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Archive for April, 2010

I read an article last night by John Ortberg, a pastor and author in California who often writes about the spiritual life (You can link to the article here).  In this particular article, John made a statement with which I am still wrestling.  He said that we as a church, teach people that we are saved by grace – we cannot earn our salvation.  However, we fail to teach how to live by grace.  The conversion process happens when we realize there is a gap between us and God and that we cannot bridge that gap without a relationship with Jesus.

But then, we proceed to try and live the Christian life, and it is not very far down the road that we begin to see another gap – the gap between the person we are and the person God wants us to be.  The problem is, we have conditioned ourselves to believe that this gap is on us to bridge.

Ortberg points out that we can not bridge either gap.  All we can do is humbly desire to be led by God’s Spirit and do what Jesus says to do.  But what does this look like?  The church has defined this “maturity” level as being committed to the church and the it’s programing.  The problem with this criteria is that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for having the same expectations.

Perhaps the real measure of spiritual maturity is how we love.  Do you love the Father and your neighbor as Jesus does?

Real spiritual maturity can be depicted in selfless love humbly offered with no strings attached.  And we can only offer this kind of love out of the abundance of love we have received from God as a result of our relationship.

Live by grace today!

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The God of Renewal

I left the house very early this morning and noticed something refreshing – it was 60 degrees outside.  Spring is truly here.

I love this season – thunderstorms, warmer temperatures and things growing.  The change of seasons reminds us of God’s continual care for us.  Just as our world is not stagnant and still, neither is our God.  God is fresh everyday.  God is in the renewal business.

So today as you see grass greening up and flowers beginning to bloom, be reminded that regardless of what your life is like, God is in the renewal and renovation business.  God seeks a vibrant, growing relationship with you!

Start fresh and be rejuvenated today!

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Several years ago, back when we still used dial-up internet service and thought that was amazing, we decided to upgrade at the office and move to a blazing 768 mbps service.  It was a new technology for our area and operated via an antenna on top of the building that connected by radio signal to a tower 1/4 mile away.  As we met with the sales person in setting up the installation, I asked  the simple question, “How will the antenna be mounted to our building?”

You see, before entering ministry, I spent a considerable amount of my working life in the roofing industry (and oh, the stories I can tell about those days), and as such, I did not want a monstrosity affixed to our building that was going to be the cause for roof leaks and head aches down the road.  I was assured that the antenna was a simple mast with a small box on top of the pole.  I asked my follow-up question, “How will it be fastened down?”

Here was the answer I received: We use non-penetrating roof anchors.” I thought to myself, “non-penetrating roof anchors huh?  Never heard of it!  Must be new.”

Finally, the day arrived for the installation – we were finally going to move into the world that allowed more than one person to be on the web at a time (that sounds comical when I read that statement).  The installers arrived and I escorted them to the roof.  A few hours later I went to check on them and also to see for myself what a non-penetrating roof anchor looked like.  I wish I could say that what I saw was an amazing piece of scientific engineering.  But alas, it was as I expected.  The mast was a shiny, galvanized 1″ pipe about 8 feet tall.  At the top of the mast was a small rectangular, tan box – the receiver.  At the bottom of the mast were three legs and at the base of each leg was a . . .  you guessed it – a brick.  The non-penetrating roof anchors were concrete block bricks – what an amazing piece of technology!

I tell this story to make a point, we can spin anything we want to be anything we want.  We have become masters of accentuating the positive and diminishing the negative – ok that was an example of the very thing I am talking about.  In reality, what I meant to say was we have a way of blowing the positive out of proportion and sweeping the negative under the rug.  It all depends on what we are trying to accomplish.

The non-penetrating roof anchors did hold the antenna in place – but they were still just bricks.  The next time I needed something from my sales person, I took what they told me with a grain of salt.

As leaders, all we really have to stand on is our word.  Without the trust of the people we lead, we will not make it very far.  So tell the truth.  Don’t spin the facts to paint a different picture.  Find an honest way to motivate people and they will follow you – every time!

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Have you ever been having one of those days when nothing was going right?  You over slept, then got in the shower to realize there was no soap.  Then you got in the car to head off to work and  caught all the lights along the way.  Had one of those kinds of days lately?

We all have those kinds of days occasionally – that is a fact of life.

But in the midst of a day like that, have you ever had someone just simply smile at you and it brightened your day?  I hope you have had that experience.  Someone showed some kindness to you for no reason and it made you feel better.  In fact, many times it becomes contagious.  You later catch yourself smiling at someone else.

Today, I challenge you to be the instigator.  Someone in your path today is going to be having a rotten day.  Give them a smile or hold the door open for them.  It will lift their spirits.  And in the process it just might lift yours.

Have a great weekend!

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I looked back in the posts and unless I missed something, the last time I mentioned the book of Romans was a little less than a month ago (March 11).  As I said there, I had been camped in the 12th chapter for a month.  Well, now it has been almost two months and I am still in Romans 12.  It is an amazing book and chapter 12 is an amazing chapter!  I still hold it to be the Christian Manifesto.

Today, I have been challenged deep within my being by verse 12 of chapter 12.  The verse is short but comprehensive.  It says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”  That’s it – that’s the whole verse.  But what power in those words.

Paul tells us that our hope should bring us joy.  When we find ourselves in troublesome situations, we need only remember the bigger picture – that the God of the universe is in control – and that gives us hope.  As long as we have that hope, we can have joy, even in times of difficulty.

He goes on to say that we should be patient in the midst of affliction.  Paul gives it to us straight – there will be trouble.  Just because I made a commitment to be a follower of Jesus did not mean that I would no longer have to deal with pain, heartache and difficulty.  Paul does not want us to be naive about the fact that we will encounter hardships.  But he tells us to be patient – remembering the hope joyfully.

And then he gives us the answer as to how we do this – to be “faithful in prayer.”  It is in and through prayer that our relationship with the Father is grown and deepened.  It is in and through this relationship that trust develops and as we trust, our hope begins to grow and with that hope – joy.

If you find yourself in difficulty today, pray and as you pray, remember that the God who created you is listening – God is in control and has a plan.

You can take comfort and hope in that fact!

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Today marks one year since I began this ministry of sharing my thoughts here.  It is hard to believe that it has already been that long.  Today I thought I would share some things I have experienced along the way.

1)   As I knew from the beginning, it is impossible to have anything meaningful to say if my spiritual life grows stagnant.  In fact, that was one of the motivations for starting this blog – to keep my spiritual discipline in check.  I hope that at least a few posts this past year were meaningful and inspiring, but regardless, I can honestly say that my spiritual rule of life has been more consistent.  I thank you for the incentive.

2)   One of the unexpected results of the last year has been the widespread reader base that has already emerged.  I have people all over the U.S. who find my ramblings from time to time and that has been an humbling experience for me.  The comments and emails have been enlightening and encouraging as you have shared what God is doing in your lives.  My prayer is that God will continue to use this ministry to touch even more folks – we are all on this path together!

3)  The overwhelming experience of the last year has been the encouragement I have received from you.  I began this ministry in an effort to minister to people in need of encouragement and inspiration – and I pray that has been the case.  But, as with any effort we offer up to God, the blessing has been mine.  I truly appreciate and am humbled by you, the readers.  Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with me!

This has been a full year.  God has done some amazing things in people’s lives this year.  I pray as we move forward together into the next year of posts, that God will use this ministry to touch lives and that together we will grow in our understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Thanks for reading!  Tell a friend!

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I sat in a lecture last night and listened to an esteemed preacher discuss, rather prolifically, the importance of narrative and the way it shapes our character.  In preaching circles, “narrative” is a buzz word.  The idea is that each of us process information by understanding facts in the setting of a story.  When we read Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount that peace makers are blessed, in our minds we see someone making peace in a heated situation – a story emerges in our minds as we seek to understand the concept of a peace maker.  In other words, we process ideas in the form of stories.

But a deeper activity is happening as we seek to process information – we are doing so in light of our own story.  The experiences of our lives shape us and also shape the way we view information coming at us.

I realize this is a little more abstract than I normally get (maybe its being back on a college campus that brings it out of me) but here is what it all boils down to for you and me today.  God has made you who you are for a reason – through experiences, people who have impacted you and through the grace you have been shown.  There is only one you and God has a plan for you that only you can carry out.

Count it all joy then that God has created you complete with beauty and warts, quirks and strengths, burdens and joys to make a difference in this life.  The merit in your story is not in what you can attain or obtain but in the contribution you can make in the lives of others.  That is God’s plan – God’s meta-narrative.  Your story is a part of a larger story and your part can only be written and told by you!

Write a new chapter today as you impact others with hope and joy!

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He Is Risen

He is risen indeed!  That was the cry yesterday.  The last 40 plus days have been leading up to yesterday – Easter Sunday.  We spent last week remembering the tremendous sacrifice that Jesus made for each of us – the rejection, the beating and the death.  But the most important part of the Easter event is not the actions leading up to the day.  The most important reality of Easter is that Jesus didn’t stay dead.  He defeated death and rose again.

So often, we tend to leave Jesus in the grave.  We remember his sacrifice and we examine ourselves in light of that sacrifice, but we often leave with a sense of humble gratitude and that’s it.  Honestly, that is a part of what God wants us to experience.  But if we stop there, we miss the point.

Jesus is alive and well today.  Does that reality make a difference in the way you go about your day?  Or does your life reflect the assumption that Jesus is still in the grave?

He is risen!  May we live like we believe that today!

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Rejected Love

I have had plenty of rejection in my life, but three experiences rise to the surface for me.  One of those was a denial to enter the PhD program in seminary.  I committed my life to serving God professionally in high school and because of my love for students I planned on becoming a student minister.   But as I worked through my undergraduate studies in college, I began to have a deep passion for scripture and the history that goes with God’s word.  So I began to believe that God had plans for me to teach New Testament studies at the college level.  In order to prepare myself for that ministry, I had to earn a PhD.  So I completed the degrees necessary to enter that program, my undergraduate and a masters degree (I even through in an extra masters degree for good measure).  I took the tests, wrote the papers and did all the things required to be accepted into the PhD program – and then I waited.  Finally, the letter came in the mail – DENIED!

I was devastated.  I had spent the last eight years of my life fulfilling the requirements for acceptance and then, without explanation – rejected.  It was painful.  I felt completely alone.  But worse than all of that, I felt God’s back had been turned on me.  Obviously, that was not the case, but that is how I felt.  The road that I had been on for so long ended in a dead end and there were no detour – it was over.

I am sure you have experienced rejection in your life too.  It is a part of the package – if we are going to live, it means risk and anytime there is risk, there is the possibility of rejection.  Maybe for you it was a failed relationship. Or maybe it was a job promotion you felt you should have gotten but didn’t.  Or maybe an award you felt you deserved but didn’t get.  Whatever the situation, we all experience rejection.

While I am not trying to make everyone feel depressed today, I do want you to think about the pain of rejection.  Because that is what Jesus felt.  Some of the very people who were praising him five days ago were shouting “Crucify” today.  The disciples he had spent the last three years pouring his life into were no where to be found – in fact, Peter  openly denied he even knew Jesus.  But on top of all that rejection, on the cross, Jesus asked the question of God, “Why have you forsaken me?”

We must never downplay the physical pain of the cross event for Jesus.  It was the most brutal form of corporal punishment of that day.  But just as painful was the emotional rejection Jesus felt hanging there completely alone.  But the wonderful thing about Easter, the fact that makes this Good Friday, is that Jesus endured all of that willingly out of his love for the world – for you and for me.

That is what remember today – on this day!

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Today is Maundy Thursday – a big day in the last week of Jesus’ life here on Earth.  Thursday was the day when Jesus gave one of his last lessons on sacrifice and service.  The setting was a small but adequate room.  The furnishings were most likely very basic – a table or two – but everything Jesus needed to help his disciples experience service in a powerful way.

His lesson came in an unexpected way – Jesus had a knack for taking everyday life and turning it on it’s ear to teach a lesson.  The custom, upon entering a home, was to take off one’s sandals.  Most of the roads of the day were not paved and so feet got dirty in simply walking down the street.  So, as a matter of courtesy and simple hygiene, it  was customary to wash one’s feet before proceeding into the house.  It was also an act of hospitality for the host to provide a servant to do the washing.  By this time in history, the washing of feet had become the work of servants.

That night, Jesus did the unthinkable.  He went disciple to disciple and washed their feet.  You may recall that Peter had a problem with this.  He refused to let Jesus wash his feet until Jesus told him he must wash his feet or Peter would have no part in Jesus’ life – at that point, Peter offered for Jesus to wash his entire body.  The point I am making here is that, based on Peter’s reaction, this act that Jesus was doing was culturally beneath him and the disciples knew it.

Here was the King of all kings, the chosen Messiah – the very Son of God – washing their feet.  How could that be?

Jesus showed the disciples by action what he had been saying for three years – if one is to impact the lives of others for the Kingdom of God, then he or she must become the servant of all.  One leads by serving.

Jesus’ sacrifice and service did not stop there that night and that will be the subject for tomorrow.  But think about this today – who is God calling you to serve in the next 30 minutes – not 3 weeks from now, but right now?

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