise competent speaker.

I learned to be serious about my speaking preparation and delivery but not to be too serious about myself. I learned that one’s worst day of performance is not the end of the world. I learned that God can use someone’s poor performance in powerful ways in someone else’s life (mine). I actually got more out of today’s speaker’s poor delivery than I would have if it had been flawless.

That causes me to be in awe of the work of God in me (us).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Is Jon Kitna a Fanatic?

David Flemming has written in ESPN, The Magazine that Detroit Lions quarterback, Jon Kitna, is a fanatic. Flemming is not talking about the game of football but rather about Kitna’s faith in Jesus Christ.

I know that several of you that read this blog are not into professional football. Allow me to bring in a little football context before we reflect.

Jon Kitna is a 34 year old professional athlete from Tacoma, Washington that played at Central Washington University before embarking on an 11 year professional career with three NFL teams including the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals. I have been a fan of his since he entered the league because he is a strong Christian and because he is a gutsy, courageous football player. Few players from small colleges make it to or succeed in the NFL.

Detroit is an historic NFL franchise begun in 1930. They have a proud tradition but have been on very hard times in recent years posting double-digit losses for the past 6 seasons. Kitna predicted/promised the fans of Detroit that they would win at least 10 this season.

He now has the Detroit fans excited about Lion football and he has his formerly depressed teammates believing they can succeed.

Flemming however raises several questions/points that that hold a prominent place in our culture.

Kitna’s presence and influence has resulted in at least 20 teammates making decisions to follow Christ. Several players from the Lions and whatever team they’re playing gather at mid-field for prayer following games. Every Lion practice ends with about 30 players huddling and shouting “1-2-3, Jesus”. Kitna leads a Bible study in his home every Monday night.

Flemming concedes that in part Kitna’s faith as well as his personality probably has had a positive impact on team morale. But Flemming also believes that it makes for a hostile work environment for those that don’t want to be Christians. And, Flemming says that Kitna is a fanatic because Kitna often prays during the game, has never used a word stronger than “fudge” on the field and tithes 10% of his salary to God.

Kitna says, “My first responsibility to this team is to be a quarterback. But my priority in life is to be a man of God. I don’t use my faith maliciously, to damn or to judge people who are not Christians.” Kitna believes in and everyone agrees that he practices, “hard work, responsibility, temperance and selflessness.”

Obviously I’m a Christian and I’m biased in favor of Kitna’s beliefs and behaviors. However, when I imagine working in an office or on a professional team with a majority of, let’s say Muslims, if they were hard working, responsible and selfless I think that I would be fine with their practice of their faith. If they wanted to pray, or quote the Koran or hold studies in their home or have voluntary prayer gatherings during the day or week I don’t think that would be a problem.

Our culture is uncomfortable with the practice of faith in public. Our culture contends for a private practice of faith. Yet this call for privacy is relatively new. The entire history of our country has not only allowed but promoted free expression and practice of faith in public. Yes, there are those who are obnoxious and irritating about their faith. There are also people who are obnoxious and irritating about politics and sports and business and money, etc. Part of being a mature adult is learning to deal with and cope with obnoxious people.

Okay, that’s my reflection. What’s yours? How do you see it?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What I'm Learning from Jack Bauer

For six years I never watched an episode of “24”, the FOX series that features counter terrorist unit (CTU) agent Jack Bauer. I try to limit how much television I watch so in the past few years it’s been CSI (Las Vegas of course), LOST, a little news and a few ball games. Even though I was hearing the buzz I was not going to add another show to my watch list.

With the boring summer offering of zero fresh television programming I began watching season one of “24” on DVD. Okay I’m hooked. After a few weeks I’m in the middle of season two. Please don’t tell me anything about upcoming plots or that it gets even more ridiculous, etc. I want to stay on this ride for a while longer.

Meanwhile, I’m learning from Jack who consistently embodies perseverance, loyalty, creativity and even love for family, or at least broken attempts to love family. Jack is consistently placed in situations where he knows things others don’t know and he has to bear burdens that others don’t understand. I get that.

However, my little fantasy bubble around Jack Bauer took a hit yesterday when real life Kiefer Sutherland, the actor that plays Bauer, was arrested for the second time in three years for DUI. A selfish wave of sadness came over me because I wanted to keep Jack on some kind of pedestal for study and admiration. I think I’m going to be able to continue to enjoy the ride with “24” but it got me to reflecting.

Whose world would be rocked (a lot or a little) if I took a hit on my character? Whose world would be rocked if you took a hit on your character? I’m not advocating that we place people on pedestals. That’s not fair to others and it is a setup for disappointment for us.

But each of us has some measure of influence with others. We have some capacity to inspire others. Our presence has become a kind of motivating fuel to some degree. And, for those of us that follow Christ, our character and influence are ways with which we not only bless others but honor God. We have a stewardship and responsibility to live well.

BTW, at this writing it looks like Sutherland will have a suspended license for a year, probation for 5 years and may serve about a week in jail. I don’t know where he stands with God but I pray that these “troubles” will serve to draw him closer to Christ.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Why Salvation is Cause for Celebration

Imagine that you’ve been in a car accident. When you come to you’re on a hospital table and you’re not having surgery but rather an autopsy! That’s what happened to Carlos Camejo, 33, of Venezuela.

Camejo had already been declared dead and he woke up in the morgue in excruciating pain as examiners were performing an autopsy. In the photo you see him holding the medical document that ordered his autopsy.

Camejo’s grieving wife showed up at the morgue to identify her husband’s body only to find him in the corridor alive.

Can you imagine the emotion of Camejo’s wife who thought he was dead but then found out he was alive? That is something close to the emotion that many of us feel when we discover that a friend or loved one has become a Christ follower.

The Bible declares that all of us, every person ever born into this world, are “dead” in trespasses and sin. That means that even though we might possess physical life we are dead spiritually. The act of becoming a Christ follower is referred to as a second birth precisely because the individual becomes alive spiritually or alive to God.

In my church it is common for people to shout or clap when they discover that someone has come alive. Baptism is the picture of a dead person being raised up out of a grave to a new life. We applaud and celebrate each baptism.

If you are uncertain about your own “life” in God then perhaps this would be a great weekend to take some of your questions to church

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Marital Unfaithfulness Not as Wonderful as it Seems

Adnan, age 32, was dissatisfied with his marriage. He turned to an online chat room for distraction and comfort. He connected with a woman who went by the tag “Sweetie”. Adnan could pour out his heart about his marriage and wife to Sweetie and she seemed to have amazing understanding. She also could say just the right thing to encourage and edify Adnan who went by the tag “Prince of Joy”.

Likewise, Sweetie’s marriage was disssatisfying and she was very unhappy. Prince of Joy similarly seemed to have amazing insight about Sweetie’s circumstances. She would also feel a lift every time she connected with Prince. Later Sweetie would comment, “I was suddenly in love. It was amazing.”

So, Sweetie and Prince of Joy decided to meet each other and have a date. To their shock and disappointment, when they had their rendezvous they discovered that they were having a clandestine meeting with their real life spouse!

That’s right, in their online persona’s they were seeking escape from their offline reality unknowingly with each other. According to The Daily Telegraph, upon discovering that each had been cheating they filed for divorce charging each other with unfaithfulness.

There is a reason that something that is illicit or forbidden seems so wonderful and desirable. The enemy of our soul, Satan, creates and designs temptations to be so. They are sweet to the taste and bitter to the stomach.

We often play around with temptation like a child playing with matches. Eventually we will get burned. Right now would be a good moment to resolve to put an end to whatever temptation has been entertaining and luring you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two Weeks to Live

This past Saturday a friend of mine died after battling with poor health. For the past couple of years he had been receiving dialysis treatment and enduring a lot of pain. With the agreement of his wife he chose to stop the treatments.

My friend was informed that he would probably only have two weeks to live once he stopped the treatments. In fact it turned out that he had a little less time. He had an exemplary marriage, great kids and a lifetime of serving God and people. I believe he is now experiencing the presence of God in glorious ways and is receiving blessings and rewards from God.

I was caused to reflect about his final days. What would I do differently if I knew that I only had two weeks to live? What conversations would I have? What acts of love or kindness would I want to do? What forgiveness would I seek? What irritating issues would lose their bothersome power over me? How ready am I to leave this world and go to the next?

One of the values of reflection is when it stirs us to make desired changes. May we live with the reality of how fragile and brief life can be.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fred Thompson "Right With God" But Not Churchgoer

According to the Washington Post, recent Presidential candidate Fred Thompson made an appearance before about 500 Republicans in South Carolina Sunday. The WP made the comment that, “the supposed godsend for socially conservative voters…does not attend church on a regular basis.”

The former senator commented that he sometimes attends when he is visiting with his mother in Tennessee but does not belong to a church or attend a church in McLean, Virginia where he lives. Further, Thompson let it be known that his religious practices and beliefs will not be open to discussion. He concluded, “I know that I’m right with God and the people I love.”

Two reflections:
1. If faith is or is not an important factor in a candidate’s life I think that is relevant information for open discussion. If one is not a person of faith then their worldview and values have come from somewhere and I want to know where. It will guide their decision making. If one claims to practice a faith, I want to know what faith because it will likewise have influence on worldview and values. Granted, some of the more recent presidents claimed they were Christians and we were sometimes hard pressed to see how their faith was influencing them.

Senator, your faith or lack thereof is relevant and should not be taken off of the table of discussion.

2. Can someone be right with God and not attend church? I’m not specifically talking about Thompson at this point. I don’t have any gossip or sleazy stories that would undermine his integrity or credentials. I’m asking the broadest sense, can someone be right with God and not attend church?

Non-Christian groups who claim some belief in God would hasten to say yes. So, I’m really asking with respect to what Christians understand about God via the Bible and the person of Jesus.

One metaphor that is frequently used in the Bible to describe God’s relationship with His people is “marriage”. In fact the church is referred to as “the bride of Christ”. Among the ideas associated with that metaphor is closeness or intimacy. God can be known and experienced in a personal way, not just as a concept or idea or force.

If you’re married ask yourself this, “If you never came home and never spent any time with your spouse or the rest of the family in the house, would you be ‘right’ with all concerned?”

Here’s a quick political disclaimer: I’m interested in the 2008 presidential race. I’m following the candidates, debates, interviews, etc. Generally I’m interested to blog about how I see God at work in some circumstance or addressing some kind of God question. There’s going to be much to observe over the next few months.

However, you will not know which candidate I end up supporting by an overt endorsement, nor will I be campaigning in this space. I already wrote a post about Mitt Romney that gives another examples of how I will treat subject matter.

Therefore, if you choose to make comments, please do so with respect to the issue I raise in the post and refrain from political speeches, endorsements or slamming other candidates. Thanks.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Life is a Paradox: Dying is Living

Do you know what time it is? The time I’m asking about isn’t found on a watch or clock. The time I’m asking about is the time of God’s will, the time of God’s moving, the time of God’s purposes.

Jesus always knew what time it was. In John’s Gospel we learn that Jesus tries to teach His disciples about God’s time. In John 2 there is a wedding in Cana that Jesus and His disciples attend. The wedding party runs out of wine and Mary asks Jesus to help. How did Jesus reply? Jesus said, “Why do you involve Me? My time has not yet come.” What time was He talking about?

In John 7 it is the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus’ brothers say, “What are you doing here. You should be in Jerusalem for the Feast.” Jesus replied, “I am not yet going to this Feast, because for Me the right time has not yet come.”

In John 12 Jesus enters Jerusalem at the time of the Passover and He gathers His disciples and He says to them, “The time has come…”

What time? What had Jesus been waiting on? “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Now if you’re living 2,000 years ago and you’re one of Jesus’ disciples you’re pretty excited right now. You knew that there was coming a day where Jesus was going to enter into His glory. However, you thought Jesus would enter into His glory by some kind of exaltation. Jesus would be enthroned. Jesus would overthrow the oppressive government and religious institutions and He would usher in a new day.

But to your shock Jesus says, “It’s time for Me to die. Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it cannot bear fruit.” Dying results in true living.

Will You Die?
Will you die to your preferences? Following Jesus is not about how you like for life to go. It is about carrying out His mission. Some of you don’t like being single. Some of you don’t like being married. Some of you don’t like your job. Some of you don’t like your appearance or your health or your stage in life.

Will you die to your comforts? If you weren’t living to pleasure and happiness you could suffer a little and be a great husband. Did you know you don’t have to have a great wife in order to be a great husband? You just need to be dead for a great God to raise you up to being a great husband. You could be a great parent. You don’t have to have great kids in order to be a great parent. You could be a great servant in God’s church and mission. You don’t have to have a great church in order to be a great servant. But you have to die.

Will you die to money and stuff? You don’t have to have the cars you drive. You don’t have to have the house you live in. You don’t have to maintain the memberships in whatever clubs. You don’t have to take special vacations.

What time is it? It may be time for you to say yes to God by saying no to self.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Life is a Paradox: Least is Greatest

When you think about “the greatest”, what comes to your mind? One of the first things that come to my mind is the boxer, Muhammad Ali. I do think that he was a terrific fighter. Even more than a success in the boxing ring he was a terrific promoter of himself.

He tagged himself as the greatest and he said it often and he said it loudly. He is partially responsible for the success and popularity of a rather obscure sports announcer named Howard Cosell because of the way they used to banter with one another in interviews. During such times Ali would declare his greatness over and over.

For the record, he splashed into the national spotlight in 1965 when he defeated the reigning world champion, Sonny Liston. Ali knocked out Liston in the first minute of the first round. It was unthinkable at the time. Ali went on to fight 61 bouts. He delivered 37 knockouts. He won 56 times and lost only 5 times.

Was Muhammad Ali truly great?

This coming week I can guarantee that you will see some names and faces in the news. Every week these stars are on the covers of magazines. They are featured in dozens of news stories and appear on all the talk shows.

Is Paris Hilton great? How about Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake or Ashton Kutcher?

Most of you may not be willing to declare any of these pop stars as great. How about towering historical figures like FDR, Eisenhower, Reagan or Clinton? Each was President of the United States and arguably the most powerful man in the most powerful country in the world. Do any of them fit your definition of greatness?

What about high achievers in business? Some entrepreneurs changed forever the way business would be done. Is Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Jack Welch or Bill Gates great?

Over the past couple of years Americans have been voting in record numbers concerning greatness. Is there any doubt that the winners of American Idol are great? After all, each of these winners received more votes cast by Americans than any elected President in history.

Fame is not greatness. Wealth is not greatness. Power is not greatness. We could all identify a lot of people who have been famous, wealthy and powerful and were far from greatness.

Jesus said, “Whoever is going to be great must be the servant of all.” (Mark 10:44)

Greatness is determined by what we give up. I think Jim is a great man. He wonders how I could think such a thing. I believe Jim is a great man because he willingly set aside his career, his goals and his aspirations in order to care for two little girls after the death of their mother. For the sake of loving his girls he sacrificed himself.

Every day we face opportunities and choices to serve, give, sacrifice and pour out something of our lives so that others are blessed. It all flies under the radar of a celebrity hungry culture but it is always noticed and celebrated by the One who matters most.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Life is a Paradox: Losing is Finding

There once was a man who had the means to take any of life’s options all the way to the end. In his day he was the richest man in the world. He was able to buy anything and everything that he saw or wanted. His conclusion? Riches are empty.

In his day he was one of the most powerful rulers in the world. Other rulers esteemed him as the first among equals. He extended the borders of his country to their greatest lengths in history. He formed the greatest military. He built the finest and most ornate buildings. His palace was envied by the world. His conclusion? Power is empty.

In his day he was the most desired man by the most beautiful women alive. He literally had a thousand women desiring his affections and wanting to bear his children. His conclusion? Sexuality is empty.

In his day he had no equal with respect to intellect. He assembled one of the great libraries of the world. He wrote volumes of the most profound works that continue to be read and studied today. His conclusion? Knowledge is empty.

Of course I’m describing the life and times of King Solomon. Solomon wrote an account of these life experiments that turned up so empty and it is called, "Ecclesiastes".

Solomon’s life is a powerful testimony to the paradox that Jesus espoused, “losing is finding”. The more Solomon tried to find life the more it slipped through his fingers. At those points where Solomon willingly lost his life for the sake of God, Solomon found life to be fullest and most abundant.

Matthew 16:24-25 is the recording of Jesus’ declaration of this paradox. These verses strike a death blow to the contemporary trend toward self-centered consumption. Even within Christianity many seek to approach Jesus as a genie that would meet all their needs and fulfill their whims.

“If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will find it.”

Christ calls upon His followers to pour out, spend and give away their lives. Your reputation, your security, your well-being and your future are all in His hands. The promise? When you lose your life to and for Jesus, you’ll find it.

I pray that you might have the courage to live in the power of this paradox.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Life is a Paradox: Poor is Rich

A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement. In the world of communications one oft repeated paradox is “less is more”. On the surface it would seem that more is more. But, with respect to oral communication or written communication most of the time we actually communicate more if we say less.

What we have found out is that attention span, comprehension and retention seem to work against voluminous communication. In fact, many people have tried to reduce profound information down to a “sound bite” or phrase because it can be easily digested and remembered. Therefore, less is more.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

Here is the paradox. Being poor in spirit is not being lazy or indifferent. A person who is poor in spirit has no sense of self-sufficiency and recognizes he is spiritually bankrupt. That “poverty awareness” moves him to desire God. To desire God is to gain God and to gain God is to receive life’s greatest treasure. Poor is rich.

Let me say it another way. Suppose a mother is frustrated with her teenage son. The young man doesn’t follow through on school projects and underperforms with his grades. He sometimes hangs out with questionable friends. He sits around playing video games instead of working a part time job. He’s on the phone or instant messaging girls so much that he rarely engages with the rest of the family. Most of the mother and son conversations have an edge to them and most of the time they don’t enjoy being around each other.

Then one night the son is involved in a car accident. The mother is called to the hospital where the son is in critical condition and the odds are that he’s not going to make it. The mother is faced with the picture of what life will look like without her son. In the poverty of that moment the mother realizes how rich she is to have her son in her life.

You don’t have to have tragedy take place in order to live in that poverty. You can choose to envision or imagine what life would be like without whomever or whatever and that state of poverty propels you into a state of wealth. That is, you understand how rich you are because you have that person in your life or you have health or you have opportunity, or that you have God.

May you be blessed with “poverty” today and thereby enjoy your “riches”.

How Are You, Really?

I had 5 people Wednesday ask, “How are you?” I’m not talking about the “How are you?” like “How’s it going today?” I’m talking about the “I care about you and was wondering how your experience of life is going right now?”

The latter question of course takes time in order to listen and respond. The former can be said while you’re walking past someone and waving. It doesn’t require an answer.

I’m not picking on the casual question. Sometimes I don’t have time for in depth listening. But I am making a case for our need to have some number of people in our lives who will ask the probing questions.

The first time I was asked Wednesday was at a 7:30 a.m. coffee meeting. I was caught a bit off guard and had to take a moment to think, “How am I?” Then I tried to give a thoughtful and honest answer. After a few minutes I was able to return the question. Within 15 minutes we had a great connection and were ready to focus on the business that brought about our meeting.

The same scenario was played out in the other meetings I had through the day. It doesn’t always happen that way but it did on Wednesday. I had a couple of irritations and some stress associated with a project but mostly I moved through the day with a sense of being a blessed man because of the gifts of relationships I enjoy.

Ultimately each of the above mentioned contacts reflect to me the interest and concern God has about my life (and yours). The human exchange stirred a Father-son exchange, which served to draw my heart closer to my Lord.

This post is a “God moment” of His reach to you in the midst of your day and circumstance. God is asking “How are you?” Not because He needs information but because the question will cause you to self-assess in the shadow of His presence. This is a moment of His drawing you closer. I pray that you will lean in.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Nurture the Soul

Do you know what nurtures your soul and refreshes your life?

The past 24 hours have been a delight. I’m in Moses Lake, Washington watching the sun set over the lake having had a great day with my family. Today was a late breakfast at a local restaurant, playing tennis before the temperature reached 80 degrees, swimming in the pool, reading a book and enjoying cold watermelon late in the afternoon.

Tonight will probably be a slow drive back to Seattle amidst heavy holiday traffic. I have four messages loaded in my MP3 player for some reflective driving.

September is going to be a very busy and strategic month for me. Today is exactly what my soul needed as preparation for an intense run.

What works for you? Are you getting the time? As mentioned in the previous post, we all have slow leaks that regularly need a fresh infusion of inspiration.

Nurture your soul.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Slow Leaks

I receive regular communication from a missionary friend in Africa. Most recently her email posed an important question about the maintenance of my (your) life. Take a couple of minutes to reflect on this thought--

“Slow leak...that describes the right front tire of our mission vehicle. Was it caused by all the broken glass that litters the roads going into the shack settlements which I visit every week? Who knows?...But we all know that eventually slow leaks need repair. And, if they aren't repaired in a timely way, they become a major hazard: a blowout on the highway is a very serious matter! So we made time today to take the tire to be repaired.

“Slow leaks...where else do they exist in my life? Am I keeping my spirit filled with Bible reading and meditation and open communication with my Father? Are poor relationships or negative emotions daily draining energy....leading to a potential crash? May we be faithful to go daily to our Healer for essential daily ‘maintenance’ and needed life-repairs!!!”

I’m praying for those reading this post that you’ll find meaningful connection with our God today.