Monday, December 1, 2008

Take a look at this video from Advent Conspiracy. Wow.

Ten billion dollars is a lot of money. So much, in fact, that we may be tempted to imagine that a problem like safe drinking water is hopelessly unsolvable. But did you catch how it compares to what we're spending for Christmas gifts?

Think about that for a minute. Imagine what could happen if we all re-directed just a small percentage of our gift-giving budgets to deal with a life-threatening issue together. It wouldn't take much to cut out $2 from each $100 in the gift-giving budget, and the results could change the world.

Perhaps we need to adjust our priorities a bit.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Preparing for Advent

As a child, I was a bit perplexed by the song "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Its melody was lonely, and its words spoke of captivity, mourning, tyranny. In a season filled with bells and smiles and upbeat tunes, this one didn't quite fit. Just as there is a distinct difference between Christmas music (e.g., Joy to the World, Silent Night) and holiday music (e.g., Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Winter Wonderland), there is also a distinct difference between Christmas music and Advent music. Christmas lyrics speak of a Savior who has already come; Advent lyrics anticipate his arrival.

Advent starts tomorrow. This is a Christian season of anticipation and preparation, stopping awhile to remember the many years before Jesus' birth -- years of waiting for the promise of a Messiah to be fulfilled. It is also a time to ponder more deeply that he'll come back.

Advent is a precious time. I don't want to skip mindlessly past and replace it with an early Christmas. With this in mind, I've been reading more about this season at CRIVoice, Advent Conspiracy, and even the West Texas District, and I look forward to this season. The best part will be to read through Advent passages throughout the upcoming weeks, realizing more deeply and more often the stunning reality of God's work throughout all of history, and especially in the promised Messiah.

Join me and let's walk thoughtfully -- mindfully -- through this season together. Here are Advent readings for the upcoming week:
  • November 30: Psalms 146-147 (morning); Psalms 111-113 (evening); Isaiah 1:1-9; 2 Peter 3:1-10; Matthew 25:1-13
  • December 1: Psalms 1-3 (morning); Psalms 4, 7 (evening); Isaiah 1:10-20; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Luke 20:1-8
  • December 2: Psalms 5-6 (morning); Psalms 10-11 (evening); Isaiah 1:21-31; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Luke 20:9-18
  • December 3: Psalm 119:1-24 (morning); Psalms 12-14 (evening); Isaiah 2:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20; Luke 20:19-26
  • December 4: Psalm 18:1-20 (morning); Psalm 18:21-50 (evening); Isaiah 2:12-22; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13; Luke 20:27-40
  • December 5: Psalms 16-17 (morning); Psalm 22 (evening); Isaiah 3:8-15; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12; Luke 20:41-21:4
  • December 6: Psalms 20-21 (morning); Psalms 110, 116-117 (evening); Isaiah 4:2-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Luke 21:5-19

Friday, November 28, 2008


"Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, 'See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men..." (Joshua 6:1-2)

"I have delivered" suggests a past event, even though the Bible does not indicate any physical signs that Jericho was weak or defeated. The wall surrounding it was strong and, though the people were stuck inside, the city itself apparently continued to function, at least on some level. What was Joshua to do with the declaration from God of deliverance?

Joshua was to walk forward by faith, following God-given instructions and laying claim to what had already been promised, planned, proclaimed.

Have you seen God's deliverance in your own life? Lay claim to what He has already promised!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

You Can't Make Me

Personal sovereignty is a big issue for toddlers, and I took it on with enthusiasm. "I do it myself" was my mantra. I don't know that "you can't make me!" ever became a common phrase in my day-to-day language, but it certainly described my attitude. And it wasn't just in the toddler years. I discovered at a very young age that, while my parents and other authority figures could add pleasant things to my life when I did as they preferred, and could make things more difficult when I did not, they could not make me do as they wished.

There is actually quite a lot of meat in that simple lesson I learned as a toddler.

Personal sovereignty is still an issue for all of us. Who is really in charge of my life? For years, the most important answer to me was "not you." Nobody else could determine what I would do or not do. Just me. Others could make suggestions, offer rewards, and even punish me for doing certain things, and it was reasonable to consider those factors, but in the end, it would always be my decision. Once I had decided to follow Christ, I needed to consider it more deeply. Who is really in charge of my life? I love that God gives us personal sovereignty. Each decision is still mine. But I love even more that God guides us in His good way, and I want my decisions to be aligned with His desires.

The other thing on my mind today is that you can't make me mad, just like my mom couldn't make me eat my vegetables or clean my room. You can frustrate my plans, lie to me, lie about me, neglect a commitment, or fail to keep a promise. You shouldn't, but you can -- those are decisions you can make. But you cannot make me mad -- that is my decision. Thankfully, that is not the only option. Just as I have the option to nurture anger, I also have the option to choose whom to trust, how much to risk, whether to forgive, to love, to give grace.

I imagine I'll always wrestle some with this notion of personal sovereignty, but I am thankful for that opportunity.


"Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, 'See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men..." (Joshua 6:1-2)

Imagine Jericho. It looked nothing like the cities we tend to think of, in part because its outer border was a thick stone wall rather than a small signpost marking the edge of a political territory. An army could not simply march in; the city wall was a barrier of significant size and strength. It was there, just outside the "tightly shut up" Jericho, that Joshua encountered God. And what message did God bring? "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands..."

I wonder if Joshua thought this strange.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


"We are always practicing something. The question is: What are we practicing? At some point, what we've been practicing becomes habitual, the way we show up in the world" (Susan Scott).

"Spiritual disciplines" is a term for any kind of "practicing" in which we intentionally engage with the purpose of becoming more like what God calls us to be. Reading the Bible can be a spiritual discipline, to the extent that we allow it to permeate our souls and not just our brains. Fasting can be a spiritual discipline, to the extent that we allow it to direct our attention often to God. Prayer is another of the "biggies" important to those who claim religious faith. When we engage in genuine, communicative relationship with God, it changes our world both internally and beyond.

Prayer, scripture and fasting are three particularly well-known disciplines, but are certainly not the only ones. When we choose to celebrate good things and give thanks for blessings, it moves us toward joyfulness. When we choose to honor a day of rest each week, caring for the health of our souls, our bodies, and our relationships, it brings restoration. When we laugh and cry together as we tell wonderful stories about loved ones, we remember to cherish others as God intends. When we forgive those who have offended us, we are released from chains of bitterness and are able to more fully experience God's grace, and to extend grace to others. When we savor both the physical nourishment and the tasty pleasure of an excellent meal, we learn to more fully appreciate God's grace-filled provision.

What are you practicing today: Pessimism or joy? Resentment or appreciation? Anxiety or peace? Hate or love? Irritability or patience? Laziness or diligence?

And how are you choosing to practicing it?

Monday, November 24, 2008


I don't want to be surprised by Thanksgiving Day. It is unsettling to make plans and then go about routines until a special day comes, then walk into it unprepared. Not that I wouldn't know Thanksgiving happens on a Thursday in late November, but it could still sneak up on me. Such things have been known to happen.

This holiday is not celebrated because we are so naturally grateful, but because we are not. Thanksgiving is about the intent to cultivate an attitude which is appreciative of each blessing. It is time set aside to recognize so much of what we tend to take for granted, and to rest in gratitude for such goodness.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


"We had previously suffered and been insulted at Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel..." (1 Thessalonians 2:2-4a)

Entrusted. That is such an incredible word. It speaks of giving something over to the care of another. It's like saying "It is my responsibility to take care of this, and I am confident you will care for it like I do." Parents entrust their children to relatives, babysitters and teachers. Entrusting something or someone truly precious to another can sometimes be an obvious decision to make, but never one to take lightly. God does not take the gospel lightly. He chose Paul and entrusted this precious world-changing message to him, confident that Paul would commit his whole self to it.

Paul's letter to the Thessalonians speak of his heart. Not only was his message true, but his motives were pure. He was open, honest, genuine. When he faced opposition, he did not compromise the message.

Grace cannot be earned; genuine, deep trust must be.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Birthday Celebrations

We went to a multi-birthday party today. A birthday is one of those events in which we stop a bit so we can see our movement more clearly. It is a time to look back and celebrate the good, to look forward and imagine the potential future. Birthday parties should also be a time to realize that both past and future are nothing more than a series of moments.

They are made of moments like this one, today, right now.

Life is not formed from years, but from moments. Here's the question: what will I do with this one?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hearing God's Word

It may have been Eugene Peterson who wrote about the importance of hearing scripture and not just reading it. This is partly a matter of methodology. Much of the Bible was originally written to be read aloud within the community, not silently and alone. Listening allows us to hear in a different "voice," perhaps pointing the way to new understandings simply by how it is read.

Listening to scripture is also partly a matter of attitude. It cannot be approached in the same way as reading. When I read, I am the one controlling the pace, voice, and even the content; but when I listen, I must approach the interaction differently, simply hearing what comes my way without so much internal spin.

Listening is done differently than reading, too. When I read, I am the one in control of the interaction between the author and me, but when I listen, I must approach it more submissively, waiting for the words instead of pursuing them. I cannot simply look for what I want; I can only listen for what God would say. This requires more attention.

I've been taking an online class recently on Tracing the Story of God in the Bible. It has been a good experience overall, and I've learned some good stuff. It has reminded me to listen -- in attitude, at minimum -- to the Bible more than looking for something in it.

I wonder what I'll discover tomorrow as I listen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Season of Reflection

"When chaos happens it's easy to just hunker down, think of quick strategies to get out of the mess, or make rash choices. But perhaps slowing down for a season of reflection would do us well. What might God be saying to me, to our country? While we gravitate quickly to happy endings and stories of inspiration, perhaps a period of confession and repentance is also in order...." (Dave Gibbons, Out of Ur blog)

Gibbons is writing here specifically about the current economic difficulties in the USA. I'd suggest that his advice, though, is much more broadly applicable. "When chaos happens...." There is plenty of chaos in and around us -- financial chaos, relational chaos, educational chaos, work chaos, home chaos, and more. When we find ourselves in broken relationships, it is easy to hunker down, avoid the interactions, ignore the broken parts, or simply lash out. When we find ourselves in debt, it is easy to hunker down, run from the creditors, apply for more credit cards, juggle accounts. Whatever the chaos, there is usually a temptation to "fix" it quickly. But too often the "solution" is like a Band-Aid on a broken arm.

A season of reflection could do us some good.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Created to Love

Love me, love my dog.

It's not because he's useful; he's really not. It's not because he's an angel; he's not that, either. He sheds. He barks at unexpected noises outside. He requires inconvenient and sometimes expensive vet visits. He wakes me up sometimes in the wee hours of the morning because he needs to go outside. Given half a chance, he'll steal a loaf of bread from the counter and eat it all.

And that's just the beginning. He's got other less-than-endearing traits, too. I know those traits better than anyone. But you know what? I still adore him.

We went to the vet today. He does not like going to the vet. They are always very nice, but he still gets anxious. He spends most of the time during office visits trying to crawl into the four inches behind the bench, or even onto my lap. He's far too big for either. I spend most of my time during office visits talking to the dog. It seems to help.

Why do we do this? What is it about our animals? Why do we grow so attached? Perhaps it is because we are made in the image of a God who loves and nurtures His creation, and created us to do the same, and even more for people.

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God" (I John 4:7).

Love God, love His people.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dual Citizenship

A group approached Jesus. First, they tried to butter him up: "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are." Then the question: "Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

The question itself is perfectly reasonable. Jesus could have put on his teacher hat and led a great discussion. Instead, he responded by calling them hypocrites because he recognized this was an attempt to trap him verbally. A "yes" would trigger a response from the Pharisees who would accuse him of supporting Caesar's delusion of being a god; a "no" would have gotten him arrested for rebellion.

Jesus responded to the question, but not as they'd hoped, and not just to the question. He really responded to their hearts. Always one ready for an object lesson, he asked them for a denarius (coin) and asked, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" It was Caesar's, so "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22:15-22). The Jews were part of both the Roman Empire and the kingdom of God. Caesar could rightfully claim their tax money, but not their souls.

"Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king" (I Peter 2:7).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Young People These Days

"Young people these days!" Imagine the tone of voice. Probably exasperated, maybe annoyed. It implies a blanket assessment of teenagers as creatures to tolerate until they grow up into respectable human beings.

Imagine that same tone of voice: "Elderly people!" or "Caucasians!" or "Americans!" or "Women!" Each one paints an entire group of very diverse people the same ugly color, using the same sharp-bristled brush. But each and every person is unique, perfectly designed, and very much loved.

We have a building full of teens and their leaders today for quizzing. They came last night from churches across the Intermountain District so they could start bright and early. Our worship team led with music and prayer -- a great way to begin. As we sang "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound," it was incredible to hear their voices rising above those of the worship team.

This crowd also represents "young people these days." They have been studying the Gospel of Luke, memorizing verses, discovering how the different sections tie together, talking about what it all means for us today. Most of them traveled hundreds of miles to get here so they can spend the day in scripture and enjoy each other's company. They are fun. Their energy is contagious. They usually clean up after themselves pretty well, and they are good about following direction. They interact well with each other, with their leaders, and with the many other people who have been around today.

I do love "young people these days."

Marking Time

Astronomers tend to define some basic time-related terms differently than most. For example, most of us find it's enough to know that June days have more daylight hours than other months. Some of us know that June 21 is generally the longest day of the year. A few realize that the solstices and equinoxes shift a bit from year to year. But an astronomer might know the 2008 summer solstice in North America's mountain time zone was at 5:59pm. Such a person might even have a reason to care about such specific detail.

Before we allowed our lives to be ruled by glowing numbers on plastic screens, back when people checked the weather on the porch rather than on the internet, stuff like "today" and "tomorrow" were defined by observing nature and responding accordingly. I wonder sometimes what that would be like.

It is time to get a bedtime biscuit for the dog and settle in, for tomorrow (or today, technically) is another day.

"I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O Lord,
make me dwell in safety."
(Psalm 4:8)

Thursday, November 13, 2008


There are times occasionally when I feel like I’m getting the life squeezed out of me by so many tasks to complete, thoughts to pursue, questions to consider. These things are, in themselves, usually good. It’s just that it’s tough to do and think and ask all of them at the same time. Even fun things and small details can sometimes be stressful at a time like that.

And we are like sponges. When squeezed, whatever we’ve immersed ourselves in comes out. I want to drip something good. That is why I choose to memorize Bible passages.

But how? This powerful discipline can be intimidating. If you would like to immerse yourself in good stuff, here are a few tips that have helped me:

First, read! What captures your heart? What challenges you? Choose a verse (or more) which expresses the core of that message, and focus on memorizing that smaller portion throughout the day. (I recommend following a reading plan. Many study Bibles have at least one plan somewhere in the helps pages. If you’d like to see a couple of options I’ve used, drop me a note. I’d be happy to share!)

Read around the passage you’d like to memorize. Context is very important! Be sure you know what the passage is about, not just what it says.

Write it down, including the reference so you can find it later. A pack of 3x5 cards is a great tool for this. They are cheap, uniform, and very portable. Carry a few of them with you throughout the day. Most of us have little snippets of waiting-time scattered throughout our days – at stoplights, in grocery store lines, while the veggies cook, etc – which provide all the time needed to memorize scripture. It’s amazing how those snippets add up.

Look for patterns and flow, particularly when memorizing longer segments. What thoughts are repeated? What contrasts are presented? How does one verse lead logically to another? These are great questions to consider not just for memorizing, but also to develop deeper understanding.

Use something erasable, and erase selectively. I love using a whiteboard for this, though chalk, pencil, and computer are also very workable options. Write the whole thing and review it a couple of times, then start erasing all but the first letter of some words and reviewing the verse again:

I will r____ the d____ of the L____;

Yes, I will r____ your m____ of l____ a____.

Keep erasing and reviewing until all that’s left is the first letter of each word, then start erasing those, too.

When memorizing an entire chapter, listen to the passage repeatedly. Computers, iPods, and CD players are particularly well-suited for this. If you have the technology, you can record your own voice. Audio is also available online.

Move around. Make up hand and body motions that fit the phrases as you memorize. If you’ve ever done the Memory Max thing in Kidmo, you’ve probably seen the effectiveness – and fun – of this method.

This is just a quick list, a few methods. If you have others to add, that would be great. But whatever you do, immerse yourself in good stuff, knowing that’s what will seep out when you’re squeezed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Linguistic Non-Marathon

I've never in my life had the desire to run a marathon. Ever. It is fascinating to me that other people do. After all, what is so special about 26.22 miles? As it turns out, that distance is "special" because of a legend about an ancient Greek messenger who ran that far and died. Why does that make it a good idea?

November is NaNoWriMo ("NA-no-RYE-moh"), or National Novel Writing Month. Since 1999, folks who love to write have devoted themselves to the challenge of writing a novel -- at least 50,000 words, or around 175 pages -- within that 30-day period. It requires approximately 1700 words per day. While excellent writing is considered a bonus, simply finishing the project is recognized as an accomplishment. It's like a marathon of writing.

I enjoy writing, but I'm really not a marathoner, and my "creative" fiction tends to be quite hideous. Thankfully, NaNoWriMo is now joined by NaBloPoMo: National Blog Posting Month. So, through November, my goal is to write and post daily. (Yeah, I know I've missed one already. I sat down in a really comfortable chair that night and woke up in the morning.)

While the stated goal is just to post daily, finding something worthwhile to write is certainly a bonus. Any suggestions? Please leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Honoring Veterans

People around the world are all different. Everyone has a unique story to tell. We've talked a bit in the Tuesday night Bible study about our stories, and of evidence we see that God has been at work throughout our lives. It has been incredible to hear some of the life-shaping experiences of these friends, particularly in light of where we're at in our various journeys right now.

SLC First honored veterans this past Sunday. At one point in the service, they were asked to stand and be recognized. I looked at their faces, and was amazed again to realize some of the incredible stories represented. These are stories which need to be told and to be heard.

Today is Veterans Day, an annual holiday dedicated to those who have served in the military. Many have served in war, with the ultimate goal of peace. I am reminded again of the quote from Redmoon: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." War and peace are never simple this side of eternity. Regardless of one's opinions regarding any particular war, it is right to honor those who have chosen with good hearts to take on great personal risk in fighting for what is right.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Mild Phooey

I discovered an electrical problem at church on Saturday evening. More specifically, it didn't work. Saturday evening is a bugger time to find something like that. I didn't want us all to wind up in a cold, dark sanctuary and straining to hear clearly. (Actually, I'd be fine in near-dark, and with a bit of cooperation and effort, the lack of sound system could probably be accommodated, too. But I do hate when we're cold, and didn't see a good way to fix that one.)

At such a time, I particularly appreciated working with others who have the knowledge and skills to approach situations like this effectively. One quickly set about making arrangements for emergency power. Another joined me in thinking through contingency plans. We didn't yet know the extent of the problem or the feasibility of some of the solutions, so it was good to have a couple possibilities to pull from as needed.

I pondered the worst-case scenario. What if we didn't have electricity? It was a wise question to consider. It would have been a foolish one to worry about.

People have been worshiping God for millennia, since long before such conveniences as electricity. Each Sunday, groups meet for worship all around the world. Most have no climate control options. A portion have no building and instead meet outdoors. And in some areas, they must meet quietly, at risk of their lives. Our temporary lack of electricity really was a very small issue.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Yesterday I found a slideshow gadget for this page, and spent a little time looking through photos to include. It's just a small selection, representing mostly trips and other special events. And while there are some nice photos, it's really probably little more than prettiness to most folks.

But not to me. To me, they represent memories and experiences that are important to me. They remind me of friends, family, celebrations, adventures, clean air, beautiful creations, powerful wind, peaceful calm, goals reached. A small piece of myself rotates through, three seconds at a time, and it makes me smile.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Courage (noun): the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery (American Heritage Dictionary)

There is a tendency to speak of courage as if it were an act of the body rather than an act of the will. Linguistically, courage is a noun, and converts easily to an adverb. Adverbs modify verbs, such as describing how something is done -- courageously, sheepishly, rapidly, etc. -- rather than naming the action itself. This quote by Ambrose Redmoon says it well: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.".

Without fear, there can be no courage. To do what is right despite danger or opposition is the courageous action. I love Joshua 1, in which God appoints Joshua to lead the Israelites after the death of Moses. He instructs Joshua, "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land... Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey... Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Pretty repetitive, eh? But the repetition may have been important to Joshua, who was about to take on an incredible task. And he needed to know the source of his strength and the reason for such courage -- the power, presence and character of God.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Clean Laundry

Roger Barrier tells a story of when he went off to college. His mother had always done his laundry, so created a canvas laundry bag for him and provided a brief bit of coaching: "Put your dirty clothes in the bag each night, then wash them at the laundromat at the end of the week." So, at the end of that first week, he went to the laundromat, tossed the duffel bag in the washer, added some soap, and started the machine. In moments, the washer began to thump as its unbalanced load rocked the machine. A young woman saw what was happening and approached with this gentle advice: "I think the clothes would get cleaner if you took them out of the bag."

Mr. Barrier makes a great parallel to confession. How often do we bring our sins to God like a lumpy mass still sealed up in a bag? When we confess generically, we give little space for God to work in our hearts and purify us not just from sins committed, but from the very sinfulness that leads to such actions. We are not to wallow in guilt, but to bring our brokenness out into the open and allow God's grace to reach into the folds and seams of our lives. Then we can emerge fresh and truly clean again.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Judas was one of Jesus' disciples. Questions remain concerning why he betrayed Jesus, but the reality also remains that he did betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (see Matthew 26:47-50). The night was long, and by morning the chief priests and elders had decided Jesus should be put to death. When Judas heard this, he was "seized with remorse." He couldn't undo what had been done; he could only return the silver and confess his wrongdoing. His reception was less than empathetic: "What is that to us? That's your responsibility" (Matthew 27:4).

"So Judas threw the money into the temple and left." Imagine the scene. Think about the religious leaders here, and about Judas. I wonder whether the situation was more awkward or more tense. It got worse when Judas hanged himself and the chief priests were left debating what they were to do with the money. They couldn't put it in the temple treasury because it was blood money. They money they had taken from the treasury was tainted now by the events they had set in motion. Somehow they still managed to ignore the hypocrisy of being careful not to re-deposit the thirty coins while still pursuing crucifixion of an innocent man.

It is amazing how thoroughly we hide from ourselves.

A Psalm

God cares, guides, protects, and loves.
He provides for my physical needs
and reassures me when I am frightened.
He helps me to know His perfect way
so my life can reflect His character.

When it appears that life is beyond hope,
that evil will conquer, that I cannot continue --
Still I know
God is in control, and He is good.
That is always enough.

My Father invites me into His presence
even when -- and especially when --
I am surrounded by that which would hurt me.
Evil threatens to envelop me,
yet God is not taken by surprise.

In the midst of trouble, I am still confident
of God's goodness and power and love --
A love for me, too, and not just for humanity.
In the security of this great gift,
I choose to dwell with the Almighty forever.

(Based on Psalm 23)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day 2008

I'd heard about long lines and other issues in some of the polling places around the country. Mark went to vote first today, and called to let me know it wasn't bad at "our" location. I headed that way perhaps a half hour later, and walked right in -- no line, no waiting. The details were taken care of by nice people who seemed to know what they were doing and invest themselves in doing it well. There was even a great parking space. The right to vote is in itself pretty cool. The ease and speed of doing it this morning was an added bonus.

Now it's time to wait. Watching through these next few hours really serves no practical purpose. But, like many others, I'll do it anyway. What happens today is a big deal, and I want to see it.

After so much election focus, I am looking forward to finally having it done. No person, situation, political party, government, or country is perfect. And while such leadership changes are indeed significant, there is another sense in which very little changes because we are still individually called to love and to serve, and to act responsibly as citizens.

Our hope is not in the government. Whatever you are hoping for, and whatever happens, let's move forward from here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Foolishness of Worry

"We have sinned, even as our fathers did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly...
They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt...." (Ps. 106: 6, 21)

This Psalm refers to several incidents, including one recorded in Exodus 32 when Moses was away meeting with God and the people became restless. They told Aaron they wanted a physical god, one they could see and bow down to. Aaron agreed, and things went rapidly downhill from there.

I have always been perplexed by that gold statue. What led the Israelites to worship it? I wonder if this event was a symptom of fear. After seeing a number of pretty incredible miracles, it seems they hadn't experienced a physical representation of God in awhile. Compounding their struggle was the long absence of the leader who represented God to them. I imagine they did not wait well. They wanted to do something.

I still don't really understand the golden calf, but I can certainly see how anxiety so often leads to foolishness. In light of this reality, Philippians 4 makes a lot of sense. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (emphasis mine).

When we focus on and trust in God, He stands with us to help us see which thoughts and emotions are true, and which are off-base.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Clearing the Air

One of my older friends at church entered today looking particularly perky. I greeted her and we had a brief conversation before Sunday School. She was pretty happy about the rain. It hadn't seemed to me like a particularly beautiful or warm or otherwise pleasant rain. But her lungs sometimes give her troubles, and this new weather system had been clearing the air. With the newly cleaned atmosphere, this dear woman was breathing easily and feeling quite well.

I've been thinking about that all day now. I think of the murkiness that sometimes builds up in my life. Pollution in relationships fits this category. Most of it isn't big hairy things, but rather a slow collection of "little" offenses that, if collected, color the world gray. And sometimes even otherwise-good things can become smog material, if it distracts from that which is most important.

I pray that God will continue to send cleansing "rains" to our souls, washing away the muck which so easily clogs our minds, purifying our hearts and bringing life-giving breath from God.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


I drove to Nampa recently. For those unfamiliar with the trip, it's around 350 miles each way, mostly through a bunch of desert. It's an easy journey -- pretty much just go north, then merge west -- and entirely freeway. The speed limit is 75mph most of the way.

Driving back a few days later, the weather was still nice and our travel had been pretty uneventful. Then, just outside of Snowville, a dust funnel formed perhaps a quarter mile ahead of us. I had no idea where it came from at first. Then a rapidly spinning car appeared through the dust. I hit the brakes, knowing we would likely be first responders to a terrible accident. I hoped the occupants were wearing seat belts.

It was probably the first out-of-town trip I've made in eight years without a first aid kit in the car. I've often wondered how much help I could be with a handful of 4" gauze pads, a bunch of Band-Aids, and the little single-use antibiotic creams in a freeway-speed accident, but have also decided it's far better to have those things than not.

By the time we stopped, the car was no longer on the road. We ran to the edge of the hill at the side of the freeway where the vehicle must have driven off the road. I expected the worst, but hoped the car had absorbed most of the impact, leaving the occupants in decent condition. I never could have expected what we saw there: absolutely nothing except more of the mostly-flat fields we'd been driving through for hours. Looked like maybe a barbed-wire fence had been broken through, and perhaps the dirt had been adjusted some. But no mangled car. No car at all.

I may wonder for the rest of my life what happened there.

Friday, October 31, 2008


I went to a local coffee shop today. It seemed like a good place to work awhile, so I checked the hours on the door as I entered:
Monday - Thursday 5:30am to 8:00pm
Friday - Saturday 5:30am to 8:00pm'ish
Sunday 7:00am to 6:00pm

The "ish" concept makes me smile. It looks to me like "we'll stay open until 8pm those evenings, awaiting your arrival. If you don't come by that time, we plan to go home. But if you're here, perhaps we'll adjust to stay awhile longer."

There are some boundaries we need to enforce, and time is sometimes one of those, but there are also times when we could use a bit more of this kind of ish-ness in our relationships.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Choices, Motives, Character

I was excited as a child to hear that Psalms are poems. I thought of Shel Silverstein, and was fascinated that the Bible might have something like that. It wasn’t until years later that I began to appreciate the patterns of ideas – rather than of sound – which characterize Hebrew poetry. I do still admire and enjoy the poetry of Shel Silverstein, but it can not hold a candle to the Psalms!

I love the imagery of Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
The skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
Night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
Their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
Like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
And makes its circuit to the other;
Nothing is hidden from its heat…

The chapter goes on to rejoice in God revealing his character through the order he appoints for us individually and socially. Far from being overbearing or angry commands, guidance from God brings light and joy. Then, about God’s direction…

By them is your servant warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
May they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
Innocent of great transgression.

Pastor Fred talked some about this today – willful sin compared to simple human failings. He spoke of “sins of intent” as wrong choices made with unholy motives, compared to wrong choices made with holy motives, which are mistakes. In Psalm 19, David acknowledges both. I am thankful for a God who sees when there is a good heart even behind wrong choices, and who forgives and purifies a wrong heart when we ask him.

(Lectionary passages here.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Choosing to Celebrate

Today holds the first snow. Not a big storm, just enough to warrant a bit more care in driving, and to pull more of the leaves off the trees. I'm not really excited about winter. That's why I choose to celebrate today.

I am thankful for seasons, the phases of the moon, day and night, that mark the passage of time and give a sense of moving forward lest we forget that our time on earth is indeed limited. I am thankful for the water cycle. As I drove in this morning, I was thankful all over again that I do not drive a truck for a living, particularly in bad weather, and I am thankful also for those who do. I am thankful for a home with heat. In fact, not only are we able to stay sufficiently warm, but it heats up automatically without requiring us to gather firewood or make a fire. I am thankful for snowboarding, which takes a hazard and makes a fun sport of it. I am thankful for hot tea on cold mornings and cold tea on hot mornings.

As we move through this mildly snowy day, I choose to celebrate the day it is.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

But I'm Thirrrrsty!

When I was a kid, we often drove to Idaho for a week or so in the summer. Five of us in one car for nine or ten hours, with a couple of brief stops for fuel or food. I don't think we had air conditioning, and the latter half of the journey was through hot desert. The journey seemed to take forever.

I remember during one of those trips feeling so very thirsty as we drove through one of those long middle-of-nowhere stretches. I told my mom, but we didn't have any water in the car, so I waited. And waited. And waited. I imagine it was about six forever-minutes later when I told Mom again how thirsty I was. I wanted her to fix it. She was sympathetic, but didn't give me any water. So I told her again. "Mom, I'm thirrrrsty!" She turned around and said something like, "Honey, I know you're thirsty, and if you'll tell me where to find water, I'll get it for you." Hmmm. I apparently hadn't thought about that little barrier.

Exodus 17:1-7 reminds me of this encounter. The Israelites were traveling through the desert on a very long journey from slavery to the land God had promised to them:
"They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, 'Give us water to drink.' Moses replied, 'Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?' But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses."

"They grumbled against Moses." How typical -- of them, of us, of all humanity! What precisely did they expect Moses to do about their situation? Their quarrel was not with Moses, but with God, who was not giving them what they needed on the schedule they wanted. Like me in that hot car on a summer afternoon, they became cranky and started to spread their misery.

And yet, God provided. When Moses "cried out to the Lord," God graciously gave the water Moses requested for the Israelites. "And he called the place Massah [which means 'testing'] and Meribah [which means 'quarreling'] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, 'Is the Lord among us or not?'"

God may have been waiting for them to ask, but I do not believe at all that He required the people to start whining and threatening before he would provide for their needs. I wonder what that place would have been named if the Israelites had approached God with trust instead of complaint.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Telling Stories

Children sometimes have a favorite story which they request again and again, often to the dismay of their weary parents. Why do they do that? Is it because they’re entranced by the subtle nuances of the plot? No! The story, wonderful though it may be, is not what draws them. They are drawn by the act of telling the story and by the storyteller. Through repetition, stories can take root in our minds and in our souls. Stories become an important part of who we are.

Exodus 16 tells more of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert, when they grumbled about the food situation and romanticized the “good old days” of being slaves in Egypt. God provided through manna (great name – “what is it?”) and quail. It’s narrative. Through the story, we have an account of what happened. Psalm 105 also tells of the Exodus and the Israelites’ wandering in the desert, and tells briefly of God meeting their needs for food and water there. Same event, different account. It has fewer details, and is written more poetically. Both are important to our heritage.

When I was a full-time teacher, I took a class one summer on integrating science and writing. Not just the very objective third-person passive voice science writing, but also creative writing. While I’m pretty good at the first one, the creative type takes a lot more effort, and doesn’t usually come out as well. And I loved it! It was difficult, but the process of writing caused me to look more deeply at the people and situations around me as I sought to express what I saw.

That’s kind of what the Psalms are like – creative expression of important experiences in life with God, passed down through generations through worship.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Simplicity of Purpose

Looking through a catalog this evening, I found a book. It's called Simplify. The summary states it is "about making choices to restore balance, to build a life schedule founded on the sane realization that we cannot accomplish everything, and to learn to live within our limits." There is definitely a need for to simplify in our culture -- to focus our time, energy and other resources on those few things which really are important.

Then, looking more closely at the book, I saw that it has a subtitle. The full title/subtitle of the book is Simplify: 106 Ways to Uncomplicate Your Life. Does anyone else think this is funny, or am I the only one?

On a topic of simplicity...

Here's a quote I've been thinking about for months: "Simplicity, from a biblical perspective, is not about making our lives more manageable. Did Moses' life become less complex after the burning bush? Did Esther's decision to follow God make her life easier? Consider Joseph and Mary. Did submitting to God make their young lives more manageable? Hardly. And we shouldn't forget the apostle Paul. Few would argue the persecution he endured was a manageable lifestyle. These examples, and many others, reveal that for God's people the opposite of simplicity is not complexity. It's duplicity." (Mndy Caliguire, a great article called "Two of Me" in Leadership Journal)

On a similar note, John Ortberg suggests that, while it should never be our goal to live an unbalanced life, a quest for mere balance will never encourage us to devote our lives to something bigger than ourselves. He challenges us to a life beyond balance, in pursuit of that which is worthy of our devotion. This is what he terms "a well-ordered heart" rather than only a balanced one. And he calls wisely on Augustine: to have a well-ordered heart is to "love the right thing, to the right degree, in the right way, with the right kind of love."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Time Factor

Life is a series of moments, and each is significant. Some, though, stand out. These are times that are truly transformational experiences, impacting absolutely everything from that point forward. It is true on a community level, too: in friendships, households, congregations, nations. The Israelites fleeing Egypt is one of those times. Exodus 12-14 describes one of the most influential events in all Israelite history.

Raised in Christian churches, I heard this story many times. There were the pictures, too, particularly of Moses standing at the edge of a large riverbed with his staff raised, and the people walking between walls of water. As I listened, I imagined what it may have been like. A few years ago, though, I read this account (Exodus 14) and saw it with new eyes.

In my imagination throughout my growing-up years, I saw the people walking in a big line toward a river. They saw their enemies coming and prayed. Moses raised his staff, the waters parted, the Israelites walked across, Moses put his staff down, the waters closed, the Egyptians drowned, and the Israelites cheered. Then they walked again. It seemed like a fast-moving story.

I read it more carefully now, and I imagine it differently. The “plot line” moves pretty much the same, but the timing reveals part of the reason this event is so significant. Imagine it:

After four hundred years as slaves in Egypt, the Israelites see God work through ten plagues. Finally, after the deaths of the firstborn throughout Egypt, Pharaoh sends them away and they quickly head into the desert. It was not simply a few people, or even a few thousand; the Exodus included over a half million men, plus women, children, and livestock. The noise and dust must have been incredible. And there would be no way to hide a crowd that large. They walked, following Moses’ direction. And then they saw the Egyptians coming after them. The Egyptians, with horses and chariots, horsemen and troops. They began to panic; Moses reassured them. Moses expressed his own anxiety to God; God told them to keep moving. The pillar of cloud they had been following now moved behind them; they knew the Egyptians were nearby, but could not see them. Following God’s instructions, Moses raised his staff over the sea. They waited, and waited, and waited some more. All night long they waited, with the unseen presence of the Egyptians behind them, the sea ahead of them, and such a strong wind that it drove the sea back.

Sometimes we find ourselves in places like this – calling out to God, desperate for Him to answer, surrounded by serious problems and concerned that maybe God won’t respond, or perhaps just won’t respond soon enough. It is all the more difficult when that which terrorizes us is unseen. Night, too, causes the imagination to be less easily checked by the distractions or hope of daylight.

Yet we see in this story that God’s timing and God’s plan were indeed perfect, for “when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (Exodus 14:31). They had a long ways to go yet. The journey would not be an easy one. But God had prepared them for it even – and especially – in these difficult times.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Opportunity Cost

WordNet defines opportunity cost as "cost in terms of foregoing alternatives." In other words, every decision to use limited resources (e.g., time or money) on one thing necessarily means becoming unable to use them on something else.

I rather enjoy technology most of the time. I'm young enough to have an overall good relationship with technological things, and old enough to really appreciate advancements in computer technology rather than simply taking them for granted. I suppose it's not surprising, being in that in-between stage, that I haven't really seen much need before now to embed video. This week, though, I'd like to show a video which illustrates opportunity cost. It's short (126 seconds) and simple. If all goes well, you'll see it here:

The actual term was introduced later, but the concept of opportunity cost was definitely part of my upbringing. Sometimes it was a decision offered to me. For example, I could devote my time in the school band to learning to play the trumpet or the saxophone, but not both. Which would I give up so I could choose the other? Other times it was a decision my parents made. For example, would they allow me to have a job during the school months or instead direct my focus to school and sports?

The little girl in this video was learning about opportunity cost. Given a limited amount of money and two real needs, what would they do? The answer was not to give up shoes entirely. Rather, she was willing to sacrifice her preferences to share with someone else.

I love the perspective that Alabaster nurtures.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


After WWII, mission areas around the world had a critical need for buildings and land. In response to that need, Nazarenes created the "Alabaster" offering, honoring the sacrifice of the woman who anointed Jesus' head with expensive perfume poured from an Alabaster jar (Matthew 26:6-13). Now many people collect money -- especially coins -- in small boxes throughout the year for that purpose. Since the first Alabaster offering in 1949, more than 7,300 projects have been funded by these gifts totaling over $79 million.

Those are big enough numbers that they become difficult to imagine. So, out of curiosity, I did a bit of internet research and a few quick calculations. Based on what I found, my napkin-back estimate is that the combined contents of all those little paperboard boxes would weigh more than the Statue of Liberty. At least seven times more, actually. And the Statue of Liberty is pretty big -- just her index finger is eight feet long.

Think about that for a minute. Imagine all the people who have given to Alabaster over the years, each just a little bit at a time, each bringing just a tiny portion of the whole. Imagine also the people who have been helped during the past sixty years through schools, churches, medical clinics, and other such facilities because a bunch of folks decided to join forces.

What none of us can do alone, all of us may be able to do together.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I love this place. I love the fires in the fireplace, the morning fog clearing to reveal the river under a beautiful sky, the hot tea in the mornings. I love the way it smells. I love the schedule and spaces this week, creating space to be alone and space to be in community.

More than all that, I love the people. I love devoting time regularly throughout these days to worship, and to ponder deeply together in scripture. I love the opportunities to stop awhile and rest.

In Sabbath, God gave us a gift. For a full day out of every seven, we are to stop doing all the things that make us feel valuable as if our value were dependent upon what we do. Through Sabbath, we again see who God is, and who we are, and who we are in him. On Sabbath, we drop the props and come to God just as we are.

I am thankful.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Challenging a False God

Some have a storybook image of Jesus in their minds as primarily a really nice guy, the kind of guy who would get along with anyone. Surely he would never get into arguments or say anything that might offend others. He was probably even ruggedly handsome and always clean, like in the paintings. But the Bible reveals this image could actually be considered an idol -- a false picture of God which keeps us from truly experiencing God as he truly is.

Two weeks later, I'm still thinking about the lectionary passages from September 7:
Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Two words have taken root in my mind as I've pondered these portions. The first is community. I saw a glimpse of this in Exodus 14:4, which is part of God's instructions to the Israelites as he prepared them for the Passover; that is, when he would liberate them from Egyptian slavery. Among the details was the command for each household to slaughter and eat a lamb, but "if any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are." In this way, everyone would have enough, nothing would be wasted, and nobody would be alone. They were to prepare together, to experience together, to have memories together.

The New Testament passages focus very much on community. "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). It echoes what Jesus had said about all other commands being enveloped by the one to love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40).

The teaching in Matthew 18 addresses conflict, particularly among Christians. And it's not just about being offended, which leaves open the question of whether or not there is adequate cause. Instead, Jesus is quite clear when he starts this teaching: "If your brother sins against you...." He knew that anytime people do life together -- in families, workplaces, churches, neighborhoods, or whatever -- they will sometimes get angry with each other, and sometimes for good reason. Thankfully, he also taught how to deal with these situations.

This brings me to the second word which has taken root in me as I've pondered these passages: revolutionary. Far from being a totally agreeable, gentle fellow who would go with the flow rather than make waves or ruffle feathers, Jesus challenged the customs and beliefs of the day. It was Jesus who made a scene in the temple when greedy people were taking advantage of the people there to make sacrifices. It was Jesus who hand-picked a tax collector -- a profession known in that day for extortion and for helping the oppressors -- as one of his disciples, and even went to a party with a whole bunch of such people. It was Jesus who questioned some of the religious customs of Sabbath observance and also supported his disciples in doing the same. It was Jesus who so lovingly corrected both a woman caught in adultery and her accusers.

The Jesus we serve turned the culture where he lived -- including the religious community -- on its head by teaching and modeling perfect love. To the extent that we recognize and follow him, we participate in his mission to transform our world!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What Do You See?

My friend Ben preaches through the lectionary. Not a really common thing in Nazarene circles, it seems, which is part of the reason we've had several conversations about it. I've been interested to know what has led him to make that decision, how it has impacted his ministry, and in what ways he has been personally changed by it. I've done a little bit of research on the history and philosophy of the lectionary, too. Two common threads have stuck in my mind from those various resources. First, it guides us through scripture in a Big Story way, developing in our hearts and minds a better understanding of how individual events in the Bible tie together. And second, it guides us through the whole of scripture, giving regular input from throughout the Bible on a regular basis.

So I've been blogging through the liturgical year.

I've been wrestling for a week or so with the passages from September 7. Here are the passages:
Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Let's "talk" about these sections. What captures your heart as you read them?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Who Am I?

Moses was tending sheep when he saw a bush on fire, but not burning up (see Exodus 3). Having caught his attention, God spoke to Moses: "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land...." This must have sounded wonderful to Moses; they had suffered so much, and waited so long! Then God continues, "So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."
Eh? "I have come down to rescue them... so now, you go." Have you ever had a moment like that? You pray and wait and hope for God to take action, and finally sense God's concern, but it is coupled with a command:
  • Perhaps you pray for a homeless person who appears hungry as you walk by, and sense God's gentle nudge: Yes, I hear your prayer, and I do care about the suffering you see. So I am sending you to feed him.
  • Perhaps you pray for a single parent who is struggling to balance work and family, and sense God's gentle nudge: Yes, I hear your prayer, and I do care about the struggles you see. So I am sending you to help that parent in their home for a few hours.
  • Perhaps you pray for someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one, and sense God's gentle nudge: Yes, I hear your prayer, and I do care about this person's intense sense of loss. So I am sending you to listen and share this grief.
  • Perhaps you pray for a friend whose young daughter is in the hospital with a serious illness, and sense God's gentle nudge: Yes, I hear your prayer, and I do care about the worries of this family. So I am sending you to sit awhile with the daughter and her mom in the hospital.
And your response might be very much like that of Moses: "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" Ken Davis notes that what God did NOT say is quite instructive. God did not say "Don't worry, I gave you all the skills at birth to prepare you for this," or even "Don't worry, I'll teach you everything you'll need before you get there." Actually, God's answer was more like "You're right. You're not perfectly sufficient for this!" But instead of promising new abilities, God promised something far, far better: "I will be with you." And that is enough.

Let Them Teach

"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully" (Romans 12:4-8).

I was privileged to spend a few hours yesterday with ten of the people who will be teaching in Sunday School and other areas of discipleship this fall, and it was a great joy to hear them talk about the upcoming months. They've clearly been thinking about how to approach this great task. Their love for God and for the people they lead is obvious. They're planning ahead so they can be as effective as possible. Quite a few of them know already some of the people who will be in their classes, and they recognize that each one is unique. These teachers enjoy each other, too, and look forward to serving together. All in all, I walked out pretty excited about what is coming up!

The Bible speaks very clearly in a number of places (e.g. Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4) about how each person is created for a purpose. Each one has some gifts; no one has all gifts. We are created this way on purpose, for community. Much like the fingers are really important in the human body, but the body needs much more than just fingers, the church needs all of its different parts, each in its place and functioning well. I'm enthused about the group God has prepared for us for this fall.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I had the privilege of attending the Leadership Summit this year for the first time, at the South Mountain Community Church satellite location. Willow Creek had a small bookstore set up there throughout Summit, and I enjoy book tables. A lot. I spent some time at the book table before finally deciding on a recent book and a DVD set from a previous Summit. I was pretty happy about both, and started reading the book that evening.

The conference had just begun, though, and there was one more book that kept drawing me. During breaks between sessions, I looked it over. Several times. It was well-written and relevant, offering new perspectives and encouragement in an area I'd been wrestling with. But I already had one book and about five hours' worth of DVDs. Did I really need one more? Of course I didn't. It would be useful, of course, but it would not be necessary. I'd survived my whole life without this book; I could be without it and be just fine.

That's when a gentleman approached me, smiled, and told me that book was mine, a complete gift from a perfect stranger. I could take it home, read it, write in it, refer to it later. It belonged to me. I was surprised. I was honored. All I could think was the word "grace," and how this fellow was a living reminder of -- and an active participant in -- God's unmerited favor in my life.

God's grace is unfathomably bigger than a book, of course. But I think He packaged grace that day in one of His people as a blessed reminder of His goodness, and I am thankful.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Which relationships in your life cause you the most pain? And in whose life might you be such a source of pain? Who in your life causes your muscles to tense up and your mind to shift quickly to defensiveness or outright anger when their names are mentioned? And who has been impacted in that way by the mention of your name?

Do you sense your internal walls going up even now as you think about these relationships?

Beyond the MirrorHenri Nouwen wrote Beyond the Mirror as an account of how nearly dying as a result of an auto-pedestrian accident impacted his thoughts and his faith. In the book, he talks about the accident itself, then how the processes of surgery and recovery led him to consider his own death and, ultimately, his life. When asking his prognosis, he told the doctor, "I really want to prepare for my death. I am not afraid to die, but I worry about leaving life unaware." His condition at that point was not fully known, but Nouwen sensed it was precarious. "And so I let myself enter into a place I had never been before: the portal of death. I wanted to know that place, to 'walk around' it, and make myself ready for a life beyond life."

Nouwen wrote of his relationship with God and of the incredible peace he had in that uncertain time. Still, while he did not fear death, he found himself unsettled, resistant. His explanation is telling: "What most prevented me from dying was the sense of unfinished business, unresolved conflicts with people with whom I live or had lived.... They might never think of me, but every time I thought of them I lost some of my inner peace and joy.... I also knew that there were still people angry with me, people who could not think about me or speak about me without experiencing great hostility.... In the face of death, I realized that it was not love that kept me clinging to life but unresolved anger" (emphasis mine).

This morning I read in Genesis 45 about Joseph revealing his identity to his brothers. It's not one of those hopeful and exciting stories about finally finding each other after somehow becoming separated in the hospital at birth or something like that. Instead, Joseph was separated from them when the other eleven threw him into a well, sold him to become a slave in a foreign land, and told his father he'd been killed by wild animals. Their original plan was to kill him, but they figured, "What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?" So they sold him instead, saying "After all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood." (This story really starts in Genesis 37, and continues through Genesis 50.) Great family dynamics, eh?

Think back to the original questions. Which of your relationships are broken? Joseph would have understood what it's like. And that is why I am so amazed by his response. He told them who he was, drew them close, reassured them, and moved the whole extended family to live near him so they would have provision in a time of severe famine. We could imagine him being perfectly justified to just let them starve, but he chose to forgive and seek reconciliation: "'Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives...' And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them" (Genesis 50:19-21).

Where have barriers been allowed to develop between you and others? Has bitterness gotten a foothold on your soul? What step can you take today toward forgiveness?

Like Nouwen, I want to experience the freedom of right relationships. "The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world -- free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless; free also to receive love from people and to be grateful for all the signs of God's presence in the world" (Nouwen).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Facing Struggles, Taking Risks

Matthew records Jesus miraculously feeding over five thousand people in Matthew 14, followed by the miracle of Jesus walking on the water to meet up with his disciples as they took a boat to the other shore. A few things catch my attention in the water-walking story:

First, after feeding thousands, Jesus sent the disciples on ahead, then found a place where he could be alone to pray. This was always odd to me as I was growing up. After all, if Jesus is God, why would he pray? But this is part of the mystery of what we know as the Trinity; that is, the one God expressed as three distinct Persons. In prayer, Jesus stayed connected and nourished relationship with the Persons of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. And if Jesus sought that connection, which was already part of his very nature, how much more we need to strengthen such relationship through prayer!

Second, Jesus went to the disciples "during the fourth watch of the night." The night hours were divided into segments of watch duty. In this case, "the fourth watch" was probably sometime between 3:00am and 6:00am. Think about that for a minute. What was it like to be among the disciples then? It had already been a very long day, and here they find themselves fighting difficult weather in the middle of the night as they work very hard with their already-worn bodies to reach their destination. It was dark, too, and things so often feel more hopeless in the wee hours of the morning. But Jesus went to them in that difficult time.

Third, it looks to me like Peter took to the extreme Jesus' encouragement -- "Take courage!" -- by asking Jesus to invite him (Peter) to also walk on water. Wow, Peter had guts! Such gumption can be admirable. And he did wait for Jesus' invitation rather than jumping out into the choppy waters. But...

Then Peter "saw the wind" and became afraid. This makes natural sense, of course, since he was walking on water at the time, and in a strong wind, too. But his response betrays his doubt. Could Jesus really be trusted? Did he really have both the power and the desire to sustain Peter when things got rough? What power was keeping Peter afloat, anyway? Those are questions for all of us to wrestle with.

Finally, while Peter did lose clear sight of Jesus for a moment, he knew who to turn to when he realized his error, and he did so with vigor: "Lord, save me!" And Jesus, ever gracious, "reached out his hand and caught him."

If you were to place yourself in this story right now, where would you be? You might be one of the thousands in the crowd, having experienced divine power and now returning back to home and everyday life. Perhaps you relate more to the disciples in the boat, having also experienced divine power but now facing opposition and you don't quite see him clearly yet. Peter might make sense, too, if you've found yourself facing a challenge and stepping out boldly to meet it. Or if you've stepped out boldly and have slipped up.

Think about where you are in your own story, and consider: "Where is Jesus, and where am I, and what are the two of us going to do about this situation?" Answering that question well, and consistently, will change our lives.