Friday, December 9, 2011

God With Us. Really?

This week my neighbor died of a heart attack at age 49. He left three kids and a wife of less than a year. So sad. Yesterday a Virgina Tech police officer was gunned down and the killer then took his own life. Absolutely senseless. Former Gov. Blago (the guy with wacky hair) was sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption. Ridiculous. Today, hundreds, if not thousands young boys and girls will be sold into slavery within the sex trade, not only in third world countries, but right here in our own country. Deeply disturbing. And oh yea, in just 16 days we celebrate the birth of our Savior, God with us, once again. Merry Christmas.

Sometimes, I feel as if we sometimes treat Christmas like a scene from Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. He, as a weatherman, wakes up each day and relives the very same day over and over again. In similar fashion, we may be guilty of the, "Oh yea, it's time to do that Baby Jesus, Santa Claus thing once more." Just like we've done every other year of our life. People know where the tree goes (same place every year). We know how the lights go up on the house. We can predict what happens at the office party. We go through the rituals of how and where we open presents. And go figure, some of the same family members will do their very best to become drama kings and queens and mess up the whole day for everyone. We also, on cue, drag the family to the Christmas Eve service and have a heart softening hour of carols and a message.

But this Christmas is not going to be the same for those three kids and a wife of my neighbor. Without a doubt the families of the police officer and shooter, now dead, will forever be changed. Blago, though on many levels deserving of what he got, has a family who will be without their husband and father for a long time to come. And those nameless children from all over the world will have their lives torn apart in unspeakable ways.

God With Us? Are you kidding? This year, more than ever, I have been touched by the absolute feelings of disconnect between the coming Christ and the world we live in. Initially, these thoughts trouble me. But as I wrestle with them, I sense God saying, "And that's exactly why I came." God did not become man and come to earth just so we could decorate, open presents, dress up, go to church, and sing carols. Nope. He came so that a hurting, disjointed, often ugly, and even dying world might have Hope. Real Hope in the form of a Savior. And as I ponder this thought, I say to myself, "How dare me treat this like just another Christmas."

Forgive me Lord. Help me in some measure understand who You are and what You are about. Be real to me and to those whose lives have been severely disrupted this year. May we all be blessed and be a blessing this year.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

You're a big, fat liar? I know, I know, you bristled at that comment. You say, "How dare you accuse me of lying (not to mention being fat). I tell the truth!" Really? All the time?

What happens when someone asks you if you liked the song they sang at church when in fact it really wasn't very good at all? "You know Sally, that really stunk." I doubt it. And when someone asks you how you are doing, and you respond by saying, "fine," knowing full well that's not true.

I am just starting an intriguing book called , "Anatomy of a Lie." The author dissects the history and sources of lying and looks at why lying is culturally accepted and even expected. She admits lying when the dog boarding facility asked her, just as she was leaving for a trip, if her dog had his vaccinations up to date. Saying, "no" would have kept her dog from being able to stay there and her from making her flight. So she said, "Yes." No one was harmed, but it got her thinking about how easy it is, at times, to lie.

I just finished an excellent book with a quirky title. "Samson and the Pirate Monks" is aimed at men and why we lie. The author, a former pastor with a porn and alcohol addiction which he hid for years, shares how he finally got relief when he went to a twelve-step group and, for the first time, told the truth. But listen to what he said. "Never, in more than forty years of church attendance, had I experienced the safety, the honesty, the genuine concern and mutual respect that I had seen displayed by this community of recovering drunks."

Wow! Am I willing to admit he's talking to most churches? I am. Churches, though that's exactly what they should be, just aren't the bastion of truth-telling. We often put on personas or masks that hide the real person we are. And as a result we suffer. Our family suffers. Our churches and communities suffer. The world suffers.

But what if we, especially us men, were to get together regularly with one rule: You must tell the truth 100% of the time? (I might call it the Liar's Club) What would happen if we could create a level of trust among us that we would want to dump that dark, ugly garbage we've been dragging around? Would we not get better? Might the truth really set us free? I think it would.

So stay tuned for more of what unfolds in my life and at our church as we start leaning into truth-telling. I believe it will be an awesome experiment. I trust God to show us the way.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What WIll They Say When I Die?

Have you ever thought what people who stand up at your funeral will say when you die? Obviously you won't be around to hear it. I have actually been at funerals where the good preacher shared a list of wonderful virtues of the deceased. In the audience, though, were puzzled looks, smirks, and even some laughing. Those who knew the good old boy who was being talked about him knew him far better than the preacher. And those words he was saying did not fit their friend at all. It was kind of sad.

I once was asked to do a funeral for a guy I did not know. I met with the family and asked for them to share some about their husband and father. Nothing! People looked down, other up at the ceiling, away from me. Finally, after my frustrated prodding, one son spoke up and said, "You want to know about him? He was a horrible father and a horrible husband. All he did was fish and drink. He was a no good %&*#@. Wow, I didn't see that coming.

Think about it. If you were to pick five words that people would use to describe you when you have breathed your last breath, what would they be? Funny? Nice? Good golfer? Creative? Always had nice hair? Had a mind of his own (meaning stubborn)? Would those be words they would use? If you were brutally truthful, might they avoid words like: Humble? Servant? Lover of Jesus? Most caring and loving man I knew? His faith was unshakable?

Many of us older people think about these things. At least I do. And to be frank, there are a few great words that I have to admit might not be on the list at my memorial service. And that disturbs me. But wait. It's not too late. God is in the restoration business. It's never too late to be that person you want to be and God is calling you to be. We still have time. But the clock is ticking. Are you bold enough to ask God to re-invent you? I am.

Let's hope we don't live up to that old funeral joke where the preacher is sharing the virtues of the deceased and one of the attendees interrupts the serve and wanders up to the casket to look inside. When asked by the preacher what he was doing, the guy says, "After hearing you describe him, I had to come up and make sure I was at the right funeral." May it not be so with us.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Add Some Velocity to Your Generosity

I love givers. People who would give you the shirt off their back are good people to have around. To be honest, for some reason I was not greatly gifted with that gene (or spiritual gift). I love to give, and always feel great when I do, but it does not always come naturally to me.

On the other hand, my wife Nancy somehow overdoses on this kind of kindness. Just the other day she got a two for one bread deal at the store and gave the free loaf to an older fella in the parking lot. Recently she was walking the dog in the neighborhood and as a result ended up making a loaf of bread for some neighbors she had just met. I fully expect, in the not-to-distant future, there will be a family of strangers (er, I mean new best friends) at the dinner table when I get home from work.

Some of us grew up having "giving" modeled for us by our families. You know that "better to give than receive" thinking? But for many, that simply meant making sure you gave something to the less fortunate from time to time to make yourself feel good. It may have meant pulling some old clothes out of the closet or dropping a few bucks in the offering plate when it was passed for a special cause. And that's not all bad, in and of itself. But when we add some "velocity to our generosity" amazing things happen.

Instead of dropping a few bucks in the plate or donating clothes, what if we decided to take a day a month to head downtown and help at a homeless shelter? Or what if we loaded tools into our car and drove around the neighborhood and asked people we saw working in their yard if we might join them? Kind of like a "drive-by disciple."

Or what if we agreed within our family that we would set aside a significant amount of money from our budget each month and call it the "Blessing Fund." And then taking the money and searching out everyday people to go and bless with the money? A dinner? An evening away with their family? Paying one of their utility bills? How cool would that be?

I am convinced we can fall into a rut, even with our giving. And when we do our giving becomes stale and routine. But if we think, get creative, look at things with a "generous giving set of eyes" and get bold with our giving, we will add that velocity to our generosity and it will grow stronger and more fulfilling, not only for us, but for those who are on the receiving end of it.

John Wesley got it. He said: "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." Now that's velocity. Be a blessing and be blessed today.

Friday, May 27, 2011

When God Breaks In

I'll never forget a church I used to attend. There were alot of good things that happened there, but one funny thing stood out. As we were close to the interstate, and being this was the late 70's when CB's were still in vogue, sometimes during services, when the atmospheric conditions were just right, during the pastor's message, we could often catch a "good 'ole boy" trucker cackling over the church's sound system. Right at a reflective moment in the message, you might here, "Hey good buddy, I'm southbound and down." But sometimes we got some saltier versions of trucker lingo. Funny? Embarrassing? Annoying?

Sometimes we get annoyed when we get interrupted. Yet other times it's exciting when we're interrupted with something totally unscripted and out of the ordinary. Just a week or so ago that happened with me. I had attended two conferences, heard good speakers, and caught a challenging video all in the same week and was pondering how these things plugged in to my life. I was out mowing my yard when all at once God decided to break in. It has happened to me just a few times before in this way. It was if God had opened up my hard drive and was engaging me in a data dump.

Thoughts were flying into my mind and headed right to my heart. I felt my adrenaline flowing and my excitement growing. It started to get to be too much too quick. So I stopped mowing and headed into the house to write this stuff down so I wouldn't forget. I realized my memory is fading in my old age.

And in a short 30 minutes I looked at the several sheets of paper and was in awe of what I had written. It was a complete, clearly defined plan for a new ministry idea. Most of the things written there had never even been on my radar screen, and I realized I am not all that smart anyway, so I was convinced God must have spoken.

I now have begun the process of sharing that idea with others who I trust and know will pray about it. Like any idea that we think is God-breathed, we need to seek wise counsel, pray about it, and move forward in faith as the doors open. Failure to do so may cause us to do two things, both with bad results.

First, we may go off half-cocked and pursue the idea on our own without having key people on board. Or, if we keep the idea to ourselves, we may bog down and even quit when we get discouraged when we come upon a detour. I am convinced vision is to be shared for it to come to it's full fruition.

What's ahead? I'm not sure. But the enthusiasm of knowing we are about to embark on a trip we hadn't really planned makes me smile as I thank God for breaking into my world and using me this way. Life is good. And that's a big 10-4!

Friday, April 15, 2011


Alright, I admit it. Sometimes days like Christmas and Easter just don't have the sparkle or feeling that I think they should for me. I recognize their significance, their place in history, their meaning in the life of the church and the Christ-follower, but sometimes I am guilty of going through the motions.

I imagine some of that is because I am a pastor. Easter is one of the busiest times in the life of the church. Lots of thinking, planning, doing. The holidays also seem to bring to the surface a wide variety of family and personal issues in the lives of people, so the need for counseling time goes up.

And I would be lying if I said I came through all of these seasons full of hope, excitement, and a renewed sense of energy. But the opposite is usually true. I get through them only to plop down on the other side as a tired, uninspired mess.

All of this leads me to asking some of those questions that begin with "Why?" Why don't I feel better and more fulfilled? Why wasn't I sufficiently moved by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ this year? Why do people complain about trivial things in the midst of the greatest event from history? Why can't I see this stuff coming and plan differently next year?

But then I realize, God's work is not always about feelings and emotions. More often than not ministry is messy, tiring, taxing, and often without many earthly perks. And as I often have found myself on the other side of these occasions in the church, I do detect a small smile. When the palm branches and other decorations are tucked away for another year, I am able to sit back, though tired, and reflect on lives changed, blessings given, and hope promoted.

Though we often get all hyped up about seasons like Easter, we should never confuse that emotional high, glitz and great worship event as the end all. They are nice reminders, however, that Jesus went to the cross and was raised from the dead so that we could be forgiven and free everyday, not just once a year.

May you be blessed each day of the year and reminded that He did it for you.

Friday, March 25, 2011


For me, there is no better time than when a man comes alive in his faith. Don't get me wrong, anyone coming alive in their faith is a good thing. But when a man, father, or husband really comes alive in their faith, families are changed, churches are changed, and life as we know it is changed.

I've been to Promise Keepers, The Emmaus Walk, men's breakfast meetings, sat around many a campfire with men, watched Band of Brothers dozens of times, subscribe to several e-newsletters for men, and I get excited at what I read.

The talk is often a blend of Gen. George Patton, Rudy, and William Wallace of Braveheart. Men are always challenged to stay strong, fight the good fight, and take up arms to defeat Satan. And I agree we should.

Lately, however, I have had this gnawing feeling something is missing in that rhetoric and approach. And I've pondered and chewed on it for awhile and think I may have figured out what was bugging me.

Is it possible we are calling men to take up arms and fight the good fight and yet aren't equipping them to do so? Think about it, if we did not train troops with the best and most current tactics, armed them with the best equipment, made sure they had the best and brightest leaders that they would follow, and send them into battle, what would happen? They would get slaughtered.

I wonder if sometimes we are guilty of this in our churches. We sound the battle cry and yet haven't done our best to get men prepared. And as a result, we find many men like some who come into my office. They are weary, tired, beaten, defeated, and ready to surrender. Now I could pull a Patton on them and kick them in the behind and tell them to get back into the fight, but is that what they really need?

I think it's time to step back and take a good look at how we do men's ministry in our churches. I believe we need to get serious about building up male disciples starting at a young age. This takes clear, current, measurable training techniques. And we need to put the very best tools in their hands to know how to take on the ugly "stuff" that they will face in their life. And then we need to find the best, brightest, and most respected men to lead them. You know, guys that men love to follow. And when we send them into the fight, we need to make absolutely sure we have a place for them to come to when they are wounded. At our church M.A.S.H. unit we can care for them, encourage them, and bring them back to health.

If our men's ministries aren't making sure these things are intentionally happening, then we are more like another Gen. George. But his last name was Custer. And we know how that turned out.

It's time to make the change. Our men, our churches, and our nation are crying for it to happen. Any volunteers?

Friday, January 28, 2011


I can’t even imagine the noise, confusion, weeping, yelling and general commotion that must have filled the air leading up to and including the cross event. If you’ve ever seen the Passion of the Christ, the brutality, blood, hysteria, and mayhem are almost too much to bear. Soldiers yelling, faithful crying, hammers pounding, bystanders jeering, Jesus dying. And then…nothing.

There was a moment, I am sure, just after Jesus breathed his last breathe, that there was this slight moment of absolute silence. It may have been a few seconds or minutes, but somewhere along the way I sense there was a quieting of all creation. Calm. Stillness. Deep thought. Reflection. And then the question, “Now what?”

Some took that moment to realize they might also be in danger, and they ran. Some slid away to regroup, seek clarity, and decide if they had what it would take to move forward. Yet others simply chose to get on with their life.

In all of our lives there are those moments of stillness. That absolute silence between the “what just happened” and the “now what?” events. Coming home alone after the funeral of our lifelong partner. Those seconds just after we hang up the phone after being told of a horrible accident. Those seconds after the doctor just told us how severe our sickness really is. We’ve all been there.

We may hate these moments. We might feel like we’ve just gone full speed off a cliff and are waiting for our rapid descent. But it doesn’t have to be that way. My favorite verse in my times of anguish has to be, Psalm 46:10. It says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” When life takes us right to the edge and then seemingly pushes us off, we have a great opportunity to surrender completely to Him.

Not that there still won’t be pain, hurt, or uncertainty about what’s ahead. But with those still, quiet moments of surrender, we can be assured God is with us. God can, with such short, quiet moments still quiet our storms. You and I are not alone…ever.