Thursday, November 27, 2014

Much To Be Thankful For

Research has shown that gratitude and thankfulness are good for us emotionally and even physically.  They have an effect on things like energy levels and alertness.  It has been shown that gratitude and thankfulness affect a person’s willingness to help others.  And so, not surprisingly, it turns out that the old idea which encourages us to “count your blessings” really is good advice.

I am a person who is extraordinarily blessed.  In fact, sometimes when I really consider it honestly it’s surprising for me to recall all the good things that have been given to me.  God is good, kind and gracious. 

(By the way, this doesn’t mean I’ve come to the point at which I never complain anymore, it just means I really shouldn’t complain anymore.  But I do, once in a while.  I’m working on being more mature. I should be there any day, now.)

I can, however, say that I am genuinely thankful.  I pray you have much for which to be thankful today, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Loving As God Has Called Us To Love

I understand this is likely to seem foolish to some of the people who read it. However, I write this as a challenge to my online friends who are authentic followers of Jesus. I accept that some people will consider this post to be foolish and naïve. That’s alright.

The Evil One wants to see division, mistrust, fear, misunderstanding and hatred among people. He is particularly effective at using areas of life we typically point to as differences to stir up trouble. Of course, one of these areas happens to be racial classification.

If you are a follower of Jesus with even a moderate level of spiritual maturity you know that Jesus does not have a preferred race. He loves everyone. I do not intend for this to be understood as a meaningless little Sunday School cliché, I mean this literally and I believe it is extraordinarily significant: Jesus loves EVERYONE.  If you do not believe this then you do not understand Christianity. One of the most well-known Bible verses begins like this: “For God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only Son…” John 3:16 (emphasis mine).  The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of salvation for “the world.” That means it is for every single person who has ever lived.

To my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, our challenge is to love people the way Jesus loves. 

Do not honor the divisions some people try to emphasize: Love people, all people, the way Jesus loves.

Do not give in to fear. Love people, all people, the way Jesus loves.

Do not allow misunderstandings to create a permanent breakdown in communication.  Love people, all people, the way Jesus loves.

Do not live with a perpetual mistrust of others. Love people, all people, the way Jesus loves.

Do not cultivate feelings of hatred toward others. Love people, all people, the way Jesus loves.

We are called to a life of love, even if we are not loved in return. If you are a Christian and you are thinking, “Why would I do this? Why would I love people with this kind of reckless abandon?” 

The answer is: We love like this because Jesus loved us when we had done nothing to merit His love. What I’m writing here may seem impossible, but it is not. The love of Jesus can overcome. It can shine like a bright light even in a dark world.

It is my desire to love everyone I encounter with the genuine love of God. I pray that is your desire, too.

“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4:19-21

Sunday, November 23, 2014

This Could Be An Adventure

We loaded all our luggage in the van for our overnight trip to Monroe, Wisconsin.  The trip on which we will be departing, shortly.  I know it doesn’t sound like it could possibly be much luggage since it’s just an overnight trip, but for my family even a brief trip involves a significant amount of gear (and occasionally some livestock).

After the luggage was loaded I took the van to the gas station to fill it up.  Then, as I was driving back home from the gas station, the fun began.  The van stalled. 

I tried to restart it.


I tried again.


I tried several more times.

You know that sinking feeling you get when car troubles are happening?  I had that feeling.

After sitting for a while and thinking about how unpleasant it is to walk in the rain, I tried again.  Fortunately, the van started and I made it home.

When I pulled in the driveway I looked at all the luggage that had been loaded in the van and realized that—in light of what had just happened—I was not about to take this van on a road trip to Wisconsin that involved driving at night.

So, we took all the luggage that had been loaded in the van and moved it into the car.

This already seems like it could be an interesting adventure, huh?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Heart Tests And Self Honesty

This morning I had a medical test.  I’m not having problems, this was simply a routine procedure which my doctor ordered because I haven’t had this particular test in a while and he felt it would be good to check it out.  The test is called an echocardiogram.  An echocardiogram involves ultra sound technology.  A medical website I looked at describes an echocardiogram as “a test that uses sound waves to create pictures of the heart.”  It goes on and states, “For one out of five patients the echocardiogram procedure is terminal.”

My mouth dropped open and I did a double-take as I read that line!  “Terminal! What…!?!” Then I realized I was on a satire website.  (It’s important to read the fine print.)

The woman who did the procedure was nice and very professional. But she also joked around and did a good job of making sure I felt comfortable.  She asked for my birthdate and she also asked for my height and weight.  My response?  “Six foot 4 inches, 175 pounds.”

She laughed and put her own numbers in the log.  (They were not as flattering as mine.)

At the conclusion of the test I said, “I know you are not allowed to interpret the test results, however, did you see anything that looked unusual or not typical based on your experience administering this test?”  Because of our earlier conversation during the procedure I knew she had been doing this type of work for 25 years.

She said, “I am not allowed to say anything about the test results, either positive or negative.”  With a smile, though, she went on to say, “But I’m letting you walk out of here and go home.”

We both chuckled.

There is a different type heart test mentioned in the book of Psalms.  It says this, “Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind…”  Psalm 26:2  This has to do with our spiritual health and our willingness to be honest with ourselves before God.

Tests have to do with self-honesty.  Self-honesty isn’t always easy.  But it’s always helpful.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How We Treat People And The Christian Faith

A significant aspect of the Christian faith has to do with how we treat people. Christianity is not just a system of beliefs. Sure, what we believe matters because our beliefs will determine our actions.  But the Christian faith is supposed to be real in our lives in such a way that it effects how we actually live.  And based on the teachings of scripture, the way we live will involve our behaviors and attitudes toward people.

So, how should we treat people?

We should make every effort to be fair and just.
We should be honest, speaking the truth with love, humility and respect.
We should be gracious and forgiving, remembering that we need forgiveness, too.
We should be kind and encouraging.
We should weep with those who weep.
We should rejoice with those who rejoice.
We should laugh with others regularly.
We should love our neighbors.
We should love our enemies.  (Don’t get mad at me, that’s what Jesus said.)

If this seems like a tall order, you’re right, it is.  We need the help and power of the Holy Spirit to live this way.  Fortunately, He will help us do this, if we are willing.

Let’s be willing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Mysterious Helper At The Store

I was talking with a young woman who works at Toys R Us, asking her a question about a tablet that is made specifically for kids.  The device is something that Rachel wanted to buy with some of her money.

Now, I realize a young worker at Toys R Us can’t possibly know the answer to questions about all the hi-tech devices in the store.  But I figured, there is no harm in asking.   

In response to my questions, she simply said, “I don’t know.”  Then we both looked at the box in which the device comes and tried to determine if the answers to my questions could be discerned from the info on the packaging.

A few seconds later, the store worker was called to another task.

(I didn’t hear anyone call her but, anyhow, that’s what she said.)

As I stood there trying to figure out what to do, a young mom with two little kids in her shopping cart came around the corner from another aisle.  “I don’t think you want that device,” she said.

“Oh, really?” I said.

She said, “I don’t mean to be nosey, but I heard you talking to the young woman.  We have one of those and it won’t do what you are looking for.”  And she repeated, “I’m not trying to butt in, I’m just saying that’s my experience.”

I said, “No need to apologize.  I’m glad for your help.  That’s what I needed to know.”

She said, “You’d be better off with another type of tablet.”  And she named a couple of alternatives.

I said, “Thanks, I don’t have any idea about these things.  So, I appreciate your help.”

She said, “You’re welcome.  I know what it’s like to spend money on something and then find out it’s not what you wanted.”

I pulled out my phone to call Nadia and tell her about these latest developments.  But before I called the number I turned to give the young mom one more word of thanks for her help.  But in that brief instant she was already gone.

I looked around in every direction and thought, “What?!?  Where did she go?”  It was like a little Christmas miracle.

P.S.  Alright, I saw the young mom again when I was getting in my car in the parking lot of the store.  So, she wasn’t a mysterious angel or anything like that.  But she was someone who offered a little kind help to me.

Monday, November 17, 2014

God Is For Us, He Is Not Against Us

Some people have come to believe that God is against them.  It’s as if they view God as a foe who is trying to prevent them from having fun and living a good, enjoyable life.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  God is not against us, He is for us.  Consider what these passages of scripture reveal to us:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Jeremiah 29:11

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8

“…God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.’”
Hebrews 13:5

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”   -- Jesus
John 10:10

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” 
Romans 8:31

I understand that life can involve pain and difficulty.  We live in a fallen world.  Nevertheless, it is still true that life is a good and precious gift from a God who is not antagonistic toward us.  He loves and cares about us.  God is for you.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Faith Does Not Exclude Reason And Reason Does Not Exclude Faith

There are people who vigorously attempt to promote the idea that faith and reason are mutually exclusive or inherently at odds with each other.  This is not true. 

An act of faith does not have to exclude reason.  In fact, everyone exercises faith in the course of life--even people who have no religious belief or affiliation.  We simply cannot have a complete knowledge of everything and, therefore, we all must move through life exercising some measure of faith. 

For example, driving over a bridge is an act of faith.  Sure, it is a reasonable act of faith.  But in the history of the world, bridges have collapsed.  When you and I drive across a bridge we do not first obtain structural reports and conduct safety tests.  We just drive, believing the bridge was designed and constructed in a safe and responsible way.  That is an act of faith on our part.

Faith does not exclude reason and reason does not exclude faith.  They are both aspects of the full experience of life.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pastor's Report 2014

A long time ago, I read an article on the subject of church growth and it said something incredibly simple that has always stuck with me. Why would something this simple and this obvious even need to be written in a publication for ministers?  I don’t know.  I guess it just proves that sometimes we miss what is obvious.

I cannot give an exact quote of the article—in fact, I cannot recall the source any longer—but it basically said words to this effect:  People come to church because they want to encounter God.

Hard to believe this would have to be written to ministers, huh?

People come to church because they want to encounter God.  That’s like finding this line in a trade journal for restaurants:  People who go to restaurants have some minor interest in eating food.

I get it, though.  I understand that this type of thing can happen because in church work it is possible to get so caught up in the details of running a church that we can lose sight of the basics. We can subtly, gradually start to think that the church is about sermons, board meetings, classes, musical performances, issues involving the physical facility, administrative issues, etc., rather than understanding that these are tools which God uses to facilitate the main thing. 

The main thing is an authentic encounter with Him.

I want you to know it is my desire to continue to authentically walk with God on a daily basis because that is the source of real life.  Also, it is my desire that our church will be a place where many, many people from different backgrounds and walks of life can encounter the living, risen Lord Jesus Christ, the source of salvation and source of true life!

With much love,


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thank You To Veterans For Duty, Bravery, Dignity And Valor

When I was young my dad did not talk about his service in World War II.  He was an infantry man and fought on the front lines. I’m quite certain some of the things that happened and some of what he saw was disturbing.  (The word “disturbing” is probably putting it mildly.) 

I recall hearing him say this on several occasions: “If I told people what happened there, they wouldn’t believe me.”

When I was older he told me a few stories.  I can only imagine.

I have a significant awareness of the fact that men and women—in some cases very young men and women—have had to do incredibly difficult things in order to provide for the freedoms we enjoy.

Thank you to all of our Veterans.  Thank you for considering duty, bravery, dignity, service to others and valor to be of worth and importance.  You have my utmost respect!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Apparently I'm Starting To Resemble A 100 Year Old Woman

A few minutes ago, as I was scrolling down my Facebook timeline, my daughter Rachel saw a picture that one of my friends posted of a lovely elderly woman who is celebrating her 100th birthday. 

As the picture appeared on the screen Rachel said, “Is that you, dad?”

She was sitting several feet away from me and looking over my shoulder at the computer screen but still…  Really!?!  It was a one hundred year old woman!!!

“Is that YOU, dad?”

Lately I’ve been wondering if there’s a possibility I should get some “work” done.  I think we now have a definitive answer to that question.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Fun Story Instigated By Christmas Ads

All the Christmas ads I’m seeing on TV have reminded me of a time when my I found some of the Christmas presents my mom had purchased and hidden in a closet. 

(I prefer to think of my finding the presents not being a result of relentless snooping but rather the kind of thing that happens when you have a child with a curious mind. But, come to think of it, that might just be my attempt to rationalize sneaky behavior.)

So, since I now knew the location of these presents, I became “sick” and needed to stay home from school in order to rest and be restored to full health.  While I was home from school, alone, I got my presents out from the hiding place and played with them.  Then I quickly put them back in the closet before anyone got home.

You know what’s interesting about all this? Alright, I’ll tell you. I think I had more fun playing with the presents when I did it in secret than after I actually got them for real on Christmas morning.

That must be one of those strange realities of human nature, huh?

P.S.  The Christmas I’m referring to in the story happened several years later than the time of this picture but this was the only old picture I could find in which I’m holding a Christmas gift from my childhood.