Glorious Freedom

In the Middle Ages, they had a type of prison cell called the "spitting cell." It was made for maximum humiliation. The cell was just big enough for one person to stand up in it. You could never sit down. And you couldn’t even raise your arms up they were constantly down at your side. The door on the cell only came up to your chin, so the jailors took the opportunity, as they walked by, to spit in your face. So, of course, it was appropriately named.

They also had a cell known as the "little-ease cell," or the "cell of little ease," made for maximum discomfort. This was a one-person cell where the floor was built at an angle ... and the walls were all built at an angle. You would always feel "off-center." To make it worse, this cell wasn't tall enough for you to stand up in, and it wasn't wide enough for you to stretch out in. You could never get comfortable in this cell. If you wanted to be upright, you had to squat. If you wanted to sleep, you just had to let your body collapse and sink into a corner all scrunched up. Again, it was appropriately named.

Ever felt like you were trapped in a prison cell like that maximum pain, maximum humiliation?

I know all kinds of people (some you would never guess) who are living in a prison of addiction, or a prison of regret and shame. Their past, with all their choices, has them locked up, captive to the devil, who works day and night to make them uncomfortable and humiliated. Maybe you're one of those people.

I've been digging into the book of 1 Kings in the Bible; and today I was reading part of King Solomon's prayer when he was dedicating the temple for the Lord. These words hit me:

"When [your people] sin against youfor there is no one who does not sinand you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, 'We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly'; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you ... then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause." (1 Kings 8:46-49)

A couple thoughts:

1) I believe that God has both the desire to save us from the captivity of our sin and the power to release us. He does not want us to suffer; although He will give us over to our enemy when we continue to choose bad over good. I believe God will allow us to be held captive, in order to turn us away from that "sin that so easily entangles" (Heb. 12:1).

2) We are never so boxed in that God is boxed out. I hear people saying that God could not forgive them and would not listenthey feel they've strayed too far. The truth is, however, that whether we are captive "far away or near," it is never too far that God cannot hear and respond.

3) You do not have to live in prison anymore! Here is the good news: Jesus Christ came to rescue us from the grip of the enemy, the devil, who tortures and kills. "The Spirit of the Lord is on me," Jesus says (Luke 4:18-19), "because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners ... to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Maybe you've spent this last year as a prisoner. Perhaps it's been the better part of a decade ... or most of your life ... that you've been captive to addiction, imprisoned by your own choices and the consequences of your actions. Have you had enough of the pain and humiliation? Call out to Jesus: "Set me free from my prison, O God, that I may praise your name!" (Psalm 142:7). Cry out to heaven, where God is never far away. He WILL hear your prayer and your plea. It won't all be better overnight. But God WILL respond. And He will begin to set all things right. "Behold," says Jesus, "I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:5).

**Thank you, Pastor Dean Nadasdy, for telling me about the medieval prison cells. Your illustrations always have a way of sticking with me.**

Stepping Stone

It's pretty universally accepted that you do not want to be someone that gets stepped on. It's a sign of weakness. It's humiliating.

But my conclusion today is:  maybe it's not so bad. Maybe I should make it my goal to be "stepped on."

I was reading in 1 Kings 1 about what was going on toward the end of King David's life. David had had quite an amazing life--a man after God's own heart. Despite his own low points, missteps, and battles of many kinds, David had become Israel's greatest leader. He represented the pinnacle of Israel's whole history. Abraham had been promised a land. Moses had led Israel out of Egypt. Joshua led them into the land. But it wasn't until David that they truly controlled all that land that God had promised. David conquered Jerusalem and made it the great capitol city Israel had long-needed. He expanded Israel's territory and had such great success in securing her borders that few dared even to threaten them anymore. A thousand years later, at the time of Jesus, people still thought of David when they considered Israel's glory days.

But then, David gets stepped on. TWICE. And he seems to be perfectly fine with it. (Stay with me here.) In 1 Kings 1, the servants of King David are trying to get David to name his son Solomon as king instead of Adonijah, who had "put himself forward and said, 'I will be king'" (v.5). The plan all along had been for Solomon to be king, so David agreed to name Solomon as successor. Twice, David's servants speak up:  "As the Lord was with my lord the king, so may he be with Solomon to make his throne EVEN GREATER than the throne of my lord King David" (v.37). Again: "May your God make Solomon's name MORE FAMOUS than yours and HIS THRONE GREATER THAN YOURS!" (v.47).

I know those statements were intended as compliments--a way of saying: "Yes, what a great decision, sir! May God bless that choice, my king." But it got me thinking. Thinking about my own life and my own role as a leader, as a father called to lead ... and as a pastor, called to lead.

I've spent some time in the last couple of weeks checking out the candidates who are running for president of the United States. There's probably a ton that can be said about them; but I want to make one observation. When you're campaigning to become President in our age, you have to do a lot of self-promoting. You have to be comfortable with complimenting yourself, touting your successes. You have to make yourself known to people. That's understandable in a campaign environment, perhaps. But sadly, this is quite normal for everyone else too. JOB NUMBER 1 for most of us seems to be racing to the top, seeking to become the best, with little care or concern for others.

But I'm reminded of something I learned recently about the Pilgrims, when they came to establish a new colony in America. William Bradford wrote this about them: "[The Pilgrims] cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and ADVANCE of the GOSPEL of the KINGDOM of CHRIST in the remote parts of the world, EVEN THOUGH THEY SHOULD BE BUT STEPPING STONES TO OTHERS in the performance of so great a work."

I had to ask myself ... and maybe you have to ask yourself ... AM I CONTENT? Am I content with being just a stepping stone. Not a grand, beautiful monument to myself. But a stepping stone, used by our God as a way by which those behind me advance the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways and in places I could never dream of.

I want to be a stepping stone for my kids. In God's grand plan, I want to do my part so that my kids exceed me -- so that the Kingdom of God advances in great ways in THEM (and through them).

I want to be a stepping stone for the people of our church. I want to inspire and empower them, not so they like and affirm ME ... but that they move closer to God and closer to living for HIS purposes.

In service to God and His infinitely greater purpose, I want to get stepped on. How about you?

Getting Dirty

I really don't think it's easy to get dirty.

My kids might disagree.  Like all kids, they attract dirt like a magnet.  They love getting dirty.  Even  our daughter, Elise.  She can be a total princess.  But she can also dig in the dirt, chase after toads, and get into mega-messes like all the boys.  Ask any of the kids, and they'll tell you:  It ain't hard to get dirty!  And it's a whole lotta fun!

But then that's not the kind of "dirty" I'm talking about -- the dirt, slime, grease, muck kinds of dirty.  I'm talking about getting down into the messiness of other people's lives.  That's not easy.  In fact, most of us avoid it at every cost.  It's really not easy to talk to someone who just lost his job and who's nearly in tears wondering how he's going to provide for his family.  It's really not easy to sit and listen and encourage the young mom whose baby is dying.  It's really not easy letting a coworker cry on your shoulder because she just learned her husband was cheating on her ... or to care for the couple who are grieving because their grandson was just put in jail.

Our first tendency is either to AVOID ... or to FIX.  I once talked to a mom whose 20-year-old daughter, serving as a missionary in Africa, was killed in a car accident half a world away.  A couple months after the accident, I asked her to tell me how she was feeling.  She told me:  one of the hardest things to deal with was friends -- even church friends -- who avoided talking to her.  She said:  "They don't know what to say to me, I think.  They're afraid of saying the wrong thing.  So they don't say anything.  What they don't realize is that it hurts more to say nothing than to say something wrong or stupid."  This was a mom who just needed someone else to STEP INTO HER WORLD ... and HURT WITH HER.

I've also seen people walk up to give someone a hug.  And their first impulse is to pat this person who's grieving on the back and say:  "It's okay.  Don't cry."  We avoid or we fix.  But sometimes, more than anything, we JUST NEED TO GET DIRTY.  Get into the mess of it all.  Cry with them.  Hurt with them.  Suffer ... with them.

This is where I am struck by the spirit of Jesus, true Son of God ... who left the comfort of heaven ... to dwell in the darkness and cold and among those who were suffering and fearful and alone and outcast.  INCARNATION.  That's what we call it -- the Son of God taking on human flesh.  "Incarnation."  "In the flesh."  And IN THE FLESH Jesus Christ had COMPASSION on the brokenhearted.

That's one of my all-time favorite words:  COMPASSION.  That English word is a combination of two ideas from the Latin:  com (= with) ... and passion (= to suffer).  Literally, to SUFFER WITH someone.  In the Greek (the language of the New Testament) the word is splanchna (with a real gutteral, sorta German-esque 'chk.'  Splanchna is technically your guts, bowels, the inner part of your core.  The idea being that if you have "compassion" for someone, you are literally HURTING WITH THEM IN YOUR GUT.  Your gut hurts along with theirs!  Compassion.

Often we avoid hurting with someone ... because ...... well, duh! ... IT HURTS!!  You have to feel their pain.  And most of us avoid pain.  So whether consciously or subconsciously ... TOO OFTEN, WE LEAVE HURTING PEOPLE ON THEIR OWN ... rather than getting dirty.  Because getting dirty is hard.  It requires letting go of our desire to fix it all.  In fact, it requires that we surrender to the reality that we CAN'T fix it all.

Instead, Jesus calls us to imitate Him -- to stoop down into the muckiness, the hurtfulness, the uncertainty of others' lives ... and bringing love, encouragement, understanding, sympathy ... and most importantly, BEING CHRIST FOR THEM -- bringing the gentle, compassionate presence of Jesus with you.  We are not Jesus.  But we embody Him for others ... when we stoop down ... and get dirty.

So what do you think??  How have you seen this played out in your life?  Either on the giving end or the receiving end.  How have you seen Christ at work through the compassion of people?

Impact! Video

In case you missed this video, here's a recap of some of the work our church did on "Impact! Sunday" in May 2011.  I LOVE the heart of our people -- going wherever God calls to serve people in need!  Where can YOU make an impact for someone else today?  Is it at work?  At home?  In your neighborhood?  In the community?

What stories do YOU have to tell of changed lives -- when God used you to make a difference?  Share by commenting below.

Daddy Time

My youngest, Blake, and I had a little extra daddy time today. It wasn't supposed to be that way.  He was supposed to be participating in Vacation Bible School.  But he really hates being left in Sunday School or the nursery ... or anywhere else without mom and dad.  So -- no surprise -- he and VBS didn't mix well this week.  So ...... I took some extra time away from work to be with my little guy this morning.  (Thank God for a flexible schedule!)  What a great treat!  For me and for him.  We spent most of the time driving and shopping -- some things I needed to get done.  But it was one-on-one "daddy time."

I'm pretty sure I need to do this more often ... with all four of the kids.  Have one-on-one time, I mean.  I think I do a pretty good job of balancing home life and work life.  I'm by no means perfect.  And I have times of imbalance for short periods.  But I think I do okay.  But one-on-one doesn't happen often enough.

Why one-on-one??  I can easily point to three times when I've spent time with each of our three older kids.  A Colts game with Evan, a special "date" with Elise, a baseball game with Bryce.  And every one of those stands out as a VIVID memory ... for me, and more importantly, for THEM.  Two years later, Bryce is still talking about "the baseball game" -- buying a bag of peanuts ... in the shells! ... and catching a ball thrown into the crowd by one of the players.  That night is emblazened in his memory!  I think this is why:  the fact that I took time to commit to HIM (undistracted by siblings, work, etc.) communicated to him that his dad loves and adores him.  I am convinced every child wants and NEEDS to hear that message.

I often lean into Blake's ear when he's sitting on my lap and say:  "Guess what?!"  "What," he says.  "You are my most favoritest 3-year-old on the planet." Then he gets a giant grin and hugs me hard enough to squeeze my head off.  I think kids need to have that reassurance that NOTHING is more important than they are!

I'm pretty sure that's part of living the godly life -- making the most of my calling as a dad by making sure my kids see God in me.  After all, isn't this God's message:  there is not a thing in the universe as important as YOU.  If you were the only one, I would still have given Jesus for you.  YOU are precious to God.  I want my kids to know that truth more than anything else.  So ... I let them see just a tiny glimpse of God's love in me.

Dads, moms:  let your children see God in YOU.  It is for THAT PURPOSE that God gave you children!


Some have argued that Americans cannot be content.  And I think it may be true.

Think about it:  we are bombarded every day -- thousands of times every day -- with advertisements.  TV, radio, internet, billboards, newspapers, magazines.  Everywhere you look from the sidebar on Facebook to the side panels of cars and trucks on the road ... our culture is built on companies vying for your attention.  And every single ad has as its goal to CREATE DISCONTENTMENT in your mind.  Something is missing in your life.  You NEED our product or service to be more complete.  I can't even begin to count the amount of stuff I've bought ... not because I NEEDED it ... but because I wasn't content enough, so I THOUGHT I needed it.

This is some of what I pointed to in my last post -- that we try to fill the void in our souls with stuff that is totally incapable of filling the void.  Advertisers know that we all naturally lack contentment because we're always searching for more.  So the whole system is built on convincing you that THEIR product will fill the void.

Now, this is not a slam on companies and advertisers.  It's simply a statement about our broken human nature.  Our souls are always going to crave more ...... unless they are filled by the only One who can fill them:  Jesus Christ.

I love the book of Philippians in the Bible.  I love the example of Paul, who wrote Philippians.  At a time WHEN HE WAS IN PRISON, having been falsely arrested, stripped of his freedom and all possessions ... at a time when he didn't know if he would get out alive ... Paul wrote this:  "Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.  I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phil. 4:4).  "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through HIM who gives me strength."

If you want to REVOLUTIONIZE the health of your SOUL, SEEK CHRIST.  Listen to HIS VOICE, not the voice of the advertisers.  HE knows what you need.  And He is FAITHFUL.  He will supply your needs.  "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well" (Jesus, in Matthew 6:33).


Soul Revolution

It's time for a SOUL REVOLUTION.

Tomorrow evening (June 3rd) celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver will appear on ABC for the third episode of his second season of FOOD REVOLUTION.  If you haven't seen the show, don't feel bad.  I haven't either.  Apparently, it's not the greatest success as a TV series.  But ... BUT ... the CONCEPT really got my attention last year and has had me thinking ever since.

Here's the idea:  Jamie believes we are killing ourselves and our kids with WHAT WE FEED OURSELVES.  We are eating JUNK!  No surprise, I guess.  But he's absolutely right.  I'm guilty too, but we put serious GARBAGE into our bodies!  So ... Jamie Oliver is promoting the "FOOD REVOLUTION" -- a call on America to change ... to REVOLUTIONIZE what we eat.  More natural produce; less processed, fatty, chemical-laced trash.  Jamie says:  "Our kids are growing up overweight and malnourished from a diet of processed foods, and today's children will be the first generation ever to live shorter lives than their parents. It's time for change. It's time for a Food Revolution.  This Food Revolution is about saving America's health by changing the way people eat.  It's not just a TV show; it's a movement for you, your family and your community."

Okay, so here's what I'm thinking:  having concern for our physical health is great.  It's commendable.  But I'm even MORE CONCERNED about our SPIRITUAL HEALTH!  And quite frankly, we continually feed our souls loads of GARBAGE!  We think that we'll be fulfilled by having success and having some accomplishments to show off (all type-A's, take note!).  But success and achievements are not real SOUL FOOD.  Neither are friendships.  Or alcohol.  Or having a nice house or kids that behave ... or whatever else we try to fill ourselves up with.  You're not going to be filled up because your favorite team wins the championship.  Ask Tom Brady.  He won the Super Bowl three times in four years with the New England Patriots.  But he still hungered for more.  AND HE WAS THE QUATERBACK OF THE TEAM!

What I'm saying is that you won't find the answer to that deep longing in your soul by finding just the right guy/girl ... by getting just enough money in the bank account ... by getting noticed because you said the right thing, did the right thing, or whatever.  The secret is not getting your spouse to change or finding a better job.  The secret is not in shedding more pounds or in pushing your kids to accomplish more than you did.

A famous Christian leader of the late-4th century, Augustine, once wrote of God:  "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you."  Perhaps with that in mind, the 17th-century philosopher Pascal wrote:  "What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him ... though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself."

What Jamie Oliver says about FOOD, I say about SOUL FOOD:  we've got to stop feeding ourselves TRASH!  Our spirits are malnourished because we try to fill up on success, stuff, sex, and all other things that can never fully satisfy.  We need to fill up with Jesus!

Paul to the Philippians:  "I consider everything a loss ... RUBBISH, that I may gain Christ and be found in him" (3:8-9).  Jesus:  "Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).

It's time for a SOUL REVOLUTION!  A change from junk food to REAL, HEALTHY, FULFILLING FOOD for the SOUL.  It's time we fill up with God -- more specifically, the LOVE God offers in Jesus Christ.  We will never rest until we are filled with Jesus.  Find Him in the WORD today.  Open your Bible.  Get to know it.  Take it in.  Let your spirit digest every word of hope and promise!  And you'll be part of the REVOLUTION.

What do you think?!  Comment below.


I realized today how quick I am to judge other people I think have nasty, bad habits.  I saw someone smoking as he walked past me on the sidewalk, and my first thought was:  "Why would you do that to yourself?!"  (You know: cancer, yellow teeth, smell, and all the other ill effects of cigarette smoke!)

We do this all the time, don't we?!  Judge other people.  Because they smoke.  Because they weigh too much.  Because they have tattoos.  Because they didn't signal before they turned in front of us.  Because they have an accent.  Because they mixed a blue shirt with brown pants.  Whatever!

Why are we so quick to judge?!  Are we that hard up for affirmation that we have to put someone else downto feel superior ... so we can feel better about ourselves?  Because, really?  Am I ANY better?  It's not smoking, but I have my own bad habits that have their own negative consequences.  Until a few months ago, I drank way too much Mt. Dew.  (And only by the grace of God am I past spending all the money and pumping my body with all the caffeine and sugar and acids and other junk you get when you 'Do the Dew.')  I still have this bad habit of checking my phone every time I hear an email come in ... even if that's while my wife is talking to me.  (And I have to ask her to repeat what she just said because I was too rude to focus on her the whole time in the first place.)  And I have so many other habits that range from annoying to rude to disruptive.

The point is sort of along the lines of Jesus' question:  "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3).  Why do I so quickly jump to judgment of others and their habits ... and give myself a pass, rationalizing that I'm just human afterall?

Whenever I'm tempted to place myself above someone else, I remember Paul's words of 1 Corinthians 15:  "But by the grace of God I am what I am."  I am simply the worst of all sinners ... and if not for Jesus, I would be nothing.  Thank you, God, for making me something special, only in Him!!


On Sunday, May 1st I was privileged to be part of an army of 800 volunteers who stepped out of the regular routine of church and served in over 60 locations around our community.  What we called "Impact! Sunday."  It was amazing!  We had people visiting residents of two nursing homes and the Wisconsin Veterans Home.  We had volunteers--adults and kids!--picking up sticks and trash in four city parks, the local nature preserve and community gardens.  We had people cleaning the sidewalks in downtown Appleton.  We had volunteers sorting donations and doing other "odd jobs" for Bethesda Thrift Stores and Harbor House, the local domestic abuse shelter.  We had families cleaning outside three of our local public school buildings, others spreading mulch and staining playground equipment for local child care centers that serve low income families, and children and adults with developmental disabilities.  We had teams of volunteers serving meals, not just on Sunday but all week, at the homeless shelter.  We had 30 volunteers packing care kits for World Vision, which will be shipped to Africa to serve 500 people infected with HIV and AIDS.  And we had 19 teams of people who were all over town raking and cleaning at the homes of residents who are elderly and/or disabled.  It was a truly inspiring day!  Eighty percent of our average weekend worshippers ... EIGHTY PERCENT! ... serving on one day!
We learned a lot about the heart of God's people through this event.  1) People of God KNOW what God is calling us to do:  die to ourselves in order to live for others.  We are called to give and bless and care.  Sometimes, however, we don't know where to begin.  2) Living the "incarnational life" -- getting our hands dirty in the lives of people in our community -- is rewarding ... even if it's not easy.  3) If everyone gives a little, no one person is overwhelmed, but the whole body makes a significant impact!  4) "Impact!" need not be just a one-day church event.  It is the LIFESTYLE of every follower of Jesus.  We are an influence on our families, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our community ... and even on strangers.  We've heard lots of stories this week of families changed by serving ... of strangers touched by the outpouring of giving ... of people asking to know more about this Jesus who gives us such overflowing love that we would share it with others.
I've been asked to share our "Impact! Sunday" materials with others.  "Can we have your resources so that OUR church can do this too?"  Uh ... ... I'm not sure how to give anyone our material.  It's not a packaged program.  There's just the time-intensive work of getting to know the community, getting out of the office to meet the leaders of support agencies and leaders of the community ... knowing the NEEDS in your particular community.  And then it's inspiring people with a vision for being Jesus-in-the-flesh for people and giving them permission to go.
This was a movement of God.  I have no doubt about that.  The Spirit has moved and roused His people to go and serve. How exciting is that?!


I was thinking today of all the "things" I try to juggle in life. Responsibilities as a husband. Responsibilities as a dad. Responsibilities as a pastor. There is just so much to do, things to get done! Then, add on top of the "to do list" the weight of all the expectations. Whether it's true or not, I sense that different people expect that I'll attend certain events, that I'll give attention to certain details, that I'll 'be there' when they're in need. And, of course, there is the expectation that I live in a god-pleasing way.

There are my worries and fears. There are my regrets. There are all the ways that people have hurt me ... and all the pain and resentment that go along with that. There are the tragedies and losses that are part of living in a broken world. There are my dreams for the future ...... Each one of those things is just huge, if you think about it.  And I'm trying to juggle all of them. But honestly, how in the world can I keep it all going?! How can I keep all the balls in the air?!

There is that statement you always hear people say:  "God will not give you more than you can handle." Supposedly that's in the Bible somewhere. Somehow that's supposed to be a comfort.

Let me just say it:  NONSENSE!! People say that's what the Bible says. But it doesn't! And I think it's actually quite the opposite of what the Bible teaches. True, 1 Corinthians 10 says "he will not let you be TEMPTED beyond what you can bear." But I don't believe the Bible teaches that our BURDENS will be limited to what we can bear.

I have friends whose children have died tragically. I have friends whose spouses died way too young ... and so they're left to raise their children as widows. I have friends who carry the weight of betrayal (a cheating spouse or an abusive relative), the deep pain of addiction (alcohol, drugs, pornography), and the shame of failure (businesses they couldn't keep going, children who have walked away from their faith). Every single one alone WAY BEYOND what they can carry themselves! Yet God, in His wisdom, allows those burdens in their lives.

Why?? I can't fully say, because I am not God; and the Bible does say that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55). But I believe that in part, God allows those burdens (that are bigger than our ability to carry or juggle them) SO THAT WE HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO TRUST IN HIM AND NOT IN OURSELVES.

From the beginning of the Bible to the end -- it seems from my reading -- there is ONE THING God asks of us:  TRUST.  It is why He used a runt named Gideon ... why He chose the scrawny kid named David ... why He called a pride-filled murderer named Paul. Anything they accomplished was not by their own strength or knowledge or wisdom but by GOD'S POWER.

I don't know what you're burdened by today. But I know what I'm facing. And I am thankful for His invitation (1 Peter 5:7): "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." And I hold on to His promise (Psalm 146:5): "BLESSED is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God." So I'm listening to His words of wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-6): "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge HIM, and he will make your paths straight."


I don't know much about him. Not even sure if he's still alive. And I'm pretty certain he has no idea who I am or that he had such a powerful impact in my life. I only know him as "Pastor Lange"; and that in the mid-90's he was a guest preacher at a Lutheran church in Muncie, Indiana. I wasn't a member there. Hardly ever went to worship there. For all of high school and college I hardly ever went to any church, but I had grown up in a Lutheran church. So when I was struggling with life ... I went to check out the nearest Lutheran church.

Pastor Lange was filling in that day ... and as a preacher, he probably had his routine. He had obviously been doing this for years. He preached on Luke 15, the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. And afterward, he went back home to wherever home was (which I think was out of state). Maybe it was the only time he ever preached in that church, I don't know. Probably he has long forgotten that sermon. But I haven't!

Pastor Lange shared these words of Jesus (v.10): "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Angels ... REJOICING! Over one sinner ...... over ME! Those words touched my spirit in a way that few words ever have. Those words ignited a fire in me that ultimately led me to be a preacher myself ... and to devote my whole life to touching the lives of other people with the GOOD NEWS that Jesus loves them too ... and throws a party in heaven when they come to Him!!

Something sparked that memory in me today ... and got me thinking of all the unheroic things we do every day. Things we don't think much about ... but just may be the spark that ignites faith in someone.

Jesus told his disciples: "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Mt. 5:16). Perhaps it is as simple as a word of encouragement to a coworker or a shoulder for a friend to cry on. A small gift or a random act of kindness to a stranger. Maybe a prayer with your six-year-old who woke up scared from a dream. I believe it doesn't have to be big ... just letting the grace of Christ shine through you. But who knows! Maybe it's the spark that ignites a spiritual fire in someone ... and you won't know it ... until they run to thank you in heaven someday.


I know I'm not alone in this: my spirit has always had a rhythm. Like the tide that is sometimes high and sometimes low, I have times when God seems close and other times when He seems farther away. Like the seasons, there are 'summer' times when I am alive and awake. Then I have 'winter' times of discontent, sadness, anxiety.
For a long time it really bothered me that I allowed myself to fall back into a slow, wintry period. I would beat myself up for being more vulnerable to temptation, more prone to anger, less consistent in reading and praying. But I've more recently come to appreciate that this is part of the God-given rhythm of our spiritual life.
In his book, The Life You've Always Wanted, John Ortberg describes this rhythm as times of consolation and times of desolation.  "In times of consolation," he says, "we pray because God seems close, the Bible seems alive, sin looks bad, and stoplights all seem green. Times of desolation are just the opposite: the Bible seems dry, prayer grows hard, and God is far away."
C.S. Lewis, in his fictional book The Screwtape Letters, describes how God will at times send us a strong sense of His presence and desire to be with Him. "But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs--to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be."
There's something to this! Think about it: when we have success, our tendency is to forget. Forget that it's God's Spirit and not our strength that has given us success. So, if we were always on a spiritual high ... we would fall into the trap of self-righteousness and pride. But by withdrawing, God keeps us from becoming conceited ...... and makes us hunger for Him. And that, more than anything else, is what God wants from us: that we would hunger and thirst for Him.
I hope, like me, you're growing in your appreciation for the rhythm ... because God is using both seasons for unique growth. Question: If consolation is the peak and desolation the valley, where would you say you are today in your walk? For me ... I'd have to say I'm on the upswing. Certainly out of the valley, but not yet at the peak.

Messy Spirituality

One of my favorite books is called Messy Spirituality. Here's what the author, Michael Yaconelli, wrote:

"I often dream that I am tagging along begind Jesus, longing for him to choose me as one of his disciples. Without warning, he turns around, looks straight into my eyes, and says, 'Follow me!' My heart races, and I begin to run toward him when he interrupts with, 'Oh, not you; the guy behind you. Sorry.'
"I have been trying to follow Christ most of my life, and the best I can do is a stumbling, bumbling, clumsy kind of following. I wake up most days with the humiliating awareness that I have no clue where Jesus is. Even though I am a minister, even though I think about Jesus every day, my following is ... uh ... meandering."

Wow! How often I feel like that. I am a pastor--entrusted with telling people about Jesus and offering spiritual advice and direction. But sometimes ... okay, often! ... I feel more like the spiritual equivalent of Charlie Brown than a spiritual guide and mentor. More of a spiritual clutz than a hero of the faith.

BUT ... from everything I know about Jesus ... He chooses messed up people ALL THE TIME! It seems to be a prerequisite for following him. You have to be a wreck. No perfect people allowed. You get the occasional saintly person, like Mother Theresa. But everyone else is a clutz. So ... I'm in good company. And so are you!

I think Jesus set it up that way so that we would trust HIM and not ourselves. In fact, I believe that's the whole point. Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 sometime. He's chosen us in spite of our foolishness. He's chosen us in spite of our weakness. He gives us heaven as a free gift ... and then says: "Follow me!" Not just the guy behind you, but YOU!

Are you utterly amazed by that?! I am. And that's why I follow him ... mostly because I know I don't deserve to ... and he's called me anyway.