Friday, October 23, 2009

Accepting the Challenge - Day 5

Here we are at the end of the week! It's Friday...and Sunday's Comin'!
I pray that it has been a good week for you. And that does not necessarily mean it has been an easy week. Some of the best weeks are the hard weeks when God gives you the strength to endure and increases your faith in Him. But only if you have eyes to see, ears to hear and you are anticipating His work in and through your life. Remember to keep your eyes on him. C.S. Lewis is good at drawing it down to the simple:
There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "All right, then, have it your way."

Psalm 86
"Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (Ps. 86:11) With so many things happening in our lives at once – school, work, marriage, family,ministry, etc. – it is so very easy to be distracted and go from one “good” thing to the next.
Yet, in the rush of activity, it is easy for my heart to become divided, my attention diluted and I do not fear the Lord. He becomes a source of strength for me to accomplish all that I do and not the reason for all that I do.
I confess that in my busyness, God is often reduced to a passenger that I take along in the journey. I pray this morning, as the psalmist did, to have an undivided heart. A heart that is focused on the One whom I follow and fear and worship.
As I consider this verse in reverse order, it becomes my prayer for this day: “God, may I fear you because my heart is undivided, undistracted and focused on You. May this focus on you allow me to walk in your truth. But only if you teach me, will I know the way."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Accepting the Challenge - Day 4

I often stare at a task list on Monday and convince myself, "There is no possible way for me to get all this done." I put my nose to the grind and I get to work. As the week rolls on, I finally confess, "I think I might be able to do this."
Perhaps it was because the list was not all that bad. Maybe there were some things on the list that didn't need to be there. Or more often than not, I just needed to chill out and take it one day at a time.
So here we are near the end of the week. Maybe you have knocked off some important tasks. Maybe you had something unexpected show up. Do you still have eyes to see? Have you protected the margin in your life necessary for you to have time to be still and listen?
Well there is no better time to start than today. Make a commitment to seek God with all your heart knowing that unless He is involved, it is not worth doing.
(PS I would love to hear stories of your week that have surprised you or encouraged you. Stories of how God gave you strength to endure a difficult circumstance. If it is something that honors God, I have a place in my sermon on Sunday to share your story. Please email them to

Psalm 73
I continue to be struck by the witness of the sovereignty of God in the Psalms. I have not seen an example of the writer praying for God to give him strength so that he can defeat his enemy. Instead, the prayer is that God Himself would defeat the enemy. The implication being that unless God does it, it cannot be done, no matter what the strength of man. Even understanding is from God. Psalm 73 describes logical thoughts of Asaph, but his confession is that “when I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me”. Only when he entered the sanctuary of God did he understand the final destiny of his enemies. He later confesses his utter dependence on God when he says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And being with you I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” I pray that I might also come to the end of myself. A place where my only hope is in God, my one desire, my strength and my portion forever.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Accepting the Challenge - Day 3

One characteristic that marks the average church today is lack of anticipation. Christians when they meet, do not expect anything unusual to happen; consequently, only the usual happens, and that usual is as predictable as the setting of the sun...
We need today a fresh spirit of anticipation that springs out of the promises of God. We must declare war on the mood of nonexpectation, and come together with childlike faith. Only then can we know again the beauty and wonder of the Lord's presence among us.
-A.W. Tozer

Are you anticipating his Spirit to work in and through your life today? Have you seen the evidence of His Spirit among you in ways you may have missed in the past?
Monday night the elders prayed for a need in our church. I came to the office the next morning and someone stopped me and said, "Can I talk to you about something on my heart?" That "something" was what we prayed for the night before.
Later in the day, I was praying about a particular individual and was perplexed about how I might care for this person in a very difficult situation. In walks a mutual friend who says, "Can I talk to you about a situation?" The "situation" centered around the friend I was praying for and the conversation answered my question.
Those are just 2 examples. And here is the point. Those things happen every day. And yet, most of the time I miss them. It's not that God is not at work. It's just that I am not anticipating it with eyes to see and ears to hear. I am in a hurry and I walk right by. Can you relate?
I pray that today is different for all of us. May we live with anticipation.

Psalm 50
Psalm 50 serves as a good reminder that God does not need our sacrifices and prayer. For He is self sufficient within himself and there is nothing that we could add that would make him more pleased or more content or more satisfied. Instead, the sacrifices and prayers ordained by His law were not for Him but for us. They existed to teach us to honor Him and humble ourselves before His sovereign control. They point to the ultimate sacrifice of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.
In verse 16 He rebukes the wicked who go through the motions as if to appease God by offering sacrifice and then live life normally within their own desires. God is not treated as an almighty God but as “one of them” who can be calmed down and soothed. Yet, it will not be so since He promises to destroy the wicked in the end. The true test of a genuine sacrifice is one made in thanksgiving, not in petition or placation. Only then is the sacrifice given not expecting something in return but simply giving honor and praise to the only one to which it is due.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Accepting the Challenge - Day 2

Well...Day 2 of the Living in the Spirit Challenge. How are you doing? Have you been able to slow down enough to recognize where God is at work? Have you been still enough to hear His voice? Are you humble enough to obey His prompting when He speaks into your life?
The Psalm I read today helps to simply our focus. Here is how God spoke to me through His Word this morning.

Psalm 27
As David writes this Psalm (prayer), it is clear that he is in a difficult situation. His enemies are advancing against him (v2), he is in trouble (v5), his parents have forsaken him (v10), and false accusations discredit his integrity (v12). Yes...I would say that describes a difficult place!
And yet, what struck me is that David focuses his prayer on ONE THING. Verse 4 says that his one request amidst his difficult circumstances was the desire to experience fellowship with God.
OK...Let's be honest here. I'll start! If this is me, I would have a much longer prayer list. It would begin with a request to stop the advancing enemy and move on to the removal of my troubles, the reconciliation with my family, the vindication of my integrity before the people.
You get the point. I would be distracted by the details of my circumstances that I just might miss the ONE THING - the refuge of fellowship with God.
Because here is what I see in this Psalm. David does not necessarily expect his circumstances to change. "For in the day of trouble, He will keep me safe." Not the removal of trouble but protection amidst the trouble. So much so that he can pray that "His head be exalted above the enemies that surround him." In other words, the enemies are still there, but he expects to live above them through his fellowship with God.

His confidence is this: "I WILL (strong expectation) see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." What confidence David has that God will be faithful.
What a reminder! I pray for all of us today that amidst all the details of our day - and for some of us, the turmoil of our troubles - we may have the heart of David and seek ONE THING: a deeper fellowship with God made possible through our faith in Christ. May we share His confidence that God will be faithful. Wait on Him and rest in that assurance today.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Accepting the Challenge - Day 1

This past Sunday, our church family took a challenge to awaken our sensitivity to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives. To live in the newness of the Spirit made possible by Christ's death and resurrection as we have been learning through our study in Romans. (
We made a commitment to look to see where His Spirit is at work, to listen for His voice in our life, and when we hear Him speak, to obediently follow His lead.
This may be as simple as slowing down to recognize the beauty of God's creation or as difficult as forgiving those who have offended us. In either case, we are going to ask God's Spirit to empower us to live this new life He has created in us. For apart from Him, we can do nothing.
Now that we have been released from the law so that we might be led by the Spirit, in humble submission, we will let Him have His way in our life and be transformed. We are all in!
One of the committments I made was to share my reflections as I spend time in the Psalms this week. You are welcome to add your thoughts about your time in the Psalms or any of the other ways God might be prompting you this week. Whatever we do, let's glorify God by recognizing His power in our life as we live in His realm of grace.

Psalm 1

This morning, my attention was drawn to verse 3 where the psalmist describes the outcome of those who trust in the Lord when he writes: “whatever he does prospers”. Yet, in a moment of despair, the psalmist will later write in verse 5 of Psalm 10 the very same attribute of the wicked when he writes: “his ways are always prosperous”.
The contrast seems to focus on the heart. For it says of the wicked, “he is haughty and your laws are far from him.” Yet of the person of faith, “his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.”
The wicked trust in themselves. Their branches become stiff and their hearts hardened by the wisdom of the world. Their leaves wither like chaff and what once appears to be prosperous now leads to destruction.
The person of faith trusts in God who sustains. They yield fruit in season and their leaves never wither. What may appear to be barren will soon spring to life as it nourished by the truth of God's Word.
May we delight in the Lord today and trust in Him alone.

Friday, October 16, 2009

You Are Not In Control

As we are spending time as a church seeking to understand the amazing gift of God’s grace, I am convicted that we don’t often live in the fullness of that gift. Even more specifically, the gift of God’s grace super-abounds in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit which energizes, empowers us to live in a newness of live and service to our Redeemer King. (Rom 7:6)

But just stop and consider our common conversation and let’s see if what we say reflects this reality of new life empowered by the Spirit.

How many times have we been in a situation or encountered a difficult person and said, “When they did that…it made me so mad!”

Or how about the circumstances of our job or family life or finances and we say, “This is just overwhelming me. It is stressing me out!”

But here is the deal…No one can make you mad. There is no situation or circumstance that has power over you to cause stress. Here’s how I know this is true. The Bible says that anger and anxiety as we have described them here are sins. (Eph 4:26, Col 3:8, James 1:20, Phil 4:6, Luke 21:34) And as a Christian, since these are sins, they do not possess the power to control you. (Rom 6:14)

The only way these sins can control you is if you let them reign. (Rom 6:12) Therefore, no one can make you made. There is no situation or circumstance that can stress you out…unless you allow it to. You have to give that person or that circumstance permission to control you. Based on your decision to follow Christ, sin’s power has been broken and it cannot control you…unless you invite it to do so.

So next time you hear yourself say, “She made me so angry.” OR “That really stresses me out.”, remind yourself: they didn’t make you do anything. You did that to yourself. And because the Spirit of God lives in you, it does not have to be that way. His power, when you submit instead to Him, is sufficient to bear a different kind of fruit.

Instead of being controlled by anger, be controlled by love. Instead of being controlled by sadness, be controlled by joy. Instead of anxiety, peace and patience. Let kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control rule and reign in your life. It is life in the Spirit made possible by His grace through faith. (Gal 5:22-23)

Monday, September 21, 2009

The End of Our Resources

This poem was written by my friend Chad Huddleston. What a gift he has. Read slowly and soak it in. Chad wrote this following a conversation he and I had over lunch as we discussed our desire to walk in the way God has prepared before us. He took thoughts from this conversation and the sermon I did the following sunday and wrote this poem. Thank you for the blessing Chad!

The End of Our Resources

The flask, almost empty, sits dusty on a log.
The last gasps of resource are exhausted
soon, and the burning begins. Smoky
wisps from the charred remnants of an hour's
distance chalk the horizon, the memory
of safety disappearing and melting in the gray
approaching clouds.

We have left the known behind,
and what remains
is unfathomed.

Those who lay claim
to bravery
fall quickly in the moon-sown light,

those who are left huddle
in clutches, in brambles,
under the rigid limbs of trees.

What is left for us this night
but to walk by the light
of the lamp at our feet,

this time no pillar of
incandescent fire in the sky,
no struck rock gushing streams,

but an open field,
a path revealed, a voice
behind us wherever we turn,

"Yes, this is the way--
walk in it."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Power of the Parable

As we finished our Summer Series on the Parables of Jesus, I’ve was struck by the power of these stories with intent. The truth wrapped in the parable is a powerful truth. A life changing truth. A truth that corrects our distorted vision and realigns our focus on things God has determined to be of utmost importance. I’ve learned that there’s power in the parable.

And the power in the parable was often charged by scandal. This was something that I didn’t appreciate until we began the study. The stories Jesus told grabbed people’s attention because, very often, it is not what they expected. A Samaritan helping a Jew…even risking his own life to render aid. Why, that’s unheard of. In fact, it was socially unacceptable.

Praise given to an Unjust Steward. A man who was shrewd as a serpent but not innocent as a dove. Why, there is nothing to learn from the pagan world! Oh, but Jesus says the people of the world are often more shrewd than the people of the light. Tell me that shouldn’t grab our attention.

The Parables of Jesus: Powerful truths wrapped in a captivating story with an unexpected, sometimes scandalous conclusion.
I’ll be honest, there is more packed in a parable than I ever realized…and I have a feeling we just scratched the surface.

I hope you enjoy,

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

If your mouth is a fountain, what kind of water springs forth?

The “Corporate World” and the “Church World”. Is there a difference? I mean, really. They both have people and, if anything, the church world should be a polished version of the Corporate World because, in theory, the people in the church world are a redeemed people. Is there a difference?

Well…let me give you my opinion. Admittedly, I have limited experience in the church world but at least I can say I have live both long enough to say, “Yes, there is a difference.”

Now to be fair, there are a number of similarities. The Corporate World and the Church World are mostly benevolent. When a need arises, people want to help. I can remember a number of occasions at the hospital where I worked when a family experienced a tragedy. Maybe a fire in their home or an unexpected death. Overwhelmingly, people would give of their own resources, donate vacation time or simply offer notes of encouragement. The outpouring was consistent.

In the church, I see the same. People are inclined to care for others and meet needs as they arise. The church may be more proactive (or at least it should be) by meeting the needs of others before the crisis occurs. For example, they may have a “Clothes Closet” where people in the community who have a need might come by the church for clothes at no cost. No crisis, just proactive love.

I also see that the Corporate World and the Church World both need sound leadership. The church and the business need people who are setting a vision and direction. People that have earned the trust of those whom they lead. And the best leaders are humble leaders – in both the Corporate World and the Church World. People who lead by serving and getting their hands dirty with those who are out on the front lines.

Along with this, communication seems vital in both the Corporate World and the Church World. People feel safest when they know what is going on. They want to feel valued by being “included in the conversation.” A lack of communication in both the Corporate World and the Church World always breeds distrust and misperception. Communication seems important in both worlds.

In many ways, there is more in common than there are differences in the two worlds. Both involve people and people have innate needs no matter what world they live in.

But here is the biggest difference I have experienced so far. In the Corporate World, people operate within boundaries and they filter their communication. In the Church World, I am finding that there are no boundaries and the filters are removed. In other words, people feel the right to say whatever they want however they want to say it.

For example, in one week I received two letters from people I have never met who have nothing to do with our church family. Yet they felt compelled to tell me what I should be teaching, what movies we should be promoting and how often we should have prayer meetings and what should be there content. Another person wrote to ask for prayers. He describes a difficult family situation and despite the fact that he lives in another city two hours away and has never been to our church, he felt like it was important for me to know his situation so I could remember him in my devotions.

Now, I’m not offended by this at all, I’m just amazed. I never once received a letter in my 15 years at the hospital with advice on how I should be running the cancer center. Perhaps there were people who had ideas, but I didn’t receive random letters advising my direction and oversight. There were boundaries and filters and these seem to be removed when it comes to the church.

Maybe it’s healthy, people in the church world seem to be much more apt in letting their feeling be known. In fact, I have watched more venom spill from the lips of a church member than I ever did in the workplace. Hurtful, unkind words that seem to be permissible in the church world that I never heard in the Corporate World (at least not to my face… i.e boundary). People in the church seem to be more inclined to say what they think and how they feel about it without boundary or filter.

Personally, I think we can do better. Perhaps, people in the Corporate World have the same emotion and they just hold it inside. They have to protect their job you know. And to keep that bottled up may not be good. But I still think the Church World could stand to consider the power of their words and seek to use them for healing more than hurt.

Why is forgiveness such a rare commodity in the church? How do we justify the gossip and backbiting? Perhaps we need to be reminded of the wisdom from Proverbs 16.

23 A wise man’s heart guides his mouth,
and his lips promote instruction.
24 Pleasant words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

And as James guides us:

James 1:19 (NIV)

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry

James 1:26 (NIV)

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

James 3:3-12 (NIV)

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

So here’s the question: If your mouth is a fountain, what kind of water springs forth from your lips?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thy Kingdom Come

I admit. It is very difficult to write a blog and a sermon in the same week. I guess I am still getting my feet wet with the whole preacher thing. In case you are wondering, I would describe the first 4 weeks as follows:

Week 1 - "I'm lost."
Week 2 - "I can't believe I am getting paid to do this."
Week 3 - "Ohhh...Now I understand why they are paying me."
Week 4 - "They are not paying me near enough."

Actually, it has been a blessing in so many ways. It has challenged me to trust God in ways I would have overlooked in the comfort of my known world of health care. I have always been dependent on God. It's just that I realize that more now than ever. It's a good place to be because God always proves Himself to be faithful beyond what we can ask or imagine. We realize that most when we relinquish our control in exchange for His promised provision. To the praise of His glory!

As for the blog, let's talk about the recent sermon series.

We are in the middle of the parables. A great summer series and I have personally benefited from the preparation. Here is something that surprised me though. Each of the 3 parables we have done so far were used by Jesus to teach us something about the kingdom of God. Three parables, chosen randomly, from different points in the gospel narrative, all pointing to the kingdom.

The Good Samaritan begins with the question, "How do I enter the kingdom of heaven?". The Wheat the Weeds, the most obvious parable about the reality that Jesus, as King, chose to establish His kingdom on earth in the presence of an evil world. And this week, the Two Builders. A parable that serves as a closing statement to the Sermon on the Mount which is an extended dialogue about the righteousness required for guess what...that's right - the kingdom of God, inaugurated at the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Kingdom, Kingdom, Kingdom. This seems to be very important to Jesus and a consistent theme of His teaching. I suggest we listen.

But did you notice, in the average church today, we don't talk much about the kingdom of God. Isn't that interesting. It was of great importance to Jesus but we often avoid the topic. I'm not sure why, but here is one possibility - judgment.

Did you wince?

You see, it's had to talk about the kingdom without accepting the reality of judgment. And to be honest, no one likes to talk about judgment. Especially not in our relativistic, post-modern society. Its a taboo topic. Judgment implies intolerance and intolerance is simply not tolerated in our society.

But think about this. If there is no judgment, there is no need for salvation. If there is no need for salvation, righteousness is a dead topic. If this is true, we can all keep doing what we want to do because we will eventually get to the same place. Now doesn't that sound familiar.

But Jesus tells a different story. He says there will be judgment and so all of this is of extreme importance. If nothing else, judgment gets our attention.

That's why we should look very closely at the words of Jesus. They are strong and sometimes offensive. But we don't have the liberty to pick and choose. We either accept what he says and follow Him in faith or we deny it all together. As C.S. Lewis says:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse.

Then Lewis adds:

You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Look at the parables again. Listen to the sermons online if you missed them ( You decide.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Do You See Him?

Have you ever questioned your usefulness to God? Have your worried about the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of your faith? If yes, don’t worry… you’re normal. If no, at worst you are lying. At best, you are fooling yourself.
I have had those times as well and such has been the case in recent days. Such difficult situations and tests of faith that I wonder, “Am I up for the task?”
Perhaps even more difficult is walking down the road with someone else. Those who is struggling in their marriage, or those facing hopeless situations in their job or those battling addictions. They come to you looking for answers and your best attempt at comforting words seem to all fall short. All these scenarios can leave you feeling empty.
But never underestimate the importance of being with Jesus, even during times like these. In fact, its most important for us to seek Him…especially during times like these. We need the truth of His word revealed to us in order to protect us from the inevitable lies of Satan. Those lies that tell us, “You’re not worthy. You’re a failure. You should be ashamed.”
One thing we know, our enemy is good…but he is not all that creative. He consistently attacks us when we feel weak so in those moments…especially in those moments…fill your mind with His truth so that you will not believe the lies the deceiver will whisper in your ear.
Just this morning, I read the words of Jesus when he says in John’s gospel:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”

Did you see that? Jesus is saying that He can do nothing apart from His Father. He must see His Father doing something and once this is observed, He goes and does the same thing. Jesus later reminds you and I of our same dependence on Him:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

I read this and I prayed, “Lord, give me eyes to see. Help me to walk in the ways you have prepared beforehand. Teach me to find my satisfaction in You and live in the confidence of your promises fulfilled. By your grace may I see the evidence of your hand upon my life and may my faith be strengthened.”

Soon after, I had a conversation with a friend. One of those difficult situations that I did not have a good answer for but was compelled to be there for them anyway. I listened to the honest emotion and the desired action of this person. I could not blame them for their feelings but I could not support their desired actions. What do I say?

I told my friend, “I understand your emotion. What a difficult situation you are in. Can I ask you to consider something before you make any decisions?”

He listened.

I continued, “Before you make any decisions, filter them through God. And when you go to Him, don’t pretend. Take your raw emotion as you just shared with me - your anger, your hurt, your disappointment. Go honestly and go humbly.”
“Tell God, ‘This is how I feel…this is what I want to do…’ and then ask, ‘Is this pleasing to You?’ Make an honest commitment that you will not do anything that you are not convinced He is leading you to do. Will you do that?”

“Yes, I will” he said. “Thank you for telling me that.”

I hung up the phone and a light bulb went off in my head. I realized I had just spoken to my friend the words God had spoken to me this morning.

“Filter through Me. Don’t do anything you do not see Me leading you to do. Apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Today my friend and I were both encouraged by the words of God as the hand of God was revealed in our life. He is still at work…do you see Him?

Friday, May 8, 2009

From Theory to Practice

Believing in the theoretical is not so difficult. Most people do well when it comes to believing in a future possibility. Faith is safe from a distance. However, when theory moves into practice, now it costs something...not so easy anymore.
Abraham and Isaac are a good example. What must it have been like the day Abraham and his son travel to the Mountain of Moriah. Abraham had been asked by God to do the unimaginable. Take his only son, the promised son, and present him as a sacrifice. How could Abraham even bring himself to get up early that morning and prepare for that agonizing journey?
The New Testament gives us the answer. Abraham had developed a theory. Since God had promised the build a great nation from the decendents of Isaac, and now God has asked him to sacrifice his son before a single decendent had been born, then in order for God to be faithful to his promise, He must intend to bring Isaac back from death (Heb 11:17-19). What a odd explanation, but it was the best he could do and it was enough for Abraham to get up that morning and begin the journey of faith.
Each step must have been increasingly difficult as it moved Abraham from theory to practice. Its one thing to imagine what God might do...its quite another to walk in obedience in order to experience that reality.
And yet, even as they arrive, His faith remained. Abraham instructs his servants to stay with the donkey as he and his son travel up the mountain. "Wait here" he says, "Isaac and I are going to worship together and Isaac and I will return." (Gen. 22:5)
At some point, Abraham had to explain the events to his son. "Son, let me first tell you that I believe God is going to perform a miracle today. In ways I cannot explain, He is going to provide the lamb for a sacrifice. But for you and I to experience that reality, we are going to have to put our faith to the test. Do you trust me my son? More importantly, do you trust our God?"
Isaac's face grew pale as his father's theory was explained. Abraham too must have grown faint at the thought of seeing his son's blood drip from the knife he now held in his hand. But yet they each fearfully continued to take heavy steps of faith. Without a struggle, Isaac allows his father to bind him with rope and lift him to be placed on the altar.
Everything is theory until the moment of final obedience. He pulls the knife from its sheath, lifts his hand in the air, and cries out, "Oh, God is there any other way?!" His son, staring into the eyes of his father says, "Daddy please!"

In that agonizing moment, the fruit of obedience gave birth to the miracle. The angel of the Lord answered both father and son and the sacrifice was made in a way neither had planned. God made His way. Abraham and Isaac worshipped together. Abraham and Isaac descended the mountain transformed by the miraculous.

Steps of faith are increasingly difficult as they move us from theory to practice. Faith is safe from a distance. I understand this today more than ever. But obedience is the perquisite for the miraculous. Each step of faith, as we walk from theory to practice, deepens our understanding of God and transforms our assumption of "what He might do" into the reality of "what He has done". It is from this vantage point that we can say with experienced conviction, "He is able to do immeasurable more than we can ask or imagine" (Eph 3:20). I pray that we increasingly experience this reality through faithful steps of obedience. May I live it even as I write it.

...To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Leaving Room For Faith

What happened to March? I look up and its April. I guess there have been a few things happening as TriTPastor2B will soon B. My "List of Lasts" continues to grow and I anxiously await the "List of Firsts". Although there is an element of nervousness as I transition from the known world of health care into the new role in ministry, I must admit that I struggle with guilt at times. I feel guilty that I get to do something I love so much and have prayed for so long and I actually get paid to do it. How could I be so blessed? I am so very thankful! Just yesterday during my jog, I was brought to tears as I considered the privilege I have of serving God as a messenger of hope at a time when so many people are searching for answers.

Which brings me to my thought today. I have been struck recently by our compelling need to have all the answers. Yet, more often than not, we simply don't have the answers - especially to some of life's most difficult questions. My parents still ask why their son did not live past the young age of 30. My sister-in-law questions why God would remove the man of her dreams from her loving embrace. I still weep at the thought of missing my brother. And we all ask why? So many others have faced similar struggles and they strive to make sense of the unexplainable - miscarriages, suicide, children with disabilities, cancer...and the list goes on.

As we face such difficulties we all ask the same question: Why? We seek answers to explain why such terrible tragedies occur. How can this be? Somehow (we assume) if we just knew the answer to why these things happen, it will give us peace.

Even this past Easter Sunday, I heard 2 very good messages on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each proclaiming the powerful reality of the our risen Savior and the evidence to support this historical fact. I wholeheartedly believe what was communicate but it does demonstrate our inherent need for answers, our opposition to blind faith and our drive to make the leap of faith as narrow as possible.

I am not against seeking answers. In fact, I don't think we can avoid it. I believe apologetics has in important role in helping to establish what I believe. But I am equally convinced that we must leave room for faith. And the reason is, we will inevitably encounter times in our life when we face the answerable question...the tragedy that has no answer. Now what do we do? When we cannot conclude with a comforting explanation, how do we keep walking?

For those who have left room for faith, we rely on "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb 11:1) We release our demands for an answer and we trust that He who said He was faithful, merciful, full of grace and love, is true to His claims, even when we do not understand.

Oh, but wouldn't life be easier if we were a scientist. A person who's life is built upon evidence and answers. Well, one of the greatest scientists I have ever known explained to his class the day he began his lecture on evolution with these words, "Before we get started, you need to know that our study of evolution and creationism are both theories based on faith. Although one exists in the scientific community and I personally believe in evolution, I do so based on faith because there are gaps that have no answer. Evolution and Creationism are not based on science and faith respectively. Instead, faith is fundamental to each of them. It is simply a matter of where you choose to place your faith."

Even an atheist is a person of faith. They cannot prove that there is no God, but must believe, by faith, that what they cling to is true. In that sense, every human being since the beginning of time is a person of faith. It's simply a matter of where you choose to place your faith. And the more difficult the tragedy. The more painful the loss. The more space we need for faith - blind faith. The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Faith of any color is blind. It is the conviction of things not seen. But does it give you hope? Is what you believe through faith an assurance of things you hope for?

I believe, by faith, I will see my brother restored and made new. No cancer and no regrets, waiting for me to join him in worship of the Savior who has healed him for eternity. Parents will be reunited with children, no sickness, no sorrow, no pain. Faith with a substance of hope.
That is the difference!

How else can you explain the email I received yesterday from a mom who lost her child in a terrible tragedy within hours of writing these words:

Dear Friends,
It is with great sadness and joy that I let you all know that our son went home to be with his Father today. We rejoice for him and grieve only for ourselves that we will miss his person in our home. He suffered a head injury this morning when he fell off his horse at therapeutic riding and was transported immediately to surgery where he died on the operating table. We cannot know but can only impute integrity to God that he did not intervene on our son's behalf. We can only trust that this was perhaps a tender mercy as he passed very quickly and did not suffer. Please pray for us - this is a test of fire and of faith. We will be unavailable for a few days as we need time to think and to make some weighty decisions for our family. We will let you know when the memorial will occur when we know ourselves. Our son's life was a testimony to the goodness of God and we want his memory to reflect that. Maranatha!

When life gives us questions that have no answers, do we have space for faith? A place for the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Do You Believe...or Do You Believe?

A royal official. We don’t know his exact role, but what we do know is that he was desperate. We know this because he was a man with power. He had many servants and it was their job to do exactly as the royal official instructed them. But in this particular situation, the man who had the authority to give any order he desired, told his men to stay put. He would take care of this himself. In his mind, he knew it was too important to entrust to anyone else.
And yet he was torn. To leave his home would be an almost overwhelming risk. His son was in bed and barely hanging on to life. Everyone knew, including his father, that he did not have much time. The life of his son was growing shorter with every subtle heartbeat. If he left to go to Jesus, he may lose the opportunity to be by his son’s side when he drew his last breath. A painful dilemma to say the least. Tears must have filled his eyes as he left the house that day. “Goodbye son. I will see you soon.” So he hoped.
There was no time to waste. 20 miles is a long journey in a desert land. The popularity of Jesus had reached such grand proportions. He knew it would be difficult to get to the man known for his miracles for a large crowd had surely formed around him. He was right…
The scene was chaos. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people gathered. Each one with a story of who this man Jesus was and what He had done. Some were true. Most were exaggerations and rumor. But now they could see for themselves. Perhaps Jesus would do the miraculous right before their eyes. This was an exciting day!
But the official was less concerned with the anticipated performance. His son was dying and he was desperate. He pushed his way through the crowd. As he did, some recognized his status and gave way. Others could care less and took the opportunity to put him in his place. None of this mattered. His eyes were fixed on Jesus.
Finally, he gets his attention. “Jesus, I beg you. My son is dying. Please, I beg you. Come to my house so that you may touch my son and he may be healed. Please Jesus. You are my only hope.”
The crowd continued to clamor and the voice of this royal official was lost in the commotion of a thousand other voices vying for the attention of the man known for his miracles. But hush rippled through the mass of people when Jesus spoke. “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
“Was he talking to me?” thought the official. Was this a cruel way to say “no” to his request? His heart sunk deep in his soul and all hope was gone. His son would surely die.
Jesus turned, looked into the desperate man’s eyes, and renewed his hope once again by saying, “Go, your son lives.”
The chaos of the crowd continued and this frantic father stood frozen and speechless as the people pressed by him following Jesus and seeking a sign. He heard nothing. Only silence in his heart.
“I must believe,” he said to himself, “I have no other choice.” “No medicine has cured my son. Each doctor has given up hope. I sit at my son’s bed and watch him labor to take each breath. Oh dear God how I love my son!” And he falls to his knees.
Like a ray of light in his mind’s eye, the official recalled the brief encounter not seconds ago. “For a fleeting moment, when Jesus looked into my eyes, I could see that same desperate love I have for my son, extended toward me in a way I have never experienced before. I think…I know…I could see…he felt my pain. Perhaps…just maybe, he cares enough to do for me what no one else can do. He is my only hope. I must believe this miracle can happen. For my son’s sake, I must believe.”
And at a pace twice that of his arrival, he returns home. Yet, before arriving, he is met by his servants. The horses halt and once again, the man’s heart sinks low. “I’m too late…”
His servants dismount, run to the official and say to him, “Your son! Your son, he lives!” While you were gone, just moments ago, the fever left him. Your son! He has been healed! It’s a miracle that we cannot explain!”
Perhaps they could not explain this miracle, but the royal official could. And that is exactly what he did when he got home – beginning with his son whom he embraced like never before.
Everyone listened intently and as if at once, they knew Jesus was more than a man who performed miracles of healing, signs and wonders. No, his greatest miracle to this family was the miracle of hope. The man now believed, not for his son’s sake, but for his own. He no longer believed because of what Jesus could do…He believed because of who Jesus was. He was the Savior. The One promised to bring hope to the hopeless. He and all his family truly believed. "I know that my Redeemer lives and in the end, He will stand upon the earth." The ancient words of Job (19:25) had now become his own.

Stop for a moment. Do you believe…or do you believe? In your own life, is Jesus a genie in a bottle, a cosmic vending machine, a magician? A person whom you follow for the miracles He can perform?
Or is He more? Have you seen the light of His love? Do you trust Him beyond your circumstances: beyond failing health, failing economies, failing relationships? Do you seek him for more than signs and wonders? Do you seek Him as Savior?
Let Him reign in your heart today, unchallenged by any lesser thing. Confess the idolatrous distractions and seek him for more than a sign. Seek Him as redeemer. Seek him as friend. Believe that your only hope is in Him and in that knowledge…rejoice!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Drink Up!

"So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that 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 4:1-26)

Segregation is not a new idea. It occurred all throughout the ancient near east during the time of Jesus- perhaps none stronger than the separation of Jew and Samaritan. Those who hear of this account in the biblical culture would have been appalled at the thought of Jesus (a Jew) initiating a conversation with a Samaritan (a Samaritan woman no less!). It would have been a scandal no less offensive than the thought of our President sitting down to have dinner at a nice New York restaurant with Osama Bin Laden. The public outcry would be huge. The same would be true of the encounter with the Samaritan woman and Jesus.
So why would Jesus risk it? Why threaten the integrity of his reputation and ministry? Maybe it was because Jesus did not come to promote his own reputation. His mission was to offer something that would change the reputation of others, not only in the eyes of man, but more importantly, in the eyes of God.
The Samaritan woman was thirsty. Like everyone, she came to a well to draw water. But unlike everyone else, she avoids the convenience of the city well and she travels a significance distance outside the city to avoid the ridicule of her neighbors. By all accounts, she was ashamed.
And Jesus knew why. He breaks the social tradition and asks her for a drink. It was a way to introduce a conversation and her surprise could not be over estimated. This is the reason she so boldly asks Jesus, “Why are you, a Jew, speaking to me, a Samaritan?”
Jesus tells her the reason. He explains that she is coming to quench the thirst of her lips, but He has come to satisfy the thirst of her soul. She is seeking water, Jesus is offering life.
But the woman does not understand at first. In fact, she is distracted by the thought of her reputation. If she did not have to come to the well, she could avoid the ridicule of others who judged her. “Please give that water so that I don’t have to come to this well,” she tells Jesus.
In what seems to be a rude interruption, Jesus tells the woman to go get her husband.
“Here we go again,” she thinks. “My reputation precedes me and I must once again reveal that no one wants me. I don’t have a husband and have been abandoned more times than I can count. Don’t remind me…I know. I am worthless and completely empty inside.”
“You mean you’re thirsty inside?” Jesus probes.
“I am,” she says. “And I have been seeking answers in the only way I know how. I know the Messiah is coming and perhaps He can give me what I am looking for.”
“He can,” says Jesus. “I who speak to you am He. You have worshiped what you do not know. Now you know.”
All creation worships God. The only difference is that some worship God in ignorance and others in truth. The woman at the well was thirsty because she was ignorant of the only source of life that would satisfy her soul. Jesus reveals that He is the one sent to satisfy the thirst of every soul.
Now He turns to you. What is your reputation? Do you have something to prove? Do you have something to hide? Jesus continues to make the same offer as He did to the woman at the well. Satisfy your soul in Him. Worship Him in Spirit and truth. Drink up my friend.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Rude Awakening

Eugene Peterson pastored the same small church for almost 30 years. He has a wealth of wisdom and insight which demands our respect and attention. His book, The Contemplative Pastor, has an obvious target audience. However, the insight he provides extends well beyond the borders of those in full time ministry. For that matter, we are all in full time ministry, so by definition, we all have something to learn. Allow me to share what impacted me most and I pray it will be the same for you.
To begin with, I must admit that I was slightly offended in reading this book. As far as I am concerned, there exists an unwritten rule between author and reader to delay the impact of the most painful content until the reader has had a chance to ease into the material. Peterson violated this unwritten rule when he spoke adamantly against the “outrageous scandal” of busyness in the life of a Christian within the first few pages of his book.
Busyness, in Peterson’s view, is not a “symptom of commitment but of betrayal.” In a metaphorical one-two punch, he talks about the vanity of busyness and laziness as its source. Busyness, argues Peterson, often exists in order for us to appear important. It is vanity. The culture insists that a crowded schedule is a measure of significance and all too often the we all buy into this lie. If not for the reasons of vanity, Peterson suggests the other option is laziness (as if that makes me feel any better!). We become busy because we let others control our time instead of resolutely deciding for ourselves. In either case, the negative results of a life without margin which constantly meets the demands of others will inevitably render all of us harmless and unable to complete the work for which we have been called. It is a dangerous trap. Beware!
Peterson does offer the antidote, however. He encourages us to remain committed to prayer, meditation and listening. Prayer, at its core, is the cultivation of intimacy with God. It is the language of relationship. Meditation, says Peterson, must finds it’s source in the immersion of scripture. Time dedicated to meditating on God’s word which cannot happen in the midst of busyness and "sound bite study obligations". Richard Foster says that one hour one day a week is preferable to 10 minutes segments of time in God's Word every day. I tend to agree. Peterson continues by reminding us that we must learn to listen. But listening requires “unhurried leisure”. A quality of spirit, Peterson says, not a quality of time. Busyness is a theif of quality time.
I was impacted by Peterson reflection when he writes, “The question I put to myself is not, “How many people have a spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have I listened to in Christ this week?”’ What a poignant reminder for us all.
One of the realities of my transition is the common question: “So…When are you taking over the church?” This has always unsettled me and it is the very thing Peterson seems to address as he reflects on his friends comment about “running the church.” Although the church activity on Sunday has not changed much through the centuries, what happens between Sundays is radically different. Peterson suggests that it has “not been a development but a defection.” Pastors (but not only pastors) have inherited an attitude of ownership where the success of the church (as determined by our culture) is falsely assumed to be based on our leadership ability and skill. This attitude centers around the belief that if we do not take charge, the church will fail and the people will drift into apathy. Our skill is in our programs and our organizational prowess of motivating people to get things done for the business of the kingdom.
This is the reality of the business world from which I come. But Peterson has reminded me that it is not the way of the church. The church does not need a successful business plan with a penetrating vision and a motivational mission. I am not the CEO. Neither are you. Instead, we are the servants of souls. As such, we recognize that it is not us but God who takes the initiative. He gets things going and He is on the scene before we ever arrive.
Peterson suggests that the better questions for us to ask are: “What has God been doing here? What traces of grace can I discern in this life? What has God set in motion that I can get in on?” Instead of carrying the burden of leading positive change, I must seek to discover what He is doing and live appropriately with it. I submit to you that the counsel given by Peterson applies not only to pastors but to every follower of Christ.
Living with this humble perspective should direct what we say and how we listen. Instead of persuasive speech and a drive to motivate others to get things done and to get on with growing in faith, we must learn the language of relationship. A personal language of love and prayer. Spontaneous language that is unhurried and unforced. Peterson describes it as “the leisurely language of friends and lovers.”
Our job, as Peterson reminds us, is not to solve problems. As an Administrator, this is my job. It is my responsibility to develop better procedures, organize and administrate. But the church is different. Much of what is done in the context of the body of believers is, and should be, a mystery. It is mystery that makes room for faith. If everything has an answer and the direction is always clear, the need for faith is removed.
We live in a world of experts where everything has an explanation and a solution. But the Christian life is a pilgrimage of prayer. A submission to the Soverign and a willingness to leave unanswered questions in His capable hands. As a Christian, we are not called to answer on His behalf as much as we are to direct others to discover Truth for themselves. When it is personal, lives are changed.
Good reminders, although slightly unfair in his tactics. Every once in a while, we all need a rude awakening.