Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I was traveling today and that gave me a few experiences to write about here. But, tonight I want to start with the over-arching theme. I apologize in advance for the quality of this writing. I am sitting in a hotel without my usual resources - all I have is the Internet and the King James version of the Bible from The Gideons . . . .

In any event, over the course of my travels today, I found myself getting pretty frustrated. I was early to the airport, but just missed the earlier flight, so I had to wait for an hour. Then I was pretty much one of the last people to board, so my carry-on bag had to be checked. When we landed the gate was occupied by a plane having mechanical problems so we had to sit on the runway for twenty minutes. It felt like one of the wheels was going to fall off of the cab so we stopped on the side of the highway to see if there was a flat (there wasn't, must be something else wrong). I was not particularly happy when I got the hotel, and I still had to have dinner with a bunch of clients tonight, so I knew I had to find a way to get it back together.

When I opened the door to my room, I was amazed. It is one of the upper-end hotel chains, so I expected nice, but I have a pretty large suite. Things in the room seem very calm and relaxing. My mood started to change.

I was reflecting on this and made the obvious Biblical analogy. Sometimes we focus too much on the annoyances (me perhaps more than most) and not enough on the destination. I lose track of the fact that the life as I know it right now is temporary and is just a second compared to the eternity that I look forward to in Heaven.

"At the end of the seven years, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked to heaven. I was given my mind back and I blessed the High God, thanking and glorifying God, who lives forever: His sovereign rule lasts and lasts, his kingdom never declines and falls. Life on this earth doesn't add up to much, but God's heavenly army keeps everything going. No one can interrupt his work, no one can call his rule into question." Daniel 4:34-35 (The Message)

I like this version because it reminds me that "Life on this earth doesn't add up to much." Regardless of what is happening here, "his kingdom never declines and falls." Sometimes I just need a reminder to keep my focus in the right place.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Discharge All The Duties of Your Ministry

For some reason this morning, rather than doing my usual devotional (either The Upper Room online or Experiencing the Heart of Jesus, which we are using for our small group), when I opened my Bible it fell to 2 Timothy and I decided to read that instead. I've said before that I am not a Biblical scholar, and it is probably obvious to anyone that has been reading these posts. So, at the risk of being completely wrong, it is my understanding that 2 Timothy is Paul, from prison and as he neared death, writing to Timothy to encourage and instruct him in his ministry. Kind of a "passing the torch" letter.

In any event, I don't recall having read this book before. There was a lot that I was really drawn to, and will probably call upon at other times. But, what I want to write about today is the teachings on how to go about spreading the word of God. How to interact with people. When to press and when to back off.

Sometimes I see people that are so aggressive in their faith. It seems like they are looking for a fight, for the chance to tell you that you and your beliefs are wrong. Their approach is judgmental and divisive. You get the sense that they don't care about you, they just want to change your behavior or put a notch in their belt. When I interact with those people, they don't turn me on to God, they turn me off. Perhaps understanding this, Paul, who suffered for his faith more than any of us could ever even begin to imagine, suggested that Timothy take a less aggressive approach.

"And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth . . . ." 2 Timothy 2:24-25

You don't lead someone to a relationship with Christ by arguing with them about it, or threatening them, or condemning their behavior. That is the whole point. It is what I wrote about yesterday and what I have written about other times. You may be able to force someone to do certain things, or say certain things, but you can't force a relationship with Christ. As Paul suggests, you teach, you show, you instruct, you lead, you help, you demonstrate, you live, you love, you support, you encourage, you pray.

But, equally important, you don't ignore. You don't turn a blind eye.

"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." 2 Timothy 4:2-5

We are called to be active. To share and teach what we know is the truth, not just what someone wants to hear. And, when we know someone is seeking that type of "counsel," we must correct and rebuke. It isn't easy. I know that often, in the spur of the moment, I ignore. Or I avoid the hard issues and go with the easy answer. It is funny, I would never consider that approach in my job. I often have to advise clients to do something other than what they want to do, or I have to lead them down a difficult road. But when it comes to discussing life issues with friends or colleagues, sometimes (not always) I just punt.

It may just be a definitional issue (and I may write about it another day), but I think all of us are called to be in ministry - each in the way God has chosen for us. Paul's words are not just to Timothy, they are to all of us - "keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." Hopefully, we can all do that while keeping in mind Paul's advice about how to do it.

God Bless You and have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The "Right" Way To Worship

As a general matter, I have a hard time with rules - I just don't like being told what to do or what to think or how to feel. I feel even more strongly about that when it comes to religion. Sometimes it seems like there are a lot of rules in religion, written or unwritten, about how to worship. Bow your head. Stand up. Genuflect. Be quiet. Say certain words. There also are a lot of rules about when and where to worship. Sunday morning. Saturday night. In a church. Facing towards Mecca.

I mean no offense if any of these are important to you and to your worship. But, they just aren't that important to me. I feel strongly that the Lord is not particularly concerned with the details of how, when or where I worship. If these traditions or rituals help you to worship, or remind you to worship, or provide a time and place for you to worship, that is great. But they are not, in and of themselves, worship. The prophet Isaiah wrote:

The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men." Isaiah 29:13 (NIV)

Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus repeating these words to the Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law. Matthew 15:7-9; Mark 7:6-7. He called them hypocrites for exalting the rules above the worship. As Jesus explained "You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." Mark 7:8 (NIV)

One of the definitions of worship offered by Merriam-Webster is an act of expressing reverence to a divine being. Worship is about giving thanks to God. There are countless ways to worship - traditional and not so traditional. I worship in many different ways and places. Devotional time. Quiet prayer. Staring at the ocean. In mission. As I've discussed with some of the people that have read this blog, writing this is a form of worship for me. Sometimes I worship at a set time (at a church service) and sometimes I worship because I just feel called to do so.

The bottom line is, I believe that the Bible teaches us that there is only one rule about worship, only one thing that is important - that it be real, sincere, from the heart. However that love and devotion is expressed is the right way to worship.

Monday, October 20, 2008

He Knows His Time

Recently an insurance client and I were laughing about a mediation we attended together a few years ago. In addition to our insured's regular counsel, the insured had convinced us that they had to have the big local name. "He knows everybody in that part of the state." "He can talk to the plaintiffs' counsel and they will listen." So, he (to make the story easier, I will call him "Thomas" from here on out) attended the mediation with us.

Thomas arrived in the room and immediately pulled out the newspaper. If you have never attended a mediation, this really isn't all that surprising. There is a lot of down time while the mediator talks to the other side, etc. But usually the understood rules of courtesy have everyone who is going to be trapped in a room together all day at least attempt to engage in polite conversation for a while before the reading begins. Thomas, on the other hand, sat down at one end of the table and just started reading.

The negotiations went back and forth over the course of the day. We were millions of dollars apart and things were pretty contentious at times. Every now and again Thomas would look up and make a comment, then he'd go back to reading something. As I recall it, about half way through the day we asked Thomas to go and talk to plaintiffs' counsel, to bring some reality to the conversations. Thomas responded - "Thomas is a closer, you don't want to use Thomas now, you don't want to waste Thomas." And, he went back to reading. Towards the end of the day when it appeared all was breaking down, we asked again - "Thomas, can you see if you can do anything?" The response came, "Thomas knows his time and now is not Thomas' time."

Ultimately, the mediation broke down and we all left. Thomas never did anything. While the case did resolve through further negotiations, Thomas did not play an active role in those discussions. When my client and I were laughing about it recently, we wondered when it was going to be Thomas' time.

I was thinking about this incident again this morning when I was doing my devotional and reading about times in life where we cry out for God. Where are you? Help me! How much longer do things have to be like this? When are things going to get better? I think that there are times when everyone wants God to act quickly, to change things now - on our schedule. When He doesn't act quickly enough I know that I can get frustrated, become somewhat disillusioned. I know you have the power, if you really love me as much as the Bible tells me that you do, why won't you do something now?!!?

One of the passages that I read this morning was Psalm 27:14 - "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." (NIV) To me this is a stunningly simple, beautiful, message. Wait for the Lord, He will come. There is a lot of comfort in those words.

There some similarities, and of course at least one enormous difference, to my story that started this. Like Thomas, God does not always answer the second we ask Him to. Sometimes it is not yet His time. He hears us, He knows our thoughts before we think them, and He feels our hurt and our pain and suffers along with us. But, He knows His time and that time is not necessarily our time. Thomas, however, effectively abandoned us - it was never Thomas' time. God never abandons us. Even in our darkest of hours, the lowest of our lows, God is there with us. "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." He will come.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I've been thinking about this for a long time, but it bubbled to the top again earlier this week when I heard Real Me by The Who on the radio. I'll skip explaining the story of the song because it is really not all that important to what I'm thinking about. But it ends:

Can you see the real me, preacher?
Can you see the real me, doctor?
Can you see the real me, mother?
Can you see the real me?

Between that and Halloween coming up, I started thinking again about how much time and effort people put into hiding who they really are and to trying to convince people that they are somebody different. How, to at least some extent, we all wear masks, all the time.

Even though I certainly do it, I'm not entirely sure why I do it. Sure, sometimes I have to seem tougher, so I try to hide my weaknesses. Sometimes I have to be more brave, so I try to hide my fears. Sometimes I have to be more confident and certain, so I hide my questions and doubts. All of that I understand at some level, and it makes at least some sense.

But, I think about what else I may hide and why. Do my co-workers know how important my faith is to me? Do my friends know how important my family is to me? I once heard someone phrase it along the lines of: "Would your friends laugh if I asked them if you were a Christian?" I wrote here a while ago about figuring out who you really are. What I am writing about today is whether I let people see the real me?? If not, and I think that is the case to at least some extent, why not? I pray each day that I will live and act in way that people can see the love of God in me and through me, but then I probably consciously or sub-consciously try to hide it.

The following verse seems appropriate:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

For what I am thinking about and writing about today, though, I really love this version of the same passage:

Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Galatians 2:20 (The Message)

So, as we come up on Halloween, I am going to try to use the masks that I see as a reminder to ask myself whether I am letting people see the real me. And, if not, to ask myself why.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Love Not Knowledge

I have started participating in Bible study with a group of 11th and 12th grade guys (I know, I know, I'm a little older than the average member . . . .). We are starting by working through Experiencing the Heart of Jesus (Student Edition) by Max Lucado. Since I was out of town and missed the meeting on Monday, I didn't have a chance to discuss my thoughts on week one of the material, and thought I would share part of those here.

The guiding theme for the week was Experiencing the Care of Jesus. The readings were centered around God's love for us and the fact that He cares for us and has a plan for us. The verse for the week was 1 Corinthians 8:3. In the New Living Translation this is "The person who loves God is the one God knows and cares for."

I actually find the verse more powerful when coupled with the one that precedes it.

The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:2-3 (This is from the New International Version, which is the translation that I keep here at the office, though I am starting to wonder if I should keep another translation here as well).

I love that. Our relationship with God is not about knowing, it is about loving. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we understand, that it all makes rational sense, that we know what we need to know. The truth is, though, as long as we trick ourselves that way, we will never "know as [we] ought to know." As it says just before the quote above: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." 1 Corinthians 8:1

To me, this passage affirms that God is not looking for book study. Sure, it is a great thing to read and study the Bible, but God isn't all that worried about who can quote the most verses, or who knows just where to find that perfect passage, or who has read the Bible the most times. God wants a relationship with us. God cares about our love.

And that relationship, that love, goes both ways. God knows us (a whole lot better than we know ourselves) and cares for us. Think about that for just a minute. Really think about what that means. You and I are loved and cared for by the supreme being, by the creator of heaven and earth, by the alpha and the omega. As the Bible School song teaches:

He's got everybody here in His hands,
He's got everybody there in His hands,
He's got everybody everywhere in His hands,
He's got the whole world in His hands.

That is Good News for all of us.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Economic Unrest

I've consciously avoided writing about everything that is going on with the economy. But, I just can't. I'm certainly not going to talk politics, that is way too controversial - I'll stick with something safer like religion.

The markets are the lowest that they have been in five years. Large institutions have failed. Banks are going under. Unemployment is up. The tight credit market is making it impossible for some businesses to make payroll. The last I saw, and it was a few days ago so the number would be bigger now, more than $3 trillion had evaporated from the stock market. There is world-wide economic unrest and concern. Yesterday it was predicted that the global automobile industry could collapse in 2009. Things are definitely shaky.

Before I go farther, I want to be very clear to say that nothing that I am saying here is downplaying, in any way, the concerns that many people face - people have lost jobs, had their houses foreclosed upon, or are struggling to keep relationships together under the stress of economic difficulties. All of us need to be reaching out to friends and neighbors in these situations. All of us need to be reaching out to strangers in these situations, too.

This morning in working through the materials for our youth small group, I was directed to Haggai 1:6. To me, the passage talks about our inability as people and believers to be satisfied by earthly things. One part of the passage seemed particularly appropriate in light of the developments in the economy - "You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." Boy, isn't that the truth.

There are countless passages in the Bible that tell us to put our faith and trust and hope and future in God, rather than earthly things. People are probably familiar with a lot of them - Matthew 6:19-21, 25-33; Isaiah 55:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:8; etc. (Go ahead, take a minute to pull out your Bible and look them up) This morning I was lead to focus on one of them:

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

Having that degree of faith is a lot easier said than done. I worry all the time and try to figure out how I can control things to protect myself and my family, to insulate us, to make sure that we are protected from anything bad happening. But, ultimately, I know that I can't do that. So, I draw comfort and strength from the Lord and His promises, which he never fails to keep. I hope that anyone reading this can find such comfort as well. He offers it to all of us. And He does so without judging, or questioning how we got in the situation we are in or where we have been for so long - I know that from personal experience.

We will get through this. I don't pretend to have the answer to the economic mess. Frankly, some of it seems irrational to me. But, we can try to use it as a reminder that at least some of us (myself included at that front of that line) focus the wrong direction. God will meet our needs. In fact, in the most important way of all, He already has. See John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.")

God Bless You, and have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Earlier this week at cub scouts, one of the Dads talked to the boys about physical fitness and general good health. As I sat in the back of the room, I heard him talk about getting enough sleep, eating right and getting enough exercise. Apparently adults should get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and kids should get at least an hour.

A lot of us are in the routine of getting exercise on a daily basis (or we are at least trying to get in the routine of getting exercise on a daily basis). It may be going to the gym, walking or running outside, or playing a sport. I try to get into the office early enough that I can spend time in the gym downstairs without getting in the way of anything else that I have planned for the day.

Although the physical exercise is important for my general health (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. - you'd think I was almost 40 . . .), over the last six months or so I have begun to find it equally important to exercise my faith. To spend time reading scripture, praying and (more recently) writing here. I admit, though, that like my exercise routine, there have been days when I have let other things get in the way and I have skipped my devotional time.

The last time I did that was this past Monday. I was going to a youth small group meeting Monday night and decided that I really had lots of things to do and the group meeting would be worship anyway and that would cover it and did I mention that there were things that I needed to do? You get the picture. Anyway, as I went through my day I found myself feeling kind of out of sorts. I've heard people say that they feel bad all day when they miss their workout - personally, that doesn't happen to me - but I understand the feeling at least a little bit now from having failed to spend time in worship and exercise my faith. I had to stop, close the door to my office and spend a few quiet minutes in prayer. After that I could get back to work and I was much more focused and productive for the remainder of the day.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to challenge anything from cub scouts, I encourage everyone to get their thirty minutes (or more) of physical exercise a day. But, I also encourage everyone to take time to exercise their faith every day. Like any other exercise routine, I think it has to be what works for you. Maybe it will be easier with a friend, or if you join a group. Maybe it will be easier if you spend time in the morning, or the end of the day. Maybe you want to use a devotional guide to direct your time, or maybe you just want to open your Bible randomly every day and spend time reading. Or, maybe you just want to set aside time where you can talk one-on-one with God. Whatever it is, I think it is just important that we establish a routine - a time set aside for worship.

I've struggled to come up with the right quote to go with these thoughts this morning, and I just haven't been able to find something perfect. But, I did stumble across these words of encouragement:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

So, get out there and exercise your faith!

(I would say something about not forgetting to stretch, but stretching your faith is a whole different post for a different day, for now regular exercise is great)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Greeting

Last night I went to Alex's school to pick him up from an event and take him to cub scouts. I parked the car and as I started walking towards the doors, my family came out. Anya gave me one of those great greetings that you only get so often (well, at least that I only get so often). As soon as she saw me, I could see she was excited. When I got close enough and could be sure that no cars were coming, I told her it was ok and she ran across to me and jumped up into my arms, giving me a big hug.

It was awesome.

I was thinking about what to write this morning and I thought about that again. I wondered why she came running and jumping when she saw me last night, but lots of times she hardly looks up from what she is doing when I get home.

Then I realized that I am no different than that in my relationship with God. In fact, if anything, I probably come running and jumping into His arms a lot less frequently (if ever). As much as He would love to see that unbridled love and enthusiasm, and as much as He wants nothing more than to hold me tightly, how often do I actually approach Him that way. Instead, I hang back, approach more deliberately or barely even acknowledge His presence in my life.

I believe God wants us to approach Him like Anya came running to me last night. He wants that relationship with us. He wants that type of love. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Deuteronomy 6:5 Or as it is said in the Gospel of Luke - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind." Luke 10:27

As a prayer this morning, I ask for God's help in giving Him my heart, my soul, my strength and my mind. I want to continue to grow and to learn to run and jump into His arms with pure joy and enthusiasm and love.

As a brief coda to my post from last Friday, I want to share two things. First, the music during Communion on Sunday was "From the Inside Out." Second, at the youth service Sunday night the youth pastor used Matthew 6:14-15 as part of the basis for his sermon. Since both of these were things I felt called to write about on Friday, this was pretty freaky to me. I will continue to work on the issues I discussed in that post, but I do know that God was trying to tell me something.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Inside Out

At the end of my devotional time this morning, I was spending some time thinking about whether I would write today. And, if I did, what I would say. For some reason every passage that I had read spoke about forgiveness. Thinking maybe there was something there, I started to try to sketch something out in my head. I prayed, and while praying I tried to think of a grudge that I was holding, or someone that I needed to forgive for something.

Nothing came immediately to mind.

Then, I started to hear some of the Hillsong United song "From the Inside Out" in my head.

"And the cry of my heart is to bring You praise
From the inside out, Lord my soul cries out"

I looked up the lyrics on the internet to make sure that I had them right in my head and read through the whole song. I got goosebumps (like I just did again while typing this). Ok, God, I know you are trying to talk to me. What are you trying to say?

Forgiveness and "from the inside out, Lord my soul cries out" . . . .

I know that one of the biggest things that I need to figure out is how to forgive myself. There are lots of things that I have done wrong and that I regret that I need to forgive myself for. But, there is a big one that comes to the surface every now and again.

Most people who know me well know that when my wife was pregnant with our first child we suffered a miscarriage and lost the baby. I'm not going to go into all of it here and now, but it was a very, very difficult time and ultimately it was the event more than anything else that got us started coming to church.

Although I know on a lot of levels that it does not really make sense, I still blame myself for that miscarriage. I don't think I was really ready to be a Dad. It was not until that baby died that I understood how important it was to me, how much I loved that child and that my heart and my soul were ready. Ever since then, from time to time, this guilt comes to the surface. If I had been better. If I had been a Christian. If I was better prepared. If I had thanked God for the miracle of that life. If I loved that child enough. If any or all of those things and a lot more, then maybe it wouldn't have happened.

While I don't know for sure, I think God was trying to tell me this morning that I need to find a way to forgive me. That I need to let my soul cry out from the inside out. I've struggled with this for more than 10 years now. I'm sure that I am not going to succeed this morning, or even this week, but I hear You, God, telling me that I need to find a way.

The last passage that I read this morning before I started all of this was Matthew 6:9-15, and it seems like a good way to end:

This, then, is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

I spent some time thinking about whether I really wanted to write this here - whether it was really something that I wanted to share like this. Ultimately I decided that I should, both for myself and for someone else. I just feel like there is probably someone else that may read this that is struggling, like I am, with the inability to forgive themselves for something. If that is you, I hope that hearing about my struggles with the issue somehow encourages you.

God Bless Everyone, and have a great weekend.