Saturday, December 25, 2010

Three Ways to Live

There are 3 ways to live.

The gift of Christmas is the Gospel.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 8

After the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, the shepherds promptly left their sheep in the field unattended so that they might see the baby Jesus. When the shepherds came to Mary and Joseph they told the story of their encounter with the angels and the message about Jesus that the angels delivered.

And at the story of the shepherds Luke 2:18 says that “all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.”

Who wondered? Who is “all”?

Certainly Mary and Joseph are included in the “all” and perhaps there were a few other people around that are not mentioned in the Bible.

But why would Mary and Joseph wonder? They had both separately had an encounter with an angel as they were “briefed” on what God was doing. Though Mary and Joseph were willing participants in the Christmas story, there was still much that was mysterious and significantly outside of their previous experience with God.

This same wonder continues in us (followers of Christ) when we see Jesus “birthed into the heart of a new believer”. Though we have some understanding of what is taking place and we’ve personally experienced Jesus similarly, there is still something marvelous, stirring, and awesome that takes place every time we see new birth and new life in Jesus come forth. It causes us to “wonder”.

To wonder is to reflect on how great God is; how unique; how glorious; how gracious; how loving; how matchless.

John Jacob Niles captures this splendor in his Christmas carol, “I Wonder as I Wander”—
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus ‘twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have it cause He was the King.

(If viewing through a reader click through to the blog site to view the video)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 7

Joe McKeever points out when God incarnates Himself as a human in this world, what types of people become “players” in His story?

There are the young and the old--
(Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus; Simeon and Anna in the temple, Luke 2)

There are the rich and the poor--
(Wise men and Joseph & Mary)

There are Jews and Gentiles--
(Wise men are non-Jews)

There are the highest (angels) and the lowest (shepherds)

John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” From the beginning “the world” and “whoever” are central to God’s redemptive activity.

Christianity has always been inclusive as all are invited to believe and receive Christ.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 6

There’s an old saying, “God is never early and He is never late.” In other words, God’s timing is perfect. However there are certainly those occasions when we are asking for God’s help and it seems like He is taking too long. There are other occasions when we’re not ready to do something He’s stirring us to do and it seems as if the opportunity is too soon.

Our timing is often different from God’s timing.

What’s happening in your life today? In what ways do you need God’s help? Wisdom? Financial provision? Healing? Direction?

In the Christmas story Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a census. While in Bethlehem Mary delivers the baby Jesus. Some months later wise men from the East travel to Bethlehem, find the Christ child and worship Him. A part of their worship involved presenting gifts to Jesus. One of the gifts was a sum of gold.

Meanwhile, King Herod decides that he cannot allow a potential threat to his throne to grow up in Bethlehem so he sends his soldiers to the town and surrounding region with orders to kill all the male children that were two years of age and younger.

Before a soldier could be dispatched God approaches Joseph in a dream, warns him of Herod’s plot and directs Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

The holy family who are poor and certainly don’t have the means for international travel were provided gold at just the right time.

In your life circumstances, God will not be early, nor will He be late.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 5

I grew up poor. One of my most embarrassing memories was the day one of my teachers called me to her desk, informed me that I qualified for the free lunch program and asked if I would allow her to sign me up. There was no way I was going to pull out that bright yellow meal card to pay for my lunch when all my friends were paying with money. I would have rather starved than to be in the free lunch program.

Have you ever been poor? How do you feel about being poor?

There is nothing that you can conclude about Joseph and Mary but that they were poor. After Jesus is born they take him to the temple to dedicate him to God. As a part of the worship experience they were to offer a sacrifice. Most couples would offer a lamb. Joseph and Mary are obviously poor because they offer two pigeons (Luke 2:24).

There’s no place for prosperity theology in the Gospel story. Yet there is a sizable segment of the American church that preaches that one will have health and wealth if one follows Christ. How does prosperity theology have a leg to stand on when all the disciples suffered for following Christ, most died a martyr’s death and many had few if any possessions when they died?

I’m grateful that I have a house, car, clothes and plenty of food. I count them as blessings from God. But the absence of things is not an indicator that one is not blessed. The Apostle Paul testified that he had seasons where he had much and seasons where he had little and in both cases he was blessed, not because of stuff, but because he had Jesus in His life.

Are you blessed? Are you a blessing to others? Do you steward the things that God allows you to use so that others are helped and God is glorified? Do you experience contentment with what you do have?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 4

The word “unlikely” is the single best word to apply to the entire cast of the Christmas story. Mary, a teenage girl who is perhaps 13, is chosen to be the mother of Jesus. Joseph, an older, unmarried and easy to overlook man is chosen to be an earthly father to Jesus. And, a group of smelly shepherds living in the fields with their sheep who were notorious for dishonesty and a lack of integrity are chosen to be the first witnesses to the birth of the Savior.

How unlikely are we for God to use in profound, eternal ways?

Luke 2:8-12 tells us that the shepherds were watching over their flocks one night when an angel visited them and announced that the Savior had been born in Bethlehem. After the angel departs the shepherds basically dash to where Joseph and Mary are with the baby Jesus. Yet, the angel did not command them to go and worship. Their haste to draw near to God and the activity of God was not due to obedience but to awe and hunger.

The shepherds were awed by the announcement of Jesus’ birth and hungry to see and be near the manifest presence of God. All God had to do was give a hint that the Christ child would be found wrapped in swaddling clothes and the shepherds were off searching.

Are you awed by the messages in Scripture? Are you stirred to hunger and thirst after God while praying, while observing nature, or while experiencing music or art? Is there quickness to your movement toward God? When the shepherds told the story of their encounter with the angel, others were amazed and astonished about God (Luke 2:18). Do you have stories of interaction with God that cause others sit up and take note?

Who are these shepherds? What are their names? What happened to them after visiting the Christ child? All we know of the shepherds is that on one night of their lives God drew near and they were highly responsive. Meeting and responding to Jesus is the most important thing that will ever happen to you.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 3

We have hundreds of cable television stations, thousands of songs on our iPod, scores of friends to text, tweet or talk with on Facebook. Our calendar has no margin and we don’t have enough time to get from one experience to the next. During this season of shopping, partying, and traveling many of us will reach a tipping point where we’ll crash or implode.

The idea of slowly thinking about something or pondering is a foreign concept to us.

Yet a key observation and takeaway from the Christmas story is how Mary interacts with God and the activity of God. This inexperienced teenage girl whom God favors and ordains to be the mother of Jesus captures and fully engages it all by pondering.

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary and announced that she would become pregnant with the Son of God, Luke 1:29 said that Mary was perplexed at the announcement and pondered his words.

Are you ever perplexed by what the Bible says or by what you sense in your prayers?

When the shepherds visited Joseph, Mary and the newborn Jesus, they told of hearing an angelic announcement that the Savior had been born and that Jesus was that Savior. Again, in response, Luke 2:19 said that Mary both treasured and pondered these words that the shepherds spoke.

Do you ever see or experience God do something in you or around you?

Mary’s example models for us the act of pondering where we think about something over and over again. Mary did so in the moment and I believe that she did throughout the years of her life.

Fast forward to the end of Jesus’ life when He is brutally tortured and crucified. Mary witnesses these atrocities committed against her son whom she has seen live a blameless life. How does Mary not herself die of a crushed heart? How does she not become angry with God for not intervening and sparing Jesus?

I submit that the ponderings from her teenage years served to establish her heart to trust God and have insight into the work of God so that she was empowered to persevere through the greatest tragedy she had ever experienced.

Philippians 4:8 is an exhortation to you and me to ponder. Will you take time and ponder--

If you don’t know what these rich theological words mean consult a Bible dictionary and ponder away.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 2

Joe McKeever tells the story of a school Christmas play that was to feature shepherds, wise men, angels and the holy family. On the day of the play a mother called the school office to inform the teacher that her son was sick with a bad cold and would not be able to play Joseph in the Nativity. It was too late to replace him so the play went on without Joseph.

No one missed him.

The real life Joseph who was chosen by God to be the earthly father of the Lord Jesus was--
Holy (separated to God);
Obedient (did what God asked);
Faith-full (believed the miracle of a virgin birth);
Loving (committed to Mary though she appeared scandalous);
Courageous (traveled to Egypt in order to protect Jesus).

In history and popular culture Joseph is almost a forgotten part of the story of God’s incarnation.

In God’s evaluation Joseph is a rare and uniquely qualified man to be entrusted with the task of raising Jesus.

How concerned are we with how others view the importance of our lives? How much does God’s evaluation of us matter? In a celebrity culture can we know joy and contentment though our life is common and without fame?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Christmas Reflections, Part 1

There is so much that is familiar about the Christmas story of God entering humanity in the birth of the baby Jesus. And, there are many things that have been misunderstood or overlooked.

For example, the so-called wise men from the east were not kings, nor do we know whether there were three of them. Further, when they arrived in Bethlehem it may have been as much as two years after the birth so they definitely didn’t find Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus in a stable. In fact we don’t even know if the holy family ever stayed in a stable on the night of the birth. Because baby Jesus was placed in a manger or feeding trough (Luke 2:7) there was speculation that there was a stable.

When the magi (wise men) showed up in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:2) looking for the one born king of the Jews, no one could tell them where the child had been born. How surprising it must have been to the travelers who had come so far following a star.

When King Herod heard about the foreigners looking for a baby king he called upon his religious leaders and asked where the Messiah was to be born. They concluded from the writings of the prophet Micah that the place was Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was only a couple of miles from Jerusalem but no one had cared enough to bother to go and see. There was an obvious disinterest in God and the eternal activity of God taking place around them.

How much does God matter to us? How aware are we of God’s activity around us? When questioned by others about God’s movement would we be able to answer?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Feasting or Gluttony

In preparation for Thanksgiving Day here’s a quick reference from The Resurgence that will help us have the proper perspective on eating with family and friends over the next couple of days—

Gluttony is eating more than you need with a greedy heart:
*A heart that is seeking satisfaction and fulfillment in the food.
*A heart that just wants more and more.
*A heart that isn’t satisfied.
*A heart that thinks you deserve it.
*A heart that is focused inward on yourself instead of outward on God and others.

Feasting is enjoying a meal with people you love & giving thanks for God’s provision:
*Enjoying the people that God has brought into your life—even the weird ones.
*Thanking God for providing.
*Experiencing the common grace of delicious food.
*Remembering that God tells us to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8).
*Anticipating the meal that we’ll eat with Jesus at the wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).

With gratitude enjoy God’s many blessings this week.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Week After a Solemn Assembly

Some have asked for my reflections regarding the Solemn Assembly held at Meadowbrook Church on October 16. Click here for a refresher on what a Solemn Assembly is and why I led one.

In December 2009 I went away to a cabin for two and a half days for a personal retreat with God. While praying and reading I felt impressed that God was calling me to lead the church in the experience of examination, confession, repentance and sanctification (the process of God making a person and a church holy). What’s more, I believe that God was calling me to be a catalyst to the churches in the Northwest that belong to the convention my church partners with. I was elected president of this organization in November.

From December 2009 to October 2010 I have been in constant personal preparation in order to follow through on this calling. It has been very intense for me and I’ve been deeply impacted by God.

What I’m describing has both biblical and historic precedence. From time to time God has called His church to stop wandering and drifting and to return to Him with great passion and commitment. Such seasons have sometimes resulted in a reviving of God’s people and an awakening (disconnected people seeing their need for God and running to Him) of the surrounding region. I believe God was stirring me to be catalytic for this kind of gracious manifestation of the Lord in our midst.

So, what happened? In short it was a very good day. Early in our time together I gave a prayer exercise to all that asked a series of penetrating questions through which the Holy Spirit may stir conviction over sin and confession. Following the personal time everyone paired up with another person of the same sex and spent some time verbally confessing their sins to one another. This could be the perfect moment for resistance and rejection of God’s work in us. I was most anxious about how everyone would respond to this step.

Confession proved to be powerful and though I called us to the next exercise some continued where they were with their partner until all of their confession was complete.

There was also intercessory prayer for one another and for church leaders in small groups. After breaking our fast with the Lord’s Supper and a mid-day meal we concluded the day by responding to God’s call for our church to be catalytic to our sister churches for revival and awakening. To a person all the participants stood with personal commitment to God and one another!

Following our gathering I collapsed at home in exhaustion, gratitude and wonderment. I wondered how deeply we collectively had been touched by God’s Spirit. I wondered how strongly passion for God was stirring in us. I wondered if we had a momentary “spiritual hiccup” after which we would return to “life as usual”.

Historically when God has moved upon a people, the people often melted in God’s presence with weeping over sin and cries for forgiveness and emotional expressions of commitment. We had none of that. And, I don’t personally think that we have to have the emotion but it does make me wonder. Our church is filled with thinking people and if something is percolating at a deep place of thought that results in Holy Spirit breathed transformation and resolve then praise the Lord.

How will we know if a reviving work of God has taken place among us? I believe that we will see the following 4 things be characteristic of us.

1. There will be greater humility in our lives where we make much of God and little of self.

2. There will be greater practice of confession of sins.

3. There will be greater appreciation for justification (this word alone deserves an entire post).

4. There will be greater burden for those who are still under condemnation for sin (this also deserves a full post).

For now we watch and see how responsive to God we become. Meanwhile I’m preparing for the annual meeting of our convention of churches where on behalf of God I’ll issue the call for our sister churches to engage God in Solemn Assemblies across the Northwest.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Evening Before a Solemn Assembly

Tonight I’m preparing my heart for a Solemn Assembly. For those unfamiliar, historically a Solemn Assembly was sometimes called for in the Jewish community following a religious feast and sometimes called for in a time of emergency (national and/or religious). It was the gathering of God's people in order to seek God intensely.

In more recent years a Solemn Assembly is a gathering of Christians who seek the Lord with prayer and fasting, confession of sin and repentance. It also is intense and requires a whole-hearted intent to be touched and changed by God.

Saturday about 65 of my friends will gather for 5 hours of prayer and worship. Pretty remarkable in this day where there is little time for anything much less extended hours for prayer and worship.

I’m anxious. Few attending really know what they are getting in to. I hope they are coming because they have been stirred by God’s Spirit to come because I called this gathering with the conviction that it is God’s invitation for us to draw near. But to draw near to a holy God demands that we be holy (meaning separated unto God and separated from the entanglements of this world).

The talons of our culture have a firm grip on most of us. We like our stuff, our comfort and our pleasures. A Solemn Assembly is an experience with God whereby we open our hearts and invite God to put His finger on anything that He doesn’t like and wants changed.

I’m anxious because this could be the most significant and dramatic life change any of us has experienced. And, if we experience it together then everything is multiplied exponentially!

I’m anxious because we could come nearer to God than we’ve ever been and dare to say no to God. One biblical snapshot that stays before me is found in Luke 18. The story is referred to as the rich young ruler. He apparently was successful and moral and presented himself to Jesus one day implying that he was confident that heaven would be his final destination. Jesus quickly saw that there was an idol (something more important than God) in his life and called for him to sell all that he had and give to the poor. And, Jesus said, "Do this and you'll have treasure in heaven. Come follow me." One of the most heart wrenching statements in the Bible follows.

“But when he heard these things he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” At the crossroads of the most important defining moment of his life the rich young ruler walked away because his stuff was more important to him.

I’m anxious. How will I respond to God Saturday? How will my friends respond to God? Will we experience God and have a breakthrough or will we keep our distance from God and have status quo?

It is the evening before something glorious or grievous. How many through the years have anxiously sat through such an evening? I feel a kinship with my forefathers in the faith.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

God is not safe, but He is good

What is meant when the Bible says that God is awesome? The same ancient word that is translated “awesome” is also translated “terrible”.

The idea is that God is so holy and just, to catch a glimpse of Him stirs us with awe and fear. We both wonder at Him and tremble in His presence.

C.S. Lewis captures this sense of God’s fearsomeness and awesomeness in his Narnia story.

Aslan is a lion and a Christ figure in the story. Narnia is a land where it is always winter but never Christmas because of the evil workings of a witch.

Four small children stumble into this world and along the way they encounter a couple of small creatures who can talk. The creatures take the children in and give them something to eat.

They explain to the children about the dark and cold place that Narnia has become but then add, they have heard that Aslan is on the move.

They have hope that the mighty lion will overthrow the witch and Narnia will be transformed.

The youngest child asks about Aslan, “Is he safe?” and the little creature replies, “No, but he is good.”

God is not safe. He is terrible, fearsome, mighty and awesome. God is not safe, but He is good.

Currently the church that I serve is in a season of seeking God in all of His holiness. We are being impacted so that we’ve been confessional about sin; humbled to think less of self and more of Him; stirred to pull down the competitors in our hearts that displace God’s supremacy.

Aslan/God is on the move. He is pushing back darkness and deception and giving sight to blind eyes to see Him.

What will be the outcome of God moving among us? I don't know. What I do know is this, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord". (Joshua 24:15)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Jealous for the Gathering of the Church

“Are you goin’ to church this Sunday?” That was the question I would sometimes hear from friends in high school who were in my youth group at our church. Of course “goin’ to church” meant going to the building where the church gathers for worship.

Church is not a building. Church is the collective group of people who follow Christ.

And, the gathering of the church for worship of Christ is one of the most important things in life that we ever do. To “show the worth” (worship) and celebrate and exalt and freshly commit ourselves to God is important because, 1) God deserves it and, 2) we undergo some transformation every time we truly worship Him.

I’m jealous for the gathering of the church to worship God. By jealous I mean that I view the other choices that we can make to work, recreate, sleep, visit with family or friends, watch sports, do yard work or a dozen other things, as competitors to God. When we choose to do something else rather than gather to worship God we have in effect valued that other thing more highly than God. That makes me jealous for God.

When I first became a pastor the commitment to gather as a church for worship was Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. One was considered a “Sunday morning only” worshiper if he or she didn’t participate in all three. No school or community organization would schedule anything during those blocks of time because no one would come to those things if they competed with church gatherings.

I watched through the 80’s when gatherings on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings began disappearing. Today few churches have regularly scheduled gatherings at those times.

Now I’m witnessing another trend, regular gathering for worship is no longer every Sunday morning but every other Sunday morning. With respect to many in my congregation I at best see them twice a month instead of four times a month.

What’s going on? I’m afraid that the busyness of life is crowding out the gathering for worship of God. People who want to get ahead in their career often need to work on Sunday. Parents who want their children to play sports often play on Sunday. The only day to sleep, hike, boat, garden or visit is often a Sunday.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not primarily concerned about my work of ministry that reflects poorly if attendance is down or offerings are down or fewer participate in programs, etc. I’m jealous for God. I think we clearly make statements of value and priority when we choose something else instead of the worship of God.

Also, don’t misunderstand me to be griping and harping and pining for a day gone by. Rather, I’m grieved and saddened because less worship reflects less knowledge and experience of God. You worship not because you know not the One you are devaluing and disrespecting. If God is the One who gave us life, sustains our life, atones for the sins of our life, forgives our life, redeems and saves our life, then how can we not worship Him every day and gather at least once a week with other believers to worship? The answer for most is “they know not what they do.”

So, here’s a friendly plea. Stop dissing God. Say no to lesser things. Say yes to gathering and honoring the One who deserves all honor, praise and allegiance.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Are you living a good story?

I love the subtitle of Donald Miller’s book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”.

If you’re familiar with Miller and his writing then you may know that his earlier work, “Blue Like Jazz” is being made into a movie. For some time Miller has been co-writing the movie with two other screenwriters. “A Million Miles” is a collection of his reflections on writing a movie about his life, thus the subtitle, “what I learned while editing my life.”

What a fascinating idea, getting to edit your life. As it turns out the movie is going to be “based upon a true story” and therefore much of the writing was creating a more interesting Donald Miller than the real life Miller. This of course stirs many reflections in me.

Do I have an interesting story/life? If not, why not?

Miller learned that there are several things that make for a good story. One thing is a central character (you) who wants something and has to overcome obstacles in order to get it. A second thing is that the character (you) is transformed into a better person because of the experience of overcoming. A third is that the “something wanted” is a selfless pursuit that adds value to others or to this world.

When Miller understood what makes a good story he concluded that he was living a bad story. What’s more, Miller looked around and observed that most people are living a bad story.

We don’t know what we want or, what we want is too petty.

We are not transforming and becoming by life’s obstacles and conflict and in fact, we often spend most of our energy trying to avoid or eliminate the conflict.

We are not living so that our lives are making a difference for others.

While pondering such things one day Miller heard a still, small voice in his heart. Lingering in the thought Miller discerned that it was the Author (God) of his story (life). Miller began to get it that stirrings and promptings from God were not about an oppressive master trying to control his life. Rather, Miller began to see God as the Author who was seeking to write a great story with Miller’s life. The question became, “Would he cooperate with God’s storyline?”

When Miller said yes to God, his life began to want something, began to take risks and face challenges in order to get it, and began to be an adventure. Miller began to live so that life was better for others. His story became a good story with potential to be a great story. Continued cooperation with the Author will determine if a great story is written/lived.

Are you living a good story?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Experiencing God as Father

Frank Turk at Pyromaniacs tells the following story—

There was a young man -- a doctor -- who was sent off to war, and he left behind a young wife and a 7-month-old baby girl. He was away at the war for two years, and was faithful to his wife. In writing to her frequently, he sent back a portrait of himself to her and the baby as a promise that he would return home soon.

He returned two years later, and the baby was now a toddler who didn't know him. In fact, in some ways she didn't want him in their house. He was a stranger, and he didn't belong. She only knew the portrait.

One Saturday the young doctor was sitting on the couch reading the paper when the toddler got up from her bed and slowly came down the stairs. He didn't want to antagonize her, so he just sat and read, watching her out of the corner of his eye.

She started in the kitchen, then the dining room, then came into the living room sort of watching him, sizing him up. She came to the other end of the sofa, and then pointed at the portrait.

"That's my daddy. Some day he's coming home," she said, looking at the portrait.

He lowered the paper, and looked at her -- both bursting with pride at her confidence and aching on the inside from her ignorance.

She looked at him again, and pointed at the portrait. "That's my daddy," she said certainly, and looked straight at the young doctor.

Then there was a curious silence as her face changed.

"You're my daddy," she said breathlessly.

There are many in “God’s family” who have a “portrait” (Bible) of our Heavenly Father. Their sense of connection is distant, limited to a few stories about Father and a vague hope of His return. Someday He will be present in our home again.

Meanwhile, God the Father is present in the home and all around yet He appears as a stranger to us that we do not trust nor feel comfortable around.

A miracle recorded in 2 Kings 6:17 tells of a man whose eyes were opened so that he could see the God who was already present. That is my prayer for us today.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

10 + 10

As Martin Luther and many others through the years have pointed out, life is a series of exchanges. We exchange one thing for something else we deem of greater importance or value.

Daily we exchange money for food, housing, entertainment, etc. We exchange time in order to make money.

Increasingly we also trade money in order to have time. We pay for conveniences so that we have more time to do other things. In recent years many have understood time to be life’s most important resource and often we are more careful with how and why we exchange time for other things (though television viewing habits remain a glaring exception).

That brings me to God. In what ways do you exchange time for God?

If you give up an hour on Sunday morning for worship or on a weeknight for your small group, but do not have significant connection with God in that hour that is an inefficient or even poor exchange. I’m not recommending that you stop the exchange but rather that you make sure it is a good exchange by not coasting through the hour spent in worship or community.

As you’re determining how to spend your Summer time I encourage you to never miss the opportunity to worship, seldom miss the experience of community and always connect with God every day.

One simple yet powerful exchange is to spend 10 minutes reading the Bible and 10 minutes in prayer every day. 10 + 10 equals considerably more than 20 minutes when it is exchanged for meaningful connection with God.

God bless you as you make timely and timeless exchanges.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Savoring the Summer

Do you eat a meal quickly or slowly?

We all have those occasions where we don’t have much time and we have to “slam” a meal down quickly.

But, when you’re not hurried, do you still eat quickly? Sherrie and I have a little fun going on around my meal habits. If we’re eating a meal that I really enjoy then I’ll eat very slowly so that I can savor all of the flavors. I literally think about my taste buds while I’m chewing as I attempt to taste every bit of seasoning or sweetness or tartness. Sherrie will catch me doing this and comment, “Savoring again, huh?”

As we approach summer I want to encourage you, even challenge you to savor your summer.

Whether you’re hiking or biking, cooking on the grill or driving on a road trip, open up the “taste buds” of your eyes, ears and heart and take it all in.

We live in a part of the world that especially displays the grandeur of God’s creative expression.

What’s more, when spending time with family or friends, step outside of yourself and look at the time you have together. Notice all the vocal and facial expressions. Enjoy the trust and freedom of sharing. Fully receive love and connection that comes with a touch, a hug or a kiss.

To paraphrase the Scriptures:

“This is the summer that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Friday, June 04, 2010

Armando Galarraga, Jim Joyce & Christian Virtues

Pitching a perfect game in professional baseball is rare having happened only 20 times. The feat amounts to a pitcher facing 27 batters (3 per inning over 9 innings) and getting each of them out with none of them getting a hit.

Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers apparently pitched a perfect game last Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians. He had successfully faced 26 batters. The 27th batter, Jason Donald slapped a shot to the infield. Galarraga raced to cover first base, caught the throw to first, tagged the bag before Donald got to first. Should be game over and let the celebration begin.

However at that point umpire Jim Joyce remarkably called Donald safe. The call is irreversible, the perfect game no longer possible and Galarraga returned to the pitcher’s mound and got an out on the 28th batter so that the Tigers won 3-0.

If you don’t care about baseball hang with me for two more minutes because what transpired afterward is a tremendous picture of grace and Christian virtue. Let me hasten to admit that I don’t know if Galarraga and Joyce are Christians. Perhaps we’ll find out soon.

Here’s what happened. Joyce later saw a television replay of his call and how he was mistaken. With genuine remorse and regret Joyce went public with an admission of his error and even sought out Galarraga to make a personal apology for costing him a perfect game.

Galarraga not only forgave Joyce but humbly commented that mistakes happen. The next day the two teams were playing again and Joyce was set to umpire the game. When Joyce walked into the baseball stadium the Detroit fans cheered and applauded for Joyce. Joyce stood in the field with a stiff professional stance, but a close up revealed tears streaming down his face at the magnanimity of the Tiger’s fans. When Joyce and Galarraga passed by each other on the field each gave a pat on the back to the other.

In an unexpected place and circumstance the virtues of confession, accepting responsibility, forgiveness and reconciliation were all in play along with the lesser matter of a game.

In a day when we wish for these virtues in a BP exec or the oil industry or even the President we find it on a ball field in a beleaguered city.

God help us to become men and women of such grace.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Reflections on Church Membership

I love the Church. I’ve confessed often in these posts my recognition and angst over what is wrong with the Church. There is also much that is right with the Church and what’s more, the Church is chosen by God to carry out the mission of Christ.

I love the people of the Church, the mission of the Church and the functions of the Church. I can’t imagine life without Church.

One of the conversations that I consistently have with people about their own meaningful experience of a local church or lack thereof, is how does one find the right church? “Church shopping” can be a very difficult thing.

My first reflection is that I dislike the term and idea of “Church shopping”. It has a consumer connotation to it, meaning that I want to find a church that meets my needs. “My needs” and those of my family are important and not irrelevant but mostly my involvement in a local church is for purposes of what I can contribute. Where can I effectively serve using my gifts, talents and experience? When visiting a church one needs to do so prayerfully, seeking to discern God’s direction because it’s not ultimately about me but Him.

My second reflection is that the experience of looking for a new church home should mostly be something that happens when I make a significant geographic move and can no longer participate in my current church. Getting bored, getting sideways in a relationship, or hearing the buzz about the exciting church down the road are poor reasons for making a church move. If something becomes difficult for me in my church then most of the time I need to see that as an opportunity to grow in faith and maturity as I practice patience or forgiveness or risk a loving confrontation or work for change or any number of other things.

Today’s post is actually stirred by the reflections of Hunter Baker who said,
“Stop shopping for a church. Stop sampling. Don’t fall for all the hype of a Disneyworld experience with a Christian aura around it. Don’t chase after a superstar preacher. You can hear that on your iPod. Feel free to contribute to that ministry. But find a church where you can be part of a community of people who know each other and will help one another live the Christian life, sometimes as helpers and sometimes by being in need and providing an opportunity for others to help.”

Increasingly today, people are hiding in large churches and have a “spectator” experience that just watches the things that go on OR they have given up on church and are wandering about in some kind of individualized experience that is “spiritual but not religious”.

To experience a local church in the way the Bible discusses one must become part of a community, must exercise gifts and abilities for service and must be an incarnational expression of Jesus who is on a mission of God. Anything less is insufficient and ultimately tragic.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Pastors Losing Faith & Spiritual Malpractice

One of the blogs I read drew my attention to a study conducted by Tufts University. Having surveyed Protestant pastors they discovered that many not only don’t practice what they preach but don’t believe what they preach. Tufts called it an “invisible phenomenon” of “unbelieving clergy”.

There is not statistical evidence but anecdotal evidence in the study that clergy are losing their faith if in fact they ever had it.

A Methodist pastor admitted that he no longer believes that God exists, but his church members do not know that he is an atheist.

A Church of Christ minister confessed that he didn’t believe the doctrinal content of the Christian faith but he preaches as if he does because it is the way of life that he knows.

A Presbyterian pastor said that he remains in the ministry largely for financial reasons, acknowledging that if he let it be known that he rejects most tenets of the Christian faith he would obliterate his “ability to earn a living this way.”

One pastor revealed that his job on Sunday mornings is to play act: “I see myself as taking on the role of a believer in a worship service and performing.”

A Baptist pastor said he was attracted to Christianity because it is a religion of love but now he has become an atheist. He confided that if someone would offer him $200,000 he would leave the ministry right away.

To read the whole story click here.

As I reflected on this study three things came to mind that I’ll share---
1. I’m not shocked that a pastor or that anyone would wrestle with what they believe. Faith in Christ is something that is birthed and then nurtured and grown into maturity. We watch many characters in the Bible wrestle with their faith.

2. I was initially shocked that a pastor would no longer wrestle with faith but reach a firm conclusion of unbelief AND continue to do the work of ministry. But within minutes of being shocked I realized that I was expecting these non-believing clergy to act with integrity and courage and out themselves as non-believers. Where does integrity and courage come from but God? If you don’t believe in God or the teachings of Christ then there is not a solid basis for practicing honesty.

3. Finally I was angered. In my mind this study reflects malpractice by pastors which is more serious to me than medical malpractice because the soul is more important than the body. If these men don’t have the integrity and courage to out themselves then some other church leaders need to oust them and they need to do so quickly. Too much is at stake.

Our culture has said that everyone has their price and once that price is found then anyone will do anything. I disagree. The true follower of Christ will not renounce his faith even at the ultimate cost of his own life.

It is pitiable and disgusting that one could be bought for $200,000.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

People Get Ready & Crystal Bowersox

Tuesday was inspiration night on American Idol. Each contestant was tasked with singing a song that would inspire. It’s down to seven contestants and another goes home Wednesday night.

I thought it was interesting to see what songs these twenty-somethings would choose, deeming them to be inspirational. From the first time I heard Crystal Bowersox during the auditions she became a favorite to me. Love her voice and love her authenticity even more.

Crystal chose a song by the Impressions called “People Get Ready”. She delivered the far and away best performance of the night. The song was delivered with heart and passion and Crystal broke down and cried as she delivered the last line. Yes, it brought a tear to my eye as well.

The judges raved and the main stream media and blogosphere is abuzz about the performance.

However, I am most fascinated that the message of the song was apparently lost on everyone. As a speaker who delivers messages weekly and has studied communication for over three decades I have often marveled at those times when a message is missed or lost because of the powerful delivery of the messenger.

Granted, Crystal is in a singing competition and the focus is upon performance. Still, as I reflected upon the message of the song I wonder if anyone had a heart string tugged by God.

“People get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

People get ready for the train to Jordan
It’s pickin’ up passengers from coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board ‘em
There’s hope for all among those loved the most…”

Now that you, my reading friend, are reflecting with me upon the message, the question that God is stirring is, “Are you ready?” Some day Jesus will return to this world (a train is comin’) and He will be taking to heaven (train to Jordan) those who by faith have followed Him with a whole heart (faith is the key, open the doors and board).

You don’t need no ticket but you do need faith. And biblical faith is not an intellectual nod in the direction of Jesus. Biblical faith is a trust in the saving work of Jesus upon the cross, to the extent that you no longer live for yourself but, die to self and live for Jesus.

People get ready, there’s a train a comin’.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Temporary Home

Temporary Home lyrics

A 6 year old boy is moved to one more foster home situation.
A single mom tries to find her way out of “half-way house” living.
An old man, full of faith is dying in a hospital.

Three story lines tied together with a reflective chorus sung by Carrie Underwood—

This is my temporary home
It’s not where I belong
Windows and rooms that I’m passin’ through
This is just a stop, on the way to where I’m going
I’m not afraid because I know this is my
Temporary Home

Though I had heard the song play while driving I’d never really heard the lyrics until today.

What’s going on with your day?
Promising or problematic
Blessed or burdensome
Clear or confused…

Reflect and be reminded that we’re passin’ through. This is just a stop, on the way to where we’re going. This world is our temporary home.

Through the centuries men and women of God have “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV)

(Those using a reader may have to click through to the blog site for the video)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Undercover Boss: when CEOs find out what is going on

I just this week discovered the relatively new show, “Undercover Boss”. The premise is that a company CEO goes undercover and gets involved in his own company at a lower or entry level position. Today I spoke with someone who has seen every episode and as he described the prior shows I quickly saw a pattern.

The boss will discover how much he doesn’t know, he’ll discover that he’s got some employees with a lot of heart, he’ll discover someone who is inspiring because he has overcome a significant problem or addiction, and he will make some on the job mistake and probably hear someone say in jest, “Heck, you may be my boss someday.”

Near the end of the show the boss calls in the employees and wearing his business suit and sitting at his CEO desk he reveals his true identity. Video clips are played back for the employee where he is reminded how his encounter with the boss transpired.

I actually found the one episode I saw entertaining and touching.

I’ve also just finished a special week of experiences and reflections about Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. The juxtaposition of God and Fortune 100 CEOs is leaping out at me.

I listened curiously as the CEO of Roto Rooter saw a system that he designed at work on the ground level for the first time. He wondered out loud if the system he created for a department he’s never visited, much less worked in, would operate as envisioned. In the moment I was incredulous that someone would design an operational system for a department with which he’d never had significant experience. (I’m sure many of you will tell me that you’ve had to implement such systems.)

In the end the boss has a newfound empathy, appreciation and plan for making everything better for his employees and the company.

Do I even need to say that all of this is a light year away from the personal engagement of the CEO of the universe? God knows my name. God knows the minutia of every challenge in my life. God knows my frustrations and joys. God designed all the plans and systems by which life operates and has fully experienced them all. God not only knows who the overcomers are, He gave them the power and inspiration to overcome.

But there is one major point of commonality between the reality TV show and the reality of life; God is often unrecognized as He is with us in the midst of daily routines.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Holy Week Meditation

Do you have questions about the cross of Christ and His sacrificial atoning death?

Michael Card does us a wonderful service by articulating questions in music that are worth our pondering.

When you have a few minutes consider his song "Why?" (those using a reader will have to click through to the blog site). Why was Jesus betrayed by a friend? Why was Jesus' crown made of thorns? Why was the cross so rough and heavy?

Worship the Lord because of His loving sacrifice and His painful perseverance.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

James Cameron Reflects Changes in Western World

D.A. Carson has written, Scandalous: The Cross and Ressurection of Jesus and in it he retells a scene from the sinking of the Titanic both from history and James Cameron’s blockbuster film.

The illustration highlights the changes, shall we say “devolution” of Western culture over the past couple of generations.

Perhaps part of our slowness to come to grips with this truth lies in the way the notion of moral imperative has dissipated in much recent Western thought. Did you see the film Titanic that was screened about a dozen years ago? The great ship is full of the richest people in the world, and , according to the film, as the ship sinks, the rich men start to scramble for the few inadequate lifeboats, shoving aside the women and children in their desperate desire to live. British sailors draw handguns and fire into the air, crying “Stand back! Stand back! Women and children first!” In reality, of course, nothing like that happened. The universal testimony of the witnesses who survived the disaster is that the men hung back and urged the women and children into the lifeboats. John Jacob Astor was there, at the time the richest man on earth, the Bill Gates of 1912. He dragged his wife to a boat, shoved her on, and stepped back. Someone urged him to get in, too. He refused: the boats are too few, and must be for the women and children first. He stepped back, and drowned. The philanthropist Benjamin Guggenheim was present. He was traveling with his mistress, but when he perceived that it was unlikely he would survive, he told one of his servants, “Tell my wife that Benjamin Guggenheim knows his duty” –and he hung back, and drowned. There is not a single report of some rich man displacing women and children in the mad rush for survival.

When the film was reviewed in the New York Times, the reviewer asked why the producer and director of the film had distorted history so flagrantly in this regard. The scene as they depicted it was implausible from the beginning. British sailors drawing handguns? Most British police officers do not carry handguns; British sailors certainly do not. So why this willful distortion of history? And then the reviewer answered his own question: if the producer and director had told the truth, he said, no one would have believed them.

I have seldom read a more damning indictment of the development of Western culture, especially Anglo-Saxon culture, in the last century. One hundred years ago, there remained in our culture enough residue of the Christian virtue of self-sacrifice for the sake of others, of the moral imperative that seeks the other’s good at personal expense, that Christians and non-Christians alike thought it noble, if unremarkable, to choose death for the sake of others. A mere century later, such a course is judged so unbelievable that the history has to be distorted (30-31).

As I used Carson’s words to reflect on culture I had to bring it home and reflect on my personal life. How committed am I to Christian virtues of love, sacrifice and humility?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Prayers for Michael Spencer

I've been amazed at how much the blogosphere has come to mean to me over the years. Not only have a learned a lot from those that I read, I strangely feel a sense of community with several bloggers that I regularly read even though I've never personally met them.

You'll notice at the top of my blog roll is the Internet Monk or imonk, aka Michael Spencer in real life.

I've never met imonk nor had a personal exchange though I've commented on his blog a few times. imonk was the first blog that I really began to read regularly a few years ago. He has consistently stretched and challenged my thinking and often been a blessing to me.

Occasionally Michael would mention his wife Denise or his children or his beloved school where he has been a faculty member and minister for several years. Such references are part of what make me feel like I know Micahel and why I care about him and his life.

Michael was diagnosed with cancer a very few months ago. Today Denise let his readers know that they have stopped all treatment and the end is very near.

As you read my blog I would ask for a prayer for the Spencer family that God would have mercy and that God would comfort.

Soon imonk will be enjoying the presence of our Lord as many of us look forward to as well.

Michael Spencer went to be with the Lord Monday, April 5, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I Give Up

Recently a friend of mine got away for a personal retreat. During her reflections and journaling and while contending with various emotions, she wrote the following thoughts and allowed me to share them here.

I give up! I can’t do it anymore.
I give up!
I give up.
I give up.

I GIVE UP, spoken in moments of powerlessness and hopelessness are words that simultaneously communicate despair and the surprising, paradoxical potential to give birth to new hope, new freedom, restored connection to God and others. I give up can become some of the most powerful, life-transforming words I can speak. Spoken from the pit, I give up, can lift me to life.
If. . . .

I give up:
 Self-sufficiency
 Doing it my way.
 The critical and condemning voices in my head.
 The old coping strategies that no longer work.
 The law that condemns without hope.
 The lies that tell me I am separated from God by my badness, even Jesus’ death and resurrection cannot atone for.
 The old ways of protecting myself which have become bars between me and others who would love me.
 My false illusion that I can control others.
 My false illusion that I can control the world.
 My false gods in which I place my trust—power, money, approval, ______, ____.
 My prideful arrogance that says I don’t need anyone.
 My sinful attempts to escape truth.
 My denial.
 M y avoidance.
 My isolation.
 My misplaced judgment of myself and others that keeps me separated from Life and love.
 Desire for recognition.
 Family patterns that have become burdensome chains separating me from meaningful connection with others.
 Fears, founded and unfounded that keep me in bondage to addictions
 Mistrust in everyone.
 Fear-based procrastination.
 Laziness-based procrastination.
 Blame.
 Unrealistic expectations of perfection in myself and others.
 My anxiety and panic.
 My paralyzing fear of acknowledging mistakes and sin.
 My life in surrender to my Lord, God and Savior , the creator, sustainer, redeemer and transformer of Life.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Mt. 11:29

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Postmodern Architecture

From an address by Ravi Zacharias--

I remember lecturing at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in this country. I was minutes away from beginning my lecture, and my host was driving me past a new building called the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts.

He said, “This is America’s first postmodern building.”

I was startled for a moment and I said, “What is a postmodern building?”

He said, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.”

I said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?”

He said, “That is correct.”

I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?”

All of a sudden there was silence.

You see, you and I can fool with the infrastructure as much as we would like, but we dare not fool with the foundation because it will call our bluff in a hurry.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Virtual Following

Bill Gates, yes the real Bill Gates, joined Twitter January 19.

Are you interested to know what Bill thinks or what Bill is doing throughout the day? If so you’re not alone. On the first day of Bill tweeting he was picking up 1,000 followers a minute!

Though the pace cooled off later to 100 new followers a minute it certainly can be called a watershed moment in microblogging.

After several imposters appearing in the blogosphere in recent years now the real @billgates can be followed.

All of this “following” makes me a bit nervous. Following is being redefined right before our eyes.

Virtual following is really a type of voyeurism. By that I’m meaning the definition of “an obsessive observer of sensational subjects.”

I’m on twitter and facebook and some other social networks and enjoy some of the interaction so I’m not trying to kill everyone’s fun.

The point is that when Jesus says to a potential disciple, “Follow Me”, He’s not inviting you to merely observe or watch. Jesus invites us to “do life” with Him.

You don’t watch Jesus go to dangerous places and engage in risky relationships. You go and do likewise, with Him.

You don’t watch Jesus care for the needy or oppressed. You give care also.

Following Jesus involves more than reading a few lines or tapping a few keystrokes. Following Jesus is a plunge of your whole life, not your screen life or username, into ventures that literally hurt and damage your life. Like Jesus, you become “poor” so that others know His “riches”.

Are you a follower of Jesus?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Night Musings

It’s Sunday night and as usual I’m reflecting on the events and conversations from the morning. After an inspiring baptism of a friend who is already having an exciting faith adventure with Christ, I had the opportunity to pray for a young family who exemplify faith regarding their newborn and multiple heart surgeries to come.

Then there was the sermon. For those who have never delivered a sermon, it is a remarkable experience. After 35 years of preaching I still marvel that God lets me do it. The process of praying and studying continues to change my life. And, the actual time of speaking is almost always a dynamic time of God stirring and editing in my mind and heart.

So, how did it go today? I never really know but I did come across a helpful list that gives a clue when the sermon is in trouble.

7. The worship band begins playing you off the stage
6. The congregation is filling in the blanks of your outline before you get there.
5. When you pause for dramatic effect several people giggle.
4. Your cell phone starts ringing and you answer it.
3. When the children are dismissed to junior church, most of the parents go too.
2. Desperate mothers are pinching their babies.
1. The ushers are handing out refunds.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Brit Hume: A lesson in Perseverance

Some of my readers predicted that more would be made of Brit Hume making a comment about the advisability of Tiger Woods following the Christian faith than would be made of the truthfulness of the comment. Right you were.

In the embedded video Bill O’Reilly interviews Brit Hume about the controversy that erupted in the 24 hours following his comments (if you’re viewing this through a reader you may want to click through to my site in order to see the video).

Though some of the backlash has been hot and personal Hume has not backed down from his assertion that the Christian faith has a lot to offer when it comes to forgiveness of sin and redemption. There is something to be learned from Hume’s example of perseverance.

Note that Hume did not get defensive in response to being attacked. Neither was Hume apologetic for making remarks based upon his convictions. He clarified that he was not denigrating Buddhism. Hume did not soften or withdraw his opinion but merely reiterated by way of his personal experience how powerful the Christian faith had worked in his own life.

In a free society that also values tolerance it seems to me that Brit Hume was a glowing example of how to give free expression of faith without being obnoxious, denigrating or disrespectful.

What do you think?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Brit Hume: A lesson in Authenticity

(If viewing this through a reader you may need to click through to my site to see video)
Imagine being on national television with millions watching. Imagine sitting on a panel with national journalists discussing various items of national interest and importance. I’m already intimidated, what about you?

Now imagine that the topic of conversation turns to Tiger Woods. How can Tiger ever recover from the disclosure of his sins? He’s lost his family. He’s lost his reputation. It remains to be seen if he can recover his golf game and compete at a high level again.

To this Brit Hume says, “Tiger’s recovery is dependent upon his faith. He claims to be a Buddhist which I don’t think offers him the forgiveness and redemption that the Christian faith offers. My advice would be that he turn to the Christian faith.”

As a Christ follower I am in complete agreement with Hume but the thing that struck me is how authentic Hume was in offering the opinion and advice. In a day when most are very careful in what they say and how they say it Hume clearly articulated what he saw to be Tiger’s best hope for recovery.

This week we may not be in settings that feature national commentators and large audiences but we will be with those that just as desperately need the forgiveness and redemption that Tiger needs. Will we be able to say so and be authentic?