Tuesday, December 4, 2012


This year, more so than others, I have been moved by the idea that what we often seek and what Jesus offers creates a real tension in our lives. 

We tend to prefer a festive, ornate, sanitized, emotionally pleasing, joyful Christmas.  Though we are pretty sure there may be a glitch somewhere, we love to execute a plan and stick to it.  We may calculate a trip to grandma's being exactly 103 miles that should take us no more than 96 minutes.  Or we have a clearly orchestrated method of how we are to open presents (one at a time thanking the giver of the gift and acting like we mean it) for the fruitcake or knitted socks we received.

Have you noticed, pastors and church leaders even get a little wacky this time of year.  They want the service to be moving and often wrestle with how much traditional and outside-the-box new to incorporate.  Musicians, actors, pastors, and ushers better be on their game to make this a flawless Christmas service that will be remembered for the ages.

And yet, as you read the gospel of the conception, pregnancy and birth of the Messiah, it's anything but sanitized and without glitches.  Mary heard from an angel and then tries to figure out a way to inform family and fiance she is "with child."  Then she piles into a mini-van, er, on the back of a donkey to make the long trip to Bethlehem though she is 9 months pregnant.

And the birth.  In a stable?  Really?  Stables are nasty, stinky places.  Animal dung, flies, the smell and crudeness is all around you.  And into that setting comes Jesus.  Though songs try to convince us this was a small, quiet, adorable child, who doesn't cry, if you've ever been present or participated in the birth of a child, it's anything but quiet and clean.

And yet, this is how God chose to become Emmanuel...God with us.  Into a strained, imperfect, unsettled world, He came.  Into unfinished lives with lots of questions, He came.  And into our imperfect, unfinished lives and world...He comes.

So if this Christmas doesn't quite go as planned this year, don't sweat it.  Smile and thank God for the reminder.  And thank Him for His Son...the Savior of the world.  Have a blessed Christmas.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


You would think at age 57 I would know better.  But after years of not doing so, I allowed my wonderful wife to talk me into an exercise class.  It was a "good deal that we need" she said.  So I bit.

We attended our first class last week.  Here's some shocking news: I was the only guy there!  Nice.  So the class is set up to stretch and tone for 25 minutes and then peddle like you are in the Tour de France for another 25 minutes.  As we climbed hills and sprinted to the "finish line" I began to understand why some of those guys use steroids.

Now, after three sessions, I recognize that atrophy is not a character trait.  Activity can actually do some good. Though my muscles ache and I feel like my legs are stuck in cement when I am finished, I have to admit this is going to help me.  It better.  We are on the hook for another 11 sessions.

I am not the first to connect the dots between staying physically fit to working on our spiritual fitness.  The bottom line is, it takes time and hard work. But it is so worth it.

So I want to encourage you.  Pump up the music.  Here we go!!!  You'll need to start slow with some spiritual stretching.  Now pick up your biblical barbells and start lifting (up God) and turning (the page).  Dive in and and get that holy heart rate pumping.  Then get on your knees and begin those prayer Pilates.  Don't stop, you still have those repentance reps to complete.  And 5, and 4, and 3, and 2, and 1.  I can almost see that sinful sweat rolling off of you.  And stop...

Ephesians 6:11 says, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power."  Don't neglect the physical or the spiritual things.  When we do, God isn't glorified and we cannot be used for the workout the world will put us through. 

See you on sundae.  Oops, I meant Sunday.  Stay strong my friends.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Could it have been a stranger, more wild, quirky, or unusual summers?  For most of the summer months we got blistered with outrageously high temperatures.  And somewhere midsummer we experienced a storm that included something called a micro burst.  We watched as our grill tumbled across the yard, with our lawn furniture trying to play tag with it.  After the storm we went outside the next day to survey the damage.  There were shingles, limbs, and debris everywhere.  It was a mess.

The wind can be a powerful force.  Unharnessed, it can wreak havoc across the land.  It comes quickly and often, just as quick, it's gone, leaving the landscape different.  Recently we received some news here at the church that took some wind out of our sails.  We said goodbye to a longtime member and employee.  It left us flat and listless.  It was a hard time for us all.

But the wind can also be a good thing.  People who catch their "pneuma" (Greek word for breathe) after a particularly difficult time can actually use the event to grow stronger.  Resistance (oncoming wind) is actually what enables planes to rise from the ground.  And a healthy breeze behind us can help us set our sails and take off on a new journey in a new direction.

Churches sometimes are comfortable sitting in the harbor where it is calm and safe.  But the real joy of being a Christian, I believe, is not knowing what's next and still embracing it.  When people in the pews each wait for the wind, and trim their sails, anticipating a movement of the Holy Spirit in their midst, and all set sail together, it can turn into a downright Spiritual Regatta.

I think you'd agree that sleeping giant, the church, is overdue to wake up and set sail.  But that can only happen when each Christ-follower makes that choice as well.  We cannot harness the wind (God), but how we choose to adjust our sails will determine where we God takes us.

Friday, July 27, 2012


With the Olympics starting this week, I thought you would like to know that I have been asked to carry the torch.  Seriously.  Oh, not by the Olympic Committee, though that would be pretty sweet.  No, I've been asked to carry to torch of faith.  And the invitation comes from God.  He mentions numerous times in scripture to be the light unto the world.

Are you torchbearer material?  Are you able to "represent" the faith well?  Most of the Olympic torchbearers are former participants, or those who have made a difference and inspired someone to nominate them.  I suspect they also select those who can be trusted to keep the light burning.  After all, what happens if the person trips along a river, tumbles into the water, and the torch goes out?  "Oops" really wouldn't suffice."

Likewise, the torch God asks us to carry is a sacred trust.  It's not to be taken lightly.  To look back and consider the people God has entrusted to carry His light into a dark world, we can't help but be awestruck.  And we most likely feel small compared to them. 

Many Olympians in London, no doubt, were told they weren't good enough, strong enough, talented enough.  But did they quit?  No, they persevered.  The took the naysayers' challenge and used it as a motivation to succeed.

As disciples, we can't be stopped by those who say we aren't good enough.  We can smirk at those who say we will fail.  Why?  Because we are arrogant or pompous?  No.  We can continue and succeed as God's torchbearers as we claim for ourselves, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13). 

You see, we do not strive and succeed on our own merits and abilities, but those of the Lord.  He is our Provider, our Sustainer, our reason for going on.

So carry the torch high and let it shine bright my friends.  Live a life worthy of a gold medal. 

Monday, June 25, 2012


As I sit here in my office, I am watching the trash truck come to pick up our trash.  When we moved in six months ago our trash day was Thursday, meaning we had to remember to put it out on Wednesday night.  Then after a holiday it moved to Friday, making me shift to a Thursday "to the curb" mindset.  Another holiday passed and now it is Monday.  Who can remember to put out trash on a Sunday night?  I have never seen things done this way.  It seems to be a moving target, designed to keep me guessing.

Spiritually, every day is trash day.  No need to guess when it is.  I go through the day, sometimes acting saintly and just moments later something triggers ugliness from deep inside of me.  Kind of like the "old man", Mr. Parker, in A Christmas Story when the dogs run through the house devouring Christmas dinner.  Well, maybe not that bad, but ugly nonetheless.

Here's the problem: I actually convince myself that an attitude, prejudice, long-held thought or, well, sin, can be stuffed sufficiently deep enough to never see the light of day.  But sooner or later a trigger comes along and that Mr. Parker moment surges to the surface.

Let's be clear, we can't just hide our garbage.  After a short while it begins to really stink the place.  We need to take out the garbage (confess our sin and repent) never to be seen again.  Though I'll refrain from comparing God to the "Great Trash Collector in Heaven" I will say that only when we surrender our garbage completely every day can we live the kind of life God designed and desires of us.

I'm headed to the curb.  Are you?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Oh, Grow Up!

I just read some sobering statistics...albeit not surprising.  Try these on for size:

1. Only one in five people who call themselves, "born again" have any measurable goals for spiritual growth.
2. Most of our spiritual growth comes within the first two years after conversion.
3. Six out of ten believers have no sense of what they want to achieve or become.
4. Only 44% of professed Christians read the bible at least 1X a week.
5. Though roughly 5% of people say they tithe, statistics show less than 2% really do?  Does that make the other 3% liars too?

How does that make you feel?  Guilty?  Sad?  Embarrassed?  The reality is, in many, if not most churches, people are not growing up in their faith in any measurable way. 

Make no mistake, good, church-going people are in our churches every week.  They worship, lead a small group, fix a meal, give their offering, and live life as a "normal Christian."  Most don't abuse their spouses, cheat on their taxes, steal, or live a life full of blatant sin.  They often contribute good things to society.  They really are nice people.  But many, maybe most, are not growing stronger, deeper, more faithful in their life.

Ask someone (even yourself), "Looking back over the last year, what measurable spiritual growth are you able to point to in your life?"  As Steve DeNeff and David Drury say in their new resource, SoulShift, we are often guilty of measuring input as a measure of what kind of Christian we are.  We input worship, we input bible reading, we input service, and think that is a good measure of our faith.  Instead, they say, we should focus more on output.  What in my life has been transformed because of my commitment to the Savior?

Make no mistake, I am a work in progress.  And I hope you are too.  I pray you never get to that, "I've arrived" place in your faith.   Wouldn't it be wild and wonderful  to do what Steve and David ask?  That is, "Wake up every morning, and your first instinct was to do what is right."

So, what's preventing you from growing up? 

Monday, March 5, 2012


Remember when you were a wee, little child and were playing the game of hide and seek? It was fun hiding, but there was some little voice inside that asked, "What if they can't find me? The what happens?" To make sure that could never happen, you might make a peep, meow like a kitten, or giggle. This helped the "seeker" to hone in on your position and "find you."

I thought about that as I read a single line from Henri J.M. Nowen's "A Cry for Mercy." There he said, "Listen to my desire to be with you." A simple line that jumped off the page at me. In an instant I realized how much of my life I have asked God to find me. My prayers, far too often, have been those, "Come and find where I am and join me in it God." And I realized quickly how foolish that is.

For me to consider God as the traveler and me as the destination is as self-centered as it gets. God's voice calls us saying, "Come to me...and I will give you rest." We, not God, are the weary travelers. We are the ones with parched lives in need of the source of Living Water. In our deep desire to "be with Him" it often takes our initiative to find that place where God is already at work, and join him where He is. Make no mistake, there are those times in life when we lie on the side of the road in a heap and need God to rescue us. But day in and day out for us to "invite" God to visit us in our little, personal space seems extremely prideful. And it keeps us stuck in our own world.

O Lord, help me find that wonderful place where you are and join you there. The journey may be long and difficult, but my desire is to be with you. Thank you for calling out to me, "Ollie, Ollie in free."

Monday, February 20, 2012


OK, call me strange. But I love change. I not only embrace it as a part of life, I go looking for it. I look for it like a hunter on a safari. When I get close to it, my heartbeat increases, I start to perspire, and get really stoked about "the kill", er, I mean change, that is about to happen.

As a lover of change, it probably comes as no surprise that I get anxious and disturbed when I am around people who have no desire to change. Are you serious? You want things to remain the same? How ludicrous. And then I remember my first line, "I am strange."

Several wise people, who are far more renowned than I, have some poignant thoughts on change. For instance...

The famous thinker, Anonymous, once said, "Change or die!" OK, now that was to the point.

Robert C. Gallagher (never heard of him) shares: "Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine." Wow, that's original.

Some philosopher named Anatoli France (also unknown before now) reflected: "All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." Now that's one to get your head around.

But it was Harry Emerson Fosdick (yep, heard of him) who said: "Christians are supposed not merely to endure change, nor even to profit by it, but to cause it." Harry, you're the man!

Let's be clear, change for change's sake is usually bad news. In other words, wanting to change just because I am uncomfortable or have grown tired with the old, is probably not a wise approach to life. But having this deep sense of desire and a vision for what can be, when you know it is God-breathed, well...that's something special and exciting.

Some people fear change, not because they are narrow or shallow, but because the present, even though it's not all good, is at least known. The future? Well, who knows what's around that next corner?

As I find myself smack-dab (wondering where that expression came from) in the middle of an organization that is trying to get their head and heart around the change that is ahead of us, I pray that I can be a steady, trusted, and prepared agent of change, knowing that God is the real Director of this wonderful symphony called life.

Thanks Mr. Bowie for reminding us, "Ch-ch-ch-changes, this place is strange (earth)." And maybe so am I.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A New Best-Seller

Some have referred to life as seasons. We pass from one season to another, finally entering the winter of life, where we step over to meet Jesus face to face.

While that idea has some validity and works well at funerals, I actually prefer to look at life as a novel. God is the Author and we are the characters. Some of the chapters are sad, others joyous, some confusing, some scary. There are twists and turns, unexpected sub-plots, and some shocking endings. Some endings are nice, soft, and make us feel good. Others end in tragedies and unexpected endings.

If life is a novel, and we are the characters, what chapter are you on? The warm and fuzzy or the jagged and painful chapters? Are you pleased where the Author has placed you in the story? If you could, would you suggest a new direction to the Author? Instead of the dope, would you rather be the hero? Yea, me too.

The storyline in our novel is changing. We are moving from a wonderful church near some of our family, to another church a little further away. We are moving from the known to the unknown. It is not a plot line that we chose, but one that we have embraced nonetheless. Why? Because we trust the Author. Let's face it, if our story went as we planned, there is no way it would ever be a best-seller. But in the hands of the Master Author, it is edge-of-your-seat, can't put down material. Well, at least it is to us.

I am thankful for this latest chapter. It's been amazing. I am thankful for all the "characters" that God has written into this part of the story. And yet I cannot wait for this next chapter. New twists and turns, new characters. New adventures. And a story I can't wait to see unfold as I trust the Master Author. Amen!