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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The point of the church - part deux

Sometimes as I am speaking I just want to stop and reach out to those in our church family who I know are hurting. There are so many who are dealing with so many different trials and tribulations. The suffering is there.

While I desire to impart biblical information (to go "deep into God's Word" as some put it), my primary focus is to give everyone something they can use to walk through another week. Another week full of ups and downs, victories and defeats.

That's one point of the church. We have the opportunity to hear a teaching that will encourage us and prompt us to go on - to keep on living the Christian faith, to keep on sharing our Christian experience.

But it's even more than that. It's an opportunity to receive from others and to reach out to others.

When I walk through the doors of the Stone Church, my question to myself is this, "whom can I reach out to and minister to today?"

In Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness, Kathryn Greene-McCreight describes her tortured journey through ten years of extreme depression and bipolar disorder. Concerning the importance of Christian fellowship while in recovery, she writes:

"This is why it is so important to worship in community—to ask your brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for you … Sometimes you literally cannot make it on your own, and you need to borrow from the faith of those around you. Sometimes I cannot even recite the Creed unless I am doing it in the context of worship, along with all the body of Christ …When reciting the Creed, I borrow from the recitation of others. Companionship in the Lord Jesus is powerful."

We really do need each other. The church is a community of imperfect people looking to a perfect God for answers, solutions and help in life.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Church - what's the point?

This Sunday I am beginning a three part series on the church entitled, "Church unplugged."

Three parts:

Church - what's the point?
Church - what's the plan?
church - what's the passion?

What do you think about church. What's the point of church for you?

I would be interested as I prepare my message this Sunday (I will not quote you - only use what you say as a resource).

Stephen King, who writes all kinds of horror and mystery books has recently said, "I'm not a vampire type, when somebody shows me the cross....But organized religion gives me the creeps."

To be candid with you, organized religion can give me the creeps too, if by organized religion we mean ritualism and pomp and circumstance without any life or community between God and people vertically and people to people horizontally.

That is not church to me.

What is the point of church to you?

Monday, February 25, 2008


I was reading of a man who was such a perfectionist he kept a newspaper underneath his cuckoo clock.

Are you are perfectionist? Do you expect everything to be "perfect?"

Let me ask you several questions to see if this is you.

Do you ever feel guilty when you relax, knowing you've got a lot to do?
Do you often feel dissatisfied or discontent with yourself or your situation?
Do you have a tendency to see something wrong with things rather than what's right?

Do you ever find yourself using these phrases regularly, "I have to...I must...I ought to...I should be able to...."

Do you ever feel frustrated or maybe even angry at God, feeling that His expectations on you are unreasonable?

Does your relationship to God seem like a burden rather than a blessing?

Perfectionism can wash over into our live in the church if we are not careful. Nothing can kill a church faster than perfectionism.

Perfectionism can cause us to lose our joy.

God wants us to be holy.
God desires that we be righteous.

But you can take any virtue and make a vise out of it by taking it to an extreme.

Perfectionism can cause us to lose close relationships.

Nobody likes to be around someone who is always correcting them or nagging at them to "get something right."

Nobody likes to be "straightened out all the time."

Perfectionists tend to be that way because they are hard on themselves and don't like themselves. If they can't feel good about themselves, than they certainly don't want you to feel good about yourself.

People in our churches can expect ministry leaders to be perfect. And when they aren’t – they get angry.

Ministry leaders of church can expect people to be perfect. And when they don’t – they get frustrated and angry.

Perfectionism causes us to lose our motivation to do kingdom work. We can get into this, "If I can't do it perfectly, than I am not going to do it at all."

Nobody is perfect. Sometimes we are harder on others and ourselves than God is.

One thought is this: Let's lower the expectation levels we have of each other and of the body of Christ. The Bible says, "Nothing is perfect except God's Word." (Psalms 119:96)

God says, "It's okay not to be perfect."

That doesn't mean that I'm not to strive for holiness and growth in my walk with God. It's not a license to continue in our sin or being a jerk the rest of our lives.

But it means that we all walk by grace. Everyone is doing the best they can.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What would you do if you only had a short time to live?

In the 2007 film The Bucket List, two terminally ill men—played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman—take a road trip to do the things they always said they would do before they "kicked the bucket."

It has an interesting theme. What would you do if you only had so much time to live? Skydive? Travel the world? Drive a race car? Eat at the best restaurants in Europe? Spend time with family? Pray? Do something for God?

In anticipation of the film's release, Nicholson was interviewed for an article in Parade magazine.

While reflecting on his personal life, Nicholson said:

"I used to live so freely. The mantra for my generation was "Be your own man!" I always said, "Hey, you can have whatever rules you want—I'm going to have mine. I'll accept the guilt. I'll pay the check. I'll do the time." I chose my own way. That was my philosophical position well into my 50s. As I've gotten older, I've had to adjust."

But reality has a way of getting the attention of even a Jack Nicholson. Later in the interview, Nicholson adds:

"We all want to go on forever, don't we? We fear the unknown. Everybody goes to that wall, yet nobody knows what's on the other side. That's why we fear death."

As a Christian, I don't fear death. I don't long for it - but I don't fear it. I have faith and hope that what happens after I die will be an eternity in the presence of God.

I believe it's important to meditate on this from time to time, for the way we think about life after death influences what we believe about life before death.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How wealthy should we be as Christians?

There is nothing wrong with having money. Money is not wrong. 1 Timothy 6:10 tells us that it is the "love of money that is the root of all evil."

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy. Abraham was wealthy. David. Job. Solomon. Barnabas.

Most everyone who is reading this blog is wealthy by the world's standards. If you have more than one change of clothes, you're wealthy. If you own a home, you're in the top 5% of the world.

I don't write this to lay a bunch of guilt on us, but only to be aware of the fact that God has blessed us. We are to be grateful for what we do have.

Materialism can really sneak up on us if we are not careful.

I read a story this week about a young man who was driving his BMW around a curve when he realized the car was out of control and about to plummet over a cliff. The young man jumped out, but his left arm was severed from his body. He stood there looking down at his burning BMW and said, "Oh, no! My car! My car!"

A man, who had stopped to help, said, "Mister, you have just lost your left arm, and you're crying about your car?"

The young man looked down and said, "Oh no, my Rolex watch!"

That's materialism. Materialism is when I am discontent with what I have and will remain so until I receive more.

Don't you think that too many people use debt to give what only God can give which is peace, joy and tranquility?

Let me give you this question for discussion:

Some Christians insist that it is an overt sin for North American believers to drive expensive foreign cars when people (and especially fellow Christians) around the world are starving to death. Other look unfavorably on Western Christians who live in luxurious homes or who take extravagant vacations. Are these advocates of frugal living correct? Why or why not?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

demonic bondage and our sinful flesh

We sometimes struggle with our battle against the evil forces of the enemy in America. Sometimes we don't go far enough in recognizing the strength of the demonic and their desired influenced in our lives. Other times we go too far, attributing everything negative in our lives to the work of Satan and his minions.

In the New Testament the word demon meant "evil spirit."

Their sole purpose is to destroy you and me as believers in Christ.

They will attack us mentally, spiritually and physically.

Not all physical illness or mental challenges come from the enemy. However, many times they do cross over to the extent that they impact us in all three ways (body, soul and spirit) in a powerful way.

Here's what I want us to understand:

Evil spirits only have access to the human personality (that is, demonic bondage) through an element of sinful consent, if not deliberate choice of succession of choices, by individuals who will be held responsible for their actions.

I would reject the idea that evil spirits can arbitrarily control or oppress people at their own will. That is inconsistent with scripture in that it takes from people the responsibility for their sins.

Demonic bondage occurs when people make a choice to submit in an ongoing way to the will of the demon luring or leading them into sin.

This is not usually the result of a single instance of failure in a Christian's walk, but it is the result of a person’s walking in that sin - pursuing it in the flesh - for a season of time.

What the enemy does is to "pile on" to our dips into the flesh like a football tackler who piles on the running back to ensure that he is stopped.

Just some thoughts….

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Can we ever retire from God?

One of my desires is to keep on ministering for as long as I can. I love ministry. I love what I do. That's not to say that what I do is easy, but there is a passion in my heart to shepherd and lead a group of people in a local church.

Did you know that the idea of retirement is not in the Bible? Now please don't jump to any conclusions. Retirement is not wrong. Leaving and job and moving to Florida or Arizona is not wrong.

But here's what I know. We can never (or perhaps I should say - should never)retire from serving God in ministry. What is ministry? Ministry is an act of service given in the name of Jesus.

Our lives should be based around eternal goals. Ministry to and for people that will have long term positive consequences.

Moses - 80 when he lead the people of Isreal out of Egypt.
Joshua - around 80 when he lead the people of Isreal into the land of Canaan.

I was reading this week of retired pastor Sam Duree, age 77, who could be enjoying his golden years in an easy chair. However, instead of just letting the days fly by, Duree is building birdhouses to support a Moscow seminary.

Duree spends four hours a day planning, sawing, sanding, drilling, gluing, and nailing cedar fence pickets in a workshop in his garage. He then hits the road with 35 different kinds of birdhouses, selling them at festivals and craft shows. Over the past six years, Duree estimates he has built about 3,000 birdhouses, raising $85,000 for Russia United Theological Seminary. Duree saw the need for the Moscow seminary during 14 mission trips to Russia and Siberia.

"We have to realize we're part of a global community, and we have a global ministry," Duree says. "I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to do. The good Lord has plans for us, and I'm doing what I can to carry them out."

Wow...I like that. Family is important. Our jobs are important. Staying healthy is important. But let's not forget that our lives are all about God, not about us.

We are on this planet to do something positive for Him.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ignoring criticism

What do you do when someone criticizes you?

I think we all struggle with criticism. It's tough, no matter how much we say it doesn't bother us.

We'll all be criticized. You will be criticized no matter what you do. We just need to learn how to deal with it.

Samuel Goldwyn, founder of MGM Studios, gave his people the following advice: "Don't pay any attention to the critics. Don't even ignore them!"

While there is a grain of truth in all criticism, and we can learn from some criticism, sometimes that can be good advice.

A good example of enduring criticism can be seen in David. You remember when the Philistine Goliath stood before the Israelite army, defying them day after day to defeat him in battle. No one believed he could be conquered; the Bible says that King Saul and the Israelites were "dismayed and shaken."

But David, a red-headed, ruddy-looking teenager got the idea that he, by God's power, could slay this giant.

When he began talking about it, his brother Eliab spoke with burning anger: "Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle." (1 Samuel 17:28)

David's brother epitomizes the nature of critics. Here's how:

He was obsessed with the trivial. David was about to win a mighty battle for the glory of God, but Eliab was more concerned with the sheep. Critics usually focus on the little picture, not the big picture.

He made it personal. Eliab called David "conceited and wicked." This reveals the difference between criticism and advice. An advisor helps you evaluate your options and rethink your strategy. A critic just attacks your motives and condemns your character. As the poet Ezra Pound said "You can spot a bad critic when he starts by the discussing the poet and not the poem."

He underestimated David's intentions. He said, "You came down here to watch the battle." No, David came to win the battle. He came to save the day. He was willing to do what Eliab and the rest of the army weren't: he was ready to risk his life for the opportunity to do something great for the glory of God. Eliab didn't get that.

So what was David's response? He simply said, "Now what have I done? Can't I even speak?"

And here's the part to notice...

"He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter." (1 Samuel 17:29-30)

David didn't get into a debate with his big brother about the purity of his motives or the extent of his vision. He didn't even bother to explain what type of arrangements he made for the sheep. He just turned away from his critical brother and talked to someone else.

The best response to criticism is to ignore it, to turn away from it, and to keep thinking about how you can do what God has called you to do.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Power under control

At 3:30 p.m. on June 6, 2007, a 21-year-old man with muscular dystrophy named Ben Carpenter drove his electric-powered wheelchair down the sidewalk in Paw Paw, Michigan. As he approached the street crossing at the corner of Red Arrow Highway at Hazen Street, a semi truck came to a halt at the stoplight. Ben began to cross the street from the north to the south in his wheelchair just a few feet in front of the towering truck.

When the light turned green, somehow the 52-year-old driver of the truck did not see Ben in his wheelchair. With Ben still in front of the truck, the engine roared to life, and the mammoth vehicle pulled forward. When the truck struck Ben's wheelchair, the wheelchair turned, now facing forward, and the handles in the back of the wheelchair became wedged in the truck's grille. The wheelchair kept rolling, though, and Ben, wearing a seatbelt, was held in his chair. The truck driver was still oblivious to the fact that he had hit the wheelchair. The truck picked up speed, soon reaching 50 mph. Still the wheelchair and Ben were pinned dangerously on the front.

While the driver continued along in his own little world of the truck cab, people along the road saw what was happening. Everyone seemed to see the drama unfolding but the driver. Frantic observers called 911. People waved their arms and tried to get the driver's attention. Two off-duty policemen saw what was happening and began to pursue the truck. On drove the trucker. On the road behind the truck were two new parallel lines that marked where the wheelchairs' rubber wheels were being worn off. Finally, after two terrifying miles, the driver pulled into a trucking company parking lot, still clueless to the presence of Ben Carpenter pinned to the front of his truck. Thankfully, Ben was unharmed.

Craig Brian Larson writes, "The frightening picture of a many-ton truck pushing a small wheelchair can serve as a metaphor for some relationships we have in life. Just as a truck driver is in a big and powerful position and a person in a wheelchair is in a vulnerable position, so some people have powerful positions in life and others have vulnerable places. To varying degrees, powerful people have control; vulnerable people are controlled by others.

For example, parents have power, husbands have power, as do employers, leaders, pastors, denominational officials, and government officials. By contrast, those who are small or weak are often vulnerable, as are the sick, the poor, the young, the elderly, the debtors, the uneducated.

Power is not wrong; in fact, God gives people power and authority to use for the good of others. When God gives people power, he commands them to use it carefully and responsibly. Many powerful people are careful with their power. Others, tragically, resemble this truck driver flying down the highway with a vulnerable person pinned to the grille of their 18-wheeler."

May we use our power wisely.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mercy and Judgment

On my way to work this morning, I heard a news report that a fundamentalist church out of Kansas is going to picket two of the funerals of the Lane Bryant Shooting victims. It has been surmised that they are going to protest because Lane Bryant sells clothes to transvestites and homosexuals.

This is the same group that pickets the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq under the opinion that the War in Iraq is judgment for the practice of homosexuality in America today.

Their website address?

I find the whole thing incredibly wrong. Abusive. A misrepresentation of a God who loves and cares for people as a whole.

We live in an incredibly and increasingly insane world.

Tragedy strikes. Women are killed, massacred, murdered. And “Christians” from another state, who don’t feel our pain or shock, come in and pile on to the hurt and woundedness of everyone involved, especially the families.

This is wrong. Someone needs to say it.

Our God hates sin. He does not hate people. He hates sin because it separates people from a full relationship with Him.

But to picket a funeral of hurting families under the guise that “sin is being attacked” is ludicrous.

My prayer is that those who are protesting will be turned around by God’s grace and realize that more is conquered through love and mercy than through hate and judgment.

Just some thoughts.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


From the show, "Cheers" to "Friends" to other ensemble shows on T.V., our culture and society honors and relishes friendship.

I reconnected with a friend from junior high and high school today. It was fun to catch up on all that has been going on in our lives over the years. We both have adult children, moving on with our chosen career paths, and look forward to seeing one another with our wives in a few weeks.

Friendship. Relationship. So very important. As I grow older, I realize more and more that they, outside of my relationship with Christ and my family are what's important in life. People. Connection. Sharing. Laughing. Crying.

A study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, released in June of 2006, revealed that Americans have less people they can confide in than past generations.

In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them. In 2004, that number dropped to two.

Perhaps even more striking, the number of Americans with no close friends rose from 10 percent in 1985 to 24.6 percent in 2004.

Do you have any close friends?

Let ask you the question this way: If you were to die today, how many people (true friends) would your spouse or friend or partner be able to find to carry your casket?

Think about it for a moment.

It's an interesting question isn't it. Name them out loud. Write them down.

A good baramoter of this is this: How many people have you had over for dinner lately?

We all need close friends. How do I get close friendships? By being a friend. By reaching out. By going out of my comfort zone and meeting new people. By being concerned about the needs of others.

A recent USA Today article portrayed vividly the courage of true friendship:

Anne Hjelle and Debbie Nichols were friends who were mountain biking on a wilderness trail near Mission Viejo, California, when a 110-pound mountain lion sprang from the brush, pounced on Anne's back, and dragged her off by the head.

Nichols screamed for help and grabbed Hjelle's legs, trying to free her and engaging in a desperate tug of war with the cat while other cyclists threw rocks at the cat until it fled.

Jacke Van Woerkom said she was riding behind Hjelle and Nichols and later spoke to Nichols at the hospital.

"She had some blood on her face. She definitely showed signs of a major struggle," Van Woerkom said. "She was shaking, trembling. She said, 'I was not going to let go. I was not going to let go.'"

Nichols described the tenacity of the cat, saying, "This guy [the cat] would not let go. He had a hold of her face…"

But the tenacity of the cat, was overcome by the faithfulness of a friend. She continued, "I just told her, 'I'm never letting go.'"

Now that's a friend. With friends like that - it doesn't matter what kind of enemy you have.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Boasting before the battle

I found it interesting that the Patriots were so confident that they would win last night that several of their players invited several of the GIANTS players to an after party win, celebrating their future 19-0 win.

Alas, it was not to be.

This morning I thought of an interesting story in 1 Kings 20. Read with me starting in verse 1.

1 Now Ben-Hadad king of Aram mustered his entire army. Accompanied by thirty-two kings with their horses and chariots, he went up and besieged Samaria and attacked it.

2 He sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel, saying, "This is what Ben-Hadad says:

3 'Your silver and gold are mine, and the best of your wives and children are mine.' "

4 The king of Israel answered, "Just as you say, my lord the king. I and all I have are yours."

5 The messengers came again and said, "This is what Ben-Hadad says: 'I sent to demand your silver and gold, your wives and your children. 6 But about this time tomorrow I am going to send my officials to search your palace and the houses of your officials. They will seize everything you value and carry it away.' "

7 The king of Israel summoned all the elders of the land and said to them, "See how this man is looking for trouble! When he sent for my wives and my children, my silver and my gold, I did not refuse him."

8 The elders and the people all answered, "Don't listen to him or agree to his demands."

9 So he replied to Ben-Hadad's messengers, "Tell my lord the king, 'Your servant will do all you demanded the first time, but this demand I cannot meet.' " They left and took the answer back to Ben-Hadad.

10 Then Ben-Hadad sent another message to Ahab: "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if enough dust remains in Samaria to give each of my men a handful."

And then there is this great verse:

11 The king of Israel answered, "Tell him: 'One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.' "

12 Ben-Hadad heard this message while he and the kings were drinking in their tents, [a] and he ordered his men: "Prepare to attack." So they prepared to attack the city.

Ahab and his army overwhelmed the armies of Ben-Hadah and defeated them, causing Ben-Hadah and his armies to flee.

"One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off."

Kind of reminds me of what happened last night.

I don't hear any Patriots boasting now.

While Eli Manning did lead his team on that game winning drive, the MVP, in my opinion, should have gone to the Giants defensive front seven. The contained (and in some cases put Brady flat on his back) Brady and were part of the cause that he was off all night.

I also think that the Giants wanted it more.

Lesson? Boasting always gets us in trouble - especially before the battle has been fought.