One of my favorite Christmas traditions is the exchange of Christmas letters. Yes, it is a bit ironic because I so rarely send one. However, I love reading the letters … Continue reading Merry Christmas!
Silent Night, Holy Night
When I picture the night of Jesus’ birth, I imagine the tranquility described by Joseph Mohr in the 1816 hymn, Silent Night. What a night! Jesus, Messiah, God himself, born … Continue reading Silent Night, Holy Night
Spiritual Health for 2021
This article will appeared in The Sheridan Press as a part of a series on health in 2021.
What comes to mind when you think of spiritual health? As with physical health, we tend to think of inward activities – prayer, meditation, devotion, and the like. We would do well to prioritize these inward-focused disciplines. However, spiritual health also involves being outward focused.
As a Christian, I can’t ignore all that Jesus and the Bible said about being outward focused. The Bible instructs believers to consider others above oneself. Here are a few examples: “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10). “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13). “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:18). And a final example from Jesus, who so plainly and directly said, “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17).
The reason we should develop inward-focused health is so we can have an outward-focused impact on the world around us. What good is it to know all of Scripture if those around you have never heard it before? What good is it to amass great wealth if it perishes at the end of your life? What good is salt if it has lost its flavor? You were created to be in relationship with the Father and to love others.
Not long before the crucifixion of Jesus, some religious leaders tried to trap Jesus with a question, “What is the most important commandment?” Jesus replied with two commands that are intricately woven together and inseparable. Quoting the Old Testament, he said, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Spiritual health in the first century – and now in the twenty-first century – must center on these two commands. Love the Lord and love others.
With these principles in mind, here are three simple steps to improve your spiritual health:
- Be disciplined in your personal habits. Prayer. Mediation. Study. Take care of yourself and cultivate your faith. You won’t have much to share if you don’t have much. And yet, whether you have little or much, you can still be a blessing to others.
- Take small steps. In most cases, the smallest actions have the biggest impact. Be alert to opportunities to serve others. Help a neighbor with a chore. Pick up the tab for someone’s lunch. Collect the trash left behind or blown by the wind. The sum of these small actions will literally change the world.
- Focus on people. If the best of actions are completed in a vacuum, there is no point. I’m all for anonymous kindness, but that kindness should be directed to real-life people. Use whatever resources, talents, and abilities you have to minister (a word that means “to serve”) others. If you are having trouble identifying who to help, extend a hand to those closest to you.
In conclusion and in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:16-17)
Everywhere we look, everything is calling for action. With so many pressing issues (real and perceived), we are pressured for better or worse to react or respond to everything. Many … Continue reading Today.
Strong Opinions and Thankfulness
I certainly have opinions about everything that is going on these days. I’ve shared a few of my thoughts privately with close friends. I’ve refrained from going public with all these thoughts for a variety of reasons but mostly because I’m not totally convinced of my own opinions.
Today that changes. I would like to share a few thoughts and opinions. However, I want to do so in a different way than I’ve been seeing recently. Yesterday morning I woke up and couldn’t shake the question, “what are you thankful for?” So I’m starting a list. In light of everything going on I would encourage you to do something similar.
- Friends and family. I’m grateful for friends and family that have the same opinions as me and I’m grateful for friends and family with different opinions. While I sometimes struggle to see the opposing viewpoint, I know that it is good for me to hear their side more than it is good for me to shout my own viewpoint. I smile when I think of the diversity of my friends. It makes me think that I’ve done a good job being a civil human being. (In full disclosure, I’ve hidden a few friends in my social media news feeds, not because I disagree, but because I cannot tolerate their tone. Friends aren’t abusive. I have no room for abuse.)
- Technology. Just a few years ago we wouldn’t have been able to carry on like we have during a crisis. Churches like ours are still meeting – and growing – even though we had a season of not meeting in person. (I’m convinced that those who say all this is persecution against the church are really just dealing with their own insecurities.) Schools are still operating, thanks to creative teachers and parents and the use of technology.
- Medical professionals. There has never been a better time for a health crisis. We’ve never been better equipped for something like this. We have incredible technology, incredible knowledge, and incredible people all working together to solve this problem. Wealthy individuals are pitching in. Governments are contributing. I don’t agree with or understand every decision they make, but I also know that they are putting everything they’ve got into this and eventually it will no longer be a “crisis.”
- Men and women in uniform. Some of the friends and family I mentioned in the first category serve and I’m grateful for their service. I did a ride-along this past winter with a friend in our local PD. I was super impressed with the quality of his work and with the ethics in which he operates. Honestly, I already knew he was a great guy and yet he exceeded my expectations. I see him and so many others serving with the same diligence and excellence every day. They are doing their jobs and doing them well.
- Conspiracy theorists. They rarely see themselves as such and the name I just gave them might be worded too strongly. However, I am grateful that they are digging for truth and trying to hold people accountable. More than that, I’m grateful we live in such a place as this that respects (generally) the right to say what we want, whether or not it makes any sense whatsoever. Additionally, we can freely and openly agree or disagree with that outrageous statement. The thing we need to remember is that other people don’t have to support our sentiment. If they choose to “take it down,” well, they have just as much right to do so as we have a right to speak it to begin with. Find another way to communicate your beliefs. Be careful of what you demand of others.
- Balance of power. The timing of balance tends to mess with people. It takes time for everything to level out. In a storm with waves crashing all around, it takes even longer. I have quite a bit of faith in this system. It has a long track record of working. Also, there’s not a better alternative to what we have. So flaws and all, I’ll take it.
- Jesus. I want to make sure I communicate this clearly and simply. This category exceeds all the others. In fact, none of the other things I’m thankful for matter in comparison to Christ and his work in me and around me.
“Yes, we know that ‘we all have knowledge’ about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.”
1 Corinthians 8:1b-2 NLT
We live in a generous community. I’ve always known this and yet this year I saw generosity redefined. While the month of December is always filled with the usual flurry of activities, programs, and fundraisers, there is the usual emphasis on giving. It is the season of giving, after all. In the midst of all the commotion, one example of generosity really stood out to me. With his permission, I’ll tell you part of his story.
A friend of mine works full-time yet the pay is barely sufficient to meet his basic needs. I will tell you that he is a responsible man, but circumstances largely out of his control mean that he is living month-to-month, paycheck to paycheck. There are many in our community that can identify with that. Yet the financial limitation did not hold him back from being generous this year. He found ways to serve others by volunteering his time with different organizations. I thought that was very commendable. Then one afternoon I got a text from him saying, “Let me know if there is a family in need. I’d like to help them have some gifts.” As God’s timing would have it, a very short time later I was able to match him with a family. He blessed them with gifts given not out his abundance, but out of his poverty. And I believe he received the bigger blessing.
I know there are so many stories like this. I could fill today’s paper with them. There are lots of great organizations and individuals blessing others, sharing everything they have. For the Christians, we do this as an expression of the generosity Christ showed us when he lived, died, and rose again on the third day for our salvation. This is a response to the hope, love, joy, and peace that is now ours through Christ the King.
Let me share another illustration of generosity. Many churches have a Christmas Eve candlelight service. At some point during the service, the lights are dimmed down and the congregation takes a moment to reflect on the Christ candle, the white candle lit at the end of the Advent season. A team will then light candles they are holding from that Christ candle and turn to light more candles that the congregation members are holding. Pretty quickly the room goes from dimly lit to surprisingly bright. Many of you witnessed this just a couple of days ago.
This is a beautiful picture of the church being the light of Christ in a broken world. Jesus talked about light and generosity in Matthew 5:14-16: “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. ‘You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.’”
This is the generosity that I saw so much of this year – a generosity with the purpose of glorifying Christ. What I described was not generosity because of Christmas, but rather generosity because of Christ.
So here is my challenge to the church and to this community (and to myself). Let’s make generosity a habit. Let’s always be aware of the needs around us. Let’s not wait until next December. If you are looking for a New Year’s resolution for 2020, let it be, “I will make generosity a habit.”
This appeared in The Sheridan Press on December 27, 2019. (https://thesheridanpress.com/117546/make-generosity-a-habit-for-2020/)
That Could Have Been The End of the Story …
In sharing about God’s justice, I made a statement that many Christians share a hesitancy in talking about how God expresses justice. Following the service a friend came to me and said, “God isn’t timid about it; we shouldn’t be either.” My friend is absolutely correct. God’s justice is expressed throughout Scripture, literally from beginning to end. The world has every reason to be fearful of this all-consuming justice, and yet this justice is the very thing that leads us to the cross.
In a word, we can define justice as “Jesus.” God the Father has appointed him to be judge of all the earth (John 5). This King descended from his throne in heaven and took the seat of Judge in the courtroom. Hearing and seeing the evidence he pronounced me guilty and sentenced me to death and eternal separation from the One who breathed life into me.
That could have been the end of the story.
This King and Judge descended again from his rightful seat of authority. He walked up to me, face and face, and then pushed me aside to take my place on the cross. All the things I did, all the guilty verdicts, all the times I was an enemy of God became his cross to bear. Not only that, I was there to nail his hands and feet to the cross, my cross. Justice was served, and the wrong criminal took the fall. He died on that cross for me.
That could have been the end of the story.
How is that fair? Why should my King die in my place? Who am I that God would be mindful of me? What is a criminal worth to the Lord of all creation? Apparently everything. That’s not fair. Sometimes I still hang on to my “stuff.” Sometimes I try to take ownership of everything he took. I try to make things “fair” in my eyes. Don’t you?
The story continues.
This King and Judge and Sacrifice rebuilt the temple in three days. He is taking back everything that is his. His Kingdom is expanding and he is asking us to join him in his good work. The world needs to hear this message about justice, his justice. This message is that yes, you are guilty, and yes, this King and Judge took the punishment so that we might have new life.
This message of justice changes everything. All the revenge that we think we are entitled to take, we hand back to the King, for it is his to take. All chains that were rightfully ours are now broken as we walk in the freedom that comes in and from Christ. We praise our Father for the hope that is now ours. We are the evidence that God changes everything.
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (Romans 1:16-17 NLT)
This is a reflection on a message I shared at Cornerstone Church on October 13, 2019.
Podcast: The Real God // The Justice of God
God Is Good, All the Time
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.
I heard this many, many times growing up in church. The pastor would call out and the congregation would respond enthusiastically. I remember thinking that this was such a corny exercise. I always watched the reactions of the new people, wondering if they thought it was as strange as I did. Fast forward to today – now I’m of the opinion that we should recite this over and over until we really get it. The core of the Christian identity stands on this truth.
Moses had the audacity, or maybe the courage, to ask to see God’s glory and goodness. God honored his request. As God passed by he described himself – the Lord, God of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. And beyond his character, he added a couple action words: “I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” God went on to describe his justice, as well, and the impact on generations. There is no doubt that God’s justice is significant. And there is no doubt that God’s goodness is more significant. The justice impacts a few generations, the blessing impacts a thousand more!
The theme of God’s goodness extends throughout Scripture. We also see God’s goodness in creation. Psalm 145 states that God is good to all. Romans 1:19-20 says that God is so obvious in nature that mankind is without excuse. However, instead of worshipping the glorious, everlasting God, people create idols as a vain substitution. What keeps “them” and “us” from seeing God as he really is? What would compel people to build a false god instead of worshiping the Real God?
Our lack of faith is often rooted in the false idea that maybe God isn’t good. This was the deception in the Garden – the serpent planted the idea that maybe God wasn’t as good as he said. And throughout the history of mankind this deception continues, resulting in fear that leads to a lack of complete faith.
If God is good, then everything changes. We have freedom. We are forgiven. We can worship the living God. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence. We have no reason to fear, because God is good and he lavishes us with his unfailing love to a thousand generations.
God is good, all the time.
This is loosely based on a message I shared at Cornerstone Church on September 15, 2019:
“Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?” (Proverbs 20:6)
Loyal friends are true treasures. David and Jonathan shared a deep friendship. These two had a lot in common. They were young, successful warriors, with enormous potential, and even bigger faith in God. Both had a claim to the throne of Israel, Jonathan by birth and David by God’s anointing through Samuel. These two could have easily been enemies as they both had a right to the throne. And somehow they valued their friendship more than any position of authority. Each set aside rights and privileges for the sake of friendship. Jonathan even made a pact with David by giving him his robe and sword, both symbols of royalty and authority that were rightfully his (1 Samuel 18). This is a model of loyal friendship for us to emulate today.
Jonathan is the picture of a true friend – loyal and selfless, surrendering rights for the sake of friendship. S.E. Hinton said, “If you have two friends in your lifetime, you’re lucky. If you have one good friend, you’re more than lucky.” Similarly, Henry Adams said, “One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible.” A friend like Jonathan is a true treasure. Who is your Jonathan?
While these types of friends might be challenging to find, it is certainly worth the search. At the very least, we can do our part to be a good friend to another. Proverbs has much to say about friendship. Here are a few key points:
- Friends build each other up. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” (Proverbs 27:17)
- Friends are genuine. “There are ‘friends’ that destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
- Friends do NOT gossip. “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)
- Friends forgive and friends don’t let conflicts go unresolved. “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.” (Proverbs 18:19)
As we look for good friends and as we exemplify good friendship, let’s remember the words of Christ in John 15:13-17. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.”
I’ve always been surprised by the word choice here. “You are my friends if you do what I command.” What kind of friend talks that way to another friend? But then I realize the context of the statement. A friend is loyal even to death. A friend builds up another. A friend knows your past and loves you anyway. A friend knows your potential and helps you get there. A friend wants what is best for you. And all this is exactly what Christ did and continues to do for us.
Let’s take what Christ did for us and show that to others. There is no better friend than Christ. Let’s show the world what Christ has done for us by doing that same thing for others. Let’s leave an impression that our friends will not be able to shake.
This is based on a message I shared at Cornerstone Church on July 28, 2019 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6bn-SlemWg). This summary appeared in The Sheridan Press on August 9, 2019 (https://thesheridanpress.com/110862/loyal-friends-are-true-treasures/)
Looking Back for a Better Perspective
Always avoid clichés, except on December 31. “I can’t believe this year is already over!” Anybody else there? Of course you are, because each year seems to go by faster and faster. Just like the last 85 years (more or less).
I’ve been encouraged recently by seeing so many articles, blogs, and podcasts speaking of slowing down. Or at the very least, living more intentionally. That has been my goal – to breathe – for the past couple years as I explored the merits of minimalism and as my family has taken concrete steps towards simplifying our lives and creating margin in everything from schedules to finances. It has all been a breath of fresh air. I can’t say enough about how much it has helped me personally. (I’ll likely write more on this subject in the future.)
So often this time of year we are looking ahead, setting goals for the upcoming year, and generally lamenting over how things are not where we want them to be. Of course that is the case. We have not yet “arrived.” As long as we are still breathing, we are growing and changing and adapting and learning. I don’t mean to imply that it is bad to set goals or to look ahead. It is probably not good to beat ourselves up too badly over where we are currently. And that’s where the review of past goals is so helpful in providing good perspective.
Last week I took an early morning before everyone woke up to review some of my goals for 2018. It was a surprisingly worthwhile endeavor. As I looked over some of my goals for 2018, I realized that I was far more successful than I gave myself credit for. When I initially wrote out these goals they were “goals” because they were things I wasn’t doing yet. Looking back I realized that many of these goals were easily achieved. And I realized that some of my goals were just impossible.
Learning from the past will help me establish better goals for the future. There are some goals from 2018 that I need to keep on the list. Some goals need to be re-written to allow a shot for success. Some goals need to be abandoned altogether. Had I not reviewed the previous goals I might foolishly write down some goals that I’ve already accomplished. And that would then consume time and energy, possibly even keep me from doing something even bigger and better than before.
So here is my first goal for 2019. “Look back on occasion to do an honest assessment. Celebrate success. And don’t get trip up over failures, whether that be poor execution or poor verbalization.”
May you find space to breathe in the coming days. May you find True Peace. May you have right ambitions. May you continue to learn and grow and create and achieve.
“Now, my son, may the Lord be with you and give you success as you follow his directions in building the Temple of the Lord your God.” — 1 Chronicles 22:11 NLT