Sunday, February 24, 2008


"Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our Salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land...."

Someone brought up the topic recently about the distinction between worship and appreciation. Do we worship God because God is God, or because of what God does for us? Without the blessings, would we still worship? I'd say the answer is a qualified "yes." It depends on seeing God for who He is. God is worthy of worship, and we recognize that when we see clearly. Worship is a very natural response, similar (except in degree) to the "wow" of a phenomenal sunset. It just happens.

But do we really see God? Do we recognize Him? Do we realize His nature? Often the answer is no. We are too easily led astray into distorted views: the "grandpa" God spoiling us as children, the authoritative mean God eagerly seeking out sin to punish, the self-help God whose primary role is to help us figure out how to get along well in this world, the fairy godfather God to grant our wishes when we pray. But God cannot and will not be stuck in a box like that.

The Psalms are like the songbook of the Jewish people, exploring life and relationship with God -- wrestling with difficult times, rejoicing in times of celebration, and worshiping the one true God. Psalm 95 is one of those incredible perspective-giving Psalms.

Here are the lectionary texts for next Sunday:
I Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lent, Part II

If you've been reading along, you know that it's Lent, and that Lent is shaping my world. One of the traditional practices of Lent is fasting. As it turns out, "fasting" is a pretty broad term. I know folks who have given up various things for this 40-day period, such as computer games, chocolate, Facebook, newspapers, or desserts. Two things have particularly stood out for me in my Lenten fast this year.

The first is that giving up caffeinated beverages is harder than I'd expected. After all, I don't even like the taste of coffee unless it's seriously diluted by milk and flavoring. But sipping hot tea on my way to Salt Lake in the mornings, or stopping at Toni's coffee shop for a flavored latte, has been a much-enjoyed part of my routine. I'd heard rumors that fasting is a reminder in part because it interrupts our daily lives and therefore requires us to think about what we do in those everyday lives, and it's true.

The second thing caught my attention on Ash Wednesday as I thought about the start of this season. It's from Ephesians 4: "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." Just as fasting creates an odd feeling of something being absent in my routines during this season, I want to fill that sense of vacuum with Christ. And as I do that, I consider what in my life gets in the way of true relationship with God and should be discarded permanently.

I am thankful for Lent.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I'm in the lectionary texts again today, and I'm looking at faith.

Genesis 12:1-4 is God's call to Abram: "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you...." This is not simply a checklist, and it is notably not a call to go to somewhere to do something. It is a call to uncertainty. God sent Abram away from his home, his culture, and his family. Abram had God's promise that He would show the way, but no detail. He was being called not to a particular location, but to a particular lifestyle -- a lifestyle of listening to and following God's direction.

We are all called to something similar, though few of us quite as drastically obvious. God challenges us to walk daily with Him, seeking His direction and trusting Him enough to follow it. That's kind of like skydiving -- we're surprisingly safe, but it goes against our natural instincts, and it can be a scary thing. The message of Psalm 121 is reassurance that putting our trust in God is the safest thing we can do.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 brings us back to Abram (now called Abraham). Abraham trusted God. He veered from the path sometimes, but kept returning to God. He did not -- and could not -- earn God's favor. It was only through his faith that God's promise was fulfilled.

John 3:1-17 tells of Nicodemus, Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. He "came to Jesus at night and said..." This was a man with something to lose by seeking out Jesus. He was probably concerned about being seen with Jesus. What would the other religious leaders do? At the same time, it's clear that we are called to follow God no matter the cost. What are we to do with Nicodemus? I'm thinking we ought to deal with Nicodemus as Jesus did -- with love and grace, and with a challenge to take another step of faith.

Christians tend to talk about taking a leap of faith, and it's only fair for me to acknowledge that the "leap" I took twenty-one years ago wasn't much of a leap at all. It was a quiet, very tentative, very small step. But it was a step forward, and God honored my just-enough faith. A life of faith -- walking with Christ day by day -- is more a series of little steps than one big one.

If you've never followed the lectionary, I'd challenge you to join me in it, at least through Lent. There are passages from Old Testament history, Psalms/writings, history of Jesus' time, and other New Testament each week. It's a great place to start. Here are lectionary texts for next Sunday:
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

Saturday, February 16, 2008


I messed up. I hurt a friend. I was irritable and frustrated, and allowed that to determine my response. I shouldn't have done it, and hated that I had.

I thought about it. I tried not to. I tried to ignore the reality that I'd offended someone, and when I couldn't, I tried to justify in my mind what I'd said.

But that didn't work either. I was clearly in the wrong.

I thought about it some more, and time passed. Probably he'd forgotten about it, right? Or would soon. Maybe to say something about it would open a wound which had started to heal, right?

Nope. Finally I stopped the excuses, stopped the tasks which were keeping me otherwise occupied, stopped the procrastination, and called. It was a simple conversation, and a short one. I told him what I'd done wrong -- not because he didn't know, but because to verbally acknowledging wrongdoing is important for both involved to truly be reconciled and healed -- and asked for forgiveness. No excuses.

And I was forgiven. Nothing flashy. No threat of probationary friendship. Just the beautiful words "I forgive you" and the incredible peace of restored relationship.

It was hard to ask forgiveness, and surprisingly difficult even to receive it because I knew I didn't deserve it at all. But on that afternoon I saw a reflection of God in a friend who has experienced God's grace and was willing to extend that kind of grace to me.

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:9-13)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Giving Up

We're in the season of Lent currently. This is the forty days (not counting Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It is a season of preparation, often including particular emphasis on fasting, prayer, and giving to those in need. We didn't observe Lent in the churches where I grew up, so it wasn't until adulthood that I started to explore and understand it. Now, though, it is becoming an important time in my life each year.

I'm using the lectionary texts for my Sunday times with God. They are intended to direct our thoughts and our souls toward God by reminding us both that we need forgiveness and that God offers it through grace. Psalm 32 was in the lectionary passages this past Sunday, and I keep thinking about it. Before the events and busyness of the day, I sat with God to ponder the wisdom of Psalm 32, then wrote what I caught of the message. Here's what I found:

It is a wonderful thing to experience God's forgiveness and transformation. When instead I stubbornly refuse the admit the sin of my actions or the sin of my heart, the weight of conviction -- a deep awareness of my separation from God -- is terribly heavy, because there is nothing which gives life more than a great relationship with God. So when I do confess my sin and am forgiven -- which scripture promises to all who repent -- it brings life. I don't want to be like a stubborn beast refusing to follow out of sheer willfulness. That's a rotten way to go through life, particularly compared to the great joy and love of being in right relationship with God.

(I'm glad you're reading, but please don't settle for my interpretation. Read this Psalm for yourself here.)

Whatever you've done, whatever you struggle with, know this -- God wants to be in a great relationship with you. Sin will prevent such relationship, but only if you allow that to happen. The Bible promises, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).

Are you still wondering? Still having some doubts? Still struggling with whether God would really forgive you? Give me a call. Tell me your story. And let's explore God's grace together.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Drifting vs. Waiting

Another point from Sanborn.... He writes of going on a cruise with wife, and speaking with the captain. The captain said he'd been in ninety-foot waves. With sufficient power in the watercraft, negotiating such waves apparently wasn't great trouble. The ship could handle pretty much all of it if faced head-on. But if it lost power -- or if the captain lost focus -- it would drift parallel to the waves and be capsized or swamped.

He uses this illustration to distinguish between waiting and drifting. Like a ship, sometimes we encounter "storms" in our own lives which impede progress and even threaten our well-being. At times like these, it is often right to engage in focused waiting. The storm will eventually pass, and we'll come out the other end, again moving forward through calmer seas.

"Drifting and waiting are very different things. Waiting is an intentional choice. It requires patience and deliberation. Drifting takes away [gives away?] your power of choice."

To wait is sometimes the most appropriate action; to drift never is.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

On Being Happy, Being Good

I read a book this evening by Mark Sanborn. Short read, not a lot of meat to chew on, but a few excellent spots.

Tony Campolo talks of childhood with a father who didn't care if he was happy, because he had much higher aspirations for his kids. He wanted them to be good -- that is, strong, ethical people interacting well with their world. Sanborn comments, "Being happy is enviable, but being good is truly admirable. It requires character, integrity, and perseverance."

This isn't a new point, but is one worth repeating. How often do we focus on what pleases us, and consequently lose focus on the impact we can have on our surroundings? When Jesus told us to pray for God's kingdom to come and God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven, he did not intend for this prayer to be the end of things. Rather, we are to play a continual and active role in making it so.

Going back to the book, even "good" may be a pretty mediocre goal. Sanborn goes on to quote Erwin McManus: "We spend so much time worrying about our kids being good -- not breaking the rules [or] getting into trouble, and basically behaving -- that we often forget to invite them to be great."

I don't want to settle for anything less.