Monday, January 2, 2017

Three Threads

Of all the people I’ve known in my life that walked faithfully with God there have been common threads woven together at the core of their lives. The desire to know Jesus better, the desire to live an obedient life and a desire to better understand the Bible by spending time reading the Bible. These three threads, when woven together, make a person strong. Leave one out and the mixture is weak. Like water without coffee beans. It may do you good but it leaves you desiring more (maybe it’s just me!)

Thread One: The desire to know Jesus better is a lifelong journey. He reveals Himself to us in so many ways and in ways we often don’t expect or sometimes desire. Yet these people I’ve seen live faithfully are always on the lookout. They put themselves in places where Jesus might speak to them. Richard Foster said there is nothing magical about spiritual disciplines, all we are doing is placing ourselves in position where God has our attention.(a rough paraphrase) A desire to know Jesus includes disciplines but it requires a heart and mind that seeks Jesus. (Philippians 3:10)

Thread Two: A desire to live obedient comes from knowing Jesus more fully. When I was in the military there was always someone who out ranked me. Someone who called the shots. No matter who was above me, there was always someone above them. We were careful to be obedient because there was often much at stake. The fact that I was a subordinate to someone determined my life’s course. The stripes on my arm let everyone know where I stood and where those around me stood. The more I know of Jesus the more I hope to be obedient in every area. The faithful men and women I’ve known were those who looked for Jesus and then were obedient in that relationship. Jesus called to shots. Everything about their lives was an indicator that they were in a relationship with a Higher Ranking Individual. It wasn’t enough to just say they know Him. They were subordinate to Him. (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Thread Three: A desire to know what the Bible says and spend time reading it, studying it and thinking about it was always evident in the faithful. Some of these men and women taught and lead in obvious ways. Others oozed wisdom. And in that wisdom God’s Word flowed. They had spent hours, days and in some cases, years reading through the pages of Scripture. Always learning, relearning and growing in their understanding of the Bible. Absent was arrogance. Present was a worn Book. This is the hardest of the three in many ways. With a full schedule already how can we dig deeper? You have to be intentional. You have to be dedicated to the effort and anticipate the obstacles and the results. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

All three of these are vital and much more can be said about each one. I have known people that have desired to know Jesus but haven’t let that desire influence their calendar. And they wonder why they don’t grow, or get used by Him, or see His work. I have known people who seek to be obedient and do good works and feel empty because they are trying to earn Jesus’ love when He already loves them. The works may be good but they don’t fill the emptiness. I’ve known people that have studied the word and have become knowledgable in a book but not in relation to the One who inspired it. All three threads are vital.

This year in our church we are encouraging all three threads. The one we can talk about the easiest, perhaps, is spending time in God’s Word. We have a Bible Reading Plan that we are using (adapted from several I have used in the past) that will be discussed briefly each week on Wednesday nights and some of the messages on Sunday mornings will come from that week’s readings. There are so many options to dig into God’s word. We pray that you’ll be a part of growing in your relationship with Jesus along with us! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Top Drawer Theology

Let me ramble a moment:

My top drawer always becomes a place for things like staples, paper clips, rubber bands, odd little things that I just can't throw away. Each item might come in handy some day. I have had about 5 top drawers since I started in ministry. I now have 4 small boxes full of Top Drawer items. Rarely do they make it to the next Top Drawer. A few things do though. They are usually items that are actually useful and can serve a greater purpose than just reminding me of past times.

I've also noticed a pattern in what items make the transition. Items that can hold things together or open things up--
Rubber bands. Stretchy, fun, useful and a weapon if the need arrises. Paperclips. They connect papers, sermons, syllabi, or, open the SIM card on my phone. Multi talented little things. Staples. Same as paperclips only more permanent. Unless they go into a finger. Not permanent then, but painful. Letter openers. I still love to open letters. The mystery. What is in there?

My Top Drawer Theology hinges upon those things that connect and open. They are useful. Always there. I was reminded today of a verse that has been with me a long time. Almost 27 years ago we had a preacher come to FBC Eagle River to preach our revival. Lew Miller. Each night he'd have us repeat two verses of Scripture that he said should always be with us and will always be useful. Hebrews 13: 20-21:

 "Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant
brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep,
equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us
what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be
glory for ever and ever. Amen."

I can still remember the sound of our voices saying this verse in unison, or almost unison, in that church in Alaska. The voices of so many saints. Archie, Jim, Charlotte, JoAnn, Donna, Art, Bob, Marlene, and so many others just hoping for strength in that moment. These men and women lived out Top Drawer Theology for so many of us. A few things I learned from my Top Drawer and these saints.

Top Drawer Theology one. "God of Peace." It is easier to judge than to bring peace. Yet I am reminded here that because of the blood of Jesus I can have peace with God and I can and should bring that peace to others. Our world needs that peace now. It always has and always will. It just seems more apparent today. Many things can bring people together. Hate; Anger; Frustration; Grief; The Peace of God is the only lasting connection. Bring Peace.

Top Drawer Theology two: Great Shepherd of the sheep. I need a Shepherd. I have followed many things in my life and there is the constant pull from some gravitational field. Jesus left the 99 to look for the 1. That is me. He found me. I needed rounding up.

Top Drawer Theology three: He has plans for me and he equips me to get the job done. But I have to get taken out of the drawer to function. Staples, paperclips, letter openers all sit in the dark until I reach in and use them. Do I think that God has a purpose for me? He says he does? How has he equipped me? That is exciting. Better than opening a letter. Most of that is junk mail. But He says His work in me is PLEASING to Him. That is fan mail. That is a love letter.

I may not be cleaning my Top Drawer out for a while, but I will be out connecting people to the One who brings me Peace.

The rambling ends...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Here is your coupon!

I was hungry and focused on getting my sandwich from the local deli. I stepped out of my car and was approached by a little girl and her brother. No older than 7 or 8. They were armed with coupons for a discount at their mom's business. "Sir, would you like a coupon that will give you a discount?" I smiled. They were determined to accomplish what they had been asked to do. I leaned down, looked over the coupon and said, I would love to but I don't think I will be needing a Salon Style Haircut. I pointed up, smiled again and looked into her eyes. A little disappointed at first then a big smile came over her face. She politely said, "thank you" and walked back to the front of the Salon.

It left me thinking about their determination and focus. Just their willingness to speak to a man about getting a "Salon Style Haircut" was pretty impressive. Talking to a man with a haircut similar to this basketball was bold!

I read a story recently about Jonathan and the young man carrying his gear. Facing a hopeless situation Jonathan stated, "the LORD is able to do this great thing with a bunch or people or with just a couple." He was focused, not on the odds, but on the capabilities of his LORD. He couldn't loose, regardless of the outcome.
(for the story see 1 Samuel 14)

We all face huge battles everyday. Events and situations in which others seem more in control and determined to defeat you. And situations and events in which our own flaws seem to rule the day. How do you approach your day? Here are a couple of ideas I am trying. Nothing new, but good reminders.

First, Focus on the LORD of that situation and not the situation itself. Easier said that done sometimes, but constantly remind yourself to look upward. Know that God is able to prevail in this situation.

Second, have faithful people around you. "Do all that is in your heart," was the reply of the young man in the story. He knew that Jonathan honestly sought the LORD's glory and not his own. Let people speak into your life, honestly. Both supportive words and the hard constructive words. Easier said than done, again.

What battles are at your doorstep? Do you see the battle only? Can you refocus on some One bigger than the battle you face? Try giving coupons for a haircut to a bald guy. Big task, bigger God.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Captured at the Source...Really?

My bottle of water was captured at the source. It almost got away evidently but there was someone walking by with an empty bottle and he, or she, perhaps both, got it! Whew! I'd be thirsty if it hadn't gotten captured.

Usually when something is captured there is a great possibility that danger is involved. Some element of danger. Or the object itself is dangerous. And what about the source? If you catch something at the source it really hasn't had time to become dangerous yet, but there is potential.

I was captured a time or two, perhaps more.

As a teenager I was like all the other teens, as much as I hate to admit it! Determined to live according to my rules. Good rules I'm sure, but still, my rules. Those rules were usually at the mercy of testosterone. A wise young man began to teach me to take captive my thoughts. "They can be dangerous," he said. He showed me a verse that talked about other things to think about, "truth, noble, good, promote peace, good to talk about," etc... He said, "fill you mind with those things." He was smart. Tried to capture me at the source. And he must have, because I still remember those words. Mostly I remember him. I was captured by this man who loved his God. And he lived that love out in ways that captured our hearts. He was dangerous.

I was captured years later by the heart of another person. My wife. She saw what we could be together. She began the process of taming this wild heart in another way. She is still at it mind you. Taming me. I am still captured by her. And she was right. We are better together than apart. In the very deepest part of who I am, the source, she and I are one.

This blog is perhaps more for me than you. But perhaps you too have been captured. Of course I left out the most important One who captured me. I hope that is evident. He pursued me like I was guilty and His justice was about to be measured out on me. When He caught me that evening so long ago I understood that I was dangerous, to myself and others. He had every right to judge me. But His love was greater than my disregard for Him. His Son set me free as the source of life. That is a dangerous love. Now I get to share it.

When have you been captured? Do you realize just how dangerous you were? Are you dangerous now? For Him.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

There's an App...

I have this love/hate relationship with technology. I had a TI-99 in the early 80's. Loved it for a while but then in school we worked on Apple IIC's and the Enhanced Apple II E's. Then It was IBM 386... and the list continued. Each one promised great things. They delivered for a short while. Now it is the iPad and iPhone, and Android based machines. Each one with great claims and limited delivery. Oh yes, then there are the applications. There is an App for about everything. I love them. I hate them. It continues!

No App can really deliver what I need. What is that you might ask? I would answer...Peace. Maybe a better word in our world is Margin. You know, the space between stuff. There are formulas for newspapers and books. Enough white space so the eyes are not overwhelmed. Life is like that too. We are great at adding one more detail, one more sport, one more book on the shelf, one more thing to have to manage or worry about, to our lives. When was the last time we took something away every time we added something? I usually buy more bookshelves or double stack the books!

There are apps that will help me manage my time, my notes, my inventory but they will not create the margin I need.
So I must ask myself, is life without margin worth it? Is there any real downtime in my life, or my family's lives?
What then can I do about it, you might ask?

First, remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Wish I'd have coined that phrase. Sounds like a line from the Bible right? Ok, it is. God built into the lives of ancient Israel a weekly reminder. Then every seven years was a year of rest. Then every 50 years! Debts were cancelled. Built in margin. Life is good with margin. Not so good without it! Don't know that I'll write the word "sabbath" in my schedule, but I should put something down to save that space! I dare you to create some margin.

Second, unplug. This point is extremely uncomfortable for most of us. Listen for it. Silence. It is just not there any more. If you are a church goer listen the next time the person leading says, "lets have a moment of silence." It probably won't last more than 10 or 20 seconds. Time it. I dare you. You can always give that 20 seconds back to God on the way home. Just shut off the radio for a minute. If we are always bombarded with media then we have little time to actually process the good from the bad. Or let the good really take hold of us. Unplug.

Third, and perhaps most painful for me...simplify. How much time do I spend just making sure my stuff is taken care of, or working properly. My iPad needs to be charged a certain way for the battery to last the longest. I think about that. My guitar has to be kept at a certain humidity level. I think about that. Those are just two things. I dare you to begin to really simplify. I had a professor one time tell me after he moved to a new house there was one box that remained packed for a year. He didn't know what was in it. His wife asked what he wanted her to do with it. His response, "throw it away. If I haven't needed it for a year and I can't remember what is even in it, I don't need it." I cannot even imagine doing that!

There are app's for a lot of things. Some may help with these three issues, maybe. But odds are you can begin doing these things without a new app. Think about it: Margin; Unplug; Simplify.

Which is the hardest for you? I'd love to hear.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dreams vs. Goals

Dreams are funny parts of our lives. Dreams are scary parts of our lives.  Dreams are exciting parts of our lives.
Which is it? And what do you do with them?

Dreams are not just those moments that invade our minds as we lie horizontal after the daily routine of life. They can be, but they are what inspires us to take a risk. They inspire us to believe we really can fly. I can fly in my dreams. Can you? My dreams are in color. How about yours?

We are told from the earliest days to dream big. Swing for the fence. Live like there is no tomorrow. You know the lines. But at some point dreams become the ammunition others fire at us. "Dreamer." "Idealist." Perhaps you've heard them before too. Perhaps you are guilty, as I am, of firing that ammo a time or two. We usually allow people to dream until they reach a certain age. Then it is time to grow up. Stop dreaming.

Dreams, however, need not fade like the sunset or fade like a rainbow from some storm on the horizon. A dream planted by God, and lived out for God, can bring excitement, fun and honestly, a little humility into our lives. Dreams are not accomplished in isolation but with the help of others.

God authored some pretty big dreams in the Bible. Three boys not bowing down because they had big dreams of remaining faithful when all bowed. Dreams bigger than a fire. One man who would stay faithful to his Lord even as he was being pummeled with rocks. Dreams bigger than fear of death. Two of the many. And people used their dream as ammo against them.

So how can you determine if your dreams are the stuff authored by the Giver of Dreams?

First. Ask who will receive praise and honor for this dream? Our Father? His Church? Only You? If this is a team effort, how will you handle it if someone else receives credit or gets more applause? (tough question)

Second. How does this show the love of God?
This is a tricky question. I've known people who've accomplished the dream of being a CEO of a purely secular company, yet used their resources for Kingdom purposes and were Godly the whole way up the ladder of success. God's love poured from them at each rung on that ladder.

Third. Is your dream big enough? (Have you settled? Did someone fire ammo at you and cause you to alter your dream so it looked more like a "goal?" -more on goals in a future post-)

So I ask you, do you still dream big? Do you help others dream, or accomplish their dreams? Or do you fire ammo at those easy targets?

I dare you to dream big again, and share those dreams.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fire and Embers

I blame it on the Rockford files although my fascination with fire started much earlier. But on the promo for that show a malataf cocktail was thrown and exploded in the back of some old car. It was exciting. Fringe exciting. My young mind thought, "I can do that. I can be in control of the damage!"

Fire never works that way. Just listen to the stories about campfires, discarded cigerattes, careless matches. They seem to always end with, "I thought it was out." Never is.

Fire and Embers. The hot coals left after the fire has used all the fuel it can to produce a raging flame. Raw heat just looking for something else to consume.

There is a sentence I used to really like for the wrong reasons. "Pray for your enemies and by doing so you will heap burning coals on their head." That is the image I like to see when my enemies are winning. You can count on me to pray if hot coals will be the result!

I'd missed the point I think of this way of living. Just before that it talks about "vengeance belonging only to the Lord." So how do these things work together?

I love the Old Testament. Lots of stories. And lots of Fire and Embers. Problem is the Fire usually represents the presence of God and the Embers represent something being offered to God for Him to take care of, however He chooses. Jonah waited for fire to consume Ninevah...Didn't happen. But repentance did. I am afraid I might have been like Jonah. Angry that God's fire didn't reduce his enemies to embers and ashes.

So what to do about enemies?
First, do like we are told. Pray for them. Offer them up to God as a "burnt offering," symbolic of course, and by doing so the whole "burning coals" imagery can really take place. A great thing about a real burnt offering in the Old Testament world was it could never be taken back! If I'm really offering up my enemies to God, then I need to leave them with Him to do as he pleases. Perhaps they will repent. I hope I handle it better than Jonah. Perhaps they won't repent. It is up to God to deal with either situation. (Plus, what if they are praying for me (think burning coals on your own head!)

Second, the Fire of God is uncontrollable. Watch it consume someone and repentance happen. Then watch that fire touch all those around that person when they see what God has done! Sounds a little like the Love of God we see in the New Testament. "Love endures" Paul wrote. Love also consumes.

People try to put out the Fire of God all the time. But watch it spark up when it's the least expected. That is exciting and powerful, and a little scary. But it's bigger than me. And that is a good thing. Dare to let God's Fire consume you, and those around you!

What do you find is the hardest thing about praying for your enemies?