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.