Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Remembering Who to Listen to

As I've come back from sabbatical in the last two months I have realized that I had forgotten a few things during my three months away. Things like how often my phone chirps and beeps and rings and otherwise demands my attention. Or how indescribably much I love praying and worshiping with students.

I also forgot how hard it can be to hear God above all the voices that suddenly crowd into my world. I have to be very intentional in making time and space to just listen to God. If I don't, all those other voices will lead the ministry God has asked me to lead in a lot of different directions. And often it will be because I lead things that way because I am responding to the wrong voice.

So I must wait on the Lord. And find myself and my ministry squarely sheltered under Him. I must listen for the still, small voice that calls out in the midst of chaos, and follow it. This is not easy. It is not always fun. But, it is work that I am blessed and called to pursue. It is good and holy work. So voices and noise, complainers and worriers: make all the noise you want. I will listen to the voice of the King. His whispers to me can drown out all the shouting you can do!

"Give me Christ or else I die."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Let Them Jump!

This weekend my 7 year olds tried out for a play. I could not really imagine them making and then performing in this play. They tend to be shy and I figured if they were shy at the audition, then they had very little chance of making it. They were not shy. In fact, Carsen ended up with a main speaking part.
Carsen trying really hard not to be a goofball for a picture
And I learned a bit more about being a dad. Here's what I've felt since they got cast:
Immensely proud. Overwhelmingly scared for them.

What if he can't learn his lines? What if she gets stage fright and can't go on? What if he forgets his lines and is embarrassed? What if...?

Then I stopped as I realized that this is what parenting is. It is leading your child to the edge of something new and exciting and maybe scary and then letting them jump! Shiloh and I will help them get to practices, work with them at home, sit it the audience at performances and encourage them any way we can, but when the time to perform comes, they will walk out on the stage without us. And it is far better that way.

There will be many leaps to lead my kids to in the next two decades of my life. Biking to a friends house, entering art shows, driving, dating, marriage, and more. But I will not be making those jumps. I will have my own jumps to take. The joy as a parent is not in doing these things for them. It's in realizing God has given them the ability to do these things and then watching them jump and do them.

God give me grace to let my 7 year olds jump!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Good and Wild God

Go read it if you never have!
For whatever reason, a passage from the "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S Lewis is running through my head this morning. It is a scene inside the beaver's home where they are describing the great king, Aslan to the 3 children:
"Is - is he a man?" asked Lucy"Aslan a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.""Ooh," said Susan, "I thought he was a man. Is he - quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.""That you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly.""Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy."Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the king I tell you."
I am tired of a safe god. Our God can divide oceans and slay giants! He is a wild and powerful God. Yet we continually look to him to protect us and keep anything in our lives from getting out of order. Maybe we need some disorder.

Coming back to youth ministry this weekend, I am praying that I have many opportunities to experience the goodness of God with students. But I also know that we will experience his goodness in hard places. God show his goodness in our brokenness. This is the message of the cross after all, that God enters into death in order to overcome it.

It is not safe to follow this God. He will call you to dangerous things for His kingdom. He will call you to places where you will lose income or reputation. He will call you to go places and do things that put you very far outside of your "comfort zone."

If you want to follow God, give up your American, first world need for safety, and instead rely upon the goodness of God in the times were you don't feel safe. It's better.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever. 

                                  -Psalm 107:1

"Give me Christ or else I die!"

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Prayer for the Week

This is my prayer this week as I prepare to return from sabbatical:

God give me courage to 
Listen to you attentively
Speak your Word truthfully
Love other people passionately
Wait for you expectantly
For the sake of Your kingdom and glory.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Burning Bush

(Photo from flickr:  Huluppu Tree
Exodus 3:1-5:
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”                                                                                  

As far as I can tell, there was nothing exceptional about the bush that caught on fire. It was not a "holy" bush. It wasn't a direct descendant of the tree of life. The food that it may or may not have produced didn't have special magical qualities known throughout the world. It was just a bush in the middle of the wilderness where the ground was good for sheep to graze.

Until God showed up. Then the bush and the ground surrounding it became holy. They became set apart for God's purpose for God's kingdom. It wasn't holy because of what previously happened there. It wasn't holy because of what Moses had done to make it so. It was holy because God showed up and made it that way.

Here is the beautiful thing for our lives today: God is still showing up in unexpected places and working. He keeps doing it in my life and the lives of those around me. He wants to perform miracles in your midst. You just need to be ready to notice. 

God does not perform these miracles of burning bushes just to show you that he can or to make you feel better. He used the burning bush to call Moses to something enormous. He is calling you to work in and for His kingdom as well. Don't mistake the miracle for the call to faithful obedience. The goal isn't to see miracles, the goal is to see God.

So go and seek after God and watch for places that become holy ground because God is there and He is calling out to you!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Leadership, B.C. Style

Our world cares a lot about people who are leaders or show leadership capabilities. We want to train them and give them opportunities and make sure they create successful companies or communities. This is all well and good. But I think in the church we are not supposed to do it quite the same way.

The spiritual gift of leadership is found in Romans 12 among other gifts like teaching and mercy. I have always been taught that these gifts are given by God to be used for His kingdom. It has, therefore, always seemed a bit off to me that the US church focuses so much on leadership development. If God gives the gifts, then will he not also qualify the one to whom he has given the gift?

I'm not saying we shouldn't work to raise up leaders in the church or impart knowledge, but we shouldn't prize leadership as the ultimate spiritual gift. I once heard Bill Hybels, during his Global Leadership Summit, thank God that he had the gift of leadership and not lesser gifts like hospitality and mercy. That sounds like a mouth that has forgotten that he needs a whole body to work! I have been wondering what leadership development looks like as my church talks about how to do it. I think helping students find and develop their spiritual gifts is incredibly important for me as a youth pastor.

All of that said, this morning I'm reading in the book of Joshua. We hear about Joshua all through the story of Moses. He is around Moses, helping Moses, going places with Moses. Then, near the end of Moses' life, God declares that Joshua is to be the next leader of the Israelites. His first major task will be to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the promised land. He leads them across the river on dry ground as God stops the flow of the Jordan for the entire nation to get across. Here is what Joshua 4:14 says about that day and Joshua becoming a leader:
That day the Lord made Joshua a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites, and for the rest of his life they revered him as much as they had revered Moses.
 Although I'm sure hanging out with Moses helped Joshua as a leader, Moses did not make Joshua a great leader. Joshua didn't get a certificate from any leadership institutes. Joshua didn't even make himself a great leader. It wasn't some inherent quality that people wanted to follow. God used Joshua to perform a miracle and then he was a great leader. No classes, no ceremonies, just God. Joshua was called to obedience and faithfulness and he listened to the call of God to act.

Maybe that is what leaders of the Church are still being called to today. Not fancy techniques, not more classes, not any human thing. We are called to faithful obedience as we wait on God to act and then to lead people in the direction of His action.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Kayaking and the Narrow Road

A couple of weeks ago I spent a beautiful morning on the Arkansas sorta River kayaking with a couple of great friends. We talked and laughed and enjoyed being outside. The river was not raging. In fact, if you weren't careful you would find yourself stuck on a sandbar. But if you payed attention, there was plenty of water to get down the river and enjoy it. On the river, the right path was a winding 's' curve that swept from bank to bank over and over. But, being a river, the right path and the wrong path ran very closely together. It was often hard to tell if a place was the right way to go until you were right on top of it.
(That's a bald eagle flying through the middle!)
All of this got me thinking about Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus says, 
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
I've always thought of those verses as describing roads that head in two different directions. One goes North, one goes South. But both those roads, the one of destruction and the one to life, are headed to the same thing in my life. My earthly death. After I die, they will diverge quickly and considerably, but until then, the roads are connected.

Which brings me back to the river and those pesky sandbars that you get stuck on when you're taking a picture or watching a bald eagle or just floating without really thinking. They are everywhere! You can easily end up on them if you aren't watching the water.

So pay attention. 
Listen and watch for God.
And follow where he is leading you down the narrow road. Just because it is narrow doesn't mean it will be straight.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Long Winding Road

Have you ever wondered where God was taking you? Or you knew where God was taking you but didn't understand why it was taking so long?

Deuteronomy 1:2-3 give us a quick glimpse into what it means to follow God:
Normally it takes only eleven days to travel from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, going by way of Mount Seir. But forty years after the Israelites left Egypt, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses addressed the people of Israel, telling them everything the Lord had commanded him to say.
For you math lovers out there, that means it took the Israelites 1327.3 times longer to get to the East side of the Jordan River than it should have. That's like taking 22 hours to complete the 1 minute walk to your next door neighbors house. The Israelites didn't love this. In fact, there are a few times recorded in the Bible where the Israelites start grumbling about wandering in the wilderness instead of being in Egypt where life was good. God was taking forever, and they would rather return to slavery than keep waiting!

But here is the thing about God: He is much less concerned with getting you somewhere than he is with making you into something. He wanted the Israelites to learn to be His people. That was much more important than getting immediately into the promised land. He wanted to make sure they understood who He was (God, not god) and what he required of His people (holiness through obedience and sacrifice) and it took a LONG time for them to learn.

Don't rush God. If you feel like you are wandering around in the desert of your life right now, find contentment that God is working in you to make you into His image. Don't try and push ahead of God, that will get you beat up and knocked around. Look for where he is leading you next. It's ok if you've been there before. When trips take a 1000 times longer than they are supposed to, sometimes you cover the same ground a few times. Remember God loves you, has a plan for your life, and will not forget about you.

Follow God in the desert.
He will lead you out of it when the time is right.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Jesus is Bigger than the Giants

Do you have some trouble because of following Jesus? Do you have enemies that need conquering? Do you see giants on the horizon that strike you with fear? If you choose to follow God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, then life will not always be easy. Jesus even told us as much in John 16:33 when he said, "in this world you will have trouble."

The great news is that the verse finishes with Jesus saying, "But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I remember these words when I read the story of the 12 spies who go into the promised land to scout out the Israelite's enemies in Numbers 13-14. Moses sends the 12 spies and when they return they all report that it is a land flowing with milk and honey that would be a great place to call home. But 10 of the spies report that there are numerous enemies including some giants that would probably defeat the Israelites should they choose to try to take the land.

But the spies Joshua and Caleb said something different. They called people to remember all that God had done while leading them out of Egypt. They called people to put their faith in a God who continually showed that He was their God and they were His people.

The people chose to live in fear and the punishment was that no adult except Joshua and Caleb ever saw the promised land. They wandered the desert for 40 years and experienced the consequence that came with their lack of faith.

We are faced with the same choice when Satan and his spiritual forces are attacking. We can cower in fear and run away to stop the attack and stay safe or we can move forward while remembering the story of God includes Him as the victor and King. Yes, it be hard. Yes, there will be times that it is scary. Yes, there will be moments when you don't see your next step clearly. This is necessary where faith is concerned. But God will give you his peace and will be with you every step you take.

Take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. The forces of darkness cannot stand against Him!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Voice of the Impostor

I have had trouble feeling inspired lately to write. So I haven't. I've slept in. I've read. I've found other things to do. And that is what it is. For me, here is the problem with not writing:

I have been listening to the voice.

I'm not talking about the Voice, God. I'm talking about the other one. The liar. The impostor. The voice that keeps telling me I'm not good enough and never will be. And I grab hold of that thought and hold on for dear life. That thought, though crushing, is safe. It keeps me from risk and hurt and really trying.

I am tired of safe and risk-free.
I am tired of trying to be good enough.
I am tired of listening to the voice.

The reality is that I don't have to be "good enough" at writing or youth pastoring or fathering or husbanding or whatever else. "Good enough" says I have to reach some magical number or mark before I am ok. God says something different.

He says He has loved me with an everlasting love.
He says that before I was formed He knew me.
He says that He loves me so much He would give His son for me.
He says that I am His and He is mine.
He says that I am loved so much that I am His adopted son and full heir to His kingdom.

He says nothing about me being good enough. He knows I'm not. That's why Jesus died for me. Because I am not good enough to make it on my own. I need God.

We each hear the voice that lies to us and tells us we are not good enough.We have to quit listening to it and listen to the God who loves us, know us, and wants to do beautiful things in and through us.

You are loved.
You are enough just as you are.
Tell the voice of the imposter to go away.

Where in your life do you need to quit listening to the voice?

Monday, May 6, 2013

The God of We Over Me

As I have read through Genesis and Exodus in the last couple of weeks I have been struck by a generational look at the work of God. God makes a promise to Abraham and it is generations until that promise is fulfilled. The time in between includes famine, brothers selling each other, slavery, and war. It reminds me that God is the God of all humanity for all time.

Sometimes I get a little caught up thinking God is telling my story. That is why He exists. The truth is the opposite. I exist to tell God's story and participate in it. 

When I approach God selfishly, I want everything from God right now and in the exact way I want it. It makes me unwilling to wait on Him with expectation for Him to act in His time. The problem is that God's time is so vastly different from our time. God is not telling a short story or 2-minute YouTube video. He is telling the grand epic redemption story of all things.


It took the 80 years for Moses to grow up and lead the people out of Egypt. It took 40 years of wandering in the desert. It took hundreds of years for the people to enter the promised land and become a people set apart by God. Abraham didn't see the promise fulfilled. Neither did Isaac or Joseph or Moses. But it didn't change that God was faithful in his time. The promise was never about what God would do during one person's life but rather what he was doing among His people over time.

My mom recently told me this story about my grandfather, Harve Schmucker. He thought God wanted him to disciple a group of 12 men. So he started praying for God to bring him those 12 men. He prayed for the first year without having a single man show up. He prayed a second year, same results. After 5 years of praying, still no one. 10 years of praying, same result. In year 20 of praying, something finally happened. God sent twelve men. They were twenty years old. So my grandpa had been praying for them since their birth. Wow! 20 years is a long time to wait on God. But wait my grandpa did and God answered my grandfather's prayer in His own time.

More and more I realize that God is calling His people to faithfulness even when we don't understand how and why He is or seemingly isn't moving. You are not the point of the story. But the main character loves you and will use you to do great things for His kingdom. Seek God and His call on your life and then wait with expectation that He will move for His kingdom and His glory in His time.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A God Who is There

Let me set the scene:

The Israelites have been in Egypt for 350 years. They came there to escape a great famine and were well taken care of and given great land. Unfortunately, they eventually became slaves to the Egyptians. The Israelites spent their days making bricks to build Egyptian cities. At the time of Moses' birth, the Pharaoh ordered that every baby Israelite boy that was born should be killed to keep the Israelites from multiplying and becoming too big. Their existence was fairly miserable. Here is what Exodus 2:23-25 says happened at this point in history: 
The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Israelites felt like he was forgetting his promises. He was leaving them to be slaves! Let's look at three important things we see about how God responds to their grumbling and groaning.

1. God Heard
The time between this verse and the Israelites gaining freedom is 80 years! God heard, but he didn't act immediately. A perceived lack of action from God does not mean he has not heard you. He may be waiting for a Moses to grow up to lead you. But God does hear you when you call out to him. You have to wait expecting God to act on your behalf. Just remember it might not happen as quickly as you would like.

2. God Remembered
God does not forget his promises to us. And he has made a lot of promises to us in the Bible. My friend Dave has been listing the promises of God that he sees on his twitter. He is at 122 and counting. Spend some time reading some of God's promises and know that He remembers His promises and will see them through. Also know that remembering His promise is not the same as Him being compelled to act immediately. God will work when he works. Remember the 80 years from #1. 

3. God Looked
Sometimes as a parent, it's easy to hear your kids but not see them. You watch out for them by listening, but you try to accomplish something else while they play. Your attention is divided. When you move from listening to watching, your full attention moves towards your kids. You don't turn and look when you hear crying, you get up and run before they cry because you see them start to fall. God doesn't just hear you and remember his promises, he sees you. He is paying attention because he created you and loves you. 

God may not always act in the way and timeframe we want, but it is a wonder that the Creator of all things hears, remembers and sees us. Rest securely in those truths today.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dealing with Doubt

I grew up believing any doubts I had about God meant I wasn't a Christian.

The problem with this way of thinking was that I actually had doubts about God. When doubt would fill my heart and mind, I dealt with it by pushing it down and trying to ignore it. Eventually the doubt caught up with me and when it did, it did what all hunters do when they pursue and catch their prey. It devoured me. 

I spent almost three years completely unsure of whether or not God was real and if he really cared about me. I mostly kept this to myself. I didn't want others Christians to know because I was embarrassed and I hadn't ever figured out what to do when I struggled with doubt. Now, years later, I think I have an answer for doubt. It is not a cure, but it is a place to start when doubt creeps or rushes in. It comes from looking the man whose name is synonymous with doubt, the disciple Thomas.

Here is Thomas' story of doubt from John 20:
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Thomas missed the first time Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples. He was probably in line at a super hard to find food truck that made great fish tacos. Whatever the case, he missed it. 

When the other disciples told him he missed it, you know what he didn't do in his doubt?

He didn't leave.
He didn't go ask the local buddhists what they thought.
He didn't sit at home and watch whatever it is they watched back then. Mud drying? 

The powerful thing Thomas did in the face of his doubt was staying in the most likely place for Jesus to show up again. In doubt we are called to faithfulness. Can you imagine what that week in between was like for Thomas? His faithfulness did not pay off immediately. The rest of the disciples would have been celebrating and remembering the words of Jesus as he predicted his resurrection. Thomas sat and waited, not sure he could believe what they said to him. But he stayed around the rest of the disciples and a very long week later, Jesus showed up to erase his doubt.

Very often when we doubt, we go out looking for answers. We watch tv, listen to the radio, ask co-workers, or try to ignore it while only being able to hear the words of those who don't believe. The lesson of Thomas is to stay plugged into the people and places where God is likely to show up. He will show up. 

Find people that pray and sit with them. Find people that serve others and serve with them. Go tell a pastor/elder/someone you admire about doubt. If they can't handle you having doubts, go find someone that can. Listen for stories of God at work, watch for lives that are changed. Ask people their stories of God at work.

But don't run away. Have courage, be like Thomas, and draw near to where God is most likely to be found.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Following Jesus in the Age of Terrorism

I woke up this morning to see that the probable terrorists in the Boston bombings murdered one more person last night in an attempt to escape. One has so far been successful in eluding authorities, the other was apparently killed.
And today, people will celebrate the man's death, that he "got what he deserved." Today, followers of Jesus have to choose to follow Jesus instead of the culture.

Jesus says(from Matthew 5):

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?"

To follow Jesus today means to pray for the remaining suspect. Not for his escape. Pray for his capture, but that it be peaceful. Pray for God to show mercy and break through to this man's sinful and lost soul. It also means to pray for all who participate in acts of terror and murder in the name of religion. 
To follow Jesus today means to speak of a God who loves people and desires that all would turn toward him.
To follow Jesus today means to not participate in bloodlust. I have read this morning comments wishing and hoping that we would reinstate public hangings for the remaining suspect. If you struggle with the need to see the terrorist in pain, ask God to take away your desire for revenge. 
To follow Jesus today means to find those who would be your enemies and love them. Buy them coffee, give them a compliment, help them without expectation of anything in return. The Bible doesn't say this will immediately change them, but it is commanded and Romans 13 says that giving a thirsty enemy a drink can lead them to repentance. 

There are lots of other ways to follow Jesus today. Let's show the rest of our country and the world that Jesus is our only hope and we will follow him.

"Give me Christ or else I die."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lessons from a 7 Year Old on How to Pray

Two nights ago Shiloh and I were relaying a few details about the Boston Marathon bombs to the twins so they can hear about it from us and ask us questions rather than from their friends about what happened. As we finish talking, Kennedy looks at us and immediately say, "We should be praying for them!" And so, she led us in a prayer for those in Boston who were hurt or scared. She prayed for their healing and that people would get out of the hospital and that they would get to know Jesus.

She did not pray for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
She did not pray for the liberals or conservatives to realize why it was their fault.
She did not pray for next year's marathon.
She did pray for the people who were hurt and scared.

And she reminded me that in a world of 24 hour news and commentary, sometimes we can forget what really matters. We can forget people who are scared and hurting, lost and lonely, confused and in need of the grace, peace and love of Christ. So I joined with her in prayer and have continued her prayer since Monday night. Thank you God for 7 year olds who remember you and turn to you quickly.

May we be a people who never forget that God, not our government, is our savior. He is all we need.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Brennan Manning- Love and Grace

One of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, passed away on Friday. He was a man who seemed to know God's love and grace in immense ways. I learned a lot from his books over the last 13 or 14 years. His words forced me to consider a God actually loved me so much that he sent Jesus. Not in some theoretical way, but in the mess of my own life I found that God loved me deeply and wanted me to be near to him.
The 2nd chapter of "Abba's Child" about the imposter was literally life changing. I could own the lies that I was trying to tell myself and others and let them get lost while I got to know Jesus. I didn't have to be anything other than his beloved. I also learned much about what it means to listen to God and how to pray from Mannings writings.
I tried to pull some quotes from his books last night to share, but I have underlined so much of them that my list quickly started to become it's own book. So I will share two:
"John (the disciple) did not believe that Jesus was the most important thing; he believed that Jesus was the only thing."
"Jesus loves us as we are and not as we should be because none of us is as we should be."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Look and Pray

I have been posting a lot of prayers during my sabbatical because of the time it gives me to pray. I am enjoying the large amounts of time to be still and wait for the Lord immensely. This morning I came across Colossians 4:2, which tells us something of how to pray:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
This verse tells us three things about prayer:
  1. Be devoted to it
  2. Be alert and ready
  3. Be thankful
As I sit in the early morning hours and read these words, my tired eyes are drawn to number 2. What does it mean to be alert and ready? The original greek word (gregoreuo) means to keep awake, refrain from sleep and so to remain alert, watchful and ready to meet danger or emergency. It means to be quick to perceive and act; being on the lookout.

We have to be ready prayer at all times! I think this seems easy until I think about how often I am drawn to prayer during the day. A hint, it's not real often some days. If I'm devoted to prayer and being watchful, most of my day should be drawing me to prayer.

Why is be watchful for opportunities to pray important? It is holy work. It is the work of setting your mind on the things of heaven and then praying that it may be on earth as it is in heaven. I think this can look many different ways. A few suggestions:
  • When someone needs prayer, pray with them right then rather than later by yourself. If you are alert, you will be ready and see the opportunity.
  • Set aside regular times each day to stop and pray. At the church we stop each day at 10am and 2pm for 10-15 minutes of prayer. Making it a regular habit helps me be alert.
  • Learn to listen to the Holy Spirit. It will help you know when there is danger or emergency that you are to be meeting head on with prayer.
Right now I find myself in the midst of that third one, cultivating a deep inner prayer life and connection to the Holy Spirit. It seems slippery. For me, it is no easy thing to listen to and feel connected with the Holy Spirit. I think it takes work to learn. So I am working. And praying.

How can I pray for you today?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday Morning Prayer

From "Celtic Benedictions" by J. Philip Newell:

May the light of God 
illumine the heart of my soul.
May the flame of Christ 
kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit 
free me to live
this day, tonight, and forever.

I encourage you to pray this prayer slowly and imagine each of these things happening as you pray them. As the light of God illuminates your heart, what do you see? As the flame of Christ creates a fire of love in you, where are supposed to spread the flame of Christ today? And what is the fire of the Spirit freeing you from?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Prayer for Friday

The Prayer of Dag Hammarskj√∂ld

Give me a pure heart - that I may see Thee,
A humble heart - that I may hear Thee,
A heart of love - that I may serve Thee,
A heart of faith - that I may abide in Thee.

We need each of these things, purity, humility, love, and faith. Spend time praying this prayer today and listening for God to speak to you about them in your life. Maybe He has words of encouragement, maybe you need to confess some things, maybe God is calling you see, hear, serve or abide in a new and deeper way. Whatever the case may be, pray...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Prayer for the Day

Praying this passage this morning for myself, my family, my church and my fellow pastors:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,    so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,  being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.
Colossians 1:9-11
God, fill us that we may live and breath for you alone.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Being God or Following God

One of the questions I have been pondering and praying about in these first two weeks of sabbatical concerns my identity in Christ. Do I want to be known as one who is loved by Christ or do I want to be the Christ. I think this is a very real temptation for pastors, and probably many other followers of Jesus, as well. I am very often not content to let God be God. I try to work my way into equal standing with God and place myself on some sort of higher ground as God uses me. 

I want to do something great, as if I am the one who does great things. 
I want to say the perfect thing or pray the right prayer that changes someones life, as if I have the power of salvation.
I want to teach a lesson that opens a teenager's heart and mind to seeing God, as if I am capable of divine revelation.

It is my pride at it's ugliest, pretending that I am God when I most certainly am nowhere near being God. It is legalism buried deep in me that I try to earn some distinction in God's eyes for being a better pastor that anyone else. 

As I sit this morning between yesterday's cross and tomorrow's empty grave, I am reminded that the good news is that Jesus came to destroy my need to measure up and earn anything. He calls me to rest in him. He calls me to take up my cross and follow him. He calls me to find myself in him, not in my vain striving.

And that is enough, to be known as one who is loved by Christ.

I pray that I might live and pastor with that truth planted firmly and deeply in me. I pray it for you this morning, as well.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sabbatical Reflections: Week 1

For those of you who don't know, my church gives pastors the opportunity to take a sabbatical rest once every four years. It is a time to be away from the church and office and be near to God and family and learn new things. My sabbatical goes until June 16. I will record some reflections here each week.

In no particular order:
  • I really love my wife. It has been great getting to see her a whole bunch for the last week.
  • I live life just on the safe side of great because I'm afraid that maybe I'm not capable of greatness and know I am very capable of failure. Whew! God has been speaking to me about this for almost a year, but it really hit me this first week of sabbatical during some reading I'm doing. God, give me courage...
  • I am not God and I don't want to be God. But I do want to be his follower. I have more thoughts about this to share later this week or next.
  • I miss students and my volunteer leaders a ton. They are part of the rhythm of my normal life.
  • I spent a whole Sunday with my family. That hasn't happened in years. It was awesome to go into church together, sit together, eat lunch together and then spend the rest of the day together. And to not follow the KU game from my phone and actually get to watch it? That was great.
  • I'm not great at slowing down but still being productive. I tend to run at either all-out or veg-out. I'm hoping sabbatical helps me find the in-between. The first week was a fail. I walked around my house in circles. A lot. 
  • I was struck this week by what an enormous gift it is to spend a quarter of Langley's first year at home with her. I get to participate in the build towards a lot of "first's" in the next 3 months. I am really excited for that. 
  • And a cute picture of her since I talked about her:

Friday, March 22, 2013


This is child #1. My only son, Carsen.
Carsen loves two things in life. Fish, especially sharks, and basketball. In fact, one of his goals in life is to start a basketball team that will play KU called the Kansas Sharks. They will never lose. And he wants to live in a house that is underwater and save fish. 

Carsen is passionate. He never understands why anyone, especially his sisters, aren't as excited about things as he is. He will give you facts about the ocean until he goes hoarse and he will tell you about game-winning shots and amazing dunks until you want to be on the court with him. I LOVE this about him. (Of course, sometimes it also drives me absolutely crazy! My head only has so much space for facts about the midnight zone of the ocean. That space is much smaller than Carsen's.)

Carsen has kids from his class signing up for a club that he, with Kennedy's help, has started. It's called the "Save Fish Club". He has read about over-fishing and the dangers of pollution in the ocean and has decided he wants to do something about it. He has no idea what to do(other than the living underwater thing). Neither do I! 

So I have a request: Next week our family is going to Kansas City and visiting the aquarium on Wednesday. If any of you, the 20+ readers of this blog, know someone who knows someone at the aquarium, it would be awesome if Carsen had the chance to learn and see things from the non-tourist side while we are there. If not, we will still have an awesome time and I'm sure I will learn a ton of things about coral reefs that I didn't know. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday Wonderings and Wanderings

It's been a while since I've wondered...

  • I wonder if this week before sabbatical will fly by or drag by.
  • I wonder what God is trying to say to me these days. I feel like I hear God a lot. I know what he is saying/asking/telling me. I do not really see the "why" in it, though. I am exceedingly alright with that.
  • I wonder if the Nuggets can catch the Clippers or Memphis and get home court in the 1st round. It is their only chance of winning a series.
  • I wonder why saying "no" to God often seems so much easier than saying "yes."
  • I wonder why I can tell that blue M&M's obviously taste better than the other colors but some people can't. 
  • I wonder what God is gonna do in and through kid #4. She is sitting next to me right now talking and being cute and I just wonder...

What do you wonder about today?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Like a Salesman

This last weekend I was at a conference where we talked quite a bit about evangelism. The importance of sharing the gospel with others and why it is often hard to do.

After the session on evangelism I was talking to a pastor named Israel. Israel has been a Pastor who works full time outside the church for years. At one point in his life he worked as a door-to-door insurance salesman and he said our problem with evangelism is that we NEVER approach it like a salesman.

Normally, if we talked about doing evangelism like a salesman, it would be a bad thing. But Israel is certain the US church is missing something when it comes to sharing about Jesus.

When someone answered their door, this is what Israel said, "Hello, my name is Israel. If you died today do you know how your family would pay for your funeral?"

Direct. To the point. Sometimes people invited him to share more, sometimes they didn't. But the NEVER wondered what he was all about.

So often we wait and wait and wait to talk about Jesus because we do not want to hurt or offend somebody. But maybe we just need to put it out there. We need to proclaim the good news that Jesus is the rescuer of all people who trust in him. It doesn't have to be pushy or mean or angry, just honest. This is not easy for many people. It certainly isn't for me. 

But the US church is shrinking. We have unreached people groups in the USA. That's right, the USA with church budgets regularly over 1 million dollars annually is shrinking. Statistics say that it in the US every 85 Christians will bring 1 to Jesus each year. In China 1 Christian brings 4 people to Jesus each year. It's time we wake up and start sharing the good news that Jesus is the one who saves us from sin and death and ourselves. Jesus was clear about our call:
"Go and make disciples of all nations."

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Fear and Faithfulness

I'm spending the weekend in the Rio Grande Valley just north of the US-Mexico border. I'm at a conference for church leaders at the border churches in my conference of the Mennonite church. The room is full of stories of faith and boldly loving others in the name of Christ.

And today I'm supposed to share something with this room of men and women.

This terrifies me.

But as I have prayed and worked on my talk for today, I have been overwhelmed with the feeling that God is not asking me to know more than I know or be anything other than faithful.

I think that is what he calls each us to each day. Be who you are in Christ and be faithful to what He is calling you to.

And then, GO!!!!!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Morning Prayer

Psalm 12 calls me to prayer this morning.

Prayer that I might be faithful to those who need me.
Prayer that I may speak truthfully and from a pure heart.
Prayer that if my words seek to make much of self or boast of anything other than Jesus, that He would help me not speak those words.
Prayer that I would join God's work of caring for and protecting the poor and needy.
Prayer that I would not be one who spends his time honoring depravity.

God, speak to me as I listen.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Paying Attention to the Right Thing

In Psalm 11:1, David starts by saying, "In the Lord I take refuge. How then can you say to me: 'Flee like a bird to your mountain?'"

David rests completely in the knowledge that if God is for him, then no one can stand against him and win. He knows that his enemies aren't who he should be paying attention to. I think we often approach our problems the opposite way. We say, "Look at my huge problem. How then can a I say, 'In the Lord I take refuge?'"

We live in a world of moments. Whatever is happening now is the most "whatever" of it's type. It is the most awesome, saddest, hardest, happiest, coolest, most aggravating, or best thing ever. Many times this approach to life and especially, to God, keeps us from living deeply in the assurance that He is our protector and He is all we need.

Today, follow the lead of David and tell your enemies, whatever they are, "I rest in God as my refuge, you have nothing to say to me."

I've shared this before, but I'll share it again. It is one of my favorite short prayers to pray throughout the day. Pray it as many times as it comes to mind. Pray it particularly when the enemy tries to whisper lies telling you to flee from God and the places God has led you to.
"Abba, I rest in You." 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Snow Day!

Everybody in the family home for 36+ hours in a row! Awesome.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When Fixing Yourself Isn't Working

Psalm 10

Be still.
Be calm.

God is the helper of the helpless. So stop trying to think you are somehow going to rescue yourself from your enemies. When you finally realize you cannot, maybe you will stop and let Him be the rescuer.

He will rescue you from your enemy. Whether it's:
Lack of Self-Control
Bad Parenting
Treating your spouse poorly
Your boss
Your attitude toward your boss

The Bible never says "God helps those who help themselves." Not once. But in Psalm 10 alone it says that God helps and defends the fatherless twice. He is there to fight for the ones who cannot fight for themselves. God is not interested in your strength. He is interested in you allowing him to be strong when your weak.

So, rather than fight for yourself, let God be in charge of defending and rescuing you and look for the places he is asking you to step into someone else's life as a rescuer sent by him!
(God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.                                                                     -2 Corinthians 12:9-10