Saturday, October 31, 2009


A man who is facing some serious health issues said to me recently that one of the things that he had learned during this difficult time in his life was the importance of gratitude. He shared that he had become much more grateful for all the little things in his life, for how people had been kind to him and prayed for him. Despite the physical challenges that were ahead, he told me he was very, very thankful.

During this month that we celebrate Thanksgiving, we should remember the importance of gratitude in our lives. In the biblical story about Jesus healing the 10 lepers, you may remember that only one of the ten turned back to say thank you. Most of us have so much to give thanks for that if we started counting our blessings we probably would spend most of our days giving thanks to God for what he has done for us.

May we live out lives of gratitude, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20 NIV)

Afraid of God?

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”            I John 4:18 (NLT)
             A woman at church recenlty shared with me a story about her young son. There is a popular song titled ‘I Am A Friend of God’ that we sing occasionally in worship. The little boy was singing one night and got the words mixed up by singing, “I am afraid of God.”  That changes the meaning of the song quite a bit!
            A search of an online Bible or concordance will reveal that the words “fear” and “Lord” are joined together in many biblical passages. The Hebrew words translated as fear might better be translated and understood as awe, reverence, or honor. All three words make more sense to me – we should be in awe of God, keep God in reverence, and honor God. I have a hard time thinking that God wants us to cower in fear because God has done so much to try to reach us.
            We believe that Jesus came not to condemn the world, or to create fear, but instead so “that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).  Paul puts it another way – “If God is for us, who can be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” (Rom. 8:31-32). If God went to these extraordinary lengths to reach us, why should we be afraid? Let’s remember that there is truly no fear in love and no one loves us more than God. No one!

Monday, September 14, 2009

God's Chisel

Our youth group recently had their annual 'coffeehouse', where they serve coffee and perform music, comedy, and skits. One of the skits that was done was 'God's Chisel', originally performed by the skit guys in the clip below. The skit made me think and is worth sharing.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Down But Not Out

"We are knocked down, but we are not knocked out." (I Cor. 4:9, NIrV)

My son Noah joined the football team in middle school this year. Not because he wanted to play football, but because the school he attends is an academic magnet school and requires that each student play a sport when they enter the 7th grade.

Let me say this about my son - he is above all a great kid and he has a really big and tender heart. Noah loves to laugh, he loves to learn, and he loves to play. But he has never expressed any desire to play any sport whatsoever, at any level. His older sister Hannah played youth soccer, youth basketball, ran track, and even was a cheerleader for a year. Noah was never interested in playing, though he was involved in martial arts for a while. And were it not for the school's requirement, I doubt he would be on the football team. While very competitive at say video games, Noah is not particularly athletic (like his father) nor is he particularly aggressive (unlike his father). Having played football myself at his age, I knew how demanding it was and wondered if he would finally raise the white flag and try something else.

The season began with a week of football camp, where the players learned the fundamentals. I was out of town the week camp began but anxiously called home every afternoon to find out how Noah had done in camp. On the phone he excitedly told me all that he had learned for the day. "I really like football," he said. I was thankful for his enthusiasm but wondered how he would handle it when he put the pads and helmet on and it wasn't long before I found out.

The coach scheduled a play date with another middle school, where the team could get some experience blocking, tackling, and running plays. I ended up taking that day off and accompanying Noah to his first experience of what the games would be like. His team at that point consisted of 14 7th and 8th graders, about half of whom like Noah had never played football before. As the other team took the field that day I started to count how many players they had and I stopped counting at 50. My heart sank as I looked at those boys, most of whom were much taller and heavier than Noah or anyone else on our side.

Noah ended up in a group that was practicing offensive and defensive line drills, 5 on 5. Because the other team had so many players, they would rotate players in and out. Our 5, which included Noah, stayed in for the entire drill. Over and over again they would line up to practice blocking or tackling. Each time the player opposite Noah was always taller or heavier or both. Again and again Noah ended up getting knocked flat on his back with the larger kid on top of him. To his credit, Noah kept getting up, kept lining up for the drill again though he soon learned he was going to end up on the ground again. As a parent it was difficult to watch, especially as it continued to happen.

After enduring a few hours of this punishment, Noah finally asked the coach if he could sit out for a while. From far across the field I could see my son with his helmet off, holding a cool bottle of water against his face trying to fight the effects of the summer's heat. I hoped he was OK - physically of course - but also concerned about his spirit and how he was going to process this experience. Mercifully the time of 'play' finally ended, we loaded his gear up in the back of the car, and began the long drive back home.

Unsure of what exactly to say to him, I asked him how he felt he had done. Noah said, "Those guys were huge! I kept getting pounded over and over again! This is really hard!" Thinking he was on the brink of giving up being a part of the football team and also trying to be encouraging, all I could muster in response was, "I thought you did really well. Every time you got knocked down you got right back up again. Yes, they were bigger, but remember the story of David and Goliath?" Noah looked out the window silently, certainly not in the mood for any biblical examples from Dad the pastor. I thought to myself silently that his football career was going to end today. I finally took a deep breath and said to him, "If you really want to give up being on the football team, it is OK, that is your decision to make. But I am afraid if you do quit now, you might regret it someday and wish you had not." I emphasized that he should give it a few more weeks, maybe see how the first game went, before he made his choice. Later that day Noah told his mother that he would keep going and see how the first game went.

Amazingly his team - which won their first and only game in four years of play last season - held on to win their first game of the season 28 - 26. It was one of the most exciting football games I believe I ever got to watch! Noah did not play much but when he did, he again often ended up knocked to the ground by a larger player. And he always got back up and however reluctantly, always went out and lined up for the next play.

Many of Noah's teammates are better at football than he. Some because they are larger, some because they are more athletic, and some just have a whole lot more experience playing football than he does. Despite his frustrations, Noah has not quit. While there may be more accomplished players on his team, I'm not sure there are any who have more courage and perseverance than he has displayed over the past few weeks.

Noah's perseverance and determination inspire me. In my work as a pastor and in my own walk with Christ, there have been many times that something has knocked me down. And more than a few of those times I wanted to just lie there on the ground - weary, hurt, and depressed - and give it all up, to quit the 'team' and even quit the 'sport'. In II Corinthians Paul writes that while we might get knocked down, we are NEVER knocked out. Watching Noah has reminded me how important perseverance is. It is not a sin to get knocked down - or even to fall down - but it is critical that we keep getting back up.

How thankful am I for my son - the reluctant athlete - who has reminded me that what's most important - not that we are knocked down, but that we keep getting back up. Thanks be to God for the lessons that #70 of the Merrol Hyde Hawks has taught his father!

Three Simple Rules

Recently I had my annual physical exam, which consisted of several tests followed by a doctor’s visit. My doctor reviewed the results with me, checked me over thoroughly, asked a lot of questions, and made some recommendations. The week following my physical exam I had my biannual visit with the dentist. The routine was much the same with the dentist as it was with the doctor. I understand that despite the inconvenience of these visits they are necessary to maintain a healthy body and a healthy mouth.

Our spiritual ‘selves’ also need to be checked on every now and then. We ought to have some way to assess our growth (or lack of) as a disciple of Jesus. While there are likely several ways this could be done, I stumbled across a method that I found very helpful. Last year I read a short book by retired UM Bishop Reuben Job titled Three Simple Rules. Job takes the general rules that were written by John Wesley (founder of the Methodist movement) and distills them into what he calls three simple rules. They are:

Do No Harm, Do Good, and Stay in Love With God

While these rules are surprisingly simple, putting them into practice is far from easy. I find the rule ‘stay in love with God’ to be the one I struggle with the most. Being a disciple for many years is a lot like being married for many years – there is a tendency to take your spouse for granted. Much the same thing can happen in our walk with Jesus, which is why nurturing our relationship with God is so important for spiritual growth.

In Leviticus 6:12 the command was given to the Israelite priests that ‘the fire on the altar must be kept burning, it must never go out.’ The same is true for the fire of God’s love that burns in our hearts. We must be sure that it never goes out. Perhaps it is time to give yourself a spiritual check-up to see how you are growing and where you need some work. These three simple rules provide a way to see how you are faring spiritually. I often have had to remind myself that if I am not staying in love with God, content to let the fire go out, then not much else I’m doing will matter anyway.

So how is it with your soul? Jesus was called the ‘great physician’ and maybe a check-up with the three simple rules is just what the doctor ordered.

Unsettled by the Word

“God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” So asserts a bumper sticker that I saw once. Presumably the ‘God said it’ part is referring to the Bible, though I have found that it is not always so simple to discern what God is saying by simply reading the Bible. While I affirm with the church as well as ancient Judaism that scripture contains the living Word of God, I’m not so sure that the Bible was written in order to ‘settle it’ for all time.

Jewish rabbis of biblical times were accustomed to an interpretive method known as midrash, in which they studied, discussed, argued and debated over how particular passages of scripture could be and should be understood. Their major concern was to find out what God was saying to them in the sacred stories that had been carefully handed down from generation to generation. The teachers believed meaning was not just found in the literal reading by one individual – but instead through constant back and forth dialogues. This continual work of interpretation was important not simply because study was seen as an end in itself. The ultimate goal of midrash was to inspire practical action in the world.

We see evidences supporting this idea in the New Testament. Jesus uses a form of midrash in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5) when he says things like “you have heard it said…but I say to you…” In using this technique Jesus engages in interpreting scripture in order that it be understood and applied in new ways. Paul also engages in a form of midrash when he makes a distinction between what God is saying and what he is saying, such as when he writes “I say this, not the Lord” (I Corinthians 7:10, 12). While engaged in writing what will eventually become scripture for us, Paul is careful to discern what was from God and what was from Paul. Shouldn’t our goal as we engage the Bible be the same?

Like Jacob wrestling the man/angel at the Jabbok in Genesis 32, we will likely have a difficult time interpreting scripture unless we are willing to climb on to the mat with the text, grappling with the words and engaging in dialogue with each other (hey, I think I just engaged in some midrash here!) That means it is just as important for us as it was for Jacob to not give up struggling with the words until we receive a blessing! Perhaps scripture becomes the word of God for us not so much when it ‘settles’ things but instead when it unsettles. What we likely need the most is to allow the words of scripture to disturb and disquiet us so that we will change our thinking, our action, and our lives in a way that helps bring God’s ultimate plan, what the Bible often calls ‘the kingdom of God’, into reality. Maybe we all could stand a little less ‘bumper sticker’ theology and a lot more actual time spent ‘in the ring’, wrestling with the Word.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


This is Henry, adopted by our family this summer from a local shelter (and boy did it upset the pink princess). I wish I could explain why we have two dogs now instead of just one, as I was fine with our being a one dog household. Alas, knowing I was outvoted and that Henry, found abandoned in a local parking lot, needed a good home, I relented. My advice--never let your family go to an animal shelter just to 'look'. You will end up with a pet (or 2).