Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving out of thanks

Sitting in a pew last night during a Thanksgiving Eve service is not a place that I would ordinarily shed a tear.  There are definitely places where I am so moved, but this particular setting has not been one of them.

But things are happening in the body and people are beginning to share, to give back to Christ for what he has given them.

On this particular Wednesday night the them of the service was five ways of giving thanks.  One was in the way of celebrating creation, so the local science teacher got up and spoke of galaxies and cellular adhesion molecules - the things that hold our bodies together.  Boring!!!  Right?  Well, he shows a picture of a black hole in a galaxy that is 300 billion light years from earth that is in the shape of the cross.  Then he shows the molecular structure of these cellular adhesion molecules, the molecules in our bodies that hold us together.  What does they look like?  They are in the shape of a cross!  It was an awesome message, seeing and hearing his passion for us and how God's imprint is on all things.

Moments later, a woman in her 50s gets up and talks about walking with God everyday as a way to give thanks.  Her life has been a little different than she expected it to be with bi-polar disorder and drug addiction having hit her household.  She talked of the struggle, the constant questioning if she would have been a better mother would this or that have occurred.  She talked of living in the pain, and giving thanks in the midst of it for her God being there.

People standing behind the pulpit of this relatively large church in small town USA, sharing what has them excited and what Christ means to them.  Getting real with the rest of the people in the pews, putting all masks and coverings aside so that God might be glorified all the more!

I love it when God shows up like this.  There I sat with my wife and kids, tears streaming down my cheeks, not really caring who would notice because this is the same Christ who has ransomed my life, who has pulled me out of the pit and given his life for mine.

This Thanksgiving morning, I am reflecting on last night's service and on our church's "Test Me Challenge."  Our facility is not big enough to handle all of our kids for Sunday School and catechism at one time, so we are looking at a building project.  The "Test Me Challenge" is an opportunity for people to test God in the challenge of giving of their time, their money and their hearts!

I have been a taker for much of my life.  It is only in the past couple of years that I can say that II Corinthians 9:7 has really meant something to me.  But as I sit here this morning, I pray it is true in my life, as well as yours.  "Each man should give as he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

I contend that when your heart is so full of gratitude and thanks that it is impossible not to give.  Perhaps you money, perhaps it is in a smile, a handshake.  Perhaps you give time to help build a new church, make a meal for a family who needs one - none of it done reluctantly or under compulsion, but rather out of gratitude.

II Corinthians 9 continues, and in verse 11 it says:  "You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God."

Experiencing grace and peace in this world is done, largely through giving.  People giving to us, us then giving to others because of what Christ has done for us!  My prayer this Thanksgiving, and in all the days to follow, is that we will all be made rich in every way so that we can be generous on every occasion - giving all Glory and thanks to God above for blessing us so richly with family, friends, lives we don't deserve and Life we don't deserve. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

When opportunity whispers

Opportunities come and go. Sometimes I am well aware of them, other times they present themselves and I wouldn't know one if it hit me in the mouth.

In my continuing quest for all things Christ, opportunities come and go, too. Sometimes they come at "opportune" times, other times they come when we least expect them. Sometimes they are incredibly visible and come through a bullhorn, other times they come in a whisper.

In recent days I have been challenged in a couple of areas in my walk - both part of the quest. One area in which I have been challenged of late is to be intentional in my pursuit of Christ. To read, pray, worship and commune with Him and others as often as I can.

Additionally, as I near the end of a book called "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard, the message of not just hearing or reading the Word, but to also be a "doer" of the Word, has become increasingly clear.

I need to retreat here just a touch. I am a morning person - I love the early morning hours. I used to be able to get more done at work between 6 and 9 a.m. then I would the rest of the day. As my quest for Christ has sped up, I have had some of my most amazing times with Him in the dark, at 5 or 6 a.m. where I used to spend those hours working.

Several months ago I was delivered what felt like a knockout blow. I would get out of bed in the morning more tired than when I climbed in - so I had a sleep apnea test done and now get to sleep with one of them-there masks. For some it is the answer, it cures the sleep problem. It still really hasn't for me, but this weekend I believe I may have an answer as to why.

In this continuing quest, where being intentional and being a hearer and doer become intertwined, I found myself awakened frequently on Friday night - opportunities missed. Saturday morning, though, it was as if a light went on and I decided to seize those opportunities and to simply pray.

Sure enough, opportunity came knocking again Saturday night. On at least four occasions I found myself lying in bed, mask attached and operational, but engaged at times during the night with Jesus in prayer. Two different couples came to mind on two different occasions - so I prayed for two different couples I am acquainted with twice during the night on a leading from the Spirit. It wasn't through the bullhorn that the opportunity presented itself, but rather in a whisper in the dark of the night.

Isaiah 62: 6-7 (The Message) reads this way:
I've posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem. Day and night they keep at it, praying, calling out, reminding God to remember. They are to give him no peace until he does what he said, until he makes Jerusalem famous as the City of Praise.

Apparently, God calls people to pray - day or night, to keep at it - to remind Him not to forget about the lives of people here on earth.

And sometimes, when He really wants to reveal Himself, the blessings are made known immediately. Sunday morning, one of the couples I had prayed for walked into the former bowling alley-turned banquet hall where we hold church. Sitting there visiting with my folks who were visiting, I was drawn to another table where that couple was sitting. They began to share their desire for growth, to dive into the Word and for more interaction with a community of people wanting more and more of God - and the wrestling match they find themselves in. I sat there listening, eventually telling them how God had whispered to me in my sleep and made them visibly clear to me and how I had prayed for them.


I also emailed the other couple to tell them I wasn't sure why, but I had been awakened to pray for them. This morning he replied to that email that they had taken their son who is eight weeks old the ER during the night, only to have him better by the time they saw the doctor!


I convey this piece today for one reason - to spur each of you on in your walk with Christ. To follow his leadings. To stand watch on the wall, day and night, not missing an opportunity to pray. I pray we are people who day and night "keep at it, praying, calling out, reminding God to remember. They are to give him no peace until he does what he said, until he makes (our towns) famous as the City of Praise."

It isn't everyday that God will give instant gratification, but I think He knows that I need it once in a while and that in-so-doing, I will be a lot less likely to miss the next opportunity.

I love to sleep, but I believe my prayer, right now, is that He wakes me again tonight so that I might pray for whoever it is He brings before me. May I be ready again tonight or tomorrow night when opportunity whispers in the wee hours of the morning!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Beyond thankful

Thanksgiving is upon us, and if anyone on the face of this earth has reason to be thankful, it is me. Blessings flow in many forms and many fashions, including my beautiful wife, kids, family and the business ventures in which I am involved. I have been blessed in countless ways in these areas, but to say that I have been blessed by, in and through Christ would be the understatement of the century.

L.L. Barkat at High Calling Blogs has issued an invitation to "bloggers" (which I have a hard time claiming to be - I simply offer some random thoughts now and then) to join in a Thanksgiving Celebration, bringing things for which we are thankful to the table of grace.

Today, I offer thanks for my Savior, Jesus Christ - and for all those who proclaim His name and unashamedly champion him in this dark and cold world. As I read Jennifer's post on Getting Down With Jesus about being thankful for beds, my mind jumped immediately to all that Christ has been up to in my world in the past couple of years.

That amazing piece of scripture penned by the apostle Paul to the Philippians is one of my favorites. Philippians 1:3-11 reads this way: Thanksgiving and Prayer "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God."

I am a sinner saved by the grace of God, and God has lavished community upon my wife and I in ways we could have never imagined. We have met people diving deep into what it means to follow Christ, to live as Christ would have lived in this world, and have been blessed beyond all we could have ever asked or imagined in the process.

They are not perfect people - they don't claim to be - but their heart for all things Jesus and who He would have them be is an inspiration. "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy..."

This community has forced me to dive deep, to look into my heart and soul and to see the gaping hole that was there - that had been filled with everything of this world for so long - and to finally decide to begin to let Christ fill that hole. And as others have welcomed us into their worlds with open arms, walking along side as we continue this adventure, it is no wonder that I am thankful. In fact, Paul says "It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus."

In the course of several years, the focus of our lives (my wife and I) has turned dramatically. God has called us out of our comfortable Sunday morning position in one of the back pews of our church with our four children, and into the lives of people who are broken, hurting and in need of Christ. It is a feeling we know very well.

Broken, hurting and desperately in need of Christ ourselves, God used community to begin to draw us to Himself. We pray that as our lives are continually shaped and molded by Him, that we can show Christ's love to others as it has been shown to us over and over again.

It is the cry of my heart to follow Christ - to give Him all that I have - that he might open my eyes to see, my ears to hear, my mind to know and my heart to Him and everyone around me, that I might love Him and them more and more.

As we get to be just a little part of what God is doing in this massive universe, I am thankful for every glimpse of Him that I get. And He is showing up everywhere these days. He is showing up in my wife and kids, my framily (friends who are so close they are family), my family and people being served by the ministries we are involved with.

In each of these cases, I echo Paul's prayer at the end of this passage: "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God."

Thanksgiving is so often lost, isn't it, in the commercialism of Christmas? Let us give thanks for Christ, for who He is and what He has done for us; for the many ways in which He touches our lives (mostly through those around us); and for the work He has yet to accomplish.

Grace & Peace,


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

High Calling Blogs

A friend has put me onto this fantastic site and tool called I pray that as you continue to walk this walk and increasingly desire to talk this talk, that will become part of your intentional journey into all that Christ has in store for you.
Check out the site, read some of the blogs and be blessed as you spend a little time there.

In His grip,


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Intentional grounding

As a high school quarterback, I spent most of my time on offense running for my life. Defenses were in hot pursuit - all the time it seemed - rarely leaving me with any time to make the proper reads, to deliver the ball where I was supposed to, or to be any good at playing the position.

I found myself running for my life and/or throwing the ball away - something a quarterback is penalized 15 yards for - a penalty called intentional grounding.

All these years later, not much has changed, it seems. I find myself running around with my head cut off a lot of the time - often times it is doing Kingdom stuff, work and family activities - but I am running just the same.

Sometimes I just want to be able to stand tall in the pocket, have the protection I need to find the open man and deliver the ball on time. Does any of this make sense to you women reading this?

Much has been made in recent hours of being intentional. I have been hammered with this theme, in fact, and realize that I have been doing so much running and am so busy with "stuff"
that my time with Jesus and the Word of God hasn't been what I love it to be of late. The frantic pace (again much of it being good stuff) should have drawn a 15 yard penalty.

Wait - it did yesterday noon. Really it began Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of the fall Cursillo weekends, when this notion of being intentional was first thrust my way. It continued yesterday noon, when a phone conversation with my mother questioned where I have been, what I have been up to and if they (my parents) had done something to upset me.


This is one area where I could make a little priority shift. It was with remorse that I issued my apology and heard my mom tell me how they have been intentional with one another of late, taking time to eat together, hold hands and pray! That blew me away. I praise God for his movement in their lives.

In addition to that, I am looking for a little "divine intentional grounding", if you will. Not the kind that draws a flag - where there is a penalty - but rather a getting back to early mornings by the fire - reading and talking with Jesus the way we used to...the way I want to.

Ephesians 3: 14-19 from Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible, The Message, reads this way: "My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God."

In another version of the Bible the phrase "with both feet planted firmly on love" is translated "being grounded." I want to be intentionally grounded in Christ - and that when I am He will reveal to me the breadth, length, depth and height of His love. It is when I am with Him, intimately and frequently in reading, thought and conversation that I am able to live a full life, full in the fullness of God.

This is being intentionally grounded, friends. This is when I am at my best. This is when we are as He intended us to be. This is when everything is the most clear - when before everything else - "I get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth."

Join me in prayer that this intentional grounding catches on and takes hold - that we might all be grounded, that we might all slow down and that we might all spend intimate time with Jesus each and every day!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


A friend and I sat in the quiet of a large dining room last weekend, chatting until the middle of the night. We just sat there, he and I, talking about life and how it just keeps spinning.

"I'm cold," he said. "It's (life is) kind of like that ceiling fan. 'I know you can shut off that fan God', so why don't you just do it?"

It's as if we ask of God, "Life is spinning out of control, I know you can stop it God, why don't you?"

This circumstance you have put before me is just too hard God, won't you just fix it?

There are people starving all over the world, can't you just feed them, God?

There are people hurting all around me, can't you just make them feel better, God? Can't you just take their pain go away?

Just some of the questions that rattle around in my mind as this notion of the ceiling fan spinning continues to play out in my mind.

My phone rang at 10 p.m. last night with a distraught friend on the other end. The situation he described to me through his tears, and even sobbing, literally made me pose the question, "God, why? Why didn't you stop this, why won't stop the spinning?" It also led me into an attitude of prayer which may not subside soon.

I am no answer man - that is clear to anyone who knows me - but God is teaching me a few things through this life I am living...for Him.

One reason He doesn't just fix everything, I believe, is that Jesus wants us to draw near to come to Him with everything.

In Jeremiah 29 He tells us that "you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you." AWESOME! He wants us to bring our petitions to Him - each and every one of them. When there are things we question, He wants us to ask for the answer. He wants us to turn to others and have them do the same. When life is awesome, He wants to hear that, too.

He's also calling into His work.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine this morning, relating this whole ceiling fan conversation. This was his question - rather poignant, at that. "Was there a switch in the room where you could have turned the fan off?"

Of course there was, but that would have required something of us, wouldn't it?

I have very few answers to many questions, but our God is one who is always at work - and He calls us into His work - to join Him in it. That in itself is amazing. That He wants us to help in His redemptive, restorative work in this world, but that's the point of the question about turning the switch off. He has taught us some things and also equips us to work with Him in others.

There are situations, virtually everyday if we are dialed into them, when God poses the same question posed in Isaiah 6:8: And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I, Send me."

Experiencing grace and peace in this life is summed up, in part, in this. It is seeing our resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, at work. It is having the fan spinning out of control in our lives or in the lives of others around us and Him asking us, "Whom shall I send?"

Call out to Him today - listen to what He is calling you into - and trust that the fan spinning is one way in which you may see Him show up today.

Grace and peace,


Monday, November 10, 2008

Best shot

Here we are a third of the way through the month of November, the temperature is hovering around freezing and there is still some residue in our lawn from a Thursday evening wintry mix that left a light blanket of snow here in Northwest Iowa.

Winter is apparently upon us, and I have golf on the brain - sort of!

I spent the past three and a half days at Cursillo, a weekend devoted to providing a short course in Christian living to those who want to attend. It is always an awesome experience and I leave having been blessed far beyond anything that I could possibly have given to God or anyone else during those three days in the Hills.

I am now home and have a couple of blogs in my mind - the first the result of a conversation I heard between two men who were enjoying a little fellowship and getting to know one another.

I forget who the other gentleman was, but the evangelist who got my attention was this beautiful 71 year old guy named Phillip. He was telling whoever it is that he was talking to about playing golf with his wife.

"We play best shot," he said. "We go out there, each hit our shots, use the best one and in the end, it's our score. If we shoot 85, it's our score."

I was just sitting there in meditation, quietly thinking about a lot of different things - apparently eavesdropping, too - when Phillip's words pierced my heart. A few feet away is this guy talking about how he just loves spending time with his wife - even golfing.

That conversation took me back to times that weren't so wonderful in my life - when my wife and I were on our own paths, doing our own thing, often fighting as if our very lives depended on it. We were often on the offensive, attacking the other and doing our best to win each and every fight. Our goal was rarely oneness and in battle we were anything but loving.

Read these words from Ephesians 5:22-28:
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself."

Genesis 2:24 ends with the words, "and they will become one flesh." When I read the end of Ephesians 5:28 my footnote took me to Genesis 2 saying that for the man to love his wife is to love one who has become part of his flesh.

I could also go to I Corinthians 13 to get the Biblical definition for love: love is patient, love is kind, it keeps no record of wrongs and the like. I love these passages because God gave them to us as the best way to live. He has a full book full of the best way to live - including in marriage.

Until Christ become the most important thing in my life, I certainly wasn't loving my wife as Christ loved the church. Probably don't now, but I want to. I certainly didn't give myself up for her. I was far too selfish for that. May still be some times, but I don't want to be.

As God began to put our lives back together and continues in his restorative work in our lives, I love the idea of playing best ball. I'm no scratch husband (if you can hang with the scratch golfing metaphor here), but I want to be! In order to do that, I need to keep the ball in play and not hit it out of bounds. Finding myself in the rough and behind a tree isn't overly productive, either. I must not care about winning, about being right and being selfish can no longer be an option - that is the rough personified.

The more Jesus Christ matters to each partner in a marriage - the more we stand on earth and desire to grow closer to Him who is seated on the throne high and lifted up, the closer we will grow to one another.

When "my" score doesn't count and "ours" does, this is marriage as God intended it. Thank you, Phillip, for this incredible visual. Thank you, Jesus, for taking his words and piercing my heart in this manner!