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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Are You Going To Finish Well?

Many years ago, as I was reading the book of Daniel, the Holy Spirit highlighted one particular verse.  Has that ever happened to you?  You are reading along and there is a spiritual highlighter that has been used by God to tell you, “Pay attention!”
            The context is the famous story of Daniel getting tossed into a den full of lions because he won’t compromise his worship of God by doing acts of worship toward the king of the day, Darius.  So Daniel’s enemies set him up to be discredited and removed.  Sounds like a modern day political tale, doesn’t it?
            There was a problem though.  The problem was Daniel had lived an exemplary life.  And here is where the spiritual highlighter comes in.

At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” (Daniel 6:4, NIV) (emphasis mine)

            Here is what stuck out to me those many years ago.  Daniel’s integrity was intact because of what he did and what he didn’t do.  First, Daniel had integrity in what he didn’t do – he wasn’t corrupt.  I like to view myself as a realistic optimist.  Stuff happens but I try to believe in the best.  In the world I primarily live, the ministry world, I believe the vast majority of people engaged in vocational ministry are good-intentioned, God-pursuing people.  There are some people who go for the corruption route – they usually make a really big splash when they crash.  For most, it is fairly easy for us to reject corruption.  We don’t lie, steal, cheat, etc as a way of life.
            But what really struck me about this verse in Daniel’s story is the second part – “…nor negligent.”  Daniel not only didn’t do what was wrong, he didn’t shrink back from doing what was right.  And this is where I believe many of us can end up failing.  As I said, it is often easy to not do bad but it can be very difficult at times to do what is good when it is required.  And that is where Daniel’s life shone.  If I could put it another way, Daniel did the hard things.  Oh, and Daniel at this point in his life is probably about 70-80 years old.
            This Holy Spirit highlight came back to my mind in response to the recent headlines about Joe Paterno and the horrendous accusations of child sex abuse by one of his long-time assistant coaches.  Some ten years ago an intern saw an act of abuse by this man, reported it to Joe Paterno and he pushed it on up the administrative chain.  By all appearances it was pushed under the rug by the administration, allowing the alleged abuse to continue on for years against other boys.
            Paterno is a man of deep faith.  He is a man of honor.  His motto in his coaching was to “win with honor.”  He was the nation’s winningest and longest tenured major-college football coach.  He had the second highest graduation rate of players.  He has many, many awards and accolades to his name.  And he was fired.  Not for something he did.  But for something he didn’t do.  For most, the legacy Joe Paterno’s will be remembered for is what he didn’t do 10 years ago to hold someone accountable and protect young boys from a predator, not for his decades of coaching and leadership excellence, impacting literally thousands for good.
            We are leaders.  And, as Andy Stanley once said: “Leadership is stewardship.  It is temporary and you’re accountable.”  We are accountable for what we do.  And we are accountable for what we don’t do.  Maybe you are wrestling right now with the corruption side of things.  You are being tempted with your besetting sins, you are being tempted to compromise your beliefs and values for temporary gain.  It’s time to talk with Jesus and a friend.  Get it into the light because when it is in the dark, Satan is winning and he is preparing his plan to crush you.
            Perhaps more likely, there are some hard things you have been putting off doing.  You just don’t want to have the conflict, make the confrontation, take the time, be bothered with the details.  It is always easier to keep doing what we have always done than do something different.  Change is hard.  If this is the place you find yourself, it’s time to talk with Jesus and a friend.  You need a plan and you need some accountability.  In relationship with Jesus and others, you will have the strength to do the hard things - to do what is right.  One of my long-ago mentors, Bob Smith, would say to me over and over – “You do what is right because it is right.”
            It is hard to finish well.  Daniel did.  Jesus is the greatest example.  Meditate on these words and finish well.  Do the hard things.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2, ESV)

Thursday, March 3, 2011


One of the best definitions of grace is undeserved favor.  When we are recipients of grace, we get something that may be hoped for but is largely unexpected and definitely not deserved.  When we extend grace to others, we are giving favor or blessings to someone regardless of whether they deserve it or not.
            Grace is tricky and it is costly.  We usually know when we are not giving enough grace to someone but it is more difficult to figure out if we are overextending grace (is there such a thing as too much grace?).  Our fear with too much grace is we will be taken advantage of.  Our barrier to extending grace is our need for justice in our way and in our time.  “How can we extend grace to someone who is so undeserving, who shouldn’t get any favor at all?”, we ask ourselves.  But that is the very point, is it not?
            Unfortunately, I find that I can have the hardest time being consistently graceful to those closest to me.  I woke up grumpy one morning this week and the family knew it by my less-than-stellar-attitude and tone of voice.  When my son gently challenged me on this, I pointed out the events of the previous day that were contributing to my gracelessness.  He responded, “It’s a new day.”  I wanted to slap him up side the head!  My gracelessness was revealed and the simple truth of Lamentations was my rebuke.  He was right and I didn’t want to hear it.  I thanked him later for saying what was right and true and gave him permission to do it again.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” ” (Lamentations 3:22–24, ESV)
            As a Christian, we are to be people of grace.  We are to continuously give and receive undeserved favor to the world.  But, as Lamentations reminds us, we are to remember that grace doesn’t come from us, it flows through us.  The source of grace is Jesus Christ.  The Lord is my portion therefore I will hope in him” is to be our soul’s cry.  We can be people of grace because God is enough.  He fills us to overflowing.
            I don’t know that extending true grace will ever be easy but we can get better at it.  It is something to be practiced and in the practice of grace, God begins to change our heart.  In giving others undeserved favor we begin to see how much we depend upon God’s undeserved favor in our lives.  We start to have eyes wide open to how others extend us grace much more than we realize.
            My hope for Cold Springs Church is we will be a place of undeserved favor.  I pray we will risk being taken advantage of so others might see the fullness of God’s grace poured out through Jesus.  I long that we would be so deeply rooted in Jesus that his portion and hope would be enough so we could generously give to others.
            Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…

Peace and grace,

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Righteously Angry

Been angry lately?  What was it about?  Anger is one of those tricky emotions.  It can easily go real wrong, real fast. 
In the helping professions, anger is what is often called a “secondary emotion.”  In other words, you can feel a primary emotion of fear, disrespect, frustration (blocked goals), injustice or pressure (high stress).  The outward response to that primary emotion can often be anger.  But the anger was triggered by what came first.  Anger can be a great signal to us that something deeper, more powerful is going on in us.
Paul says in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry but do not sin.”  It is OK to be angry.  It is not OK to sin.  What is anger that does not become sin?
Last week my favorite Bible passage was Psalm 18.  When I shared it with my wife Pam, her comment was she liked how it talked about God becoming angry.  I went back and read it again and I have to agree with her – I like how God became angry.  Since God is perfect, holy and righteous, it is a pretty good example of sinless anger.  So what did God get angry about?
Look at verse 6:
In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. ” (Psalm 18:6, ESV)
David was in trouble and he cried out to God.  His enemies were threatening to do some serious damage to him.  And God got ticked.
Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. ” (Psalm 18:7, ESV)
God got ticked because he is passionate about righteousness and justice.  Anger that flows from Godly passion is how we can have sinless anger.
We could really use a lot more Godly, angry people.  We could use more people like Jesus, who sees the temple courts filled with vendors that are keeping his house from being a house of prayer for all nations so he “cleans house”, he does something.
Anger that has no action is just whining and complaining about the status quo.  Anybody can (and does!) do that.  Godly anger moves us to action, to bring the Kingdom of God where it presently is not.  Godly anger over senseless violence should motivate us to be battling in prayer and being a peacemaker.  Godly anger over kids destroying their lives through destructive choices should motivate us to go and be the presence of Jesus where they are.  Godly anger over the exploitation of children by sex traffickers should motivate us to give and work toward justice.  Godly anger over people going to a Christless eternity should motivate us to step out of our comfort zone and start sharing Jesus in simple ways with those around us.
Are you angry?  I sure hope so.  I hope you discover the deeper thing God is wanting to do that is the true source of your anger.  I hope you find your righteous anger and it moves you to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus.  We need more righteously angry people.

Friday, February 4, 2011

God Is Present In Tragedy

It has been a very hard week on our community.  The murder of Sam LaCara, principal of Schnell School has rocked us.  As more details come out it seems to make less and less sense.    John Leubbers, the school janitor who shot Sam, was a long time employee and even a golfing buddy with Sam.  And yet, in a moment of passionate rage, so many lives have been turned totally upside down, never to be the same.  Our hearts and minds quickly cry out “WHY?!”
One of my friends from the church shared with me how this has rocked his faith a little.  As he thinks about Sam’s wife and three daughters he was struggling to understand where God is in all this.  Another friend reflected that this was like experiencing 9/11 all over again for her, on a very close-up personal level.
In times like these, we can feel very much like the Psalmist:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. ” (Psalm 22:1–2, ESV)
            We get caught in our grief, unable to make sense of what is going on and questioning whether God is really even there.  And that is OK.
            One of the things I appreciate about the Psalms (and about the whole Bible) is the raw emotion that is found there.  It is not a fairy-tale book but a book that wrestles with life as it really is.  The emotions of grief and sadness and the thoughts they elicit are not hidden away as inappropriate but shared openly as a path to faith.
            Psalm 22 is the perfect example of this, a reflection on the intense agony of someone who is suffering and questioning life yet keeps coming back to be reminded of God’s faithfulness in the past and God’s hope for the future.
            Life is messy and it often carries with it deep pain.  We want Sunday School answers but they too often escape us.  And when we are in the midst of the confusion and pain, we begin to believe we will never find our way out, that God is far away and inattentive to our cries for comfort.
For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. ” (Psalm 22:24, ESV)
            The Good News from God is that he not only has heard but he has responded.  God climbed into the messiness and confusion of life through his Son Jesus.  The prophet Isaiah writes of Jesus:  “…a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”.
            God has not forgotten you.  He has been with you in the past, he will be your salvation in the future and he is your comfort in the present because he IS present, he is here with us.  Simply call out to him.
            You may not feel it right now.  You may not even believe it right now, but your sorrow, pain and grief can be turned to peace and joy in Jesus if you will only turn to him.  It is the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection – evil, death and destruction do not win.  Life wins.  Overflowing, abundant, hope-filled life wins.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever! ” (Psalm 22:26, ESV)
            As we grieve together, let us love God together and love each other together.  Then the darkness will be pushed back and the light of God’s glory will shine in and through us.

You are loved,


Saturday, January 15, 2011

More Faith

It is a story that seems to raise as many questions as it does answers. In Genesis 22 we see that God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac - this boy Abraham had waited 20 years of marriage to be born, the focal point of the promises of God - up to a mountain and offer him as a sacrifice.

The command of God is strange because, although the offering of live human sacrifice was a common practice of some religions of the time, it is clearly condemned in the Bible and something God hates (see Deuteronomy 12:31 and Leviticus 18:21). So why does God tell Abraham to do it?

God was testing the faith of Abraham, we are told in the first verse, and oh what a test it was! In Genesis 21:12 God makes it clear to Abraham that through Isaac God will fulfill his promise that Abraham will be the father of many nations and his descendents will be as numerous as the stars. And yet, here we see a radical command to trust God given to Abraham.

As you read the story, there is a sense of complete trust and calm by Abraham. In what would seem to be a horrible and agonizing decision, Abraham keeps his focus on two things: trusting in the character and promises of God and an unwavering obedience to God. And that is what faith is - trusting and obeying.
Abraham is held up in scripture as the father of faith. But it wasn't because of what he believed. It was because of what he did. Faith is shown is what we do, not in what we say we believe. (James 2:18-26)
It is REALLY EASY to say we believe in God or that we trust God. But, as I tell my kids - it's not your words that count, your actions tell me everything I need to know. What I mean is this - if we say we trust God but we live our lives clearly only trusting in ourselves and our abilities, we really don't have much faith in God. Likewise, as a church, if we say we are a church of faith but the only things that happen are easily explained by human means, we really aren't a church that has much faith.

Abraham, because of his trust and obedience, was put in a place of desperation where he absolutely needed God to come through. And you know what? God did. God provided the sacrifice. God protected Isaac. God proved faithful to Abraham. God protected his character. God was big enough to meet the challenge of faith. But the only way Abraham and Isaac experienced that was by taking the risk to trust God.

Being a follower of Christ is an invitation to faith, to trust and obey. When we do that, we will experience faith. Not through what we say, through what we do.

How about you? What is God asking you to do that requires risk, that requires you to trust and obey him? When are you going to stop making excuses and take the step, live the life, offer the sacrifice? It's going to be hard but God is big enough to meet the challenge.

And remember, the One who asked Abraham to sacrifice his son? He later gave His son as a sacrifice. Jesus willingly laid down his life so that you could have faith and you could be saved. If you are looking for faith, start by having faith in Jesus - believe in him in your heart and confess him with your mouth. He makes it possible to have a faith that will change your life.
What are you waiting for?

Peace and grace,

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Hunger for More

The scene is stark.  Two long rows of wooden tables in a dark, dingy, high ceilinged stone hall that just looks cold and miserable.  High on the wall at the end of the hall in very large black letters is written “God is Love.”  At each of the rows of tables, orphan boys sit with their single bowl from which they eat the watery gruel that serves as their main staple, providing little nutrition and no satisfaction to their hunger.
It is the scene the author Charles Dickens paints with his classic tale, “Oliver Twist” that was published in 1838 and then made into a feature musical film back in 1969.  In the scene described above, Oliver, the main character in the story, has the audacity to come forward and ask for more to eat.  The overseer of the workhouse incredulously cries out, “What?!  MORE?!”
            Oliver runs about the room but is eventually caught and is held by his ear as the overseer sings the following words:
Oliver, Oliver, Never before has a boy wanted more
Oliver, Oliver, won’t ask for more when he knows what’s in store
There’s a long, thin, winding stairway without any banister
Which we’ll throw him down
And feed him cockroaches served in a canister
Oliver, Oliver, what will he do when he’s turned black and blue
Cheery, huh?!  What a contrast from the words on the wall – “God is Love” – to a simple request for “more.”  Oliver was acting on what he was feeling, he was hungry and he wanted more.  But the response was anything but loving (read the words to that song again!)
I am hungry and I hope you are too.  But do you dare ask for more?  The hunger I have is not a physical hunger, it is a spiritual hunger that makes my soul rumble for more of God and his life in mine.
These next few weeks I am going to be challenging us to think about what we hunger for and I hope that I will stir up some appetites in you.  We are going to use 2 Corinthians 8:7 as our guide:
But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness and in our love for you – see that you excel in this act of grace also.

            Unlike the overseer in the movie Oliver, God is not stingy.  No dungeons and cockroaches in canisters for those who come to God looking to be filled.  Do you believe that?
            Each week I am going to ask you to right down one specific thing you want more of in this coming year.  Together over the next year we are going to see just how good God is!  I hope you are hungry!

Peace and grace,