Friday, May 31, 2013


Friday, June 1, 2013

I have no problem with “separate”; I’m an introvert.  In a culture that almost worships and deifies high energy, extroverted relationships, I am quite comfortable with quiet thought.  That’s a rather awkward statement to make because, as a pastor, expectations are that I will be engaging, feeding-off relationships and crowds.  Not so!  In fact after a busy Sunday preaching and engaging with people it takes me a full day, sometimes two, just to get back a bit of energy.
 It’s not that I dislike people – just the opposite is true.  Those who know me best will tell you that if I have a fault, it’s that I think the best of people’s intentions, and always give the benefit of the doubt.  People have to prove they have wrong intentions, and even then I hold strongly to the hope that it was just a temporary blip, and soon all will be well.  I’m wrong sometimes, but that’s the life of a hopeful introvert!
In today’s Scripture, the admonition to “be separate” isn’t suggesting you fill out a membership application for the introvert’s club…but it’s close.  We introverts hope all the extroverted, fun, engaging people will like us, but we’re not going to lose sleep if you don’t.  Being separate isn’t about being self-sufficient, go-it-alone John Wayne tough; anything but!  Separation is more about living a life consistent with Christian values so you don’t have to “go it alone”. 

Life lived in-Christ is a life that often times turns its back on the most popular thoughts and activities this world offers.  If you’re an introvert, that makes choosing a different road a lot easier; after all, you do it naturally!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Leviathan & Behemoth

In your Bible, Genesis is the first of 66 books.  However, if the books were placed in chronological order, Job would be first; it is the oldest written record of the Word of God.  In Job we find the most fertile references to Leviathan and Behemoth…the dinosaurs.
We are, perhaps, all familiar with the story of Job; at least the part that is proverbial, the patience, or troubles, of Job.  Job was a good guy, genuinely righteous before God.  He was a husband, father of a number of grown children, and a rich landowner.  As a respected member of his community Job sat in on the governing council of the city. 
Now, Satan, the opposer and accuser, caused the worst kinds of trials in Job’s life as a temptation to Job’s faith in God.  In the space of an afternoon’s time Job lost everything but his life.  All his children were killed, his riches stolen, and even the respect of his wife and friends vanished.  Hero to zero in nothing flat!
Well, that entire calamity happened in chapter one.  In the aftermath, for the next 36 chapters, Job is sitting on the ash heap of his life looking for answers.  (You would be too!)  Job’s three friends come to surround him with comfort in his misery.  But in short order the discussion turns ugly; there’s more confrontation than comforting.  Job’s friends keep asking the kind of question that probes what kind of sin Job must have committed to bring such awful punishment from God.  Job loudly defends his innocence for those 36 chapters, crying out for God to speak up and give him some answers.
To those of us who have suffered some life-changing tragedy, or just felt the advance of old age and decline, Job’s hollering in the darkness – OK, so tell me, GOD, what did I do wrong?” – is no strange thing.

What does this have to do with dinosaurs?                                Stay tuned!

Our text this morning is God’s answer to Job.  In that answer are also many answers to life’s most taunting and mysterious questions.  There is an answer to why the righteous suffer; there is an answer to where we come from and how our universe works.  And there is even an answer to the questions about dinosaurs (although the primary reason God gives it isn’t to satisfy our idle curiosity).
Hear God’s response to chapter one of Job’s tragedy, followed by 36 chapters of Job’s whining; hear the Word of the Lord:
Job 38:1 - 4 (TLB)
1Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind: 2“Why are you using your ignorance to deny my providence?  3Now get ready to fight, for I am going to demand some answers from you, and you must reply. 4“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.   
Job 40:6 - 9 (TLB) 
6Then the Lord spoke to Job again from the whirlwind: 7“Stand up like a man and brace yourself for battle. Let me ask you a question, and give me the answer.  8Are you going to discredit my justice and condemn me so that you can say you are right?  9Are you as strong as God, and can you shout as loudly as he?                      
Job 40:15 - 24 (TLB)
15“Take a look at the Behemoth[1]!  I made him, too, just as I made you!  He eats grass like an ox.  16See his powerful loins and the muscles of his belly.  17His tail is as straight as a cedar. The sinews of his thighs are tightly knit together.  18His vertebrae lie straight as a tube of brass. His ribs are like iron bars.  19How ferocious he is among all of God’s creation, so let whoever hopes to master him bring a sharp sword!  20The mountains offer their best food to him—the other wild animals on which he preys.  21He lies down under the lotus plants, hidden by the reeds, 22covered by their shade among the willows there beside the stream.  23He is not disturbed by raging rivers, not even when the swelling Jordan rushes down upon him.  24No one can catch him off guard or put a ring in his nose and lead him away.      
Job 41:1 - 34 (TLB)
1“Can you catch Leviathan with a hook and line? Or put a noose around his tongue?  2Can you tie him with a rope through the nose, or pierce his jaw with a spike?  3Will he beg you to desist or try to flatter you from your intentions?  4Will he agree to let you make him your slave for life?  5Can you make a pet of him like a bird, or give him to your little girls to play with?  6Do fishing partners sell him to the fishmongers?  7Will his hide be hurt by darts, or his head with a harpoon? 8“If you lay your hands upon him, you will long remember the battle that ensues and you will never try it again!  9No, it’s useless to try to capture him. It is frightening even to think about it!  10No one dares to stir him up, let alone try to conquer him. And if no one can stand before him, who can stand before me?  11I owe no one anything. Everything under the heaven is mine. 12“I should mention, too, the tremendous strength in his limbs and throughout his enormous frame.  13Who can penetrate his hide, or who dares come within reach of his jaws?  14For his teeth are terrible.  15-17His overlapping scales are his pride, making a tight seal so no air can get between them, and nothing can penetrate. 18“When he sneezes, the sunlight sparkles like lightning across the vapor droplets. His eyes glow like sparks.  19Fire leaps from his mouth.  20Smoke flows from his nostrils, like steam from a boiling pot that is fired by dry rushes.  21Yes, his breath would kindle coals—flames leap from his mouth. 22“The tremendous strength in his neck strikes terror wherever he goes.  23His flesh is hard and firm, not soft and fat.  24His heart is hard as rock, just like a millstone.  25When he stands up, the strongest are afraid. Terror grips them.  26No sword can stop him, nor spear nor dart nor pointed shaft.  27-28Iron is nothing but straw to him, and brass is rotten wood. Arrows cannot make him flee. Sling stones are as ineffective as straw.  27-28Iron is nothing but straw to him, and brass is rotten wood. Arrows cannot make him flee. Sling stones are as ineffective as straw.  29Clubs do no good, and he laughs at the javelins hurled at him.  30His belly is covered with scales as sharp as shards; they tear up the ground as he drags through the mud. 31-32“He makes the water boil with his commotion. He churns the depths. He leaves a shining wake of froth behind him. One would think the sea was made of frost!  31-32“He makes the water boil with his commotion. He churns the depths. He leaves a shining wake of froth behind him. One would think the sea was made of frost!  33There is nothing else so fearless anywhere on earth.  34Of all the beasts, he is the proudest—monarch of all that he sees.”      

one quick disclaimer

Although the Bible contains history and scientific information, the purpose of God’s Word is not textbook or reference volume.  The Bible is Theo-logical, revealing of God to humankind and helping us understand our Creator.  The Bible’s purpose is not to satisfy our curiosity, it is given to help us know and have relationship with the One who loves us, and is Sovereign of the universe.
The Simple answer
From whence cometh the dinosaurs?  God made them.  Just like he made us, God created Behemoth, the land monster, and Leviathan, creature of the seas.  That he made them a long, long time ago is hardly debatable, or even necessarily debatable.  We have the fossil records that show they existed, validating what Job indicated, they were huge, ferocious, hideous and ruthless monster-like creatures, which no longer exist (unless you count the IRS).
Perhaps a greater question associated with the dinosaurs than “where” is “why”.  Why, indeed, would a loving God create such mean critters to roam around devouring other beings?  One key verse in understanding God’s “why” is Job 41:10.  In pointing to the dreaded Leviathan God says:
No one dares to stir him up, let alone try to conquer him.                                         And if no one can stand before him, who can stand before me? 
God helps us understand his sovereignty over everything by pointing to a mere created being – fierce as it is – too much for a mortal to handle.  He says…Look at that beast; you wouldn’t pick a fight with him for all the wealth of Solomon’s kingdom.  I created that beast without breaking a sweat, and yet you think you might have the stuff to take me on?
The dinosaurs, including the biggest and meanest of them, Behemoth and Leviathan, serve as a metaphor for everything that’s wrong in this fallen world.  Satan, himself is personified in Leviathan[2] as being the chief engineer of evil and sin.
Isaiah 27:1 (TLB)
In that day the Lord will take his terrible, swift sword and punish leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent, the dragon of the sea.
In Biblical thought every sort of woe and evil that has come upon humankind traces to the tempter – Satan.  But, in God’s kindness, we also see the demise of Leviathan. 
Just like the ferocity and terror of Behemoth and Leviathan mirror the effects of sin – such as terrorism, war and injustice at every level – so the extinction of the dinosaurs give us a tight glimpse of what is going to be the fate of Satan and his trade.  Revelation 19 teaches us that Behemoth and Leviathan that old dragon are cast into the lake of fire for eternity.  Sin and death shall be no more!
The dinosaurs controlled planet earth for a season, just like Satan is the prince of darkness here and now.  But his rule is limited, because God’s design included his eventual defeat and destruction.  We humans could not do this for ourselves; hence the cross:
Hebrews 2:14 - 15 (TLB)
 Since we, God’s children, are human beings—made of flesh and blood—he became flesh and blood too by being born in human form; for only as a human being could he die and in dying break the power of the devil who had the power of death.  15Only in that way could he deliver those who through fear of death have been living all their lives as slaves to constant dread.
what do we do with that?
God had a purpose for creating Behemoth and Leviathan – to show us how far out of reach our eternity is without him.  But his far greater purpose is to show us how close his hand is extending towards us to offer that eternity by the cross of Christ.
What we do with that knowledge is to respond to Christ’s offer by accepting Him as Savior, making Him Lord over our lives, and trusting our future to His loving care and kindness.
Romans 15:4 (TLB)
 4These things that were written in the Scriptures so long ago are to teach us patience and to encourage us so that we will look forward expectantly to the time when God will conquer sin and death.
John 20:31 (TLB)
31but these are recorded so that you will believe that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing in him you will have life.
The demise of sin, sickness, sadness and death is on its way as certainly as the extinction of Behemoth and Leviathan.  It’s like we say in the graveyard at every funeral when we quote Paul:
…in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye….
And we quote John Donne…
…death be not proud….death, thou shalt die!

[1] References to “hippopotamus” and “crocodile” have been changed to “Behemoth” and “Leviathan”.
[2] Isaiah 27:1

Friday, May 24, 2013


Friday, May 24, 2013

I feel a lot like I have always imagined Lazarus must’ve felt that day; alive and still a bit dead!
Having a viral infection that knocks you off your feet for a week is not fun.  There isn’t much difference between a drug-induced stupor and the grave.  The only thing that reminds you that you’re not fully-dead is the hacking cough in the middle of the night.
 Finally returning to enough of your right mind, you look in the mirror and think about shaving again.  That’s no picnic either.  It’s a gruesome sight (trust me).  Besides the week of facial stubble, there is the matted hair, bloodshot eyes…and don’t forget the breath!  Whew!  Well, aren’t you glad I let you in on all that?
Bodily functions aside – don’t we all wonder what the experience was like for Lazarus?  He’d been in the grave for 3 days; no noise, no pain, no thoughts… 

Really….no thoughts? 

Then, what’s all this about an immortal soul?  Does the soul cease to think in the grave?  Well, if not, then is it asleep?  On vacation?  What?  Well, that discussion could go on and on; it’s my opinion that the soul never ceases to be what God created.  Even in our earthly sleep we dream, working on communicating (to/with our soul). 
If there’s an interlude in death at all, it is while the soul waits.  And what the souls of persons wait for, is what the soul was made for, resurrection and reunion with the soul’s Maker.  And Lazarus got that, firsthand!
I’m certain life was still less than “squeaky-clean” after Lazarus’ awakening.  He still had to pay bills, scratch out a living and deal with a cranky neighbor or two.  That’s what life here is all about – messy.  But that’s the whole point!  In this messy life you need the clarity of remembering the resurrection and reunion.  Remember immortality!
That’s what I feel this morning, back from my “viral grave”…immortal in Christ.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Loving Like Jesus Loved

If you’re going to love like Jesus loved, sometimes you will just have to find a way!  That’s not always easy, and I admit, I am not very resourceful.  There are times when people irk me, and I find them quite unlovable.  Yet, Jesus, who I’m certain didn’t find much in me that was loveable, died for me on a cross.  He found a way.

How are you doing with finding a way to love?

In Witnesses of a Third Way: A Fresh Look at Evangelism, Robert Neff's chapter includes this story about visiting a church service: 

It was one of those mornings when the tenor didn't get out of bed on the right side....As I listened to his faltering voice, I looked around.  People were pulling out hymnals to locate the hymn being sung by the soloist. 

By the second verse, the congregation had joined the soloist in the hymn.  And by the third verse, the tenor was beginning to find the range.  And by the fourth verse, it was beautiful.  And on the fifth verse the congregation was absolutely silent, and the tenor sang the most beautiful solo of his life.  That is life in the body of Christ, enabling one another to sing the tune Christ has given us. [1]

So, how about us?  It’s easy to read and be inspired about someone else loving like Jesus loved.  But, when our tests come, we (you and I) often succumb to anger and judgment.

That can change today.  Begin with the prayer of surrender, “Lord Jesus, teach my hard heart to love like You loved, I give up the struggle right now!”  See what happens.

[1] John H. Unger, Brandon, Manitoba, In Leadership, Vol.11, no.4 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dare To Be a Dreamer

Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your old men will dream dreams,     and your young men will see visions.  Joel 2:28 (NLT)
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.                                                                                                  Romans 8:14 (NLT)
Spirituality is big these days.  With the advent of the “New Age” movement, even well-known celebrities talk about spiritual things.  Sarah Michelle Gellar is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  In an interview Buffy said her …personal spirituality borrows from a hodgepodge of religions.  I consider myself a spiritual person.  I believe in an idea of God, although it's my own personal ideal.  I find most religions interesting, and I've been to every kind of denomination: Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist.  I've taken bits from everything and customized it.[1]
There you have buffet-style spirituality (where you pick a little of this which you like from that religion…and a little of something else here and there); it is the number one religion these days. 
The problem with that when it comes to spirituality, is that you can be sincere in what you think – it just doesn’t mean you’re going to be right in what you think. 
When it comes to God, just because you’re sincere about what you think, doesn’t make you right – or acceptable in God’s eyes.  You cannot simply pick what you want to believe about God. 
In fact, sincerity that is aimed in the wrong direction can get you in big trouble.  God reserves for Himself how He is to be worshipped; THAT is the whole issue of a transcendent God, One who is greater than His own creation.  Either He is Sovereign…in charge…or He really isn’t God.  We cannot tell God what He is to be like, or how to act. 
From today’s texts of Joel in the Old Testament, to Paul in the New, and on down to this very moment, God tells us He will lead us, and we should follow Him.   Living life led by the Spirit of God is no simple chore!  What can be said about the Spirit-led life?
It’s a Life of Dreams and Vision
Visionary Spirit-leadership, according to the Bible, is like a window through which we wonder about tomorrow.  The word “vision” is (in Hebrew  חִזָּיוֹן, chizzâyôn), literally, a revelation[2].  It means we contemplate tomorrow.  Plant life and animals can’t do that.  They react to surrounding influences; they respond to instincts within to build a den or protect a cub.  Only humans set goals and dream of tomorrow’s possibilities.
Do you have goals, dreams and visions?  Are you planning for a bigger tomorrow than today?  Are you planning for a greater tomorrow?  I mean, are you involving yourself in something greater than yourself?
To be led by the Spirit of God is to bend your will to His and allow His revealed word (as we have in the Scripture) to inform your human mind and spirit – to shape you into the image of Christ, obedient, yielded, usable.

How do you do that?

I’ve known far too many people who prayed for the will of God to be revealed, only to sit, unfulfilled for years awaiting the sky to part, and a new Biblical text to unfold mystically before their eyes.  With every revival, and every call for commitment they hold off putting themselves on the line of obedience because somehow the great vision hasn’t yet happened.  They live life wallowing in second-guessing and miserable guilt, sensing they have not followed God.  They’re right…nothing surrendered, nothing gained!
Others I’ve known have made a conscious decision to accept and follow Christ according to the revelation they have; they trust Him to reveal Himself.  They got busy in a local church, studied their Bibles, shared their faith and gave of themselves to build the kingdom of God wherever they are, however they could, with whatever God gave them. 
God has given us plenty of vision.  He tells us to cooperate in building His church, the visible symbol of the Kingdom of God.
…upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.
Matthew 16:18 (NLT)
He tells us to love and care for one another – as we would care for Him in person.
 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’                      Matthew 25:40 (NLT)
He tells us to set our goals on things eternal, great visions, magnificent dreams. 
Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.            Matthew 6:20 (NLT)
The Spirit-led life is a life of dreams and vision.  And…
It’s a Life in the Light
Darkness is for bumping into things.  We have all made our share of mistakes.  We have all jumped to the wrong conclusion at times.  We’ve all made the “dumb and dumber list”.
Vision is God’s light on what we think about life.  Figuring out whether we have God’s perspective on something we’re planning to do can be difficult.  James helps us at this point. 
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.   
He will not rebuke you for asking.            James 1:5 (NLT)
Is your vision, a Godly dream or a pipe dream?  Does it match with God’s will?  Bring the light of God’s word to bear on your vision.  It’s a life in the light!  Again…

How Do I Do That?

There are numbers of ways to verify your dreams and visions.  The primary way is prayer and study of the scripture.  Does your life’s path line-up with what God said in His word.  Much heartache and wasted effort could have been avoided in the past had some penetrating questions been put to the Biblical test. 
Ananias and Saphira thought they had a good plan.  They sold a piece of land.  They told the church leaders they were going to give all the money to the Lord’s work.  Secretly they decided to hold back some (nobody would know).  God knew, and lying isn’t part of his plan.  They thought they had a vision of being chief in the giving department – they wound-up feet first in the morgue!
Question #1 is always:  Does your vision line-up with God’s Word?
Another way to bring your vision to light is to share it with respected leaders in the Kingdom.  The scripture says
Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.
Proverbs 11:14 (NLT)
I cannot tell you the number of times I have been saved from myself by the wise counsel of a mentor, or caring church leaders.  I have learned about myself that sometimes I can have a good vision, a Godly vision, but my goals may be off.  Clarifying our vision and goals by sharing in the light of Godly believer’s counsel is God’s way of sharing wisdom. 
I went to school with another pastor.  He had a desire to be the best pastor God would make him…a wonderful vision.  He also had trouble getting along with his wife.  The man stood up in a pastor’s meeting and told the rest of us he was going to divorce his wife so he could spend all of his time becoming a better pastor. 
Friends, God has told us He hates divorce…my colleague-pastor misses the point that you cannot pick and choose where the light of God’s Word falls.  When your vision or dream doesn’t square with God’s word, you don’t have God’s blessing.
Spirit-led – a life of visions and dreams, a life in the light, and…
It’s a Life of Growth
Every living thing is born, grows and dies.  That is a life-cycle.  Your visions and dreams are living things.  If they are nurtured and tended they will grow.  Are you growing?
I read a book[3] some years ago by Dr. Robert Dale of Southeastern Seminary.  The book outlines the health cycle of organizations – with application particularly for church health.  The author traces how things happen in local churches like ours, all the way from first dream, to the pinnacle of ministry, and down the slide to dropout.
In the book’s introduction Dr. Dale suggests there are four ways to revitalize a church, organizationally-speaking.
·        Policy change – this is the easiest…change the way you do things and create some excitement.  Easy, but rarely transforming!
·        Personnel change – fire the minister (let’s not go there!), or get new lay leaders. 
·        Program change – We do that all the time.
·        Purpose revitalization…that is, we re-focus on our reason for being here, and re-cast the vision and dream about where we’re going. 
In the case of our church, it means we focus on what God wants done in this community, and make some plans to get there.
I want to suggest to you today that a real hallmark of being led of the Spirit of God is not how many “screw loose” ideas you can come up with; or policy and program changes.  It isn’t about having a phony smile on your face or singing Kumbayah with feeling. 
Being Spirit-led is all about sticking to the purpose for which God placed you on this planet.  It’s about being an obedient and pliable instrument in the hands of God to accomplish His will.  It’s all about hard work and commitment with no personal agenda; it’s all about being ready to sacrifice and risk what you have for the sake of being the best servant on earth, approved in Heaven.  It’s all about what the Apostle Paul told Timothy he needed to be about…
Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.              Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.          2 Timothy 2:15 (NLT)
·        Do you dare to have visions and dreams? 
·        Do you dare to bring them into the light of God’s wisdom and share them with the family of God? 
You can be that way.  God told us that Jesus died just for that…for you, so that you could be living an abundant life, filled with the poured-out Spirit of the living God.  He did it because He loves you.
Dare to be a dreamer; it’s the best life yet!

[1] Ted Olson, "Buffy's Religion," Christianity Today (7-08-02), p. 10
[2] Strongs Hebrew and Greek Concordance
[3] Robert D. Dale, To Dream Again, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1981

Friday, May 17, 2013

Change of Plans

May 17, 2013
In 1981 Elizabeth and I stood in a chapel service at seminary, along with 1,200 other students and faculty.  The preacher had extended a call to follow Christ in mission without reserve – no matter where He wanted us to follow, and despite whatever conditions existed.  Even the song we sang was “Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go”.  We responded to that call, promising to do just that!

Now, it’s great to have a mountaintop experience when you’re headed for the valley; it helps you remember what (and Who) your focus should be.  In our naivety, however, we never imagined that the plans and pathway of ministry could change so dramatically and so often!

Our vision of serving Christ as a pastoral family was kind of a Norman Rockwell painting – a snapshot, frozen in time, with pastor, wife and three kids.  Thirty years later we were supposed to be still in the same location, having developed loving relationships with the same people in the same town. 

Those were MY plans!

Fast forward thirty-two years and nine churches….I am now at the end of another first year in a new place.  For the last three decades we’ve lived with the expression “life turns on a dime”!  Although the Lord has led us into different (and unexpected) places, His Word has never varied and His promises have always been true and trustworthy.  We have been blessed more than if our plans had been followed to the letter.  Truth…I’m glad God used His plans instead of mine!

So….what’s on YOUR agenda?

Have you made plans?  That’s good; plenty of Biblical support for laying foundations and setting goals.

Are you following Christ?  Great!  You’re on the road to blessing.

Have you set those dreams, plans and goals in stone?  Hmmm….you might want to rethink that one.