Dec 31, 2010

Happy New Year!


Happy New Year!

2011.

Just look at that.

2011.

There were days when I wasn't sure I'd ever see it.

Had I been born a few decades ago, I would not be alive today. Guys with my heart disease would be dead.

I am alive by the grace of God.

It's been quite a journey thus far. I've certainly made my share of mistakes and blunders. But there have also been some amazing times. I've witnessed the birth of my four children. I've seen God at work in the lives of people to change and transform their lives.

God, I have no idea what you have in store for me in the coming year, but as long as you are there, I'm good.

Thank you God!

Happy New Year!

Dec 30, 2010

Thank You GOD!

As I reflect on this past year, I cannot help but be filled with gratitude.

Thank you God.

Thank you for this past year.

Thank you for my salvation. Thank you for the gift of your Son. Thank you for the hope of eternity. Thank you for establishing your Kingdom. Thank you for your church.

Thank you for my family. I am so incredibly blessed with an amazing woman for my wife. I have awesome kids. My parents have always been supportive and loving. My sister is awesome. My brother-in-law might as well be my brother. Thank you so much for my family.

Thank you for my friends. I am so blessed. I have some of the most amazing friends. I have friends who are as close as my brothers. I am so blessed.

Thank you for my calling. I can't imagine doing anything else.

Thank you for an amazing staff. They are a pleasure to work with. They've made this year and the transition to Little Church so easy. Thank you God.

Thank you for the ministry at the Little Church. This year has been so awesome. Sure, there were some tough times, but more than that, it was a year of tremendous refreshing. It's been so much fun to see God at work in visible and tangible ways. I love it! I love to see God at work in the lives of people and through his church.

Thank you God for my health. The only reason why I am still breathing and living is by your grace. Had I been born just thirty years earlier, I would not be here anymore. Thank you for my doctors and the medical professionals.

Thank you God!

It's been an amazing year. As I reflect back on this year, I cannot help but be filled with gratitude.

God, I can't wait for the next decade!

THANK YOU GOD!!!

Dec 28, 2010

Christmas Eve Sermon - What Do You See? What Do You Hear?

The Christmas Eve sermon didn't get recorded so I am posting it here.

Blessings!



“What Do You See? What Do You Hear?”
Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-20

It is so good to see you and to be with you this Christmas Eve! You are in the right place! There is no other place God would have you to be than right here in God’s house tonight.

A Rabbi went to the barbershop. After his hair cut, he got ready to pay the barber and the barber said, "No Rabbi, I don't charge the clergy for haircuts." So the next morning the barber found a loaf of Jewish rye bread outside of his doorstep.
      
A couple of days past and a Catholic priest came in to get his haircut. He got ready to pay and the barber said, "No Father, I don't charge the clergy for hair cuts." So the next morning he found a bottle of wine outside his front door step.
      
A couple of days later the Presbyterian pastor came in to get his hair cut and when he got ready to pay the barber said, "No Reverend, I don't charge the clergy for their hair cuts." So the next morning, the barber found 15 Presbyterian pastors on his doorstep, ready to get their hair cut!
Listen. We’re no fools. Presbyterians know a good deal when we see one.

I share that with you because that’s what I’d like for us to think about tonight. What do we see? What do we hear? In the story we know so well as the Christmas story.

What do you see?  What do you hear?
·      When you watched the 6:00 news did you see chaos and strife, or did you see sheep without a shepherd.
·      When you went out to do your shopping did you see only hordes of people in the stores, or did you notice the worried expressions on some of their faces – worried because they are facing this Christmas without employment or enough money and they don't know how they are going to tell their children there’s no more.

What did you hear this Christmas?
·      Did you hear only the blast of music and carols, or did you hear the silent sighs of the lonely and the bereaved who may be dreading Christmas because it accentuates their loneliness.
·      And in the midst of the sounds of honking horns and people arguing over parking places, did you hear faint sounds of laughter coming from Church mission projects because you furnished food and toys for families and children.

You see, so often what you see and what you hear is not dependent upon what’s around us but upon what we’re looking for. 

What do you see and what do you hear in our Christmas season?

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David…He went there to register with Mary.” (vv.1-5)
·      It makes perfect sense that Joseph had to register for the census, but why did Mary go?
·      She was 9 months pregnant!
·      Women were not required to register. They didn’t even count the women.

The distance between Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles as the crow flies. It would have been at least an 80 mile journey by foot on the dirt roads.

A typical caravan traveled about 20 miles a day. That would have made this journey a four day journey. However, Mary was in her last trimester of her pregnancy when they went on this journey. Tradition says that Mary rode on a donkey while Joseph walked. The Bible never mentions a donkey, but for Mary's sake I hope that there was a donkey for her.

I have four children. My wife is a pretty tough lady. She gave birth to all three girls and without pain medication. I know crazy. I pleaded with the doctors to give her some pain meds but my voice doesn't count in the birth room.

Even though my wife is a tough lady, she would have thought that I was nuts for asking her to go on a journey like the one he and Mary took.
·      There were no rest stops along the way, no fast food places to stop and eat, no motels or hotels.
·      They would have slept on the hard ground, made do with the food they were carrying, and it would have been pretty darn cold.

So the question has to be asked, "What the heck were Mary and Joseph thinking when they went on this journey together? What possessed them to make to take Mary along?"

Ahh...We forget what it's like to live in a small town, and we cannot forget about the controversial circumstances around Mary's pregnancy.
·      Sure Mary. An angel appeared. 
·      Sure Mary. I'm sure the three months while you disappeared while engaged to Joseph had nothing to do with you showing up pregnant.

You see, the spontaneous whispers that would erupt whenever people saw Mary and Joseph, the finger pointing, and the downright rude comments that were made about them were worse than the thought of a week long journey on foot to Bethlehem. Mary couldn't imagine staying in Nazareth by herself without Joseph there to protect her and shield her. 

Mary insisted on going.

And so was fulfilled what was promised through the prophets: "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6).

God uses even gossip and cruelty of the smalltown folk of Nazareth to fulfill his promise to send to us a Savior. There is nothing that can stop God from loving us.

The shepherds were out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel appeared to them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

What is this good news of great joy?

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
·      Savior, Christ, the Lord…
·      The late President Ronald Reagan summarizes the importance of these three words. In reflecting about the life of Jesus Christ, President Reagan wrote:

Meaning no disrespect to the religious convictions of others, I still can't help wondering how we can explain away what to me is the greatest miracle of all and which is recorded in history. No one denies there was such a man, that he lived and that he was put to death by crucifixion. Where...is the miracle I spoke of? Well consider this and let your imagination translate the story into our own time – possibly to your own home town.

A young man whose father is a carpenter grows up working in his father's shop. One day he puts down his tools and walks out of his father's shop. He starts preaching on street corners and in the nearby countryside, walking from place to place, preaching all the while, even though he is not an ordained minister. He does this for three years. Then he is arrested, tried and convicted. There is no court of appeal, so he is executed at age 33 along with two common thieves. Those in charge of his execution roll dice to see who gets his clothing – the only possessions he has. His family cannot afford a burial place for him so he is interred in a borrowed tomb. 

End of story? No, this uneducated, property-less young man who...left no written word has, for 2000 years, had a greater effect on the world than all the rulers, kings, emperors; all the conquerors, generals and admirals, all the scholars, scientists and philosophers who have ever lived – all of them put together. 

How do we explain that?...unless he really was who he said he was.

So what do you see in that manger?  What do we hear?

The child in the manger is God declaring unto the world, “I love you!”

Notice what the shepherds do as soon as they hear this good news of great joy.

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” (v.15).
·      Wait a minute! Did you see that?
·      These dirty, smelly, earthy shepherds broke all the rules and protocol of baby visitations.
·      I know. I’m a pastor. I’ve done this before.
o   First you take a shower
o   Put on clean fresh clothes
o   Then when you get to the hospital, you check with the nurses.
o   After getting their permission, you knock on the door.
o   Then you wash your hands
o   And only then are you ready to visit with a baby and the mommy of the newborn!

But look at these wise guys! They just barge in – in all their filth and grime, and smelly nastiness, they just barge in!
·      Jesus was born in an open stable.
·      There were no doors. There were no locks. There were no barriers of any kind to keep anyone out.
·      That’s no accident.
·      God’s good news of great joy is for all the people.

Regardless of your past, your failures, your sins. God loves you!

The baby in the manger is God declaring unto the world, “I LOVE YOU!”

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever should believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Let me close with something I wrote a few days ago. It’s called Christmas Reflection – The One Who was Born to Die.

Every human being ever born has been born to live.
That’s the goal of life – to live, to truly live.
But not a single person has every truly lived. Not a single one could truly live.
Until…until, God sent the one who was to be born in order that he might die.
Because it was through his death that all might come to life.
So on that evening long ago, Jesus was born to die,
In order that all might live.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 23, 2010

Fitting Words on Christmas Eve from the 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan

Meaning no disrespect to the religious convictions of others, I still can't help wondering how we can explain away what to me is the greatest miracle of all and which is recorded in history.

No one denies there was such a man, that he lived and that he was put to death by crucifixion. Where...is the miracle I spoke of? Well consider this and let your imagination translate the story into our own time -- possibly to your own home town.

A young man whose father is a carpenter grows up working in his father's shop. One day he puts down his tools and walks out of his father's shop. He starts preaching on street corners and in the nearby countryside, walking from place to place, preaching all the while, even though he is not an ordained minister.

He does this for three years. Then he is arrested, tried and convicted.

There is no court of appeal, so he is executed at age 33 along with two common thieves.

Those in charge of his execution roll dice to see who gets his clothing -- the only possessions he has.

His family cannot afford a burial place for him so he is interred in a borrowed tomb.

End of story?

No, this uneducated, propertyless young man who...left no written word has, for 2000 years, had a greater effect on the world than all the rulers, kings, emperors; all the conquerors, generals and admirals, all the scholars, scientists and philosophers who have ever lived -- all of them put together.

How do we explain that?...unless he really was who he said he was.

Ronald Reagan

Dec 22, 2010

9 Months Pregnant, 80 Mile Journey on Foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem. What Were Mary and Joseph Thinking?

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world...And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David..." (Luke 2:1-4).

These are the opening words to the birth narrative of Jesus in Luke.

The distance between Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles as the crow flies. It would have been at least an 80 mile journey by foot on the dirt roads.

A typical caravan traveled about 20 miles a day. That would have made this journey a four day journey. However, Mary was in her last trimester of her pregnancy when they went on this journey. Tradition says that Mary rode on a donkey while Joseph walked. The Bible never mentions a donkey, but for Mary's sake I hope that there was a donkey for her.

I have four children. My wife and I have experienced four births. My wife is a pretty tough lady. She gave birth to all four children naturally and without pain medication. I know crazy. I pleaded with the doctors to give her some pain meds but my voice doesn't count in the birth room.

Even though my wife is a tough lady, we would have never thought about going on a journey like the one Mary and Joseph took.

  • Mary would have been on the back of a donkey, while fully pregnant, for 5-7 days.
  • There were no rest stops along the way, no fast food places to stop and eat, no motels or hotels. They would have slept on the hard ground, made do with the food they were carrying, and it would have been pretty darn cold.
And the craziest thing is, while it was necessary for Joseph to make this journey, it was totally unnecessary for Mary to do so. Women were not required to show up for the census. Only men were counted. 

So the question has to be asked, "What the heck were Mary and Joseph thinking when they went on this journey together? What possessed them to make to take Mary along?"

Ahh...We forget what it's like to live in a small town, and we cannot forget about the controversial circumstances around Mary's pregnancy.
  • Sure Mary. An angel appeared. 
  • Sure Mary. I'm sure the three months while you disappeared while engaged to Joseph had nothing to do with you showing up pregnant.
You see, the spontaneous whispers that would erupt whenever people saw Mary and Joseph, the finger pointing, and the downright rude comments that were made about them were worse than the thought of a week long journey on foot to Bethlehem. Mary couldn't imagine staying in Nazareth by herself without Joseph there to protect her and shield her. 

Mary insisted on going.

And so was fulfilled what was promised through the prophets: "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6).

God uses even gossip and cruelty of the smalltown folk of Nazareth to fulfill his promise to send to us a Savior. There is nothing that can stop God from loving us.

That's the story of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 21, 2010

Entertaining Angels Unaware...Uncle George

In the last four Sundays or so, Uncle George has been coming to Sunday worship at the Little Church on the Prairie.

He's not your typical Sunday going type of guy.
  • He always walks here
  • He's wearing the same heavy overcoat with the same shirt and pants
  • He seems to be carrying everything he owns in his suitcase and bags
  • He's always got this big huge hat he keeps on
  • He also has his headset on the entire time he's here
  • And he always sits in the same seat on the second pew from the front of the sanctuary
He never listens to anything I have to say as he has his radio playing through his headset that's turned on loud enough where both myself and anyone around him can hear.

He always leaves right after the sermon but leaves a five or ten dollar bill right where he sat.

I don't know Uncle George's full story. But I do know that he likes to be called Uncle George.

I am not sure why he comes to church, but boy am I thankful that he's here. I am so honored that he would choose our church of all the places in town to go to on Sunday mornings

The couple of times when I have had some time to visit with him to welcome him, to tell him that he belongs here, to tell him how glad I am to see him because God loves him, he's had tears in his eyes.

I've been driving around town today to see if I can find Uncle George. I look forward to one day sitting down with him and hearing the rest of his story.

All I know is that Uncle George keeps coming to church at the Little Church. And for now, I am fine with that. In time, I pray and hope for the opportunity for the life and the ministry of Jesus Christ at the Little Church to connect more fully with the life and journey of Uncle George.

Eager to see how God will use Uncle George to impact and change me and the Little Church.

Dec 18, 2010

Santa is Toast



If Santa were for real...
  • There are two billion children in the world, but since Santa doesn’t appear to handle the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist children, that reduces his workload to 15% of the total, or about 300 million. 
  • At an average rate of 3.5 children per household, that’s 85.7 million homes. 
  • Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels East to West. 
  • This works out to 767.9 visits per second. So for each household with good children, Santa has about 1/1,000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the presents, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, into the sleigh and move on to the next house. 
  • No wonder, no one has ever seen Santa!
Now, assuming that these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth, we’re talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles. This means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, or 3,000 times the speed of sound.

Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium size Lego set (about two pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as “heavy.” 

On land, normal reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds, and even granting that flying reindeer could pull 10 times the normal amount, Santa’s going to need 214,200 reindeer to pull his sleigh. This increases the payload to 354,430 tons, or four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.

A craft of 353,000 tons, traveling at 650 miles per second, creates enormous air resistance. This will heat up Mr. Claus and his sleigh like a spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.

Conclusion: If there is a Santa, well, he’s toast.

What a bummer!  I kind of like Santa.

The Art of Pastoring: Church Conflict by William Martin

I was given a book by a pastor friend as a gift. I was encouraged to read a chapter of this book every day. I have been doing that. I readily admit that I find most of what is written on these pages a direct challenge to things I believe about the church and leadership, I have still been reading it precisely because I have needed this kind of thinking to balance most of what I regularly read.

The book is called "The Art of Pastoring: Contemplative Reflections" by William C. Martin.

I want to share a section on conflict that I find helpful:

By its very nature
the church will contain conflict.
Not everyone will appreciate or value
the work of the wise pastor.
Some will choose to see him as the enemy:
someone to be challenged, criticized,
and defeated.
Do not subscribe to the illusion inherent
in such conflict.
If you try to impose your will by the force 
of your winning personality,
or clever arguments,
or worse, the righteousness of your cause,
you will reap the whirlwind.
Give the gift that is yours to give,
then withdraw from the conflict.
Your church will always be beyond
your ability to control.
The opinion of others will forever lie
outside of your capacity to change.
Because you love your own soul, 
are content with your own soul,
and accept your own soul,
you have no need to defend or to defeat.

Dec 14, 2010

Why I Love Christmas

I love Christmas.

It's such a happy time of the year.

Ever seen a Christmas card or scene that wasn't happy?

  • Angels are singing, shepherds are singing, and even the animals look like they're singing
  • Mary - even though she just trekked in the cold on top of a donkey while fully pregnant, even though she just gave birth to her first son in an animal manger with all the animals with their urine and poop - is happy
  • Joseph is happy
  • Baby Jesus is happy
Everyone is so happy.

But that's not why I love Christmas. 

You see, if that's Christmas, then Christmas is nothing more than a fanciful fairytale. We might as well start the Christmas story with "A long, long time ago..." and end it with, "and they lived happily ever after."

While these things are great for fairytales, that's all it is - a good tale. It doesn't make any difference or make any connection with the life I am living.

Because in real life, animals poop, pee, and fart in the manger, and both animals and mangers stink. That would be about the last place I would want my wife delivering a baby. 

And I appreciate that the Bible never paints a fanciful tale about Christmas.


At the heart of the Christmas story is a baby who poses such a threat to the most powerful man in Judea that he kills a whole village full of babies in order to get rid of him.

Whatever else we say about Jesus, people have found Jesus to be a threat. Jesus is a threat to:

  • Those who hold on to the facade that they are in control...
  • Those who are desperate to hold on to power...
  • Those who pursue wealth and fame...
  • Those who need to be important...
  • Those for whom what this world offers is everything...
The reality is that before Jesus could walk and talk, Jesus was a homeless refugee with a price on his head.

You see, if Jesus is Emmanuel - God with us, he must be with us not only where the joy is, but also where the pain is.

That's why I love Christmas. God is with us in both the joy and the pain and everything in between. And through it all, God shows us through the birth of Jesus Christ that we were created for eternity.

That's pretty awesome. 

I love Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Dec 8, 2010

An Advent Reflection - The One Who Was Born to Die

Every human being ever born has been born to live. 

That's the goal of life - to live, to truly live.

But not a single one ever truly lived, not a single one could truly live.

Until...Until, God sent the one who was to be born in order that he might die.

Because it was through his death that everyone might come to life.

So on that evening long ago, Jesus was born to die, in order that all might live.

Merry Christmas!

Merry CHRISTMAS!

Merry CHRISTmas!

Dec 7, 2010

Priests - Bridge Builders

The Latin word for priest is pontifex. Pontifex literally means a bridge builder.

A priest is someone who builds a bridge between God and humanity.

The reformed faith has always acknowledged the priesthood of all believers. Because Christ-followers are priests, our call is to build bridges for people in our communities who do not know the simple truth that God loves them.

How will our community ever know that God loves them unless we love our communities? What would the love of God look like for our community?

  • What does the love of God look like for spouses and children who have loved ones serving in our armed forces in far away and dangerous places? 
  • What does the love of God look like to homebound senior citizens? 
  • What does the love of God look like to the child who's daddy is in prison?
  • What does the love of God look like to someone who's been laid off and has no prospects for a job?
  • What does the love of God look like for someone for whom this is a great season in their life and everything is going their way, but has no idea that they are far apart from God and because of that they will be totally unprepared for the days coming when things don't go their way?
And then most importantly, how is our church going to communicate God's love to this community in a way our community can understand and experience God's love?

Until we can start bridging this gap, the incredible news of Christmas - that God sent his only Son to for us - will only be celebrated by the few in our churches. 

Christmas - that God is here in Christ - is good news for the world!

How can we communicate this awesome truth in a way our world can understand? 

Come on priesthood of all believers! Let us be the church that's bridging this gap.

Dec 6, 2010

Regular Trash Pick Up - Without It We Stink

We've missed the trash pickup for two straight weeks and we are going on our third week.

The first week, we had the trash and recycling out on the curb but the city never came by to pick it up because of the ice and blizzard that covered the Pacific Northwest. Our cul-de-sac was a solid sheet of ice. No one was coming in nor going out of our little cul-de-sac.

This week, we missed the trash pickup because we just forgot...well, actually that's not a true statement. My wife remembered and reminded me to put the trash out while I was watching Sunday Night Football and told her I would after the game. The correct statement is I forgot to put the trash out.

Pray mercy and grace for me.

Pray kind thoughts and patience for my wife.

To make the story short, the trash guys already came by to pick up the trash and we missed it again for the second week.

Missing trash one week is not so bad. We don't make that much trash. We rarely fill the trash bin up. Only during Christmas or something like that do we come close to filling it up.

But missing the trash pick up for two weeks...well, that's not so good. The bin is definitely full and we have to wait another week before another pick up. I don't know how that's going to go.

I have nightmare visions of smelly, stinky, nasty trash being piled up around the trash bin where rabid raccoons, wild cats and dogs, and even wild boar are eating out of our trash.

It probably won't be that bad...but you never know.

The thing is, regular trash pick up is absolutely necessary. And, "I forgot", just will not cut it. When the trash doesn't get picked up, the whole house starts to stink. And pretty soon, the whole neighborhood will stink. And if it continues, the whole city, state, country, the whole world will stink.

Trash build up not only happens in homes, but in our lives too.

Regular trash pick what happens when we pray and ask for forgiveness and God forgives us of our sins. God takes all our trash and makes them disappear. And just as we regularly accumulate trash, we regularly accumulate trash in our lives too because we are sinners. We need daily cleansing from God.

When's the last time you had your trash picked up in your heart?

Dec 4, 2010

God is God...God Doesn't Have to Make Sense to Us.


God is God.

We know this to be true. Of course God is God.

While we know this to be true, we sure like to act as if we were god.

Sure, no one ever comes out and says it like that, but we all treat God as if we were God and he is not.

You see, because God is God, God is under no obligation to have to explain himself or make sense to us. Because God is God, God commands, and because we are not God, we are to obey.

That's how it works if God is God and we are not.

But we get all ticked off with God when God doesn't make sense, or when God might ask us to do something that we don't want to do or something that doesn't make sense to us. And, God forbid, should something happen to us that doesn't make sense...we're all up in arms about things that happen which doesn't make sense to us.

We blame God for not being loving, kind, and...God.

Because we think we're God. We think God should make sense to us. We think God should explain himself to us.

But, alas. God is God and we are not.

God is under no obligation to explain or to make sense to us.

God commands.

We obey.

God is God.

Dec 3, 2010

Problem is not Ambition...It's Unchecked and unGodly Ambition


Godly ambition is not only good, but it is absolutely necessary.

Godly ambition is the fuel that turns dreams into reality.

The problem is not ambition...the problem is unchecked and unGodly ambition.

Ambition is the result of having hope...
  • Hope that God can actually change the world
  • Hope that God is still at work to bring about renewal
  • Hope that things can get better
Without ambition nothing would change.
  • Churches wouldn't be planted
  • Dreams would remain dormant
  • Lives wouldn't be impacted
The problem is not ambition...the problem is unchecked and unGodly ambition.

When our hearts and ambitions are submitted to Jesus Christ, God uses our ambitions as a tool to change the world.

When our hearts are not submitted to Jesus Christ, ambition uses us as a tool to inflict harm and damage to us and to the people around us.

Don't ever give up hope that God can change the world. Because God always uses people who refuse to let the darkness and the suffering in our world dampen the hope and the faith that God is still at work to bring transformation.

Just make sure that our hearts and ambitions are submitted to Jesus Christ!

God is at work.

Christ is Immanuel.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 2, 2010

Churches are All About Relationships with People We Want to be in Relationships With


Churches are all about relationships. We talk a great talk when it comes to the value and the importance of relationships. How many times have we said and heard the phrase it's all about relationships in our churches?

I think the statement that most resembles our churches is that we're all about relationships in theory, or that we're all about relationships with people we want to be in relationships with.

Because if truth be told, we're not very good about forming relationships with people we don't know, people who are different from us, or (gasp!) people we dislike.

And the end result is that the way the church goes about relationships is no different than the way the rest of the world does relationships.

And there's something terribly wrong about that.

The church ought to be a place where all people belong.

The church ought to be a place where all people can show up and be valued.

The church ought to be a place where all people can experience grace and mercy.

And don't tell me about how if we were to be a church that welcomes like that, that we would become a church that wouldn't stand for anything. Godly hospitality and welcome doesn't negate Godly standards and behavior. Godly hospitality and welcome is God's standard for Christ-like behavior.

Human beings, on our own, can be a standard keeping organization.

Human beings, on our own, can be an institution that accepts all behaviors and has no boundaries.

But only by God's strength and power can we become a place where people are valued and where Godly standards can be lifted up.

So God, help us now. Because too many places that call themselves the church of Jesus Christ have very little resemblance to you. Change us and help us to be more like you.

Nov 30, 2010

Where is the Pain? What is In Our Hands?


How can our churches make a difference in our communities?

In order to be a church that is impacting the neighborhoods we are in, we need to ask two questions: Where is the pain? What is in our hands? When these two things come together, ministry happens.

Where is the pain?

There is pain all around. People all around us are hurting and in need. Where are the people in our neighborhoods hurting? Where are our church people hurting?

Unless the church is able to discern and identify where our people and the people in our community are hurting and discern tangible ways to bring healing, it won't matter what our churches say. Words are meaningless and powerless until our words and deeds begin alleviating the pain people are going experiencing.

The second question that we must ask is "What is in our hands?"

What tools and resources has God given the church so that we can begin working towards healing? I believe God has given to every church the very resources she will need to bring healing to those who are hurting.

So leaders, what is in our hands? What tools, what resources do we already possess that we can start allocating towards the pain that our community is experiencing?

When what is in our hands is used to alleviate the suffering in our communities, the gospel can make all the difference in the world.

Nov 28, 2010

Make a Difference. Love Others. Love God.


Three principles to live by: Make a difference. Love others. Love God.

Make a difference. Life is way too short and precious to live aimlessly. Don’t just count the days; make your days count. Because Jesus is in you, wherever you are, it ought to be a better place after you’ve been there because Jesus was there. So go ahead, get off your rear ends and serve, give, make a difference.

Love others.  Live your life in such a way that the people around you know that they are loved. Life can be incredibly hard. Life really hurts sometimes. And if we are alone in those times, life is all but impossible to bear. That's why we have each other. That's why God gave the gift of people. Live your life in such a way that the loved ones around us know without a shadow of doubt that they are loved.

Love God. Living a life that's making a difference and loving people doesn't just happen. These things happen because God is the source and the genesis of living life with purpose. So every time we call someone to see how they're doing, every time we volunteer, every time we write a note or email of encouragement, it's not just people we are serving. In all these things, what what we're really doing is loving on Jesus and serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through serving others.

Make a difference. 

Love others.

Love God.

Nov 26, 2010

Creatures of Habit


We are creatures of habit. 

Until recently, I was in the habit of blogging on a fairly regular basis. The blogging habit was supported by reading other blogs and books on a regular basis. It was the habit and the discipline of reading that generated the ideas for new blogs.

But in the last couple of weeks, I have not been blogging much lately. At first it was because I was in Russia and the internet connection was so spotty there that I couldn't blog. But I have been home now for over a week and I still haven't been blogging as regularly as I normally do. So what's the deal?

We are creatures of habit.

It's amazing how when you're doing something regularly, there is a rhythm and pace to the creativity and writing. But when I was taken out of the habit and the discipline of writing and reading regularly, I found it harder and harder to get back to writing.

I think there's a lesson in there about habits. Be very careful of the habits we get ourselves into. 
  • If those habits are good and character forming, keep at it because it's the regularity of that practice and habit that produces the consistency and the fruit. 
  • At the same time, if the habits are bad and life destroying, the regularity of such habits will destroy us and our lives. And the regularity of such bad habits give the habits that much more power. The sooner we are able to say "No" to sinful and negative habits the better off we will be.
  • And the more we are able to to say "No", the regularity of the denial of those habits become habit forming.
We are creatures of habit. How are you doing with your habits?

Nov 23, 2010

Pastor Roman - Get a Bible. Read it. And then Do What It Says


Roman was riding on the Moscow Subway after the collapse of the Soviet Union when he was handed a gospel tract. He started reading the tract and the truth about Jesus pierced his heart. Before he realized what was happening, he was praying the prayer at the back of the tract and received Jesus Christ into his heart as Lord and Savior.

What he discovered about Jesus was so wonderful, he gave the gospel tract to one of his friends who read it, prayed the prayer in the back and received Jesus into his life.

He passed the gospel tract to another who received Jesus into her life and who passed the tract to another.

After five of them accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, they all came to Roman and said, "You gave us the tract, you're our pastor. What should we do now?"

That's how Roman became a pastor. The call literally came to him!

So what would these newly converted Christians do?

Roman knew this much - They should get a Bible. They should read the Bible. And then they should do their best to do what the Bible says.

I love that!

That's what Christians do.

That's how Pastor Roman's church was started.

And they continue to do today what they did from day one - Get a Bible. Read the Bible. And then do what the Bible says.

So simple, and yet we in America have made following Jesus so complicated.

What a great reminder and encouragement from our Russian Christian sisters and brothers.

Church - Go get a Bible. Read it. And then do what the Bible says!

Nov 20, 2010

...That Your Sins May Be Wiped Out...


"Repent then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" - Acts 3:19.

...that your sins may be wiped out...

I don't know about you, but when it comes to some sins in my life, the thought of my sins not only being forgiven but being wiped out puts a huge smile on my face.

There are some sins so filled with shame, regret, and pain, I need them to not only be forgiven, I need them to be wipe out.  I don't want anything to do with them anymore. I want them removed from me as far as possible.

And that's exactly what God promises us in Jesus Christ.

THANK YOU JESUS!!!!!

The result of having our sins wiped out is times of refreshing. Just the sound of that makes me happy.

The way to experience these times of refreshing is 1) repent, and 2) turn to God. There are two things necessary:

  • First is to repent by confessing and acknowledging our sin(s) before God. We need to admit our failures and sins before God.
  • Second, we need to turn to God. Turning to God is not only a directional change, but it means a stoppage of sin. Whatever sin we are confessing to God, we must be willing to stop whatever it is we are confessing.
And when we do those two things, God promises to wipe away our sins and give us times of refreshing.

Ready for some good times?

Nov 17, 2010

Was Life Better Under the Communists or Is Life Better Now in Russia?

Just returned from Russia.

Had an amazing seven days with amazing people.

This was my seventh time in Russia and one of the things I always ask the Russians I meet is the question, "Was life better for you during the Soviet days or today?"

To my surprise almost everyone I meet tell me that life was better under the Soviet days.

To a westerner and an American who values freedom this answer is shocking.

One would think everyone would say that life is better now.

I mean just look around...

  • No more lines waiting for food
  • There are dozens of different types of breads, milk, cheese, fruits, etc. to choose from where as before there were limited selections
  • People are free to travel as they please
  • There are signs of development everywhere - new buildings, new cars, new shopping centers
  • There is religious freedom
So how can Russian Christians say that life was better under the communists? They most likely wouldn't even be Christians under communist Russia.

One of the things that is difficult to understand is the disparity between the tiny percentage of the rich in Russia and the rest of the country. The rich in Russia are rich beyond measure. But the rich represent just a tiny portion of the population. There is a growing middle class, but even the middle class represents a small portion of the population. Most of the people are poor. And the disparity between the rich, the middle class, and the poor are so vast. 

Most of the Russians are having difficulty making ends meet. Sure, there are way more choices in the food and goods available but only if you have the money. 

In the communist days, people had to wait in line for limited selections of bread and milk, but they all had bread and milk.

Today, there are dozens of breads and cheeses available and there are no lines...but only if you have the money. And most Russians are struggling to make the ends meet.

Things are improving. I have been going to Russia for about ten years now. I can see improvements and change every time I go. I just pray that change is happening quickly enough.

Nov 7, 2010

Moscow Here I Come!


Passport - check

Laptop - check

Ipad - check

Bible - check

All packed and ready to go to Russia.

I will be lecturing at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Moscow Russia. I am teaching on what it means for Christ-followers to proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Christ in a pluralistic and secular world that both the Russian church and the church in America finds herself in.

I do not think I will have regular internet access while at the seminary. If there is internet access, I will be posting updates from Moscow.

In the past, the internet access was spotty at best. If that is the case, I will begin updating once I return from Moscow on Nov. 16.

Nov 6, 2010

Christians and Technology: Part 3 - Boundaries


There's not a single person who gets up in the morning and says to themselves, "Let's see how royally I can mess up my life, my marriage, my children, my Christian witness today by having an affair..."

Yet we have heard too many stories of a pastor or a Christian man/woman who no one ever thought ever would, who did.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new.

When King David should have been leading his army to war, found himself chilling at his palace at the wrong time and saw Bathsheba bathing in her home.

Had David been where he should have been, lusting doesn't happen, adultery doesn't happen, murder doesn't happen, and the cover up never happens.

And that's true for us as well. When we are "where" we should be, "when" we should be, with "who" we should be, doing "what" we're supposed to be doing most bad things never happen.

Divorce lawyers say Facebook is involved in 1 out of 5 divorces today.

While Facebook, Twitter, texting can be great tools to connect people with friends, it's also been used to rekindle old flames and maintain inappropriate relationships.

So how should Christians use technology differently because Jesus is Lord? The word for today is: appropriate boundaries.

If we ever find ourselves needing to hide something, that's a sure sign of bad things to come.

So as a general rule of thumb, every Christian should have at least two sets of people who have access to our social networks on the internet: our spouses (or someone who is close enough to tell us what we need to hear) and at least one accountability partner.

It's not that we are going to snoop around on our spouse's or friend's Facebook or Twitter account. It's just that knowing that they have full access and that they get our Facebook and Twitter updates provides a layer of protection for all of us. And we all need that.

Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, texts can all be wonderful tools. But just like anything else, we need appropriate boundaries of "who", "what", "when", and "where" of social networks.

Appropriate Christ-honoring boundaries.

So, with that, tweet and Facebook away!

Nov 5, 2010

Christians and Technology: Part 2 - Attention and Presence

We are never going back to a day without the internet, Facebook, Twitter, texts, smartphones, Ipads, etc. Technology is here to stay. F

The question is, "Should Christians use technology differently than others because Jesus is Lord?"

There is no doubt that technology can be used as a tool to improve life and community. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging is allowing conversations and interaction with people that simply wasn't possible even a decade ago. 

When San Francisco Presbytery was debating the ordination of Lisa Larges, hundreds of presbyterians from all over the country were able to, not only follow along, but participate with one another in the actual debate in real time through Twitter. 

While technology is opening up new frontiers in communication and in building community, we have also seen technology used poorly. Technology can disrupt and harm community.

How should Christians use technology differently because Jesus is Lord?

One of the general rules of thumb we can apply to how Christians use technology is the rule of presence. Whenever Jesus was with people, he was fully present to them. Jesus gave him undivided attention to the people in his presence. 

  • Even when there were hundreds of people crowding around him, Jesus knew that there was one woman who had been bleeding for 12 years who desperately needed healing. 
  • Even though the crowds never saw Zacchaeus on the sycamore tree, Jesus knew he was there and gave Zacchaeus his undivided attention.
Jesus always seemed to know the people who were seeking him out. And whenever Jesus was in the presence of people, they received a 100% of him.

Being fully present...giving our complete attention.

The rule of thumb in how Christians ought to use technology is that we ought to be fully present with the people in our presence. This means that when we are with our children, spouses, friends, coworkers, etc. we give them our full attention by putting away our smartphones, ipads, laptops, and other gadgets and be fully present with the people in front of us. 

We can always find time to tweet, update our Facebook, email, or text at a later time. 

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story that said that attention was the single greatest commodity in our world. 

As Christians,  our interaction with people ought to be different as we make ourselves fully present to the people around us. 


Nov 4, 2010

Christians and Technology: Part 1

We've all been there before...

You're in a meeting with a people around a table where there's an animated discussion taking place and someone's phone rings. Nothing strange about that. That happens all the time.

Everyone knows what's supposed to happen next. The person is supposed to find his/her phone, turn off the ringer and then turn off the phone, and apologize for interrupting the meeting while everyone else digs through their pockets/purses/briefcases/backpacks and turns off their phones.

However, this time, the person doesn't turn off the ringer. They don't turn off the phone. They answer the phone and then starts to have a conversation on the phone while the meeting's still going on, while people are still trying to talk to one another and have meaningful conversation.

We all know that this is rude. We would never do such a thing.

Although we would never talk on the phone in a meeting, or in worship service, etc. most of us think nothing of tweeting, facebooking, and texting during meetings, worship, over conversations, etc.

I was recently in a meeting where we covenanted with one another to turn off our electronics so that we could fully be present for one another in the room. I have to confess that it was hard for me. I typically have my smartphone, ipad, and laptop all running facebook and twitter while my phone is constantly receiving texts and emails.

What does this saying about our understanding of community? About presence? About attention.

How should Christians use technology differently because Jesus is Lord?

Even if Jesus were walking the planet earth in the year 2010, I don't think Jesus would have been messing around with his blackberry or iphone while he was talking with the Samaritan woman at the well. Wherever Jesus was, he was fully present with the people there. And presence is one of the most important gifts we can give to each other in community.

What is the proper Christian ethic for twitter, facebook, and texting in community?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I will post my thoughts on this tomorrow.

Oct 31, 2010

What are the Markers of a Healthy Pastorate and Ministry?

Facts are our friends.

Good and wise decisions can only be made based on facts.

According to the latest statistical report from the Office of General Assembly, there are 10,623 congregations in the PC(USA).
  • Of those 2,949 churches have less than 50 members
  • 2,490 have fewer than 100 members
  • That means over 50% of PC(USA) congregations (5,439), have less than 100 members.

If we were to ask the typical church person what the markers for a healthy and successful ministries and pastorates are, the most common answers would center around things like, growing memberships, growing financials, growing influence, growing attendance, etc.

And because these are the criteria we typically think of for successful and healthy ministries and pastorates, the great majority of PC(USA) pastors and congregations find themselves feeling inadequate. If growth is the only marker for healthy and successful pastorates and ministries, we have just declared that the great majority of PC(USA) pastors and churches unhealthy and unsuccessful.

While we cannot claim that PC(USA) congregations and pastorates are all healthy, to outright declare that they are failures and unhealthy is just as false and unhelpful.

There’s got to be more to being a healthy and successful church and pastor than these indicators.

Before I go any further, I do want to say that I think numbers are important. It’s just that numbers cannot be the only indicators for health.

Gordon Lathrop, in his book "The Pastor" says:
“The text seeks to call pastors to find the center of their vocational identity, the heart of their spirituality, in the communal tasks of presiding at the holy table and at the holy bath, of preaching, and of seeing to it that there is a collection to be justly distributed among the poor” (p.viii).

Presiding at the holy table and the holy bath. Preaching. And seeing to it that there is a collection to be justly distributed among the poor.

In the PC(USA) vernacular, we refer to the pastor as Ministers of Word and Sacrament.

It is interesting that while this liturgical and sacramental understanding of the role of the pastor is clear in our confessions and polity, in practice, what we most congregations want from pastors is for them be organizational growth experts.

And when growth doesn’t occur, guilt and blame abound.

For congregations and pastors alike, a Biblical and reformed reflection on what constitutes a healthy pastorate and a healthy ministry would be fruitful.

Oct 29, 2010

Moving From Being "In" Church to Being "As" Church

As long as I can remember, the operative word for the church's self understanding has been for its members to be "in" church. Thus the primary emphasis for ministry was of gathering.
  • The churches held revival meetings so that the church could get more people to be "in" church
  • Members invited non-members to come to church 
  • The goal was to provide as many programs and facilities in the church so people could come to church to be ministered to
The goal has always been to get as many people to be "in" church. The more people a church had "in" church, the more that church was viewed as being successful.

However, I am convinced that unless the church starts incorporating a new preposition for its self understanding, the church will continue to die and become ever more irrelevant.

For the imminent and emerging culture we are living into, the church needs to move from being a church that focuses on being "in" church as one who see herself primarily being "as" church in the world.

The church needs to change from being a place of gathering to becoming a place of sending. The primary role of the church is no longer gathering the members to be "in" church but of sending its members into the world to live "as" the church in their work place, their communities, neighborhoods, their schools. 

Its as the people of God show up as the church of Christ in the world that people do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior will come to experience Jesus Christ.

In a non-Christian majority world, Jesus will have to show up where the people are. Christ will have to show up through the lives of Christ-followers in everyday places - the marketplace, the boardroom, the classroom, the neighborhood, etc.

If the only place where God's presence resides is within the walls of the church facilities, such churches will die.

Our churches have to become places where Christ-followers are being sent out into the community "as" the church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus told the church, "Go!" Go and make disciples of all nations.