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?