Friday, March 26, 2010

Our Peculiar Journey - Chapter 1

So often when we gather together as saints of God, the enemy of our souls will delight in the application of a lie that will cause us to compare ourselves with one another. And that devilish comparison may be couched in areas of virtue or vice.

We may compare ourselves with others in matters of goodness. Christian service, zeal in worship, devotion to study and discipleship or even a simple thing like frequency of church attendance all fall into areas of virtue that we use to compare ourselves. Anyone remember the Sunday school pencil you got for perfect attendance? It made you feel pretty superior didn’t it? Or maybe you just ate the eraser off the end?

Maybe comparisons arise in our minds because of certain vices we’ve yet to be free from. The argument comes like this; “Well at least I’m not as bad as…” Or maybe it comes like this; “I used to do that, but thank God I don’t anymore. How come they can’t get their act together and get the victory?”

Or maybe the comparisons are not named for the vices or struggles weaker brothers and sisters are living with, but they come in the form of disdain or impatience.

Or maybe silent comparisons are even made between fellow ministers. They’re usually based upon congregation size. But rarely are they based upon the preaching of truth or spiritual health and emotional freedom.

Regardless of what kinds of comparisons are drawn, we’ve all been on both ends of their destructive influence. Which is very unfortunate and likely grieves the Holy Spirit.

It is from these various places in life that God calls us to a journey and a mandate founded upon grace and mercy. A journey based upon faith not works or place in the race.

Because each of us comes from a different location in the process of redemption; grace and mercy must be our watch words. And for those who believe they have apparently arrived at some place of victory and success; grace and mercy, not disdain and impatience must be evident to all. And for those of us still marching in cadence who often weary in their journey; we must call cadence to one another through encouraging words of faith, grace and mercy. Remember it’s the kindness of God that leads us to change our minds, not His frustration with our lack of progress.

If you believe you have arrived at a place where victory and overcoming are daily feelings and evidenced in the fruit of your life; then glory to God in the highest! Give thanks with a grateful heart that God has endured with you to your point of your arrival. But take heed lest ye fall. Many are still on the journey.

I note this issue of comparison, because the hallmark of the Christian life in Christ is that each of us comes from a peculiar place in life yet if we remain in Him our destination is very positive! Regardless of negative starts or side roads along the way.

For some the journey looks like a rerun from “Leave it to Beaver” and for others it looks like something right out of the television show “Cops”. But either way, it is by the grace of God that we are even called to this journey. It is NOT NOR EVER WILL be based upon where we started out or even how we proceed on the journey.

So the next time you look at someone who is on their way to where God wants them to be, repent of the times you’ve judged their progress and just know… you’ve been on your own PECULIAR JOURNEY.

Well I’ve got to get back to my own peculiar journey, because a very positive destination awaits me!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Trial of TOO MUCH

I’m sitting quietly in a nicely furnished room at the Teen Challenge of the Midlands in Colfax, Iowa. No, I’m not in the program, but had I access to it 27 years ago it would have been a powerful life changing experience.

The reason I’m here is because while being bi-vocational has its benefits, sabbatical time is not one of them. Meaning, one must separate ones self in a quiet time of fasting and prayer to adequately here from God on matters of life and faith. And busy daily life just makes it tough to garner those hours with God.

So, I’ve taken a short break away from the activities and responsibilities of my daily life. My goal is two fold: 1) to get some much needed rest and concentration on the things of God and my life; and 2) to sharpen my vision for the coming days by much prayer, fasting, reading and most of all isolation from way TOO MUCH stuff.

That’s right TOO MUCH stuff.

Now don’t get me wrong (as if that ever happens); I like the stuff that makes up life. I like my jobs, my wife, my kids, my dog, my money, my church, my food, my entertainment, my friends, my dirt bike, my home, my study, my books, my tools, my own bed, my refrigerator, my toaster, my coffee maker, my microwave, my television, ummm… did I say my stove, my snacks, my wife’s great cooking, ummm… the list is seeming to reveal the fact that I’m presently fasting, so forgive my list… but have I missed anything?

Because we have so much of everything, we are thrust into the TRIAL OF TOO MUCH (Revelation 3:17). That’s right, having access to so many amenities and comforts in life, at such high levels of excess puts each of us smack dab in the middle of a balancing act between idolatry and loyalty to God. I say that because even the most honest and loyal believers are torn between the things of this world that hold little to no immoral affect upon us, but often tend to steal our time and focus. They dull our ability to sense or feel or even commune with the Living God on a level known only to a few.

And why is that level so little known; because we have so much stuff in our lives. When I say stuff I mean material possessions and provisions as well as obligations and responsibilities. Please understand that I’m not suggesting that we all bail out on modern American life, but I am suggesting that we take time to understand the blessings and the curses associated with having TOO MUCH STUFF.

Too much stuff tends to keep us from each other and God. Too much stuff spreads our life resources way too thin. Too much stuff often requires way too much time. And too much stuff can make us fat and lazy (not just physically).

Now granted, some folks are masters of the 168 hours God gives each of us per week, but my bet is this; the person who believes they’ve mastered the week God’s given them, just might have ignored or omitted something that is more valuable than STUFF. Maybe quality and quantity TIME alone with God?

Take the poll I will post to the right of this blog. Be honest and answer the questions accurately. My guess is that most of us could use a little more quiet time with God, but TOO MUCH STUFF sucks our time, money and energy right out of the lives God has given us.

I guess it’s all about balance, but I still think we have TOO MUCH STUFF. All of which tends to place an inordinate TRIAL on the souls of those already tested and tried by the invisible (Ephesians 6:12), let alone the visible.

On that note I will stop. At the moment I have less STUFF surrounding me and calling me, so I will relish in the restoration and relationship I will receive.

Good night and good stuff.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Just a Note on My Morning:

Most pastors are preparing for their traditional Wednesday night Bible study on Wednesday morning. Here’s how my bi-vocational-crazy-daily-full-schedule-day unfolds.

7:00 AM – I’m trying to drink my second cup of coffee after spending quality time with my wife.
7:30 AM – I sit down to begin a billing statement for my last few weeks of work.
8:00 AM – I take a phone call from my current client regarding issues on our present job.
8:30 AM – I begin reviewing my tax return from my CPA (Thomas Hammar the best). I click yes OK.
9:00 AM – I continue on with my billing statement for present client on the kitchen remodel & other stuff.
9:30 AM – Sarah’s off to assist with our new client RE life issues and job expectations.
10:00 AM – I’m hoping to be done with billing and phone calls, but Hydro-Clean has just blown sewage up through our drains because the city is putting a new liner inside our 12 inch sewer main at the street.
10:30 AM – I’m out front of the house whistling at the Hydro-Clean guy to find out why sew gas is bubbling up through the toilets and showers of our house. Then I use bleach cleaner to mop up the mess.
11:00 AM – I’m calling Sarah to keep her up to speed as to what my morning has entailed.
11:30 AM – Finished the billing statement to present client… wondering if I should stay home and prep for Wednesday night youth group or song set for Sunday AM. THIS IS WHY I NEED THE HOLY SPIRIT TO HELP ME DO MY MINISTRY WORK… and just live my life as God has given it.

Oh the beauty and luxury of being a pastor. Or should I say a bi-vocational pastor.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Has GRACE Become an Entitlment?

I woke up this morning thinking about the role of grace in the everyday lives of each one of us. Most of the time we don’t even think about grace, let alone ponder the depth and breadth of this most special and powerful gift from God, but there is so much more that grace calls for and I think we’ve forgotten that fact.

From the standpoint of the believer in Jesus Christ, we are saved by grace. And many would agree that we are kept (saved) by grace. Both ideas will bring comfort and consolation to those who embrace them, but has grace brought something more to our present culture?

I would suggest that it has. I would suggest that we are living in an age (more than ever) where grace is being used as a “get-out-of-jail-card” and we carry it and flaunt it as if that’s all it’s good for. If I screw up willingly or unwillingly grace is our cover, right? And everyone said, “Amen!”

I don’t have a problem with half of that answer, but I do have a problem with the other half. Can you guess which part?

I say that because at one time, we thought that an increase in law would keep folks from doing sinful things (legalism), but it did not. Actually all it did was drive naughty behavior into the closet. And that pattern is clearly noted in scripture (Romans 5:20a). And while in that pattern of ignorance regarding law, God saw fit to let grace increase (Romans 5:20b).

But clearly, after grace has come, so to should awakening to the raw mercy behind God’s grace, and that awakening should do something to our hearts, it should open us up to a humble understanding that grace is NOT a license to continue with misbehavior (Romans 6:1).

When was the last time you heard SOMEONE teach or preach from this text: Titus 2:11-14?

What has grace taught you? Granted, we can never fully obey the law, but have we developed such an entitlement mindset, especially in this 21st Century American landscape, that we expect God to keep tolerating willful disobedience to even the most simple of His commands?

Israel’s second king, David, a man who sinned to such a degree that most of us wouldn’t even consider him as a church trustee or deacon, let alone making him king had something going for him in the midst of his stupidity and lust. Do you know what that was?

A genuine heart for God, and an understanding that one should NEVER take for granted the mercy and grace of God; by presuming upon such a wonderful gift as forgiveness (Psalm 19:13 KJV).

For in that pre-Romans 6:1 understanding, David gave us a glimpse of a heart that not once believed that grace was an entitlement, that sin was something we could seek to get away with and yet still keep our standing before God.

I ask you this morning: Has GRACE become an entitlement to you? Or are you still humbly grateful and repentant toward the God who gave it all, simply because you could not?


Saturday, March 13, 2010

How Good is Good Enough?

I must preface this blog by stating that I firmly believe that mankind is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and not by any sort of works – period (Ephesians 2:8-9).

I also firmly believe that no one is good except God alone (Luke 18:19).

I further believe that even the apostle Paul struggled with doing what was right when tempted with wrong (Romans 7:1-8:1).

But, I also believe that as time marches toward the parousia, there will be a gradual decline of faith; ultimately leading to a watershed departure from faith, hope and love; as well as a marked increase in the visibility and influence of wickedness (Matthew 24:12, 22; 2 Thessalonians 2:3).

Full yet? So the question weighs heavy on my heart: How good is good enough?

I ask that question because in my life time there have been numerous individuals (some personal friends and acquaintances) specifically ministers of the full gospel (not to mention the present Catholic priest scandal now unfolding in Europe) who operated successfully in their ecclesiastical offices all the while engaging in illicit behaviors. Don’t make me list names and activities. You’d be ticked off if I did.

And maybe you think that my bringing up of this subject is like beating a dead horse, but I beg to differ on the matter. The reason being; patterns of religion and church polity have all but morphed into true relativism. And yes I do really believe that statement. Power seems to be at the heart of the issue; thereby eliminating the lower class or the people of the parish. Who are all but left to fend for themselves in the struggle between right and wrong.

Which brings me to this very question: How good is good enough?

If we were ranking goodness then Oprah has done a boat load of good. Or Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have done major philanthropic good. But how much good garners God’s favor? And what KIND of good garners His favor?

I ask that question because most of us fall and fall again only to be able to appeal to the raw mercy of God upon humble repentance.

So if we were to measure “goodness” on a scale, the first question would be who is zeroing the scale?

Remember that tried and true procedure from science class. First you must zero the scale to get an accurate measurement. So who zeroes the scale God or us? What seems to be happening is WE have been the ones zeroing the scale. Not God.

So maybe we’ve been inaccurately setting the scale to zero; so as to make ourselves be right in our own eyes (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). All the while ignoring God’s standard.

Call me a radical reverend from section seven (, but my gut leans more toward what Michael L. Brown wrote in his little book from 1990 (How Saved Are We?).

Granted, no one can be good enough to save themselves, but how far to the left or to the wrong can we gravitate and still maintain our salvation? All of which once again begs the question of Armenians versus Calvinists. Any takers on that debate?

Bottom line: How good is good enough? Maybe we should just do away with any of the hoops we’ve created for people to jump through for ecclesiastical approval. Or maybe we should just do away with names and denominations and laws and policies and just live what Jesus told us to live?

I will never preach like my former pastors, but then again I’ll never cheat on my wife. I hope... and you?

Keep in mind it’s my blog.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

To Franchise of Not

As we move closer to the second decade of the 21st century, the face of the Western American church is changing, and whether it is for the better or not remains to be seen.

Some years back I read that brand loyalty is a dying core value on the American consumer landscape. Further I read that denominational loyalty and brand naming is seeing a similar decline; ergo the dropping of denominational names from signage and church advertising (ours included).

My question is this: Has the product lost its quality and relativity to the consumer? Or has the consumer morphed into a self centered dissatisfied eating machine, whose appetite for change is less driven by need as it is an insatiable lust for more and different; all because more and different are readily available (especially with the infusion of artificially deserved credit in both religion and commerce).

The days of denominational franchising may be all but over. It used to be that one could travel the country and find very common ground amongst churches of like denomination, but that standard IS disappearing rapidly.

Will it be possible to maintain doctrinal core values across the religious spectrum or have we come to our spiritual Rubicon?

Your opinions are needed and welcome.