Showing posts from 2010

An amazing story of light in the midst of darkness in Haiti

Bill Manassero has posted a story you have to read. Check it out here. Haiti is in chaos because of suspected election fraud. There is rioting and looting in the streets. Child Hope's orphanage is in temporary lock-down for safety's sake. Cholera is still in full swing. There is rubble everywhere from the January earthquake. Darkness is blanketing the land.

(To the right is a photo taken by Rod and Brittany Meadth, friends of mine and long-time volunteers at Child Hope. Their blog is here.)

Now zoom in, Google Earth style, from Port-au-Prince to one of the area's many tent cities. A teenage girl is being held against her will as a slave by a group of men. More smothering darkness.

Into this despair and darkness, the light breaks through. God liberates and saves. It's as if he is saying, "I'm still here. I'm still working to free the oppressed. Rioting does not tie my hands."

As I read Bill's story, I think not only of the greatness of God but also…

Something to tremble at

I am reminded this morning of what a precious gift a church is. It's a collection of people's hearts and souls. We all carry baggage and sometimes spend our energy trying to make the church become what we want it to be, and that can make community difficult. But in the midst of that messiness, there is a precious element that can be marveled at but not dissected or controlled. To us, the human heart is a mystery. To God, the human heart is a beloved treasure. As a living collection of mysterious treasures, the church is a truly remarkable phenomenon.
What is more, being a pastor or any kind of leader in a spiritual setting, or even just a member of a church, is something to tremble at.

All of Christianity in the blink of an eye

This morning I preached on the conversion of Saul in Acts 9. It is one of the great human cataclysms of all time -- a man who Luke basically portrays as Church Enemy #1 realizing in a flash (literally) that this "Lord" who manifested himself in overwhelming glory was none other than Jesus. There has never been a bigger "Oh crud" moment in the history of humankind. There has never been a more instantaneous turnaround. In the blink of an eye (literally), the most vehement foe of the cause of Christ becomes the most tireless worker for the cause of Christ.

I like the way William Barclay sums up Saul's fateful encounter with Jesus. It is worth quoting a paragraph from Barclay's commentary on Acts:
There is all of Christianity in what the Risen Christ said to Paul, ‘Go into the city, and you will be told what to do.’ Up to this moment Paul had been doing what he liked, what he thought best, what his will dictated. From this time forward he would be told what to do…

National Day of Listening

When someone says, "Listening is an act of love," my ears perk up. I have long believed listening is one of the most under-appreciated aspects of a loving relationship. Listening is usually overlooked in favor of doing something for the other person. But think about it. When we feel we are not being listened to, we lose all motivation to be around someone. When we are upset or even when we are just sharing our day with someone, we feel valued when they listen. When we listen to someone, we are investing our energy in them. We are humbling ourselves before them. When we really listen -- when we allow their words, perspective, and feelings to affect us -- then we have formed the basis for acting with true compassion toward that person. Listening is indeed an act of love.

Today I found out that the day after Thanksgiving is the National Day of Listening. The holiday was founded in 2008 by StoryCorps, an organization promoting listening and the sharing of stories. "Listening…

God weaves people together -- a Thanksgiving reminder

I have heard the story of Squanto and the earliest Thanksgiving, but I have never appreciated the miraculous nature of Squanto's role in the lives of the pilgrims. I was surfing around on Justin Taylor's blog Between Two Worlds and ran across a post about Thanksgiving. Taylor posts a CNN interview with Eric Metaxas, who wrote a children's book, Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving, in 1999.

Metaxas looks at the Squanto story through the eyes of faith, and his account is powerful. Here is the point that grabbed my attention the most. Metaxas observes how after his village was wiped out by smallpox, Squanto was emotionally broken and was living in the woods by himself. In the settlement, the pilgrims were struggling for survival, half of them having died over the course of a brutal winter. They too were completely broken. Squanto appears out of the woods and helps them survive. Metaxas observes that in this story, God takes broken people and weaves them together, creating…

A request for prayer for Haiti

This is a special message -- actually a special request for prayer. As most of you know, I am involved with Child Hope International, a ministry in Port-au-Prince, Haiti that combines an orphanage, feeding program, medical clinic, and school. Lately we have received requests from Haiti for prayer for two main needs. On top of the ongoing aftermath of the January 12 earthquake, Haiti is suffering with two other afflictions:
1. There is a cholera epidemic sweeping through Haiti. So far none of the children of Child Hope's orphanage have contracted cholera, but Markenson, a graduate of the program and employee at the orphanage, lost a younger brother just a couple of weeks ago. Some 4700 have gotten the disease, 337 of which have died. Cholera is caused by contaminants in water. Please pray for the people of Haiti regarding their water supply.
2. On top of the cholera epidemic, tropical storm Tomas is headed toward Haiti. Thankfully, the storm has been downgraded from a hurricane. Howe…

Politics and the church

Tomorrow is election day, and my friend Tim Morey has written an excellent article on approaching politics with understanding and decorum. The post is called "Towards a Loving, Respectful, Bi-Partisan Christianity." Check it out here.

A scary Halloween story

Yesterday was Halloween, and we decided to go ahead and talk about scary things at the Sanctuary church service. Today I thought I would post the "scary Halloween story" I read in church. Here's the background...

The point of the scary story is to clarify what is scary and what is not. In Acts 6-7, Stephen is put on trial and brutally killed by an angry mob. There are forces that oppose the cause of Christ, and those forces are very powerful. But we are not scared of those forces. Do the apostles seem scared of the world? No. Does Stephen seem scared, even when he knows he is about to lose his life? Miraculously, the closer he gets to death, the more full of peace he seems to become.

God leads the church and each of us into places that are uncomfortable. But we need not be scared of God. He is the supreme good, and anything he asks of us will only be for the betterment of us and our broken world.

The world is not scary, and neither is God. You know what is scary? When we…

Have safe places, but don't play it safe... post 2

In my last post, I pointed out that there are two sides to safety in the Christian life: have safe places, but don't play it safe. The last post dealt with not playing it safe. God didn't call us to play it safe. He called us to be changed and to change the world. 
What about having safe places? My friend Tim Morey (former workmate, pastor of Life Covenant Church in Torrance, and author of Embodying Our Faith) said this to his congregation: We want to be... "the kind of community where God's grace is on display, where a person can be real about their junk and not feel ostracized, where you can be imperfect and not try to hide it." I couldn't agree more! I want that for Sanctuary Church too.
Tim goes on to say, "Not that we don't fail one another on occasion -- as long as the church is full of people there will be mishandled feelings, dropped balls, inconsiderate words, bumps and bruises -- but I'm blessed by how often I hear the church referred to …

Have safe places, but don't play it safe

When it comes to the word "safe," there are two sides of the story for Christians. I was reminded of this while I was preparing to preach at Sanctuary on Sunday morning. I was working on the idea of not playing it safe, but my friend Tim Morey emailed his congregation, urging people to find safe places. So on one hand, safety is something to be avoided, and on another hand, it is something we need.

This weekend at Sanctuary, I urged people not to play it safe with our lives. Gary Haugen has a nice discussion of this in the final chapter of his book Just Courage (a book some of us at Sanctuary have been reading). We innately want to prevent painful situations, and as Haugen puts it, many Christians are playing defense right now instead of offense. He says it compellingly:

"Many Christians are so busy defending their own end zone that they have forgotten the joy of scoring touchdowns. We fret over what might happen to our stuff, our reputation, our standing, our children, …

What does great teaching produce?

Great teaching produces great people. That's how I would sum up Paul's instructions in his letter to Titus. Ironically, as I have read Titus recently in my devotions, I stopped and noticed that I was somewhat surprised at what Paul was saying.

Chapter two of Titus starts with these often-quoted words: "teach what is in accord with sound doctrine" (2:1). What would we expect to find next? Doctrine. Theology. Soaring thoughts, and lots of them. But that is not where Paul goes. Instead, he describes personal character traits various sorts of people should develop. Older men should be "worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, love, and endurance." Paul has similar descriptions for older women, younger women, younger men, and slaves.

My point is this: "Teaching what is in accord with sound doctrine" is not ultimately a matter of intellectual activity. Rather, it is ultimately a matter of who people become. That's vital to remember if…

Jack Hayford's vision for church: Build Big People

I admire Jack Hayford about as much as anyone on the planet. He is devoted to God. He has led a life of integrity. He is a pastor and leader of undisputed greatness. I have long known these things about him. What I didn't know was what Pastor Jack's approach was to church, and this has made me appreciate him all the more.

Jack took over pastoral leadership of Church on the Way in 1969. From Church on the Way's website, this is the record of his original vision for that church (which, when he got there, numbered some 25 people): "Pastor Jack spoke about the vision to build big people, not necessarily a big church: 'I see us as becoming a truly ministry-minded church. The Lord Jesus is our center. The Word of God is our base. The Holy Spirit, filling us to extend the servant-life of Jesus outward -- that's our objective... This will not be a pastor-centered ministry, but a people-centered ministry.'"

As I wrestle with the essence of what church is, I am…

The Jesus-focused church... duh!

I am currently reading Alan Hirsch's book The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. I figured that if I was preaching a series on the book of Acts and persistently asking the question "what is the church," then it might be good to hear from someone who thinks today's church would do well to return to a more apostolic (more 1st-century-church) way of doing things.

So in chapter 3, Hirsch starts laying out the elements of how he thinks we should do church. He starts with this chapter called "The Heart of It All: Jesus is Lord." Now I have to admit that I didn't underline very much in this chapter (which  is unusual, because I underline and mark up books like crazy). Hirsch's position is that the church's first loyalty has to be to Jesus. Okay. That's like saying that the first priority for an Olympic marathoner is knowing how to run.

Then again, maybe it's not that obvious. It seems like a lot of churches become distracted som…

Line of the day

Pastor is driving in the car with his 8-year-old son. Son says, "I want to go Israel."

Pastor, taking this as an indication that his son has reached a higher level of spiritual enlightenment than most 8-year-olds: "Oh yeah? Why is that?"

Son: "Because I found out they eat more sugar there than in any other country."

Military history and the Bible

Last night I watched a show on the History Channel called "Bible Battles." The show is worth watching, but it has its limitations.

Bible Battles was released in 2007 and presents the theories of Dr. Richard A. Gabriel, who wrote The Military History of Ancient Israel. The show starts with Abraham's liberation of Lot from an alliance of Canaanite kings who had captured him along with many others who had lived in Sodom. It ends with Israel's struggles with the Philistines during the era of David.

Now I love history and the Bible, so I was hooked while they were talking about ancient Israelite approaches to warfare. And it's interesting to think of Abraham, Moses, and Saul as effective military leaders. Also, in the last major segment of the show when they were talking about the Philistines, I learned a lot about the Jezreel Valley and why both the Philistines and the Israelites wanted control of it. It makes me want to go back and reread the stories of the Bible th…

Some comments on Christian leadership

I read a paragraph this morning about Christian leadership that is so packed with sound insights, I had to pass it along in its entirety. It is from Neil Cole's book Organic Church (p. 204):

"If you want to do anything of significance in God's Kingdom, follow these suggestions: listen to the Lord's voice and follow that lead. Create an environment that allows failure and restores people easily. Do not invest in potential, but in provenness. You can learn from our mistakes, but I think it is also wise to learn from your own. So do not be afraid to take chances and make mistakes."

If you are in leadership, Cole's advice is worth chewing on. Whether you are or aren't in leadership, please pray for those who are.

An occasion for boasting

I love boasting... not so much about myself as about other people -- people who are "getting it right." These are people who have their priorities in good places and who follow through on their commitment to the right things. Today I want to boast about our new church.

First I want to issue a caveat about boasting. The apostle Paul talked occasionally about boasting. He wanted people to remember that we are saved by grace, and that we can't boast about our own good deeds, as if they are saving us (Rom 3:27). He had plenty to boast about in his own pedigree, but he chose not to (Phil 3). However, he enjoyed boasting about what God is doing in the world. One of Paul's favorite verses is Jer 9:24, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord." Paul quotes this verse twice in his letters -- in 1 Cor 1:31 and 2 Cor 10:17. He talked a lot about boasting to the Corinthians, because they liked to boast about themselves. Bad idea. God was doing things among them, and they…

Doing Nothing with God

Last Sunday, I asked the Sanctuary congregation to please, if at all possible, do a whole lot of nothing this week. That is, "enjoy a time of doing nothing with God." The context was Acts 1, in which Jesus instructs his followers to stay in Jerusalem and "wait." We learned from Acts 1 that communion with God comes before mission. In fact, mission flows from communion. Waiting on God means enjoying communion with him. It's the foundation for our mission.

Waiting with God can be tricky, so I wanted to say a bit more about it. First, when we think of waiting, a picture might be helpful. Let's think of Mary in the "Mary and Martha" story in Luke 10. Here's the story. Read it, and then I want to ask a quick question.

38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distract…

A special shout-out

Ginger, you asked me to keep blogging, so here's a special shout-out to you... If you ever hear me complain about being a pastor, please remind me of those Christmas seasons when I used to water poinsettias at Nordies hour after hour until I turned into a braindead zombie. :-)

My first Sunday with Sanctuary

Lots has happened in the last month, but one thing hasn't happened -- my blog. Sometimes you get so buried that you don't have the time and energy to write. This has been one of those times. But now the dust is beginning to settle.

I want to say first that I really, really... really... appreciate the help so many people have provided to help us move from Redondo Beach to Sacramento. There are too many names to mention, but some people stepped up with extraordinary measures of service. It was very difficult moving. You made it happen! Thank you!!

After lots of tears and a couple of weeks of great chaos, I can see the outlines of a new life beginning to form. Spencer and Nathaniel are in school and doing well. They are both starting to make friends. Susan and the Wagner family were up for a week putting the house together, and now Susan is back in Redondo. She will be back and forth for a couple more weeks as she helps get Lauren situated. Lauren is going to stay in the South B…

A salute to "sheer grit"

I find the History Channel series America, The Story of Us mesmerizing. In the episode on Boomers, I was struck by a couple of words used to describe the generation of Americans who prevailed in World War II and then built an infrastructure of roadways and waterways across America. Like the railways in the previous century, the roadways were constructed by manual labor and "sheer grit."

"Sheer grit" -- those words struck me. I wonder whether "sheer grit" would describe a culture that has transitioned from industrial to information-based. Grit seems less important than creativity and innovation. Yet in his book Making Ideas Happen, Scott Belsky has argued well that what separates ideas that make a difference from ideas that never see the light of day is perseverance. In other words, creativity needs grit. Even in the postmodern, information-based age, we are not going far without grit.

Also, innovation aside, life is hard. Grit is absolutely necessary to …

Line of the day

Line of the day at last night's UFC party... Looking at heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar, my friend Joel said, "That is a rhinoceros walking upright."

THEOLOGY LOUNGE: "Theology 101: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story"

THEOLOGY LOUNGE for summer 2010 is about to get underway! This coming Thursday night I am starting a class called "Theology 101: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story." It's designed to give you a fresh grasp of the Bible and Christian theology. The class is open to all. Details are below. If you are a reader who can come to the class, we would love to have you!

1. WHAT THEOLOGY 101 IS ALL ABOUT Theology is not about knowing dry religious facts. It is about understanding the personal God and how he interacts with us. The best way to understand God is to see him in action, as the primary actor in a story that starts with creation and ends with the restoration of all things. This dynamic and dramatic approach to theology is the one we will take in Theology 101.
Theology 101 situates Christian beliefs in a big picture that’s easy to understand and remember. This is not dumbed down theology. It is theology arranged according to the overarching history of God’s involvement wi…

A big bet

As I was getting donuts for the kids this morning, I was midway through picking out my selections when the woman behind the counter let out a cheer. The television in the corner had the World Cup on, and Germany had just scored again to go up 3-0 on Argentina. I asked why she was so excited. I mean, she didn't look German. She said, "I have a big bet with my husband on this game."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yes!" She smiled impishly. "If Germany wins, he has to do whatever I say."

It's going to be a long day for that dude.

Some practical advice on devotions, post 3: "Humbling Ourselves"

In devotions, it is vitally important that we take at least a little time reminding ourselves of God's grace and how much we need him. As I have said, I use the Book of Common Prayer for devotions because I like the way it structures things. It is certainly not the only way to do devotions, but it works for me.

My typical devotions go from Getting Oriented (an introductory sentence that serves to help me get oriented and a prayer of intention) to humbling myself before God. Humbling means confessing my weakness and sin. "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).

Christians often swing to extremes with confession. We either walk around shackled by guilt or we don't bother with confession at all. Either way makes it difficult to grow past our sins. If we carry guilt, we don't allow ourselves to grow. Chronic guilt is often related to self-sabotage. On the other hand, if we don't acknowledge our sins, we never develop the focus to grow …

Line of the day

My mom, who is visiting from Colorado, was commenting a few minutes ago about how we must watch our hearts closely. She said, "All it takes is a few days of not praying and you have to work like the Dickens to get back to a relationship with God where his Spirit is flowing through you and you are abiding in him."

The God who bears our burdens

I offer a refreshing verse that I came across this morning in my devotions...

We often think of God as looking down on us with some a kind of evaluative detachment. He gives us a challenging life to live, and he wants to see how we will do. If God is like that, he is more difficult to love. The good news is, he's not like that.

Here is the way God really is. From Psalm 68:19 -- "Praise to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." This verse portrays God not as detached from us but as attached to us. Whether he approves or disapproves of everything we do, he is first of all compassionate. He doesn't simply look and see that we have burdens, he helps carry them. Our God is involved. It turns out God is easy to love after all.

I think of a verse that has always stood out to me as a compelling picture of Christian community: "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). Why do we bear one another's bur…

Celebrating Lauren

Yesterday Lauren graduated from high school. I am so proud of her! I'm stunned that we have reached this landmark. It seemed to come out of nowhere. In my mind, she is still 13 or 14 and just starting high school. I always seem to be a few years behind.

Having your oldest child go through a major milestone like this generates all kinds of emotions. I'm elated... proud... delighted. I marvel at it. And yet part of me doesn't want to admit that it's happening. It's that part of us that wants to hold on to people -- to freeze time so we can fully take each other in. I guess it's a good thing we have eternity to look foward to. By the time a million years have gone by, I might feel like I know Lauren the way I want to.

I'll post a couple graduation photos, but today I wanted to post this one. This photo carries a ton of meaning for me. It was May 1, 2009. Lauren and I were at LAX airport getting ready to go inside, meet our team, and fly to Haiti for the firs…

Some practical advice on devotions, post 2: "Getting Oriented"

When I sit down to have devotions, I usually go through a brief stage of getting oriented and focused on what I am doing. We come to devotions from all sorts of places in our lives. We may be feeling guilty, excited, distracted, or a host of other things. The orientation step helps us begin to settle in with God. It is a way to switch from daily activities to being fully present with God. This step need not take a long time, but it is important.

Orientation has two basic parts for me:

     1. An introductory verse

     2. A prayer of intention

1. Opening verse

The Book of Common Prayer has a whole assortment of opening verses. Here is one that is in the BCP:

“For this is what the high and lofty One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
‘I live in a high and holy place,
but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isa 57:15).

Here is one that is not in the BCP, but I like it.

“O you who…

Line of the day

Said by the teacher during the ice cream party in Nathaniel's 2nd-grade class, as one boy asked the teacher if he could have seconds: "No. If you have any more sugar, you will start acting like Nathaniel's dad." Nice! I go on a field trip to the museum, run around with the kids in the park afterward, let them pull me down and pile on me, and the teacher throws me under the bus. Haha!

More Haiti Show-n-Tell appointments

Haiti Show-n-Tell #3... tomorrow morning at Mrs. Hoyam's 2nd-grade class.

Haiti Show-n-Tell #4... Wednesday morning at Miss Hazlewood's 1st-grade class. That is the last day of school. I wonder how that one will go. :-)

It's like being on the seminar circuit, except a lot more fun and zany. Love it!

Haiti Show-n-Tell

Yesterday I did my second "Haiti Show-n-Tell" at Nathaniel's elementary school. I put together a PowerPoint presentation of facts and photos from our visits to Haiti, including my post-earthquake trip. Both times I have done this, classrooms of first and second graders have listened for an hour straight (which I think is quite amazing). They ask lots of questions, many of them very thoughtful. What fun to hang out with the kids and teach them about life in Haiti!

Some practical advice on devotions

It occurred to me this morning to write a few posts on daily devotions. I have learned some good lessons over the last few years and want to share them.
After trying several different models, I have come to structure my devotional times after the Morning Prayer service set out in the Anglican Church’s Book of Common Prayer. I spent several years in the Episcopal church as a lay leader and a staff member in a church. Over those years, I came to appreciate the great wisdom that runs through the Book of Common Prayer, the guide for prayer and church services used in the Anglican Church (the Episcopal Church is the Anglican Church in America).

First, a word on structure. It is worth having a structure in our devotions, even if we don’t follow it slavishly. Having a structure helps us ensure that we will follow through on all the basic activities of a devotional time. In other words, we are less likely to skip important elements.

Here’s the basic structure of a prayer time as laid out in …

What is the blues?

As I learn guitar, I am becoming more and more of a fan of the blues, especially blues guitar. Yesterday I ran across a snippet by Howlin' Wolf, a blues master of the 1950s-1970s. Here is Howlin' Wolf's response to a foundational question - What is the blues?...
“A lot of people is wonderin’, what is the blues? Well, I’m going to tell you what the blues is. When you aint got no money, you got the blues. When you aint got no money to pay your house rent, you still got the blues. A lot of people holler about ‘I don’t like no blues,’ but when you aint got no money and can’t pay your house rent and can’t buy you no food, you d*** sure got the blues.”
At its best, blues music expresses emotion, and it isn't afraid to go into darker regions of the heart. It is honest. That's one reason to like the blues.

Paul and parenting

I stumbled across a scriptural tidbit on parenting the other day, and I have returned to it a couple of times to be re-oriented. (I have found that life is a daily cycle of being oriented by God's Word, following him but slowly drifting from his ways, and then returning to God and his Word for re-orientation. Without daily re-orientation, I am not good for much.)

This passage on parenting is tucked away in 1 Thessalonians 2. Paul explains to the Thessalonians that he was like a mother and a father to them. It's how he characterizes the motherly and fatherly roles that catches my attention.

Paul on mothering: "As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us" (vv. 6-8).
Motherly key words: gentle... caring... sharing life.This picture of th…

Love and parenting

I just did something I haven't done for a long time... held 8-year-old Nathaniel down and kissed him a bunch of times. "Stop! Stop!"

Love means doing what your kids don't want you to do but, underneath it all, really want you to do.

How the incarnation of Christ demonstrates God’s love

Last time I posted, I promised that I would draw the connections between the incarnation of Christ and God’s love. It’s been a couple of weeks since then, but I wanted to follow through on my promise. I am going to draw from the writings of John for this post. Here are my thoughts…

Incarnation is: God becoming human.

Did John hold a theology of the incarnation? It seems so. If the Son came “into the world,” it means God entered the world in some unprecedented way. That phrase “into the world” indicates full immersion in the world. In his Gospel, John explains, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). The meaning is pretty clear. The Son, otherwise known as the Word, came into the world by becoming human. When John says the Word “made his dwelling among us,” he means that the Word became one of us. There are many places in John where Jesus talks about being sent by the Father into the world (not least of which is Jn 3:16).

Love is: preferring others over yourse…

The relationship between truth, theology, and love

Here is an insight that came out in the midst of our small group discussion a couple of days ago. I am a theology geek -- a systematic theologian. But I am also a pastor who wants to see how theology gets lived out. In seminary speak, I cross the lines between systematic theology and practical theology. (Many of us think such a line should not exist!)

So there we were, discussing the entire letter of 2 John in one sitting. Okay, so it's only 13 verses long. :-) The first thing we noticed is that John brings up the word "truth" five times in the first four verses. Truth is a major theme in this little epistle. Then John transitions seamlessly into love. Here are verses 4-8:

"It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands…

Happy Mother's Day!

I'm not a huge country music fan, but sometimes you need a good country song to get your sentiments across. This goes out to all the moms out there who belong in the Mamas' Hall of Fame... especially mine! :-)

On preaching: Dress it up or open it up?

A few words about preaching... I have been to a handful of pastors' conferences over the last four years and listened to many great speakers, and here is an observation. The speaker who talks out of Scripture has the greatest impact.

Most of us pastors want to preach because we love God's Word, and we feel like we have a lot of valuable things to say about it. And, most likely, we do. Our temptation is to want to display our learning and our insights. As a friend of mine put it, we contend with the temptation to want to be profound. Or, as I put it, we want to "dress up" Scripture, treating it like a manikin that will look much more interesting if it is sporting the latest fashions.

Now don't get me wrong, I love to hear a well-crafted sermon. And sermon-making is an art form of the highest degree. However, I am still left with my observation that I seem to walk away from pastors' conferences remembering a Scripture someone expounded rather than the cool pres…

God's eclectic table

James 2 begins like this:

1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

I was reading this today with friends here at King's Harbor, and I was trying to form a picture in my head of what James didn't want and what he did want. He didn't want to see church looking like a typical ancient dinner party, in which people were seated in order of social prominence. Important/rich people at the front, unimportant/poor people in the back -- or maybe outside the door.

What would James want a church gathering to look like? We wou…

Living as adopted children of God

Today I am reminded that many of us struggle with being caught between two identities. Spiritually speaking, we used to be destitute street beggars -- grimy, emaciated children with tattered clothing and a chip on our shoulders. We have been hardened by life without God and are starved for love and grace.

In his infinite love, God takes us as we are and adopts us as his own children. When we are adopted, we acquire the full rights of sonship. Psalm 2:7 paints the picture. God says, "You are my Son; today I have become your father." Normally this verse is interpreted to refer to the moment when the heavenly Father begat the eternal Son. However, there is more to find in this verse. We can also think of it as portraying the moment we are adopted by God the Father. I have enjoyed the privilege of being in the court room for civil adoptions. At the critical juncture of the ceremony, the judge pronounces the adoption, and it becomes a legal reality. With the judge's words, th…

A Maundy Thursday meditation: Jesus' love for Judas

Today is the Thursday before Easter, traditionally called Maundy Thursday (when Jesus gave his disciples the “mandate” to love one another in Jn 13:34). On this Maundy Thursday of 2010, I offer the following meditation on Jesus’ love for Judas.

Going all the way back to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught his followers that they should love not only the people who are good to them but also those who hate them and do them harm. This was not a new teaching. Loving one’s enemies was taught in Ex 23:5 and Prov 25:21. However, many rabbis had interpreted Lev 19:18 (“love your neighbor as yourself”) to mean that we only need to love those who are with us, so to speak, in heart and spirit. They considered our neighbors to be those who love our God and fit in with his people. Jesus taught that such teaching went against the heart of God, who does good to those who love him and to those who do not love him. We are to do the same (Matt 5:43-48).

Now let us return to the Last Supper. John te…

The message that is "from the beginning"

"This is the message you heard from the beginning: we should love one another" (1 Jn 3:11).

I am struck by the first half of this verse: "this is the message you heard from the beginning." John is saying that the message to love one another is an old message. It hasn't changed. In Jn 13:34-35, Jesus told his disciples that he was leaving them one commandment: to love one another. Surely John has that episode in mind when he says, "from the beginning." But he goes back even further than Jesus. In 1 Jn 3:12, he brings up the story of Cain and Abel. Cain hated his brother and killed him. "Do not be like Cain," cautions John. In other words, the central requirement to love one another (and not to hate one another) goes all the way back to the dawn of human beings.

A message that is "from the beginning" comes from God's heart, for "in the beginning was God."

A message that is "from the beginning" expresses the core …

People who listen, care, and pray

This week I casually wrote down in my weekly pastor's report that I am excited about people who listen, care, and pray. The more I think about it, the more excited I get about these people. How rare is it to find someone who does all three? How treasured is that person, especially when we need him or her?

Over lunch, I talked about these matters with pastors Joey and Dan. We remembered times in our lives when we have needed that kind of support or been able to offer it to others. We agreed that some of the best measuring sticks of real friendship is whether we listen, care, and pray for each other.

When someone is going through something hard, being a friend starts with listening. I think real listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give someone. But it is pretty rare in our hurried and insecure world.

Can real listening happen without caring? I don't think so. Real listening is an expression of caring. But caring also extends into what kind of response we give someone. Pat…