Friday, September 9, 2011

The Power of Advertising

PRINCIPLE: “When thirsty for fruit, check the ads.”

Summer is fading fast. One of the things I’ll miss most is the fresh fruit. I love fresh fruit. And we live in an area where it is usually abundant. So abundant, in fact, that sometimes it’s hard to know where to purchase it. Which market, which stand, which store has the best fruit at the best price? That means looking at a lot of ads. That’s where we get our principle: “When thirsty for fruit, check the ads.”

Yet as I think about this, where do we go to quench our thirst for a godly, fruitful life? Paul lists the fruit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23) He says the fruit comes from the Holy Spirit. In other words, we quench our thirst as we allow and ask the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. (Note that ‘fruit’ is singular. It is not like the ‘gifts’ of the Spirit where we have some but not all. There is one large fruit that consists of all these characteristics – we do not get to pick and choose!)

But what about the people all around us who are thirsty for fruit, who don’t know where to turn? What about people who are thirsty for the luscious fruit of the Spirit? Where can people go to find that fruit? Well, “When thirsty for fruit, check the ads.” But where are the ads?

Advertisers know what they are doing. They tease our senses with just enough to whet our appetites and entice us to come and see, believing that once we see we will buy. Shouldn’t we be the ads for the Spirit’s fruit? Should we not be living advertisements for Jesus Christ? Should not others be influenced to come to Him because of us? Does the fruit of the Spirit spring from our lives enough to whet appetites and entice others to come and see Jesus? Our lives should be neon signs advertising the fruit and pointing to Jesus - so when people are thirsty for fruit, they’ll have ads to check.

May the Holy Spirit transform your life into a living advertisement that draws others to Jesus. How will he do that? He’ll do it as we look at His greatest advertisement. “When thirsty for fruit, check the ads.” (John 15:16-17) “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. Begin by loving. Then the Spirit of God will fill and flow through you. Then you will have full access to all the fruitful blessings of our Father – and you will be his living advertisement.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Hibiscus Mystery

PRINCIPLE: “When you open up, sparkle.”

For a second straight week, I’m thinking of flowers. After writing last week’s note on opening up like flowers to the sun, I went home and was struck again by the magnificent beauty of our Hibiscus flowers. We have three bushes. Their flowers are amazing. They don’t bloom until later in the summer but when they do, they’re loaded – and they are gorgeous. They are big and colorful. We have 3 varieties – pink, deep red (my favorite), and white. I often go out just to stand in awe of their beauty. We even take some pictures for posterity.

Yet it’s hard to figure – in spite of all this beauty, they shine for one day and then they fold up and wither away. I mean, why wouldn’t God design such a marvelous flower to bloom brightly for a much longer period of time? To me that makes great sense. I can’t say it’s a waste because for that one day, it adds tremendous beauty to God’s creation. And perhaps that’s the point – could God be using the Hibiscus to remind us daily that it‘s today that counts? Could He be reminding us “When you open up, sparkle?”

I’ve thought about that a lot this week, because the Bible underscores the idea. Consider James 4:13-16 (GNB). “Now listen to me, you that say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will stay a year and go into business and make a lot of money.’ You don't even know what your life tomorrow will be! You are like a puff of smoke, which appears for a moment and then disappears. What you should say is this: ‘If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.’ But now you are proud, and you boast; all such boasting is wrong.” That’s pretty straight forward, isn’t it? Today is what counts. Why? Because tomorrow is not promised. Like the Hibiscus, all we know is that we have today to shine.  So “When you open up, sparkle.”

I used to think that dwelling on the thought that tomorrow is not promised was too morbid. But no longer! Think of it this way. If you’re given the blessing of waking and rising tomorrow, immediately open up to receive Christ’s light. Then determine to let the beauty of the Lord shine through you today. Add beauty to God’s creation today. Live such that someone stands in awe of the Lord’s beauty in you today. This is the way to carpe diem – seize the day! This is the way to make today count. This is the way to make every day count. This is the way to peaceful night time rest. This is the way to receive the peace of God that passes all understanding and that will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. This is the way to light the path for those coming out of darkness so they can meet Jesus. This is the way to lighten the burdens of others so they can walk the path to Him. This is the way to let your light shine.

You don’t know what your life tomorrow will be – so carpe diem. “When you open up, sparkle.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Lesson from the Flowers

PRINCIPLE: “When you wake up, open up.”

Every evening many of our flowers close up, as if retiring for the night. Every morning they open up, as if getting ready for the day. On the surface, it appears that God made them that way – which, of course, He did. But there’s a deeper truth in this divine routine. The flowers open up because of the sunlight and only open to their fullest when the sun is shining. For all my years of living, I have known this. But only today have I learned yet another lesson – “When you wake up, open up.”

E. Glenn Hinson wrote, “Prayer…is opening like a flower opening to the morning sunshine to allow God’s love energies to flow into your inner chamber. You may know that many flowers close up at night, folding their petals in. When it begins to become daylight, they open just a little. Then as the sun’s rays strike them, they open a little more and a little more until they’re wide open.”[i] “When you wake up, open up.” Once again the rhythm God created into nature is intended for us as well. Just as God, for example, created the 7th day and the 7th year as times of rest, we know we, too, need the rest built into our lives as well. So it is with the opening and closing of the flowers – we need to get into the rhythm of closing up at night and opening up in the morning to once again receive His sunlight for the new day. “When you wake up, open up.”

Hinson continues, “’God is love…’ Theologically, you must say, God’s love energies brought the world into being. God’s love energies sustain the world. God’s love energies are directing the world toward some meaningful end. And the same love energies are constantly pouring out on you.”[ii] I need those divine energies each day! And they are available every morning – but I must open up, even if just a little, to let the sunshine in. If I do not, I will live the day in darkness, without divine energy, and not be the beautiful flower God intends and created me to be. “When you wake up, open up.”

Maybe the little children’s chorus from so many years ago (dating myself again!) had it right. “So let the sunshine in, face it with a grin, open up your heart and let the sunshine in!” “When you wake up, open up.”

Will you join me in a renewed commitment to begin each day by taking a moment to greet and thank God, and thereby open our hearts to let the sunshine in? Just imagine how beautiful and full-bloomed your life will be each day! “When you wake up, open up.”

[i] E Glenn Hinson, from Spiritual Preparation for Christian Leadership, quote in A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God,  Upper Room Books, Nashville, 2006, p. 326
[ii] Ibid

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Computer Cofee

PRINCIPLE: “When you’re mad at your computer, remember your coffee.”

Technology – can’t live with it but can’t live without it! It’s great when it works but when it doesn’t, well…my pastoral vocabulary isn’t adequate to describe the frustration. Perhaps you’ve been there. Recently I was working on my computer and it was one of those days when it was running slow – very slow – slower than molasses – slower than a sumo wrestler in the 100 meters. Get the idea? I didn’t know why, and really didn’t care why – I just wanted it to run at normal speed. Finally, in frustration – no, make that in anger – I slammed my fist on the desk as I cried out “Come on! Give me a break here!” - or something like that. And as my fist hit the desk it also hit my coffee mug and tipped it over. Coffee everywhere but in the mug. I didn’t want to admit it but it served me right. I knew immediately that “When you’re mad at your computer, remember your coffee.”

Anger is a dangerous emotion – and loss of anger seldom, if ever, results in anything good. As Paul wrote (Eph. 4:26-27 NLT) “And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” Anger is sometimes okay but how we process it is the key. Hitting my fist on the desk was a sign that I was letting anger control me. Sure, it harmed no one but me. But the frightening thought is, if the state of my computer can fill me with anger and sin, how close am I to letting my feelings towards others do the same? And then the damage is not so minimal. Paul understood this. That’s why he continued (30) “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live… Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior...” Once the devil sees anger, he jumps in and tries to take over. James wrote (1:19-20) “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters… Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” I let a stupid computer control me – the devil had a foothold and he loved it. I was not very righteous. “When you’re mad at your computer, remember your coffee.”

Moving forward, I have resolved to try to remember this when I sense the anger rising within me. Fortunately, I do not have to do it all by myself. It’s more than just remembering “When you’re mad at your computer, remember your coffee.” Listen to the advice of James and Paul: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry…Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you...” As God in Christ forgave me! God should be so angry with me – He has a million reasons to be. But in Jesus He forgave me – once for all, forever. How can I, then, unleash anger towards another? Let my quickness be to listen and my slowness be to respond. And how can I help this happen? Be kind to those who stir my anger, tenderhearted towards those who oppose me, and forgiving to those who offend me. The Holy Spirit is ever present to help me. A quick prayer to Him is all it takes.

So perhaps I should change the principle to “When you’re mad at your computer, remember to pray.” Not a bad idea. But then, it just doesn’t sound so dramatic. So for now I’ll stick with this: “When you’re mad at your computer, remember your coffee.” Besides, every time I drink coffee I’ll remember my computer anger – and that will remind me to pray. In fact, how different would I be if with every cup of coffee I drink, I asked the Holy Spirit to pour into me His kindness, tender heartedness, and forgiveness? Quite different, I’m sure! “When you’re mad at your computer, remember your coffee.”   

Friday, August 12, 2011

So So

PRINCIPLE: “When life is just sow sow, just sow sow.”

I was in the sixth grade (in those days that was still elementary school). I was part of the safety patrol – responsible at an intersection for making sure no students crossed the street until it was clear to do so. One day, a much younger boy fell right near my corner. So I helped him up made sure he was okay, which he was. Shortly thereafter I ran for Mayor of the school. My mother told me that another mother had shared with her that her son had voted for me because I had been so nice to him the day he fell. It, of course, made my mother feel some pride – and I was always happy when that happened! But I remember thinking that it was really nothing special that I did, and wondered if it wasn't something that anyone would have done. Little did I realize at that time a couple of lessons. One – not everyone would have helped. Two – I had experienced the divine law of reciprocity. Both lessons would be reinforced many, many times throughout my life.

It was many years later when I recognized the divine nature of my actions. Paul said it more than once, but most clearly in Galatians 6:7-10 - “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we will not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Paul mentioned the same principle in 2 Cor. 9:6 in regards to giving. Whether it's in giving, or in praying, or in loving, or in our relationships what we sow, we reap. Even if we do not see it right away, God will reciprocate - it's His promise.

I admit that sometimes, in fact, I get tired of sowing all the time and begin to feel as if there is no return. After all constant sowing can be boring and not all that exciting. But since it's a promise of God, “When life is just sow sow, just sow sow.” Even if I never see the return in this life, I will in eternity. Then again, when I stop the self-pity routine and examine my life, I begin to see again the blessings God has poured into my life. He, like my little fellow student, votes for me in a myriad of ways through the blessings He sends – and I know there are many blessings I will never realize until that great and glorious day! In fact, I shudder to think of life without the blessings. I'm convinced that the saddest people, and some of the most depressed, are those who are not sowing. So their lives their lives are just so so – lacking in blessing and joy. So we all have a choice – we can live so so lives or sow sow lives; it all depends on what we want out of life. “When life is just sow sow, just sow sow.”

But I've discovered something else about the sow sow life. Once we begin to sow it becomes a habit, a pattern, a life-style. Without realizing it we are soon sowing into others lives not because we want a return but because it's what we were created to do; therefore we feel a sense of inner peace and joy, a sense of fulfillment whenever we sow. And really, that's blessing enough. Come to think of it, that's when we're most like Christ. No wonder it's enough. So – will your life be so so or sow sow? Remember, what you sow, you reap.

Fire Up

PRINCIPLE: “If you want to fire up, fill 'er up.”

It was two incidents close together that drove me back into Scripture. The first came at suppertime. I was in charge of grilling the burgers. As usual, I fired up the grill, closed the cover and went back inside while it got up to a good temperature. I soon returned to the grill and opened up the cover to place the patties in the prime places – except when I opened up the cover I felt no heat. It didn't take long to realize the tank was out of gas. Apparently there was just enough gas in the line to provide an initial flame but no more. The second incident occurred just a few days later. Knowing two of our grandchildren would be at our house over the 4th of July, we had purchased some sparklers. So we broke them out with great anticipation and excitement. We then realized we had only a few matches – and our butane lighter was all but empty. But no problem, we'd only use 1 match and light the sparklers from the sparklers. So we lit the first sparkler – it feebly spit out sparks for a circumference of about inch. And it lasted about 5 seconds – no time to light another one. Thinking it was just a dud, we used another match to light the next one. Turns out they were all duds! There just wasn't enough flammable stuff on the wires to produce any sparks of significance.

As I thought about these two related incidents later, I realized the truth that “If you want to fire up, fill 'er up.” No gas, no fire. No flammable material, no fire. Now read Acts 19:1-12. “While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.”  The fire didn't flame up until the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. “If you want to fire up, fill 'er up.”

I began to think of all the times I have tried to do things in  my own power, to produce something I wanted, to bring about a result I could cherish – only to have it burn out. I forgot to make sure the vision or idea was Spirit  driven. “If you want to fire up, fill 'er up.” And I thought about all the times I've flamed out, burned out, quit flaming – because I had been running on empty and not taken the time to be refilled by the Holy Spirit. “If you want to fire up, fill 'er up.”

It's a good reminder for me. If I don't want to flame out, if I want to burn brightly, I need to be sure the Holy Spirit's on board. Otherwise I'll be just flash that never grows up into a fire. “If you want to fire up, fill 'er up.” In fact, I wonder what would happen if I began each day with a prayer: “Holy Spirit, set me on fire.” Perhaps, just perhaps, I'll only do those things and say those things that will keep the fire burning. And perhaps, just perhaps, my fire will set others on fire – until the world is on fire for Jesus. Will you burn with me? Perhaps, just perhaps “God (will do) extraordinary miracles through (us), so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that ... touch (us will be) taken to the sick, and their illnesses (be) cured and the evil spirits (leave) them.” “If you want to fire up, fill 'er up.”

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Danger of Praise

PRINCIPLE: “When singing praises, look up.”

Last week I mentioned that I once worked for a furniture store. I once received permission from the owner to borrow the store truck to move some furniture from my in-laws home to ours. I hopped in the truck and headed down the street to their home, and since it had been a good day I was softly singing praises as I drove. Still singing I turned into and headed up their driveway – only to run into a low overhanging roof that stopped the truck dead and punctured a hole in the truck’s box. Not cool!

I thought about the incident recently and it occurred to me that the problem was not necessarily my singing praises – it was the location of me eyes while I was singing. The singing led me to be far too casual and therefore to lose the concentration one should have when driving. In fact, if I had looked up just once as I entered the new territory of the driveway, I would have been okay. But getting lost in praise led me to lose perspective.

Singing praises, therefore, can be a problem. Far too often we are more focused on the act of praising than we are on whom we’re praising. So “When singing praises, look up.” Only when we look up do we see the focus of our praise and avoid catastrophes. We might be praising another person – not bad in itself – but shouldn’t our real praise be for the God who created that person and brought him or her into our lives? “When singing praises, look up.” We might be praising some beautiful scenery – but shouldn’t our real praise be for the God who created that scenery? “When singing praises, look up.” Sometimes we even end up praising ourselves – then it’s really true: “When singing praises, look up.” Or it’s possible we’re singing in church or elsewhere and are sincerely praising the Lord, so much so that we get lost in the act, emotions, and mechanics of praising – only to lose sight of the Lord we ae are working so hard to  praise. So “When singing praises, look up.”

Catch the spirit of the Psalmist (103): “Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly…The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him… But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments! ... Let all that I am praise the Lord.” He does not say how to praise – the accent is on whom to praise. I have a hunch that the Psalmist, when he sang God’s praises, looked not down at his feet but up to the heavens. “When singing praises, look up.”

Come to think of it, there is one time when it’s all right to get lost in praise. Charles Wesley captured it:[1]
“Finish then Thy new creation, Pure and spotless let us be; Let us see They great salvation Perfectly restored in Thee: Changed from glory into glory, Till in heav’n we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love and praise!” Then we won’t need to look up – we’ll be looking at Him face to face! But until then, “When singing praises, look up.”

[1] “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Making Sure

PRINCIPLE: “When you want to be sure, check with the owner.”

While in seminary I worked part-time at a wonderful furniture store. Often I made deliveries. But I did spend time on the floor helping customers – especially on weekends when traffic was heavier. I enjoyed the people contact, but was always a little uneasy because I wasn’t really a furniture expert or salesman. I had no problems answering questions about smaller items, like lamps or small end tables (or candles or candy from the little gift shop that was part of the store). But when it came to bigger ticket items - like couches, bedroom suites, grandfather clocks – I didn’t feel real adequate. I didn’t know enough to answer all their questions, which of course, was necessary in making sales. So I would greet customers and offer to help, and would do so until such a question arose. Then I would politely tell them the owner would meet with them as soon as he was free. That’s when I began to believe in the simple principle “When you want to be sure, check with the owner.”

Now, many years later, I realize this is an important principle for life as well. So many times I do not have an answer for a question, or advice for a problem, or direction for a situation. I have learned, the hard way, that “When you want to be sure, check with the owner.” If I’m driving a rental car and it has a problem, I call the owner – They own the car and it’s their decision that counts. If the plumber finds a problem with our drain, before he fixes it he gives us the information and asks us if we want him to proceed.  As the owners, it’s our responsibility to make the call. That’s why Paul wrote that “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) When faced with a question, or a problem, or a situation it is only wise to check with the owner so we can do what He wants us to do. Wise obedience is the only way to be sure and right.

But while it’s possible that an owner knows little about his possession (I own some things I know little about!) Paul is talking about an owner knows what He has. Consider Paul’s frame of reference – certainly he knew the Psalmist’s words (139:13-16 MSG):“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb. I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day.” Our owner is our creator! He knows us inside and out. Her knows what makes us tick. He knows what it takes for us to be whole and healthy. He knows what brings us into peace. And He loves us so deeply that when we were lost He paid the price to purchase us back. And He so deeply desires that we live in wholeness and health that He wants us to check in with him. “When you want to be sure, check with the owner.”

Perhaps you’re wrestling with a question. Or maybe you’re struggling to solve a problem. Possibly you’re searching for direction. “When you want to be sure, check with the owner.” It’s the wisest choice you can make. This might be the best reason when waking up each morning to declare, I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Christ has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

Friday, July 1, 2011

Remember Your Pin

PRINCIPLE: “When you’re going round and round, getting nowhere, remember your pin.”

The van was new, just a few weeks old. It was an Econoline Van, perfect for our family of five, for anticipated years of hauling stuff to and from the college campus, and for pulling our camping trailer. We were loving it. Early one Sunday morning I drove up 131 from Kentwood (where we lived) to our church near downtown Grand Rapids – a trip I made numerous times each week. I pulled into the parking lot of the church and started to back into a parking space. I turned the steering wheel to straighten in between the lines and nothing happened. In fact, the steering wheel just kept going round and round. It was impossible to turn. I just backed in as best I could and went about the business of Sunday morning. After church I rode home with Barb in our other car. Monday I called the car dealership and the van was towed for repair.

The verdict? One of the main pins that held the steering column to the axles was missing. In fact, it appeared it had never been put in – which means we had been driving it around all those weeks with no pin. It was a miracle things held together all those miles on the highway in the middle of rush hour. It made for some scary thoughts as we considered all the possible scenarios of what could have happened. We were convinced that with the pin gone, God held it all together. He was the pin.

I realize now that God was teaching us a lesson: “When you’re going round and round, getting nowhere, remember your pin.” I shudder to think how many times in my life I went round and round and getting nowhere. If only I had stopped and remembered my pin, the One who holds it all together. The apostle Paul put it poignantly in Colossians 1:16-17. “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus Christ is the pin that holds everything together. Only in Him can I steer safely through life. So “When you’re going round and round, getting nowhere, remember your pin.”

I invite you today to pray. “Lord Jesus Christ, it is important that we focus on you, for our lives spring from and revolve around You. This is good because in You all things hold together.
Sometimes we feel our personal world and life is falling apart – but in You all things hold together. You work all things together for good for those who love You.
Sometimes we feel lost, confused by all the directions and lures of the world around us – but in You all things hold together. You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Sometimes we feel all alone - but in You all things hold together. You have promised that You will never leave us or forsake; You will not leaves us as orphans.
Sometimes we hurriedly go round and round, getting nowhere fast. But in You all things hold together. You are the pin that keeps the steering wheel of our lives intact and functioning correctly and safely.
Sometimes we feel unloved - but in You all things hold together. You so loved us that You died for us.
Sometimes we feel abused - but in You all things hold together. For our sakes you were despised and rejected.
Sometimes we are ill, in body, mind, or soul - but in You all things hold together. By your stripes we have been healed.
Thank you, Lord, for pinning my life together. Amen.”

“When you’re going round and round, getting nowhere, remember your pin.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Making Scents

PRINCIPLE: “When you come to a scent-free zone, use your scents.”

While attending a conference a few weeks ago I chatted with a fellow pastor from Canada. After we chatted awhile he mentioned he was having a little trouble because his sinuses were acting up. As I offered some pastoral responses (in my good old Stephen’s mold) he went on to explain that he was allergic to most perfumes, colognes, etc. He was bemoaning the fact that he was not back home because where he lived in Canada they have ‘scent free zones.’ Even some elevators and busses are scent free. Having never heard of such a thing I was stunned. He explained that Canadian law had stepped up to protect those with his type of allergies. While you and I might think no scents makes no sense, to him – and I’m sure to many others – it was a blessing.

The next day, another pastor who had sat at our table during that conversation chatted with me again. She and I were expressing sympathy for people with such allergies but also amazement that the law could actually go as far as to ban scents. One the one hand the law is protecting some from danger but it is also restricting others in their freedoms. I mean, isn’t there some medication for such allergies? Why penalize us who are healthy? We wondered where such laws might end if all allergies led to prohibitive laws. It’s a difficult balance. As I have thought about those conversations today’s principle came to mind: “When you come to a scent-free zone, use your scents.”

Paul wrote (2 Cor. 2:14-16) “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.” Paul knew that Christians have an odor. Some are allergic to it – it is the aroma of death. Some are drawn to the aroma and to them it is new life. But for Paul there was no difficult balance – he urged us to spread the scent. This is especially true when we are among people, or in places where there is no Christly aroma – a scent free zone. “When you come to a scent-free zone, use your scents.” It’s the only thing that makes sense. Whereas people do not choose their physical allergies, reaction to the scent of Christ is a personal choice. People must smell Jesus so they can have a choice of life or death. They must smell the aroma. So “When you come to a scent-free zone, use your scents.” Each person who picks up your scent will determine whether or not they have an deadly allergy.

Well, it’s brief but that’s my two cents worth. I hope it makes sense. “When you come to a scent-free zone, use your scents.”

Friday, June 3, 2011


PRINCIPLE: “Hugs are not just for kids.”

The first church I was privileged to serve was in Sioux Center, Iowa. We lived one long block, downhill from the church. At the time we had one son, who was 3 years old. Often, weather permitting, I would walk to and from church. I have such fond memories of walking home! Our son, if he knew I was on the way, stood at the front door until I got close, then would run outside, arms outstretched, to greet me. Then it was one big hug. I’m sure you know the feeling. There’s nothing warmer, more exciting, more loving than that.

And why did my son do that? He was glad to see me; he loved me; he wanted to be with me. And he knew he’d get a big hug in return. And we both felt good! Maybe that’s why I still like to hug my bos (and grandkids – but that’s another story for another time!)

I thought of that scene the other day as I was thinking about my relationship with Jesus. Do I approach Him the way my so approached me? Am I that glad to meet with Him?  Do I love Him that much? Do I want to be with Him that badly? Then it hit me – if a hug between me and my son meant so much to both of us, wouldn’t it be the same hugging Jesus? That’s when it hit me - “Hugs are not just for kids.” It’s okay to hug adults, to hug anyone we love. It’s okay, then, to hug Jesus. “Hugs are not just for kids.”

So why am I so formal when I approach Jesus? I sit down in a comfortable place, make sure I have my Bible, my devotional, a pen or pencil, and some prayer notes. Then I begin. But am I really glad to be meeting with Him? Am I excited about the opportunity? Shouldn’t I bounce out of bed each morning ready to run out and hug Jesus? Shouldn’t I go to bed each night only after hugging Jesus? Could there be anything warmer, more exciting, more loving than that? Wouldn’t it make us both feel good? “Hugs are not just for kids.”

I admit I’m not sure what ‘running out and hugging Jesus’ looks like. But I’m doing an attitude check as I try to figure it out. I encourage you to do the same. “Hugs are not just for kids.” Why not give your kids an extra hug today (or when you see them next) – and experience the exhilaration it brings. Then hug Jesus  - whatever it looks like for you.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Wrong Place

PRINCIPLE: “If you’re in the wrong place, repent.”

I had enjoyed the first day and a half of the ‘Festival of Homiletics’ in Minneapolis. (For those wondering about ‘homiletics’, it means ‘pertaining to the nature of preaching. In other words I was at a preaching festivalJ It just sounds more impressive to use the big word!). I had returned to my motel – just across the street from the new football stadium of the Minnesota Gophers – to spend the evening reading and planning. But first, I needed to eat. On the key cards of the motel there was an ad for 10% off pizza at a local establishment. I had discovered the location was less than a block away so figured I could phone in an order and then pick it up. As I was preparing to make the call I noticed the pizza ad on a plastic stand on the bed stand next to my bed. On the backside was a menu and a note that the complete menu could be accessed through a web link. So I grabbed my computer and went to the site, selected what I wanted and ordered online. After the allotted time I walked to the pizza place up the street. I gave them my name only to hear that they had received no order. I explained it was an online order and gave them the confirmation number, 140. Still no record. The nice man was willing to make the pizza so he asked what I had ordered. The name of the particular pizza didn’t ring a bell with him. Even if it did, I didn’t want to reorder because my card had been charged for the previous order. But I could sit down and wait for him to bake one and I was hungry. While he went to check with his manager, I began to wonder if I was in the right place. By now I figured something wasn’t right. So when he returned and asked what I wanted to do I simply said “I’ll go back to my room and recheck everything.” When I got back to my room I realized the ad on the bedside stand was not the same place that advertized on the room key card. I had been in the wrong place all that while. Glad I didn’t stay!

As I reflected upon and eventually laughed about my embarrassing adventure (and yes you can feel embarrassed even if no one else knows what you did!), I realized that this was not the first time I had been in the wrong place in my life. I’ve often made decisions and taken actions that landed me in many wrong places. And I’m sure I will be in more wrong places. What I’m learning is this: “If you’re in the wrong place, repent.” Yes – seek forgiveness. But ‘repent’ also means to turn around and head in the opposite direction. The Psalmist wrote (34:14) “Turn from evil and do good.” Similarly, Ezekiel said, “Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?”  You see, I could have apologized to the nice man and had him bake a good pizza – but I would have paid for a pizza I never received or ate; I would have forfeited the blessing of what turned out to be a fabulous pizza. I wouold have ‘died’ to that pleasure.

So “If you’re in the wrong place, repent.” Change your location and your actions. Otherwise you’ll never move forward and never get the pizza you deserve and have paid for. Being sorry and embarrassed is not enough. Only true repentance, a true turning of our lives, leads us to the blessing.

So the next time you realize you’re in the wrong place, no one else needs to know. Just remember: “If you’re in the wrong place, repent.”

Friday, May 6, 2011

On Being New

PRINCIPLE: “If you want something new, you must be willing to get rid of the old.”

I should have known. I took the week after Easter off with no plans to go anywhere but outdoors to get a good jump on this year’s yard and garden work. After all, with Easter being so late, the weather should be wonderful. Well, it was a good thought. Who’d have thunk we’d have rain every day? So much for lots of yard work!

So early in the week, to get some exercise, Barb and I went to Menards – just to take a walk. Right! We came home with tiles for one of our bathrooms. Then the work began. After a few hours of scraping up glue and the remains of the old tile, I was really wishing for the rain to go away so I could spread all that mulch! And I really felt like just slapping down the new tiles without getting the surface beneath totally clean. After all, good tiles would stick anyway! Good thing I’m married to Barb. We persisted and got the floor totally clean. She even said to me, “There has to be an illustration in here somewhere.” Yep – and here it is: “If you want something new, you must be willing to get rid of the old.” The new tile will not perform at a maximum level unless you first get rid of the old. I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit. I love the new – but I find it hard to get rid of the old. That’s why I have three wallets – one I use and two old ones on hand ‘just in case.’ (Okay women – before you smile too broadly, how many purses do you have?) That’s partially why we have our old hard drive is still in a closet – just in case we need it. That’s why I have so many old shirts taking up closet space. And the list goes on.

Now think about the principle in our spiritual lives. “If you want something new, you must be willing to get rid of the old.” If you want to be more loving you must first get rid of anger, hatred, and envy. If you want to be more generous, you must first get rid of greed and lessen desire. If you want to be more patient, you must first get rid and anxiety. If you want to be more at peace, you must first get rid of worry. If you want to live more like Christ, you must first get rid of selfish desires and motives. That’s why Paul loved to write about taking off the old and putting on the new. We cannot wear the new if the old is not gone. In fact, this is a key theme in Paul’s letter to the Romans (6:6-14 MSG): “Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin's every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ's sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That's what Jesus did. That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don't give it the time of day. Don't even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you've been raised from the dead!—into God's way of doing things. Sin can't tell you how to live. After all, you're not living under that old tyranny any longer. You're living in the freedom of God.”

I can’t say it any better (which is why Paul’s words are canonized in Scripture and mine are not!). So remember, “If you want something new, you must be willing to get rid of the old.”

Friday, April 22, 2011


PRINCIPLE: “If you want to be #1, make someone else #1.”

I was a young student at Central College in Pella, Iowa. I worked for the campus radio station. Iowa’s governor, the honorable Harold Hughes, had announced that he was not seeking re-election so that he could run for the United States Senate. When word came that he was making a campaign stop at a restaurant in downtown Pella I was asked to go and get an interview. I was both excited and nervous – a big assignment for a rookie radio guy. On the big day at the appointed hour I entered the restaurant and surveyed the crowd. There was no problem spotting the governor – not only did I recognize him but he was an imposing figure and I couldn’t miss him. I eventually identified myself and asked if I could do an interview. He said he’d be with me shortly. So I sat off to the side and waited.

A few minutes passed as people of much greater stature than me kept going up to him and asking for his time. But all of a sudden I heard him say to those gathered around him, “I promised this young man an interview so I need to give him some time now.” Wow – impressive; a politician and a man of his word. (I guess it’s not always an oxymoron!) At that moment I felt I was #1 and on top of the world – and even more nervous! Then he sat down next to me and immediately made me feel at ease. I turned on my little recorder and began the interview. One of the questions I posed to him had to do with whether nor not he had mixed feelings. After all he was leaving office after a doing good job and could easily be re-elected. He had made many friends and earned deep respect. Yet he was also venturing into new territory and was already being mentioned a future Democratic candidate for President. I must confess I can’t remember what he said but I do recall that I was impressed with his thoughtful response. I finished my relatively short interview still #1 and on top of the world.

Immediately after completing the interview he began his public remarks so I turned the recorder back on again. I’ll never forget the gist of his opening remarks – he said something to the effect of “I was just being interviewed by this young man here from Central College, and he asked me a very good and thought-provoking question.” He then opened his brief speech by sharing his reflections on my question! Wow! Now I knew I liked this man! And that’s saying a lot for one who born and bred Republican! If it was possible to feel higher than #1 and on top of the world, I was feeling it. All I could think of was that when we played highlights of his remarks over the air people would hear his opening references to me (true- since he hadn’t mentioned my name very few would know to whom he was referring; but I would know! And, yes, I confess to a little – make that a lot – of pride!) Needless to say I followed his career with great interest. In many ways, he was #1 in my book.

And while I could share much more about the faith and humility of Harold Hughes, my point right now is he became #1 in my eyes because he made me feel like I was #1. “If you want to be #1, make someone else #1.” I don’t mean to say that we ought to strive to be #1 so we can lord it over others; that is pride and self-centeredness. It has more to do with earning respect and love from others. We gain respect and love when we show respect and love. We gain the right to be heard when we give the right to be heard. We gain the opportunity to speak about Jesus when we live like Jesus. In the context of what I’m saying, Jesus becomes #1 to people because He makes them feel like they’re #1.

So this week, wherever you are and whoever you are with: “If you want to be #1, make someone else #1.” I have a hunch that if you do, Jesus will be real #1.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

When You're Beat

PRINCIPLE: “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.”

“It isn’t over until the fat lady sings.” Those words are usually uttered by someone who’s behind in a game and is hoping for a comeback. But I want to use it in a little different way.

Back in the days I was coaching soccer, I had an interesting experience. I was coaching my oldest sons’ team. We knew our next game was against a good team, and their best player had played for us the previous year. He was not only good, but our guys really liked him. So their talk during practice was all about him – the boys were looking forward to playing him and were taking it as a personal challenge. So I decided that, rather than avoid him during the game, it would be best for us to go straight at him and put our best people on him and against him; put our strength against their strength. If the guys were going to be watching his every move anyway, why not focus on him. Game day rolled around and we beat them; he never scored. Our team had fun. The fat lady was singing. As soon as the game was over I headed to the other coach for the obligatory hand shake. As we shook he said something to the effect of “I don’t know why you focused so much on him and ran everything against him; you should have kept the play away from him so he wouldn’t have as much of a chance to do some damage.”  Now, let me get this straight. You just lost, we just won, he didn’t do any damage but you’re telling me how I should have coached the game. What’s wrong with this picture? Does the losing coach really have the right to tell the winning coach how to coach?  When you’ve just been beaten do you have the credentials to talk about winning strategies? I don’t think so. “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.” You haven’t earned the right. Besides, it won’t do any good.

It makes me think of Moses. God appeared in that burning bush and told Moses the game with Egypt was over and God had won – and it would be up to Moses to follow through. Moses must have missed the part about the game being over. He still wanted to change the strategy. Moses should have known that when God speaks, it’s over. You’re done. He will have His way. But he kept trying to get out of leading (see his excuses in Exodus 3 & 4). He just didn’t like the song God was singing. But Moses didn’t have the right to tell God how to song. Too bad Moses hadn’t heard “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not condemning Moses. In fact, I love him. I’ve used every one of his excuses, more than once, during my life. I, too, have tried to negotiate with God, to change the strategy after the game was over and the die had been cast. And I do know the when God speaks, it’s over. I’m done. He will have His way. But I try to tell him how to sing anyway. But I don’t have the right to tell God how to sing. For that matter, who does? Isaiah wrote “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me?’ Can the pot say of the potter ‘He knows nothing?’” (Is. 29:16) Paul picked up that theme as well (Rom. 9:20-21) “But who are you, o man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” When God calls, when God commands, when God directs, when God sends we’re beaten. “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.” When life seems unfair or unjust, when we feel like God should treat us differently or change our circumstances to our liking, remember “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.” As Paul concluded his thoughts he wrote (9:22-24), “What if God…did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy…?” Do we really want Him to change His plan so we can miss the mercy?  I don’t think so. So “When you’re beaten, don’t tell the fat lady how to sing.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pity Parties

PRINCIPLE: “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

It happened way back in the 9th grade but I still remember it vividly. (In that bygone era 9th grace was the end of Jr. High – Sr. High started with 10th grade. Some of you ‘young uns’ need that clarification.) The faculty asked for suggestions for a theme for the 9th grade graduation ceremonies. I dutifully submitted my entry – “The End of the Beginning.” It was from a wartime speech of Winston Churchill – “Now this is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end; but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” I really liked it. Apparently someone else did as well – it was selected as the theme. I was elated!

Graduation night rolled around and there was a big banner in the gym with the theme in printed bold letters. There was a printed program bulletin with the theme on the cover. Now I was even more elated – until I realized that nowhere was credit given to me for coming up with the theme. “Well,” I consoled myself, “Someone’s probably going to say something during the ceremony.” Guess again – nothing, no how, nowhere. I was crushed. I was hurt. I was angry. How unfair, how inconsiderate, how rude! Certainly I should have been credited or somehow duly noted. After all, if I hadn’t come through there would be no theme – or at least not one this good. I didn’t want attention – just credit (or so I told myself!) On and on it went in my mind.

For some reason I didn’t really enjoy that might very much! The faculty spoiled it for me. At least that’s what I thought then. As I look back from my wiser adult years I see and learn some things. I see, for example, a comrade in self-pity. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Lk. 15:25-30). I realize now that on my graduation night the older brother and I were twins. And, if I’m honest, since that night there have been many other times I’ve ‘twinned up’ with him. The malady is called self-pity. If only the older brother had gone home and joined the party! He might just have had a good night! If only he had listened to his father: “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

I now realize that going home, joining the party, brings to mind some important truths. First, self-pity simply means I have forgotten the blessings that surround and fill my life every day. The father told his older son, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” When self-pity sets in I need to go back to the place of blessing, back to my Father. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

Second, self-pity means I’ve forgotten that I already have the most important recognition and approval of all – that of my heavenly Father. In reality, His is the only one that counts. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

Third, self-pity means I’ve failed to remember that it’s not about me – it’s about God. Any honor in my life should always go to Him. I just need to get back home with my Father to remember this. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

So from now on I will try to see self-pity as a special delivery message from my Father, inviting me home. Hopefully I’ll have enough wisdom to do so. “When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go home.”

Friday, March 18, 2011



I chose to read and review Kenny Luck’s book because the title, “Soar,” intrigued me and the question on the cover grabbed me: “Are you ready to accept God’s power?” I want to soar and I want to be filled with God’s power – so reading this book made sense. 

Reading the book has been fruitful. Luck does an outstanding job of thoroughly dissecting and presenting the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit in fresh ways. I consider it a unique theological work and a solid Biblical study. What keeps it fresh and stimulating is his creative approach and contemporary illustrations. Each chapter begins with an image or story and that theme is always perfectly related to whatever aspect of the Holy Spirit he’s discussing. For example his stories of flying an airplane, receiving a special Christmas gift, and his son’s broken arm are all outstanding images for understanding certain aspects of the Holy Spirit. Some chapters clarified my understanding, in some I learned something new, and in some I discovered a new, refreshing way to present an old concept.

Luck divides the book into three sections, which I found helpful. Part 1, “Transitions” deals with changes in the way we normally think about the Holy Spirit. Part 2, “Transformations” discusses how the Holy Spirit impacts and changes us. Part 3, “Transactions” points to how the Spirit impacts others through us. This is a nice summary of the purpose and ministry of the Holy Spirit, but it also allows readers to focus on each aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry for an extended period of time.

And when I say an extended period, that’s what it really needs to be. “Soar” cannot be a quick read – nor is it intended to be. Since I was reading it with the intent of writing a review, I tried to read through it somewhat quickly. But I would have benefited even more if I had really taken the time to utilize the great study guide, either alone or in a group setting. A group setting would, I believe, bring about the most beneficial study. Luck has put great thought into how to apply what the reader learns along the way. While my reading was fruitful, it could have been abundantly fruitful if done within a group.

I do have two criticisms or concerns. One is Luck’s repeated references to his earlier books. I found his repeated parenthetical comments referring to something he covered in one of his previous books as intrusive to the flow. A comment in the Introduction or in a footnote along the way mentioning that reading his previous books would be helpful could suffice. By weaving the repeated references into the book itself I found myself asking “Should I stop and read that book before continuing? Is he trying to sell me his previous book? Is he saying I can’t understand this without reading his previous book?” I kept wondering what it would be like if, during my sermons, I repeatedly said “I covered this last week, last month, etc.)”

My second concern is that the book is billed as part of the “God’s Man Series,” which means it’s written for men. That’s where the deception comes in. While Luck does, at times, try to draw some application to men, I found those applications fitting for women as well. Nothing he said screamed at me “This is for men only.” Since it’s billed as for men, I wonder how many women will ignore it and thereby miss what could be a vital study and life-transforming experience.

Neither of these concerns keeps from recommending this outstanding book. God blessed me – or should I say the Spirit blessed me as I read, studied, and prayed. In fact, I was deeply moved be Luck’s repeated use of passages from John, Romans, and Acts. Perhaps our Lord knew I was planning on preaching from John during Lent, from Romans next summer, and Acts next fall! For me, it was God’s sign that the book was meant for me. Read “Soar” and you will find it meant for you as well.
("I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group fopr this review.")