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Thursday, September 28, 2006

A great story

Seth and Cher sent me this story. It struck me as profound for several reasons.

It is a great story of relationally connecting people to Christ.

It shows the direction of ministry that we desire here at First Assembly.

It is biblical.

It is what's on my heart.

"Fellowship at the Table"

I once met a pastor in the hills of Colorado who invites family to his
rectory every Sunday afternoon for a home-cooked meal. Frequently the
guests are unchurched or exchurched. During my visit the fare was
simple but the company and conversation stimulating.

This family shared the deep hurt inflicted on them by a previous pastor and consequently had discontinued churchgoing. But that afternoon they received
consideration instead of expected condemnation, a merciful acquittal
rather than an anticipated verdict of guilty.

The returned to the worshiping community in the following week. The had been healed by an ordinary Sunday meal. Table-sharing with the pastor brought them into
fellowship with God.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the
fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Acts 2:42

(Daily devotion from Reflections for Ragamuffins, by Brennan Manning.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Longing for approval

Do you care what other people think of you? Of course you do. Deep down inside all of us is a desire to receive affirmation and praise from those around us.

In fact, I have found that those who sound off the loudest about "not caring about what other people think," are deep down inside longing for approval and affirmation from others.

Yet, desiring approval can become a habit and addiction in our lives. If we are not careful, it can cloud our judgement and cause is to live in fear.

John Ortberg has written, “Some people live in bondage to what others think of them. The addiction takes many forms. If we find ourselves often getting hurt by what others say we probably have it. If we habitually compare ourselves with other people, if we find ourselves getting competitive in the most ordinary situations, we probably have it. If we live with a nagging sense that we aren’t important enough or special enough, or we get envious of another’s success, we probably have it. If we keep trying to impress important people, we probably have it. If we are worried that someone might think ill of us should he or she find out we are an approval addict, we probably are. Like other addicts, we will go to great lengths to get a ‘fix’ when we feel desperate. Yet, like other addicts, we find that no fix lasts forever, so we keep coming back for more.”

Henri Nouwen puts this problem in perspective: ‘At issue here is the question: To whom do I belong? To god or to the world? Many of my daily preoccupations suggest that I belong more to the world than to God. A little criticism makes me angry, and little rejection makes me depressed. A little praise raise my spirits, and little success excites me...Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves.’”

Good stuff. If I was going to spiritualize it (and its okay to do that) I would say that ultimately, the only person in the world I really need to seek approval from is God.

That is so true, especially in ministry. "Live for God," and not just for "ministry" I tell all of the interns who come to our church.

To whom do you long for approval from today?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Process is important

I have been a goal setter all of my adult life. I believe in setting goals. I believe in keeping a focus on the end result. In church life we often focus in on numbers. Numbers in relationship to attendance and/or offerings.

Yet, as I grow older (I sound like an old grandpa now)I have begun to realize that paying attention to the process is just as important as keeping my eye on the destination.

Reminding myself of why I am for and my purpose is important. Goal-setting has its place.

But here's what I am learning....ultimately I can't control the end result.

Goals tend to move here and there and have a way of being missed.

I can't control the end result, but I can control the process. I can control the steps I take to reach my goals.

It’s this way in all aspects of life. A salesman can’t control his income, but he can control how many calls he makes, and how well he knows his presentation.

An athlete can’t control the final score, but he can control how he gets ready for the game and how hard he plays.

Parents can’t control the decisions their grown children make, but they can control the amount of time, love, patience and forgiveness they pour into their children’s lives.

And we can’t control the results of our ministry. But we can control what we put into it—the amount of time, the type of effort, the quality of work. This needs to be our focus, not a number or an amount or an accolade.

Theologian Henri Nouwen once said (and this is just a great statement), "We cannot make it rain, but we can see to it that the rain falls on prepared soil."

Our job is to get the soil ready for the rain of God’s blessings. The rest is up to him.

Paul said to Timothy, "If you keep yourself pure, you will be a utensil God can use for his purpose. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work." (2 Timothy 2:21)

As the song says, "May all who come behind us find us faithful."

Monday, September 25, 2006

The fine art of blowing it

Last Saturday, Debbie and I drove up to East Lansing to watch the MSU Spartans play football with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

We arrived a little early and tailgated with some friends (if you call eating sushi and sandwiches from Zucca's tailgating). It was fun.

From the gitgo it was all Spartans. Stanton looked sharp, Notre Dame a step slow. Debbie and left about the middle of the third quarter with MSU up 37-21. We walked out of the stadium in a driving rainstorm.

I thought for sure that MSU would go home the victor. Instead they ended up being the victim.

Driving home, I listened in dismay as they lost the game. They blew it.

Blew it big time.

Whether they will recover or not this year remains to be seen.

It disappoints me when others blow it, but it disappoints me even more when I blow it. And we all do.

Mistakes happen, we inevitably do the wrong thing, usually with the best of motives.

So here's the question (let me know what you think).

Why is it that we are so surprised when we see someone blow it and so devastated when it occurs in our own lives?

While I look forward to hearing your answers, perhaps one lesson that we all might learn is that at the end of the day we need to realize that no one is perfect, no one gets it right all of the time, everyone makes mistakes.

So ease off today. Ease off on others...and ease off on yourself.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pursuing purity

Watching sports is a hobby of mine.

One of my favorite players to watch in past years, was A.C. Green, who played basketball with the Los Angeles Lakers.

What made A.C. Green unique was that he lived a life of abstinence and purity his entire time in the NBA.

A. C. Green's faith and moral stand has been no secret to his teammates.

"They respected me and were curious about how I [remain abstinent]. They asked me privately or threw questions at me in the locker room."

In Sports Illustrated, columnist Rick Reilly dubbed Green "The NBA Player Who Has Never Scored." Green admits that he's not immune from sexual temptation. But he maintains his integrity with the help of friends in Champions for Christ and others who keep him accountable and focused on his godly commitment.

"They keep me in line so much that I'm sure there have been temptations waiting around the corner that thankfully I've never known about."

As Green told Reilly, "I promised God this, and I'm not going to break it. I love myself and my future wife too much to just waste it."

His actions don't go unnoticed. One season a teammate by the name of Anthony Mason, who had off-court troubles, began to pay attention to Green's spiritual leadership more. In the Miami Herald last January, Mason said, "You would think of Green as a goody-two-shoes, but to see [his convictions] up close, you realize that's the way you're supposed to live."

Green has had the thrill of leading a teammate to Christ, but more often he has helped them work through specific issues in their lives. And, even in retirement, he’s always available to pray.

There is power in personal purity.

Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:22, “Keep yourself pure.”

“Keep yourself.” In other words, it is something that I do. I am to keep myself pure. I am to keep myself clean, uncontaminated, without corruption in the messy world we live in.

What is a pure heart? Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “It is a condition whereby a man’s heart is not ruled by his conscience, but by the revealed will of God.”

I agree with that. For your conscience and my conscience can fall into the trap of cultural and environmental conditions. I’ve heard some say, “I don’t feel it’s wrong. I have a peace about it. My conscience is clear on the matter.” All of that shows the fickle and unreliable qualities of the conscience when left to itself.

The Psalms writes, “How can a young man keep his ways pure?” And then he gives the answer, “by guarding it according to your word.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” To “see” God is to “know God.” To “know” God is to be pure before Him.

Do you desire to know God? I do. Jesus says, “Be pure.” “Paul writes, “Keep yourself pure.”

How can you do that this day?

Confess your sin the day it happens. Don’t wait. Come before God immediately with a heart of repentance.

Confess your sin with a contrite heart. Someone once said, “The plant of purity is always watered with tears of repentance.”

Do everything within your power to live a godly life today.

Stay away from tempting places and people.

Let the Holy Spirit work in you.

You can keep yourself pure today!

Devotional Prayer: Father, I desire to be pure this day. Guard my mind, my heart and my spirit from the temptations of the enemy. Help me to be pure before you. Amen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Can you hear me now?

There is a commercial on television for cell phone service with the punch line, “can you hear me now?”

And then there is that frustrated parent who cries out to her child, “Are you listening to me?”

Jesus basically asked that same question in our scripture reading today. He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Are you listening to me? Are you being obedient?

Jesus often communicated spiritual truth through parables which are short stories or descriptions that take a familiar object or situation and give it a startling new twist.

One time a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town and he told the story about a farmer who went out to plant his crops. As he was scattering seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.

What do you mean Jesus?

Some days we read God’s Word, but temptation and the attacks from the enemy take away the Word from our hearts. We are frustrated.

Other days find us receiving the Word with joy when we hear it, but because we are not grounded in the faith, we believe for a while, but by the end of the day we have fallen away. We are heartbroken.

Furthermore, we find ourselves on any given day hearing God’s Word, but as we go on our way it is choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures. We are distracted.

But then there are those days when everything clicks. We read God’s Word, it sinks in and we grow in God. We are growing.

Where is your heart today? Are you listening to God and letting his Word take root in your life? Are you open to hearing what He is saying today?

Hearing and applying God’s Word is a choice. Let’s choose this day to listen.

Devotional prayer: Father, help me to listen to your Word today and apply it to my life. I long to grow in my walk with you. Amen.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Focusing in on God

One of the things I am trying to learn is to have moments of solitude with God, even in the midst of the busyness of my day.

How can we stay in solitude when we are constantly being tugged and distracted by people and events?

One way is to focus on a word that describes God or a concept of God.

For instance, you are going through a stressful day, why not focus on the attritute of God that is given to him in the wonderful Psalms 23, "The Lord is my Shepherd." Or if you need healing, focus on the fact that he is, "The Lord who is my healer."

Or take one verse from scripture and let that seep into your mind and spirit throughout the day.

"Cast all your cares and anxieties upon him, for he cares for you." First Peter 5:7.

Cast or throw

All the things that are causing stress in my life today

Cast or throw them in God's lap

Why? Because he cares for me...He cares for you.

God cares for me. Now there's a thought to mediate on today.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Stepping over our wounds

We all go through periods of anger, rejection or jealousy from time to time. There is a real temptation to become "stuck" in those negative emotions, hanging on to them for dear life.

When we do, we become the "offended one," the "forgotten one," or the "discarded one."

Sometimes we even begin to take a little bit of morbid pleasure in them. It becomes part of our identity. Who we are. "Oh, you know so-and-do, they have been offended," describing them like we would describe someone who is Irish are Italian. It becomes who they are.

How are people describing you today? "Oh, you know (and fill in the blank with your name), they are (and fill in the blank).

Let me give us all a suggestion today. Why not take a good look at all of the dark feelings that we have, step over them, leave them behind and go on?

Just a thought......

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The little things

Have you ever gotten upset over sitting in traffic? Missing an appointment? Being late for dinner engagement?

While frustrating, maybe, just maybe God's a part of that.

Maybe, just maybe, God is in the "little" things of our lives.

I read this yesterday:

The head of a company survived 9/11 because his son started kindergarten.

Another fellows was alive because it was his turn to bring donuts.

One woman was late because her alarm clock didn't go off in time.

One was late because of being stuck on the New Jersey Turnpike because of an auto accident.

One of them missed his buss.

One spilled food on her clothes and had to take time to change.

One's car wouldn't start.

One went back to answer the telephone.

One had a child that dawdled and didn't get ready as soon as he should have.

One couldn't get a taxi.

One man put on a new pair of shoes that morning, took the various means to get to work, but before he got there, he developed a blister on his foot. He stopped at a drugstore to buy a bandaid and that's why he is alive today.

So, maybe, just maybe, the next time you are stuck in traffic, or miss an elevator, or turn back to answer a ringing telephone and all of the other little things that annoy you, think to yourself, that maybe, just maybe, that is exactly where God wants you to be at that very moment.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time your morning seems to be going wrong and the kids are slow in getting dressed, and you can't seem to find the car keys, and you hit every traffic light, don't get mad or frustrated. For maybe, just maybe God is at work watching over you.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Fear in a frantic world

Fear has been said to be:

F alse
E vidence
A ppearing
R eal.

Some people deal with irrational fears. There is Porphyrophobia or the fear of the color purple.

There is chactophobia or the fear of hairy people.

There is chronetophobia or the fear of money (I don’t know many people with this fear).

There is even homilphobia or the fear of sermons (I know a lot of people with this fear)!

God does not want us living under irrational fears like that.

Others have more natural and rational type fears of:

Financial disaster
Hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes

Terror is a word that is heard a lot in the news these days – we hear about the terrorist bombings in the Middle East and all the upheaval that is going on there.

Our lives here in the United States have been significantly affected by the events of September 11, 2001. America is at war and the enemy is terror!

God has been at war with terror for a very long time. Terror is not new. The Bible says that our adversary, the Devil, “goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”

A lion roars to terrorize a herd and get them into confusion and on the run. Then he devours the weak stragglers. Terror is a terrible weapon.

Another word for terror is fear.

2 Tim 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Fear has many faces – sometimes it comes with a horrific, paralyzing shock. But more often it appears in more subtle forms like worry or excessive stress or an underlying sense of anxiety and dread.

Do you look into the future with hope and optimism? Or is there a subtle dread of what may happen next? Not just in the world as a whole– but in your individual life -- Are you being robbed of the joy in the present because of fear of tomorrow? Do worries and anxieties drain our strength and steal your peace?

It’s fear that carries with it an unhealthy element of torment --that makes life more stressful than it ought to be. There is a healthy, rational kind of fear that causes us to jump out of the way of a speeding truck and stay alive. But there are many fears that have a terribly negative influence on our quality of life and upon our effectiveness in life.

What can overcome your fears today?

Realize that God can give you the strength you need this day to overcome your fears. David said in Psalms 34:4, “I sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears.”

Relax in God’s unconditional love. First John 4:18 tells us, “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

God loves you and I unconditionally! He has promised to watch over us and take care of us! Nothing is beyond his care. No situation is beyond His ability to reach out and give us his peace.

Rethink the situation. Get the proper perspective. The real foundation or tormenting fear is wrong thinking. When we are thinking right, we are keeping our focus on God and not our situation.

The opposite of fear is faith. Life is to be approached from a faith stance and not a fear stance. Corrie Ten Boom used to say that faith is:

F antastic
A dventure
I n
T rusting
H im.

Let’s trust God today with that situation we are in. And see Him do great and mighty things.

Devotional Prayer: Father, I ask that you would help me overcome my fears this day. I fear (you fill in the blank) _________. Help me to realize your power, relax in your love and rethink what is really happening. In your name I pray, Amen.

Monday, September 11, 2006

where were you on 911

I think I'm like everyone else when I say that I can't believe that it's been five years since 911. It obviously has changed so much in our country and the world in general.

Where was I on September 11, 2001? At our church - First Assembly of God in Battle Creek, Michigan. After hearing the news, we all stood the nursery of our church where there was a television hooked up to cable at that time.

It was overwhelming. The evidences of the cycle of grief went through all of us, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. For some it has taken a long time to get to the acceptance stage and I would suspect that many haven't reached the point of acceptance at all.

Churches were filled in the following Sundays. Life become more focused on God. Spirituality and prayer become the norm rather than the exception.

Out of all of it, to be vulnerable, what really bothered me the most, were the pictures of people jumping out of the world trade center buildings. I cannot imagine, nor do I feel that any kind of media can fully capture what must have been going on through the minds of those faced with the decision that day - how am I going to die? Some chose to die by leaping from the building itself.

I trust and pray that no one reading this blog will ever be faced with that decision. How am I going to die?

The ultimate question (and I don't want to take away from the reality, seriousness or emotion of the first question) is were am I going when I die?

Where am I going to spend eternity?

The time to answer that question is not when I am in a crisis situation with nothing on my mind but survival - but today, when I am thinking clearly and mulling over the options in front of me.

I have chosen to spend eternity with God. While I have moments, windows if you will, brief segments where I actually fear dying, what I really fear more than anything is the process of dying itself.

Yet God can deal and does deal with that fear as well.

911 changed us all. For several months afterward it was all I could do to deal with all of the smallness and pettiness I sometimes deal with as a pastor. I would think to myself, "you're upset about that?" "You're ungrateful about that?"

Yet the dailyness of life has settled back on us all.

Futures are being prayed over, plans are being made, life goes on. That might be the hardest part of all for all of us in America. Reaching that point where we go on.

Anyway, just some random thoughts. Where were you on 911?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Jesus and simple

Let me give you some thoughts from the book, "The Simple Church," by Thom Rainer.

If anyone knows simple, it is Jesus.

If anyone is a revolutionary, it is Jesus. I don't think in our modern 21st century world, we realize our radical Jesus was and is.

Jesus is the original simple revolutionary. He stepped into a complicated and polluted religious scene. It was cluttered with Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, Zealots, and Essenes.

Jesus didn't play by their rules.

He couldn't stand their hypocrisy. He preferred spending times with tax collectors and sinners.

He took the complex and made it simple.

In one scene in the New Testament, a guy walks up to Jesus, actually a Pharisee, a lawyer, and asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment in the Law.

Of all the 613 commandments, he is asking Jesus for the greatest. Jesus basically says, "love God and love people."

Think about that for a moment. Jesus sums up the 613 commandments in the religious system of that day with one phrase. He takes the complexity and the advancement of the law and makes is very simple.

He says, "my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Most of our churches have become cluttered that people have a difficult time encountering the simple and powerful message of Christ. So cluttered that many people are busy doing church instead of being church.

The clutter can often make things look ok, even good. But busyness can be a great disguise for the lack of life. Complexity can be a cover-up.

Here's something that we must continually ask ourselves - is what we do promoting change in the lives of our church family? Or are we simply busy?

Now, please don't think that this is an excuse to bail on what you are doing in the church. But simply a plea to all of us to evaluate what we are doing, and slowly weaning ourselves off of what is cluttering up our church family life.

Perhaps it would help if we would evaluate our church family, not simply by the numbers on Sunday morning, or the love God stage (worship service), but by the love others stage (small groups) and the serve the world stage (ministry teams).

My goal is that we continue to grow in all three areas. How many are involved in small groups? How many are involved in some type of ministry in our community? Anyone can come and sit in the big room on a Sunday morning.

More on this next week.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Simple church

Old habits die hard. I am finding that out once again.

This time of year is traditionally the time when church life becomes alive once again. The kids are back into school, vacations are over, routines are reestablished. For a pastor, it's a great time of year. Everyone is refocusing on work, school and the church.

Once again, we are offering a maze of activities, from golf tournaments to dinners and car rallies (all of it great stuff). It's so easy to get busy "doing" things that we forget that God is calling us to "be" the church as well. To be a "simple" church. That's where the old habits come in.

Albert Einstein has written, "out of complexity, find simplicity."

Thom Rainer writes, "...People are hungry for simple because the world has become much more complex. The amount of information accessible to us is continually increasing. The ability to interact with the entire world is now possible. Technology is consistently advancing at a rapid pace. The result is a complicated world with complex and busy lives. And, in the midst of complexity, people want to find simplicity. They long for it, seek it, pay for it, even dream of it. Simple is in. Simple works. People respond to simple."

Simple church is not a change in doctrine or conviction.

Simple church is not trying to become simple because it is in style or culturally hip.

Simple church is not just a pragmatic approach.

Simple church is not lazy church.

Simple church is doing what God calls us to do. Worship Him, connect with one another, be discipled, and reach the world.

A full calendar is not a sign that we are in the process that God wants us to be in.

Like I said, old habits die hard......

More on this tomorrow....

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Random thoughts

Random thoughts...

Skydiving was great! I made it! It was interesting, I was nervous, although not overtly so, until we got up in the plane and jumped! It all happened so fast. We are putting the whole experience on our church website for everyone to see ( - it will be up by tomorrow).

There are plenty of spiritual applications from the jump. Trust and faith. I had to put my complete faith and trust in "Matt" who was "literally on my back" when we jumped (I jumped in tandem with him). Matt did everything, I simply went along for the ride.

If only we could trust God in that way. Relaxed in Him. Knowing that He's in control and if we would only let him take control - it would be a fun ride.

Another lesson is risk. I could not of had the thrill of free falling 120 miles in the air if I did not take the risk. If I did not venture out to walk through the experience. How many times have we missed what God has for us because we were afraid to risk? We can get so comfortable can't we.

Being comfortable breeds apathy and apathy breeds laziness and laziness breeds complacency and complacency breeds...Well....Being boring!

One more lesson, amongst many. Confidence. I walked away with a wonderful feeling of confidence after having experienced jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. A feeling that nothing is impossible, that as long as I step out of my comfort zone the sky's the limit!

What is God calling you to risk today? I challenge you to step out! And you will never regret it.