Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas, the Day After

Christmas Eve our church was able to have our worship gathering though the weather remained challenging. About a third of our normal number was able to manage driving over our snow and ice covered roads. Afterward my family went out to a late dinner as is our custom. Christmas day we entertained about 14 guests for dinner and had a very good time together.

Now it is the day after. I went to the gym for a workout and all the guys were talking about having something of a hangover from too much food, too much company and too many gifts. What’s the day after like for you?

I closed my Christmas Eve talk with a story that several commented about and deserves repeating. I got the story from Charles Lowery, a regular writer for SBC Today.

Years ago, a young boy learned that the circus was coming to town. He had never seen a circus but had heard about how wonderful they were. He eagerly asked his dad if he could go. Reluctantly, his father informed him that he didn’t think they could afford the one dollar admission. However, he told his son that since the circus was still a few weeks away, if the boy worked hard and earned fifty cents, he would provide the remaining funds.

When the day arrived, the boy had enough money to buy a ticket. With great excitement, he arrived on Main Street to see the lions, tigers, performers, and the clowns march down the street. He had never seen anything so thrilling and was mesmerized by all the wonderful things. As the last clown danced by, the boy handed him his ticket, then headed back home. Later, when his dad arrived home from work, he remarked, “Son, you’re home from the circus a lot earlier than I expected. How was it?” His son described all of the clowns, lions, tigers, and performers that danced by him. He then told his dad about giving his ticket to a clown. All of a sudden a look of sadness fell across the dad’s face and, said, “Son, I have some bad news for you. Today, you missed the circus. You only saw the parade.”

Sadly, Christmas comes and goes and there are many people who miss the main event. It doesn’t have to be so because Christmas is not limited to December 25.

Christmas is Jesus. Christmas is receiving the gift of a Savior who reconciles us with a holy God. Christmas is an experience of worship where we open up the treasure that is our life and we give ourselves to God as gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Christmas is every day. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve 2008

It is Christmas Eve morning. Without looking out the window I got up this morning, showered and dressed and prepared to go to my office early. I’ve got a lot of work to do today so that I can take off Thursday and Friday. When I got downstairs and glanced out my living room window I was struck with the reality that my day was not going to go as planned.

Yes, it is snowing…again. On top of the 10 or so inches around the Redmond area the forecast is for another 6 inches. Will we have our Christmas Eve worship gathering tonight? Will family and friends be able to travel and eat Christmas dinner with us Thursday?

I can only remember having one white Christmas in my life. Growing up in Memphis we had a snow storm when I was about 7 or 8 years old.

My reflections--
1. It is beautiful.
2. It is disruptive.
3. What do I do with this?

Is it possible that my task-oriented somewhat driven temperament can sit back a bit and slowly savor the beauty? At the moment I’m choosing to sit in front of my fireplace and look out my living room window while drinking a cup of coffee. Sweet moment.

This afternoon I’ll have to make a decision about our worship gathering. I’m supposed to meet the clean-up crew that is still working to dry out our building from last week’s flood. I was hoping to do a workout during the lunch hour.

I guess I’ll just have to take it as it comes. Kind of like the rest of life, huh?

Have a blessed Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Time to Refresh

What a week. Last Sunday we concluded one of our bigger friendship events of the year. A winter storm had us scrambling a bit but we still had a very successful event. Meanwhile a few friends had challenging crises so I spent the first part of the week trying to support and encourage them. At home we put a finish on our wood floors which necessitated moving out of our house for two days. While out of our house the worst snow storm in the past 20 years hit the Seattle area and we had difficulty just getting back home.

Our brand new heat system at our church facility stopped working and when I took the service person into the auditorium I stepped into a pool of water. Yes, the cold temperatures caused a water pipe to burst and half of our auditorium was under a couple of inches of water. Much of our sound equipment also got soaked.

After professional plumbers and clean-up crews got the mess under control, I worked with a handful of volunteers to put our auditorium back together so that we might worship on Sunday, just in case anyone could drive to church as we continued to have snowfall for three days in a row.

Sunday morning the weather was so challenging that the musicians couldn’t come nor could our children’s workers. We held an unplugged worship gathering with me leading the acapella singing of Christmas carols and worship songs and then preaching a sermon to about one-third of our normal Sunday attendance.

Sunday night I reflected on the previous seven days and took note that the “personal tank” was pretty low. I already canceled all my Monday activities and took the day off. I spent about an hour shoveling snow out of my drive and just marveling at the beauty of the snow that had complicated so many things over the past few days.

Over these days I experienced grace, favor with people, guidance and provision. Still, those blessings don’t put an “S” under my shirt. With the insight of input from my wife I could see that I was emotionally getting into the “red zone”. Now I’m looking to lean into God and do some slowing in my pace in order to refresh.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It was a surprise to me

Life has been very busy lately and I've not been able to write new posts. Here's a glimpse of what's been going on...;)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What's that like?

Within the past few months I have become a member of a different Rotary Club that is closer to where I live. I work in Redmond but live in Sammamish. Though neighboring cities and my commute is only 10 minutes I virtually have no involvement in the community in which I live so I decided to get involved in the Sammamish Rotary Club.

I’m still getting to know people in this club and so a good bit of my conversation still revolves around finding out what people do for work and what kind of family life they have, etc. This morning after breakfast someone said to me, “So you’re a minister. What’s that like?”

I smiled because the question struck me as if I were asked, “So you’re married. What’s that like?” “So you’re a father. What’s that like?” How do you answer such a question? It is basically the same as asking “So about your life, what’s it like being you?”

Being a minister is not really a vocation though the IRS and virtually everyone else treat it that way. It is who I am. It is my life. I never have a moment where I’m not a minister just as I’m never, not a husband or not a father.

Before I share the answer that I gave reflect on the question. “So about your life, what’s it like being you?”

Is it good or bad? Are you glad or sad? Do you long to have anyone else’s life?

If there’s a down side to being you what will you do about that since this is the one and only life that you’ll get to live? Book stores are loaded with self improvement titles. At best those can only “tweak” a life. God promises to “transform” a life. I’ve bet my life on God.

What was my response to “what’s that like?” Truly I was not prepared for the question and so in a split second I dug down deep for an authentic response and up came these words—

“It’s great. It truly has been an adventure. I love getting to do what I do.”

I surprised myself a little with my response because I’ve recently been preoccupied with several difficult circumstances going on in the lives of people that I love and care about. I’ve sought to walk with these friends in helpful ways and so I’ve been a bit burdened lately. As I later got into my car and drove away I reflected more on my spontaneous answer and was grateful that at the core of my being there was a clear realization that I really like the life that I live.

For that I give thanks to my Lord.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

What if you knew the future?

Last night my wife rented the DVD, “Stranger than Fiction”. The 2006 release starring Will Farrell is based upon a fascinating premise. Farrell’s character, Harold Crick, one day wakes up and while brushing his teeth begins hearing inside his head an author narrating his life. Eventually Harold discovers who the famed author is and that all of her best-sellers end with the hero of the story dying.

Harold sets out to find the author and to kindly ask her if she would not kill him in the end of his story. She lets him see the rough draft of the ending where he does in fact die. But, she is so moved by actually meeting one of her characters in real life she indicates that she could be persuaded to rewrite the ending so that Harold doesn’t die.

Harold reads the rough draft, sees how he is going to die, and affirms the author that she has in fact written a very good story. He agrees that he must go ahead and die as written.

In a similar way God is the Author of our lives and our stories. Sometimes we don’t like the way certain chapters are played out and we’re not always sure of where the plot is going. But what if we had the opportunity to meet and talk with the Author? What if He gave us a glimpse of how the story finishes? Would we come to a similar conclusion with Harold that the Author has written a very good story? Would we agree that it is in the best interest of everyone that we proceed as written?

In Harold’s story he discovered that one day while waiting for his bus a child rides by on his bicycle and bumps the curb and falls over into the street into the path of the bus. The author wrote that Harold moved quickly to pick up the child and push him to safety but could not get out of the way of the bus himself. The bus ran Harold over and killed him. Harold agreed that it was best for him to go out of this life and into the next having given himself for the life of another.

In God’s story of our lives we “die daily” so that life is at work in others (2 Corinthians 4:11-12). I agree that the Author has written a good story and I want my life to proceed as written. How about you?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Questions God Asks, Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, sometimes God asks people questions, not because God doesn’t know something but because we need to know or acknowledge something that’s not clear to us in the moment.

The Book of Genesis tells us that God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” God knew that Cain’s heart was very sick and that he had killed his brother Abel. God wanted Cain to see the state of his own heart.

Does God sometimes ask you questions? He does me. Tuesday I was having a conversation with a friend. My friend shared that he had recently had a moment of prayer, during which God asked him, “In one word what is it all about with you and Me?”

My friend kept talking and sharing what God had said to him during that moment. However, in my mind the moment I heard the question it was as if God had just asked it of me. Do you know the feeling? Is God asking you right now…

“In one word what is it all about with you and Me?”

I hesitate to share more at this point because if God is asking you this question I want you to pause and answer.

In the conversation I was able to recover from my own prayerful exchange with God and hear more of what my friend wanted to share with me. It blessed me to hear the one word my friend used to describe what it was all about with him and God. He believed that God had given him that word.

Likewise, I knew in that moment that God had given me the one word that popped into my thoughts. It was the word “abide”. And like a faucet that had been turned on, that one word led to a pouring out of the Scriptures found in John 15 where Jesus calls us to simply abide in Him.

I walked away from the conversation with my friend knowing that God had gently but profoundly called me into greater closeness with Himself, that I might abide/remain/live in Him.

If you have a different word I’d love to hear it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Questions God Asks, Part 1

Sometime read through the Bible and take note of the questions that God asks people. For example, when Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit and were hiding from God, the Lord approached and called out, “Where are you?”

Because the rest of the Bible reveals to us that God is all-knowing we have to conclude that when God asks us a question it is not so that He can get some information that He doesn’t currently have. Rather, when God asks us a question it is for the purpose of our coming to grips with the answer. In other words, Adam and Eve needed to know and understand that they were hiding from God. The Lord not only knew they were hiding but He also knew where.

A couple of weeks ago I was struggling a bit on a personal level. I had been working hard and wasn’t having the results to show for it. I was a little confused and a lot frustrated. One evening while reading it seemed that God interrupted me. A question popped into my head and it seemed to me that God was in fact asking, “What have I asked you to do?”

With that question I stopped reading and pushed back from my desk. I repeated the question in my thoughts, “What has God asked me to do?” I instantly knew that God was asking me this question because I needed clarification and it was connected to my recent frustrations. I prayed and answered God and it seemed that I got it right and that He affirmed, “Yes, that is what I’ve asked you to do. Your frustrations are about something I haven’t asked of you.”

Wow. In a flash of a moment I had revelation and clarity. My recent focus that wasn’t yielding what I was looking for was not bad. In fact it was/is very good. But it was not exactly what God was looking for from me. In the next second God seemed to finish the thought with, “You’re doing what I’ve asked and I’m pleased.”

In less than a minute I went from troubled to triumphant and none of my circumstances had changed. The only thing that had changed was that I could better see my circumstances from God’s perspective. His question brought that new and correct perspective.

Today God gave me another question. I’m going to share it with you tomorrow. Meanwhile, let God ask you right now, “What have I asked you to do?”

Spend a few minutes prayerfully ruminating and see if God brings a little clarity your way.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Considering Christmas

We’ve enjoyed a little time off from work and plenty of turkey, dressing, pies and televised sports. Some of us braved the crowds and shopped for bargains on Black Friday. Christmas is quickly approaching.

There will be office parties, cards to mail, trees to cut and gifts to buy. Before you get too carried away check out the video below.

Consumerism does not equal happiness, memories or meaning. The video said it well.

This Sunday, November 30, marks the beginning of Advent, a season where Christians celebrate the coming of Christ. Join the conspiracy and make Advent more about Christ than consuming; more about helping the poor than hoarding more stuff; more about worshiping God than focusing on self.

Let’s intentionally engage Christmas rather than be overcome by it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Being Prepared for Life & Death

November 6, Levi Pocza (pictured), a 7th grader at Redmond Jr. High, collapsed in his P.E. class. After checking his pulse and determining that Levi was in crisis, Levi’s teacher, Chris Broderick, and school principal, Prato Barone began administering CPR while office staff called 911. Football coach, Scott Hagerman, ran to get the school’s AED (automated external defibrillator). He had recently undergone training to be re-certified and knew exactly how to use the device.

Levi’s heart was shocked with the AED and CPR was continued when about 8 minutes later emergency personnel arrived and took over. Levi was taken to the hospital and had another arrest in route. The rest of the story is that Levi survived and because of the quick response of school personnel Levi suffered no brain damage. You can read more of the story in the Redmond Reporter here.

I’m grateful for Levi and his family that this story had a happy ending. I’m grateful for trained and quick responding school personnel and emergency personnel. All worked together to save a precious life.

But I’m also grateful for Scott Bulger, a friend of mine. You ask, “Who is he? He’s not mentioned in the story.”

I belong to a service club called Rotary. A few years ago Scott was deeply moved by the death of another student named Sean Shipler who could have been saved if there had been an AED accessible. Scott came to our Rotary Club and said, “Let’s work to make sure that another child doesn’t die simply because there is no AED available.” My Club was catalyzed into raising funds with the goal of putting an AED into every high school and junior high school in the Lake Washington School District, and we did.

At the time Mariner’s pitcher Arthur Rhodes was a neighbor of Scott’s. Rhodes collected a bunch of Seattle Mariner’s autographed memorabilia and we raised a lot of the money by auctioning off baseball stuff.

There were several other projects that raised the necessary funds but the point is, there were a lot of efforts and volunteer hours and monies raised years before a Redmond 7th grader collapsed and needed an AED. Thus I’m reminded of the importance of emergency preparedness or disaster preparedness and just LIFE preparedness.

My friend Scott knew that someday there would be another student that would experience a cardiac arrest and need an AED and he did something about it.

I know that someday EVERY ONE OF US will have our heart stop beating and we will be ushered from this life and into the next. We will stand before a holy God for a day of accountability. Some will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your reward.” Others will hear, “Depart from me for I never knew you.”

Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is the “AED” for a heart and destiny that is in God’s hands. I’m praying today for my readers, that you will give attention and effort in advance for the day that is surely coming for us all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Why believe in a god?

The ad campaign by the American Humanist Association caught my attention. Entering the holiday season they are calling for all to “Be good for goodness’ sake”. They contend that being good doesn’t have anything to do with whether there is a God.

Immediately my thoughts disputed the message of the advertisement. With the speed of a reflex I said out loud to myself, “Without God there is no standard of goodness. You can’t have goodness for goodness’ sake.”

But rather than being totally dismissive without further reflection I decided to try to understand why humanists believe that there can be goodness and virtues without a standard that defines it, namely God.

According to their website and manifesto they contend—
1. Ethical values are determined by human needs.
(Human dignity and inherent value are “good” because humans need it to be so.)
2. Life fulfillment emerges from participating in serving humane ideals.
(Humanists rely on the “rich heritage of human culture” in identifying those ideals.)
3. Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.
(Again, the conclusion that relationships are important comes from observation.)
4. Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.
(Seeking a “just” distribution of the world’s resources renders justice as defined by scientific observation of society.)

Reading through their manifesto and mission statement left me tired. I kept thinking, “This is a lot of work to eliminate God from the determination of human dignity, values, ideals, and the importance of community and justice." For the humanist these matters have come to humanity by an unguided evolutionary process.

One glaring problem is that these matters are not shared by all humans around the world. Humans, minus God, in many Eastern countries don’t value compassion for example. When tsunamis or earthquake strikes, China or India or other countries could be humane and respond to many needs but it is almost always those of the West who do. Why? Because in the West, humane ideals and world view have been strongly influenced by Judaism and Christianity.

Those in the Judeo-Christian tradition derive all those matters from the Person of God. Such matters are not mere decrees from God but self-disclosure of His own character and values.

I still contend and would say to the humanist that goodness, ethics, values, worth, etc. must have a standard or defining source (i.e.; the person of God). Left to humanity, whatever is the prevailing “wind” of the day in whatever culture brings a determination of what will be considered societal norms. That is relativism.

But, we live in America and I fully support the right of Humanists to convey their message. I’m just answering their question; “Why believe in a god?” Without God it is only a matter of time when what is called good is essentialy evil.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blessed be the Name of the Lord

There is a powerful biblical passage from Job 1:20 that has for years moved me deeply. Job (pronounced Jobe) was a righteous man who honored God with every aspect of his life. He was also a very blessed man with 10 children and many grandchildren. He held vast possessions and wealth. Then in one day Job lost it all through horrific circumstances.

In response to his losses Job said,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Obviously there is a lot of theology in Job’s confession that space here doesn’t allow me to address. Even though the story clearly tells of Job’s calamities being caused by Satan, Job recognizes that in God’s sovereign power nothing happens without God allowing it to happen, thus Job correctly declares that the Lord gave and has taken away.

Apparently in the unseen world there is an ongoing effort by Satan to discourage humans from believing in the goodness of God and therefore dissuade humans from following God. Every time a believer understands that and worships and glorifies God in spite of their painful circumstances, often others can look at that person’s faith and trust and be moved closer to God.

Matt and Beth Redman have written one of my favorite worship songs based upon the text from Job and the theology of God’s goodness in spite of circumstances titled “Blessed Be Your Name”. The song is embeded above.

Tuesday night I was in a worship gathering of about 500 people and we were all singing this song in worship of God and in testimony of our trust in Him. Three rows in front of me was a man in his 30’s that I’ve seen often at these gatherings but I’ve never met him. He has cerebral palsy and is limited to a wheelchair and has great difficulty speaking. In this midst of everyone singing “Blessed be the Name of the Lord” I happened to notice him singing with all his heart. With arms flaying and head awkwardly gyrating he was confessing in song that God is good, even though he has spent his entire life with the painful limitations of CP.

It’s one thing for me to testify that I believe God to be a good God. I have my health, a wonderful family, all the possessions I need and a meaningful purpose to my life. However, to me it was a 100 times more powerful that my acquaintance three rows in front of me knew and experienced God to be good.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Word about Loyalty

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro wrote an article in last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal that has me reflecting. Shapiro’s title, “The Treatment of Bush Has Been a Disgrace” is subtitled, “What must our enemies be thinking?”

Shapiro opines that our enemies must be thinking that we have little character and resolve.

Shapiro gives a number of examples of disloyalty toward President Bush that most of us have read or seen. I had not heard of the petition in San Francisco signed by 12,000 to rename a sewage plant after George W. Bush. He called it classless disrespect of the president and I agree.

I’m really not talking politics in this post. I’m talking about the virtue of loyalty. Any fair minded person could list things that President Bush has both done well and poorly. His approval ratings are some of the lowest in history but the point is that the highest office in America still deserves respect. Disagree with and even oppose the President but remember that his office is the most challenging and pressure-packed in the world. By the way, Shapiro is a former John Kerry intern.

David, who would later become king of Israel, would not let his band of loyal supporters rise up against the current King Saul, even though Saul had dealt treacherously with David (see 1 Samuel 24). Even though David was a young and ambitious man, David “got it” about honor and loyalty.

You may be in a work situation where your supervisor acts in disloyal and dishonoring ways. You may be in a marriage with a partner who seems to be working against the health of your relationship. You may have an acquaintance that requires a lot of grace to be around.

I’m not advocating that anyone act like a doormat and let others walk on you or be spineless with no opinions or differences. I’m calling for civility, respect, and an end to bitter words and feelings.

Perhaps you’ll join me in reflecting on that today.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Slaying the Financial Giant

Over the next few weeks I’m giving talks at Meadowbrook Church that I call “Slaying Giants”. My premise is that we all face significant challenges that in the least distract us from life’s purpose and joy and for many, oppress, intimidate and defeat us. Click here to see the whole series.

This past Sunday I, not surprisingly, used the David and Goliath story as a model regarding how to slay other “giant” types in our lives. Click here to listen to the talk.

This coming Sunday I’m specifically addressing a giant called “Finances”. I plan to bring into the national and personal financial conversation some biblical and practical points that I hope will be helpful in overcoming this giant.

So, when I attended a breakfast meeting this morning and the featured speaker was a professional financial consultant, I was all ears to hear what she had to say. I was saddened, but not surprised, that the core of her message was that setting and reaching financial goals is the means by which we secure our lives.

I’m a believer in setting and striving toward goals and do so in multiple areas of my life. But friend, there are a lot of people that have reached tremendous financial goals and they lead some of the most insecure lives you’ll ever see. Money is not security. Money is not status or identity. Money is not happiness. Money is money.

Money is a tool. Use it well and it becomes a “servant” with which you can buy needed resources or help in meeting the needs of others. Use it poorly and you become its servant, always slavishly trying to get more.

For David and ancient Israel, defeating Goliath was not what made them secure. There were other giants out there. Goliath had brothers. Rather, having a relationship with the living God was and is what provided security and a foundation for life.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Prayers for President-Elect Barack Obama

Congratulations to Barack Obama. In keeping with biblical teaching let us pray for the President-Elect, the selection of his cabinet and transition team, and for God’s presence, protection and guidance for our nation.

Romans 13:1-6

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be set free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Reformation Day

Happy Reformation Day, the day that celebrates the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Yes, I know that in American culture October 31 is dominated by the celebration of Halloween and “trick or treating”. But on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted a proposal to the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Germany to debate the Catholic doctrine and practice of indulgences.

The proposal is more popularly known as the 95 theses. Initially it was not so much an act of protest since the door (pictured) was something of a community bulletin board where others also posted information. Nevertheless, the proposal created a controversy with Luther and the Pope and ultimately Protestantism was birthed.

Luther and others believed that the theology of indulgences was not biblical and worse, corrupt clergy were selling indulgences. Basically an indulgence was a paper declaring that a deceased person for whom the indulgence had been purchased had received total forgiveness of sins and therefore a release from Purgatory. The selling of indulgences was financing the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Today I give thanks for the reformation. Because of it there was a chain reaction, if you will, that brought about a renewed emphasis that salvation is by faith in Christ; biblical literacy for the common man (previously only priests read the scriptures); and priesthood of the believer (where every believer has direct access to God without a human mediator).

Reformation Day also reminds me that the church is regularly in need of reforming. Today’s church is distracted from the mission of Christ, self-centered with a consumerist mindset, improperly focused on buildings and insufficiently engaged in biblical issues regarding poverty and injustice.

I love the church and I’ve committed my life to serving Christ and His church so I’m not just being critical. I’m identifying what we, current day reformers, must be about. May we have a great, powerful and pervasive Reformation Day!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How Would Jesus Vote?

Celeste Gracey has written an interesting piece at The Daily, a publication of the University of Washington. She points out that next Tuesday some Christians will vote for Ralph Nader. Other Christians will vote for Barack Obama or John McCain. Maybe even some Christians will vote for Cynthia McKinney from the Green Party.

How do Christians, those who claim to follow the Person, plans, priorities and values of Jesus, process all of the campaign issues and then cast a Christ-honoring vote?

Local issues such as light rail or greater investment in the bus system seem difficult to figure out with respect to faith since both may be trying to make transportation more ecologically responsible.

However, an initiative that makes it legal to end the life of a person who is suffering with disease may be more clearly influenced by faith because of the doctrine of the sanctity of life.

Wednesday I had another politically engaged conversation with a good friend. My friend is a committed Christian and is going to vote differently than I. Both of us have prayerfully arrived at our decisions. We both respectfully think the other is completely wrong. Though we’ve had spirited conversations and even some debate we’ve never gotten angry with each other and our friendship has not been negatively impacted in any way.

I wish my friend would “see the light” as I do. Nevertheless, I respect my friend for prayerfully processing the issues and candidates. One concern I have about this election is how many Christians may not be arriving at their voting decisions by faith but rather by practicalities and personalities.

Is it possible to absolutely know how Jesus would vote were He here? Probably not. But Christians still have a responsibility to seek to understand the issues in light of the Person and teachings of Christ and respond accordingly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Means to an End

Recently I’ve noticed a few describe their experience and understanding of Christianity as something like this:
“Living life the way Jesus did works.”
“I want to be a spiritual person like Jesus.”
“I choose to follow the teachings of Jesus because they reflect the highest ideals in ethics and morality.”

While I don’t disagree with the statements above they are not reflective of what it means to be a Christian.

The statements above in essence say, “I use the teachings and/or lifestyle of Jesus in order to experience life in a certain way.” In other words, the “Jesus model” becomes a means to an end and the end is a certain way of life.

Christianity is about having a personal relationship with a living God. Christians don’t use the “Jesus model” in order to reach an end. Rather, Christians relate to Jesus. We do learn how to do life like Jesus and we do seek to practice His ways. But, we don’t have as an end or goal to have wisdom or peace or love or patience or even heaven. To do so would be to make any of those goals too important. There is no goal as great as God Himself.

The greatest “end” for a Christ-follower is to have relationship with God.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Power of Encouragement

Today I had the opportunity to hear prominent American political consultant Dick Morris speak. Morris is credited with piloting Bill Clinton to a comeback re-election victory in 1998 after the president lost Congress to the Republicans two years before. Morris has handled the winning campaigns for more than 30 Senators or Governors. Morris has become a familiar figure as a commentator for the Fox News Channel.

While I was waiting in line for the breakfast buffet I suddenly noticed Morris coming my way. He was shaking the hands of people in line in front of me. When he got to me I greeted him. Morris smiled, shook my hand, quickly read my name tag which also noted the name of my church. He asked, "Are you a minister?" I replied yes and Morris said, "Thank you for what you do." Then Morris moved on down the line and greeted everyone after me.

As I watched Morris work the crowd I reflected on his words, "Thank you for what you do." Did he mean that? Was that just part of working a crowd? I don't know and I choose to give Morris the benefit of the doubt. But the greater point is that in that moment I thought, "I can't remember anyone ever saying that to me just by virtue of my title." I've certainly been shown appreciation by people that know me or to whom I've given help but not from a stranger just by virtue of my vocation.

As the morning's program began I was still reflecting on that comment. The room was filled with insurance agents, real estate agents, business consultants, hospital administrators, educators, politicians and more. It seemed as if God's Spirit raised the question, "How many have you thanked for doing what they do?"

I was encouraged in the moment of Morris' greeting. Now I'm moved to give that gift of encouragement to others, people that I don't know but check me out of the store or serve me coffee or assist me in the bank. We have power to encourage others. I want to use it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is It Ok to Pray for Your 401(k)?

Is it okay to pray for your 401(k)? This was the question posed in a recent TIME Magazine article. The article raised the issue of whether it is selfish or not to ask God to bless one’s investments, retirement plans and means of providing for one’s family.

Good question. What do you think?

While reading the article it occurred to me that over these recent weeks where we’ve had a national economic crisis, I and many of you have lost a lot of money. I never thought to ask God to bless my investments.

Rather, I was prompted to pray confessions to God that my trust was in Him and not in my income or investments. Every time a thought of sadness or grief or fear has popped up I have sought to meet that thought with a prayer that confesses that God will be my Rock, my Provider and my Sustainer.

I don’t think there is anything theologically improper about asking God for material or monetary help or blessing. In fact Mark 11:24 indicates that there is nothing unworthy about praying for “things”. But what is also true is that prayer is initiated by God’s Spirit. God prompts us to pray and guides us concerning what to pray.

“We don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us…” (Romans 8:26)

During these uncertain days by all means pray and talk with God. Let His Spirit guide you in your thinking and praying. “His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Meditate Upon What is Excellent

This past June I celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary with my wife. A few months earlier I had led a leadership retreat for another church and as a way of saying thanks that church gave me a gift card to a wonderful restaurant in Seattle. I decided that my anniversary would be the time to use the gift card at this expensive restaurant.

I’ve been to a lot of restaurants through the years and this was without competition for the best meal and the best service I’ve ever experienced. Our waitress had served at this restaurant for 11 years. She had great people skills, graciously helped us make an order and then prepared much of what we ordered at our table which was entertaining to watch. When we finished our meal I left the largest tip I’ve ever given because I was absolutely “wowed” by every aspect of my time in this restaurant.

Have you already begun asking yourself, “Where did Scott eat? What’s the name of this place?” I wrote a post about it in June and you can click here and read it.

My point is that when we begin to speak to others of persons or places that we’ve experienced that are excellent, others want to know more.

Have you experienced the excellencies of God? Read 1 Peter 2:1-10.

Verse 9 says that God has chosen us to proclaim His excellencies to others. If you daily and personally experience God then like I did with the restaurant, you have a list of qualities and provisions to extol about God. It moves you to want to respond to Him, not with the biggest tip you’ve ever given, but with a whole hearted offering of yourself to God.

Peter gives a brief list of the excellencies of God. Read and meditate upon Peter’s list and then consider your own list of how excellent God is and how marvelous God is to you personally.

Peter points out that--
*God is building a new spiritual house; an excellent community.
*God has supplied the perfect cornerstone (Jesus) around which the house is built.
*God is making you and me into choice/excellent stones that build the house/community.
*God is making us a chosen race (a new race), a royal priesthood, and a holy nation.

Note that God is so great He is able to accomplish these things with us even though we come to Him as a complete mess. We were full of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander. We were in darkness. We were “no people”. We were without mercy.

God is so excellent He was able to take defective “materials” such as our lives and build something magnificent. Let us proclaim His excellencies today.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Meditate Upon What is Praiseworthy

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 6 of 7 meditations.)

Several years ago the men’s ministry organization called Promise Keepers was hosting a rally at the Kingdome in Seattle. I’ll never forget the moment when 64,000 male voices began singing praises to God in worship. I started singing with all the other men until I heard the powerful sound of their voices and then I stopped just to listen. It was beautiful, stirring and awe inspiring. Not the singing itself. The singing was moving me to recognize how awesome God is.

Perhaps it was a little glimpse of the scene that is depicted in Revelation 5:11-13.

John said, “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise…

To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever!

In similar ways I can stand on a beach in Hawaii and look out on the Pacific Ocean as swelling waves crash upon the shore. Though impressive in itself, I’m moved to exalt God. After climbing Mt. Si and looking down at the valley and across at other mountains my gaze is then diverted to the brilliance of the Creator. Wild flowers growing in the meadows around Mt. Rainer provoke me to marvel over the beauty of God.

When the Apostle Paul tells us to focus and meditate on whatever is praiseworthy, every expression of human creativity or nature’s magnificence points me back to God. Ultimately God is the embodiment of every virtue we’ve listed this week. As such our meditations always bring us back into focus upon God.

Meditate Upon What is Lovely

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 5 of 7 meditations.)

In Philippians 4:8 the Apostle Paul gave us some practical coaching about how to live well. Paul told us to focus upon or meditate upon various facets of life. These points of focus are related or connected.

Therefore, today’s meditation, “think about what is lovely”, is connected to whatever is true, honorable, just and pure. Our world has its own definition of what is lovely or beautiful. A Christ-follower focus is not on the results of thin physiques, smooth skin and shapely curves. Rather, our view of lovely moves past the superficial.

Therefore a lovely woman or man is one who is also just and pure. A lovely leader would also be honorable. A lovely idea or proposal is also true.

Perhaps “lovely” requires more meditation than any of the other qualities on our list because there are so many antitheses to biblical loveliness. Of course the embodiment of loveliness is Jesus.

Yet notice the description of the Christ when the prophet Isaiah foresaw Him:

He (the Messiah or Christ) grew up before him (God the Father) like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him,
and no beauty that we should desire Him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,
and as One from whom men hide their faces,
He was despised and we esteemed Him not.
Isaiah 53:2-3

Jesus was the true, honorable, just, pure and lovely One and yet He was hated, despised, rejected and killed. Let there be no more denial that we are a sick and perverse people when we stare beauty in the face and we call Him grotesque.

As you reflect on the beauty of Christ today, recall scenes from the gospels in your mind. Watch Jesus embrace children that others are shoving aside. See Him touch and bless lepers, reach out to harlots and forgive His tormentors and executioners.

May we become lovely.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Meditate Upon What is Pure

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 4 of 7 meditations.)

Some time ago a friend of mine drove a winding road up a mountain. He and his wife were planning a picnic at a pristine lake and waterfall that provided a great view of the valley below.

Along the way this couple passed through a little town and crossed a putrid stream that was filled with debris, smelled of chemicals and was a nasty color of green on the surface. They looked at each other with scrunched up noses and lamented how awful the little stream had been polluted.

Continuing on their route they later came to a turn in the road and drove over a bridge that crossed a creek with rushing clear water but was sadly littered with pop bottles, cans, food wrappers and trash.

Finally my friends reached their destination and the drive was worth it. The lake, waterfall and view were delightful and inspired thoughts of God as Creator. After enjoying their picnic surrounded by pines and serenaded by birds they loaded the car to return home.

As they drove away they noticed the waters from the falls meandering down the mountain and after a couple of twists and turns in the road they realized a disturbing truth. The polluted waters they crossed on the way up the mountain were in fact the same pristine waters that had flowed from the falls at the top.

The farther away the waters got from the source the more putrid and impure.

The Apostle John disclosed that when a child of God lives in the love of God, that life of hope purifies him because God is pure (1 John 3:1-3). In other words, the closer you stay to the Source the more pure your life. To be pure is to be free of pollution.

The scriptures declare
“The wisdom from above is first of all, pure.” James 3:17
“Wives, your husbands will be won over to the Lord by your pure and reverent life.” 1 Peter 3:1,2
“Older women are to teach younger women to be pure.” Titus 3:3-5
“Don’t let anyone look down upon you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in your purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
“Keep yourself pure.” 1 Timothy 5:22

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Meditate Upon What is Just

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 3 of 7 meditations.)

The Apostle Paul admonished Christ-followers to focus on or meditate upon whatever is just. The ancient word in the Greek language can also mean righteous or upright. The idea is that one focuses upon that which is in alignment with God. The desired outcome of that meditation is that our lives would be in alignment with God.

After several generations had come and gone following the days of Adam and Eve, the people of this world had become so thoroughly unjust and out of alignment with God that the Lord decided that He must send a great flood as judgment. God spared one man and his family upon the ark because, “Noah was a just man (Genesis 6:9).”

Centuries later God called a prophet named Amos to proclaim to Israel that they were out of alignment with Him. The Israelites were in danger of being judged by God. The Lord brought this message to Amos by way of a vision.

Amos saw the Lord standing by a wall that had been built with a plumb line. The Lord was using a plumb line to see if the wall was upright or straight. God asked Amos, “What do you see?” Then Amos saw the Lord lowering a plumb line in the midst of Israel and their lives were crooked and unjust (Amos 7).

Is your life crooked or straight, just or unjust? The life of Christ is the plumb line that is lowered next to us to determine our alignment.

Note that the Bible is filled with stories of optical illusions of men and women who did religious acts and said religious things and pretended to be just. But God’s vision is perfect and He could see the misalignment.

The Bible makes it clear that everyone is born out of alignment (Romans 3:23) and because of that our crooked lives will not remain (Romans 6:23).

But the Bible says that “Christ also suffered once for sin, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).” Jesus can miraculously make a crooked life straight.

Are your thoughts like God’s thoughts?
Is your attitude toward people like God’s attitude?
Is your heart compassionate toward those who are hurt, broken or lost?
Does it matter to you that the Just One is insulted with so much injustice in our world?

One day Isaiah went to the temple to worship and there Isaiah experienced the presence of a holy God. Isaiah was so awed by God’s righteousness he immediately saw his own unrighteousness and felt undone and unclean. But God graciously touched Isaiah and forgave him of sin (Isaiah 6).

May you experience God’s presence through meditation, be awed, be repentant and be touched by the Lord.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Meditate Upon What is Honorable

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 2 of 7 meditations.)

Christian meditation is the practice of focusing one’s thoughts upon the person of God, the word of God or the values of God. Honor is a value of God. God prefers honor to dishonor, disrespect or irreverence.

The millions of messages and images that are consumed by the average American every day overwhelmingly fall into the dishonor category. Dishonest politicians, cheating athletes, immoral celebrities, pervasive unfaithfulness in marriages and “Madison Ave.” peddling goods by appealing to greed and lust, literally assault our thoughts and feelings. There has perhaps never been a more important day to meditate and focus upon “whatever is honorable” (Philippians 4:8).

The biblical passages that speak of honor typically do so in one of two ways.
1. We are to give honor, to God and others.
2. We are to live a life that others experience and respond to with honor.

Giving honor is a choice. One chooses to see another in a way that elicits honor. John Maxwell said of the members of a team he once served on, he mentally posted a “10” on their forehead so that he would think of them as a “10”. By calling someone a “10” he meant that the person is of great worth.

Within our American culture the vestiges of bestowing honor are still with us. Judges are referred to as “Your honor.” Those who hold public office bear the title “the honorable so-and-so”. Ministers are called “reverend” which means worthy of reverence or honor.

What faces and names come to your mind when thinking of an honorable person? Think about that person today and what it is that elicits honor from you.

Giving honor is more than words. It is also action. God said, “This people honors Me with their lips but their hearts are far from Me.” (Matthew 15:8) Proverbs 14:31 instructs, “Honor the Lord by treating the poor graciously.” That is not all there is to giving honor but it is reflective that honor involves action from us.

Whom can you honor today?

“Honor your father and mother…” Exodus 20:12
“Honor the Lord from your wealth and the first of your produce” Proverbs 3:9
“Honor the Lord by treating the poor graciously.” Proverbs 14:31
“Honor is not fitting for a fool.” Proverbs 26:1
“Honor widows.” 1 Timothy 5:3
“Elders who rule well are worthy of double honor.” 1 Timothy 5:17
“Husbands, honor your wives as fellows heirs of the grace of God.” 1 Peter 3:7
“Honor all people” 1 Peter 2:17

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Meditate Upon What is True

(As a follow up exercise to a talk I gave at Meadowbrook on October 12, this is Part 1 of 7 meditations.)

Read John 4:16-26

In the famous story of Jesus with the woman at the well we are reminded of the importance of truth. Jesus had engaged in spiritual conversation with the Samaritan woman while she was drawing water. When the woman reached a point of thirst for the life that Christ can give He curiously said to her, “Go and get your husband.”

Jesus was not yielding to some ancient custom where men only talked with men. Rather, Jesus was inviting the woman to look at and acknowledge what was true about her life. The woman had been looking for love in all the wrong places having married five times and now lived with a man to whom she was not married. There was no pretending with Jesus that she had her life together. Truthfully her life was a mess. She was a sinner who needed a savior.

A final instructive word was “You must worship God in spirit and in truth.” The woman in essence said, “I will worship in spirit and truth when the Messiah comes. He will explain everything to us.” Jesus declared, “I am the Messiah.”

In this passage of scripture there is not only a moment of truthfully looking at one’s own life but also looking at who Jesus is.

Take a few minutes and meditate upon this text with these two questions:
1. Who am I?
2. Who is Jesus?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What's Your Foundation?

Upon what are you building your life? What is it that brings definition and security to your life?

Typically some build their life upon accomplishments such as athletics, academics or career. Some build their life upon accumulation such as money and the things that money can buy. Some build their lives upon significant relationships so that their spouse or their children become their life.

Take a few minutes and reflect upon the video linked here. My comments below are in light of the video--

Our world is changing more rapidly than ever. What we know and experience today will be radically different in a decade.

It has always been true that the only foundation worthy to build a human life upon is the Person of God. Knowing God, rightly relating to God and following God with a whole heart is the only foundation that will not be “sinking sand” (Matthew 7:24-27).

I think this reality will be more obvious in the near future than ever before. Change, obsolescence, insecurity and anxiety will become more characteristic of those with a faulty foundation.

A word to the wise is sufficient. Get to know God. Establish friendship with God. Build your one and only life upon God.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Hamburger, Steak & God's Plans for Marriage

September 26 academy award winning actor Paul Newman died. Not only did he leave behind a respectable collection of film work but he was an exemplary philanthropist. His was truly a fascinating and in some ways inspiring life.

Many of Newman’s famous lines from movies and interviews were replayed in the days following his death. Several writers quoted Newman’s line about how it is that he had such a stable long marriage in the face of so many Hollywood temptations.

Newman’s famous response was, “Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?”

Certainly that is affirming of his wife of 50 years, actress Joanne Woodward and it causes one to smile. But upon closer reflection note the fallacy in Newman’s thinking.

Joe McKeever raises some great questions: “What if I have hamburger at home and steak is out there somewhere? Is adultery all right if it is an improvement over what you have at home? What if I have, not hamburger, but baloney at home? What if I have nothing at home? ”

God is the One who created and designed marriage and there are many things that God seeks to accomplish in us and in society through our marriages. That’s why it is not really an option for us to “put apart what God has joined together” nor is it acceptable to be unfaithful to the relationship.

But in this reflection I’ll draw attention to just one of God’s purposes in marriage and that is to transform our lives into something like Jesus.

No one has a perfect marriage with a spouse that is always beautiful/handsome, winsome, fun, engaging, delightful, etc. Every marriage demands patience. Every marriage sees one partner hurt the other and need forgiveness. Every marriage faces perplexing issues for which wisdom that is beyond us is called for.

And, every time I look to God and lean upon God for patience, forgiveness, wisdom and a hundred other things, God forms something of Christ in me. There can be many benefits to marriage. One of the greatest is how I experience God in my marriage.

Even if one is married to another that has no place for God in his/her life, I can still powerfully and profoundly experience God and therefore my marriage serves to change my life.

I pray that your marriage is “steak” but more so I pray that God has access to your heart and transforms you because of your marriage.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Reflections on Political Debates

The 2008 presidential election has had more drama and been more interesting than any other election in my lifetime. Though interesting at times, the campaigns, conventions and debates still frustrate those of us who yearn for straight answers to direct questions.

At this writing there has been one presidential debate and one vice-presidential debate. Like millions of others I was more interested in the vice-presidential debate because of the “Palin factor”. Even more fun was the Saturday Night Live parody of the debate, but I digress.

As I’ve listened to the rhetoric and talking points I’ve cried out for an end to the “games” and engagement of the issues with real dialogue. I’ve talked with family and friends about the dodging of questions but was mildly surprised at the October 6 issue of TIME that gave a behind-the-scenes look at how all of this is scripted.

Mike Murphy, a GOP consultant, writes how candidates prepare for the debates. There are strategists that work to plan every detail, even down to preparing the off-the-cuff remarks. Murphy says one of the consultant’s biggest tasks is helping the candidate master one basic rule: never ever make the rookie’s mistake of actually answering the question you are actually asked. The idea is to make a bee line as quickly as possible to your key campaign message.

It could go something like this--
Question: “Senator, tell us your wife’s name and the names of your children.”
Answer: “I have a wonderful family. Nothing is more important to America’s welfare than our homes and our families. That’s why our platform has blah, blah, blah.”

As I read Murphy’s political insider perspective my thoughts were immediately taken to my engagement of God. When God asks us questions He’s not looking for answers. He already knows the answers. When God asks us questions He’s looking for us to get in touch with something.

After Adam ate forbidden fruit and hid from God, God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” God knew where Adam was. There’s no politically correct answer. All Adam could say is that “I’m hiding from you.”

After Cain killed his brother Abel and God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” God already knew that Cain had killed his brother but Cain plays word games and responds, “Am I supposed to keep up with where my brother is?”

So in the spirit of being honest (read: not politically correct) how is it with you and God? Is it well with your soul? Are you loving your spouse and family well? Are you fulfilling and living the plans that God has made for your life?

No talking points, just straight answers. In answering these questions there is life, peace, serenity and purpose.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Imagine Freedom From Religion

“Imagine no religion”, so reads a billboard in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Patriot-News reports that the message is inspired by John Lennon’s song, “Imagine”.

Lennon’s vision was as follows--

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one…

I’ll share a few brief reflections on this notion but for a more complete reflection see the article by Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason.

The notion that the world would be better off if there were no God and no religious followers of God certainly has a sympathetic ear from me. I concede that there have been some awful things done in the name of religion or God and extremists in any religion are often dangerous.

That said the so-called new atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc.) seem to most often direct their disdain for Christianity rather than the other religions of the world. They sound more anti-Christian than anti-religion to me.

Anyway…the matter of good and evil seems to me to totally undermine the utopia that is “imagined” when our world is free of religion. Evil is based upon morality. The only reason we say Mother Teresa is good and Hitler is evil is because there is an agreed upon morality. Morality must come from a “morality-giver”. Without a “morality-giver” then we’re left to relativism where one can call rape, incest, or murder good while declaring patience, generosity and forgiveness as evil.

If there is a “morality-giver” then Who is that if not God? Freedom from religion would be separation from God and the morality that God declares to be absolute.

Do human followers of God misinterpret and misappropriate the ways of God? All the time. As has often been said, “One can’t hold Christianity responsible when so-called Christians violate the written instructions. The problem is not with God or Christ but with the people who follow Him."

A world free of God and free of followers of God would rapidly become chaotic, sick, destructive, dark and deadly. You say, “It’s already that way.” I agree. But the world is already that way in proportion to the exclusion of God we’ve already implemented. Complete eradication of God is not a dream to imagine but a nightmare to be avoided at all costs.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When Your Life Seems Invisible

I recently heard a talk by someone who had been reading about the great cathedrals in Europe. If you’ve been there and toured any of them you can’t help but be taken with how large they can be and yet given to such intricate detail. Many took over 100 years to build. Because the construction would be beyond the lifetime of the architect or designer, many of the builders are unknown.

In one such account the story is told of the builder carving a bird into a beam that would eventually be covered by a roof line and therefore would not be visible for people to see. Someone inquired of the builder as to why he was doing such meticulous work for something that no one would see. He replied, “God will see it.”

How much do you do every day at work, at home or in social circles, that no one ever sees that contributes to the life and beauty that is around you? God knows.

God knows about that prayer you whispered when you saw someone struggling. God knows about that small gesture you made to encourage someone. God knows about the help you provided secretly, about the arm you placed around a shoulder and about the yielding of your preferences for the sake of another. You have many acts of love and kindness that no one ever sees, that are hidden by the world’s “roof lines” of selfish, rude and boorish behavior, that are never missed by God.

He sees, He knows and He delights in your “invisible” life.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How Do You See the Church?

Recently a friend sent me the video below. Canon in D is a wonderful song that I really enjoy hearing with a string quartet. The rendition below however is by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. When you have 5 minutes listen and enjoy. Perhaps it would seem unusual to some but this performance immediately led me to reflect upon the church of Jesus Christ. I share my reflections below.

Most basically a church is a collection of Christ followers who live in covenant with God and one another, engaged in the mission of Christ of sharing Good News that reconciliation with God can be experienced. The LAGQ represent many of the qualities of the church when she is living true to her calling.

Each guitarist brings unique gifting and talent that is of great value alone but truly beautiful and captivating when in concert. The musicians take the beloved piece by Johann Pachelbel that has been played in similar fashion for 400 years and add their own creative touches. The blending of talent and innovation results in music that is delightfully recognizable yet surprising, stirring and even fun.

So the church can be with the eternal ways of God that get freshly expressed through ancient and contemporary human realities. When the church is truly the church her “music” invites and inspires. She is winsome, engaging, redemptive and healing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How Will You Be Remembered?

It has been a remarkable few days. Since leaving the Celebrate Recovery Summit at Saddleback I’ve had much to think about and process. One of the things that I appreciated about the CR version of recovery is that it is biblical and broad based. By broad based I mean that recovery is defined as a needful experience for anyone with a hurt, habit or hang-up from which he or she would like to recover. If you’re a chronic worrier or a drug addict, CR can be used of God to help you be restored to sane and fruitful living.

Gathering day after day with over 3,000 CR leaders who are already personally working the program and are being delivered from dozens of types of brokenness I was inspired and encouraged that anyone can have significant life change. Regardless of the screwed up beginning or middle years of your life you can finish well.

So when I came upon the obituary linked here my heart was deeply saddened. Here’s a brief clip from the obit--

Dolores Aguilar, born in 1929 in New Mexico, left us on August 7, 2008…Dolores had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life. I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing…

There will be no service, no prayers and no closure for the family she spent a lifetime tearing apart. We cannot come together in the end to see to it that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren can say their goodbyes. So I say here for all of us, GOOD BYE, MOM.

Dolores was preceded in death by her husband and two children. She is survived by 7 children, 19 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. Obviously it’s too late for Dolores but it is possible for an awful cycle of family living to be broken and new and full life to happen for all of these survivors.

My reflection today stirs me to pray and serve God and people so that life wounds are healed, forgiveness is prevalent, grace flows lavishly and life is marked by deep joy. Christ makes all of this possible. As long as I have breath I want to work for the deliverance/recovery of one more.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Giving & Receiving Love

Wednesday morning I had the privilege of hearing John Townsend speak. A Christian psychiatrist and prolific author, I’ve heard and read his material often through the years and have always been helped. Today was one of the most helpful.

Having just written “Loving People” Townsend shared a few insights on the subject that I list below for your reflection.

Five Aspects of Love
Love is the “fuel for life.” Love is “seeking and doing what is best for someone.”
In order to love and be loved well--
1. You Have to Need
People who can experience love are those who can/do experience a need. For example, those with abandonment issues are hurt people who don’t want to be hurt anymore. Therefore they do their best NOT to need people and consequently stop experiencing love.

2. You Have to Ask
The Apostle James taught us, “You have not because you ask not.” Sometimes we need to be loved with encouragement, support, friendship or some kind of help. Tell others what you need and ask for their help. In so doing they will be loving you.

3. You Have to Receive
One of the hardest things for us is to receive love. It makes us feel needy and weak. We would rather be in the position of giving love than receiving it. However, we must receive love in order to give it. We literally push away love with De-Valuing statements. Someone affirms or speaks loving words to us and we dismiss it with a comment like, “Oh, you really don’t know me.” Just receive the love.

4. You Have to Give Thanks
Say thank you to those who love you well. Let them know that they have touched you.

5. You Have to Use It
Digest the love that others (and God) are giving you and grow. Get energy from it, get more creativity, get connected and by all means get to serving others with it. We’ve been created to receive love and then pass it on to others. The flow of love through us is essential.

Think on these things.

From Willow to Saddleback

Over the past 20 years the ministries of Willow Creek in Chicago and Saddleback in Southern California have been a huge and powerful influence upon my life. I’ve learned much from their pastors and from several of their staff and of course from the tremendous spiritual growth materials both churches have produced.

Last week I participated in Willow’s annual Leadership Summit. I’m still reflecting and better engaging my heart with God from the presentations. I’ve been journaling and having heart-to-heart conversations with trusted friends in the “journey”. It has all served to be a “touch” from God to deep places within.

This week I’m attending for the first time the Celebrate Recovery Summit at Saddleback. Two summits in two weeks!

CR is a ministry designed for the biblical practice of recovery from habits, hang-ups and hurts. We’ve recently launched a CR group at Meadowbrook and I’m hopeful that this will be a ministry that helps many in far reaching ways for years to come.

Though my habit or addiction has not been alcohol or drugs I have been “crazy” through the years with workaholism, perfectionism and a form of grandiosity which believes that I must accomplish great things and be a great person in order for my life to count. These things are but symptoms of my brokenness that I’m powerless to manage. CR and the practice of 12 Steps have been the means of my turning my life over to Christ for His work of healing and restoration and renewal.

I’m grateful for a church family like Meadowbrook that both allows me the time to do personal life work and is a safe place for my own transformation and discipleship.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

It Happened Again

In 1989 I was ambushed by God. I attended a leadership conference at Willow Creek Church in Chicago and there God stirred and prompted my heart to leave my life in the Mid-South and my extended family and friends and move to the Seattle area to start a new church that would eventually become Meadowbrook. I can take you to the very spot where I made that life-altering decision. It feels like holy ground to me.

Every year since then I have attended a leadership conference at Willow or at a satellite location and every year God has met with me in a special way and spoken into my life in a powerful and timely fashion.

This year I registered once again and I’m attending a satellite in Redmond. However, my work load and schedule of late has me feeling a bit pressured and I was tempted to skip the conference this year and spend the two days getting more work done.

Thursday morning I attended the first session and within ten minutes of hearing Bill Hybels make a presentation I knew that God had planned to once again meet with me. That sense of “divine appointment” is profound beyond my capacity to express with words. Six billion people on the planet with millions of scenarios and crises that require the attention and power of God and yet I’m keenly aware that God is present with me in my seat in an auditorium. As I listen to a speaker or singer it is as if God takes their words and brings them to areas of my heart that need to take it in. Vision and mental images come up on the screen of my mind. I’m freshly reminded that the Christian life is about relationship with a living God. It’s not ritual or religion or formulas with God but dynamic, authentic, living relationship. I am again grateful that I get to know the God of the ages, the God of creation, the God of salvation and redemption.

I’m sure I’ll share more reflections later.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Where do you live?

Does anyone struggle to really unplug and have a vacation besides me? I’m in Palm Springs this week with my wife, sons and daughter-in-law at a beautiful resort enjoying sunshine, pool time and good meals. I begin the mornings on my patio drinking coffee, reading and enjoying the view of the golf course and mountains (pictured).

Yet, my vacation is constantly invaded with thoughts about work and responsibilities I left behind at home and about tasks, meetings, people, etc. that I face when I return.

Meanwhile, I’m reading through William Young’s novel, The Shack. A first time author, Young wrote the book for his children in the attempt to help them understand God. The lead character, Mack, has an unusual encounter with God at “the shack” and out of that, a number of theological and personal issues on put forth that provoke reflection.

Today I read a section where Mack is engaged in a personal conversation with Jesus. Jesus asks Mack, “Do you think you were designed to live in the past, the present or the future?” After some hesitation, as if it were a trick question, Mack responds, “I think the most obvious answer is that we were made to live in the present.”

Jesus affirmed that Mack got it right but then queried, “But now tell me, where do you spend most of your time, in your mind, in your imagination?”

Pow. I was nailed, not that Jesus is interested in nailing me or anyone. I had to close the book and ponder that. It wasn’t a new revelation. I’ve struggled with this almost all of my adult life. But it was a timely reminder that one of my great challenges is to live in the present.

Where do you live?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Finding the Power for Life

I’ve been leisurely reading Tony Dungy’s best seller “Quiet Strength” for several weeks. I already reflected on it once before (here). Today I finished it and the finish coincided with my drive from Riverside, California to Palm Springs.

I just read the chapters where Dungy described the devastating experience of losing his oldest son, Jamie, at just 18 years of age. Though Jamie was a Christ follower and Tony was confident that his son was with Jesus in heaven, the loss was breath taking. Tony’s testimony was that it was the power of God that sustained him through those first few days and in the months since.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum when Dungy and the Colts won the 2007 Super Bowl it was the remarkable moment of a lifetime-of-experiences all coming together at once. The influence of parents, siblings, coaches, teammates, etc. all began flashing in his mind. All the work, discipline, disappointments, defeats and victories along the way culminated in a moment on a platform when the championship trophy was being placed in his hands. Just as Dungy had needed God’s power in the loss of his son Tony recounted that he had needed God’s power in a time of victory.

As you may have noticed, some people “blow up” their lives after a loss while others do so after a victory. Dungy reminds us that we’re always in need of God’s power.

It’s one thing to hear from a Christ follower like Dungy that we need and can receive the power of God and it is another thing to know or understand how that happens. Spiritual experiences like worship, prayer, or Bible reading can be important tools but I feel like I hear 80% of the time that someone has used those tools and there is still a disconnect with God.

Back to my drive, as you enter Palm Springs from the West you are engulfed by hundreds of windmills. A lot of power is generated by the windmills and millions of people benefit from that power. You can’t see the wind that is driving the windmills but you can see the results. You see the blades turning. You can learn of the electricity that is generated and the homes and businesses that are powered.

Our lives are a lot like the windmills. We are dependent upon the presence of God blowing through our lives which then releases God’s power upon us and through us. Worship, prayer and Bible reading are just a few tools that basically position our “blades” so that we can catch the wind. Ultimately we do those spiritual practices because of faith. We believe that God is powerful and we believe that He does release His power upon us.

If the windmills don’t have the blades in position, even though the wind blows no power is received. God’s power is “blowing” around us all of the time. Do you believe? Do you raise those blades with various Christian practices?

Are you in need of God’s power today? It may just be that God has drawn you to the reading of this post so that you might turn to Him in this moment. I pray God’s empowerment upon you.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Don't Be Afraid to Reflect

Our world said good-bye last week to Tony Snow, the former press secretary for President George Bush and a former television and radio commentator. The journalist died at age 53.

Much has been written and said about Tony over the past few days. One person quoted a part of Tony’s commencement address to Catholic University of America in 2007--

“Why am I here? [That question] impels you to think like the child staring out
at the starry night: Who put the lights in the sky? Who put me here? Why?

Don’t shrink from pondering God’s role in the universe or Christ’s. You see, it’s trendy to reject religious reflection as a grave offense against decency. That’s not only cowardly, that’s false. Faith and reason are knitted together in the human soul. So don’t leave home without either one.”

Why should anyone pay attention to Snow’s thoughts? Because at the time Tony was battling for his life against colon and later liver cancer. Tony was not waxing theoretically. His grappling with life and death issues was real.

Yes, I know it is Monday morning and you have emails and voicemails and postal mail and a full week’s agenda screaming at you for attention. Let us not forsake reflecting on the most important matters.

Blessings on your day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How Much Do You Know?

Mark Batterson is the creative and visionary pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC. A few months ago he spoke at a conference called “The White Board Sessions” and made the observation that there is a vast difference between how God thinks and how we (humans) think.

Check out the video clip and I’ll share a reflection below-- from Churchy Media on Vimeo.

How much do you know? In this moment it is abundantly clear that I don’t know much.

Thanks Mark for reminding me of God’s greatness, moving me toward better humility, prompting me to seek God first and warning me not to lean on my understanding. How loving and gracious is God that He would pursue relationship with us and be inclined to bless us when we are undeserving.