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Friday, April 10, 2015

The Book of Revelation

            I need to make a confession.  The book of Revelation in the Bible isn’t one of my favorites.  In fact, over the years I’ve pretty much skimmed over it, except for the beginning and the ending.  Part of it is my experiences early in my walk with Jesus and part of it is my personality.
            I was born in 1962.  A lot was happening in the USA and the world around that time.  We were facing huge culture shifts, the world was becoming smaller with TV screens bringing into our front rooms images from wars, revolutions, politics and religion.  With so much change happening, some people thought it would be good to write books about the end of the world and the book of Revelation was the source of some really crazy stuff that was written and said.  G.K. Chesterton is to have said, “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creatures so wild as one of his own commentators.”  I would have to agree.  What people wrote about did – and still does – seem really off the mark of what the Bible was about.  So I left it alone.
            The other thing about the book of Revelation is it reads like science-fiction.  I’m more of realist who thinks about the now and the immediate future.  I never got into the sci-fi genre of books and movies.  All you sci-fi fans out there, relax.  It’s nothing personal – I just wasn’t into it.
            But Revelation is part of the Bible.  And I think it has an important message.  So, for the last few years I’ve entertained the idea of preaching through the book….and then chickened out.  But now I’ve screwed up my courage and I’m jumping into it.
            Revelation was written during a time when things were going to hell in a hand basket.  To be a follower of Jesus was a costly thing.  The Christians of the time were an increasingly persecuted minority, often just seen as a sect of Judaism.  The Roman ruler of the time, Domitian, thought it a good idea to make himself a god, ordering people to refer to him as “Lord of the earth,” “Invincible,” “Thou Alone.”  And if you didn’t, you got punished.  Or killed.
            It’s easy to live in the here and now if the here and now is relatively peaceful.  But when life starts going sideways, we want to know what the future holds.  We want to have some hope.  And that is where the book of Revelation comes in.  It is ultimately a drama that creatively has reminded followers of Jesus for centuries that, no matter how bad it gets, Jesus wins.  Because Jesus wins and God is going to bring justice to all things, there is hope.
            Do you know anyone who could use some hope?  Invite them along for the ride as we get a glimpse of God’s Kingdom and his promises.  It’s going to be interesting.  And oh - pray for me.  I’m going to need it!
Peace and grace,


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Live Like Nobody Else - Take Time To Play

 A number of years ago I asked my wife Pam to do an exercise with me in intentional living.  The question we were answering was “What do you want your kids to remember about you?”  One of the answers I gave was they would remember I loved them sacrificially so they grew up to be spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically healthy people.  But I have mostly remembered one of the things Pam wrote down:  “I want them to remember that I played with them.”
Pam's contribution to Crazy Hat Day at
Markham School where she teaches
7th Grade science.  Aggie the dog says,
"Mom Rocks!!"
            Let me be honest here.  I’m not real great at playing with others.  Well – that’s not true.  I’m good at playing with others if I have a chance of winning against them!  And there is a bit of the problem.  I’m just slightly a touch on the Type A personality side of the spectrum (that was sarcasm, in case you didn’t get it).  You know those Type A people – driven, results-oriented overachievers who are never satisfied with the status quo.  Type A people have brought a lot of good to the world, don’t get me wrong.  But they have also left a trail of damaged goods in themselves and others along the path.  A Type A person isn’t likely to become a Type B person who is carefree, happy-go-lucky and go-with-the-flow.  But they can hav
e health and balance in their life and it has a lot to do with the ability to play.
            As I’m reading through the Bible in a year, I was reading Exodus 31:12-17 where Moses gets instructions from God on the Sabbath at the end of a whole bunch of very detailed instructions on how to go about worshipping him.  And God starts it this way:  Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths…”  Above all?  More important than anything else you said?  Why is this so important?
            The Sabbath has its roots in the creation order.  (See Genesis 2:2-3 for the context.)  Genesis tells us God did the work of creation for six days and then on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. (see Exodus 31:17)  This seventh day was holy, which means set apart and consecrated for God.  When we are practicing holiness in our life, there will be rest and renewal.  It is part of God’s unchanging order of life.
            Here’s the problem in our lives today – we live in a margin-less and boundary-less world.  This means we are constantly driven, constantly connected to the electronic leash of our smartphones, constantly under stress, constantly on the move.  We live a life without Sabbath.  We live a life without the space to play.  We don’t rest and we aren’t getting renewed. 
            Let me be honest again.  I don’t like talking about this subject because I really have a long way to go in my obedience in this area.  I’m learning that taking time to rest is an act of faith, it is saying I’m not bigger than God.  Taking rest is trusting God can get done what needs to be done without me being overworked and overstressed.  Just like giving 10% of my income is trusting God that I can accomplish more with 90% of my income, taking a Sabbath day of rest is trusting God that I can do enough in 6 days.
            Feel free to ask me how I’m doing with my play-life.  And when you do, be prepared for me to ask you the same!  Let’s take time to play.  We’ll be better lovers of God and much more fondly remembered if we do.
Peace and grace,


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hope That Shines When You Didn’t Know You Needed It

            I was walking through the grocery store, on my way to pick up a bowl of soup for a quick lunch when I got the call.  It was from my financial planner asking me what account we wanted the $65,000 deposited that was being transferred from an Ameritrade account.  I think I actually stopped walking at that point. 
You see, I wasn’t expecting any type of transfer from anyone’s Ameritrade account.  I definitely had no idea where $65,000 would be coming from.  I let them know that but I also did say, if someone was wanting to pass on a $65,000 Christmas gift, Pam and I were definitely willing to bear the sacrifice of such generosity!
            Sometimes the extraordinary shows up in the midst of the ordinary.  It is life as normal – mundane and routine – and then something happens that is totally unexpected.  We become part of a story we didn’t even know was happening.
            God does that sort of thing pretty regularly, it seems.  We are going along, minding our own business and God shows up in crisis or opportunity, wrecking our reality in the process, throwing us into new levels of faith we sometimes didn’t want.
            The Christmas story is this kind of story.  Everyone who is a part of the Christmas story of Jesus was thrown into crisis and opportunity.  Everyone was forced to see God in a new way, to make choices of following or rejecting.  The story of Christmas was life altering in this way. 
            Although the Christmas story caused great turmoil and disruption, it is still ultimately a story of hope.  It is a story of hope because Jesus brought light to the darkness.  He laid bare both the political reality of the day and the personal reality of the people who encountered him.  It required people to make a choice – follow or reject.
            In our times where Christmas is a safe story filled with traditions and sentimentality, it can be hard to capture the power of the first Christmas.  But it should always remind us that God still shows up unexpectedly in the midst of the normal, the routine, the mundane.  And when he does it is both a crisis and an opportunity.  And when he shows up it is an invitation to follow – you have a choice to be made.
            My prayer this Christmas is, in the midst of the joy, traditions, songs, shopping, giving and getting, God would unexpectedly show up with such power and such beauty you would be thrown into the chaos of crisis and opportunity.  My prayer is you would say yes to Jesus, yes to new faith and yes to deeper faith.  And when you do you would see the hope that shines brighter than the crisis.  I pray this Christmas you will see Jesus.

Peace and grace,


Friday, December 5, 2014

I Don’t Want To Be Here

            “This is not good.”  That is what I thought as we sat there.  It was dark.  It was getting colder by the minute – winter in Chicago is like that.  We were in a bad spot both literally and figuratively as we sat in our little Ford Escort in the left emergency lane on a sweeping left turn.  

We were on the Dan Ryan Expressway on the Southside of Chicago with a broken timing belt, in the days before cell phones.  Traffic continued to zip by as Pam and I sat there in our semi-formal attire, wondering how in the heck we were going to get some help.  This was not according to our plan and we didn’t want to be there.
            Not according to plan.  I don’t want to be here.”  Have you ever had those words go through your mind?  No matter how carefully we try to control our lives, not matter how carefully we plan we can find ourselves in times and places not of our choosing.  Darkness is an apt image for these times.  Getting colder is an apt feeling for the experience.  It is in these times where it is common for us to ask the question, “God, where are you?”
            For the people of God in the Old Testament, one of the most transformative experiences was the Babylonian exile where up to 70,000 men, women and children were moved from Jerusalem to Babylon because they were a conquered people.  Jeremiah was one of the prophets God sent to speak truth to these people who found themselves “not according to plan” and not where they wanted to be.  Like us when we find ourselves in similar unwanted circumstances, their focus was on getting back to normal by getting out of this situation.  There is a better place, a better people and a better situation.  Get us out of here!  Can you relate?
            It is into this difficult circumstance Jeremiah speaks God’s words: 
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV)
            I can imagine those who first heard these words spoken to them were a bit confused.  If this was true, why wasn’t God doing something?  Why weren’t they being delivered?  Why weren’t they being returned to their homeland?  God, where are you?
            The thing the people of Jeremiah’s time had to learn is the same thing we have to learn:  Hope is not found in us getting out of our circumstances, hope is found when God shows up in our circumstances.  God told them and he tells us this powerful truth – Wherever you are, there I Am.  I am with you.

            One of the names of Jesus revealed in the Old Testament is Emmanuel.  The name means “God is with us.”  Jesus is our future and our hope and he is right were you are.  He is the light of hope we celebrate in Christmas.
            Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  This is what God told Jeremiah to remind his people right after he told them he had hadn’t forgotten them, he knew what was happening and there is a future and hope.
            As Pam and I sat in the dark and cold, helpless and without options, we still had one option and that was to pray.  So we did.  Shortly after that a passing tow truck made his way over to us and towed our car back to our community an hour away.
            In that dark, cold place where you find yourself without options, there is always one option available and that is to pray.  Wherever you are, God is.  He wants you to know that.

Peace and grace,

Friday, September 19, 2014

Making Room For Grief

Grief, more than anything, touches the deepest part of who we are.  What we do with grief can either tear us apart or open our eyes to hope we never knew existed.

            Grief happens when we lose something of value to us.  All of us live with unvoiced expectations.  Sometimes they are unvoiced because we don’t even realize we have them.  Expectations we will not have to bury our children.  Expectations our marriage will last.  Expectations we will live a long life.  Expectations our community of faith will hold together.  Expectations we will always have beauty around us.  Only when life doesn’t turn out the way we expected do we realize how deeply we held onto these secret hopes and dreams.
            Right now we are helplessly watching the largest fire in recent memory in El Dorado County ravage the wilderness we have taken for granted.  There is a sense of relief that the fire has so far been turned back from destroying homes and taking lives  Once that relief is over the thought of the loss of the beauty we have taken for granted has overwhelmed many people.  The most common emotional response has been anger – especially directed toward the person who was arrested for starting the fire.  If you want to get an idea of what unbridled anger sounds like, read what people are saying about him on social media sites.  This type of anger is what will destroy us.  James warned us about this:  Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20, ESV)
            James lets us know there is an anger in us that isn’t any good.  It is the anger that turns into bitterness.  Bitterness destroys us and those we come into contact with.  But the Bible also tells us there is an anger that is righteous.  It is right and understandable to experience anger when beauty is destroyed, when cancer or mental illness destroy a life, when families disintegrate under the weight of divorce.  It is not as God intended and God grieves over the brokenness in the world we live in – a brokenness we unfortunately are part of perpetuating.  And yes, God gets angry about it.
            There is another path on the other side of anger.  We don’t have to go down the path of bitterness, we can choose to go down the path of hope.  But it requires us to look to the One who is bigger than our circumstances.  Paul was trying to get this across to the early church in his letter to the church in Rome:  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19, ESV)
            Paul reminded them (and us) that there is something beyond what we can see and sometimes comprehend.  Hope in this world will always disappoint us.  If your faith in Jesus is only that you will have a “good life” it isn’t going to work out very well for you.  In fact, it is almost guaranteed you are going to go down the path of bitterness.
            An essential part of the Jesus story is that he is going to make all things new.  From beginning to end the Bible is full of examples of this storyline.  We screw up, evil seems to win, everything looks hopeless, we are crushed.  And then, a flower blooms in an unexpected place.  It is the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
            You’re going to experience grief in this life.  But are you willing to look for the flower and embrace the hope of renewed beauty in your grief?  Make room in your grief for the grace and beauty of Jesus to show up.  I don’t know how long it will take, but I know it will bloom.  And one day, it will be forever.

Peace and grace,