Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

“We can be vulnerable because we are, in the end, simply invulnerable.”

March 27, 2014 Leave a comment

bridge out to houses on water

Photo by Viktor Bors

After wandering around without a (Bible reading) plan for several months, I finally decided I had to do something and began to read in Matthew, intending to read through all the gospels by Easter.  With lots of travel, that idea has been blown out of the water but I am back in Matthew and trying to journal daily.  I could not exactly remember how far I had read up to in Matthew but the sermon on the mount seemed about the right place.  A most challenging place to begin and the following passage out of the ESV is one of the most difficult for me to understand.

Matt. 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
Matt. 5:39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matt. 5:40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Matt. 5:41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Matt. 5:42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Where to go for some help on understanding this incredible sermon by Jesus.  I turned back to Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, published in 1993.  Here is what Dallas says what we are to do when we are trying to decide what kind of action to take when faced with those who may be tormenting us,

We will decide, as best we know how, on the basis of love for all involved and with a readiness to sacrifice what we simply want. And in every situation we have the larger view. We are not passive, but we act always with clear-eyed and resolute love.

We know what is really happening, seeing it from the point of view of eternity.  And we know that we will be taken are of, no matter what. We can be vulnerable because we are, in the end, simply invulnerable.  And once we have broken the power of anger and desire over our lives, we know that the way of Christ in response to personal injury and imposition is always the easier way.  It is the only way that allows us to move serenely in the midst of harm and beyond it.

Lest anyone think that Dallas or Jesus is suggesting that we tolerate abuse (sexual, emotional, verbal), that is not what they are saying here. As Willard says, “We must always be alert boatman on camiguin 2for acceptable ways of removing ourselves from the situation.  In the case of abuse of any kind, one should begin by involving others, and especially appointed authorities.” As people who live in the love and under the rule of the King of heaven, we are able to respond in unexpected ways to personal injury and to requests for help. We have embraced and continue to experience the self-giving love of our Savior.  These are not words of law that we blindly obey or burden others with. Again to quote Willard, “Of course, in each case I must determine if the gift of my vulnerability, goods, time and strength is, precisely appropriate. That is my responsibility before God. As a child of the King, I always live in his presence.”

As I read these words from Dallas Willard and from Jesus, I realize how much self yet dominates me–selfishness, holding onto my things, my time, my rights.  Yet I am grateful that the solution is not law but an abiding relationship in his love.  Here is perhaps the most profound and liberating statement from Willard in this section of his book, “He calls us to him to impart himself to us.  He does not call us to do what he did, but to be as he was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what he did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in him.”  I am reminded of Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”


Good news that transforms

October 2, 2013 Leave a comment


Ritual #2 by Imran

My reading for today was 2 Timothy 1:1-14.

I ended up focusing on verse 14, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells in you, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (ESV) I think I enjoy reading Timothy more than Romans because Timothy needs lots of reassurance and encouragement from Paul, especially in this passage and I do as well. I sometimes wonder if God has made a mistake in trusting such a good deposit to me!

Here is what I wrote in my journal this morning, “I need not doubt God’s power and ability to transform a life–including my own. I need not doubt the goodness of the gospel. Does the good news need to be defended? When questioned, Christ Jesus guards the gospel and me (12), the Holy Spirit guards and protects the good news–keeping it from being defiled, trampled upon. The good news when believed releases the power of God in a person’s life.” Yes, yes God!

The problem of impatience

September 10, 2013 1 comment

Flemish 17th century

Flemish 17th century on Num 21:4-10

Can anything good come from impatience?  I imagine someone saying, “yes, when you are impatient with mediocrity.” Even if that is true, does not patience still needs to saturate our words and actions since we all know that patience is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22)?

As I reflected this morning about my own habitual cultivation of impatience, I yearn to see patient people distinguishing themselves as counter cultural beacons.

“And the people became impatient on the way” is the phrase from Numbers 21:4 that started my thinking this morning. A few of my own conclusions about impatience.

Why am I impatient?  I am often impatient because I am discontented, ungrateful, proud (thinking my self and my time as more important than others), and because I am not led by the Spirit.

What are the consequences of my impatience The short answer: sin.  Yes, when I am impatient, I sin; I sin against others;  I cause others to sin (when they get impatient with my own impatient–you know how that goes).
How can I avoid impatience? Go slow (driving, walking, eating, talking).  Practice simplicity (see Richard Foster for more on this). Be alert (to the Spirit’s leading, to what is happening around me and within me). Consider others (as more important than myself from Philippians 2).

And finally, how wonderful to mull over, What happens when I am patience? Four words come to mind. Joy. Contentment. Compassion. Humility.

Lord, I do not know if I can pray for patience but I do long that others would see me to be a truly patient man.

Your thoughts on impatience are welcome.

What hell has that the church needs

August 14, 2013 Leave a comment

What dlake-of-fireoes hell have that the church needs? I heard the answer to this question this morning from our presenter Curtis.  As we looked at the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, Curtis pointed out what the rich man did when he realized that there was a great chasm between him and heaven that could not be crossed (26). The rich man asked in verse 27 that  someone be sent to his family to warn them, “for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”

What does hell have that the church needs?

Compassion for the lost!

As I sat stunned in the room by these words, Curtis then said, “Often, there is more compassion in hell for the lost than there is in the church.”

We had been challenged to make a list of 100 people that we knew. Again Curtis spoke, “The only way to bring relief for your families is for you to share the life-giving and life-transforming good news about Jesus!” What a challenge for me to be persistent and bold in sharing the good new with those I love and care about.

Living as a survivor of suicide

May 23, 2013 1 comment

orleans by gerard laurenceau

Updated: May 23 2013 (originally published in 2010)

I am a survivor of suicide–this means that someone close to me completed suicide– was successful in their suicide attempt.  So, I am a survivor, the one left behind. In my case the first time I was put into the survivor category was over forty years ago when my mother completed suicide.

A number of years ago, I began to explore how suicide affected my own life.  I attended a Survivors of Suicide meeting for a few months and found it helpful.  Equipped with a little understanding about these type of meetings, I then led a SOS meeting overseas where I was living–we met for over a year.  We lost a colleague to suicide in the last few years and the topic came up again and led me to write about my journey once again. I am grateful my sharing led to conversations with a few people. I attempted to be a safe place for people to process their pain by listening to them tell the story of a past suicide in their life. I guess that is the best we can do for anyone who is a survivor of suicide.

A comment on a post about suicide that I made in 2007 got me thinking again. SOS used to have a helpful website.  They still have a website with some information and a link to survivor of suicide groups on the website Unfortunately, there are not many meetings around–I counted half a dozen in the Dallas area and one in San Antonio for Texas where I live–none in Houston, the largest city where I used to attend my SOS meetings. Perhaps they still exist in another form or by another name.  If anyone has information on that, I would appreciate them making a comment for others.

I wonder if college students are any more uncomfortable talking about these topics but if they are survivors, talking seems to be a requirement to move on to healing in my opinion.  Anyway, I found the following that may be helpful to some.  It is designed more for those who lost someone recently to suicide  but I think it may be helpful even if the suicide happened a long time ago.  Here is another post I made about why not to commit suicide.

Suggestions for Survivors
by Iris M. Bolton

  • Know you can survive. You may not think so, but you can.
  • Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know, or until you are satisfied with partial answers.
  • Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings, but know that all your feelings are normal.
  • Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy, you are in mourning.
  • Be aware you may feel appropriate anger at the person, at the world, at God, at yourself. It is okay to express it.
  • You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do. Guilt can turn into regret, through forgiveness.
  • Having suicidal thoughts is common. It does not mean that you will act on those thoughts.
  • Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.
  • Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.
  • Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing. Give yourself time to heal.
  • Remember the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence in another life.
  • Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may only be experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece.
  • Try to put off major decisions.
  • Give yourself permission to get professional help.
  • Be aware of the pain of your family and friends.
  • Be patient with yourself and with others who may not understand.
  • Set your own limits and learn to say no.
  • Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.
  • Know that there are support groups that can be helpful, such as Compassionate Friends or Survivors of Suicide groups. If not, ask a professional to help start one.
  • Call on your personal faith to help you through.
  • It is common to experience physical reactions to your grief, e.g., headaches, loss of appetite, inability to sleep.
  • The willingness to laugh with others and at yourself is healing.
  • Explore your questions, anger, guilt, or other feelings until you can let them go.
  • Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.

Know that you will never be the same again, but that you can survive and even thrive.


Learning to live as a human

May 20, 2013 Leave a comment

I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about learning what it means to live locally.  This followed after I began to read  Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. Eswine writes, that we are “merely human and only local.” We forget that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” What then are the implications for me (us) if we admit that we are merely human?

bridge out to houses on water

Photo by Viktor Bors

This requires a choice. To be merely human means, in contrast to Jesus, that we are not God. Most, if not all of us know this theologically but many of us resist this practically. To be human means that we accept that we have limits. It means we cannot do it all, we cannot know it all and we cannot be everywhere.  Eswine’s writing should liberate us, “Being human does not mar greatness; it informs it and sets its noble boundaries.” 351

Sadly for ourselves and for those we live with and minister to, our refusal to accept and live within these limits only creates insurmountable problems, “Trying to be an exception to the human race encourages arrogance among most of us and burnout among many of us.” 246  We have bought into the serpent’s lie in the Garden, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5).  Our grasp for attributes that only belong to God gets us into trouble and in the end prevents us from loving others.  Again Eswine nails it, “As ministry leaders we endeavor to give of our lives in such a way that every neighbor we minister to will know that we are not God. The Serpent’s invitation to celebrity, immediate gratification, and using people to advance ourselves as if we are God poisons the air.” 652

footprintsEswine suggests that we need expose these temptations that “hinder the recovery of our humanity and our seeing his glory” (764) by surrendering these three limits.  We must admit the following,

We can only be at one place at one time. “We will resist and want to act like we are omnipresent. But he will patiently teach us that as human beings we cannot be, and this admission will glorify God. Others will likewise resist Jesus and want you to be omnipresent. They will use his name to praise or critique you accordingly, but they too will have to learn that only Jesus can be with them wherever they are at all times. This fact is actually good news for them and for us.” 766

We cannot do everything that needs to be done. “Jesus will teach us to live with the things that we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try. Others will also resist Jesus. Using his name, they will praise or critique us according to their desire that we fix everything for them and that we do it immediately. But they will have to learn too that only Jesus can fix everything and that there are some things Jesus leaves unfixed for his glory.” 771

Open Book by Beatriz Pitarch

Open Book by Beatriz Pitarch

We are unable to know everyone or everything. “Jesus will teach us to live with ignorance, our own and others’. In other words, we are not omniscient. Jesus will require us to stop pretending that we are. Others will resist Jesus and in his name praise us or critique us on the basis of their estimation of what we should know. They will have to learn that only Jesus knows everything they need; his invitation to faith and to trust in his knowing is a good one.” 777

In what way are you most tempted? Thinking you can do it all? Thinking you can know it all? Thinking you can be everywhere? Eswine asks us, “What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus?” 782

What happens when we forget that it is all about God

May 15, 2013 Leave a comment

abandoned tennis court by dietmar eckell

abandoned tennis court by dietmar eckell

What happens when we forget that our ministry is God’s? When the ministry become more about us than about God?  We have all done it. And we do so to our own peril!  When Jehoram (son of the great King Jehoshophat) became King in 2 Chronicles 21, he ended his leadership with a lonely and agonizing death.  As verse 20 says, “No one regretted his death.”

Raymond Dillard in the Word Commentary series offers a devastating summary of Jehoram’s life,

“Irony permeates the account of Jehoram’s reign. Rather than enlarging the scope of his power through seizing his brothers’ cities, he loses control  over Libnah and Edom; rather than securing the succession of his own children by slaughtering his brothers, he sees them suffer a similar fate; rather than securing life and happiness for himself, he suffers an agonizing and premature death; rather than gaining the devotion of his subjects, he dies unmourned and without the customary honors attending a royal funeral (McConville, 198). So it is for those who forget that the kingdom is God’s (1 Chr 10:14; 17:14; 28:5; 29:11; 2 Chr 13:8)”.

What do you do in order to not forget that it is all about God and not about you?

Learning to live locally

May 10, 2013 4 comments

Image“Bigger is better.” “Faster is better.” “You deserve to be unlimited.”

While these make great and perhaps entertaining commercials, they mask the reality that most of us are very ordinary and all of us are limited.

We are “merely human and only local.” We forget, says Zack Eswine, that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” (Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being). What exactly is Eswine saying? Two things. I must not forget that I am human; I do so to my own peril. And second, I must live locally. I resist both of these truths.  To understand what it means to live locally, let me quote more from Eswine.

In the Garden, Eswine writes that God gave us three things,

  • We were to love God.
  • We were to love each other
  • We were to recognize the goodness and sacredness of the place, the creatures, and the things that God had created and to watch over these good things.

And Eswine highlights three core truths that he states are necessary for us to enjoy God,

  • God has given you himself to surrender to and love. 
  • God has given you a handful of persons that you are meant to love. 
  • God will give you a place to inhabit, which means that you get to become attentive to what is there where you are. 

In both of these, the last line about living locally stands out to me.

ImageI have been a missionary for twenty-six years.  It has been a good life.  I continue to be a missionary but my location will soon be based in the United States, in Texas, in College Station, at Parkway Terrace, at 3514. Why do I find this so hard?  I miss my friends and the ministry I had in the Philippines over all these years.  But I think it is hard because it has been a long time since I lived locally.  Yes, even in the Philippines. I have been coming or going somewhere for most of my life.  And now, I find that I must learn to trust God to be present somewhere.

I expect that most missionaries will tell you that the first question people ask him/her when they arrive in their home country is, “When did you arrive?” The second question, “When are you leaving?” Well, I am not leaving anymore. I am struggling

  • With a loss of uniqueness, a loss of celebrity that comes with being a foreign missionary
  • To understand how someone could attend an aerobics class for ten years
  • To build a history with a tennis group that has been together for many years.
  • With the loneliness I feel after attending church and I know no one around me and no one speaks to me
  • To discover what it means to live in community with a home group
  • As I seek to learn how to be a neighbor in our community


I guess I am saying that I have been so globally focused that I do not know how to live locally.  I have lived so long with my identity as a missionary that I am afraid of what will happen when people get to know me as a person, apart from my role.

Eswine suggests that in order to make a global difference, we must be present in the local place to which God has called us.

“No matter how great or gifted we are, God invites us to himself for the sake of local people in a local place with the long learning of local knowledge in Jesus until he comes. This means that if you are wearing yourselves out trying to be and do more than this, Jesus is calling you to stop all of this tramping about and come finally home. The great work to be done is right in front of you with the persons and places that his providence has granted you.

Here is where he has called me. Here is where he is working. Here is my post, my place, my life, his glory.”

I need to live by faith as much now as when we lived overseas. Trusting God as I open myself up to others and become a friend to them and allow them to be a friend to me. Trusting God as we build traditions. Trusting God as I learn to care and nourish the roses in our garden and maybe even a tomato or two.  Trusting God in the mundane and ordinary. Living life with Him and others in a local place.  

Maybe I will even buy a pair of cowboy boots.





Does Justified really mean “Just as if I never sinned”?

March 26, 2013 Leave a comment

narrow-way by David Hayward

narrow-way by David Hayward

As I prepare to speak on 2 Cor 5:21 for this weekend, I have been looking at Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, one of my favorite theology texts.  I found a footnote by Grudem that I cite here in full regarding the meaning of Justified.

One sometimes hears the popular explanation that justified means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.” The definition is a clever play on words and contains an element of truth (for the justified person, like the person who has never sinned, has no penalty to pay for sin). But the definition is misleading in two other ways because (1) it mentions nothing about the fact that Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to my account when I am justified; to do this it would have to say also “just-as-if-I’d-lived-a-life-of-perfect-righteousness.” (2) But more significantly, it cannot adequately represent the fact that I will never be in a state that is “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned,” because I will always be conscious of the fact that I have sinned and that I am not an innocent person but a guilty person who has been forgiven. This is very different from “just as if I had never sinned”! Moreover, it is different from “just as if I had lived a life of perfect righteousness,” because I will forever know that I have not lived a life of perfect righteousness, but that Christ’s righteousness is given to me by God’s grace.

Therefore both in the forgiveness of sins and in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, my situation is far different from what it would be if I had never sinned and had lived a perfectly righteous life. For all eternity I will remember that I am a forgiven sinner and that my righteousness is not based on my own merit, but on the grace of God in the saving work of Jesus Christ. None of that rich teaching at the heart of the gospel will be understood by those who are encouraged to go through their lives thinking “justified” means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.

I appreciate Dr. Grudem’s comments here. God has done much more for us than any wording can possibly explain and as long as we live here on the earth, we continue to be aware of our need for his applied payment for our sin and his applied righteousness in our life!

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:8–12 ESV)

Remembering why I have this ministry

March 21, 2013 1 comment


Feast at the house of Simon the Pharisee

If you have been in ministry, whether in your local church or in an overseas context, you will know that ministry can be discouraging.  We can be tempted to give up or to use a Pauline phrase, “to lose heart.”  Paul says he does not lose heart in 2 Corinthians 4:1 because he remembers that the ministry that he has been given is because of the mercy of God.

The Message provides an insightful wording of the verse, “Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times.”  I am sure that some of you, like me think, “occasional” hard times?  But remember Paul’s perspective later in 2 Cor 4:17 when he calls his struggles, “momentary light afflictions” compared with the “eternal weight of glory.”

Back to 2 Cor 4:1.  Paul says we have this ministry because we have received mercy.  You and I are not in ministry because we went to Seminary, because we volunteered, because we have been faithful, because we are at the right place at the right time.  We are in ministry because we have received mercy from God.  In other words, it is not about us, it is all about God!  That is why Paul says “For what we proclaim is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). He initiated things and continues to take the initiative with us. We are able to love God and others only because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).  That is good to remember when we get tired and feel like we are the ones who seem to always being the initiator in ministry and in relationships.

Ministry is tough even at the best of times and we will be tempted at times to give up. But when we remember that we are in ministry only because we have been shown mercy, maybe we will remember that there is a world out there that is in desperate need of this same mercy and grace and we will keep going.  Again, Paul says it best in verse 6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” As we have been shown light, may we be light bearers to others.

Question: What is discouraging you about ministry today? Meditate upon the mercy shown to you by God that enables you to be in ministry.

The problem of being lukewarm (part 2)

July 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Kava Kittie meets lukewarm java by Su Stella

If you are like me, you like your coffee hot! And, should I get distracted for a few minutes and take a sip and find that my coffee is lukewarm, there is nothing to be done except to toss it out and start over! To be honest, I do sometimes reheat lukewarm coffee in a microwave.  Hot coffee or cold (iced) coffee but never lukewarm coffee. In the same way, John writes and Jesus says in Revelation 3 that there is no place for a lukewarm Church or a lukewarm Christian.

Hot Tip to Avoid Cold Coffee by Darrell Fusaro

In my first post on the topic, I gave some biblical background on the words for lukewarm, hot and cold and gave the first four descriptions of Lukewarm Christians that Francis Chan provides in his book, Crazy Love. In working on this post, I found some other goodies.  Darrell Fusaro gave me permission to use his cartoon on how to keep your coffee hot. I found a site called lukewarm coffee and a hilarious and much tongue-in-cheek article called Coffee as a Means of Grace by Michael Svigel–who just happens to be the author of RetroChristianity, a book I have just begun reading.  I am glad to say, much good has come out of these reflections on Lukewarm Coffee whereas as you will see, Chan leaves no room for escape for those of us who fall into the Lukewarm Christian camp–no escape except for a fleeing into the arms of the Lord Jesus.   Numbers that follow are from the kindle numbering system

  1. LUKEWARM PEOPLE are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. 1376
  2. LUKEWARM PEOPLE rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends. They do not want to be rejected, nor do they want to make people uncomfortable by talking about private issues like religion. 1394
  3. LUKEWARM PEOPLE gauge their morality or “goodness” by comparing themselves to the secular world. 1404
  4. LUKEWARM PEOPLE say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give Him a section of their time, their money, and their thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives. 1415
  5. LUKEWARM PEOPLE love God, but they do not love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength.  They say that “total devotion isn’t really possible for the average person; it’s only for pastors and missionaries and radicals.” 1431, 1436
  6. LUKEWARM PEOPLE love others but do not seek to love others as much as they love themselves. 1442
  7. LUKEWARM PEOPLE will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go or how much time, money, and energy they are willing to give. 1469
  8. LUKEWARM PEOPLE think about life on earth much more often than eternity in heaven. 1483
  9. LUKEWARM PEOPLE are thankful for their luxuries and comforts, and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible to the poor. 1503
  10. LUKEWARM PEOPLE do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty. 1523
  11. LUKEWARM PEOPLE are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God. 1547
  12. LUKEWARM PEOPLE feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith at age twelve, were baptized, come from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America. 1562
  13. LUKEWARM PEOPLE do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. Their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God. 1579, 1588
  14. LUKEWARM PEOPLE probably drink and swear less than average, but besides that, they really aren’t very different from your typical unbeliever. They equate their partially sanitized lives with holiness, but they couldn’t be more wrong. 1601

The Problem of Being Lukewarm (part 1)

July 24, 2012 Leave a comment

How easy it is to become lukewarm and to be unaware of it! We do not realize that we have become lukewarm any more than we are aware that our coffee has grown lukewarm until we taste it.  And just as I want to do with lukewarm coffee (throw it out), Jesus says he wants to spit out lukewarm Christians.  I think Francis Chan, in his book Crazy Love, writes words that would make Jesus proud, “Lukewarm living and claiming Christ’s name simultaneously is utterly disgusting to God. And when we are honest, we have to admit that it isn’t very fulfilling or joyful to us, either.”   Chan goes on to say that he sees the term lukewarm Christian to be an oxymoron; “there’s no such thing.”  But clearly Jesus identifies a church as lukewarm.

Jesus accused the church of Laodicea of being lukewarm, one of the harshest statements he makes to any group of people (except maybe his woe statements to the Pharisees about their hypocrisy in Matthew 23. They were neither psuchros (cold) nor zestos (hot) but chiliaros (lukewarm).  These words (along with words from the root therm-), described the literal environment (cold water (Mtt 10:42; people warming themselves when it was cold outside (Jn 18:18, Acts 28:2, 2 Cor 11:27;  Mark 14:54) and people needing to be warmed by food and clothing (James 2:16)

More interesting is when these words are used metaphorically. Jesus refers to a period of time when love (for God) would grow cold when lawlessness increases (Mtt 24:12). Apollos was known to be fervent in spirit (literally boiling in spirit) and using the same phrase, Paul exhorts all believers to be fervent in spirit and not slothful in zeal (Rom 12:11). So, it is not surprising that Jesus used the word lukewarm (likely a reference to the lukewarm waters being piped into Laodicea that caused people to throw up) to rebuke a people, a church that was ineffective, whose self-trust and wealth had blinded them to the desperate nature of their reality.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev 3:15-17

The only solution for them was repentance and opening a metaphorical door to Jesus so that they would know the presence of Jesus in their lives and church.

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Rev 3:19-20

Chan admits that it is the people who know they are lukewarm and don’t care that scare him the most. On the other hand, if being lukewarm is a condition that gradually creeps up on us, perhaps the following statements by Chan will shock some of us into realizing that action is required if we are to continue to follow our first love. If you see yourself in some of these statements, as I have, may God graciously lead us into repentance so that we may open wide the doors of our lives and know His freedom and vitality once again.  The numbers following provide the kindle reference.

  1. LUKEWARM PEOPLE attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe “good Christians” do, so they go. 1318
  2. LUKEWARM PEOPLE give money to charity and to the church … as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living. 1328
  3. LUKEWARM PEOPLE tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict. 1345
  4. LUKEWARM PEOPLE don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. 1362

More of Chan’s statements in the part 2 post

The Magnetic Messiah

July 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Fellowship with Jesus enables me to enjoy my relationship with Jesus.

According to Dave Anderson, God gave us 1 John to “show us how to have intimacy after the fall.” As he says in the first chapter of his book, Maximum Joy, “the security of being loved leads to a recognition of our significance.”   According to Anderson, 1 John focuses not on relationship but on fellowship.  Not that relationship is not mentioned–it is! But relationship is a secondary theme in 1 John unlike the book of John in which relationship is the major thrust (John 1-12; 18-21) and fellowship is the secondary theme (John 13-17).

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” (1 John 1:1 ESV)

Anderson suggests that 1 John 1:1 is revealing the Magnetic Messiah in which the author shows us the progression of getting closer and closer to Jesus physically as a metaphor for spiritual truth.  Hear—See—Look—Touch! Jesus is drawing us closer and closer to himself.

As believers in Jesus Christ, God has introduced or led us into a relationship with Jesus, a relationship that is secure (John 5:24-25), a relationship that is permanent since we have been adopted by Him as sons and daughters (John 10: 27-30; Rom 8″14-17).  But, as Anderson says, “to enjoy that relationship, you need His fellowship.”

How marvelous that God pursues us! Again, Anderson writes, “The marvel is that He could actually know what is inside of me and still want to pursue me and use His magnetic power to draw me closer and love me for who I am, not because of what I can do or have done, but love me simply for my essence and my being.”

Lacking nothing that I need

July 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Psalm 23 has helped me (and many others) cope with and survive great loss. Over the last few weeks of a schedule full of transitions and very little Bible reading, I have managed to survive by meditating on Psalm 23.

In verse one, I discover, “Yahweh, you are my shepherd and I lack nothing.”

YAHWEH—He is the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. He is faithful, all-powerful and awesome! When he revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 3, His holiness stands out (see also Heb 12 and Isaiah 6). This holy one is the God with whom we have to face and the very same one who invites us into a relationship of intimacy!

IS—He is the Great I AM of Exodus 3 and John 8:58 and John 18:5-6. He is present with me. My relationship with him is one that is ongoing and full of life! He is with me moment by moment. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow (Heb 13:8) and will never leave me nor forsake me (Heb 13:5).

MY SHEPHERD—Unbelievable that he could be MY shepherd. He cares for me. He protects me. He guides and leads me. He knows my name and He is good (John 10:3, 11).

I LACK NOTHING—I can be content with what He provides; with what I have. I can be grateful. I have no reason to complain or be envious or covet what others have. I lack nothing that I need. Perhaps there are things that I would want but if I needed them, I can trust that my good shepherd would give them to me.

Yahweh, You are my good shepherd and I lack nothing!

Getting Older and Hopefully Wiser

June 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Brothers by Dankos-unlimtd

Brothers by Dankos-unlimtd

Admittedly, I am getting older but I am not the only one! My daughter, at age 25, moaned about how her college and career group at church changed when the young college age group arrived for the summer.  My son, soon to be 29, exclaimed how he was the oldest one in a recent church sponsored meeting for young adults and his wife regretted that at 33, she was too old to join him.  Back in the United States for a four week leave, I am having to work out hard at the gym to avoid adding unwanted pounds and an expanded waist size. At 57, I generally feel pretty good and still play a fairly aggressive game of tennis but working out at the local Y makes me aware of my age—even more so at the sports facility at Texas A & M University.

Adoration and Pride by Anrdre du Plessis

But, along with grey hair and skin that proclaims my age, I am grateful for all that I have learned along the way.  An article by Holly Steinbrecher, “Tapping into 10,000 years of wisdom on successful aging” in the Houston Chronicle, reaffirmed that I and those farther down the road have acquired wisdom that the younger groups might benefit from.  This reminds me of an article by David Brooks, writing about “The Follower Problem” in which one younger reader bewailed in the comment section how he had missed tapping into the wisdom of older generations, “As a young person, I’ve found very few adults willing to mentor me, to invest in my own personal development.”  I have heard his comment before and have personally experienced this problem in my earlier missionary years.  I would hope that I have been more available to our younger leaders myself but I also recognize that I need to be more intentional about mentoring the next generations.

Steinbrecher concludes her article putting the impetus back on us to pursue our elders and their wisdom when she challenges us to spend “some time with someone who is aging successfully.”

What wisdom do the centenarians have to teach us? Steinbrecher tantalizes us with three choice nuggets.

1. The clichés might actually be true. Move it or lose it. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. A majority of centenarians say they’re exercising daily, more than 80 percent say they’re eating balanced meals every day, . . . and centenarians are nearly twice as likely to get at least eight hours of sleep every night.

2. It’s all about making a connection.

3. Look to the future.

We will need to invest time and energy to pursue the wisdom of those with advanced years and to invest in mentoring those younger than us but it will be worth it. How will you invest your life today?

Trying not to avoid the problem

June 11, 2012 Leave a comment

David and Bathsheba by Marc Chagall

Psalm 51:3 “I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.”

Ah yes, I know but do I admit I know! There are few occasions when I sin that am unaware of what I am doing.  Not that I don’t have my blind spots. But most of the time I know what I should do when I don’t and I know when I don’t do what I should do!  I am trying to be honest here but I am struggling to put this in words.   What does this reveal about me or reveal about sin and my avoidance of it?

Honesty is what is needed, brutal honesty, an admission of my own wrongness, an admission that I have sinned against God and against others.

I think I do okay when I am confronted with my sin–I understand God’s forgiveness and know how to appeal to him to appropriate his grace and mercy but my greatest issue seems to be recognizing when I have sinned, that i am wrong.  Why is that?

Is it because I have isolated myself and need more community? Well that would help but I can still deceive others and myself.  A few things that keep me from recognizing my sin:

1. Pride–I expect that everything flows from this sin.  Pride keeps me hiding my head in the sand with regard to my sin.
2. My pursuit of comfort and relief from pain keeps me dishonest about the way things are within.
3. Fear and shame keep me dishonest and in denial.  Somehow shame whispers to me to push aside the dis-ease I feel inside and hide.  Busyness is a one of the prime tools that I use to avoid dealing with the inner dark realities.  Noise in my life is another way I avoid dealing with stuff.

4. Continued exposure to God’s word. How faithful is God to speak to me in his word and through other people–his church.  He speaks straight into the heart of my self-deception–if only I will listen. Open my eyes and my heart Lord and give me courage to face the darkness within.

And so, it is no wonder that silence and solitude are wonderful gifts that God has given to me (us).  In silence and solitude, it is difficult for me not to be uncovered.  I must admit to God in the stillness and silence the true state of my soul.  I have no place to hide in the desert.

What keeps you from an honesty about your own darkness? And how have you experienced the grace of God in this journey?

Watch out for those unexpected attacks

June 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Eve Don’t listen to the liar by Paul gauguin

Genesis 3:1 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field”

Assuming that the serpent is a figure of the devil–perhaps a big assumption, I am foolish if I expect that I am going to win a head to head battle against him on my own (I have been watching too much tennis lately).  He and his evil companions are crafty, sly, deceitful, liars and they hate God and all of us who call upon His name.  Although the imagery of him as a roaring lion in 1 Peter 5 warns me of his danger–he really does want to maim, kill and eat me up!

But the serpent’s slyness should warn me that his attacks are rarely frontal assaults.  His normal attack

is by the use of deception and this holds true in the Genesis 3 story.  With Eve, he creates doubt–”has God really said?” He whispers lies so that others cannot hear (did Adam hear the conversation?).  He tries to isolate me from others.

The evil one preys on those who don’t know God’s word or who know it incompletely.  If we misunderstand God’s word either by neglecting something or by adding to God’s commands, as did Eve when she said that God told them not to touch the tree, then Satan will either entice us to sin in a direct way contrary to the word we do not know or he will lead us into the bondage of legalism.  He contradicts God’s word.

When we are weak and vulnerable, when we are facing loss, these seem to be the times w

adam and eve by rembrandt

hen the evil one suggests we should question the goodness of god.  When we begin to think that God may be witholding something that is good for us, we should expect that the tempter is behind these wrong thoughts.  So, when God’s goodness is in doubt and I am not sure what God’s word says to do, I am vulnerable to the evil one’s temptation.  Temptation seems to offer relief or comfort or power or control but it does so apart from the will of God.

I need to be aware of my vulnerabilities.  I need to keep reminding myself of the goodness of God (Psalm 103) and I need to be aware of the deceptive and sly strategies of the evil one.  And I need to remember that with every temptation, God provides me with a way of escape (1 Cor 10:13).

Created for Praise

June 8, 2012 Leave a comment

You and I are made for praise.  We function at our best when we are grateful and when we honor our creator, the one known as Yahweh to the nation of Israel. As I reflected on the first six verses of Psalm 103 today, I felt the longing to praise Yahweh. I am designed; I have a need bless the LORD.  Is this a flaw of the designer, that I do not function well, that I am not at my best when I fail to allow praise to flow forth from my lips and from my life? 

Actually, I think it is more of a case that praise naturally bubbles forth, erupts out of a heart that is owned or possessed by God.  The natural disposition of a life belonging to God will be one of honor and gratefulness to the One in whom we live and breathe and move.

All our longings are but echoes or remnants of this built-in demand that we have to give our Creator His rightful praise.

He forgives all our (my) iniquity.

He heals all our (my) diseases.

He redeems our (my) life from the pit (a hint of the resurrection to come?)

He crowns us (me) with mercy and goodness

And so, it is no wonder that we are daily renewed.  Our inner person is daily being transformed and renewed as we reflect upon and praise His beauty and goodness. 

Yes, Bless the LORD, oh my soul and all that is within me, Bless His Holy Name!

Am I content to live in obscurity?

March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

During a devotional time, the other week, someone read something from Charles Swindoll about obscurity.  After being in a meeting last night when everyone was sharing about how significant their ministry was, I needed to look up Swindoll’s comments. I know it is supposed to be all about God and not all about me.  I really have learned a lot about giving up control but after listening to all the stories and feeling like my own did not measure up, I realize that God is not finished with me yet!

Swindolll was reflecting on Exodus 2:21-22 when Moses wife, Zipporah gave birth to Gershom.  Her name would reflect the journey and descent of Moses from the paths of power and royalty to that of a sojourner who was, according to Swindoll, “in a distant land, forgotten and obscure.” Swindoll asks, “Let me ask you directly: Are you willing to be obscure?  A servant’s  mind-set will teach you what that attitude is all about.”

I think when I first heard this a few weeks ago, I realized that maybe I am not yet satisified with a life and ministry of obscurity. 

Swindoll concludes his reflection with the following:

“Moses was willing to be obscure, to dwell apart from the limelight, to accept his new status.  I ask again: Are you?  God will use failure in your life to break down that strong desire in your heart to see your name in lights.  And when He finally breaks you of that lust for recognition, He may place you before the lights like you could never have imagined.  But then it won’t matter.  You won’t care if you’re prime time or small time, center stage or back stage, leading the charge or cooking the food.  You’re just part of the King’s army.  People of selfless dedication are mainly available. That’s plenty.”

Grace for the exhausted

March 14, 2012 Leave a comment

“Tender words to the tired heart” is how Max Lucado describes the story. After reading posts last week by Max Lucado and Eugene Peterson, (actually excerpts from previous books) I finally had time to look at this story of grace for the exhausted found in  1 Samuel 30.

Not a story of strength and power and training like in Men of Valor.  It’s a story about broken men, weak and tired, unable to  do what we (and their companions) expected of them. “As Lucado writes, How tired does a person have to be to abandon the hunt for his own family?”

But a story of grace for the exhausted.  I know many of you understand this exhaustion. An exhaustion that I have much more experience with this year I would have chosen.  An exhaustion that is no sparer of person nor of calling.

Two hundred men left at Brook Besor, too exhausted (stressed out ? to use a modern day term), to pursue the men (Amalekites) who had kidnapped their wives and children (30:10). While the 200 are reduced to being supply guards, David continues pursuit along with 400 others.  David succeeded in recovering everything and everyone that had been taken (30:18) just as the Lord had promised success (30:10). David declared plunder was to be equally shared between those who fought in the battle and those who guarded the supplies (30:24, much to the disgust of evil men and trouble makes among his group (30:22). David’s reasoning–our victory was of grace, God has given it all to us (30:23), why not share?

Peterson comments about the final scene:

Just then David stepped in. His intervention is the climax to the story. David intervened at the Brook Besor, and his intervention is pure gospel. David ruled that everybody at the brook that day — the two hundred who had been unable to continue and had been given the undramatic, behind-the-scenes work of watching over the supplies at the brook 1 Sam. 30:24) and the four hundred who had fought for their lives — were equals and would share everything equally: “Everything we have is a gift from God; we share it with all who are saved by God” (1 Sam. 30:23-25).

The ringleaders of the “fairness” policy are called “wicked and base fellows” (1 Sam. 30:22). Strong words, it would seem, for what sounds like common sense and plain justice. Until we remember who these people are and where they are: these are the men of Ziklag with nothing in their backgrounds to be proud of, all of them picked up from a disreputable life and brought, through no merit of their own, into the net of God’s providence and salvation. And the Amalekite chase itself? They had started out wanting to kill David, and only through David’s prayer with Abiathar and their desert hospitality to the Egyptian had they gotten their families back

Everything they experienced was sheer grace. How could they talk about dividing things up fairly? God was treating them with marvellous and generous grace; David would see to it that they treated one another with marvellous and generous grace.

David at the Brook Besor anticipates Jesus: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt. 11:28-30, The Message).

At the end of his post, Lucado writes about how in the church we have men (and women) who are exhausted like the men left behind at the Brook Besor.

The church has its quorum of such folks. Good people. Godly people. Only hours or years ago they marched with deep resolve. But now fatigue consumes them. They’re exhausted. So beat-up and worn down that they can’t summon the strength to save their own flesh and blood. Old age has sucked their oxygen. Or maybe it was a deflating string of defeats. Divorce can leave you at the brook. Addiction can as well. Whatever the reason, the church has its share of people who just sit and rest.

And the church must decide. What do we do with the Brook Besor people? Berate them? Shame them? Give them a rest but measure the minutes? Or do we do what David did? David let them stay.

Lucado provides life giving words to us all when we are exhausted.

If you are listed among them, here is what you need to know: it’s okay to rest. Jesus is your David. He fights when you cannot. He goes where you cannot. He’s not angry if you sit. Did he not invite, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest” (Mark 6:31 MSG)?

Brook Besor blesses rest.

Brook Besor also cautions against arrogance. David knew the victory was a gift. Let’s remember the same. Salvation comes like the Egyptian in the desert, a delightful surprise on the path. Unearned. Undeserved. Who are the strong to criticize the tired?

Are you weary? Catch your breath. We need your strength.

Are you strong? Reserve passing judgment on the tired. Odds are, you’ll need to plop down yourself. And when you do, Brook Besor is a good story to know.


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