As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Making Amends

Read Matthew 5:21-26

“...leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”  v. 24

Lent often feels like a time when we clean the slate between us and God.  That feels awesome...almost like a reboot of sorts.  We recognize we've gotten lost along the way and Lent helps us to make the necessary corrections.  We get back on course and we realign our actions and attitudes to God.  Though it's not easy, it feels great to start fresh with God once again!  

But wait...what if that's not it?

What if this time of soul-searching, this time of coming to terms with who we are and where we've come up short not only affects our relationship with God?  What if it impacts our relationships with one another?  Here's where it gets real!

When we get off track, we not only injure our relationship with God.  We injure others.  We make decisions, say things, act in ways that wounds people we come into contact with each and every day.  Some of whom are those closest to us.  They are our spouse, our children, our parents, our co-workers, our brothers and sisters in Christ.  How many times have you said something to your husband/wife that you wish you could take back?  How many times have you neglected to tell you children how much you love them?  How much animosity have you harbored in your heart against the person you set next to on Sundays?  

Yet, we are pretty stubborn!

We justify.  We make excuses.  We blame.  We try to forget.  We bury it deep somewhere that it won't bother us. Consequently...what we fail to do is name it and come to terms with it.  According to Jesus, that doesn't fly.  According to Jesus, repentance isn't over when we've said sorry to God.  Repentance pushes us further.  It pushes us toward others.  One might even say that repentance isn't complete until we've gone to that someone we've hurt in hopes of making amends.  Humility is found not only as we stand before God.  Humility is found as we stand in earnest remorse before the person we've injured.    

We can’t be repentant if we give ourselves permission to be down right ugly to others.  Our love for God should infect how we treat others.  In fact Jesus goes on to say that if conviction strikes and you realize that your brother or sister has something against you, before you try to go get super-spiritual you had better make amends first.  Christianity is not just about me and my Jesus, its about how we live together before a Holy God.

Gut Check...

Name a few people that might have something against you, what it is, and how you might make amends.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Conscience or Conviction

Read 2 Kings 23

“The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to follow the LORD, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book.” v.3
As followers of Jesus, we learn to speak a new language.  In the past, we might have used the word "conscience."  You know, "I was about to do (such and such) but my conscience wouldn't allow it."  But as followers of Jesus, we instead opt for the word "conviction."  What's the difference?  

Conscience speaks to something already within us.  However, yesterday we talked about how regularly our internal compasses are broken and can't be trusted.  I'm not sure my "conscience" has the power to compel me toward the good life.  Conviction on the other hand is different.  Conviction comes to us from the outside and takes root internally.  Conviction, and I know this is going to sound odd, is a gift from God.  As followers of Jesus, we call conviction a work of God's Spirit on us and within us.  Conviction is a gift that invites us again to reorient our lives to Christ and His Kingdom.

But wait...conviction doesn't always feel like a gift.

Conviction without a doubt can be a painful experience.  Conviction is this movement that ultimately reveals that we are either headed in the wrong direction or that we've already taken the wrong path and need to do an "about face."  When that happens, guilt often sets in.  Guilt doesn't have to be a problem.  Guilt is the recognition that something is wrong, it's the set up for repentance, it's ability to acknowledge the decisions I've made are not in alignment with God's desire for my life.  Guilt becomes a problem when it is left unattended.  It then becomes shame, a sense that "I am a failure."  Conviction ought not lead us toward shame.  Conviction should compel us to change.  When God's Spirit brings conviction into our lives, God is inviting us to leave behind the old ways of thinking, acting, doing, and pursuing.  He is inviting us to embrace a new way of being in this world.

Yesterday we began the story of King Josiah and what happened when he discovered God's compass.  Today we read about the fruit of that discovery.  At first when King Josiah recognized how far his people had wandered from the path of God, he was in anguish.  Today we learn that anguish is turned into action.  King Josiah makes a fresh commitment to live in the ways of the Lord and to call others into His ways.  Conviction is the set up for a new day of faithfulness!

Key is believing that Conviction is a gift.

God desires much for our lives.  He desires that we live in freedom and with purpose.  God desires that we wouldn't surrender our lives to old ways and old actions that lead no where good.  God matches that desire with His Spirit's prompting us to change.  The more we embrace that invitation when it arrives, the quicker we learn to respond, the more we will discover the gift that convicting grace really is.

Throughout this journey, we will be given many opportunities to experience the convicting grace of God as a result of our disruptive encounter with Jesus and our rediscovery of the word.  However, this is all for not if there is no action that accompanies the conviction.  We are to be moved by our conviction, moved in the direction of God. 

Be honest...
What are some specific actions that you might now begin to take in response to some of your recent convictions about your life with God?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Broken Compass

Read 2 Kings 22

“When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes.” v. 11

"Let me guess, and a broken compass."  These were the words used to describe the compass that Captain Jack Sparrow uses in the movies Pirates of the Caribbean.  Only it wasn't really broken.  In fact it worked perfectly fine, much like our internal compasses.  Captain Jack's compass didn't point north.  It pointed in the direction of the thing that he wanted most.  Which let's be honest, that's not always a good thing is it?  

We are often driven by internal compasses that direct us toward what we desire, knowing that what we desire isn't always in line with what God desires.

We establish our course settings and set sail, only to find ourselves caught up in tides of selfish behavior, self-indulgence, self-gratification, and self-justification.  Left to their own, our compasses always seem to point back to...self.  The longer we follow that direction, the more we get lost.

We lose our way!

In our story for today, the people of Judah had lost their way.  The compass that God had given them, His law and story had been misplaced.  No one appeared to be seeking God's direction!  The people of Judah did what they wanted, how they wanted it.  They lived by the Burger King motto, "Have it your way!"  That's the result of a life when we are left at the helm of our ship.

However, the story takes an unexpected turn.  Sifting through stuff in the temple, the King’s men stumbled upon the neglected, unused Word of God.  There in the mess lay the one thing that could redirect their lives.  When they read it to the King there was a sense of deep anguish, sorrow, and dare I say heartfelt conviction.  When the scriptures were discovered, King Josiah came face to face with the painful truth that they'd lost their way.  The “book” (God's compass) cuts to the heart of the community of faith and reveals to them the alternative trajectory of God’s divine plan. 

This is the power of discovering God's compass, daily.  Each day that we read the bible, we are in ways finding ourselves in the story of King Josiah.  We are abandoning our own course and choosing the path that God has set before us.  His Word points toward somewhere...toward a Kingdom of peace and justice, of mercy and compassion.  It is a Kingdom where we live giving ourselves away to others.  It is a Kingdom of deep reliance upon the Spirit of God to be the source of our existence.  It is a Kingdom that often puts us at odds with our "self" and the world in which we live.  This               re-discovery of God’s Word should move us to deep conviction, a desire to change, and anchor our lives in Christ and in God’s redemptive plan for this world. 

Pray with me...

Lord grant to me the desire to wake up every morning and “find the Word.”  Allow me to look truthfully at your story and see the ways that it is different from the world’s stories.  Give me the grace to center my life in your Kiingdom and the courage to face the conviction of seeing myself in the moments that I lose my way,    

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Olly, Olly Ox in Free

Read Psalm 139

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?” v. 7

Our hearts raced.  Our muscles tightened.  With every ounce of self-restraint we attempted to still our breath, calm our heaving chests.  For a moment, we attempted to blend in, to become one with the bush under which we were hiding.  We wanted to be the wood pile, climb as high as we could up the tree, settle into that one place on the property that no one would think to look.  We were masters of the outdoors, stealthy and nimble.  We could wait it out as the poor soul, the only one not hiding, went from place to place attempting to "find us out."  After they'd pass, we'd breathe sigh of relief.  Our hiding spot was safe. 

As children we used to play games like hide-and-go-seek or kick the can.  At the end of each round the person who was tagged “it” would yell, “olly, olly ox in free.”  Truthfully, I have no idea where that comes from, but is was a sign to all those still hiding that it was safe to come to base.  At a very early age we are taught to hide from one another.  As we grow older the games become a bit more serious.  

Our hiding takes on new levels of deception.  

We try to hide our hurt, our pain, our evil thoughts and wicked actions.  We hide from our friends, our family, our spouse, and we even try to hide from God.  Somewhere inside we've convinced ourselves that if we can just keep the deep, dark places of our lives hidden, we will be safe.  This is an inherited trait from our first parents, Adam and Eve.  After sinning in the garden in chapter 3 of Genesis, the first thing they did was go and hide among the trees.  I wonder what trees you are hiding behind?

To come out from hiding makes us vulnerable.  It often requires confession.  We put a lot on the line when we come out of hiding.  When we open up, bear our souls, and with humility announce, "This is who I am."  We know better than anyone the dark corners of our lives that we'd prefer no one else to know, those places of self-doubt and insecurity, of prejudice and lust, of anger and resentment.  Unfortunately, we often hide in plain sight.  We hide behind the masks we wear, the jobs we have, the houses we buy.  We hide behind the false smiles and the fake laughs.  But nonetheless, we do our best to remain hidden.  

Even when hiding is a very lonely place, we still work hard to remain hidden.  Adam and Eve did. 

But alas, their plan was foiled for God went to them in the garden.  He went out looking for them.  He was searching for them but not in anger.  He was searching for them because He'd created them to live out in the open with him, full disclosure.  And God is really good at searching.  Our story tells us that God “found them out.” 

Repentance is God's invitation, his announcement "Olly, Olly Ox in free!" and it happens as we realize there is no hiding from God’s presence.  What we do and who we are is quite evident to God.  He knows us inside and out.  You’ve been “found out.”  Come on out from your hiding spot and lay it all before the one who desires to bring healing and restoration into your life.  One of the biblical writers, John, makes a promise to us.  "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

Getting Real:
1.)  What are you trying to hide from the Lord and from others?

2.)  What are you afraid that if God found out, He'd love you less? 

Pray with Me...

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Recognizing is Relinquishing

Read Luke 18:9-14

13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

"At least I'm not like that guy/gal."  How many times has that thought fluttered across your mind?  No matter how rough you feel, what you've been doing or haven't been doing, you look around and quickly identify, "At least I'm better off than 'so and so.'"  Did you know that one of the greatest obstacles to the journey of Lent is our sense of “having it altogether,” or at least more together than someone else?
We live by comparisons.

When I left for basic training, an old Army vet gave me some advice.  Stay in the middle of the pack at Basic Training.  Don't get out front, because everyone will be waiting on you to fall.  Don't fall to the back, because then you draw the eye of the Drill Sergeant.  Just find a nice spot in the middle of the pack and blend in.  At that point it really doesn't matter how fast you run, or how poorly in shape you are, you look around and make sure that you can always point to some one behind you.  Your run time might be awful...but at least it's less awful than the other soldier at the back of the pack.  When you get to the end of the run, you can stand with the others laughing about how poorly the person yet to finish performs.  

In our minds we think, "At least I'm not like that guy/gal."

That sure sounds like pride to me...  

Today's story tells of one man quick to identify where he stood in the pack.  In his mind, there were many further behind than he was.  In fact, compared to others he was doing pretty well.  But that's the problem..."compared to others."  That's not how this spiritual journey works.  Spiritual growth is not a game of running a little faster than others run.  Spiritual growth happens as we "run the race marked out for us"(Hebrews 12:1) and no one else.  Spiritual growth happens as we take seriously our own journey.  If Lent is about repentance, reorienting ourselves to God's will, then repentance happens not as we find our place in the middle or in front of the pack but as we find our place before a Holy God.

In the presence of God our pride is stripped away...and we become more like the second man in the story, who recognizes quickly the gulf that divides us from God.  In that moment we recognize that my journey with Jesus is not about doing the bare minimum to stay in front of others.  It's about giving everything I have to being the person God is calling me to be.  It means not resting on what I think I have "altogether."  It means recognizing that any good in me comes not on my own but by the grace of a God in me.  It means relinquishing the comparisons and confessing our need for the grace and mercy of Jesus.    

Then we will find that this journey is best taken not by looking back on others who we have perceived have fallen behind, but by locking arms with others that are running the same race we are, dependent like we are every moment on the unmerited favor, abundant grace, and faithful mercy of God.  

Write a Prayer
Today I challenge you to write a prayer confessing those that you feel as though you are better off,  relinquishing your pride and recognizing your need for grace.  In this prayer I challenge you to make the commitment to run the race marked out for you and for no one else.  

Monday, February 23, 2015

When God Changes Everything

Read Acts 26:1-15
“The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child...”

The journey of Lent forces us to come to terms with ourselves.  We ask questions like “Where have I come from?”  “Where was I when the grace of God encountered me upon life’s broken path?”  “Who is it that I have been and who is it that God is shaping me to become?”
We recognize with Paul that this life as a Jesus follower doesn’t take place in a void.  Paul, like us, was a collector.  He had collected assumptions, achievements, lets downs and great joys.  He had collected the esteem of others and a deeply rooted understanding of God.  Paul had collected admiration, approval, and insecurities.  When Paul met Jesus, he was already carrying quite a bit of stuff that he'd collected along the way.  We too are collectors.  Along life's path we have collected a series of experiences, regrets, misfortunes, disappointments, struggles, pain, insecurities, and poor decisions.  We have collected thoughts and beliefs about the very nature of what this life is all about.  Some of us may even, with Paul, be able to talk about our collection of deeply religious moments from our past.
Yet, it isn’t simply our futures that are taken up into the hands of is also those pasts, our collections.  When Jesus meets us and calls us, we come face to face with the way things once were.  He often calls into question our collections.  

"What are you holding?" he asks.  "The journey we take requires you to travel light?  It may be time get rid of some of the collections that have cluttered up your life, those that make the invitation to grace and transformation difficult to receive."    

For some of us this is such a deeply disruptive moment.  We aren't sure what we'd do without our collections.  Our sense of security is unsettled.  Our pride is crushed.  Our accomplishments are challenged.  Our pasts seem irreparably sinful and without hope of forgiveness.  But redemption!  But redemption is the process by which God takes even our pasts and incorporates them into the abundance of His grace, changing us through and through.  God sorts through our collections, unbinding us from those artifacts that weigh us down, redeeming those pieces that might be used for His glory in the future, and replacing those items that are of little use.   

This journey will remind us that when we meet Jesus, nothing stays the same.

Be honest:
What have you collected along life's journey that is too heavy and keeps you bogged down?

What is Jesus calling into question in your life?

What might you need to let Jesus take from you so that you can travel light?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Christian Response to the Evils of ISIS and the Building of Bridges with Muslims

I have been hesitant in writing this blog, but a friend and mentor once said that a writer must be willing to speak truth, however imperfect that truth might be.  I have grown increasingly concerned with the rhetoric that seems to grow more pervasive among Conservative Evangelical Christians regarding our relationship to those adhering to the religion of Islam, especially in wake of the violent and horrific human rights crimes of ISIS.  I am hesitant because I am one to recognize the complexity of all that is involved and understand that any blog post runs the risk of over simplifying.  However, if for nothing else, as a pastor I believe it is important that the people God has called me to lead understand where I stand.  So what follows is a Christian response, not by any means the only Christian response.

Back Story
Perhaps some of my inability to remain quiet is born of an experience that I’ve had with Muslims.  I was trained in the U.S. Army as an Arabic Linguist from perhaps one of the finest language schools in the world.  Our instructors were native born Arabic speakers from multiple countries, most of which were observant Muslims.  These were native born Arab-Muslims working with and for the United States Government to ensure that those that did harm to others in the name of politics or religion were brought to justice.  These men and women that trained us were men and women of compassion and peace.  They extended the hand of concern for those of us they called student.  They were generous, gracious, and extremely hospitable.  Numerous times we shared a table together, breaking pita and sharing in the best tabouli.  I never once encountered these men and women hell-bent on violent world domination.  Instead, they were much like you and I.  Men and women, committed to their religious beliefs but interpreting those beliefs through the lens of human flourishing. 

Another Problem
I guess another problem I have is our inability as American Conservative Evangelicals to separate the “church” from the nation of the “U.S.”  They are radically different.  However much you choose to believe that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, that doesn’t discredit that we as a nation have a non-establishment amendment for religion in our Constitution and likewise one does not have to be a Christian or religious at all to be a committed patriotic national.  The church however is international.  It spans the globe and knows no boundaries.  It finds itself in countries, many of which are predominately Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist.  Yet the Christian church in these countries continues to thrive, sometimes in conjunction with and in shared partnership with those of other religious backgrounds.  Sometimes in the face of great persecution.  In times of global crisis, the church mustn’t be swept away by nationalism, fear, and violence, instead its response must be calculated, intentional, thoughtful, and in pursuit of peace.

The Problem with Violent Extremists
It’s right here where this may start to sound a bit idealistic.  It’s not intended to, but perhaps that is unavoidable.  ISIS and other violent extremists make the pursuit of peace very difficult, especially when they appear bent on the extermination of those that refuse their brand of religious faith.  It’s horrific to see the deaths of the 21 slain Christians.  I can’t begin to imagine the complexity of determining what must be done from a government and military perspective, nor would I try to venture a solution.  Their deaths were tragic, as well as the several thousand martyrs that died for their Christian faith all around the globe last year according to  However, because ISIS now receives the full-brunt of our twenty-four hour news media and commentary from everyone from the President of the United States to Duck Dynasty Star Phil Robertson, it becomes important that we understand that not all Islam is the same.

There is Diversity of Belief
Not everyone that follows the religious tradition of Islam is a violent extremist.  This should be obvious but in times of fear, it grows increasingly cloudy.  There are varieties of Islam, much like there are varieties of Christianity.  There are those that we might call fundamentalists, those who’s doctrine and dogma seemingly creates a binary of “true believer” and “infidel.”  These can be found in nearly every religion.  Those that tout they are the depository of “true religion” are often those least patient with those that fall outside their narrow, prescriptive, legalistic, and often violent traditions.  There are those we might call conservative.  These are Muslims that choose to keep close to the Quran, follow the Five Pillars, some of the women opt to wear the hijab.  They seek deep devotion with conservative social stances, often placing them at odds with what they would consider the Western lewdness of entertainment, sexuality, and financial greed.  Sounds like some conservative Baptists I know.  There are progressive Muslims who like progressive Christians live, work, and share life in their communities without a staunch practice of the Muslim faith.  Progressives often see religion not so much about the specificity of doctrine but about the possibility of religion as a means of human flourishing in this world.

It’s an Interpretation Issue
What makes for variety in religious traditions?  Often it has everything to do with interpretation of theology, of sacred text, and of relationship of faithful followers with politics.  There is absolutely a theology informing the movement of ISIS.  They can’t be written off as non-religious.  But understand it is a way of understanding their theology that makes them different from the Muslims all over the world who disagree with ISIS.  Not all Muslims would want to be identified with the theology of ISIS, in fact they would be repulsed by it.  Much like many of us would be repulsed by the identification of Christian theology behind the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazi’s who used the German church in World War II to give legitimacy to their work.  Few of us would ascribe to the theology that supported slavery or the genocide of Native Americans.  How you make sense of theology determines the ways in which you lean.  Likewise, the ways in which the sacred text of a religious tradition is interpreted and read can differentiate between those sharing the same religious name.  For instance, I as a Wesleyan/Nazarene read the sacred text of the bible much different from my primitive Baptist brothers and sisters, different than my Catholic brothers and sisters, and different from my Presbyterian brothers and sisters.  The same could be said of Islam.  There are multiple ways to read the sacred text of Islam that often differs between Sunni and Shiite, Wahhabi and Sufi, again conservative and progressive (and a wide spectrum in between).  And finally, there is a difference in the ways in which we interpret our religion in terms of political interests.  There are those that prefer a theocratic rule, where the leaders of a political state are religious leaders.  This has been tried throughout history and often comes to a very bloody end.  There are those that live in tension, like myself recognizing that my first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, but I live and participate as a citizen of this world.  There are those that opt for a more secularist vision, where religion is separated completely from politics.  There are also those that withdraw completely from politics and live in sectarian communities.  These can be found in most religious traditions, including Islam and Christianity. 

The Big Deal
Why would I risk writing this knowing the potential backlash from brothers and sisters in Christ that might not agree with me?  For a few reasons:
1.)     Radicalization:  Our rhetoric that states you are either a violent Muslim (Because all Islam is violent) or not is helping to radicalize youth.  We are playing a dangerous zero-sum game.  We are drawing a dichotomy that is saying to Muslim youth who perhaps are on the fence regarding which brand of interpretive tradition that they will choose that we will choose for them.  They must be violent.  We are pushing Muslims, some of whom have grown up in traditions that have nothing to do with the violent agendas of ISIS and Al Qaeda to reconsider.  We are telling them we see you only one way.  If that is the path that has been chosen for them then of course they will eventually choose that path. 
2.)    Down Right Insulting:  It is horribly insulting to tell a family in places like Nashville, TN, Dearborn MI, or Peoria, IL who seek their religious tradition faithfully, who go to work each day, who pay taxes and are American citizens, who have the same concerns for their families, their children, their finances that we do as conservative evangelical Christians that they are inherently evil.  It is wrong to force these men, women, and children to live in fear around us simply because their tradition is different from ours. 
3.)    It Destroys Bridges:  Both religiously and politically unhealthy rhetoric has the potential of destroying bridges that exist between allies.  There are missionaries all over the world, who working for Christ are working with moderate Muslims to make improvements in their communities, in schooling, and in human rights.  Likewise, to identify all Muslims according to the brand of ISIS is to threaten the political allies that the U.S. and Western World has in predominately Muslim Countries, some of which have nuclear potential.  Why blatantly insult our allies?
4.)    It fuels the Pundits of Fear, Hate, and War-Mongering:  If we are unable to differentiate among Muslims those that truly seek to live in peace from those that seek to do evil, we are allowing the few obnoxious, pundits of fear and hate to determine the conversation.  I know, I know…they make for great sound bites.  Please understand there are many who profit, who make fortunes spinning us up into a crazed war seeking frenzy.

In the End…
I personally like to keep the end goal in mind when I look at life.  I have a confessionally end of times theologically informed mindset.  The end goal, or the trajectory to which I believe human history is moving is toward peace and the “beloved community” of God.  I draw this from Revelation 21 and 22.  My whole being keeps these goals forever in mind.  However, it’s the “end” that I think drives much of this violence and hateful rhetoric.  In Conservative Evangelical Christianity we allow a sick desire for the violent sadistic ending “apparently” described in this apocalyptic, highly nuanced text of Revelation to drive our speech and actions.  Many Christians are obsessed with the violence of Armageddon, almost as if they are cheering it on.  This violence enables them to say, “We are in the last days.”  Yep, and have been for the last 2000 years, remembering this isn’t the first onslaught of violence that has plagued our world.  We were in the last days when Christians were being fed to lions in Rome.  We were in the last days when Crusaders and Turks were locked in an epic cosmic battle.  We were in the last days when Catholics and Protestants were slaying one another in Europe in the 17th Century.  We were in the last days when slaves were being ripped from their homeland and Native Americans were being displaced from theirs.  We were in the last days when Hitler ruled and millions were gassed.  We were in the last days when 2 atomic bombs were dropped on civilian populations.  We were in the last days when 800,000 Rwandans were savagely killed in a 4 month period.  We were in the last days when a sick man in a commune in Waco Texas all the while spouting Christian Scripture led to the mass death of many.  We were in the last days when two towers came down in the heart of a great city.  We are in the last days now.  As we stand in the last of days, will we do so with hateful violent speech on our lips, eagerly anticipating the end of our enemies?  Or will we choose as followers of Jesus to lean into the end with a heart full of love, actions full of peace, speech dripping with grace, and all the while loving our neighbor as ourselves, even when our neighbor has a different religious tradition than we do?  I wander what might be the end, then?  I choose love and peace, leaning into the God’s beloved community! 

Final Note:
This has absolutely nothing to do with whether the nation of US launches a strike against ISIS.  I don’t pretend to be qualified to give such advice.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015


Isaiah 58:13a, 13c, 14a

We all know the old adage, “stop and smell the roses.”  Unfortunately, few of us ever heed the advice.  We are too busy and too engaged in our own private worlds to stop, breathe, rest, and enjoy.  There is an all-consuming pressure to produce more, earn more, and keep moving.  We find that we can always pack a little bit more into our cramped calendars.   We can work another shift.  We can make another sale.  There is money to be made and things to do and as long as I am in charge of my life, of providing and taking care of the needs of my family, of climbing the ladder at work…there is no rest for the weary.  It’s too important to stop!
 Which is precisely why so many people I meet are on the verge of collapse, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.  In pursuit of more, they never settle into a moment of pure unhindered rest, where they are afforded the opportunity to look back over where they have been and delight over what they have done.  They don’t take time to look forward into the future to see where they are heading.  They don’t pause in the present to appreciate the gifts that God has given them, now.  As a result, blood pressure raises, marriages are strained, diets are filled with fast food and highly caffeinated products, we take anxiety and depression medicine and suffer from a wide range of intestinal problems.  But there’s more to do!  It’s too important to stop!
 Because we don’t take time to stop, we never even realize the arrogance of that statement.  

Genesis 1 tells us that God made the entire cosmos…yeah everything within it.  He laid the foundations for the land, filled up the seas and assigned their boundaries.  He gave birth to all that lives.  His voice spoke and His hand sustains.  That’s pretty important.  Yet, according to that passage, after six days of work, God rested and delighted over his creation.  He stopped and looked and rejoiced.  All was good.  No work is more important than the work of God and yet He still pauses.  

Are we that important?
 See, we fail to realize that we are wired for the rhythm of work and rest.  Six days on and one day off, that’s our rhythm.  Established by God and demanded of the people of Israel, this is supposed to be the way in which we function the best.   Why, because during that break we are reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around us and that the future is not in our hands.  We are reminded that though we have to “do”…even if we stop “doing” God continues to hold all things together.  We are reminded that if we take time, life is far richer than endless cycles of production and earning.  Life is full of things that can make us smile, relationships that are worth investing in. 

If we pause, no longer worn out, burnt out, and exhausted, we may find delight where there was once only stress...but only if we live in that rhythm.

Questions for Reflection:
1.)  As you move in and through the weekend, "Do I have time built in my life for rest and delighting in all that God has done and is doing?

2.)  As a family are we overscheduled?   Do I have trouble saying no to more demands?

3.)  How can I/we begin to create new rhythms of rest and peace in our lives?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Road Less Traveled

Dt. 30:19-20a

God has a pro-life agenda.  I don’t mean that God is simply against abortion.  What I mean is that God’s purposes for this world point to life over death.  The creation story speaks of God’s purposes for eternal life, a life of unhindered closeness to God, unimpeded by guilt, shame, violence, pride, or any other death-dealing reality.

Unfortunately that purpose of life is surrendered as we choose our own path, our own way. Regrettably, that choice carries us further and further from the source of our vitality, from the hand that sustains us, from the breath that gives life to dust.  We choose the way of death.  That path carries us from the garden into a tough, often unforgiving land.  

Yet, God stands faithfully before us with the offer of life once again.

But our story in the Scriptures reminds us how hard-headed we are, how determined we are to continue down the same path we began, even when its trajectory is tragic.  We are convinced that if I just try harder, do more, take more, drink more, collect more, buy more, that somehow we will find life.  

And yet slowly life is sucked from us by the very things that make such grand promises.

In John 10:10, Jesus taking up this passage again in Deuteronomy, says the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy.  His is the way of death.  It is the path of selfishness.  It gives and yet eventually takes away.  It promises peace but slowly kills our souls.  It promises to be the foundation on which we can build our lives, but gives away and destroys everything for which we've worked.  Nonetheless…we can still choose this way.

However, Jesus says, I have come to give you life, abundant, true, rich life.  This is the way of God’s pro-life agenda.  This is the road less traveled.  It is the path of self-denial and obedience.  It finds it better to give then receive.   It seeks the good of others before it does itself.  It finds life in God’s commandments instead of seeing them as restrictions.  It understands that life is much fuller if we stay within the bounds God establishes for us.  It is the path of closeness and intimacy with God, of trust, faithfulness, integrity and holiness.  It is a path that carries us into the heart of God's love and into a love for our neighbors.  

This is the road less traveled but a road worth the journey.

Questions for Reflection:
1.)  Do the choices you make each day give you life?

2.)  What do you do regularly that seems like it should give you life but in the end leaves you empty?

3.)  What must you change to find abundant life?   

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Untangled and Empty Handed

Lent is not easy.  It is a time of serious reflection, really dealing with our stuff.  It pushes us to consider things we try to ignore.  Today we lean in toward that journey!  

Hebrews 12:1b-2a

Sin is both a conscious choice and a twisted vine.  What that means is that throughout each day we are given the opportunity to decide, to choose, if we will “pick-up” attitudes, ambitions, desires, and actions that are contrary to God’s purpose for our lives.  The moment we do so, we sin.  There are times in life when the option presented to us looks so good, so pleasurable, so beneficial, that it actually begins to outweigh our desire for faithfulness…and we cave, we give in, we pick up and walk away carrying something foreign to God’s will.  Likewise, it’s not only a conscious choice, it is a vine that slowly begins to creep up around our legs.  We might not notice it at first, perhaps we’re too busy to pay attention, too spiritually lazy to care, too burn out, frustrated, or tired to do much about it.  Eventually, however, those vines become thick and tangled around our feet, legs, and hips… we find ourselves stuck in sin and we can’t even really trace how it all started. 

Lent is the time each year when we back up, take a look and begin to recognize what we are holding in our hands and how tangled our lives are.  It is a time of self-denial when we break away from cycles of self-gratification, self-delusion, and sloth.  It’s a time when we get real, we get serious.  We begin to recognize that the life I am living at this moment may not be in line with God’s will for my life.  Lent becomes a time when we consciously, by the grace of God, begin to drop those foreign items from our hands, hearts and mind, emptying our hands so we can raise them in both praise and need to God.  It’s the time when we allow the Holy Spirit to move in with His pruning shears and begin to cut away the vines that have entangled us.  Lent becomes a time that through faithful confession and obedience that we walk a little lighter because we carry a little less and run a little faster because we aren’t nearly as entangled.  It is then that we step more fully into God’s purpose for our lives.

Questions for Reflection:
1.)  What have you allowed to entangle you?  

2.)  What are you carrying that God is calling you to drop?

Running Toward Sunday

Not so fast!  Wait, slow down!  The temptation is there, you know, to bump from one moment to the next, one holiday to the next, from Christmas to Easter.  But not so fast!  Resurrection Sunday (Easter) is never a day that should sneak up on us.  We ought to proceed with caution, with expectation, with reverence, and ultimately with hope.  But is that the case?  Well, no, not usually.  We are typically enmeshed in our daily affairs, busily hurrying from one appointment to the next, anxiously weighing the demands on our lives against what seems like an ever deficient amount to time.  Then we arrive and we say, “Is it Easter already?”  The moment that question is asked, the weight of Easter is emptied.

We can’t run toward Resurrection Sunday.  We must slow down.  How?  Early in the life of the historic church, they established a practice of preparation.  It’s called Lent.  Lent is the season of the church year that prepares us for the dawning of hope found at the end of 40 days.  Lent is readjusting, reorienting ourselves to the gospel of Jesus, its demands and promises.  Lent is about diving deep into the story of Christ and allowing that story to shape our lives.  How?

1.)     40 Days of Fasting:  Traditionally Lent is viewed as a time of fasting.  It’s a season when we voluntarily give up something that demands our time, that distracts us, that gets more of our attention than it ought.  It’s a time when we set aside something so that we can more fully focus on our relationship, calling, and mission with/from/of God.  Like what?  Some folks give up food of some sort, a kind of food, a meal a day (note this isn’t a diet).  Some folks give up TV or Facebook.  You have to answer that for yourself.  It is something generally understood as a sacrifice.

Then what…

2.)    Something Intentional:  Lent isn’t just about giving up, it’s about putting something in its place.  A fast is ultimately about making changes, drawing closer to God, getting more involved in what God’s up to in the world.  It can be to deal with some looming issue of sin in your life.  It can be about becoming more active in the life of the church or the community.  If I give up that latte I purchase every day, I might save up that money and give it to the Pregnancy Resource Center at the end of the 40 days. 

3.)    How Long?  Lent runs from Ash Wednesday…today…until the Saturday before Easter.  I know that’s more than 40 days.  It is every day except Sunday.  Sundays are a day when you can break your fast as you celebrate Sunday as a day of rest and expectation.

4.)    What do I do?  During Lent, I will post daily from a devotional I have written to help lead and guide you through this process.  It will have a Scripture, a writing, and perhaps a question or a prayer.  Take the time to take the journey. 

5.)    What’s the big deal?  Resurrection Sunday is perhaps the single most important day of the year.  It celebrates the day when God conquered death, when the old age passed away and the new age came.  However, we make ourselves ready through repentance, reorientation, reconciliation, and restoration.  This journey will lead us to Holy Week…the Thursday before Easter (Maundy Thursday), Good Friday (the day of the Cross), and Holy Saturday. 

This is a journey we will take together.  If you take it seriously it will reshape the way you experience Resurrection Sunday.  I invite you along as we allow Jesus to “Flip the Script” on us through Lent.