Author Archive

Jun
26

Helpful Quote

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My sister shared the following quote as an introduction to a prayer she offered during worship yesterday. I liked it enough to share it with you today.

“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter, to count, to stand for something, to make a difference that you lived at all.” — Leo Rosten

I hope it will inspire you today as it has me.

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Jun
22

The Patience of Jesus

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Many people I know most readily identify with Peter more than any other apostle. For me, Peter represents the ongoing struggles I have with my personal discipleship. One day I’m “up,” and the next day, well, not so much.

Paul wrote of his struggles candidly in Romans 7:14-25, stating that he could not do the things he wanted to do and sometimes did the very things he didn’t want to do. Peter didn’t write about this paradox, he lived it publicly.

Recently I spoke from Matthew 16 and was struck by something I hadn’t given much attention. In Matthew 16:16, Peter offered what is arguably one of the most foundational confessions of the New Testament. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Because of this confession Jesus “blessed” him and proclaimed that his confession would be the foundation of the emerging church.

From that point, Jesus made his first, clear prediction regarding his passion and resurrection. Peter, according to Scripture, pulled Jesus aside and reprimanded him for “saying such things” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus response? “Get away from me Satan!” (Matthew 16:23).

Wow! Within a span of six verses Peter went from “blessed” to being (basically) called Satan. I don’t know about you, but I can identify with that.

But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus was patient with Peter. Six days later he is invited to participate in an incredible experience we call the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1ff).

I’m thankful that the Bible portrays its characters complete with their flaws and character defects. More than that, I’m grateful that alongside their transparency and vulnerability comes the patience of God. Jesus was patient with Peter, and he’s still patient with Peters today.

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Jun
19

When to Say “No”

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Last week I was presented with two requests within two hours. Within two minutes of each one, I said the word, “no.” Let me explain.

The first request came from a man who came to my office requesting permission to rent our facility for a four day conference that would welcome between 600-800 people. “Six to eight hundred?,” I said. “Yes,” he replied. I then responded by saying, “Our sanctuary only seats 500. I’m sorry, but we cannot do that. You’ll need to find another venue.” “But your building is so tall!, he pressed. I smiled and said, “Unless you plan to stack them, you’ll need to find another venue.” We shook hands and he left. This no came from a place of inability. We could not accommodate the request, so the answer was easy. “No.”

The second request came from a missionary who was looking for financial partners for his family’s call to serve overseas. He had left a voice mail stating his desire to present his ministry to our congregation. So before I returned his call I did a bit of research. I had looked at his statement of faith on his website, and within 30 seconds realized his personal theological values were significantly inconsistent with our church’s theological values. I returned his call and quickly expressed that we were not interested in partnering with him, wishing him the best as he solicited supporters. This no came from a place of inconsistency. His ministry’s mission and values were inconsistent with our ministry’s mission and values, so again, the answer was easy. “No.”

The point is that when you know what you can and cannot do, you can easily say no. And when you know what you believe and value, you can also easily say no. But if you’re not sure of your personal ability, or what you believe and value, you’ll continue to struggle with saying the word “no.”

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Jun
12

Are You Forgetting Something?

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On Sunday’s I’ve been working through the Gospel of Matthew. Its been good for me and hopefully it has been beneficial to my listeners. I’m always intrigued by how I continue to learn from passages that I thought I was fairly familiar. Recently, I came across a “story within a story” in Matthew 16 that struck a nerve. With me anyway.

In Matthew 16:1-4 Jesus was embroiled in yet another controversy with the religious leaders. For the first time the Pharisees and Sadducees have teamed up and demanded a sign to authenticate Jesus’ claims. After he departed with his disciples, Jesus began to provide a warning to the twelve about the teaching of these religious leaders using the metaphor of leaven (or yeast). The warning flows fairly naturally to the reader, but to my surprise, the disciples missed it. They had forgotten to take bread for the journey and immediately assumed they were being reprimanded for their forgetfulness. Its at that point that Jesus pauses to express his concern for their spiritual amnesia.

“Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it that you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?'” (Matthew 16:8-10, NIV)

It appears that the disciples had indeed forgotten to pack bread, but even more, they had forgotten where the bread had come from in the first place. Jesus had fed two multitudes in the period of about four months by multiplying loaves and fish, yet the disciples were concerned about the source of their next meal. With Jesus, no bread is no problem!

Before I judge the disciples too quickly, I must confess that I find myself guilty of the same forgetfulness. Too often I forget what God has done in the past. I forget that he’s always been faithful. I forget that he is able to bring anything he pleases into existence from nothing. God is faithful to me, and if I pause to give thanks and praise and count my blessings I am quickly reminded that whatever it is I face today, he is able and willing.

The size of my God may very well be in the direct proportion of my memory.

Categories : Thanksgiving
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Jun
09

The Serenity Prayer

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Many of you are familiar with the short version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. Recently I became familiar with the complete version, which I have found to be helpful. I hope that it will encourage you as it has me.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;

Taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;

Trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to you will;

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy in the next.

Amen.

Categories : Prayer
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Apr
16

Easter Changes Everything!

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Most of you can think of days that have changed your life forever. A graduation, your first car, that big promotion to suggest a few. Some days are related to family events such as a wedding or the birth of a child. We mark and recall those days because in their own way they changed the trajectory of life and helped us re-imagine life in a way we had never imagined before.

I think about the events recorded in the gospels about that first Easter. I appreciate the vulnerability and authenticity of how the characters are portrayed. As we follow them through the thickened plot we come to see how Easter truly does change everything.

Think about the thief on the cross beside Jesus. He was guilty of a crime and hung there as a result of his behavior. But in a moment of vulnerability he opened his heart to Jesus and asked to be remembered. Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” His guilt was transformed to forgiveness. Easter changes everything.

What about the women surrounding the story. While the men had gone into hiding on Good Friday, the women remained, dutifully attending to the needs of Jesus. On the first day of the week they were the first to arrive at the tomb hoping to finalize the burial preparations that remained undone due to the setting sun on Friday. When they encountered Christ their duty turned to devotion as they worshiped. Yes, Easter changes everything.

Mary Magdalene is one of the characters called out by name. There at the garden tomb, with eyes blurred by tears, she mistook Jesus for a gardener and asked where the body of Jesus had been taken. All it took was for Jesus to call her name, “Mary,” and her sorrow evaporated into joy. Easter changes everything.

The disciples had abandoned Jesus by and large during the his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. We later find them together in a room behind locked doors, bound by fear. When Jesus appeared to them his first word to them was, “Peace.” Their fear became peace in the presence of Jesus, because Easter changes everything.

Thomas was not in the room with those disciples, but when they reported their experience to him he doubted and demanded proof of his existence. When Jesus appeared to Thomas later he provided the proof Thomas claimed he needed to which he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” Doubt turns to faith because Easter changes everything.

Finally there is Peter. Peter had strutted into passion week making bold claims about his willingness to die for Jesus, making bold assertions that he would never deny him. He impulsively cut the ear off of a soldier in the garden as a show of strength. Peter was strong, perhaps too strong, and often acted in self serving ways. But when Jesus restored him on the shore of the sea, his command was, “Feed my sheep.” Peter changed from a strong, self serving person to a servant. Easter changes everything.

Good Fridays are characterized by people who are bound by guilt, duty, sorrow, fear, doubt and self centeredness. That was true then and is true today. But Easter changes everything. Easter opens the door for us to change the trajectory of life and find forgiveness, devotion, joy, peace, faith and service. Only then can we re-imagine the life that God has intended for us all along.

Easter changes everything!

Categories : Easter
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Apr
13

Maundy Thursday, 2017

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A year ago today I was in my office when the phone rang. It was Cassie, one of the nurses from Scotland County Care Center. My dad had been under hospice care for some time and had developed pneumonia. Cassie shared that my dad had taken a downward turn and that we should begin to prepare ourselves for his passing.

“Should I come now?” I asked.
She said, “Not yet. The doctor is on his way and he’ll do an evaluation and I’ll call you back in a few minutes and give you a status update.”
“Ok,” I replied.

Within the hour Cassie called me back. I was expecting her to give me a status report accompanied by some form of time line. She simply said, “Your dad just passed. I’m so sorry.” She felt badly that she had created an expectation that she could not deliver. I told her it was ok, but instantly was deeply saddened that like Jesus, my dad died alone.

After I hung up I called my sister and my mother and began to make preparations to travel to Missouri, where arrangements would need to be finalized and a funeral sermon prepared.

I find it strange that even though I knew my dad’s death was imminent I was still largely surprised that he passed. I knew it was coming, but it still hit me in an unexpected way, like a driver that violates a traffic signal and plows into the side of a car in the middle of an intersection.

I also find it strange that I seem to think about and talk about my father more in this past year than ever before. I try to be careful about referencing him in conversations and even my sermons, but I can’t seem to help it. His words and actions that previously resided in the back of my mind are now in the forefront of my thoughts.

When I think about the death of my father it makes me wonder if the disciples had the same kind of feeling regarding the death of Jesus. They knew he was going to die. The Old Testament prophets had predicted it for centuries. Jesus himself told them of his pending death on three separate occasions. They knew that it was coming, but I can’t help but think that his actual death must have hit them a little by surprise.

When I think about the disciples and the death of Christ, I also can’t help but consider the fact that they talked far more about him after his death that before. They often retell his life story and quote him frequently. I’m sure there were moments of reflection where memories were shared and stories retold. Some of those stories were humorous that brought smiles and even laughter. Others were told with deep meaning and conviction, as though those stories transformed their lives.

Before Jesus died, you get the idea that the disciples heard it, but didn’t quite get it. But when the reality of Jesus’ death sank in, they got it. And when they got it, they couldn’t stop talking about it either.

Death is a reality like no other. There are no approximations or misgivings about it. It’s frank and honest, and offers no consideration of our own thoughts and feelings. As believers in the 21st century we are blessed to have Holy Scripture to help us process Jesus death. We are not in the same position as the disciples who seemingly had to figure it out on their own. We can read and talk about the story in ways the disciples could not.

But that does not mean that we should speak of Jesus’ death any less than they did. It’s good for us to speak of Jesus in our day-to-day conversations as well as in our sermons and lessons. We can speak of him today as though he is still alive. Because he is!

Categories : Easter
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Mar
30

Playing Checkers with Dad

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My dad was never one to play cards or board games. He did, however, enjoy a game of checkers. If I wanted him to play with me, checkers was my go to. In all of the years I played him I never could beat him. Not. One. Time. He learned to play the game from his father, who he reports he could never beat. It must have been a regressive generation trait.

I can remember those games with him. He never really cared if he was “black or red,” and always let me make the first move. We would play at a very slow and deliberate pace, each taking his turn with no one seemingly possessing an advantage. Then after several moves, almost out of the blue, he would go on a massive offensive, making double jumps and reducing my number to one or two checkers. After the offensive, there was nothing left to do but concede defeat. And it went that was whenever we played. Every. Single. Time.

When I got older I finally possessed enough wisdom to ask him how he became so good at checkers. I knew that he had learned from his father and was hopeful that he could teach me some amazing trick or sprinkle magic dust on me to grant me these mysterious powers. He simply smiled and said, “You just have to look ahead to your next move.” By looking ahead, he meant the next 10-12 moves.

While I was messing around making my individual move he was strategizing his next series of moves. All I could see was his move. I could not see within his mind and uncover the checkerboard that was in his brain.

I think God works in our lives in similar fashion. We go through life, plodding along one move at a time, complete with our questions and doubts as to why particular things happen to us. And then all of a sudden, God unveils his plan and we can look back and see how all of those individual moves led to one great moment where things seem to come together and everything becomes clear.

Life certainly has more value than a game of checkers. But like the game of checkers, things rarely happen all at once. There is usually a series of moves that occur that do not seem like much…coincidental events that, in and of themselves seem benign. But it all matters and it all counts. Even the things that don’t appear to mean much, if anything.

Checkers reminds me that I can trust God is at work, even when I cannot or do not see or sense him. And when I feel as those things are barely moving forward in the daily grind of life, God unveils his will and when I does, I can look back and see how he set it all up.

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For almost a decade I served a denominational youth camp as the leader of a group of students who were either going to be seniors or who had just graduated from high school. Those experiences were always the highlight of the summer! The worship was outstanding, and the speakers that presented each evening dynamic beyond belief. Students developed new relationships with others. They also strengthened their relationship with God. For each of us it felt like one of those “mountaintop experiences.”

Though the curriculum was strong throughout the week, the most important lesson I taught was the last one, scheduled immediately before students would depart for home. The lesson was brief, only 30 minutes or so, and was simply titled, “Re-Entry.”

The point of this most important lesson was to remind the students that though they had just completed a transformational experience of meaningful growth, complete with emotional and spiritual high points, they were going to return to families, friends, class mates, and churches who had not been to camp. In other words, just because they had been away at camp did not mean those at home had experienced similar things. They needed to be prepared for that truth. Just because those at home had not enjoyed the same journey in no way invalidated the journey. They just needed to know that they were responsible to feed and fuel the next 51 weeks of their journey.

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Mar
26

The Art of Forgiving

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The Art of Forgiving was introduced to me a few years ago by a friend who highly recommended it for its sensible practicality and common sense. Its brief, a mere 178 pages long, but contains helpful counsel to those who struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Perhaps the most helpful element of the book is Smedes’ explanation of what forgiveness is not. This would suggest that one of the primary obstacles we have to forgiving those who have wounded us is the false expectation of what forgiving looks like, how it is done, and the aftermath that follows. If you are such a person, I would recommend this simple book. As a way of piquing your interest, I have added below some of the better quotes listed in the book’s postscript.

“The most creative power given to the human spirit is the power to heal the wounds of a past it cannot change.”

“We do our forgiving alone inside our hearts and minds; what happens to the people we forgive depends on them.”

“The first person to benefit from forgiving is the one who does it.”

“Forgiving happens in three stages: We rediscover the humanity of the person who wronged us, we surrender our right to get even, and we wish that person well.”

“We forgive people only for what they do, never for what they are.”

“We forgive people only for wounding and wronging us; we do not forgive people for things we do not blame them for.”

“We cannot forgive a wrong unless we first blame the person who wronged us.”

“Forgiving is a journey; the deeper the wound, the longer the journey.”

“Forgiving does not require us to reunite with the person who broke our trust.”

“We do not forgive because we are supposed to; we forgive when we are ready to be healed.”

“Waiting for someone to repent before we forgive is to surrender our future to the person who wronged us.”

“Forgiving is not a way to avoid pain but to heal pain.”

“Forgiving is best done when it is done intolerantly.”

“Forgiving is the only way to be fair to ourselves.”

“Forgivers are not doormats; to forgive a person is not a signal that we are willing to put up with what he does.”

“We do not excuse the person we forgive; we blame the person we forgive.”

“Forgiving is essential; talking about it is optional.”

“When we forgive, we set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner we set free is us.”

“When we forgive we walk in stride with the forgiving God.”

Categories : Books, Forgiveness
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