Friday, December 17, 2010


You may think by the title that I am about to share some deep, theological premise on how we are held hostage to the commercialism of Christmas. Sorry to disappoint you. I came across this story and decided to share it. The objective is to bring a smile to your face.

It was coming up to Christmas and Sammy asked his mother if he could have a new bike. She told him that the best idea would be to write to Santa Claus. But Sam, having just played a vital role in the school nativity play, said he would prefer to write to the baby Jesus. So his mother told him that would be fine.

Sam went to his room and wrote, 'Dear Jesus, I have been a very good boy and would like to have a bike for Christmas.' But he wasn't very happy when he read it over. So he decided to try again and this time he wrote:'Dear Jesus, I'm a good boy most of the time and would like a bike for Christmas.'

He read it back and wasn't happy with that one either. He tried a third version: 'Dear Jesus, I could be a good boy if I tried hard and especially if I had a new bike.' He read that one too, but he still wasn't satisfied. So, he decided to go out for a walk while he thought about a better approach. After a short time he passed a house with a small statue of the Virgin Mary in the front garden. He crept in, stuffed the statue under his coat, hurried home and hid it under the bed. Then he wrote this letter.

'Dear Jesus, If you want to see your mother again, you'd better send me a new bike.'

Christmas should be a time of smiles, hope, joy, and the telling of stories. The coming of Jesus to us is the greatest story ever told. What we do with that becomes our story. And that, too, should be a story we pass on to others.

Have a blessed and Merry Christmas that finds Christ at the center.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What's In a Word?

Every now and then you come across a new word that really pops. Recently, someone sent me one such word. It is "Magnanimity." It even looks like a cool word. And here's what it means:

Magnanimity: n. Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquility and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest, and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble purposes.

WOW! Now that's a powerful word. And the definition just jumps out and screams to me, "Is that you?" Uhmm, well...maybe not so much. I really don't consider my mind so great. That whole dignity of the soul thing really causes me to pause. Maybe I look at trouble and see opportunity, but tranquility and firmness? I realize more so in my older years that I really do seek something better than revenge. I do actually get giddy when I do something great for someone else. And I really do hate injustice in all its forms. And mean people...I don't have much time for. And oh how I am seeking a life that would more easily sacrifice what's best for me. And some day I pray that someone would reflect on my life and say I was a useful and noble person.

Let's be real here. None of us can really say we are there...yet. But that's the beauty of such words. They inpire us to be something more, something better, something bigger than ourselves. How crazy it is to think we could possibly become that kind of person on our own.

Philippians 1:65 says it so well, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion." Ahh, there it is. On those days when I get discouraged and feel kind of useless, I can be rest assured that God is simply at work in me and will get me to a place that only he can design. And that, my friends is one magnanimous thought.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Nearly every day you can turn on the television and see ugly, over-the-top, perverse, wicked and strange behavior. A new series coming out is about a hip-looking guy who fell in love (so far so good). But he kept falling in love, married, then married a bunch more times and is now in the process of welcoming his fifteenth child into the world and starring in his new show. And they call this "reality TV?"

Many would say that television execs might be to blame. But let's be clear, they only put on TV what we are willing to watch. Another way of saying this is a quote I read recently, "If there is darkness around us, the problem is not with the darkness, it's with the light." Profound.

To take this one step further, to be able to turn on the TV and see those who call themselves Christians behaving badly really grieves me. I have a little game I sometimes play. "It's called, "Turn the TV onto a Christian channel and see how long I can watch it before I get nauseated." Now don't get me wrong, there are some really great pastors, churches, and worship that are inspiring and well worth watching. But if I have to listen to one more televangelist cry into the camera and ask for my money so that I can get a double portion of blessing, I may have to get rid of my TV. Well, wait, that may be too harsh. Remember Jeff, the TV is not the problem.

And yet to watch a small-town preacher get a week's worth of international attention by saying he was going to have a good, old-fashioned Qu'ran burning, causes one to ask themselves, "Do I really want to be a Christian if that's what it's about?" I sit there and can only imagine what those considering the Christian faith must be thinking. But wait!

Brennan Manning, in his classic Ragamuffin Gospel says, "Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat denial of the gospel of grace."

You see, we are all incapable of getting it right. We all behave badly at times. That includes the TV evangelist, the local preacher, everyone else who darkens the door of the place we call church, and the guy writing this post. When we look at disgust at other Christians who don't act like us, we are, in a sense, saying, "I've got it, and you don't." And that, my friend, is a dangerous place to hang out.

Manning shares, "Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual, but for the wobbly and the weak-need who know they don't have it all together." The sooner we embrace that truth, the closer we will come to understanding grace.

Be blessed and be a blessing today.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Passages I've Never Heard Preached

I love when I experience or hear something that leaves me saying, "That will preach." On the other side of that coin, however, are those passages I come across in scripture that leave me saying, "I've never heard anyone preach that passage." Let's face it, there are some really odd passages that most pastors don't cuddle up to and say, "I've got to preach that."

Take 2 Kings 2:23-24 where it says, "From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town an jeered at him. 'Go on up you baldhead!' they said. 'Go on up you baldhead!' He turned around and looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youth."

Have you ever heard that preached? I must say, if the pastor was bald-headed, he may be more prone to preach it. It's also a nice discourse on the mob mentality of some youth and what can result from such unruly actions and attitudes.

And then there's Mark 14:51-52. "But the commander replied, 'Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall - who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine.'"

Say what??? Stop for a moment and see what kind of word picture comes to your mind. Yuk! Another passage that may hard to preach, wouldn't you say?

Then there is the passage that possibly motivated many a young high school or college student when it says, "A young man wearing nothing more than a linen garment was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind." (Mark 14:51-52) Is this the first documented case of streaking?

And finally there is the odd passage of Psalm 137:9. "...he who seizes your infant and dashes them against the rocks." What on earth are we supposed to do with that gem?

Where do these passages leave us? What can we possibly take away from them? Two things strike me here. First, we must be careful to ever say, "I know scripture and I've got God all figured out." I don't think that's possible. There is and should always be, in my mind and heart, a sort of holy mystery to scripture. There should always be a process where scripture is being revealed to us. When we think we have arrived, then darkness is soon to follow. That's why I love the term, "living Bible."

Secondly, we are sometimes guilty of grabbing onto a passage and sticking it in someone's face saying, "See, it's in the Bible!" We call that "taking it out of context." And usually when I see that it makes me sick. We are always wise when we ask, "What was going on here? Who are the characters? Is God or the writer speaking to believers or unbelievers? How does it fit into today's church and society?" If we took everything at face value as we take a passage out of scripture, women would be sitting in the back of the church and all have their heads covered.

As a pastor, I try to be clear as I preach and counsel that I don't know everything. I have even told people if they hear a pastor say he or she has it all figured out, "Run for the hills." God can and does use scripture to guide us in our lives. And as we seek to grow in our faith, we should always use caution, bath it in prayer, and seek the Holy Spirit when we use God's Holy Word.

Gotta go, I've got a bald-headed message to prepare!

Friday, July 16, 2010

So Maybe We Do Go to Heaven on a Bus

Despite my present undesirable girth, I have really come to love cycling. I try to get out three times a week. The peace, tranquility, inspiration, sights and sounds of riding is just so pleasing. I stand in awe of God's hand all around me as I ride. I have said more than once as a pastor, "We don't go to heaven on a bus, but rather a bicycle." The meaning behind that extremely deep theological statement (tongue in cheek) is we can't grab onto the coattails of our parents, siblings, or friends of faith. Salvation is an individual thing.

We read in John 14:6 - Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Notice the words, "no one." Sounds like an individual thing doesn't it? Or what about Eph. 2:8-9 - For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast. I does not read "we have been saved," but instead, "You have been saved."

Why do I share this? Maybe so you can be aware that not all people believe this. There are some, even nice church folk, who do not believe this. There are even politicians at the highest level of government who think otherwise. They have come to embrace a "new term" being tossed around called "community salvation." The theory here is to move away from any strange notion that salvation is an individual thing. Instead, we will, as communities, nations, families, and races all be able to be saved, merely by being a part of that group. Scary stuff, huh?

At a recent college graduation, a well-placed politician (who will for the sake of this article will remain unnamed) encouraged the graduates to, "look past material gains and work for the “collective salvation” of the United States." Unusual rhetoric. But is it new? Not at all. Hear these words: "Now is the time for all these old church or church-related signs to come down; a new form should emerge. The church era focuses on individual salvation; however, it is time to rise from the individual level of salvation to the family level, because the family is the cornerstone or basic unit for building a nation." The author? Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Does such language make me angry or quiver? Not really. Doubt I will be calling a radio talk-show and waiting two hours to get 30 seconds of air-time. Am I increasingly disturbed that when good people of faith hear such things that they will nod their head in affirmation without critically discerning what is really being said? Absolutely.

Politicians, national religious leaders, denominations, and yes, even local pastors must be very careful when they step into their "pulpit" and speak. As pastors we must recognize that because of our "office" people will often follow blindly what we say. Therefore, we MUST seek the only authority that should matter, and that's God's Word. And as we speak and seek to interpret it, we better be very cautious that our words do not grieve the Holy Spirit and lead people astray.

So be careful friends. If anyone wants to sell you a ticket for the bus that's headed to eternity, simply say to them with a smile, "No thanks, I'll be headed there on my bike."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Talking People Out of Becoming Christians

For many of us who profess a faith in Jesus Christ, there is nothing more satisfying than leading a person to Christ. After all, the more people we can win to Jesus, the better Christian we are, right? Some people even keep track of how many people they have prayed the sinner's prayer with.

But what might it be like if we tried to talk an inquirer out of becoming a Christian. Sounds strange doesn't it? But hold on. What makes more sense, that they pray a prayer and we hug and welcome them into the family, or that they grasp what it really means to be a Christ-follower? This thought recently came onto my radar screen as I read a little booklet called "The Radical Question" by David Platt. The booklet was a snapshot of his bigger book by the same title.

I do remember as a young pastor working on staff at a church camp. An invitation was given and young people stepped up to accept Jesus into their hearts. Some of what I saw troubled me. I sensed deeply that many of these young people were coming forward just because their friends were doing so and not out of a deep conviction to actually follow Christ. I found myself more than once telling them to go sit down and pray more about not only what they were about to receive (eternal life), but also what they were giving up (a worldly life).

Many years later now, as I read Platt's booklet, I am reminded that discipleship is costly. And maybe as Christians we do a disservice to people when we just try to win one for Christ and carve another notch into our belt. What might our churches, communities, and family life look like if we were willing to completely sell out to a life in Christ?

And as Platt points out, not only does discipleship come at a great cost, nondiscipleship has an even greater cost. The radical question Platt proposes is, "What is Jesus Worth to You?" Can you easily answer that? Yea, me either. But until we give it all to Him, we may be living the life, at best, of a lukewarm, comfortable, Christian.

Radical questions like this one beg for an answer in each of our lives. And instead of getting depressed at where we aren't in the answer, the question challenges me to work even harder at reflecting on my own life and work towards surrendering those things I am still holding onto. What a glorious Savior we serve!

Luke 14:33 - In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's In a Name?

My dad collected names. Not just any names, but funny, unique names. His list included characters like Luther Orange Lemon, Molly Kuel and Sarah Bellum. But most interesting was a guy named Gorry Hogg who reportedly named his daughter Ima and Ura (since proven not to be completely factual). Still, I always wondered what it would be like to be a first grader when a teacher asked you your name and you respond, "Ima Hogg." Poor kid. Do you think growing up with that name just might result in some issues later in life?

Some people have very ordinary names, like Jim Smith, Mike Brown, or Sally Jones. Others have been named with a name nobody every heard of or can pronounce. That would have to be a joy having people butcher your name all through life, wouldn't it?

And still others were named a pretty ordinary name that later became well known. One such guy was born a long time ago. He was the 10th of 12 children, and only two of those children lived past the age of three. Tragic. Later he was known as the Patriarch of Liberty and Father of the American Revolution. He was a good and godly man. And yet as great as all that was, his name is associasted these days with a popular beer. His name was Sam Adams.

Names may help us (Trump) or hinder us (Ima Hogg). Or maybe we are one of a million people with the same, plain, boring name (Joe Smith). But names really can't determine who we really are or what we become. That is, unless we allow them. As a child of God, as one of God's chosen, we are unique. No name, regardless if it's ordinary or outrageous can change how God sees us. He says this about us:

God calls you His friend (John 15:15), God is love and God loves you (2 Cor. 13:11), and God knew you before you were born, even as you were knitted in your mother's womb (Is. 43:7). But maybe most importantly, God says in Isaiah 48:12: "Listen Jacob. Listen Israel - I'm the One who named you. I am the One." (MSG)

When I am feeling fairly unworthy, unimportant, or really plain and boring, I need to remind myself that God created and named me. I am His. And frankly, He thinks I'm pretty special. He feels the same about you. Thank you Lord for giving me my identity.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Power of P.I.B.W.I.B.

When my sons were growing up, I, like many parents, would get tired of telling them again and again to pick up their toys. So I made up a word that would say it all without wasting words. The word was PIBWIB. It stood for, "Put It Back Where It Belongs." Over time they came to really dislike that word.

But when I think about it, so much of what is wrong with us, our families, our churches, and our world has to do with people, leaders, governments taking things that don't belong to them and not returning them to the place where they belong.

It might be borrowing a tool from a neighbor and not returning it. That causes him to think poorly of us and deciding he won't be lending tools to us or anyone else for that matter. Or it could be when an adult takes a child's innocence, causing lifelong emotional scars. A wife may take a husband's trust when she has an affair causing him to go through life not trusting in a woman again. A man may take his family's faith by refusing to take them to church and turning his back on God. People and organizations, businesses and governments seem to be so much about taking, that they often fail to realize the long-term harm they are doing, many times spanning generations.

There are many words for such actions. "Greed" certainly rises to the top of the barrel. Wouldn't it be great to be able to show all those greedy people the damage that they've done? And wouldn't this world be a better place if they could catch a glimpse of it and decide to return what they took? Couldn't the "Power of PIBWIB" restore many lives, families, churches, organizations, and businesses? But even if people never return what they took, our God does not do the same. Isn't it just amazing that we can count on Him to give to us what he never took in the first place?

Truth be told, as I write this, I recognize a few things I took from people and need to put back. How about you? What are you waiting for?

1 Peter 5:10 - And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Say What?

Sometimes I am amazed at some of the language that comes out of people’s mouths. Often, if they are church-goers, I have asked, “Do you take communion with that mouth?” That usually causes them to pause and think.

I have been out looking for a car to buy. According to some car salesmen I talk to, there isn’t a bad car on the lot. They were all driven by old ladies who drove it to church. One actually tried that on me today. A few have felt compelled to add some crude language into their sales pitch with one of those, “this is between us men” winks. I smirk and let them know I am the new pastor at Cornerstone. After that they often gulp and refuse to make further eye contact. Not sure why.

And while car salesmen have often gotten a bad reputation for their stretching of the truth, many are good, upstanding, honest guys who want to help us find a car. But what about we people of faith? How does our talk and our walk go together? I once had a guy in my church who was just a great guy who taught class, worked with the youth, helped in worship. And then he entered into his “public life.” I was told often that as a coach he would talk down to the kids, curse at the umpires, and generally make a fool of himself.

Sadly, I’ve even had pastor friends who, when alone, would tell crude jokes, talk sensually about females, and think it’s OK. Paul Wetstone said, “Never separate the life you live from the words you speak.” Pretty clear. Right to the point, huh? But do we do it?

Luke 6:45 says, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

I need to remind myself that nothing get’s past God. My speech, my actions, even my thoughts. And before I speak, I better be sure that my language not only pleases God, but glorifies Him as well.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sneakers That Talk

I love new things. New pants, new golf clubs, new jobs. And definitely new shoes. Especially tennis shoes. That pristine, white, clean look is sweet. And as I get ready to pack up and head to a new church to take on a new job, I paused this week to glance at my old sneakers. They’re old, torn, dirty, worn, scuffed, and ugly. But as I thought about it, I realized there are lots of stories in those shoes. They were with me on walks and bike rides. They guided my steps on the job at the mission. They were on my feet when I moved to a new apartment. The stepped in puddles, snow, and on green, lush grass (which I have not seen since November). How can I possibly get rid of them? They are a part of me.

Aren’t we kind of like those shoes? We love to come across as clean, having it all together, ready, and willing to shine. And maybe we start that way. But life happens. We get torn, betrayed, broken, worn and weary. And we start to wonder if we really can be of any value to God. We make mistakes and stumble, and like the old shoes, think maybe God would be better off to just toss us aside and use someone else.

“…he that sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.’” Wow! How cool is that? I take from that passage that God is NEVER done with us. He never turns his back. He will take what we have to offer, regardless of how puny we think it is, and make something really great out of it. God is not in the trash business. He is in the restoration business. And I am so thankful for it.

I encourage us all, in faith, to give God whatever we’ve got and then stand back and watch Him work a miracle with our offering…our life.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

False Starts

Watching the Olympics, occasionally you’ll see everyone ready to start a race, the gun fires, and then fires again, meaning someone left early. It’s called a false start.

I was thinking how true that is of my life. Maybe yours too. We get all ready to run the race and can’t wait to start, and before God says, “go” we take off. We hope, unrealistically, that God will catch up to us doing our thing so He can bless what we are doing. But it doesn’t work that way. At least not for me.

About two years ago I came through a really tough time that caused me great pain, distress, and despair. Maybe “good Christians” don’t have those moments, but I do. And I did. Many aspects of life cracked and broke. And I was left on the side of the road in a heap. I cried out to God to save me. I wanted to be out of the pain and get back on my feet and back into the race. But God hadn’t pulled the trigger yet. There was more to learn, more exercises to make me stronger and ready for the bigger race that was ahead.

Slowly God helped me up (through some good friends, prayer, and His Word), dusted me off, cleaned me up, strengthened me, and said, “Get ready.” And even still, it was months before the next race would begin. He finally opened a door to a new ministry opportunity that was so much more than I could have dreamed or imagined. He finally pulled the trigger for this new, wonderful, exciting race to begin. And I feel strong, ready, and extremely honored that He chose me to run this race at this time.

What did I learn? Not to be too hasty to ask God to get me out of my hurt. Maybe that’s exactly where He can mold me into what I need to become. Second, trust Him and be patient. It will happen in His time and His way. Finally, when the gun finally is fired, be ready to run with reckless abandon until God tells me to stop running.

What an awesome God we serve!