Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent: God Comes in Our Compassion

The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40)

I have to confess, I've never really thought of that as an "Advent scripture" before. Not till I read the article in the Ann Arbor News the other day. The story, as best as I can remember it, goes like this:

A little girl has a birthday. She sends out invitations so her friends. However, she has a request. She would like them to bring presents that are unwrapped.

The reason: the presents are not for her!!

She plans to give the presents away to a Toys for Tots program in town. She ends up receiving 30+ presents, worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $400+. The reporter asks her what she thought about the presents. She responds, "There were a couple of really good ones I'd like to have kept for myself. But I know others needed it more."

I appreciated the honesty.

And I couldn't help but think this little girl was fulfilling Matthew 25:40, whether she realized it or not. She did it for "one of the least of these" who needed a little thoughtfulness and generosity.

And if it is true that we have done those acts, not only for others, but, ultimately, for Jesus, then isn't it safe to say that he comes to us in those acts of compassion? He arrives as we are being Jesus to others?

And what is Advent? Simply anticipating God's arrival.

May you and I find ways to usher in God's arrival into our lives and the lives of those around us.

Grace & Peace

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Advent: But Are You Ready?

Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time." (Luke 1:18-20 NIV)

Zechariah, the priest, has been praying, (apparently for a child [see v13]). God's messenger comes to personally deliver the message that they will have a child.

And now the priest does not believe.

This challenges me to be ready for God to answer what I have requested.

Have I asked for God to make me more like Him, only to find the process is painful?

Have I asked God for patience, only to find it requires me to be patient?

Have I asked for God to make me more loving, but chaffed at the thought of having to love and forgive those who have offended me?

Have I testified that I want to be more like Jesus, only to discover being like Jesus can be hard work?

I can really empathize with this poor man. How 'bout you?

Grace & peace

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent: Blessing for Children & Grandchildren &...?

And he will go on before the Lord,
in the spirit and power of Elijah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous -
to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:17 NIV)

This is the word about John the Baptist, prior to his birth. The angel speaks these words to John's father, Zechariah.

This must have been an amazing experience for Zechariah (who was a priest), for at least three reasons:

1. An angel shows up and gives you a message. Not an everday-sort-of-event, right?
("your prayer has been heard" he says to the elderly priest.)

2. A great future promised for your child.
("he will be a delight and joy to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth". What parent or grandparent wouldn't want to hear that about their offspring? Have you asked God if He would be willing to use your children in this way?)

3. And this one is kind of important...John had not been BORN YET!
Zechariah and his wife were well along in years, similar to Abraham and Sara. They had NO kids. We'll talk more about this one later.

But think about #2 for a minute.

What does God want to say about your child or children? For those of you who are parents or grandparents, you may know the child it is that is on your mind. What great promises and blessed futures does the Heavenly Father have in store for them?

May we take time to ask, seek, and knock on their behalf.

But for those of you who don't have children or grandchildren...

...this may seem to be a devotional that has NOTHING to do with you. Not so fast, my friend.

Zechariah thought the same thing. And God had something else in store.

Maybe it is a niece or nephew. Maybe it is a child at church who needs an adult to really show an interest in them. Maybe it is a neighbor who could use a "prayer warrior" interceding on their behalf.

May you ask, seek, and knock to find out how it is God wants to bless you and who it is God wants to bless through you.

Grace & peace

Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent Questions

We have been talking about anticipating God's arrivals in our lives the last few weeks.
However, anticipatin does not mean a passive waiting, twiddling our thumbs.

Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
(Matthew 7:7)

If you could ask God for any 1 thing, what would it be?
(Would it be to change others? Get things for ourself?)

What is it you seek this season?
(What does your answer to these first 2 questions say about you?)

What do you perceive to be behind the door on which you are knocking?
(Spiritual growth and depth? Physical healing? Financial help?)

What is the difference between asking and complaining?

How long might we need to seek in order to find?

May God grant us the perseverance, patience, and passion required to ask, seek and knock, and the discernment to do so wisely.

Grace & peace

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Not Right for Me

ightIt would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. (Acts 6:2 NIV)

The disciples were in the early days after Jesus' death and resurrection. They were sorting through what it meant to carry out the Great Commission. They were gathering a group of people who were becoming the Church. Some of those people were widows who needed food. Confusion and hurt feelings developed over who was receiving what they needed and who wasn't. It was a time of excitement and confusion.

In the midst of the chaos, the disciples made several decisions:

1.) The widows needed to be fed, it was an important job.
2.) The Gospel needed to be preached, it was an important job too.
3.) They couldn't do both important jobs.

I was recently reading someone who said something like this:

It wasn't right for the disciples to neglect preaching in order to feed the widows.
Others could have said the same thing in reverse. "It's not right for us to neglect the widows in order to preach."

Aren't you glad God's Kingdom has a place for both preaching and feeding?

I've spent my time today dealing with worship, scripture, and people who are hurting.

What task are you at today?

Do you think of it as holy?

If you do it "unto the Lord" then it becomes a part of God's work in our world, whether you are nursing, working at a computer, chopping wood, teaching, working on roads, cooking and cleaning, building a building, visiting the sick and needy, or studying for a test.

One task within the Kingdom may not be right for you today. But another one is.

Do what you are doing as best as you can, to the glory of God.

Think about it.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

10 Reasons to Come to the Christmas Musical

"The Christmas Shoes"

A Dramatic Musical for Christmas

Saturday, December 13, 2008 at 6PM
(Refreshments to follow the performance)

Chelsea Church of the Nazarene
12126 Jackson Rd.
Dexter, MI 48130


10. This will be a one-time only presentation. You snooze, you lose!

9. There will be refreshments after the performance!

8. A chance to see the Crowders stage!

7. Where else can you hear "Silent Night," "The Grinch," and "Christmas Shoes" in the same evening?

6. It costs less than going to a concert, a play, or a movie
You can bring everyone you know and it won't cost you a dime...(It's FREE!!)

5. It's a non-threatening way to invite your friends and family to hear The Christmas Story.

4. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you won't leave the same

3. Have you ever seen the Pastor REALLY MAD?? You won't want to miss that scene!

2. Cute kids, energetic teens, and talented adults!!


The word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Grace & peace

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What Does God Want from Me?

With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
He has told you, o mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6,8 NRSV)

What does God want from you?

It is a question the prophet Micah asks.

Does God want ritual? "Shall I come with burnt offerings?"

Does God want extravagant productions of sacrifice? "Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of oil?"

Does God want us to suffer? "Shall I give my firstborn?"

No. God wants us to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with Him.

That's not an easy balance to strike, is it?

Some of us are good at calling for justice. Make it right. Make 'em pay. Wrongs must go away.

Some of us are good at mercy and kindness. You're forgiven. You are loved. No sin is too great to be overcome.

But how many of us can do both justice and mercy?

I am convinced humility is the key.

"Humility is a realistic way relating to self that counters...pride and shame." (Transforming Spirituality by Shults & Sandage)

Humility keeps me from thinking too highly of myself (pride).

But it also keeps me from beating myself up (shame).

Instead, humility is anchored in my relationship to a God, who created me, bought me again, and constantly resources me.

May God help us to strike the right balance as we give Him what He asks of us:



humbly walking with Him

Grace & peace

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Grinch, The Christmas Shoes, and Silent Night

Lead out those who have eyes but are blind
who have ears but are deaf." (Isaiah 43:8)

Does this logic make sense?

- Advent is about waking up to God's arrival
- As Christians, we are to be about what Jesus did
- Jesus went around "doing good" and preaching to open up the eyes of the blind and ears of the deaf
- We are called to do good, help the blind see and the deaf hear God's invitation.

Here's one opportunity to do just that.

On Saturday, December 13 at 6PM,
the Ensemble will be presenting

"Christmas Shoes"

The evening will feature


"The Grinch"

traditional carols

and much, much more!

Plan to come and invite four or five friends! It will be a unique presentation of the Gospel message and include an invitation to God's advent into our lives. We will have invitations at the church on Sunday. Be in prayer now about whose eyes and ears God might use you to help open.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You Only Call When...

I heard the following story from a friend of mine who is a Roman Catholic priest.

"I walked into a hospital room the other day to visit a parishioner. The moment I walked through the door, the guy says, 'Look what your God has done to me!' I responded, 'You're pretty quick to blame Him for bad stuff. When is the last time you thanked Him for the good stuff!?' Then I turned around and walked out of the room!"

Rather sheepishly, my friend, the priest explained that he went back to visit the man later in the day. He apologized to the parishioner. And the parishioner apologized too. Apparently his priest was right!

I thought of that story this morning after reading the following passage from Isaiah:

Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob,
you have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel.
You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings,
nor honored me with your sacrifices. (Isaiah 43:22-23a NIV)

God begins to "grade" the Israelites, and this list includes stuff they were not doing to their own detriment. (Interesting this falls on the heels of the "new thing" God declared in v19.) These verses make it clear that God's work on their behalf is not because they have been so faithful.

But their lack of faithfulness does not cancel out God's absolute faithfulness.

As we think about God's advents into our lives, ask yourself:

- Do I regularly call on God? Not just when I'm in trouble, but when things are going well or simply to speak to Him regularly and intentionally?

- Do I "weary myself" for God? Or do I refuse to lift a finger for His work in the world?

- When is the last time I truly sacrificed my time, or my money, or my ability for His work?

- Will my day, today, honor God in every way? In any way?

May we humble ourselves so God doesn't have to.

May we make corrections in our lives rather than forcing God to.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Advent & New Things

I've been thinking about new things recently.

More specifically, God's new things in our lives.

More specifically still, God's new things in my life.

God has used a friend of mine to inspire me to dream about something more. And, not coincidentally, I have found myself in the following passage several times in the last week:

This is what the LORD says -
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick;

God gets the attention of the Hebrew people by doing a quick summary of His resume. And He gets ours too as we do a review of places He has worked in our lives.

It's as if He asks, "Remember me? I'm the One who freed you when you were slaves."

Can't you just hear the elderly Jews and those who knew their history, who had been told by mothers, fathers, grandparents, and priests:

"Yeah! We remember. You performed an awe-filled act on our behalf. That Egyptian army never had a chance with all their power and technology against us wandering, defenseless people...because YOU were on our side."

But listen to how quickly He goes onto the next point:

"Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past."

Really? Forget? Don't dwell?

But the good ol' days were so good. Why wouldn't we just sit around and dream of Christmases past and times when we were really close to God? Because...

"See, I am doing a new thing!"

Hmm. Maybe we should give this some thought.

"Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?"

Here is where God has caused me to pay close attention to my own life.

Too many times I have to answer, "No, Lord, I don't perceive or see or hear or sense or smell or taste a new thing from You...but I sure would like to."

I get the feeling God is doing "new things" all the time around you and me.
I get the feeling that I am only aware of the teeniest, tiniest fraction of them.
I get the feeling that there are other things God would let me in on if only I'd pay attention.

A little quiet time for reflection, meditation, and prayer.
A little intentional reading of scripture or Christian writers.
A little planned programming when it comes to my music or what I watch on TV.
A little forethought about the websites or blogs I'll choose to feed on.

Might it be possible that I would be better prepared to perceive His new thing?

Then He begins to describe what this "new thing" is like:

"I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise." (Isaiah 43:16-21 NIV)

God makes a way "where there seems to be no way".

God makes streams where there is nothing but dust and dryness.

God makes it possible for thirsty, parched people to gulp down as much cool water as they can take in.

And then He reminds us how special we are to Him. He tells us that we are:

"people I formed for Myself"

Wow....I wish you'd read that last line again.

"people I formed for Myself"

Read it slowly.

Read it quietly,

like a whisper.

Or go to an empty room or your car, all by yourself, and SHOUT IT OUT LOUD:


Do you realize that nothing in the world's version of Christmas can give you this sense of fulfillment, purpose, and joy? Not Black Monday. Not Cyber Monday (or whatever it is called)

Only He can bring you that "new thing" and the joy that comes along with it.

"Joy to the world, the LORD is come. Let earth receive her king!"

He comes again now, in my life...and do a new thing.

Do you perceive it?

What will you do today to get ready to receive His message and work?

Grace & peace

Monday, December 1, 2008

U-Turns, You-Turns, & I-Turns

I drove into our parking lot this morning. There was still snow on the ground from last night. I noticed my vehicle was the second one to make tracks today. The first vehicle hadn't stayed, however. It simply drove into the lot, turned around, and left.

That's not uncommon for us. Because our building is located a short distance from an exit off of I-94, many people use our lot as a turn around.

That may bother some of our congregants, but I haven't heard any. And I kind of like the symbolism.

A place where people can turn their lives around and begin to head in a new direction.

Isn't that one picture of what The Church at its best is meant to be? I think so.

And this is the season for turnarounds. I know many in our culture will look for making changes January 1 with New Year's Resolutions. And that's great.

But on the Christian calendar we are in a time period called Advent. Advent means "a coming or arrival" (Webster's Concise Dictionary).

Advent is the season when we:

1. Remember God in Christ Jesus coming to earth as a little, helpless Baby

2. Anticipate God showing up into our regular, everyday lives

3. Anticipate Christ's return to earth again at the consummation of all things

Long before Jesus was born, the Prophet Isaiah called the people to, "Prepare a pathway for the Lord's coming! Make a straight road for him!" (Isaiah 40:3 NLT)

Isaiah was trying to get people ready for an Advent.

Advent says that while God's arrival into our lives is a gift, there are preparations for us to make.

Advent says that while God is the main character, we have a part to play prior to God's arrival.

One way we play our part is making U-turns.

Or maybe a You-turn.

Of course, it is always easier to see where other people need to turn around, isn't it?

"You can a better parent."

"You should be a more supportive wife."

"You could be a more attentive husband."

"You ought to be a better friend."

But I don't think Advent is about correcting others. Our fixation upon others' faults is what Jesus refers to when he mentions getting the plank out of my own eye before I try to help you get the speck out of yours. Ouch.

No, advent is probably more about I-Turns. (To my knowledge, Apple has not coined the phrase yet. But if they do, would you be my witness that we thought of it first?)

Advent gives me a chance to ask, "What could I do to prepare for God's coming into my life?"


"What might my life look like if God really would show up in a brand new way?"

Think of the choices we have of things we could do to prepare:

- I could read the Christmas story

- I could find music or art that turns my attention to God's activity in the world

- I could seek out ways to help others who are in need

- I could attend a Christmas Eve service with candles or a Children's Pageant

- I could spend a few minutes in silent prayer and meditation

- I could set aside 10 minutes everyday between now and Christmas to anticipate God's arrival into my life and the lives of those I love

I don't want to simply remember Christmases past. I want to anticipate God's coming into our world today and participate in fresh, new things that might be in store for me if I'm simply fully present and open to them.

How 'bout you?

Grace & peace

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Do You REALLY Want to Know God's Will?

Sometimes I hear people ask, "What is God's will for my life?"

I've asked it. But I wonder...

Do we REALLY want to know what God's will is for our life?

Be careful. The answer may surprise you.

If I'm honest, sometimes I get suckered into the trap of thinking God's will is IDENTICAL to my will for my life: nice house, good kids, new car, lots of money in the bank, great health, the perfect marriage, being liked by everyone, a life of ease and luxury.

Unfortunately, if you take all of Scripture together, it becomes impossible to believe such things are always God's will for us. How did we come to believe such a ridiculous equation?

It's just not true. Not always. Maybe not even usually.

Henry Knight writes about John Wesley's view of God's will:

"Wesley...suggests that asking what is the will of God may be a misleading question; it would be better asked in each situation what will further one's improvement or growth in grace, and what would make one most useful to God?" (The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace)

Boiling it down and putting in everyday language, it reads like this: What would make me more like Jesus?

Think about that for a moment.

Is it possible that the very thing that will "improve (my) growth in grace" is not someone being nice to me, but their being thoughtless or mean to me?

Is it possible that the thing that makes me most useful to God is not having plenty of money, but being short on cash?

If I asked God what would make me most Christlike, am I ready for Him to say, "You know, I could really you when things stink in your life, when you lose your job, when you are sick, or when you're unjustly embarrassed"?

I have to confess to you that I hope He's NOT thinking that about me or any of you right now. But...

...I also have to confess that He just might be. Scripture tells us in our weakness, He is made strong.

So ask yourself again: how badly do I REALLY want to know God's will for my life.

And once I know it, am I willing to cooperate with God in it? Even if God calls for a path I wouldn't choose?

Isn't this what Jesus was saying when he prayed in the garden, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39b)

A friend of mine mentioned that a frequent theme in the Gospels is Jesus going away to pray, looking for some alone time with God. We might wonder, "What kind of prayer sessions did the Son of Man have with the Everlasting Father?"

We might get all starry-eyed thinking about the possibilities of being in on such a sacred conversation. We might be ready for goose-bump moments that make the hair on our neck stand up in a holy hush.

However, those moments might have been much more down to earth. Did you ever think, this might be it: "Not as I will, but as you will."
That might have been the recurring theme of those conversations.

God the Father says, "I need you to pour your life out and live as a servant of those around you."
Jesus replies, "I wish you'd take this path from me. But your will, not mine be done."

Maybe Christlikeness isn't as complicated as we make it. But that doesn't mean it's easy, does it?

Maybe loving God with the totality of our being and loving our neighbor as we want to be loved really is the sum of the Gospel.

I recently attended a presentation of the musical "Godspell". (Did you know "Godspell" is the archaic version of "Gospel". And did you know "Gospel" simply means "good news"?) At one point in the presentation, the Christ figure is wrestling with doing what he knows he has been called to do, or giving into demonic voices that call him to back away and take a different path.

Not so unlike the choices each of us face everyday.

Will I be kind and patient with the person who has been thoughtless and insensitive to me?
Will I exercise self-control in that area of my life that has been so out-of-control?

Someone once said, "When you come to the fork in the road, take it". I agree. Don't back away from the wrestling match or the difficult place in your life. In it you may find God's will for your life.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Art of Forgetting God

Have trouble remembering?

Maybe you forget where you put the car keys.

Maybe you forget someone's birthday or anniversary.

But how 'bout forgetting God?!

Listen to what John Wesley had to say about such a habit.

"Forgetting God was talked about by Wesley under the term 'dissipation'. The term was commonly used to describe a person 'violently attached to women, gaming, drinking; to dances, balls, races' and fox hunting. But Wesley uses the term more broadly to include 'the serious fool who forgets about God by a close attention to any worldly employment'; indeed whoever is habitually inattentive to the presence and will of their Creator is a dissipated person. It is the art of forgetting God."

Now you may be thinking, "Who's caught up thinking about dances and balls?" Tell me, does our society get fixed on parties, feeling good, and getting drunk or high?

And how 'bout gaming? Where would we be without ESPN? ESPN2? ESPNU? ESPN360? ESPNClassic? Seriously.

But it is Wesley's "broad" use of the word that gets me: forget about God by a close attention to any worldly employment.

When God tells us via Moses, "Do not worship any god except me. Do not make any idols...Do not bow down and worship idols" (Exodus 20:3ff), I think He had in mind that same thought: any worldly activities, attitudes, or things that would distract us from him.

Anything that would hold too high a place in our lives.

Anyone that would gain too much of our affection.

Read on.

"Wesley equates dissipation with ungodliness, that is, living as if there was no God...A minimal piety and common moral respectability cannot stand up to the radical claims of the living God revealed in Christ."(The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace, Henry Knight III)

Did you catch that?

forgetting God = living as if there was no God = ungodliness

You don't have to be a math major OR a theologian to know forgetting God is trouble.

That's why we hammer the ideas of:

- regularly reading your Bible

- spending consistent time in prayer

- building your schedule around church and gathering with other believers

What steps are you taking TODAY to destroy the art of forgetting God in your life?

Grace & peace

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fan the Flame

Someone believes in you.

They have invested in you.

They have walked with you as a friend.

They have walked ahead of you as an example.

You know their life is authentic.

You know their faith is real.

Such is the situation when the Apostle Paul writes these very personal, very powerful words to his friend Timothy.

For this reason
I remind you
to fan into flame
the gift of God,
which is in you
through the laying
on of my hands. (2 Tim. 1:6 NIV)

The old Apostle reminds the young pastor of others who have lived the life before him.

I have been reminded of your sincere faith
which first lived in your grandmother Lois
and in your mother Eunice
and, I am persuaded,
now lives in you also. (2 Tim. 1:5 NIV)

Who has invested in you?

What did they do to bring you into God's story?

How are you fanning God's gift into a roaring flame within your life today?

Grace & peace

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Making New Efforts

But the fruit of the Spirit is...self-control...against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

One part of self-control is motivating yourself; doing what you know needs to be done.

Often that comes in the form of making new efforts.

Trying again.

Digging in and giving a new commitment to change and growth.

You see something that isn't quite right in your life.

Either you let it go or you decide to do something about it.

"We applaud the concept in most things. We know, for instance, that even people who were married years ago have to keep working at that marriage consciously and intently every year thereafter, or the marriage will fail no matter how established it seems."

"We know that people who own businesses take inventories and evaluations every business year or the business fails."

"We too often fail to realize, however, people who say they want to find God in life have to work everyday too to bring that Presence into focus, or the Presence will elude them no matter how present it is in theory." (The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, Joan Chittister)

This Friday will be a special opportunity to give attention to bringing the Presence into focus; drawing closer to God; seeking the Spirit's reviving work in your life.

Join us at 6:30 for a potluck dinner. (You only need to bring food to share. The Church will provide table settings and drinks.)

Pastor Bob Moulding will be sharing about bringing God's presence into focus in his own life, particularly through difficult circumstances.

Hope to see you then.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A New Thing

...this is what the LORD says - he who created you...he who formed you...
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.

Read it again.

Read it s l o w l y.

And read it out loud, if you can. (Even at the volume of a whisper). But make your ears hear your voice.

Go ahead.

I'll wait.

Pretty amazing, huh? The God who formed YOU. The One who redeemed YOUR life. He is calling for YOU right now.

This is an intensely personal relationship from an intensely personal God who speaks an intensely personal message. Here it is:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

Interesting, isn't it? God doesn't promise that we won't go through water and fire. But God does promise that we don't have to be alone. We won't be forgotten. And we don't have to be unprotected.

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

Do you like new things?

Sometimes I do.

Sometimes new things are faster than old things.
Sometimes they are more efficient than old things.
Sometimes new things are bright and shiny and fun.


...sometimes it can be painful to take on a new thing.

Because it means letting go of old things.

Think about these "new" things:

- Dropping your child off at their first day of school
- Going through a divorce
- Letting go of bitterness and anger
- Making a trip to the funeral home for someone who died too young

Taking on a "new thing" means giving up things we'd come accustomed to.
It means letting go of our usual ways of coping.
It means letting go of comfortable habits.
It means letting go of hurts.
It means letting go of attitudes
that have become a part of us.

That's the problem, really, isn't it? Letting go of a part of who we are?

And those things don't leave so easily, do they?

When God asks, "Do you not perceive the new thing?" I have two thoughts.

We may not see new things because we don't "have eyes to see or ears to hear". We just plain miss it. Much like we miss a turn or an exit. We didn't do it intentionally. We must "missed" it.

However, other times we don't see the possibility. We don't hear what could be. We're overwhelmed by what "it" would take to move in a new direction or be obedient to God's new thing. We see "it". But we don't see what "it" could become.

But listen to what He is talking about doing:

I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:1-3, 18-19 NIV)

That's pretty amazing, isn't it? A God who makes a way where there is no way; a path where there has been none. One who makes streams of water spring up in the middle of the desert; One who knows we're thirsty and there appears to be no possibility of quenching that thirst for miles and miles.

He knows.

And He's able to help.

If only we'll let Him.

Today, my prayer is that God would give you:

- Vision and hearing to be aware of the new thing He wants to do in your life

- A willingness to obey and do what God is calling you to do

Grace & peace

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Broken Things

But the fruit of the Spirit is...self-control...against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

"Things broken must be mended;
Things running away with us must be curbed;
Things awry in us must be set straight.
What we may have to face in a culture in which self-control is too often seen as self-destructive, is that none of that happens by accident. It requires discipline - conscious, honest, continuing some way that is honest and real." (The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, Joan Chittister)

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Jungle Doctor

Are you familiar with this quote?

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
(Matthew 16:24b-25, NIV)

You might have heard some of those words before. You may have even read them before.

It's easy for those of us who deal in the currency of Scripture to become numb to them, however. So I was hearing them again with new ears this morning as I read the writing of Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

Born in 1875, Dr. Schweitzer was an organist, an organ-builder, philosopher, and theologian. But he sensed God's calling on his life to do something else.

So he went to medical school. And once completed, he moved to equatorial Africa and became a medical missionary.

Friends objected. Family scoffed. Why would such a gifted, bright individual waste his life in such a ridiculous way?

Dr. Schweitzer writes about his own life to that point:

"It struck me as inconceivable that I should be allowed to live such a happy life while I saw so many people around me struggling with sorrow and suffering. One brilliant summer morning in 1896, as I awoke, the thought came to me that I must not accept this good fortune as a matter of course, but must give something in return. While outside the birds sang and I reflected that until I was thirty, I could consider myself justified in devoting myself to scholarship and the arts, but after that I would devote myself directly to serving humanity. I had already tried many times to find the meaning that lay hidden in the words of Jesus: 'Whoever would save his life shall lose it, and whoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel's shall save it.' Now I had found the answer." (From Out of My Life and Thought, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998)

That one sentence vibrates within me like a semi-truck going down my street rattles the windows in my house. "I must not accept this good fortune as a matter of course, but must give something in return."

It reminds me of why I do what I do. The reason I have agreed to many of my tasks and roles is because I am convinced there is something bigger than me for which to give my life. There is Someone who has generously given me my life and the only reasonable thing I can do is give it back in the way I live it each day. I am convinced Dr. Schweitzer and Jesus are right: such living, such "losing" of your life, is the path to "finding" life that overflows with meaning and joy.

Such a sense of satisfaction and gratitude can affect the way we choose our occupation and the course we choose for our education. It can direct the way we interact with the community. It will shape the organizations for which we volunteer our time. It will color the way we deal with family and other relationships. It will dictate to us how we spend our time, talents, money. Such an attitude begins to create a world in which we want to live. What we have is no longer simply for my enjoyment; it is meant to be shared and given away.

Imagine what our community would look like if we each became determined to "give something in return." It would transform our churches, our schools, our Chambers of Commerce, our shops, our offices, our factories, our homes, our marriages, and our children. My prayer for us is that we would each find such meaning, such a Reason for a sense of living out and giving away our lives.

Grace & peace

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Last night I was talking with our teens about what jobs they wanted to do when they grow up.
I asked them rank a list of nine characteristics of jobs they might want or want to avoid. They included things like:

- Making lots of $

- Being your own boss

- Becoming famous

- Making a difference in the world

- Doing manual labor

- Finding a job I like

- Working with others

We talked about choosing your job. It was interesting to hear the various tasks people were thinking about. Some included:

- Farming

- Pediatric medicine

- Veterinarian medicine

- Coast Guard rescue

It was a great time to hear about their hopes and dreams. I heard them thinking through how they might want to spend their life. Pretty powerful stuff.

But today I read something that reminded me of this fact: sometimes we don't choose. Sometimes we are chosen.

Think about the word vocation. Webster's New Concise Dictionary gives two definitions for vocation:

2. occupation

1. calling

Think about that second definition for a moment. Is it possible that things you are doing in your life, things you enjoy doing, aren't simply a job (boring, monotonous, insignificant), but are actually a calling? Could it be the things that excite us most may be places where we are responding to something or Someone outside of ourselves?

If we are called in our vocation, then there is A Voice who vocalizes; One who calls us.

Think about Moses (Exodus 3:4). God called to him from within the bush.

Think about God speaking to Noah to get ready for the flood (Genesis 6). A little bit like Evan Almighty, with a few modifications.

Or think about my personal favorite, Samuel. God calls the boy, Samuel, three times before Eli (the priest and spiritual leader who was supposed to know this was The Voice), finally figures out what is going on. (For the whole story, read 1 Samuel 3.)

I am convinced God's calling is not just for a few. It's not just for the pastor or the priest. It's not just for huge tasks like leading a nation out of slavery or becoming President.

I am convinced the Voice calls us to many tasks, both great and small, short-term and long-term, some seemingly insignificant or others with obvious significance.

So my question is this: have you ever stopped to reflect upon what you do, why you do it, and why it makes a difference? Have you ever asked yourself if you chose your vocation or if Someone was calling you to choose that path?

If you're really willing to ask and wait quietly for an answer, there's no telling what the response might be.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Why So Downcast?

Why so downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you...

By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me -
a prayer to the God of my life.

Why are you so downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:5ff)

That's a great Psalm to commit to memory.

Don't we all have times when our soul is downcast?

When we can't help but look down.
When we're only seeing the negative.
When we can take a sunny, cloudless day, and still find something to complain about?

Did you notice the beginning of this Psalm? The Psalmist begins with familiar words,

"As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God."

Are you like me?

Do you ever get confused between the gifts God has given and the God Who gives the gifts?

Sometimes I "pant" for things.

Sometimes I "pant" for gifts that used to be in my life but are no longer there.

Sometimes I think what I need most are the little blessings I've gotten used to living with.

But the Psalmist is determined NOT to let that happen.

"I pant for YOU, God" he reminds himself.

I need to do that too, from time to time. Remind myself Who I pant for.

How 'bout you?

Grace & peace

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Landslide

Have you voted yet today?

I will take advantage of a relatively open morning schedule and hope to go when the line is shorter.

I was thinking: I'm a bit of a political geek. I will spend a significant amount of my evening watching election returns. I'll watch some states go red and others go blue. I'll here the phrases, "Too close to call" or "We're ready to call this race..."

I'll pay attention to the various proposals and excitedly watch to see what passes and what goes down in defeat. I anticipate some results will make me happy. Some won't.

But I stumbled across some reminders that put things in perspective. The Psalmist writes:

My heart is stirred by a noble theme (it's not healthcare or tax breaks)

as I recite my verses for the king (when is the last time you read God's Word back to Him?)

Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever (no worries about term limits here!)

a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom (a leader who is all He appears to be...AND SO MUCH MORE!)

I will perpetuate your memory through all generations;
therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever (victory is guaranteed!) (Psalm 45:1, 6, 17 NIV)

How will you "perpetuate" God's name today?

Sometimes the early election results look good. Sometimes they look devastating. But God's promise is sure: He has no equal and He WILL reign forever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, amen.

No polls needed. No fear of filibuster (though it seems like it, doesn't it?).

So cast your vote today:

- prayerfully

- and with the confidence that our God reigns.

May Your Kingdom come. May Your will be done.

Grace & peace

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election: What Christians Are NOT Saying

nI'm writing the day before the 2008 Election. Tomorrow we will elect national officials (a new president and vice president), state officials, county officials, and local officials. We will vote on several proposals (such as stem cell research, medical marijuana, and a millage regarding our county community college.)

We have been inundated with ads. Some partially true. Some mostly false. We dread picking up the phone or the mail because we know "they" will get at us in every conceivable form.

In those ads we've heard a variety of reasons to vote for this person or not vote for that person. We've been told how this proposal will devastate this area of our life or that proposal will be the "game changer" (one of the pundits favorite phrases this election cycle).

Running in the circles I do, I hear a lot from Christians about how to vote. In some cases we refer to the what the Bible says about a certain topic. In other cases, we infer what would be the proper vote to cast for the issues on the ballot.

That's fine. It's appropriate. Our democracy needs vigorous debate and expects us to vote our conscience. Certainly our religious teachings and experiences help shape us, for better or worse. I trust that people of faith who vote do so prayerfully and thoughtfully.

But there are parts of Holy Writ that I don't hear the faithful quoting. Parts that are relevant not only on Election Eve, but every day, every year. Here's one:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, interecession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

I'm curious. How many of us regularly make prayers and thanksgiving for our current President or Governor? (Notice, one is a Republican and one is a Democrat. And Scripture instructs Christians to be praying for both; for "all those in authority".)

I wonder. How many of us are willing to make that pledge, right now? Will you, regardless of how tomorrow goes, pray for our President and Vice-President on a regular basis? (Notice, I did not say pray "against" them.)

Now I can hear some of you already. "That was fine back then. But have you seen our leaders today?" Right. I forgot. Jesus and Paul had a great relationship with their government, right?

No. They were passionate about living the life of godliness, holiness, and self-sacrifice. If only we were as passionate about living lives that look like Jesus as we are about getting our people elected. If only we were passionate each of the next four years, not once every four years.

I recently heard from a pastor of another congregation who said something like this: "I wish my people were as concerned about the people who live around them as they were who gets elected and which proposals would be passed. I wish I would receive as many e-mails from my parishoners about helping their neighbor whose in a faltering marriage, working with someone facing eviction from their home, or their friend whose battling addiction as I do about how to vote on November 4."

Ain't it the truth?

Am I saying we shouldn't be passionate about candidates and issues? No. But if you're not willing to obey scripture that obviously instructs us to pray for our leaders, don't expect anyone to take you seriously about your candidate or your proposal.

And if you're not too keen on promising to pray for one of the presidential tickets, consider what the Apostle Paul writes to young pastor Titus.

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (Titus 3:1, NIV)

Did you catch that? "Be subject...and...obedient". Really? It gets worse.

"(B)e considerate and show true humility." Ugh.

Now I get a good laugh from political pundits and satirists like you. But can we also recognize that there is a fine line between good-natured humor and disrespectful slander? There is a difference between honest, respectful disagreement and toxic, name-calling animosity.

Sometimes in the Church we like to be prophetic about particular issues. "Thus saith the Lord."
There are times we should do that. But let us "be the Church" in season and out of season. Let us live out scripture (be subject to authorities, peaceable and considerate, praying for all those in authority), when we're in power and when we're out.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What Causes Fights & Quarrels

What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?
You want something but don't get it.
You kill and covet but you cannot have what you want.
You quarrel and fight.
You do not have, because you do not ask God.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
(James 4:1-3, NIV italics added)

Does this hit you like a splash of cold water in the face?

It would be bad enough if James was writing to non-believers.

But he's writing to The Church.

May we allow the Spirit to check our attitude and motives.

May we beg Him to remove anything He finds in us that is anti-Christ, opposite of Jesus.

May we follow His word in verses 7:

Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
Wash your hands, you sinners,
and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Grieve, mourn and wail...
Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up. (James 4:7ff)

Grace & peace
What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?
You want something but don't get it.
You kill and covet but you cannot have what you want.
You quarrel and fight.
You do not have, because you do not ask God.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
(James 4:1-3, NIV italics added)

Does this hit you like a splash of cold water in the face?

It would be bad enough if James was writing to non-believers.

But he's writing to The Church.

May we allow the Spirit to check our attitude and motives.

May we beg Him to remove anything He finds in us that is anti-Christ, opposite of Jesus.

May we follow His word in verses 7:

Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
Wash your hands, you sinners,
and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Grieve, mourn and wail...
Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up. (James 4:7ff)

Grace & peace

Monday, October 27, 2008

1 in 6 Billion

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,
but rather, think of yourself with sober judgment
in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Romans 12:3, NIV)

I read it today and it struck me.
It is probably not a new thought.
But I wanted to share it with you.

Paraphrasing Dr. John Bowling, "You are the only person in the universe. All of the other people are someone else."

Now this not might strike you as profound, but think about it for a moment.

If I am 6 in a billion, isn't it absurd to live my life SOLELY focused on ME?

If I go through today thinking only of myself, think of all the others I have ignored.

May God help you today to "think of yourself with sober judgment".

Not thinking too much...

or too little....

of myself.

But in the proper perspective of a created being for whom Jesus Christ died.

Grace & Peace

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Hand Up & Hinds' Feet

Ever feel like you are facing an insurmountable task?

Maybe it is debt that has gotten out of control.

Maybe it is a habit that has begun to master your life.

Maybe it is relationship that seems irreparable.

I came across an account of a someone who was literally facing an obstacle he couldn't get over. In Making the Climb: What a Novice Climber Learned About Life on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Dr. John C. Bowling writes the following as he is several days into his journey.

"(T)he long climb straight up turns out to be even more difficult that I had imagined. As I start the climb, I tell myself, 'If they' (the group of people he was climbing with) 'can do it, I can do it.' But about a third up the face of the wall, I can barely take one step after the next, pulling myself upward, stretching to get a handhold,and leaning into the face of the rock to keep my balance. 'Just take the next step,' I keep telling myself."

He continues, "I do my best to forget about the height of the wall and concentrate on what is just before me. Often I need both hands to pull myself where I can get a narrow foothold. I dare not look down."

"Freddie, (one of the guides) calls to me from just above, 'How are you doing John?'
'Not well, this is really tough.'
'Take a minute to catch your breath. You can make it.'"

Bowling goes onto describe climbing through "thick vegetation" and "sharp volcanic edges". He writes, "Each time this happens, my strength dissipates all the more. Finally, I stop. I just cannot go on."

About that time another climber passes him and asks if he is OK. Bowling responds, "I don't think I can make it."

It is that moment the guide begins to take charge. "Give me your pack."

Bowling writes, "That hits me hard. For to give my pack to someone else to carry is to admit my weakness in a very open and obvious way. Part of the code of the climb is that everyone must carry his or her own weight; yet here I am unable to go on. But after a few moments I slowly slip off my backpack and Freddie slings it over his shoulder. He must now carry his pack and mine. He pats me on the arm as he says quietly, 'It's all right, John, we'll do this together. Just put your foot right here.' With his encouragement giving me strength, I take a step, then another, and another. Without the weight of the pack, climbing seems a little easier.'"

Eventually, John and Freddie make it to the flat where the rest of the party is waiting. Dr. John Bowling, college president writes, "They had to wait on me. My whole life is about leadership, but now I can barely follow. My ego now aches more than my legs and shoulders. However no one is smug as I struggle to find a place to sit down. It has been hard for everyone."

As I read those words, I think of what the Psalmist wrote:

He maketh my feet like hinds' feet and setteth me upon high places. (Psalm 18:33, KJV)

If you're not used to King James' English, a modern translation makes it easier to understand:

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights (NIV).

Notice several things about this story:

First, the journey is hard for everyone at some point. Some swim well. Others climb well. Eventually we will all hit a rough patch. As often as we say it and much as we know it to be true, we still get surprised when the tough times come. But a well-phrased reminder can help us find our bearings again.

Second, as someone once said, "The help helps." When we come to that difficult place, being open to others who are experienced or strong or simply helpful can make our journey at best, enjoyable, and at worst, tolerable. May you find friends for the journey and be open to their hand when they offer it.

Third, there is an Unseen Guide who offers to enable us to scale the face of the mountain in order for us to stand on the heights. May you allow The Guide to take charge, not only of the difficult places, but throughout the journey. He knows the way.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Why Does God Think of Me?

In his book "Making the Climb: Thoughts of a Novice Climber on Mt. Kilimanjaro", Dr. John Bowling talks about his first night on the climb. After a first day of strenuous physical activity, he pauses at the camp. As he looks up he writes that it was if he had noticed the stars for the first time at that very moment. Then, he says, his mind went to the passage of scripture he had memorized for his epic journey.

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise
because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the sea.
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8, NIV)

You may not be under the stars in Africa right now. But may you be struck with the sense of awe and wonder when you think about this fact: The Creator of the Universe cares for you!

Grace & Peace

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Children of the Burning Hearts

They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened up the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32)

"To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul's paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart." (A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God)

Would you describe your relationship with God as one of "the burning heart"?

If not, what are you willing to do about it?

Are you willing to ask God and keep asking until He brings about such a condition in your life?

Grace & peace

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What Sin Feels Like

I was in a meeting yesterday and heard two descriptions of people battling ailments and disease.

The first person, a friend of mine, had been stung by a wasp...3 times!!

One of the stings occurred near her eye. (An interesting note, my friend is a beekeeper. And though she has been stung by bees, she has never had the type of reaction to bee stings as she did with the wasp.)

She said at first she couldn't see what the foreign object was and she simply tried to brush it off her face. But as she clued into what was happening, she noticed the wasp.

"It was angry!" she told us. It stung her two more times before she was able to finally kill it.

And then she said this:

"I could feel the venom spreading through my face. My eye started to swell. My lips started to go numb. My throat began to close."

Thankfully my friend made the wise choice to go to a neighbor's house and ask for a ride to the emergency room of the Chelsea Hospital. (In another interesting, even Providential note, the neighbor, who wasn't planning on being home that day, changed her plans and was available to help my friend.)

The second story I heard was different but equally problematic. I heard a mother share about her daughter's acquiring Hepatitis C. This mother has now become a fanatical fundraiser to help find a cure for this currently, uncurable disease.

She shared that a person who acquires Hepatitis can take up to 20 years to show the symptoms.

Think about it. Something that happens when you are 6 (like a blood transfusion), may not show up till you have graduated from high school AND college, become married, and started a family!

Or, something that happened to you as as a young person in your early 20s might not reveal itself until 2 decades have past and you're in your 40s.

As different as these situations are, they BOTH have the same potential deadly results.

I was reading Romans 6 this morning. If 1 Corinthians 13 is "The Love Chapter", Romans 6 could be called "The Sin Chapter". "Sin" is mentioned seventeen times.

And in the middle of the chapter we read this:

The death (Christ) died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives for God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (Romans 6:10-12, NIV)

Sometimes we feel the sin rising in us like my friend's venom. We can "feel it spreading". Sometimes that fast-acting symptom comes from lust.

Or anger.

Or bitterness.

Or gossip.

Or greed.

And the moment we begin to give into it, we feel something in our life get pulled out of joint.

At that moment, we have a choice.

1. Continue on and let the venom keep spreading.

2. Fall on our knees and ask God to help us stop the action or attitude or the words. Change directions. Get to God's ER room immediately. (See Joseph's response in Genesis 39:12 when confronted with temptation. He ran!)

Other times it takes a little while for the effects or symptoms of our sin to become obvious to us. But our choices are the same.

1. Ignore it, hope it will go away

2. Get to the Great Physician ASAP.

Is there a place in your life today that symptoms are making themselves known?

Don't ignore it.

May we have the courage and the passion and the sense to ask for Help to deal with it right away.

Grace & peace

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Americans' Idols

A friend of mine recently shared that she was in a group where the topic of The 10 Commandments came up. Another person brought a challenge, "I bet no one here can come up with all 10!"

My friend took and shot and didn't do too badly. She named seven of the ten. (Check out Exodus 20:1-17 for yourself and see the whole list.)

This morning as I was reading them, verse 4 halted me. It reads,

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything...

If you're like me, you're wondering how such statements apply today. And our initial thought might scream, "Nobody around here makes idols. Nobody I know does any smelting of gold, silver, or other precious ores. Nobody carves the image of a deity with the intent of living their life for that hand-crafted god. Nobody around here makes idols."

But the next verse reads,

You shall not bow down to them or worship them...

That got me thinking.

While we don't "bow down" physically to hardly anything or anyone, we do bow to lots of things and ideas.

- We bow down to the idea of being famous (What other culture could make a cliché out of "fifteen minutes of fame"?)

- We bow down to pay for the new vehicle or new clothes. And we feel the pain every time we make a sacrifice (known as a payment) to our credit card company.

- We bow down to the promise of having our wants met immediately. (How many cell phone calls and text messages really are emergencies that just can't wait? Yet how often are we perturbed that "they aren't answering!"?)

- We sacrifice our lives to things that will keep pain or difficulty far away from us.

- We bow down to being entertained. We sacrifice time with friends or family so we can sit in front of a screen and watch people who've never heard of us and don't care at all about us, catch a touchdown or pretend in a movie, while we neglect spouses or children or parents who want a little time with us.

The other morning my wife and I sat down and talked. Spontaneously.

Shouldn't be a big deal. But I felt stabbed with the conviction that too often there is an electronic device on somewhere that has my attention instead of the person most important in all the world to me. Too often I'm running here or there putting out fires or working on projects, rather than looking into the eyes of one individual I've committed to spend the rest of my life with. Sitting down to talk for no real reason ought to be the rule, not the exception.

Yeah, I'm afraid we have our idols as much as any people who've ever lived. We're just not as good at seeing them as other people are. Or maybe we're less honest about it.

We look for gods that will help us escape boredom or allow us to avoid dealing with the real issues of our lives: lack of self-control, below-the-surface-anger, past disappointments, broken relationships.

In his book Living Simply through the Day, Tilden Edwards writes, "Maybe TV will help settle us down - or the newspaper - or some work - or sex - or a big snack. Less seems to gnaw at us then. Life stays put for a moment. We feel in control again - we're 'doing something' - anything."

He goes on to tell us that while the "aftereffect of the doing leaves us less anxious" he also tells us those sorts of outlets leave us "more drugged. We've exchanged a gnawing anxiety for a dulled sensibility."

Our "idols and gods" don't really provide the solutions for which we were looking.

Where do we look for freedom from our idols?

The opening words of Exodus 20 were a reminder to the Hebrew people. They used to be slaves to a foreign king. They were now liberated to serve God.

I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

May we remember that we were once slaves but God freed us.

May we remember that we are always tempted to go back to serving other gods.

May we remember that there is One who speaks living, liberating words into our lives if we will "have an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying".

May we ask Him to free us from our idols and gods.

Grace & peace

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurricane Ike & the Epistle of James

I received the following from Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. It describes difficult circumstances for our brothers and sisters who have been in the path of Hurricane Ike.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

Grace & peace

Hurricane Ike Raking Cuba, Leaves Trail of Destruction
At this moment, Hurricane Ike is raking across Cuba. This category-3 storm has challenged forecasters earlier in the week as it was predicted to make a turn to the north and directly hit South Florida. However, what may seem good news for the U.S. is bad news for the people of the Caribbean. After smashing into the Turks and Caicos islands this weekend, Ike swept across the southeastern Bahama islands.

The storm system also dumped its deadly rains on an already devastated Haiti, where it is being blamed for the deaths of an additional 61 people there (in addition to the hundreds who died as a result of Hanna). Then hurricane then continued west Sunday night, straight into Cuba. The Miami Herald reports, “Hurricane Ike continued on its destructive journey Monday morning, ripping through Cuba. Winds, a massive storm surge and heavy rains have destroyed hundreds of homes and toppled trees in the island nation. … There, it could possibly cause up to 20 inches of rain in some areas, flash floods and mudslides. Ike could also cause a storm surge of up to 12 feet, the National Hurricane Center advised."

Today is the day to pray and act on behalf of the people in the Caribbean.Follow-up on Gustav, Hanna and Ike Haiti- Bill Dawson, French Field Director, reports, "Hurricane Gustav dumped major amounts of rain on the South, affecting three districts heavily. The Southeast, South (Jacmel) and South Districts [we have 11 Nazarene districts in Haiti] all received major amounts of rain and wind. Heavy crop damage, loss of gardens and animals were sustained. A few days later Hanna struck from the north, passing north of the Dominican Republic coast and then stalling and turning south and tarrying a couple of days, then moving north again. Hanna's intensity caused additional storm cells to develop over the already saturated southern portion of the island. Hanna also put huge amounts of rainfall onto the already water-soaked island.

Now, major flooding has washed out roadways and bridges making it impossible for our workers to even go northward to check on our people. Gonaive has lost some 500 people, only found after the flood water is receding a bit. It is a really sad situation. The district superintendent on the North Central District reports some of our people have been on a mountainside trying to wait the flood and rain out without food and water for four days now. We are trying to get emergency funds to him to assist our Nazarene family in Gonaive."

"On behalf of the 108,000 Nazarenes in Haiti I want to ask you to call your people across the districts in prayer for the family of Nazarenes in Haiti. These storms have affected some 8 percent of our worldwide membership. Eight percent of our family is waiting and praying that someone will remember them in this hour of need. I cannot even imagine what that is going to mean to our people." Bahamas - Rev. Antoine St. Louis of Nassau, himself in the path of the storm, called for prayer and assistance for the Palmetto Point Church of the Nazarene on a different Bahama island.

Palmetto Point, on the island of Eleuthera, was hit hard. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are enduring the storm at this moment. We won't know for a few days the extent of the damage in the Bahamas.Dominican Republic - Devastating loss of crops, livestock and property have hurt the people of the Dominican Republic. Click here to view and download a video that shows the aftermath.

Paquita Bido de Balbuena reports, "The Parsonage in Lecheria, Central district (Pastor Jose Luis) was damaged when a tree fell on it yesterday. The DR South district superintendent lost his plantain crops for the third year in a row due to the heavy rains. There are lots of roof damages in churches and parsonages. There is still much rain and damages, and due to the devastation many people have lost their source of income. The people are deeply affected emotionally and are very afraid when more rain in announced.”

Cuba - Because the storm is occurring now, news from Nazarenes is not yet available. Please check back at for regular updates.Resources - The Caribbean Communications Office wants to offer a video from this week. Click here to view and download this video. Please feel free to use it in your services and to promote prayer for Caribbean Nazarenes. is the official website for news and updates about Nazarenes affected by this round of storms. You can help: Pray for the safety of our Nazarene brothers and sisters, as well as people the local churches can help through this trial.
Persons and churches wishing to contribute to the relief efforts can mark their checks

“International Hurricane Relief ACM2006” and send them to Global Treasury Services, 17001 Prairie Star Pkwy, Lenexa, KS 66220. In Canada, checks should be made payable and sent to the Church of the Nazarene Canada, 20 Regan Road, Unit 9, Brampton, Ontario L7A 1C3.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wasting Away or Renewed Day by Day?

Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

I've been thinking about "wasting away" recently. The one-car accident that put one Chelsea youth in the hospital and took the life of another is one ingredient.. I noticed too high a percentage of people filing into Cole Funeral Chapel yesterday were under the age of 25.

Getting older is another ingredient. I had several friends wag their fingers at me and warn, "Once you hit 40, physical problems start popping up." Metabolism slows. Sight troubles often make their appearance. Joints begin to ache. Injuries take longer to recover from.

We can't help "wasting away".

We try and slow it. We eat right. We exercise regularly. We get the amount of sleep we need. We reduce the level of stress. We drink plenty of water.

We may waste away slower, but we're still "wasting away".

But what about the other part of the equation?

"(Y)et inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

That's the "power" of God at work in these "jars of clay" (v7).

Think about it.

Renewed strength to complete long, difficult tasks.
Renewed vision for a dream that doesn't come quickly.
Renewed faith for a life that is floundering or floating along.
Renewed passion for a family that needs a fresh jolt of the Spirit.
Renewed sense of purpose for a person that feels unwanted or unneeded.

God longs to renew us. Let's ask Him to help us cooperate with Him today. Let's ask Him to give our church a longing for that renewal.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Music Man & Born Again

Born again.

The phrase brings all kinds of images to mind. I'm guessing both Christians and non-Christians alike have strong reactions to the phrase.

Some non-Christians (or non-church folk) may react violently against the words. Possibly because they have come in contact with people who wore the "born again" label with great pride, but lived in a way that was anything but Christlike.

Some followers of Christ cling to the phrase because it describes an awakening or breakthrough in their life. A promise of what can be for everyone. Many can only compare event to becoming a brand new person.

Where does "born again" come from?

Like many of the great truths in life, there's a story behind it. This story occurs in the third chapter of the Gospel of John.

A man comes to see Jesus. The man's name is Nicodemus. Nicodemus, which means "conqueror of the people", is a member of the Pharisees, a religious and political party in New Testament times.

According to commentators, the Pharisees were known for "insisting that the law of God be observed as the scribes interpreted it". They were also known for "their special commitment to keeping the laws of tithing and ritual purity".

Sounds like a real fun group, right? They've developed a reputation as being "holier than thou".

So this "conqueror of the people" comes to see night. He appears to be inquiring about what makes Jesus tick.

Jesus' response is: "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

Nicodemus finds that phrase as strange as many of us do. "How can I be born when I am old?"

Good question. Ever wonder how your life can be knew when you're half-way through it?

Ever wonder how you can be reborn when you're closer to death than birth?

Ever long for life to be radically different?

Is this even possible?

Is it too late?

Jesus says we can't "see the kingdom" without it. The Kingdom, as I understand it, is anywhere that God is in charge; anywhere life is being lived as He intended it to be lived. The places where the Spirit is at work are places where the Kingdom is breaking in.

Think about it. Our poets, artists, and theologians have known there must be something more "out there".

Reminds me of the musical, "The Music Man". In one scene, after a long battle between the upstanding Marian the Librarian, and the scamming traveling salesman "Professor" Harold Hill, they fall in love. They sing that there were "birds" and "love all around". But "I never heard them at all...till there was you."

I recently read an author who mentioned we don't need to go somewhere we've never been before in order to see things new things. We only need new eyes.

Is it possible that new possibilities are right in front of our eyes? That a new song is playing all around our ears?

If there is something in you that wonders about all of this, my hope is that you pursue it with all your being until you find what (or Who) it is you are looking for.

Grace & peace

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mindfulness of God

"Mindfulness of God arises slowly, a thought at a time. Suddenly, we are there." (Man's Quest for God, by Abraham Joshua Heschel)

That may not always be true. The Bible gives some pictures of people who are JOLTED by an immediate awareness of the Immanent God. (Saul on the Road to Damascus and Moses at the burning bush are two that come to mind.)

But much of human experience and Scripture suggest "mindfulness of God" often does "arise slowly" and need continual nurturing on our part as we cooperate with the Spirit.

In Psalm 139 the Psalmist reminds himself (and us):

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down...
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. (139:1-3, 8 NIV)

He asks "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" (v7)

Of course the implied answer is "NOWHERE!"

Yesterday we talked about the commitment our church wants to make to the growth of people in our congregation. At the end of the service, several people made commitments to their own growth and to the growth of those within their sphere of influence.

If you were one of those, I want to encourage you to make today the first day of fulfilling your commitment. You were in my prayers this morning. I asked God to send His Spirit to you and help you carry out your promise to Him.

May God continually bombard us with thoughts that make us "mindful" of Him.

May we nurture those mindful thoughts through faithfully setting aside time for windows and doors where we welcome God into our lives. Windows like

- reading scripture
- spending time in prayer
- getting together with other believers
- giving ourselves to God in times of worship
- blocking out all noise and distractions in times of silence
- filling our ears and hearts with music that draws us to Him
- giving up for God things that we value through fasting
- journaling our thoughts and impressions

These are a few of the "means of grace" that saints who have come before us have found to be valuable as they draw closer to Him.

Let us commit this Fall to times and acts that help us be "mindful of God".

Grace & peace

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why Wait?

"I know Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he." (John 4:25-26)

Waiting can be OK.

We want our kids to wait to cross the street until they have looked both ways and determined it is clear.

We want our cars to wait to move until everyone is buckled in.

We want people to wait to get face to face with us until they have brushed their teeth in the morning or popped that after dinner breath mint into their mouth to cover up the garlic and onion.

Sometimes waiting is OK.

.But sometimes waiting is procrastinating. Putting off until later what would be better done immediately.

Jesus met a woman at the well of Sychar in Samaria. He started a conversation with her that would change her life and the lives of many in that little town.

Several times in the conversation she was wanting to put off a real, meaningful, life-changing interaction with him. She had already tried to point to the differences between her people (the Samaritans) and Jesus' people (the Jews) as a reason not to find agreement. "We worship in different places," she proptested. Jesus knocks down the protest.

Then in verse 25 she throws up her last attempt to put off a decision. "I'll wait for the Messiah. We'll know for sure when he arrives on the scene." Seems reasonable. Except....Jesus is the One.

"I who speak to you am he."

We read the passage, shake our heads, chuckle to ourselves, and think, "Silly gal. He was right there in front of you and you wanted to wait."

However, we often leave the story and think to ourselves, "If only God were that real and close right now."
At my workplace. At my school. In my family. In my relationships. In the midst of my difficulty.

And all the while the Spirit of God whispers to us, "I who speak to you am he."

I wonder...

What great work does God want to begin today in or around us?

Where is He trying to WAKE US UP to the fact that He is already miraculously on the move?

May we have our eyes opened to His movement and our ears unstopped to His voice today.

May we confess, "You ARE here. I AM ready to respond."

Grace & peace

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What's the Missing Word?

What word is missing in the verses below?

But whatever was to my profit I now consider ___________ for the sake of Christ.
What is more, I consider everything a __________ compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have ___________ all things.
(Philippians 3:7-8a, NIV)

See the answer below.

Over the weekend the news coverage was all about Hurricane Gustav and how New Orleans would fair in its path. Many people wondered if once they returned home everything they owned might be lost.

During that same weekend, we were repairing the drywall in our basement. We had covered up a crack in one of the walls. We hoped not to lose any more items, such as carpet or furniture in the future.

Have you ever owned an automobile that was in a wreck? Sometimes when the car is beyond repair, when the cost of fixing it is more than the value of the vehicle, the insurance company considers it a total loss.

We will do nearly anything to keep from losing things, losing face, losing our dignity, losing a game, or losing items we've paid for and worked hard to acquire.

So how countercultural is the passage above, where the Apostle Paul is telling us that he considers EVERYTHING a loss for the sake of being in relationship with Jesus. Nothing else matters. Not his comfort. Not his safety. Not what would make life pleasant for him.

He intentionally loses everything!

His words are a wake-up call to those of us looking for the me-first, easy road of Christian faith. Ultimately, this passage tells us, everything in my life needs to be laid down, set aside, lost for His sake.

Can't you hear His call? "Nothing else matters. Lose your life for my sake and you'll save it. Try to save it and you'll lose it."

I'm mulling that one over today because the words are so challenging and difficult.

I hope you give some thought to that one too.

ANSWER: The word is "loss" (the first two times and "lost" in the third space).

Grace & peace

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Church: Visiting a Foreign Land

I think I'm weird. Last week we were on vacation. And on Sunday morning, I do what I always do: I went to church.

I'm a pastor and going to church is something I do every week. So maybe you'd think I would NOT go to church when I'm on vacation. But I did.

We were vacationing out of town. We were visiting a lakeside city, a few feet off of one of the great lakes. The sunrises were beautiful. The waves were awe-inspiring. The whole family fell in love with the location, and we're not what I would describe as "beach people". The time away and the specific place were just perfect for us.

And when Sunday rolled around, I got up and went to two different churches.

The first church started at 8:30 a.m. (I told you I'm weird.) And apparently I've infected the next generation.

One of my teenage daughters had been asking about a particular denomination and what their worship was like. So she got up with me. (The irony is not lost on me. A teenager I have trouble getting up each and every Sunday morning to go to our church is willing, [eager?] to get up and go with me to a strange one on vacation!)

As I walked out of my room that morning, my daughter looks at my jeans and says, "That's what you're wearing?!" I assured her that the dress she chose, and the jeans I was wearing would both be within the continuum of acceptable where we were going. (I was pretty sure I was right. But not 100%.)

And from that moment on, I got a whole new perspective on how scary it can be to go somewhere you're not sure you belong, and a whole new appreciation for how much weekly attenders take for granted, that visitors may find new or strange.

We arrived a few minutes late. The parking lot was packed. And it was raining. Do we wimp out and head home? No. We're going to do this.

We park, dash into the church, trying to avoid the rain drops.

We arrive at the back of the "big room" (we call it a sanctuary in our tradition), and peer through the windows asking ourselves, "Is there any room for us at the back...preferably on an aisle?"

I think there may be room for the 2 of us to squeeze in, next to that family.

So we did. The 10-year-old at the end of the line seemed a little uncomfortable, but he accommodated us.

From there it was a strange combination of standing up and sitting down (we had to watch everyone else to know what to do), finding the right page in the song book, listening as the group recited words we didn't know, and occasionally hitting a few familiar words that we were able to join in on (The Lord's Prayer was comforting).

One particular song started out with a familiar musical phrase that we knew. But just about the time we started to sing along, the melody everyone else was singing changed.

It reminds me of when we're in the family van, singing a song to the radio, and the person up front decides to turn off the volume and catch one or two other family members still singing along at the top of their lungs, without the music.

After we left, my daughter had lots of questions and lots of opinions. The scripture story about Jesus walking on the water was something we could identify with. (I will never forget the combination of hearing the story and looking out the window at Lake Huron.)

We would have left without talking to anyone or anyone talking to us except for the informality of the formal moment in the service when people "passed the peace" (something we don't normally do in our tradition).

We headed back to our home base for the week, picked up the rest of the family, and headed off to church number two for the morning.

It was a denomination different from ours too.

Again the parking lot was packed. But this time we arrived early enough to find a seat comfortably. (Although I must admit I kept asking myself, "Did we take anyone's seat? Does another family normally sit here?")

The most uncomfortable moment came when the person up front asked visitors to stand up and introduce themselves, a daunting task in front of 200 people you don't know. (We had hoped to sneak in, unnoticed, worship, and head out covertly.) As other visitors popped up and down, we sat nervously, hoping they wouldn't point to us and say, "And who are you?!"

They didn't. And we never offered.

Finally the moment passed, we were able to join in worship and go on like we were part of the group.

It was a different ritual or liturgy. No passing the peace or Lord's Prayer. But the songs were familiar. The style of the sermon was comforting to my teenagers. When I asked what they liked about the service "the pastor was funny" seemed to rank high on their list.

I came home to my church with a new appreciation for those of you who don't go to church regularly, but are thinking about it.

So if you don't normally attend church and aren't sure what to expect if you did darken the door, I invite you to visit us. I'm not saying you'll know everything that happens in advance or be familiar with it all ahead of time. But you will find people who are sympathetic to the risk you're taking. I know. I've been there. Twice in one day.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Jars of Clay

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)

I've been thinking about believers I know and work with. I've been thinking about how imperfect we are ("jars of clay") and yet how perfectly God is able to use us anyway.
I'm thinking of an older couple who is providing snacks for kids this week at Vacation Bible School, even though they don't have any children or grandchildren at our church.

I'm thinking of a grandmother who spent time in the kitchen at VBS last night, even though she didn't have to, just because "there's always extra work to do".

I'm thinking of a business professional who spent all day yesterday at work, then came to church to teach kids the story of creation, and did it with passion.

I'm thinking of a woman whose children are grown, but who made sure children from two other families were able to be at church last night. She went and brought them to VBS.

The list can go on and on.

People who are cooking and providing food, at their own expense, even though they don't have kids in the group.

People who are giving time and energy they could be spending a thousand other ways, because they know the importance of investing in kids for the Kingdom's sake.

They are living, breathing, walking, talking examples to me of God's "jars of clay".

They're ordinary.

They're regular, run-of-the-mill, salt-of-the-earth people.

But they have something spectacular going on in and around them.

And I thank God for them.

Grace & peace

Monday, July 28, 2008

God When I'm Tired

...and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down... (John 4:6)

I hate being tired. I remember as a kid, sitting in the back seat of automobiles my parents owned. We'd be traveling, which I didn't mind.

But occasionally we'd travel at night which I HATED. And it wasn't the traveling. It was being tired while traveling.

Nighttime was for sleeping. And sleeping was supposed to happen in a BED, not the backseat of a Ford Pinto.

Being tired changes me, if I let it. I place a high priority on a good night's sleep. I hate being tired.

And I wonder, "Can anything good happen when we're bone-tired?"

Of course.

I've never run a marathon, but I can only imagine how exhilarating and exhausting it must be. When you cross the finish line, the mix of life and death, celebration and mourning must be unique.

I've never given birth, but I've watched my wife over twenty-seven months of her life, share her energy and her body with a little, growing person inside. Talk about tiring.

I have been a part of tiring work experiences. Lifting and moving bundles of back-breaking shingles on a blazing, sticky roof, comes to mind. So does digging a trench or a ditch.

I know how cranky I can become when the blood, bruises, sunburn and sweat increase, in opposite proportions to my patience, joy, and wisdom. Ever say or do dumb things when you're tired?

We can snap with a cruel word, a thoughtless act, or a mean-spirited attitude.

We're only human, after all, right?

How many times have you said, "He's just tired" or "She's short on sleep" to excuse some bad behavior?

Mondays are usually a low-energy day for pastors. A lot of my friends take Monday off. It makes sense. The best of Sundays can leave you drained. And the worst...well, leave you feeling like a squashed bug on a windshield, expected to get up and keep moving with a happy face.

So it was with interest that the phrase ...and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down... caught my attention.

Jesus? Tired?

Yes. There are actually a number of occasions in the Bible where he is tired and he tries to get away from the crowds.

(Usually there is someone in a particularly acute situation. They track him down, cut short his time off, and bring him back to help with their need.)

In this instance, a tired Jesus sits down next to a well...the water hose of his day.

You could get water for your camels or other animals from the well.

You could get water to cook.

You could get water to clean.

But here on his journey, Jesus might have been thinking about sitting down and getting something to drink. Who could blame him?

However, the account doesn't end with Jesus filling up his water bottle and moving along. He wasn't only thinking about his own thirst and how tired he was.

Instead, when a woman comes to the well, Jesus has one of the most amazing conversations recorded in scripture. He ignores all kinds of cultural rules (including gender and ethnic), and leaves a town and a woman with a questionable past, changed forever. "He told me everything I've ever done!" the woman exclaims.

She runs back to town and brings all who are willing, to come and meet Jesus. They urge him to stay for awhile and he does stay for a couple of days.

The disciples, who, like all of us, have more questions than answers, need a quick tutorial. Jesus gives it to them. And years later, John is still talking about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

All this comes after ...Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down...

The account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness ends with, "...the devil...left him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13)."

I don't know when those times occured. I don't know if those times might have been when he was particularly tired, like this time. I don't know if this was one of those times he was tempted.

Tempted to just get something to drink and then move on. Tempted to ignore her, tempted to not ask about her story, tempted to leave well enough alone. Was he? I don't know.

But I do know that ...Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down...and amazing things took place. A conversation. A changed life. A changed village. An enlightened group of disciples.

And I know when I get tired, that might be the exact moment God wants to do something amazing through me.

May we be in tune with the Spirit and not let our weariness cause us to miss out on God's unique opportunities.