Saturday, December 31, 2011

Spending the Last Day

Every year I think about it.  How will I spend the "last day" of the year?  Pastor Andy spent the "last day" with his Grampa this past week, singing hymns and rejoicing over the godly example he set for the next generations.  I have a pastor friend who is holding his Dad's hand in a hospital, encouraging him about the many lives he has touched in his decades of ministry.  Its funny how those who have done the most feel like they have done the least.  It shows the humble spirit of Jesus in them.  "When did we do that, Lord?" 
   But today as a last day is different.  This isn't the "last day" kinda last day.  Or is it?  Could be.  So how would I live it differently if it were?  2011 is done.  Can't change what was but I can review and change how I will use the time allotted me in 2012. 
   So for me, I want to spend more time seeking Jesus.  I want to live like I believe that five loaves and two fish fed nearly ten thousand people with more left over than there was in the beginning.  I want to strategize and plan like I believe that if God asks me to march around rather than fight that the walls of my Jericho will come down.  I want to pray with and encourage people like I believe that God can restore double back to those who have lost everything yet remain faithful to Him, just like Job.  I want to lead like I believe that the church can look more like Acts rather than the American church I know. 
   More Bible and less babble.  Fasting and praying rather than feasting and playing.  Sitting in silence and listening rather than speaking and revealing my ignorance.  Facetime on the floor rather than the computer. 
   A little bit of lofty goal submitted to Jesus will transform me in 2012.  That is my greatest desire.

What are you thinking about today?  Last days are good for us.  A new day starts tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Theme Continued

   "Do Good" is not just a campaign.  It is a way of life.  I was reading in Titus 3 this morning.  Three times in this short chapter it is mentioned.  First, people should be submissive to authorities, obedient to leaders and ready to do good.  Paul then says that because God has saved us by His mercy, and in light of what He has done in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit we are to be careful to devote ourselves to doing good.  He then warns against getting involved with controversial arguments or divisive people and learn to devote ourselves to doing good in order to provide urgent needs and avoid unproductive lives.
   Interestingly enough, it says that a divisive person is warped, sinful and self-condemned.  Once again I was reminded that we can so easily get side-tracked seeking to correct the wrong thinking of warped people that we lose time, energy, and effort in doing good.  There are times when we "kick against" authority or being obedient to those over us about matters that are unimportant, and we lose time, energy and effort in doing good.  God has transformed us, not because of our goodness but because of His mercy, and freed us to "do good."  We are saved for a purpose so we are not unproductive in life.  We are always looking to do good for the benefit of others.  It moves us (and keeps us) away from the selfishness that is the core of our former sinful lives. 
   I am blessed by the good things being done by so many at our church.  Generosity, serving, encouraging, providing, and supporting are quietly abundant.  No show, just doing good.  And as the story of Gail Fechter I told last weekend, it is contagious.
   My goal for 2012 is to spend less time on the distractions and more time in doing good.  How about you?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Peace on Earth

I wrote my friend and brother Steven Khoury this morning. He pastors in Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. It is Christmas Eve evening there and I'm sure a large group of pilgrims are crowding Manger Square.  At the same time there are protests over the wall Israel built to make it more difficult for terrorists to bomb them.  Peace.  Baghdad was rocked with numerous explosions yesterday following the US withdrawal.  Peace on Earth.  Fights break out in shopping centers over Air Jordan shoes.  Peace on Earth, Good will toward Men.  Seems the message of the angels got lost somewhere along the way.
   But we ought not lose hope.  On my Facebook page you can connect to a Christmas eve account from a POW camp.  It shows that when all is stripped away, and others may even be trying to strip away your humanity, the hope of the Christ child is still alive.  We Christians ought not be surprised by the events of the world.  We've been told this is what will happen as we progress toward the end.  We live as lights in the growing darkness, glowing as bright as the star that led the Wise Men, pointing to the only source of hope for the world.
   And the promises of God stand firm, the firm foundation for our hope.  And Israel's.  Listen to God's word through Ezekiel while he was in a POW camp:
I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’” 

Since 1948 God has been bringing the Jews back from amongst the nations.  He has caused them to stand against all odds.  There is a day coming when His sanctuary will be established once again in Jerusalem.  Then all the nations will see the hand of the Lord has fulfilled His promises and secured the peace on earth.  Until that day, we proclaim a message of peace on the earth.  Not a political or military peace, but a holistic peace in the hearts of men and women, fueled by a hope that no one can take away.

It is my prayer that all who read these words have experienced that peace personally.  Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Having Fun

Over two hundred times in the Bible the word joy is used.  A significant number of those times it is associated with eating and drinking, celebration and dancing.  There were times of great achievement when shouts of joy went up.  Jesus smiled at the quick-witted comment about dogs and crumbs made by the Syro-Phoenician woman.  In other words, times of laughter and fun.  God created us to enjoy life.  And that includes laughter.  It seems that this trait has been hijacked by the enemy, leading to foolishness and raunchiness that is not funny, but sad. 
 So the question of the day, how long has it been since I laughed?  Does our family enjoy times when we are just plain silly, laughing and joking, in all purity?  Is laughter spontaneous in our home or is there a serious, angry tone most of the time?  Do we plan times to play or are we always working, or escaping each other?
  The greatest memories we have as a family are vacations, game nights, family nights, and milestone achievements when we celebrated.  Humor, laughter and joyous interactions when wholesome are healthy.  As a church family, such interactions lift the spirits of the downtrodden, help us not take ourselves too seriously, and help us share our humanity.  It creates the desire to be together even more.  Here at Christmas, it is good to remember that even Ebenezer Scrooge transformed from bah humbug to a spirit of laughter and joy.
   My prayer is that if someone is missing it, that they find the true spirit of joy and laughter that comes from a heart that has been set free this Christmas season.  Remember to take some time for fun.  Its godly.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What a Quality

I was with some other men recently doing some study and a familiar psalm that I had not read in some time was referred to.  There is a wonderful phrase in the middle of it that jumps off the page to me.  There are so many times when I have experienced disappointment in myself and others for not carrying through with what was promised.  What was promised on Monday isn't done until Friday, or perhaps even forgotten.  A real or implied warranty really has so many stipulations that there is no warranty at all.  I'll call you later to see how you are doing.  Really?  I'm still waiting.  Sometimes we speak quickly and mean well and then realize that to do what we promised will cause some pain or discomfort.  It will be hard to do.  We don't think so when we make the promise.  Thought it would be easy.  I mean,  the way I feel now it will be a breeze.  Where did that marvelous feeling go two days later, or two decades later?  Now what was going to be a breeze is challenging and I'm not sure I want to carry through.
   David, in describing a man who is righteous, a man who comes before the throne of God, a man who has been prepared by the blood of Jesus, says that he "keeps his oath even when it hurts." (Psalm 15:4b) Even when it hurts.  The word means it may injure us or break us to do so.  But in doing so we prove integrity.  We prove righteousness.  We show honor to the Lord who redeemed us.
   The question to ask perhaps is this:  Is the honor of God and my personal integrity worth suffering some pain in order to prove that my "yes" means "yes" and my "no" means "no?"  Will I keep my oath even when it hurts?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I found an interesting word as I was reading and thinking today.  It is the Greek word "pas."  Small little word with a big meaning.  Jesus said in John 17:7 that the disciples now knew that everything the Father had given Jesus had come from Him.  Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. So they knew God was the source of all things.  Pas.  Everything.  
Peter wrote, 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  (2 Peter 1:3)  Pas. Everything.  So the question comes down to this:  If He has given us everything we need and we know that everything comes from Him, why don't we seem to have everything we need and struggle?  It is because we don't continue to grow and remain in relationship with Him.
   We saw the food pantry of a local church recently.  They provide food for hundreds of people on a regular basis.  Now what if a person knew to come there, came close, but rather than engaging the folks who were running the pantry and receive what they need, sat in the room beside where the pantry is and complained about how the church said they would provide food for them but weren't?  Foolish, huh?  Everything they need is right there, and there is an absolute willingness to provide all they need.  The issue is with the recipient.  Because he or she refuses to engage the provider in relationship, what is available to them sits waiting. 
   God has provided "pas," EVERYTHING.  Its there waiting.  Why aren't we receiving?  Today may be a good time to "pause" and think about "pas."

Monday, December 5, 2011

Generational Faith

I had the privilege of speaking at the church of a dear friend yesterday.  The City Church in Batavia is a wonderful reflection of their pastor, Marty Macdonald.  Marty is a genuine, gentle, generous, gregarious, godly man.  He was speaking at another church that morning, but Pam and I got to go to lunch with his wife Patty, one son and daughter-in-law, and several grandchildren.  During the morning and then throughout lunch, the Scripture from Psalm 103 came to mind: 
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
   the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
   and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
   and remember to obey his precepts. 

It is a joy to see generational faith.  Marty and Patty's children's children are walking in the faith at a young age.  They are plain good kids, well-behaved and loving Jesus.  Because their parents love Jesus and their grandparents love Jesus.  They eat as a family, I mean entire family, several times a week.  They understand that generational faith is intentional, forged around mealtimes and daily life, in daily prayer with and for their children, and taking advantage always of teachable moments.  They also have walked in love through difficult moments in faith believing the Lord.

It was a joy to see.  I just pray to see it more in the family of God.  While it feels rare, I know that by the grace of God that can change.  What a testimony.  Thank you for your faithful witness Macdonalds!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Christ's Love and Puzzles

We began a 1000 piece puzzle yesterday.  It is based on a murder mystery and as you put the puzzle together you get clues as to "who dun it." There are times pieces seem to fit, but they don't.  We had no picture to go by, so we had to go piece by piece in putting patterns, colors, and words together.  Little by little pieces of the puzzle came together.  The picture was becoming more clear. 
   You have to be patient and persistent in working one of these things.  If you stare at the chaos long enough to find "the" piece, it all becomes a blur.  But if you are consistent in trying to capture the patterns it eventually comes together.  The pieces seem to come to you.
   In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says, "The love of Christ compels us. . .   We are Christ's ambassadors. . . "  Because of what Christ has done for us, we are compelled to help others put the puzzle of life together.  Sometimes we get so focused on one piece for them, and we get frustrated when we can't find it.  We forget that Christ is working to bring the pieces together.  So we can patiently look for the pattern, the parts that seem to be coming together at this point that will give a glimpse of the greater whole.  Encouraging them through the process, standing beside them, and pointing out the "little victories" along the way helps them stick with it.  They begin to see Jesus more and more clearly until they finally "get it."  And life falls in place the way God intended.
   It reminds me to let the compelling love of Christ motivate me not to give up and not allow those I care about to give up.  Sometimes we have to change perspectives in looking at the pieces or even take a little time pulling back.  But we don't give up until the picture become clear.
   Come to think of it, its time to get back at it.  Our mystery is not solved yet.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Harvest Time

I love history.  When I was younger, I was taught that our Thanksgiving Day observance goes back to 1621, the first harvest after the Pilgrims arrived.  Pictures of Indians and Pilgrims together fill my mind.  And then I found that while this is a neat picture, it is not the real story.  Thanksgiving Day actually comes from events two years later in 1623.  The Pilgrims had moved from a communal approach to every family planting their own crops.  These individual farm plots were successful up until a hot late summer with little or no rain.  The crops wilted.  Gov. Bradford called the community to prayer and the Lord responded with rain.  The crops rebounded and the harvest was plentiful.  They celebrated a day of Thanksgiving to the Lord.
   Psalm 42 reminds me of the wilting times of life.  I read it this morning again.  At one point, the psalmist lamented:  These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. 
He then pauses amidst his depression and acknowledges the Lord's presence in his life.  His affirmation was this:  By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me--a prayer to the God of my life.  That is like having the rain fall on the wilted crops.  He then comes to a powerful, hope-filled conclusion:  Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  Harvest time is coming when a day of Thanksgiving can be celebrated.
   On this Thanksgiving day, I know there are some who are in the wilted time.  Struggles, broken relationships, grief, financial challenges loneliness.  While any sensitive heart would wish we could take those seasons away for others, the reality is we can't.  But we can encourage one another as Gov. Bradford and the community did, by seeking the Lord with each other.  Today, we pray for you who are in the wilted time, crying with you for "rain" to come from the Lord.  As we put our hope in the Lord in the midst of the depressed times, we can be reassured that harvest time is coming. 

"I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God." 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Standing in the Road

I was reading one of my favorite stories today and had to ask myself a question:  Am I as aware and smart as a donkey?  Strange question I know.  But if you read Numbers 22-24 you may ask the same.  A Moabite king wanted a diviner/prophet to curse God's people Israel.  They were willing to pay handsomely for it.  They were afraid that God's people were going to take them over.  Balaam, the prophet, refused to go with them at first, and then agreed.  As he went, the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.  Balaam did not see the angel, but his donkey did.  Three times the donkey turned to go away from the angel and three times Balaam, thinking the donkey was being stubborn, beat him to get him back on track.  Then the Lord opened two things:  the mouth of the donkey to speak and the eyes of Balaam to see.
   I laugh to think of a man talking back to his talking donkey.  But I cry to realize that I can be like Balaam.  The angel told Balaam:

32 The angel of the LORD asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”

Sometimes the path we are on is reckless and God works behind the seen to oppose it so we are not destroyed.  A donkey can see it clearly.  But I may not.

I pray today that my eyes would be open to see the danger in the road I am on, or at least that I would be open to hear the warnings of any donkey God sends to question what I am doing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Intentional.  We use that word a lot.  About our personal lives and about church life.  They are very parallel.  Today we spoke of the joy of the Lord, that He is God and He bids us to enter His presence with joy.  He is good.  Now to that word:  intentional.

   I feel almost overwhelmed by how good the Lord has been to us.  Operation Christmas Child; the giving of turkeys, coats and shoes; the 12 hour fast the kids did raising over $2500; the "Do Good" flash mob and campaign giving away over $5000; visions; protection in accidents; the Road to Christmas advent cooperative effort; the new classes being offered on Studying the Bible For Yourself and Christians and Depression; and the sharing of stories of thanksgiving and God's grace.  All of these are workings of the Lord in the hearts, heads and hands of His people.  But all these things represent us "engaging every person to become a passionate follower of Jesus Christ."  We are working hard at doing only what helps us achieve that goal.

   So I was thinking about that with personal life.  How intentional are we being at doing what will help us accomplish being doers of the Word and not hearers only?  Some people tell me they are upset at God for what has happened in their lives.  We must always honestly face the fact that some of those things are the fruit of decisions we have made or actions we have taken.  Even then God stands ready with forgiveness and grace if we ask.   In other things that are not by our choice, we can either see them as opportunities to see God "show up" or for us to grow up by trusting Him.  I believe the greater question is are we being intentional in living in Him?

I want to always make sure we are being intentional in church life so that every person has time, resources and encouragement to be intentional in their personal life in pursuing Him.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Couldn't Say It Better

Oswald Chambers has been one of the influential people in my life for a long time.  I was asked recently how to live out the life of Christ, like a part of the remnant of God in the land.  Oswald put it succinctly thus:

The test of the life of a saint is not success, but faithfulness in human life as it actually is. We will set up success in Christian work as the aim; the aim is to manifest the glory of God in human life, to live the life hid with Christ in God in human conditions. Our human relationships are the actual conditions in which the ideal life of God is to be exhibited.

 That's it.  It is a simple life and a challenging life.  The pressures are always present to get caught up in things that don't matter.  Living this kind of life will render you unnoticeable generally but will draw people to you because the Lord is oozing out of you.  Success is determined not by numbers, awards, acknowledgements or articles.  The sole determinant of success is whether the glory of God is being manifested in your life. 

I have to ask each day which I desire:  to be noticed or to have Christ be noticed in me?  The free and gloriously joy-filled life is the second.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Moving Forward

It has been said that if you are not moving forward you are moving backwards.  I agree.  If we think we are treading water or staying steady, I have found about the time you think you are keeping up the finish line moves and you are further behind.  Change is not an option. Neither is personal growth. 

So why do I think we as a congregation are moving forward? 

There are so many people who are taking seriously their personal growth in knowing and applying the Word of God to their daily life.  And the transformations are evident.  It is so exciting to watch and hear.

We are not afraid to change.  We embrace the need for change and are seeking ways to be effective.  And we are finding change is fun.

We are unleashing the troops even more.  Upwards Sports and Operation Christmas Child are two stunning examples.  Lay led, both are making a huge impact.  In fact, OCC, without direct staff leadership, is going to go beyond all levels of giving in previous years.  Your generosity and the excellent team effort make the difference.

We most of all are sensing, yearning for, and seeing the Spirit of God move among us in fresh ways.  Everything else would be meaningless apart from this. 

We will continue on this path, and the fruit will come as the Lord brings it.  And along the way, the joy of the Lord will be our strength. 

Let's spur each other on toward love and good deeds, never forsaking meeting together and encouraging one another.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Recurring Thoughts

For the past few days I have had some of the same thoughts floating through my head.  Dangerous, I know.  Glimpses here.  Pieces there.  But the same theme and goal.  So before I lose it all, I wanted to get it down.  I'm sure it will be a continual work in progress.  I just had to form it initially so I can view it again.  Feel free to help me process it.

   James comes to the end of his letter stating that the "prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."  I hear people speak of that phrase emphasizing that the more righteous we are, the more powerful our praying is.  But the more I study it, the key is not the righteousness of the man but the righteousness attributed to the man by God.  And therefore the praying is powerful because the man is closer to knowing the mind and heart of the Lord.  Peter states in his first letter that the prophets were searching intently trying to figure out what "the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing to" when He predicted the suffering of the Christ.  They were able to speak powerfully, not because they were so gifted but because they were walking closer to Christ and He was transforming them.

Here is the heart of my thoughts.  The health and wealth gospel, the name it and claim it crowd, and the purely attractional "come see what God wants to give you so you can feel good" group, have all done a disservice to the essence of the Gospel.  I know that is not earth-shattering.  But hear me out.  Every event in my life, including my challenges, my defeats, my achievements, my dreams, my everything, is meant to force me closer to absolute dependence upon and offering of praise to, the One who created me for His glory.  Peter describes it as  the "goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  (1 Peter 1:9)  So I'm never a victim because He is using the circumstance to either break me or help me trust Him more.  I'm never alone because He will never leave me or forsake me.  I'm not a loser because we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  The only purpose I have in life is to learn to trust Him and do whatever He says so that He is glorified in my life.  I'm not an authority in and of myself, I live under His authority.  I'm not a spiritual superstar because as John the Baptist said, "He must increase and I must decrease."  I'm not fighting for my rights because I have none.  I stand for His truth not matter the cost.  I live thinking about knowing Him and not what He can and does do for me.

Again, not new thoughts.  Just a feeling that they are essential thoughts being neglected.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Can't Wait

I have had the privilege over the past year to develop a more intimate working relationship and fellowship with three pastors in our area:  Roderick Hennings from Zion Dominion Global Ministries; Marty Macdonald from The City Church in Batavia and Jerry Gillis from The Chapel.  I am thrilled that the four churches are joining together for a special advent series called The Road to Christmas
Here is a video that explains the why:

In addition, the four churches are also working together to touch the community in a campaign called "Do Good."  Here is an explanation for that:

I believe this is an historic time in the Western New York area.  And the Spirit of God is working to bring His church together.  Join us in catching the Spirit and walk with Him in it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Who Defines Our Faith?

My heart was broken this morning as I read a lead story of a bankrupt church's request.  The Crystal Cathedral was requesting that food be donated by parishioners for Mrs. Schuller because she is suffering from pneumonia.  A normal benevolent request.  But the food would be delivered by limo even though the church has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The story also stated that the family has taken lavish salaries despite the financial picture.  I'm not casting stones.  Really.  I am calling for us to ask who defines a true picture of church and faith. 
   Steven Khoury told us that to maintain integrity when challenged about his support of Israel, he states clearly that some actions by the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) are wrong.  But those actions do not define his Biblical covenant support of Israel.  As Paul put it in Romans, Not all Israel is Israel.  In the same way, the actions of the Schullers do not define the church.  When there is anyone who claims to be a Christian and yet acts in ways that brings shame to the Name of Christ or His church, they do not define the church.  Some critics will say they do.  But remember that Jesus stated that there will be people like that whom He will clearly say, I never knew you.  

 We must stand firm on the true Biblical definition of who and what the church is. We can never defend or explain away sinful actions or abuses by those who claim a commitment to Christ.  If we do, we lose credibility.  The Lord is doing powerful things through His Church and we can glory and stand in that.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Absolute Loyalty to Jesus

I am crucified with Christ. . . .  That single phrase from Galatians 2:20 begs a practical question:  Is my absolute loyalty to Jesus Christ or not?  The question in most people's minds seems to be if Jesus Christ is absolutely loyal to me and not me to Him. 

   Loyalty means that I desire to know His heart.  It means I do what He wants.  It means that my relationship with Him takes first priority over all other relationships.  It means I speak up to others when He moves me to speak, without shame or hesitancy.  Loyalty means if asked to do something immoral, unethical or illegal, I don't.  Loyalty means I don't move in with my boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage just because it saves money.  Loyalty means that I pursue knowing what God desires of me by studying the Bible.  Loyalty means that I prioritize and am intentional about the things that are important to the Lord rather than assuming its ok to move those things to the back burner in lieu of other things.  Loyalty means that if a choice needs to be made between a friendship or standing with Jesus, Jesus wins. 
   Steven Khoury, our Arab Pastor friend who spoke this past weekend demonstrated that loyalty to Jesus may mean a beating; being disowned by your family; threats; and loneliness.  But there is no other way to live.  I am crucified with Christ.
   So let's ask it again:  Am I absolutely loyal to Jesus Christ?  Jesus has already demonstrated His absolute loyalty to us.  But God demonstrated His own love toward us in this:  while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  What would it mean for me to move from where I am to absolute loyalty?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

IF Silence is Golden; This must be Fort Knox

I've been away from this blog for so long I almost forgot I had it.  But I've been feeling the need to have a place to process some of the things I've been thinking.  So I'm back; and hope to be more consistent.

I've been in a number of conversations lately where I've concluded that there are many people who live with both fantasies and perceived losses.  They perceive that either through tragic events in their past or unfulfilled dreams now that they have missed something.  So they take steps to fill the gap.  While spending the money, playing with the toys or pursuing the forbidden relationship, they live in an unreal world where they are being "fulfilled."  That is where the rub comes.  To pursue the things to fill the void, people steal time, energy, resources and creativity from their spouse, their family, or their work.  Or all of them at the same time.  And while their fantasy "feels" more fulfilling, they are missing the opportunity to see what their reality would be if they had invested all those resources into their marriage, their family or their career. 

The sad thing is that the trust and character that are lost in the process are hard to rebuild.  It would be far less painful and far more productive to humbly draw on the grace of God to do the work of relationship with those you love then to pursue a fantasy world.  And the only way to resolve a hole in your heart from a past tragedy is to lose yourself in the person of Jesus Christ, the Healer of all wounded hearts.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hour of Decision

Many of you reading this blog may never have heard those words as the title of a program.  But as I was growing up, the Billy Graham association radio program was called that, the Hour of Decision.  The title itself indicates that there are points in our lives when we must make a choice.  And the hour is now.

   For me, there are points of decision every day.  Not just mundane things like what shall I eat or what shall I wear today.  Important things, like what will I do today to grow closer to Jesus?  How will I spend my time today?  How will I serve the needs of others today?  What can I do to improve my work environment?  Who can I pour my life into today that will make a difference for tomorrow?

   Do you think about questions like that each day?  I try to.  But some days it feels more like, how will I get everything done I need to do today?  What emails or calls do I need to answer?  How many meetings do I have?  Can I do my work and still make it to the ________ (show, tee time, game??)

    My encouragement for us all is simply this:  we have the power to make a choice.  Choice.  By the grace of God you and I have the ability to choose how we will spend the 168 hours we have per week; how we will use the money we are stewards of; how we will speak to others; and what we will give ourselves to.  Once we come to Christ, and our lives change, the new things feel weird, but perseverance will help us attain the goal by making right choices every day.

   Happiness is a daily choice.  Godliness is an hourly choice.  Love is a choice.  None of these are left to chance but formed by the daily choices we make.  So are you living like a victim of your emotions and circumstance or are you making the right choices each day?  This is your hour of decision.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Worth waiting

   We leave today to bring the rest of our belongings to Buffalo.  We hope to be settled into our new home here by July.  It feels like it has taken a long time.  But time is a funny thing.  When we want something, it seems to trudge along like molasses.  When we want to savor something, it runs like a chetah.  Yet in both situations there is much for us to learn.

   Isaiah spoke well when he said, "Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him."  Isaiah 64:4

Waiting.  Its not just sitting idle.  It is actively watching for what the Lord will do in the circumstance while we are also staying focused on honoring Him.  It is not being sidetracked by the desire.  Let Him take care of that in His time.  "What does that matter to you" Jesus said to Peter.  "You follow me."  That is our call, our duty, our life.

And when He acts, it is always good.  For us, the home we are getting is perfect for the needs and desires we have had.  And during the time, we have had provision.  So we are very grateful.

I encourage us not to be impatient or fall into the trap of thinking that God doesn't care when time is in the molasses mode.  It is in those times He is doing His finest work. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Tragic Reminder

  Yesterday, we hosted the funeral of State Trooper Kevin Dobson (lovingly known to his fellow troopers and friends as KDP 196).  Kevin was killed in the line of duty, hit by a pick up during a routine traffic stop.  We were asked to host the funeral because of the anticipated crowd.  Kevin was a loving father; a dedicated trooper; a good and jovial friend to all who knew him.  I regret I did not know him. 
   It was an impressive sight to see 1800-2000 or more officers from across the country, along with Governor Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Duffy take time to come and honor their fallen comrade.  The procession into the Sanctuary took about 50 minutes.  Their sense of brotherhood was amazing.
  I sat, observed, listened to passionate, fond and loving memories of Kevin.  He did as Jesus spoke of, "Laid down his life for his friends."  In the midst of the tears that were so appropriate at such a time, I heard two other things that were not directly said, but were loudly voiced none the less.  First is the painful and at times fearful reminder that last Saturday could have been our last day, not Kevin's.  The facing of mortality raises our own sense of asking "is today my last day?"  And if so, how would I live it any differently?
  The second thing I heard expressed in various ways is our grappling with eternity.  This is the one that struck me the most.  We long to have certainty.  We tend to speak of our emotionally desired outcome.  But do we live in such a way to have certainty at such a time?  Can we?
  My heart aches for a girlfriend who lost her love; three children that lost their Daddy; a father who lost a beloved son and a brother who lost his.  Their pain spurred me on even more about our mission and purpose, because in the midst of it all we can confidently find hope and peace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So I spent my few minutes in the service trying to point people to Him.

  Please join me in praying that the seeds cast will find receptive soil.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What About Rob Bell's Book "Love Wins"?

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has certainly caused a stir among Christians.  A pastor in North Carolina lost his job over affirming it.  There have been angry blog responses and glowing confessions of affinity.  It is at best confusing.
   Luke states in his gospel to Theophilus,  1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.  So it is with this issue.  Much has been written by those who have read the book and reviewed it or commented on it.  I would refer you to Jerry Gillis’ comments, which also includes links to some good reviews:  This emusing is entitled “Heaven, Hell and a guy named Bell.”
   Now I will add a few thoughts regarding this book from a slightly different angle.  I have not only read this work by Rob Bell, but also other things he has written and taught through the Nooma videos.  I also did several years of coaching pastors and churches in the Grand Rapids, MI area. They live with Rob Bell and Mars Hill.  They have had people who at one time attended Mars Hill come to their churches.  None of this makes me an expert, but I have heard and seen some consistent patterns through the years.
   First, it seems evident to me that Bell writes and preaches in reaction to a distorted view of Christianity which he either experienced or interacted with in his formative years.  I get that.  Throughout this work, the extreme portrayals he gives about Christians and faith communities would be held in equal contempt by me and others who are seeking to tell a biblical view of the grace of God. 
   Second, when addressing perceived or real injustices, we as humans can tend to go to the exact reverse extreme to counteract the injustice.  I affirm that there are parts of Rob Bell’s artistic descriptions of heaven or the life to which God’s love has called us that are beautiful.  They are sound.  But then there are other sections that lay out the arguments or stories he uses to counteract his described injustices.  Those distortions, which are troubling, are therefore couched among the good things that make sense.
   Third, I find that there are many things in this book that are contradictory ramblings.  The final chapter is an example.  He emphasizes the need for and benefit of taking “our choices here and now as seriously as we possibly can because they matter more than we can imagine.”   Why? If we can simply make the choice to respond to the love of God after we die, why would there be any sense of urgency in this life?  I may miss out on a little of the party now (to use his terms), but I won’t miss anything eternally.
   And herein lies my challenge.  Rob Bell has been known through the years for raising questions as discussion points and dialogue starters.  That’s fine.  But I have found that there are some times, and I believe this book reflects it, where question after question about some key or core issue is raised but not given a full treatment.  As many have pointed out, Bell so focuses on one aspect of the character of God that he fails to include the many other traits, including justice and holiness.
   Bell states early on that “the ancient sages said the words of the sacred text were black letters on a white page — there’s all that white space, waiting to be filled with our responses and discussions and debates and opinions and longings and desires and wisdom and insights.”  Wow.  I could read this so many ways.  He goes on to talk about being freed so we can have our discussions.  Let’s have the discussions.  But I would rather we extensively study ALL the texts about the issues and not select just the ones (or in several cases parts of some) that support the point being made. 
   Hell is real.  Jesus gave it a physical or metaphysical description.  Hebrews states it is appointed for us once to die and after that is judgment (Hebrews 9:27).  These and other truths are not addressed in the book. 
   While never using the words “universal salvation”, Bell states his conclusion that God will and in essence already has, saved all, everyone, the whole world.  His love wins over every rebellious heart, if not in this life, later in eternity, after a person dies.  There are some who just don’t know it yet.  And that is a clear Universalist position.  And that does not represent a sound treatment of the Biblical revelation.
   The mission of the Church today is to share the Good News about the availability of the kind of life Bell describes in the good parts of this book because the God of love and Who is love is ready to write a new story for them.  But our mission carries urgency because it is also true that Scripture indicates that the decisions we make in this life do determine our eternal destiny.  If I followed Rob Bell’s conclusions to their logical end, I would agree with the hedonistic philosophy described in Ecclesiates, “Eat, drink and be merry.”  Then when I die I can respond to the love of God. 
But nowhere do I find that this is an option given in the black letters on the white pages.