Thursday, December 10, 2009

Grace & Truth

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,
(and we beheld his glory,
the glory of the only begotten of the Father,)
full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 (KJV)

It is a difficult combination to find.

Some people easily speak the truth.

"That's an ugly tie."

"I hate that music."

"That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard."

It may be true. But it sure isn't gracious.

Others display grace and generously give it to all who are around them.

I think of 1 Corinthians 13:7. It says love "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

I know a few folks like that. "Defenders of the world" a friend of mine calls them. And the world could use more of them.

They are always willing to give the benefit of the doubt to someone else.

Always willing to go the second mile when the rest of us are done.

Always have something kind to say about the person everyone else is ready to trash.

They are full of grace.

The first set of people often speak the truth. The second set of people extend grace.

But it is the rare person who is able to do both.

John describes Jesus, the Word of God, as being "full of grace and truth".

Not just a little grace. FULL of grace. Not mostly true. Full of truth. In fact, later in his Gospel, John will quote Jesus who said, "I am the truth."

Jesus is grace incarnate. Jesus is truth in the flesh.

Most of us tend to lean more toward one than the other. We may have an easy time speaking the truth, as we understand it. But grace is nowhere to be found.

Some of us are very comfortable extending grace but stepping up to speak the necessary, difficult word is...well, difficult for us, even though it may be necessary.

Only when we are "full" of the One who was full of grace and truth, can we hope to express that perfect, Christ-like balance. This season seems like a great time to seek the Spirit's work and presence in our lives. To become filled with the One who is grace and truth.

When shopping "to do" lists become overwhelming, when noise and distractions give us a migraine, when sitting in a meeting with people who completely disagree with us raises our blood pressure and lowers our verbal self-control, that is when we most need to be "full of grace and truth". Becoming walking, talking expressions of grace and truth. That's what this season needs. What a great gift we could give to the people in our lives.

Grace (and truth) and peace to you

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Life You Save...

John Wesley was known to tell people that he gave, not simply so others would be saved, but so that he himself would not be lost! What did he mean by that?

Check out Luke 16:19-31. It is the story often referred to as "The Rich Man and Lazarus".

The story goes like this. There was a rich man who had it all, food and clothing beyond what he could have ever needed. (Notice the way "luxury" is defined? Not by all the things you and I consider to be required. Simply having food and clothing meant he was wealthy.)

And there was a poor man, a beggar, named Lazarus. (Apparently he didn't have food or much in the way of clothing to call his own.)

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. (What a way to go! God's messengers came and personally escorted the poor beggar into eternity!)

The rich man also died and was buried. Not so good, in comparison. No angels. No Abraham. No such luck. As a matter of fact, the next line reads, "In hell (Hades), where he was in torment..." Ugh. Not so good to be the rich man, I guess.

You may be wondering, "What was the difference maker for each of them? What sent the rich man to torment while the beggar went to Abraham's side?"

...Abraham replied, 'Son, remember in your lifetime you received good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.'

We have been given good things, not simply to enjoy them or hoard them but to share them with others and to bless others; to honor God with our wealth and use it the way He chooses for it to be used.

THIS COMING SUNDAY we will be receiving an offering for Nazarene World Missions. It is our opportunity to reach around the world and touch some of the beggars and those who are in need with the good things you have received: the Good News and financial blessings (medical care, food & clothing).

Every penny that the church is given this Sunday for missions will go out of our church and be sent to those who support missionaries around the world in over 160 countries. Not one cent of money given for missions will stay here.

Will you join me and my family as we plan to set aside something beyond our normal tithe? One of the lives you save may be your own.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Don't Forget to Remember

I wonder if other parents fight the same fights with their kids that we fight with ours. I can only assume you have the same conversations in your home that we have in ours.

Do you ever tell your kids to remember to do something? And when you tell them that, do they ever respond, "Yeah. I know"? And after they have told you that they know, do they fail to do it anyway?!

Maddening, isn't it?

As every parent knows, sometimes "Remember" doesn't simply mean to not forget or to know you've heard it before. Sometimes "remember" means to act. Pick up your shoes. Put your dishes into the dishwasher. Hang up your clothes. Do your homework. "Yeah, I know."

One of my favorite passages in all of the Bible is in Exodus 2:24. The Hebrew people have been enslaved. Generation after generation is born into captivity. They must have begun to feel like this was their lot in life forever. They cried out to God. And nothing seems to be happening. He was like the teen ager: They told Him, but he wasn't responding.

Amidst years and years of inactivity, one little, seemingly harmless verse shows up.

God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

"Big deal!"

You ask, "Who cares if God simply remembers?!"

Oh, but that isn't the end. The remembering means God is getting ready to act. Things are about to change.

And God isn't the only one who is called to remember. In the Book of Ecclesiastes we read...

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say, "I find no pleasure in them".
Remember him - before the silver cord is severed,
or the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
or the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
(Ecclesiastes 12:1, 6-7)

What does all that mean? Read what one scholar writes about this passage:

"Solomon urged people to live responsibly before death comes. He refers to two common figures of light ('golden lamp') and water (see Ps. 36:8-9 for a similar use of those two figures). The dissolution of the body is suggested by light being extinguished: the silver cord holding a golden bowl (in which the light burns) snaps and the bowl is broken. Death is also referred to by water being unavailable: the pitcher which holds water is shattered and the wheel by which it is drawn from the well is broken." (Donald Glenn)

Someday your life will end. Don't wait till the silver cord breaks and the bowl shatters. Remember your Creator now. Learn who your Creator is. Discover what your Creator is like. Begin to reflect your Creator's character in the world. Begin to live out the destiny for which you were born. Don't forget to remember.

One day the spirit will return to God who gave it. I want to plan ahead and be ready for the day I'll give an account for this life I've been given. How 'bout you?

Grace & peace

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Being Called

Sometimes I like being called. I like it when several of you "called" me last month either by phone, e-mail, Facebook, or card to say "happy birthday".

Sometimes I'd prefer not to be called. Like when telemarketers or political machines "call" to sell me or try and persuade me.

But did you know if you are part of the Church you have been called? The New Testament word we translate as "church" actually means "called out"? (More about that on Sunday!)

So we are probably right to think of "The Church" as a congregation (those people who have congregated or gathered together). And we are probably right to think of the "The Church" as an assembly of people (individuals who have been assembled or put together for a particular purpose).

But we probably miss the boat when we think of "The Church" primarily as a building or the place individuals go to fulfill a particular religious function.

We don't get the picture of brick and mortar places where Jesus (who instructs an offended person to "tell it to The Church") or Paul talk about "The Church" (see 1 Cor. 11:18 as an example).

Our "calling" is to something and SomeONE higher than a location or an edifice.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who CALLED you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Join me this Sunday as we unpack some of what it means to be the "Called out" ones. I trust you will have your sense of calling and belonging to the Church elevated and your passion and dedication increased.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Stuff for My Mystery Bag

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,and through him to reconcile to himself all things,whether things on earth or things in heaven,by making peace through his blood,shed on a cross (Colossians 1:19-20 NIV).
I'll be the first to admit it. There are just some things I don't understand in life.

- Children who are abused.

- Politicians who abuse the trust they're given by constituents.

- Why one person dies early and another gets to live to a ripe old age.

- People who get disproportionately angry and end up hurting themselves because of their rage.

Just to name a few. (I've got a lot more and you probably do too.)

A friend of mine once told me that his mom took such oddities in her life and mentally dumped them into what she called her "Mystery Bag". "These are the things and the people I don't understand and figure I just never will."

I decided I need to get me one of those "mystery bags". I have people and situations that just don't make sense to me and after living for a little more than four decades, some of them will probably continue to puzzle me.

But as a person of faith, on days when I'm overwhelmed by those "mysteries" that can frustrate me, wound me, or leave me angry, I have to take a step back and be reminded that somehow, somewhere, in some way, God is reconciling all things to himself.

"All" is one of those funny words that sometimes seems to throw everything off. Think about it.

I can say some people are over seven feet tall and you'd probably agree with me.
But if I said, "All people are over seven feet tall" you'd be quick to point out such a statement is ludicrous.

Likewise, I could say "God works some things for our good" and that would be easy to believe. But if I said, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and have been called, according to His purpose" that would be a little more difficult for us to stomach at times, right?

So there is this audacious statement: God is reconciling all things to himself.

All things? Really? I am tempted to ask God, "Do you know what I know? Do you STILL want to say 'all things'?" (Silly, huh? But be honest, there are times and there are days you wonder the same thing.)

I decided I needed a better understanding of the word "reconcile" so I looked it up. Webster's Dictionary says that "to reconcile" is to "Restore to a state of harmony after a break in relations."

Broken. A break. Maybe now we're getting somewhere.

It is certainly easy for me to slap the "broken" label on some of the things (and some of the people) I put in my mystery bag.

The economy: broken.

Angry people and foreclosed houses: broken.

Hopes of families who have lost their jobs: broken.

People who look for help in the wrong places, wrong things, and wrong people: broken.

People who seem to always see the worst, believe the worst, and react in the worst possible way: broken, broken, broken.

So for now it's like we're looking through a dark glass or window. We know things aren't quite right. But we trust, we hope, we believe that the Gospel is truly God's Good News for us. That God is reconciling all things to himself. Not just "some". Not even "most". All.

May it be so. And may you and I look at those difficult people and difficult situations a little differently today.

Grace & peace

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thank You! Yes! And Amen!

A big THANK YOU to all of you for the many kind words and generous acts to us in October.

Pastor Appreciation Month and my 42nd birthday give you excuses this month for the wonderful way you treat us all year long. My family and I greatly appreciate it!

I have told my children several times to notice the way you have treated us and that they should "go and do likewise" to their pastors as they become adults and attend churches of their own. Your faithfulness to Christ and those who seek to serve you will become replicated in the lives of our children. Keep up the great example!!

I've continued to mull over the idea of the word "amen" (which is also occasionally translated "verily" or "truly" in other contexts). One of the passages we looked at Sun. included 2 Cor. 1:20:

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.

God's "Yes" in Christ turns into a resounding "Amen" by us when we are obedient to the Spirit's nodding, prodding, prompting, and behooving (to quote Steven Curtis Chapman).

One song we sometimes sing was mentioned to me by Rene Eiseman after the sermon. It goes like this,

I'll say Yes! Lord, Yes!
To Your will and to Your way
I'll say Yes! Lord, Yes!
I will trust you and obey
When your Spirit speaks to me
With my whole heart I'll agree
And my answer will be
Yes! Lord, Yes!

Are you like me? I sometimes I say and sing better than I live.

Sometimes my response is less of a full-throated YES! and more of a half-hearted "maybe".

God asks:

Are you willing to turn the other cheek? I'm surprised at the question and respond, "I suppose".

Are you willing to bless those who curse you? "Sometimes."

Are you denying yourself, taking up your cross and following me? "I'm working on it."

It is at times like this I need to run back to scripture and see what God's promises are to you and me.

In the first letter to the church at Corinth we read that the all-surpassing treasure of the knowledge and presence of God has been deposited, not into superhuman, superholy, superstars.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (1 Co. 4:7)

The power of God's promises, God's YES! at work in my sorry, pitiful, little life. It's my only hope today. How 'bout you?

Grace & peace

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Time is it Right Now?

WhatWhat time is it right now?

Don't look at your watch or your computer. They won't give you the answer we're looking for. Read on:

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace...

He has made everything beautiful in its time." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11)

Probably nearly every one would agree with the premise. But the key is not in agreeing with the concept as much as it is in understanding what time it is.

Think about it.

Your car won't start. Is it time to buy a new one or fix the old one?

Your child hasn't done what needs to be done. Time to correct a mistake or stand up to disobedience?

You see an accident beginning to take place on the highway in front of you. Is it time to hit the brake or the gas?

You have some extra cash. Is it time to make that big purchase or build up the savings account?

Things aren't going well in some area of your personal life (church, marriage, exercise, etc.). Do you let it ride or chart a different course?

1 Chronicles 12 gives a list of key people in the life of King David, warriors who came to his aid. In verse 32 there is an interesting description of the men of Isaachar. We read that they,

"understood the times and knew what Israel should do..."

What a gift to have!

I've sat in enough meetings and been on enough committees to know someone like that is invaluable. When a big decision, often a crisis, is being faced, there can be a flurry of ideas and suggestions.

It can feel like you're on the interstate, far from home, and there is a blizzard. You can't see ANYTHING just ahead of you. You're ready to pull over. The meeting is out of control. One person says "hang on" and another says "let go" and the now you're totally confused.

But at that exact moment, a voice of reason, a seasoned, well-respected member, the person everyone has learned look to in moments just like these, says just the right word, heads begin to nod in agreement, and the group comes to a consensus before that individual has finished speaking.

Why? What happened?

They knew what time it was.

They knew when it was time to be quiet.
They knew when it was time to speak.
And they knew what we needed to do at this moment.

Some people think there is only 1 season; that it is ALWAYS time to speak.

Or ALWAYS time to laugh.

Or ALWAYS time to give up.

Or ALWAYS time for war.

But that isn't the wise way to live, is it? We need other tools in our toolbox. We can't always use the sledghammer. Or a hug. We need the right tool for the right job. We need the right response in the right season.

I'm trying to learn that lesson.

And this passage in Ecclesiastes makes us a promise:

He has made everything beautiful in its time.

Be patient. Be listening to The Voice.

Be in relationship with The Spirit.

Be still and know HE is God.

May we allow God to show us what time it is today.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

She's Having the Wrong Baby!

"She's Having the Wrong Baby"

That was the headline from the Detroit Free Press dated Thursday, September 24, 2009. The story goes on to describe a mix-up at a fertility clinic in which one metro Detroit woman's embryos were mistakenly used to impregnate an Ohio woman. Maybe you've seen the story.

I thought of another story which has some parallels. But this story has a different cast.

The birthing mother, in the second story, is The Church. The babies are those of us who call ourselves Christians.

The Apostle Paul writes, "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you..." (Galatians 4:19 NIV). But instead of being a mother carrying around this potential "bundle of joy", Paul is in the morning-sickness-phase. "I know what you can become, but right now you make me more than a little ill!"

Do our spiritual mentors, leaders and those to whom we are accountable ever think this about us? (I'm sure people have thought that about me more than once.)

In the Free Press story there seems to be a pretty good chance the baby birthed will look nothing like the birthing mother. I wonder if occasionally those of us who call ourselves "Christians" look nothing like the One after whom we are named. (Certainly there have been times in history when the Church has not lived up to its name.)

In another passage Paul tells us "the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time" (Romans 8:22 NIV). Things aren't right in the world, in our community, in our family, in my life. We are hurting and longing for Someone to come and set them right. We long for all of "creation (to be) liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God".

Certainly the two families and the fertility clinic have unwillingly become examples of one part of creation that is groaning through human error. But they are just one small part of a much larger world. You and I could easily list any number of other places where this world groans, where life is broken and bloodied because of choices, both intentional and unintentional. Times and places where people have been careless, stupid, selfish.

I recently saw an episode of Ken Burns' latest documentary, "National Parks: America's Best Idea." They were discussing a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt, known as someone who appreciated God's creation in a variety of ways and through a number of activities.

After seeing the Grand Canyon, he warned people who lived in the area the best thing we as a country could was to, "Leave it alone. People can only deface it." And then the President set off on a crusade to begin to mark off various parts of the country that ran the risk of being defaced, commercialized, and scarred beyond recognition.

What a great idea: preserving places unlike anywhere else on earth. Planning on our country's well-being, not only for a few years, but for generations.

Can you imagine if there were no Grand Canyon to take your children to see? Or if Yellowstone National Park had become commercialized and Old Faithful had been named for some sponsor? (Go ahead, you can think of a clever company or two.)

For better or worse we are on this planet and we live with each other. And we will leave our mark, one way or another, on the places, systems, structures and yes, people with whom we live.

If you are or have previously been part of "The Church", whatever branch or brand of Christianity you might be or have been, then this next sentence is for you.

The children of God, God's sons and daughters, have not yet been fully "revealed".

So if you look at your own life and feel frustration at how far you are from who God has called you to be, take heart! Maybe you are still in gestation. Don't give up. Christ is still being formed in you!

Or if you have experienced a situation where those The Church claimed were the sons and daughters of God bore no resemblance to the Christ whose name they shared, be patient. Maybe she is having the wrong baby!

The update on the Free Press story was that the impregnated mother-to-be had decided she would carry the baby full term, give birth to the baby, and then give the baby away to the other family!

I wonder if there isn't a lesson there for all of us pastors and priests, deacons and deaconesses, chaplains, board members, teachers, preachers and leaders, about how we, "The Church," ought to view those to whom and with whom, we minister.

Much like that birthing mother, we are called to treat them with respect. We are called to cherish and protect them. Then we are called to give them away because they were never truly ours. We were birthing this baby for Someone else.

What might The Church look like if you and I purposed in our hearts to live life that way? I don't know about you, but I'd sure like to find out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

People with No Religious Affiliation Increasing

The following is from today's USA Today. I have a few observations at the bottom if you're interested.

Grace & peace


By Erich Schlegel, for USA TODAY
On a typical Sunday morning, Diane and Stefan Mueller don't go to church they often walk their dogs and take their son Kai to play in nearby parks.

Join the conversation on religion, spirituality and ethics here.
And catch up on interesting news with USA TODAY'sCathy Lynn Grossman.

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
Americans who don't identify with any religion are now 15% of the USA, but trends in a new study shows they could one day surpass the nation's largest denominations — including Catholics, now 24% of the nation.

American Nones: Profile of the No Religion Population, to be released today by Trinity College, finds this faith-free group already includes nearly 19% of U.S. men and 12% of women. Of these, 35% say they were Catholic at age 12.

FAITH & REASON: What's your religious path: Any, many, one or none?
"Will a day come when the Nones are on top? We can't predict for sure," says lead researcher Barry Kosmin.
But if Nones, now 22% of all adults ages 18 to 29, continue to gain among young adults, to draw more people "switching out" from denominations and to replace more religious older people, researchers forecast one in five Americans will be Nones in 20 years.
"Trends clearly favor this," Kosmin says. But he also notes, "There could be a Great Awakening (massive Protestant revival) or immigration may bring in more Catholic believers."
Kosmin and Ariela Keysar of Trinity College, Hartford, Conn., directed three editions of the American Religious Identification Survey over 18 years. The 2008 ARIS (pdf), based on a sampling of 54,000 U.S. adults, also burrowed in for a closer look at 1,106 Nones, who answered extra questions about their beliefs and behaviors and views on God.

ARIS: Most religious groups have lost ground in USA
'NONES': Now 15% of population

The report finds:
•Not all Nones are alike. Half (51%) still believe in God or a higher power.
•Nones also are the only major U. S. faith group that's majority male. Even when girls grow up with unbelieving parents, they're more likely to find a faith as adults than their brothers.
"Women are also less skeptical than men and less drawn to irreligious and anti-religious views. They are more likely to reject a secular upbringing," Kosmin says.
"There is a lot of 'churning' going on but Nones gain much more from switching (people leaving religion) than from natural growth (children emulating unbelieving parents)," he says.
•The percentage of atheist Nones — who say there's no such thing as God — hasn't budged in years.
"It's not as though dozens of people at the Methodist Church read (atheist Richard) Dawkins and suddenly decided God doesn't exist," says Kosmin.
"There are so many misconceptions about who the Nones are. They're not New Age searchers or spiritual or even hardened atheists," says Kosmin.
"They're a stew of agnostics, deists and rationalists. They sound more like Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine. Their very interesting enlightenment approach is like the Founding Fathers' kind: Skeptical about organized religion and clerics while still holding to an idea of God."
One quirky fact: 33% of Nones claim Irish ancestry, although the U.S. Census says only 10% of the USA does.

"We have no idea why," he says. "Maybe you could ask (Fox newscaster) Bill O'Reilly.
In some way, researchers found Nones are very much like the overall, largely religious, U.S. population. There's no statistical difference on education, or income or marital status. They are just as likely to be divorced as anybody else.

"Nones are not a fringe group anymore and are now part of Middle America. They're present in every socio-demographic group, Keysar concludes in their report.

Some observations:

HARVEST - In John 4:35 Jesus says, "I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." (We spoke briefly about this verse on Sunday as we discussed the "Days of Elijah".) Initially the headline may not seem like there are a lot of people who are ready to be introduced to Jesus. But...

ATHESISTS - the article said the number of people who don't believe in God has NOT increased in years. People may be leaving large denominations, but they are NOT deciding in mass numbers that they don't believe in God at all. Which means...

SEEKERS - there are a larger number of people in the U.S. than ever who aren't really sure WHAT they believe or are wondering WHO they can trust.

CONFUSED - Many are confused about where Truth can be found. (Interested in joining the next group meeting for the Truth Project from our church on Sun. PM's? See Terri Kalmbach.)

FAITHFUL & PASSIONATE - More than ever the Spirit is seeking men and women, boys and girls, who will be faithful to Him and passionate for people who don't know God.

Will you recommit yourself today to be such a person and to live that sort of life?

Grace & peace

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Days of Elijah & a Mexican Fiesta

Are you familiar with the song we sing at church by that name?

It is pretty popular.

The tune is catchy.

The beat is powerful.

And the words...

This coming Sunday we'll sing the song (TWICE)

...and we'll be looking at some of the words.

They come from a variety of passages in scripture and paint some very vivid pictures of God's work.

One of those pictures is from Ezekiel 37 (The Valley of Dry Bones). God tells the prophet to "prophesy to the bones". Seems crazy, doesn't it? To speak to a pile of bones and expect them to respond!?

You might as well talk to your toaster or your lawn mower.

But Ezekiel obeys. God moves. And things change.

What might God have in store for us this weekend if we obey?

Then following the service there will be a time of fellowship as we enjoy a Mexican Fiesta.

Hope you can join us. Maybe even invite a friend to lunch. And watch as God moves.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Good and Faithful

In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus describes the Kingdom of heaven as being like "a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them."

The property, or "talents" were handed out "according to (the) ability" of the servants.

I used to think of the application of this parable as challenging me as to how I use my talents, time, and money. And I think that is all appropriate. But I wonder...

What other gifts has God entrusted to me and how am I incorporating them into my life?

Think about it.

The Church is a gift God has given Christians. Do I make an effort to intentionally, regularly meet with other Christians? Or do I careless and easily neglect relationship with others?

Scripture has been entrusted to me. Have I made a commitment to get into God's word and get God's word into me? Do I meditate on it or do I do more of a "drive-thru" diet?

Prayer is something the Master has left with us. If my spiritual health depended upon how often God and I talk, how extensive those conversations are, what would my level of health be?

I recently read the following, "The penalty of not praying is the loss of one's capacity to pray!" (Edward J. Farrell Prayer is a Hunger).

But isn't the "penalty" not only a loss of "capacity" but a loss of "desire"? "I haven't been and I don't want to!"

I wonder if the same can't be said for other "gifts" God has given us, and other "disciplines" to which God has called us.

"I haven't been with other believers; I'm not really interested in meeting with them and talking about God."

"I haven't read my Bible. I don't see what the benefit would be for me to do so."

"I haven't been in the habit of praying. And I don't see any real interest on my part to change soon."

Later in the parable the Master tells two of the servants, "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things."

Is it possible if we are not faithful in the areas where God's Spirit is challenging us, we shouldn't expect any new insight or blessing in other areas?

The Master calls those who were stewards, "Good and faithful". I want to be faithful with the gifts God has given me. I want to be filled with faith and show myself faithful to God.

As I heard another recently say, "I would like to think God has learned He can trust me with certain things." I do too. How 'bout you? Will God be able to call you "good and faithful"?

Grace & peace

Monday, May 18, 2009

Who You Rely Upon

Each morning when I start up my computer I see it.

The website that I go to has it built into its template.

This page has the up-to-date headlines from around the world.

And one part of that page always lists the current status of the stock market; whether it is up or down; and what the current level is.

The down days seem to have outnumbered the up days a lot recently.

This morning I was waiting in the orthodontist's office. I saw a Time magazine. The cover spoke of how the economy had changed the outlook for jobs over the next decade. Inside the magazine was an article that gave statistics and details to the story. The article included a map of the U.S. and broke down what job growth in each state was anticipated to be in the near future.

If you lived in Texas, Nevada, Florida, or Georgia, the numbers weren't comparatively bad.

If you lived in Michigan or Ohio, well...maybe you want to consider moving to Texas, Nevada, Florida, or Georgia.

Things have been good in the past.

Not so good currently.

What will the future hold?

Isaiah prophesies about a time to come, after God's judgment has been poured out on God's people.

In that day the remnant of Israel,
the survivors of the house of Jacob,
will no longer rely on him
who struck them down
but will rely on the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 10:20 NIV)

Isaiah's people had known good days back when the David was king.

But the kingdom broke up.

Then the people would become slaves.

What would the future hold?

Notice two things:

1.) The people would no longer rely on him who struck them down. Why would you rely upon anything that would turn on you? (Anyone thinking of your 401(k)? How 'bout that company that had been in existence for years and once provided you health care or a steady paycheck?)

Things we've depended upon for years are now being seen for what they are...temporary.

Is it possible that in this economy, we may have a unique opportunity to turn away from things that have proven themselves unworthy of our trust?

2.) Isaiah offers hope but he is not talking about all of Israel. He is only speaking about the remnant. A small group, a minority of the nation, will rely upon the LORD.

That can be disheartening, can't it? Wouldn't you think EVERYONE would turn and trust?!

But no. The prophet is clear. Twice in a couple of verses he tells us the remnant will rely upon the Living God. The remnant will return.

If you are feeling like a small minority in your faith, don't be discouraged! You're in good company.

May you look to the Holy One to provide daily bread in your life.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Unjust Laws

"Obey the law" we tell our children.

We believe that most laws are for our good. And they probably are.

But not always. Sometimes laws do more to mess people up than to help them.

"Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,"

What types of laws might be "unjust"?

What would "oppressive decrees" do?

...deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-2 NIV)

This passage in Isaiah is a pronouncement of God's judgment against God's people, Israel.

Do you think God has judgment to pronounce against God's people today, for similar types of sins?

Have we valued "the law" of the land above "the rights of the poor"?

"What rights?" we might wonder.

Well, it seems like food, shelter, and clothing are pretty basic. Everyone should have access to those things.

And in our culture we expect medical care and education to be pretty basic.

Have our laws withheld justice from the oppressed? Have we failed to make sure the least and the last are protected?

I have to confess nearly everyone I know would be outraged if they saw widows becoming prey or orphans being robbed. Most of the people I know are pretty decent folks and they'd step in if they noticed something so heinous happening.

But if you're like me, it seems more likely that we might not even be aware of those who suffer from an unjust world. It is easy to insulate ourselves from "the poor" and "the oppressed" even if we don't mean to.

We may be totally oblivious to the ways our laws in the city, county, state, or nation are unjust.

I was recently with a group of my peers from around southeastern Michigan. We were looking at the unemployment rates for twenty or so counties in the state. At the time (several months ago), the percentage of adults looking for work but unable to find it was double-digits for every county...except one... Washtenaw County, where most of us live.

I'm guessing most of the numbers have gone up since then. However, compared to nearly everyone else in the state, we were doing pretty well.

I was reminded again of how privileged we are, even in this economy. Even though our community has not been untouched by the difficult financial times.

Layoffs, shrinking 401K's, and foreclosures have seemed to wake us up to those types of needs.

Maybe we'll begin to wake up, not only to our own needs, but to the needs of those around us.

Maybe such circumstances will help sensitize us to the less fortunate who live close by.

Maybe we can train our eyes to see where our society has allowed some to be robbed or others to become prey.

Maybe we can step up, speak up, and protect those who need it most.

I hope so.

Grace & peace

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Your Situation & God's ANSWER

Your Situation & GOD'S ANSWER:

This was sent to me the other day. It's something that we might want to refer to every once in awhile.

Grace & peace

You say: 'It's impossible'
God says: All things are possible
(Luke 18:27)

You say: 'I'm too tired'
God says: I will give you rest
(Matthew 11:28-30)

You say: 'Nobody really loves me'
God says: I love you
(John 3:1 6 & John 3:34 )

You say: 'I can't go on'
God says: My grace is sufficient
(II Corinthians 12:9 & Psalm 91:15)

You say: 'I can't figure things out'
God says: I will direct your steps
(Proverbs 3:5- 6)

You say: 'I can't do it'
God says: You can do all things
( Phil ippians 4:13)

You say: 'I'm not able'
God says: I am able
(II Corinthians 9:8)

You say: 'It's not worth it'
God says: It will be worth it
(Roman 8:28 )

You say: 'I can't forgive my self'
God says: I Forgive you
(I John 1:9 & Romans 8:1)

You say: 'I can't manage'
God says: I will supply all your needs
( Phil ippians 4:19)

You say: 'I'm afraid'
God says: I have not given you a spirit of fear
(II Timothy 1:7)

You say: 'I'm always worried and frustrated'
God says: Cast all your cares on ME
(I Peter 5:7)

You say: 'I'm not smart enough'
God says: I give you wisdom
(I Corinthians 1:30)

You say: 'I feel all alone'
God says: I will never leave you or forsake you
(Hebrews 13:5)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

6 Things God Hates

There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,

hands that shed innocent blood,

a heart that devises wicked schemes,

feet that are quick to rush into evil,

a false witness who pours out lies,

and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV)

Any of those surprise you?

Probably not the lying or the false witness.

You'd probably agree the shedding of innocent blood is a problem.

No one likes the idea of people rushing to do evil or devising wickedness.

But haughty eyes (the KJV reads "a proud look")?

Is that really as bad as lying?

Apparently it is on God's scales of justice.

The word means "to exalt self" or to be "too high or lofty".

That gives insight into Psalm 131:1 which reads,

My heart is not proud, O LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.

Sometimes we concern ourselves with matters we ought to leave to God.

I have a friend of mine who is fond of saying, "That is above my pay grade."

"Those issues are beyond me" is what he is saying.

I think we need to remind ourselves of that once in awhile.

And we need to always have that attitude, don't we?

The church has not always been know for its humility, have we?

Think about it. If this is an attitude GOD HATES, (that's what we read in Proverbs 6, right?), then it is an attitude we need to TRADE IN!! Get rid of. Or run from as fast as we can.

Do a check on yourself as you go through the day today:

- Do I consider myself better, smarter, or more deserving than others?

- How might that affect the way I am able to see God in that person's life? (Remember, "when you've done it to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you've done it unto me"!)

May God help us to be in the process of being shaped into the image of Christ in our attitudes.

Grace & peace

Monday, May 4, 2009

Guard Your Heart

Do you remember this song?

Oh be careful little eyes what you see
Oh be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love
Oh be careful little eyes what you see

It was a song I learned as a little child. It may have been in Sunday School. It might have been in our home. But I learned the words long ago.

And I continue to be reminded of the truth.

I thought of that song this morning as I read Proverbs 5:23

Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life.

Out of the heart flow decisions,





our destiny.

For example, suppose you have a choice of how to use a couple of hours. You can either spend time on your favorite hobby (hunting, golf, surfing the net, a night out with the guys/or girls having fun)


you could spend that time with your child, your parent, your spouse, or someone else who would appreciate your attention.

What do you choose?

Here's another one. You're by yourself and your going to listen to some music or watch a movie or surf the web. And you have a choice. You can go to that site or song or show that looks very attractive, (but you know at best it's a HUGE waste of time and at worst it's not something you'd want to tell grandma or the pastor about)


You can shut it off and go do something that would be a better use of your time.

What do you choose?

Here's one more.

You go the kitchen to have a snack. You could have some fresh fruit...


you could have that last, extra-large piece of cake or dive into a bag of chips.

What do you choose?

In many ways, we have already made the choice BEFORE the moment of truth arrives.

Another song on this very subject, entitled appropriately enough, "Guard Your Heart" says:

The human heart is easily swayed
And often betrayed
At the hand of emotion
We dare not leave the outcome to chance
We must choose in advance
Or live with the agony
Such needless tragedy

Guard your heart
Guard your heart
Don't trade it for treasure
Don't give it away
Guard your heart
Guard your heart
As a payment for pleasure
It's a high price to pay

For a soul that remains sincere
With a conscience clear
Guard your heart

I don't know who wrote it. But they were right on.

So how do you guard your heart? Here are a few thoughts:

- Practice Sabbath: God tells us 1 day out of 7 is set aside to be kept holy, without work. Life gets out of balance in a hurry when every day is spent running and rushing. Our heart becomes open to attacks from a variety of places.

- Be Intentional about your Activities: Find the things that consistently draw you closer to God, make you aware of the Spirit's presence in your life, and regularly incorporate them into your day or week. Maybe that is a walk in the woods, sitting down with your Bible and a cup of coffee, listening to music that increases your faith, reading e-mails from well-meaning pastors... Whatever. Find your activity and do it regularly.

- Seek out Faith Partners: Who are the people that draw out God's best in you. Find a few of the people who encourage you to allow the image of Christ to be shaped in your life and calendar regular times to be with them. (You know, SUNDAY AT 11AM is a great time for you and your family!)

- Choose in Advance: If there are areas where you know the battle is being fought, decide up front what you will/won't do. If the battleground is food, plan ahead of time what you're going to eat. If the battleground is gossip, decide who you might not seek out and what topics you'll try to avoid. If the battle is entertainment such as movies and websites, do your best to be accountable to someone else.

Guarding your heart is a lifelong challenge. But the prizes for doing it are unbeatable, both for you and those you love.

May we encourage each other to guard our hearts.

Grace & peace

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stop Bringing Me Stuff

Stop bringing me meaningless offerings
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations -
I cannot bear your evil assemblies. (Isaiah 1:13 NIV)

Is God really telling his people to stop bringing sacrifices?

Does God not want people to gather together to worship?

Not exactly.

Notice He doesn't say "stop bringing me offerings".

He qualifies it by prohibiting "meaningless" offerings.

So what does God want?

...Stop doing wrong,
learn to do right!

Like what? He goes on...

Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed,
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.

And not only taking care of others. Make sure YOU are in right relationship with God:

"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be as wool." (Isaiah 1:16b-18 NIV)

God wants our sacrifice and our worship to be meaningful.

God longs for our obedience and offerings to flow out of a responsive, thankful life.

Take a moment and ask God, "Is there anything in my life that is displeasing to you?"

"What can I do to begin to make it right?"

God will respond to us as we respond to Him.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Way it is; The Way it Will be

...I will create a new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind. (Isaiah 65:17 NIV)

That verse describes a time that isn't here yet...but is coming.

Now if you are currently enjoying your life I imagine you might be a little bit bothered at the prospect of thinking all of this will one day be gone and something new will replace it.

You might be thinking,

"But I WANT to remember the way things are now."

"I don't want for change."

Fair enough. We need to give thanks for our life and the circumstances in which we find yourselves. Everyone is not so blessed.

The following is from Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. It describes horrors I can't even imagine.

Who Will Help the Over 100,000 Refugees?
"We fled with tens of thousands into the security zone. On one side was the ocean, on the other a lagoon. It got worse every day. So finally my wife and our five kids fled through the lagoon.

When we were in the middle they started shooting at us. Our twelve year old son was hit. In order to save the others we left him there, dying. Finally, government troops came to us through the water and saved us. Now we are here, in a refugee camp."

This is the story of just one family of many who is struggling to survive the intense battling between the Tamil Tiger rebel group and government forces in Sri Lanka. By now over 100,000 refugees have reached the camps; tens of thousands are probably still in the area of fighting.

Some have lost all they had, including their entire families. At the same time, they are torn emotionally by the 25 years of civil war and it will take many years to overcome this trauma.
It seems that the war will soon end "officially." Who will then help the far more than 100,000 internal refugees? Where should they go? Who will build them new homes? Who will help them rebuild their lives in the aftermath of such devastation?

The director of NCM Lanka is on his way to the refugee camps. The Sri Lankan government has asked him as well as a few other organizations to help. Thankfully, the work after the Tsunami and with the internal refugees in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka has laid a foundation of trust between the government and NCM. But what a challenge they are facing!

Local specially trained NCM workers will help the suffering to overcome their emotional scars through trauma counseling. They will also supply food, household kits, and tents if resources permit it. Crisis Care Kits are being compiled to provide some of the most basic comforts. All steps will be planned in such a way that they result in long-term change and allow the refugees to build the foundation for a new life. This has already worked after the catastrophes in the East of Sri Lanka where NCM International is still working effectively together with its local and international partners.

Through prayer and financial support you can be part of serving the refugees in Sri Lanka and helping them start new. Every gift, whether large or small, will be invested in the future of people who hardly see reason for hope.

Persons and churches wishing to make a donation can mark their checks “Sri Lanka Internally Displace People NCMPRLK09” and mail them to the Global Treasury Services, PO Box 843116 Kansas City, MO 64184.

Online giving is available at

Monday, April 27, 2009

Those Who Wait for Him

Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
(Isaiah 64:4)

Yesterday in the church service we heard testimony about how God answered prayers in our own congregation because people waited for God.

Have you set time aside today to wait for him?

The prophet tells us God acts on (their) behalf.

I wonder: do we want God to act on our behalf? Or do we simply say we want God to act on our behalf?

I encourage you to carve out a few moments, lay out your requests and petitions to God, then wait for the Spirit to act on (your) behalf.

Grace & peace

Thursday, April 23, 2009

When Leading is Tough

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.
Punish him with the rod
and save his soul from death. (Proverbs 23:13-14 NIV)

"Discipline" (the KJV reads "correction") is not always negative. We can correct or disciple (train) people in a positive manner.

You can show someone how to handle a paint brush: "Do it like this."

We have a toddler at our house three days a week who has recently learned how to use a spoon. Someone showed her how to use it in order to feed herself.

That's discipline that is positive.

But sometimes correction or discipline can be painful.

I looked up the word "punish" that the NIV uses in Proverbs 23:13. I wondered if "punish" was the best word choice. I thought there might be something "softer" implied.

But the KJV doesn't soften the translation at all. It goes the other direction. "Beat" is the word used there!


Why beat or strike a child?

Because your angry? Never.

Because you want to take out your frustration? No way!

The goal is stated in the last line:

save his (or her) soul from death

It's one thing to teach a child to use a paint brush correctly. It's another thing to make sure they know how to handle a chain saw or drive a car.

If you mishandle a paint brush you might end up with unwanted streaks and drips.

If you mishandle a chain saw or a vehicle weighing several thousand pounds, some one could end up maimed or someone could die.

Getting the lesson on the paintbrush is optional. Getting the lesson on the chain saw or the car is vital.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes they are to expel a member who has been intentionally, continually misbehaving and breaking commandments.

Why hand this man over to Satan? that the flesh may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:5 NIV).

The goal is not punishment.

Punishment is a tool.

THE GOAL is salvation, restoration, and God's will being able to happen in this man's life and the life of the Church.

Sometimes leadership (parenting and other forms) can be tough.

Nobody likes to have the difficult conversation or say the hard thing.

But if we keep THE GOAL in mind, God will give us wisdom and strength (and the heart that desires the best for that person) as we seek to do God's will in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Train a Child

Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

Many parents want to make all the choices for their child, but this hurts him or her in the long run. When parents teach a child how to make decisions, they don't have to watch every step he or she takes. They know their children will remain on the right path because they have made the choice themselves. Train your child to choose the right way.
(From the Life Application Study Bible)

I have to confess that I have found a new, laser-like focus on this principle in the past few months. Our oldest child is getting ready to go to college. I often find myself assessing decisions I make, words I use, or attitudes I display with this criteria:

Do I want this replicated in her life?

Because if I do want her to act, speak, or think this way, my choice is probably a good one.

But if I do not want to see or hear this coming out of her life, I should probably choose a different one myself.

Would this line of questioning cause some of us to be less critical?

Would this cause us to live with integrity?

Someone once said, "Past performance is the best predictor of the future."

What I have done in the past is most likely what I will do in the future.

What my young children see and hear from my own life is most likely what they will do in their life.

May we be intentional in what we are passing onto our kid and grandkids, nieces and nephews.

Grace & peace

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Mind Opener

"Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." (Luke 24:45 NIV)

Sometimes we think the Gospel is a reasonable thing, driven by logic.

Like 2 + 2 = 4 it is an equation that leads you, naturally, to a conclusion.

Or like the fact that Lansing is the capital of Michigan, we think it is data we can memorize.

We figure people should be able to hear verses like

The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day
and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached...(Luke 24:46-47a)

and people will line the doors of the church, waiting to get in.

(Wouldn't that be GREAT!!)

But Luke reminds us that hearing does NOT automatically lead to belief. And being aware of the story does NOT automatically lead to faith.

Minds must be opened so (people can) understand.

And only the Mind Opener can bring that about.

Sometimes the realization comes suddenly, violently. (See Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus in Acts 9.)

But other times God comes more as a patient, loving, polite suitor; desiring to be invited in and welcomed into our life (See Revelation 3:20).

Take 30 seconds and ask youself these questions:

1. How would I describe the way God has opened my mind in the past? Violently or gently?

2. Who do I know that doesn't "get it"; they don't understand what God has done or is doing?

3. Am I willing to ask God to send the Spirit to open their minds so they could understand ? Do I care enough about them to take the time to ask God on their behalf?

Spend an additional few seconds and speak to God right now. Use these words below if you want:

God, thank you for opening my mind to the Good News of Who You are.
Please send your Spirit to _____________ today.
Help him/her understand how much You love him/her,
how much (s)he needs to repent
and how great Your forgivenes can be in his/her life.
Thank You for hearing my prayer.

Wouldn't it be great if resurrections will continue in the lives of those for whom our congregation is praying?!

Grace & peace

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Give Me That Fillet of Fish

...Jesus himself stood among them and said to them,
"Peace be with you."
They were startled and frightened,
thinking they saw a ghost...
he showed them his hands and feet.
And...they still did not believe it
because of their joy and amazement...
(Luke 24:36ff NIV)

It's only been a little while since Jesus' resurrection.

He physically shows up among his disciples.

He delivers a word of comfort.

He shows them his hands and feet.

"And...they still did not believe it"



What else does Jesus have to do to get them to believe?

Shouldn't they become "superapostles" at this point, spurred on by the Resurrected Lord?

What's wrong, guys?!

And then I wonder...

Why do I still have battles in my own life.

Think about it. We've just passed through Easter, the most joyous, amazing time.

"He is risen! He is risen indeed!"

We said it to each other.

We said it. We believed it.

And yet...

...sometimes we still struggle with belief.

Sometimes we still wrestle with our will.

Sometimes we are not quite settled in our spirit.

Sometimes our obedience doesn't come so quickly or effortlessly as we think it should.

Am I alone here or can you identify with me?

But notice what Jesus does next:

He asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?"
They gave him a piece of broiled fish,
and he took it and ate it in their presence. (Luke 24:41b-43 NIV)

I think he did that for several reasons.

One of those reasons was to prove that he was really alive: Ghosts don't eat!

In the midst of their unbelief, Jesus eats with them, and casually proves he is who he said he was.

I'm thankful God comes to us in our times when we're wrestling, struggling, or not quite believing.

May the Spirit patiently yet powerfully speak to you today.

He has done so again this morning in my life.

Grace & peace

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chelsea and Dexter, MI Holy Week Opportunities

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.
But I have prayed for you, Simon,
that your faith may not fail.
And when you have turned back,
strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32)

We want to provide you with times to do as Jesus did:

pray that faith may not fail.

These times include:

Thursday, April 9 8AM & 7PM Service of Scripture, Prayer, & Silence

Friday, April 10 12:15 PM Community Good Friday Service
(at the United Methodist Church on Park St.)

Friday, April 10 6-8PM Come-And-Go Communion & Prayer at the Altar

Sunday, April 12 9:30 AM Easter Breakfast (bring a dish to pass)

Sunday, April 12 11AM Easter Worship: Musical & Dramatic Presentation

Who's faith is in danger of failing?

What will you do about it?

Which of these times might God have something special planned for you?

For those around you?

Please prayerfully consider joining us at any or all of these times.

Grace & peace

Maundy Thursday Prayer & Silence

We just participated in our first Service of Scripture, Silence, and Prayer this morning.

We will be offering it again this evening.

Several had asked some questions about this new opportunity so here's a little more detail.

The intent is to be silent and allow God a time to speak.

It will begin at 7PM (and last for approximately 1 hour). The format is pretty basic:

- A scripture will be read out loud.

- A devotional thought will be read to provide some direction as we prepare to pray.

- A time of silence will be given, allowing you a few moments to pray in your seat.

This process will be repeated.

Not complicated...but very powerful stuff. I found it an effective tool in my own life today.

And I'd like to invite you to join us and anticipate the Spirit's work in your life.

If you are reading this but unable to be present physically, e-mail me at and I'll send you a copy of the service we've put together.

"...for Zion's sake I will not keep silent
for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet..."
(Isaiah 62:1 NIV)

Grace & peace

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Forgotten "I AM"

Have you ever heard a sermon or series of sermons or read a book about the "I am's" of Jesus?

Famous "I am's" of Jesus include:

I am the bread from heaven (John 6:32)

I am the bread of life (John 6:53)

Much like God sustained the escaped, wandering ex-slaves through manna via Moses, God sustains us wandering, ex-slaves of sin via the body and blood of our Lord.

I am the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5)

The religious people of the day couldn't "see". They missed who he was. But the man born blind was able to "get it".

I am the door (John 10:7, 9)

We are God's sheep. (I recently heard someone say, "You've never heard of 'trained sheep' have you? No 'cause sheep are dumb!") But Jesus is the gate through which even dumb sheep are able to enter!

I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)

How appropriate for the day we anticipate this Sunday!

I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)

"Doubting" Thomas doesn't understand where Jesus is getting ready to go or how he can follow. I understand those questions, don't you?

I am the (true) vine (John 15:1,5)

He calls us to "remain" or "abide" in him. Those who've come before us tell us that scripture, prayer, fasting, meditation, acts of mercy and gathering with others are some of the ways we stay close to Jesus.

I am he (John 18:5, 6, 8)

"I am he"?

What's that?

Not familiar with this one? Read on:

"Judas (had come) guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons."

A mob is coming for him. Jesus knows what is going on and he asks, "Who is it you want?"

"Jesus of Nazareth," they replied.

"I am he," Jesus said.

Actually, John mentions it three times. Jesus says it twice.

"I am he."

"I am the one you've come to take."

"I am the one who will let himself be taken."

"I am he."

How important is this aspect of Jesus' identity?


If he were only The Light or The Vine, his task would be incomplete.

It wasn't until he would give his life away that his calling would be fulfilled.

It wasn't until he would give his life away that he would be The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

It was through laying down his life that he would become The Door.

I wonder sometimes if we'd like to forget about this last I AM.

It's exciting to think of the Lord as being our Bread; he feeds us and sustains us.

It's a privilege to remember Jesus is our Gate or Door; he allows us access to all the Father has for us.

But it is a little discouraging to think that Jesus lays his will down, gives his power away...and then calls us to do the same!

"I am he."

May you determine to follow him.

Grace & peace

Monday, April 6, 2009

House of Prayer

Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling.
"It is written," he said to them,
" 'My house will be a house of prayer'
but you have made it a 'den of robbers.' "
(Luke 19:45-46)

This is the first scene Luke reports after Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem.

This week we would like to give you a chance to make the church a house of prayer.

Thur. at 8AM and 7PM we will offer a Service of Scripture, Prayer, and Silence.

Fri. from 6PM - 8PM I will be serving Communion and praying at the altar for any who are interested.

Hope you can join us.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What Does God Do When We Hurt?

I walked into the funeral home one day before the funeral service. I went up to the casket to see the deceased. He looked like he was around 50. I found out a little bit later that he was actually nearly 20 years younger than that.

I had never met him before. He was the family member of a friend of mine.

During the visitation that day and the funeral the following day I heard the family and friends talk about this young man's life. Evidently he had a hard life. Some of the difficulty was thrust upon him. Some of it apparently came through self-inflicted choices he had made.

As part of the eulogy, his sister said something that struck me. "Hopefully he finds peace now because he was never able to find it here."

Romans 8:22 tells us that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.


The word connotes pain that can't be expressed with words.

And the Bible says the whole creation is groaning.

That's not hard to believe, is it?

Individuals. Marriages. Families. Communities. Nations. Industries. Economies. Nature.

All of it a part of our world.
All of it a part of creation.
And all of it groans.

For those two days at that funeral home "the whole creation" that was groaning had names faces and stories. It had birth dates and addresses. It had cell phone numbers and social security numbers.

And it was groaning.

The Gospel of John tells us another part of this story. In chapter 11 we have the account of Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus, who dies.

Jesus could have shown up sooner...but he didn't.

Jesus could have kept Lazarus from dying...but he didn't.

But Jesus does talk with the two, grieving sisters who remain. First he speaks with Martha. Then he speaks with Mary. Jesus sees her weeping along with (others) who had come along with her also weeping, and he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled (John 11:33).

I have a note in the margin of my Bible that I had written some time ago about this verse. I don't know where I got it from or who I quoted. But this is what it says about Jesus' being "deeply moved in spirit and troubled":

"He groaned and was troubled in spirit."

Jesus groaned.

The creation groans. And Jesus groans.

I find great comfort in this picture; a picture of a Savior who understands what it is like to groan down here. I don't know why I find such comfort in it. I'm not sure how to verbalize it. But I'm thankful that Jesus doesn't simply step into the tomb and call Lazarus back to life (which he does later in the chapter).

That would make him appear to be some type of caped, superhero who never bleeds, never weeps, never gets sick, never feels what we feel. That's not how Jesus is. He hurts. He weeps. He groans.

If you know what it is like to groan, if you are able to pinpoint places where the creation is groaning today, take heart.

You are not alone. Jesus has groaned with you. And through the Spirit, he still does (Romans 8:26).

Grace & peace

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lent: Time of Confusion?

Have you ever watched trading on the floor of the commodities exchange?

A mob of traders yelling and screaming, flailing and waving, flashing signs and trying to communicate.

To the outsider it looks like a zoo: confusion, pandemonium, complete and utter chaos.

That was the picture that came to my mind as I was reading John chapter 7 this morning.

Everyone shouting their own thoughts, feelings, or locked in on their personal agenda.


- When Jesus' brothers suggest he go to Jerusalem to advertise himself as the Messiah, he tells him he's not going yet...but then he does go in secret after they take off (vv3-10).

- The crowd in the city is talking about Jesus. But they couldn't agree. Some were saying, "He's a good man". But others insisted "He deceives people" or "he is demon-possessed" (vv12-20).

- People are trying to kill Jesus and he knows it (v 19), and many in the crowd know it (v25), but others think Jesus is paranoid (v20).

- One group tries to seize Jesus (v25 & v 30) but they are unable to "because his time had not yet come".

- When Jesus tells the crowd he is only going to be with them for a little while longer, his words create more confusion and questions than faith and belief: Where is he going? Is he going to another country? Is he going to teach people in another place? We don't get it!

- Some of his own people did confess him to be the Christ (v41) but others completely disagreed and couldn't possibly come to that conclusion (vv27, 41-42). Others opted for the "middle ground" and considered him to be the Prophet (v40).

- Fed up with all the disruption, guards were sent to grab Jesus...but came back empty-handed. When their authorities questioned them the guards admitted that they had been mesmerized by his words. "No one ever spoke the way this man does."

- Then the authorities started arguing among themselves about what they should do with Jesus. Should they grab him and punish him? Or should they give him a hearing? (vv45-52)

As you reflect upon Lent and Jesus' purposeful movement toward the cross, consider that his journey was a time of great confusion. People couldn't decide who he was. They couldn't decide what to do with him.

And we are no different today.

As John 7:43 tells us, "...the people were divided because of Jesus."

My prayer for you is that you will investigate for yourself who Jesus is and you will discover who he wants to be to you.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Catching the Wind

No one can see the Kingdom of God
unless he is born again. (John 3:2)

We often take that sentence to =

"we can't get to heaven unless we're born again".

But is eternal life the only point Jesus is making here?

Nicodemus, a religious leader, has come to see night.

Nicodemus, a religious leader, is not understanding what Jesus is talking about.

Nicodemus, a religious leader, does not comprehend God's Kingdom.

A little later in this chapter we hear John the Baptist tell us we can:

...only receive what is given...from heaven. (John 3:27)

We can only understand if God gives understanding.

We can only believe if God gives us faith.

We can only see where God is at work if God gives us eyes to see.

Nicodemus will only understand if he asks and God responds.

Jesus tells Nicodemus:

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sounds, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

God's kingdom is the place where God reigns.

It can be in your heart.

It can be in your home.

It can be in your church.

It can be in your relationship.

It can be in your finances.

Getting in on God's Kingdom can be a little like "catching the wind" or predicting where it is going blow next.

NO WONDER prayer, scripture, fasting, and other tools are so important.

How else will we be able to co-operate with God?

May the Spirit give you a passion for seeking His Spirit out today.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Would God Entrust Himself to Me?

I'm driving a car that isn't my own for the next few days.

We had a mechanical failure with the little stick shift I've been driving. And with three drivers in our family and only one vehicle, my mom and dad thought we could use a little help between now and the time we acquire another car.

So they loaned us something of theirs; something that has value. They let us borrow mom's car.

Driving a vehicle that isn't mine reminds me of the years I worked for a rental car company.

People would do the most repulsive things to and in a rental car. They would mistreat the vehicle because they knew it wasn't theirs.

They'd bang it.

They'd stain it.

They'd grind it.

All because they knew it belonged to someone else and they believed they wouldn't have to take responsibility for it in the long run.

My mom and dad trust us not to wreck her car or leave it damaged. They trust us to treat their car like it was our own.

Got me thinking:

What is the most valuable thing you own?

- home - car - family - pet

- reputation - savings - health - friends

To whom would you entrust it?

...Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. (John 2:24)

Jesus would not give himself fully or commit himself to the people in Jerusalem who saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name (John 2:23).

Were they "quick-decision" people who hadn't really counted the cost?

Would they turn on Jesus once the miracle stopped?

Were they only following because of what they could get from him?

This all makes me wonder: what keeps God from committing to me?

Is there anything I can do that would allow God to trust me?

In Micah 6 God speaks through the prophet about what He does not want.

Shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?

No. God doesn't want pomp and ceremony.

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

No. God doesn't simply want valuable sacrifices.

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens thousand rivers of oil?

No. God doesn't want me so He can get His hands on my stuff.

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (Micah 6:6-7)

God's not seeking to cause pain and suffering and torment for the enjoyment of it.

So what does God want?

He has showed you...what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly

to love mercy


to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Think about that last one for a moment.

"Walking humbly with God".

- "Walking" means motion; going someplace. You are not standing still. You're moving. You're growing.
If you're in the same place now that you were in a minute ago, you're not walking (or you're walking in circles!)

Would you describe your life of faith and what you believe as a walk? Or a sit?

- Humility is often expressed by the posture of being on our knees or on our face before God.

It includes confession of sin.

It includes leaving sinful habits, selfish actions, thoughtless words, & destructive thought processes.

Those who are truly humble give themselves away to God and to others.

Would you like God to be able to entrust the Spirit to you?

He will if you will entrust yourself to Him.

Scripture, prayer, and fasting are avenues we do just that. I give myself to God as I read, pray, seek and listen.

I know a number of you have recently committed yourselves anew to God. May you fully entrust yourself to Him and find that He is willing to do the same to you.

Grace & peace

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Praying: Hidden Things Revealed

In Matthew 11 Jesus prays a prayer and we get to listen in on it. What do you hear?

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned,
and revealed them to little children.
Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
All things have been committed to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:25-26)

Twice in these two verses Jesus talks about things that are revealed.

Once he says the Father has chosen to "reveal them to little children".

The second time he tells us the only people who know the Father or the Son are "those to whom the Son chooses to reveal" them.

This second "revealing" is a self-revelation: God shows people Who He is.

I've been praying this week for a number of people within our church family.

I've been praying that The Heavenly Father would reveal Himself to some fathers and mothers in our church.

I've been praying that the Son would reveal himself to some sons and daughters who are part of our congregation.

I'm reminded that if God doesn't reveal Himself to us, we won't know Who He is. Neither will our children. Nor our spouses. Nor our grandchildren. Nor our friends. Nor our neighbors.

Would you be willing to pray with me today that God would "choose to reveal" Himself wherever our people are?

Let's ask God to make Himself known in our midst, through Scripture, through prayer, through whatever means the Spirit chooses. But let's ask and let's agree to ask together.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What WON'T Happen If We DON'T Pray?

What WON'T Happen if we DON'T Pray?

I don't know the answer to that question. Prayer isn't a formula to be figured out or an equation to be solved. It is a relationship between God the Creator and us, God's creation.

But in my reading of Matthew and Mark over the past few weeks, something has become obvious to me:

The vast majority of people in the Gospels who were healed or had spirits driven out of them initiated their own healings or had friends who initiated their healings.

Some examples from Matthew (I just read Mark and it seems largely the same):

Matt. 8:2 (a man comes and kneels before Jesus)
Matt. 8:5 (a Centurion comes to Jesus and asks on behalf of his servant)
Matt. 9:2 (some men brought a paralytic to Jesus)
Matt. 9:18 (a ruler kneels before Jesus and asks for help on behalf of his dead daughter)
Matt. 9:20 (a women who had been bleeding for 12 yrs. touches Jesus)
Matt. 9:27 (2 men call out to Jesus)
Matt. 12:22 ("they" brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute)
Matt. 15:22 (a woman cries out to Jesus for her son)
Matt. 17:14 (a father approaches Jesus and asks on behalf of his son)

These are not all of the miracles, but they seem to be a majority. Check out the other Gospels and see if this holds true. I know there are several such as Peter's mother-in-law or others where Jesus seems to initiate. But that does NOT appear to be the rule. It seems to be the exception.

What would NOT have happened if those people did NOT seek out Jesus?

Now ask yourself this: "What will NOT happen today if I do NOT pray?"

May God give us a burden for praying and a determination and strength to pray!

Grace & peace

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Prayer: Ask, Seek, & Knock

Do you ever get discouraged when you pray?

Ever tempted to not pray?

Ever feel like nothing's happening?

You're in good company.

I wonder if those thoughts weren't on Jesus' mind when he said:

and it will be given to you;
and you will find;
and the door will be opened to you.

For everyone who asks receives;
he who seeks finds;
and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matt. 7:7-8 NIV)

The past two Sundays we've talked about the discipline of prayer. We've been reminded that Christlike World-Changers pray.

Prayer is a two-part activity:
1.) It includes the praying person, or the PRAYer. That's you and me.

If we don't pray, prayer doesn't happen. If we don't knock, why would anyone open the door? If we don't seek, how will we find? If we don't ask, how can we expect anything to be given?

God intends for you and me to be key components in the prayer equation.

But prayer also includes...

2.) God (the Father, [to Whom we pray], the Son [in whose name, character, and will we pray] and the Spirit [who calls us, equips us, and intercedes in our prayers])

Listen to what Jesus says about the character of the Father:

Which of you,
if his son asks for bread,
will give him a stone?

Or if he asks for a fish,
will give him a snake?

We wouldn't do that. If our child is hungry, we'll give them something to eat. That's what a parent does. Well...

If you, then,
though you are evil,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Father in heaven
give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matt. 7:9-11 NIV)

Any inclination toward good that we have is because of God's DNA in our lives. He made us in His image.

And if we are inclined to do good towards our children when they ask us, think how much more God must want to do good to us when we ask!

Let's be at prayer today, Church! Let's be developing the power prayer habit of Matthew 6:5ff.

Let's be ready when God answers.

Grace & peace

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why I Pray

"Ancient words, ever true
Changing me, changing you."

Asking, "Why do I need to pray?" is probably a little like asking, "Why do I need to breathe." Everything else depends upon it.

The disciples were with Jesus nearly every day for three years. They watched him heal the sick, feed five thousand, teach with power, feed another four thousand, and you'd think their faith would be SET.

But in Mark 8:17-18 Jesus is frustrated with them.

...Do you still not see or understand?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes but fail to see,
and ears but fail to hear?
And don't you remember?...

My answer, if I am honest, is

"No, Lord, I do NOT remember. I'm HORRIBLE at remembering. I forget what You have done for me. I forget how You have proven yourself again and again. I am so easily distracted that this new challenge today seems overwhelming; unlike anything we've ever faced before...until I come into Your Presence and then in prayer, scripture, worship, or gathering with other believers, I'm reminded of Who You Are."

Then in a moment, the problem becomes diminished in the shadow of the One Who Was, the One Who Is, and the One Who Is to Come.

It is in activities such as prayer that I begin to understand.
It is in times of humble conversation with God that my heart becomes unhardened.
It is as I am still and interact with (or "know") God that scales fall down from my eyes so I can see and God graciously digs out ears into this block of wood I call my head so I can hear.

THAT is why I need to pray.

How 'bout you?

Grace & Peace

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jesus Called Her a Dog?

Ever think of Jesus calling people "dogs"?

Check out The Gospel of Mark 7:24-30.

What's worse, it's not a stuffy, egotistical hypocrite with whom he is speaking. It's the mother of a sick child who comes to see him and ask for her daughter's healing!

If it makes you feel any better, one commentator writes that in the culture of the New Testament, this particular word for "dog" means "little house pets" that would have had a relationship with the family in the home and garnered affection. This same commentator goes on to argue, as do many others, that Jesus' point is that he has come to the lost sheep of Israel, the Jewish people. This woman, a Gentile, is not part of the group to whom he has come to speak.

Jesus says, "First let the children eat all they want...for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." Essentially, I have come to speak to my people. And maybe even more specifically, on this journey, he was focusing upon his twelve disciples with whom he was hoping to get away for a little time of instruction and prayer.

But it is at that moment that this woman gives one of the great, all-time responses.

"Yes, Lord...but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

The commentator referenced above writes, "Her reply demonstrates humility and faith."

I don't often picture Jesus stunned. But if he ever was, if ever he was caught off guard, this could have been the time. I imagine him nearly laughing with thanksgiving to the Father becuase this woman gets it. He is clearly moved by her response. For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.

Humility and faith.

As we focus our attention this week on prayer, I wonder if those two adjectives would describe your prayer life?



Humility suggests we are not owed anything, by anyone. Not God. Not others. We're just seekers, askers, beggers. We come as children, as little dogs in the house, waiting for the good graces and generosity of our owner. If we don't get it, we go. And when we see him later, we'll come back and try again. That's humility.

Faith suggests we have a deep sense of faith in the One to whom we are speaking. We believe that God is moved by such a reply. That God is able to do exceedingly, and abundantly, more than we could ever ask for or imagine.

I want to invite you to cultivate the attitude of this woman TODAY.

Seek humility. There will be chances in nearly every day of your life to develop it. Chances to serve. Chances to put others before yourself. Chances to love rather than react. Chances to forgive rather than hold grudges. Chances to give someone else the benefit of the doubt rather than taking the opportunity to explain how they've messed us over again.

That's how we develop humility. Jesus LOVES it.

And seek faith. Scripture tells us it is a gift from God. Ask for it. And look for chances to exercise it.

Then let's be ready this week to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church about prayer.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lips or Life?

"'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
(Mark 7:6-8 NIV)

You have let go...of God and are holding on

That's my summation of this passage.

Read in context, Jesus is being questioned about his disciples' behavior: they didn't wash their hands.

But Jesus is more concerned about those doing the questioning: he calls these guys "hypocrites".

How are you and I tempted to hold onto men and let go of God?

The list is endless. Here are just a few that came to my mind as I poured over this passage:

- Family can become more important than our Heavenly Father

- Political parties can become more important than God's will

- Money can become more important than God's work (serving God & Mammon? Not possible.)

- Teachers, preachers and evangelists can become idols ("I follow Paul. I follow Apollos.")

- Being in control can become more important than laying down our lives

- We might prefer having our own way to denying ourselves

- Our priority my be protecting our feelings instead of allowing the Spirit to use difficult words to produce Christ within us

- We may like being talkative and right, rather than quiet and humble

- We may choose to carry grudges instead of taking up our cross

I challenge you today to ask the Spirit, "Where is my talk not matching my walk?"




May we honor God with our lips AND our life!

Grace & Peace

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

CORRECTION: Yesterday I sent the following question out in an e-mail.

2. Ash Wednesday began:
A.) When chimney sweeps were looking to make a few dollars with all that extra ash
B.) In the year 33 A.D.
C.) In Gaul in the 9th Century

I incorrectly said the answers were B & C. Wrong! The correct answer is C. Sorry. (Thanks Steve Mattison for serving my editor!)

Speaking of corrections, I feel like that's where I've been living recently. Longing for things to be different than they are.

Last week all three of our kids missed three days of school. Yesterday they were all back in school. Whew.


Today Noah is home again. This time with what we think might be pink eye. Which is bringing symptoms he did not have last week. Corrections. When will everyone get healthy?

Last week my aunt passed away. She was my Dad's last direct connection to his family of origin. His parents are gone. His siblings are gone. We head down to southern Indiana later this week where I will officiate the funeral and will hope to offer some comfort to Dad and my cousins. Corrections. When will people stop dying?

I've been thinking about some of my friends and family. There are marriages that are on life support. There are families with reduced income or no income at all. There are children who are suffering through situations that childish adults have put them in. Corrections. When will suffering and sorrow end?

It was with this set of life's circumstances that I came to Psalm 22 again today. (I've been reading and re-reading the Psalms this past month.)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning? (v1)

A pretty useful prayer.

Sometimes the words come jumping out of our life and our own circumstances.

Sometimes they are the perfect words to pray for loved ones who don't have the words or the strength to pray themselves.

Sometimes it seems as if God is nowhere to be found. As if He changed his e-mail or phone number and let everyone but you and me know.

The Psalmist, however, is a person of faith and keeps calling:

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help. (v11)

I was thinking of the old hymn that says,
The Lord's our Rock, in Him we hide.
A Shelter in the time of storm.
Secure whatever ill betide.
A Shelter in the time of storm.

That's good news when, as the Psalmist writes, strength has dried up...

Because he continues...

But you, O LORD, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me. (vv15a, 19)

When your strength is gone, He will be your Strength.

May you be developing the habit of calling out to God today. May God bring corrections, even slowly, into your world.

Grace & peace