The Speed of Love

Here is another great quote I found in my reading. Words to ponder.

“Love has a speed. And it’s slower than I am. There’s a good chance it’s slower than you are. Love pauses. Love lingers. Love offers full focus and gives far more than it takes. When I run to fast, I outrun love, and the people I love pay the price.”

-Carey Nieuwhof in “Didn’t See It Coming” page 84

The Most Courageous Journey in the World

It does not take courage to circumnavigate the globe, just time and money. You will need to be brave and have the strength of character to make the longest journey I know. That is the one that takes you out of your current location to the place where you can do the right thing.

It is a difficult walk from your desk to the boss to take responsibility for your failure.
It is a tough journey from your chair in the living room to the bedroom to say you are sorry.
It is a challenging move to leave the comfort of your home to help someone in need.

If you are like me, there is something you need to do to make things right in your life. Whenever you think about doing it you feel your knees go weak, your palms begin to sweat, and your heart starts to race. To do the will of God in your life not only takes faith, but it requires the courage to do the difficult thing.

God never calls us to comfort; instead, he asks us fearlessly do the right thing … today and every day.

The Passing of Eugene Peterson

This week the world lost a great pastor, writer, and thinker on Monday with the passing of Eugene Peterson. (You can read more HERE). That name may not mean much to you, but he was significant to me on my spiritual journey. A professor at school required us to read his book, “The Contemplative Pastor” as a class assignment. That book would help me to think more clearly about ministry and was a significant first step into the world of a pastor.

Over the years that followed, I would read many of the books he wrote, and one of them played a special role in my life. A group of students met with a local pastor to discuss books and knowing that I enjoyed Peterson’s material, they invited me to attend. Over the next several months I poured myself into the book, “Under the Unpredictable Plant” at the weekly gatherings. As the interest of the group waned, mine increased, and I asked that pastor to mentor me through other books for the next two years. Those weekly meetings with Kyle shaped my heart and mind in unique and wonderful ways.

In the years since college, I have collected more of Peterson’s books, but nothing has rivaled his paraphrase of the original Biblical languages into The Message. It has served as a blessing in my ministry and to help me think through the Bible in everyday language. Whenever I feel stuck in scripture reading, a quick turn to The Message has enabled me to understand the difficult texts. It has also challenged me to work at making the Bible understandable for others.

Peterson has stood as a giant on the religious landscape of the United States over the last 30 years, and his passing is mourned by many, including me. This week I have read all kinds of tributes and thoughts about his life and ministry. They have blessed me while serving as a reminder of the significance one life can have over another.

Today I read a post that asked the question, “Who will be the next Peterson?” While I appreciate the question and wonder who will rise to promote a Godly life rooted in the spiritual disciplines, I also think about the unknown ways God uses us. I never met Eugene Peterson, other than through his written words, and yet he touched my life. His work also served as a tool to open discussions with another minister that molded my ministry.

Your life, whether you like it or not, is making an impact for God. Your actions, your words, the things you post on the internet, your volunteer service along with everything you do for the Lord are sending a message. You have the potential to impact people you have never met. You have the power to mold and shape people in profound ways by using how God has gifted you. While I like the question, I am not really worried about who will be the next Peterson. What concerns me is more personal, “Whose life will feel my impact like the one I felt from Eugene Peterson?” Whose life will be shaped by you and me?

Social Media is the New Street Corner

Jesus longest recorded teaching is called the Sermon on the Mount. There he teaches his followers how to live the life God desires for them. The material is found in the Gospel according to Matthew chapters five, six and seven.

Within this body of teaching Jesus addresses a topic that is as applicable today as it was in his time. Matthew chapter six starts with Jesus saying, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Jesus is very clear in his words; you probably do not need a commentary or preacher to explain them. He warns his followers not to make their life a public spectacle of our own righteous behavior. In fact, showy goodness has no reward from God. Sure, it might impress friends and convince people of your genuine kindness, but it will not have any impact on eternity.

To drive the point home, Jesus gives us three examples of this type of behavior. First, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.” (Matthew 6:2) Second, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” (Matthew 6:5) Finally, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.” (Matthew 6:16)

Each one of these examples that Jesus addresses are not hypothetical. The so-called religious people of his day practiced these regularly as s sign of their devotion to God. In every case Jesus reminds us that God is not getting the glory, rather the person doing the action is getting the praise.

I go to these words again and again in 2018. I believe social media is the new street corner. This is the place where people announce their good deeds with trumpet blasts to be seen by them. Let me ask you a couple of questions. What would happen if the next time you went to do some good deed you put your cell phone away? What would happen if you did not post any pictures on social media of your children’s selfless behavior? What would the result be if no one ever knew about anything you did for God? Jesus answers all those questions by saying “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

I know you are proud of the good deeds that you or someone you love is doing. I know you want to let your family and friends see the things they are missing. I know you want to post it on social media as a place to receive a pat on the back. Go ahead and post it, just know that the reward you receive in the form of praise will not be from God.

Scribbles Notes and Random Thoughts

Over the last six years, I have frequently found a piece of paper and scribbled an idea into the blank space. Sometimes the ideas come while I am driving in the silence of my car, other times they happen during a conversation, and often they come to me during worship. I scribble down a line or a phrase and then put it in my pile of papers to process. Those words will then get written or typed into a notebook. Then they become the fodder for this blog and my sermon series.

Recently I was flipping through the pages and noticed some patterns. Several of the topics come up again and again in my thinking. Here are the three biggest concerns of my life and ministry as seen in my notebook.

1. How people become spiritually mature. What is it going to take to get you to grow in your faith? I want to help people to become more like Jesus in the ways they think, feel and act. Sometimes I teach from a passage in the Bible and other times through practical steps learned from life experience. I long for everyone to become fully mature believers no matter where you are on your journey with God now. My question for today is, “What are you doing this day and this week to develop a life fully committed to God?”

2. How we view and relate to people who call themselves believers. This one takes several pages to cover completely in my notebook. What should we say to new believers? What do we do about people we don’t like or agree with who come into our lives? Some of the latest thoughts have been focused on false or fake believers. The Bible repeatedly refers to false teachers, false apostles, and Christians who are only after self-interests. One of the most significant issues every follower of Jesus is going to face is how they relate to the other followers of Jesus. How might God be pushing you to grow in your love and understanding of those who also call on his name?

3. What it means to be the Church body. As a Church leader, I am always hoping to learn and grow in my knowledge of this thing that I lead. I want to know the best practices and the worst habits. I want to know how to engage the world while remaining faithful to Jesus. The people who follow me should know my hopes and dreams for God’s people. There is so much to learn about being the body of Christ, and I want the Church I lead to be fully equipped to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community. What are you learning about the Church lately that is worth repeating for the benefit of everyone?

At this moment I have pages of scribbled notes and incomplete thoughts. One day all of them will probably make their way onto this blog or into a sermon. I did find it fascinating that I can write an idea and then go back a year and find a similar idea already written down. I guess the writer of Ecclesiastes was correct, “There is nothing new under the sun.” My ministry is repeating the same basic ideas until we all reach unity in the faith, which should take a lifetime.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best posts I have read lately. I hope you enjoy.

5 Reasons We Need to Pray For Our Teachers

Don’t Become Weary in Doing Good

Context Matters: Your Body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit

If We Can Worship Anywhere, Why Go To Church?

IDES helping with hurricane recovery on two fronts – International Disaster Emergency Services is an organization in our brotherhood of Churches who specialize in disaster relief. I highly recommend you use them if you are interested in helping in times like these.

Mirror, mirror – A thought worth pondering

Gloom (and doom)

Stop Doing the Same Things

The old saying does something like this, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result.”

Even with that definition and understanding I still see people doing the same actions repeatedly. Either they repeat their own actions, or they do what everyone else is doing. Very few people who I encounter seem interested in results.

Almost weekly I have a conversation with someone who tells me how tired they are right now. Usually, that is followed by an explanation of how busy they have been lately. The end result of their actions is exhaustion. Here is where it gets interesting to me. Even though their life is draining every ounce of energy out of them, they do nothing to change it. Then somewhere in the not so distant future, they will be tired again because they have been so busy. And on and on it goes, week after week and month after month. I always want to ask them directly, “How long are you going to run on this treadmill before you realize it is leading nowhere?”

It gets worse, we then look out our window and watch our neighbor, co-workers, and the people we admire also running on the treadmill. We guess that must be the best way to live and we repeat the same pattern. Somehow, we never notice their marriages falling apart, children who are far from God, and their emotional wreckage.

People all around us, and quite possibly that person is you, are exhausted, burnt out, struggling in their marriage, fighting with their kids, feeling lonely, and living with a host of other issues. Yet, no one seems to adjust their behavior.

If you want a better life, a life more like Jesus, then you are going to have to stop doing the same old things. If you are not happy with your spiritual life, emotional health or family dynamics then the solution is not found in repeating the same weekly routines over and over again.

The life of faith calls us to a different type of thinking and action. Paul told the Church in Rome that they needed a renewing of their mind that would lead to different action. Only then would they see a different result.

Before you spend this day mindlessly doing the same things would you take a few minutes and ask, “Is this getting the results I desire in my life?” Before you plan another weekend would you ask, “Will my actions these few days get the results I desire?” Before you start next week would you ask yourself, “Why I am I doing the same things every week?”

I believe that Jesus life looked nothing like the culture of his time. Quite possibly God is calling your life to look more like his than anyone else.

Three Additional Ways God Might Be Trying to Teach You

Life is a series of lessons God is using to teach us for us to be more like Jesus. Every day we have the opportunity to learn something new or be reminded of an old truth. Quite often we miss what he is showing us simply because we are not looking for an education. We all know of how God can use Bible reading, the study of scripture and daily quiet time to grow us. Lately, I am noticing three non-traditional ways God has been using to teach me, and he might be using the same methods in your life.

1. Exposure to a new perspective. Some days a new person is thrust into my life who views everything differently. These people come to Church, we encounter in the community, or they might show up in our reading. Their life experience and ours are not similar, and it gives them a unique perspective we have not contemplated. When these people and their views come to us, we have the choice to push them away or learn from them. Maybe that new coworker from another part of the country or the world is there to teach us something. Maybe that neighbor with a different political bent is God’s way of stretching our thinking. Is it possible that God is using a different vantage point to challenge each one of us?

2. Repeated messages. Sometimes it seems that God wants me to hear him, so he sends repeated messengers. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a book, a passage of scripture and had a conversation that all seemed to be connected. There have been times that even things as unchristian as a TV show and a movie have appeared linked to my Bible reading. I think it is worth taking note of anything that had been repeated three or more times in recent memory. It is highly likely that God is communicating, and he wants to make sure you are listening.

3. Situations I want to avoid. As an introvert, I know this is true for me. When I see a crowd of people I do not know; my natural inclination is to run and hide. I am beginning to see these situations as opportunities to push myself to be more like Jesus in unnatural ways. You might not be an introvert, and so maybe the opposite is true for you. You need to leave the crowd and spend time quietly alone in reflection. Whenever we are put in positions that are uncomfortable, perhaps those are the moments God is trying to enlarge our faith.

I know of a guy who keeps a journal every evening. His plan is simple, at the end of every day he wants to write down at least one thing that God has taught him that day. There are nights when he writes down several thoughts, but he never goes a day without noticing something. I want to suggest that every day God is not only working in your life but on it. He is putting you into situations and giving you experiences that will make you more like Jesus in every way. Perhaps you have just not taken note of them before this day.

Today is another day in which you can make it your goal to simply “get through it.” It could also be a day where you grow in your faith as God instructs you.

Focus on the Big Picture

We live in a culture of quick fixes and short answers. Tweets were 140 characters but are now a whopping 280. Books and articles are reduced to quotes. News consists of 30 second sound bites no matter how much they are taken out of context. Everything needs to be concise and able to share. You can even post a Bible verse to encapsulate your spiritual walk.

Unfortunately, the scriptures give little attention to timely quotes and momentary lessons. The books of the Bible are extended tales and usually, take a long view of life. The immediate situation is always laid in the context of a bigger story.

I just finished preaching on the book of Ruth and found this truth portrayed to me once again. The story covers at least a dozen years in the first chapter. The rest of the story takes another three months to find some sense of completion, then the story turns and gives us a picture of conception and birth that take another nine months. Finally, the story ends not with one family, but a genealogy of four generations. The final words of the story are hundreds of years in the making.

This is not the only story to highlight this thinking in the Old Testament. Joseph in the book of Genesis must endure slavery, lies, prison and be forgotten before he achieves anything years later. Job is a man who gains, loses, wrestles, and regains over a lifetime. Moses will spend forty years in Egypt, another 40 as a shepherd and then 40 years as a leader. Then the story really doesn’t reach a climax as Moses dies outside of the promised land. Jeremiah watches his countryman go off into exile. God promises to bless them in just a mere 70 years.

God’s word continually reminds us that our story cannot be reduced to a few moments or words. The scenes we see being played out are part of a much bigger story that God himself is writing.

I think we need to be reminded of this every single day. The temptation is to focus on what happened this day and ride the emotional wave of success and defeat as each day closes. The story of your life is much more complicated than one day in 2018. You are part of an intricate story that God has been writing since before you were born and will continue sharing after you are gone. Ruth in the Old Testament did not know the great king David, but her story of faithfulness and commitment will impact generations of unseen people.

Today, no matter how bad things seem, your life is part of a grand story. You need to trust that the author is creating a bigger narrative than just today.