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I am working on a sermon series in 1 Corinthians.  It strikes me that one of the key themes in the book is a call to oneness.  The Corinthian church was in many ways a divided church.  They were divided over who was the best Bible teacher.  They were divided over who had the better spiritual gifts. They were divided because of lawsuits.  They were divided between the wealthy and the poor.  They were divided over issues of morality.  They were divided over the proper way to conduct a worship service.   You name it and it seems they were divided over it.

It is one thing to have differences and distinctions.  But it is quite another to draw “lines in the sand” and offer absolutely no room for compromise or healthy conversation.  This is especially true when we draw lines that God has not drawn.  A former professor once told me that the older he got, the smaller his list of “things to die for” became.  I am finding that very true in my own life.  I am finding the list of things and even some once held doctrines, are maybe not as important as I originally thought.  Before those who know me freak out, let me assure you that I am still deeply committed to the deity of Christ, and the authority of Scripture, and the fact that salvation based on one’s faith in Jesus and that alone, and the basic tenets of the Christian faith.  


That being said, I continue to work to be defined by what I am for, instead of what I am against.  It strikes me, and I know I am not the first to make the observation, that when any of us draw strict lines to define what we are against, we tend to expend much more time and energy maintaining those lines, than we do in accurately representing the person and character of Jesus.  I go back time and again to that fact that Jesus reserved his harshest words for those who, in an attempt to protect truth, ended up drawing such thick lines of separation that they lost sight of the truth they sought to protect (see Matthew 23).  Maybe that is why I am so sensitive to the reality of the divisions in the Corinthian church and how that theme relates to us in the 21st Century.  

As I study 1 Corinthians again, I am asking myself the following questions:

  • What lines have I drawn in my life?  
  • Are those lines clearly drawn in the Bible?  
  • Does the effort I spend defining and defending my lines take away from or enhance my learning to love God with all my being and love my neighbor as myself?
  •  Do I have the courage to erase a line and admit it was not a right position to hold?

Just some things I am thinking about these days.


Thoughts to my fellow parents of millennials

For some time now I have been thinking about putting these thoughts down.   My main audience is my fellow Christ following, parents of millennial children.  We all know who we are and the rest of you can read along.  First of all, I have not, do not, and will not join the chorus of those who “bash” the millennial generation.  Since my wife and I have reared three millennials, it seems counter-intuitive and just plain wrong to bash children who are the products of boomer parents like me.  If I have any critiques in how a generation has been reared, I have no further to look than in the mirror.   The fact is I not only love my own children I love the millennial generation.  And, going out on a limb here,  God does too.   

Lately, I have been thinking about a generation of children who grew up in church, went to Sunday School, youth group, retreats, youth camp, missions trips, and all the typical stuff associated with American conservative Christianity.  But now they seem to be “drifting” and we boomer Christian parents who only wanted the best of our children are in different stages of freaking out.  Our millennial offspring are not really going to church.  They are asking hard questions.  They are searching for answers in places that don’t square with all we have been taught.  In a word, I believe they are trying to make sense of their faith, in terms that they can understand and not just willing to settle for platitudes, formulae, and pat answers.  So, my friends, may I make a suggestion?  Relax.  “It’s okay.”   Let me put it more to the point: You are not bad parents.  You have not failed.  You have not lost your kids.  I know it is unnerving to hear their questions and to see where they are searching for answers. But I urge you to simply be a listener and a constant affirmer of your love for them and trust God with them.  And yes pray for them.   

How can I say all this? Well, one thing that I have noticed in conversations and by observation is that in many cases, there is a lot of communication going on between boomer parents and millennial children.  One thing many boomer parents have done well is to create a safe atmosphere for conversation.   I know parents who have had substantive conversations with their children.  They have listened.  They have assured their children that they love them and nothing will get in the way of that.  In a word, they have been safe.  How much better can it get than when parents give their children room to find God in an atmosphere of safety and love?  It is important that young people make their faith their own.  That will mean that the path they take will be very different than the path I took.  That may mean that their path could get a bit messy.  It may mean that their path could even look like they are straying from God, and in fact, they may stray from God for a while.  But I for one believe God is big enough and aware enough to handle that. 

 As we relax we may need to take a hard look at ourselves and actually repent.  What?! How can I say that?!  As I think back on the focus of a lot of our teaching in the past 30 years (and I point to myself as a pastor for all that time) we have often presented a sanitized version of the Godhead.  We emphasized God’s goodness, provision, protection, and love.  We often focused on a holiness of God that looked like a list of activities.  We tended to put people into categories and it often seemed that God disliked the same people we disliked. How convenient.  The message that was often heard, even if not spoken was, people who agree with us theologically, politically, socially, etc. are the people of God.  Everyone else is an “outsider” who needs saving.   What happened to our kids?  Life.  Our children grew up.  They went through the motions that were supposed to result in Christian bliss and then their friend from the youth group overdosed.  The kindest most authentic person they knew told them she was gay, and she was kicked out of the youth group.  They realized that sometimes church leaders do sin.  They started caring about the environment, and the poor, and the foreigner and all too often the church in which they grew up didn’t embrace them or their concerns. And sadly, when they did ask questions they often were treated not as honest inquirers but as rebellious kids who needed to repent.   

Unfortunately, we can’t change the past, so what now?  First of all,  rest in the fact that you have done the best you knew how with the knowledge and resources available to rear your children.  Trust your parenting.  Secondly, keep the lines of communication open.  It is important to keep talking.  Thirdly, rest in the fact that God is not shocked by the questions and paths that our children may be exploring.  If you and I still believe God is able, then that ability extends to his being able to speak into the lives of our children.  

A moment with my grandson

In downloadone sense it is over. It’s election day 2016 in the United States and it has been the most tumultuous, substance lacking, vitriolic, abusive, nasty, and divisive campaign seasons I can remember.

I am sitting here in a quiet moment alone in the house with my newest grandson.  As I watch him in a peaceful sleep I wonder what the future holds for him?  It is not a wondering that is filled with fear however.  You see there are some things that I know for certain that give me hope for the future of my grandson. What matters for my grandson is not the ebb and flow of American politics.  What matters for my grandson is not who is in office this year or any other year.  What matters for my grandson is not the erosion of assumed freedoms.  As one famous pastor recently said, “All of those things will pass away.”

The reason I have hope for my brand new grandson along with his big sister and four other cousins is because I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that each of these children will be taught to depend on their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I have repeatedly reminded the congregation I have had the privilege to serve for 20 years, that our hope is not in Washington D.C.  And yet so many of the things I have read and heard over the last year have led me to believe that so many of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ live our lives as if he is not enough when it comes to our future.

Do I believe in the democratic process and do I exercise my right to vote?  Yes.  I don’t think I have missed voting in an election since I was 18.  But do I think that the true heart change that is needed in the lives of people to bring them into right relationship with God can be legislated or voted into existence.  A thousand times “No!”  As I read my Bible, I am reminded repeatedly that Jesus and the writers of our New Testament, while teaching respect for the government (Luke 20:21-25; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) had no inkling of hope that the government was for them, nor would it essentially advance the kingdom of God.  I believe it is God’s will that I pray for my leaders at all levels (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
God can and does work through them even when they don’t know he is at work.

No my hope for my grandson is not in any human government.  No matter who wins the election today, my hope for my grandson will not dwindle, because like it or not the most powerful person in the world is only in that position by the ultimate hand of God.  My hope is in the God who “deposes kings and raises others up” (Daniel 2:21).  My hope is in the God who says “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1).

So sleep well little guy.  Your future is secure.  Election Day 2016 will come and go.  Politicians will come and go.  Nations including your own will rise and fall.  But the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of your grandpa, grandma, Mom and Dad, is still on the throne, still in control and you can rest in Him.  So can we all.


Pray and Think First

Like just about every other person of faith in the USA I have been doing quite a bit of praying, thinking, and talking about our current political climate and what the future could hold.  In some ways we are seeing political history made right before our eyes and in other ways we are seeing a grotesque display of the lack of true civility and political discourse.  I confess I have not watched a single debate to date in this political season, and what I read from multiple sources just confirms that I learn more from researching candidates based on their websites, voting records, speeches, writings and businesses than I would from all those hours watching the privileged trade personal insults with one another.

As a Christ follower, who calls the Bible his guide for faith and practice, I began to ask myself what kind of leader does God favor?  I was reminded of a passage that few of us consider as we think about leadership.  In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses reiterates God’s law we find a passage that all too often gets glossed over.  In Chapter 17, verses 14-20, Moses gives the stipulations for the person the nation would choose to be their king.  Now I know we don’t elect a king in the USA, but there are some overriding principles in these verses that give me pause in the emotionally charged political season.

Through Moses God told Israel that the day would come when they would want a king.  So he outlines some characteristics for this person.  The king was obviously to be an Israelite (v. 15). He was not to acquire a large stable of horses (v. 16).  He was not to marry many wives;  nor was he to amass personal wealth (v. 17).  He was to personally write the Law of God, and carry that copy with him at all times (vv. 18-19).  He was also to not be a person who considered himself better than those he led (v. 20).  That is quite the list, and frankly no king in Israel’s subsequent history lived up to that list perfectly.  But those who followed it even partially had more successful reigns.

So what does this have to do with our American way of government?  Consider the overriding principles in those stipulations.  The leader of the nation was to be a person who understood that amassing personal wealth and power would not lead to successful leadership.  In that culture building a large stable of horses, having many wives and much wealth was paramount to the king believing that he was his own person and relied only on himself and the negotiations he could forge, for his success.  Arrogant leadership and personal power were not and are not qualities that God espoused.  And yet it seems that this is the rule for some who aspire to lead this great country. 

God wanted those who led his people to be humble and not think they were above those they were leading.  The trait of humility is one that is revered by our Lord throughout scripture.  Jesus said that the best leaders were first of all servants (Mark 10:43-45).  In any endeavor the minute a leader considers themselves better than the people they lead, they lose the respect of those they lead.  From my observations the next stage is to lead by manipulation, intimidation, and fear tactics and that is the way of many totalitarian dictators.

I get the fact that people in our country are angry over gridlock in our nation’s capital.  Angry voterHey, I live in Illinois, the state that is the new picture of gridlock as the Land of Lincoln has not had a state budget since last July.  I have seen how this gridlock of politicians who are arrogantly unwilling to compromise has affected ministries and friends that I care about.  I am as angry over arrogant, power based politics as the next person.  And yet I am reminded that “…human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (NIV, James 1:20).  It is unwise to make a major decision, even to cast a vote for a candidate in anger before considering the ramifications of one’s choice.

So who will I vote for?  That is between me and the ballot box.  But I will take time and think long and hard about my choice.  I will pray about my choice and I will run my choice through the grid of God principles for leadership.  The bottom line for me is this reminder: A leader who forgets that he or she attained their position with the help of many others is foolish at best and arrogant at worse.  A leader who simply says what others want to hear in order to attain a position of power is by definition a demagogue.  Neither of those options are remotely satisfactory.

I would urge anyone who calls themselves a Christ-follower to consider two things:   First, never forget that nothing happening in our country right now has caught God by surprise.  As Daniel reminds us about our God:  “He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises others up” (NIV, Dan. 2:21).  God is in control.

Secondly, just a bit of wisdom from Paul Green, (Director of the Institute for Politics and Arthur Rubloff Professor of Policy Studies at Roosevelt University in Chicago) “When a candidate tells you they are going to make sweeping changes ask two questions. 1) What are you going to change?  2) What is it going to cost me?”                                                                        
I guess my point to my fellow conservative evangelicals is to pray and think long and hard about God’s standards first before casting an emotional vote.

Worth the Wait

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

Simeon-with-Jesus-2“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

Luke 2:28-32

In An Advent Meditation entitled  A Sky Full of Children  the late Madeline L’engle wrote:

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?

Power.  Greater power than we can imagine, abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child, still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing.  Slowly growing, as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose, slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer large enough, and it is time for  birth.(

…and she gave birth to a son and wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

Joseph and Mary followed the law in regards to their son.  He was circumcised on the 8th day and given the name Jesus (obedience to God on Joseph’s part.).  33 days later this couple and their new Baby made their way the six miles from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  They were to offer a sacrifice and through that sacrifice set apart their first born son to God.  They could not afford a lamb but instead used two turtle doves provided by the law for those who were impoverished.

When you are poor you don’t want to stand out any more than you already do.  But when your baby is the king of the universe, the reality is someone is going to notice.  Especially someone who has a unique relationship with God and is tuned into the Holy Spirit.  Simeon was such a person.  An old man who had waited all his life for one thing…to see the Messiah, the presence of God in the flesh.  When he saw Mary and Joseph and their baby, he knew…he just knew.  What he exclaimed on that day 1 month and 11 days after Jesus was born we celebrate each Christmas.

Jesus is salvation…  (Luke 2:30)

Because of sin…and we all sin…not a one of us is innocent before God.  Acts as simple as peaking at presents when Mom & Dad had forbidden it, to crimes against humanity that have brutally paraded themselves across our TV and computer screens in the past year; are all evidence of sin   We have an innate propensity to go our own way.   Sin separates us from God…sin puts us on a path to spiritual and eternal death…and we need to be saved…in fact I submit to you tonight, that every person is looking for redemption of some kind, we all want to be loved, to matter, to be forgiven…so God provides His salvation…since he is the one who created and the one who is offended…he sets the rules for being saved.  He sent his son

Jesus’ birth is God’s plan (Luke 2:31)

God had planned long before the world was created that he would provide a means for his creation to be restored to relationship with himself.  God in his plan chose to create us with the ability to choose knowing full well that we may end up choosing our way as opposed to his.  God knew that the consequences of our sinful choice would lead to death.  So his plan was to offer up his own son to pay the penalty for our choice to live independently from him.  Jesus paid the debt we owed.

Jesus is light (Luke 2:32)

If you are not Jewish by birth, you are a Gentile.  Jesus came for Jews and Gentiles.  He came to show you the way to have relationship with God.  It is through Jesus we can be restored to right relationship with God.

The presents under your tree this Christmas may thrill you, they may surprise you, they may meet an immediate need.  But they will wear out.  They will break. The warranties will expire and you think you will need more next year.  The problem with putting our hope in the sights, sounds, lights, and gifts of the season is that the season eventually ends and life goes on.

When you and I open our lives to Jesus, we have a deeper satisfaction and fulfillment.  It is not that we don’t enjoy presents and surprises and even warranties…it is that we don’t put our hope in them, we know they will never fully satisfy the deepest longing of our heart.

That can only be done by Jesus.  He is the one we celebrate and the one who loves you and the one who invites you to celebrate him above all else this Christmas.  He was worth the wait for an old man named Simeon and now he waits for you.

Shifting Landscapes

The old adage is that “the only constant is change.”   At timsliderbar-omba2013es change is very hard and yet other times it is understood and accepted.  A few years ago we were back in the town where we spent the first 15 years of our married life.   It was the place where all three of our children were born.  It was a place where I could leave the house, and in 20 minutes be all settled in a tree stand waiting for a hapless deer to wander by.  As we drove into town I noticed immediately that the landscape had changed drastically.  The farm where I had hunted with my friend had been sold.  As we drove by I did a bit of a double take as in the place of the groves of trees and the large cornfields, were industrial type buildings.  The landscape had changed and I am not certain I have fully adjusted.

In the next few weeks the landscape of our lives as a family will change.  Unlike the shock of finding my old hunting ground being sold, we have had time to adjust and prepare for these changes and we welcome them.  The first change is what one may call an addition.  By God’s grace I will have the privilege of performing the wedding ceremony of our son David to Sarah, a wonderful, godly young lady.  Over the past few years as they have dated we have seen the character and quality of this couple grow and develop and we are excited for this change.  Their potential to be used of God in a variety of ways is truly unlimited.

The second change is somewhat different.  Just two days after Dave and Sarah are married, our daughter Jessica and her husband Jason and our cute little Maddie will leave for Mexico where God has called them to serve.  I don’t call it a loss, it is a change.  As parents we prayed for our children to come to know Jesus and then to follow him on whatever life path he chose.  So we celebrate this change as our children step out in faith and obedience to minister to a people group that most of the world has largely forgotten.

Their journey has brought a third change in the landscape of my own life.  It is a change of attitude in how we do things like supporting missionaries.  When Jess and Jason first started this journey of serving God as missionaries I was a bit frustrated with the process.  Why did they have to raise support?  Why couldn’t there just be a way that they could be paid a salary?  Why do we think this antiquated way of making missionaries “beg for money” is good?  Why did I not become part of a denomination through which they could just fill out an application and hit the road?

But now just weeks before they depart, I have had a change in the landscape of my heart.  Oh I am still frustrated with the reality that increasingly it seems that local churches don’t get behind “career” missionaries.  And I still think we ought to find ways to make this process easier. But I have also seen how through the two plus years of praying, waiting, contacting, connecting, asking, re-connecting, presenting, praying and waiting some more; how God has grown them, and me.  Had we just cut a check for an annual salary and sent them on their way, there would be so many people who would not be part of the process.  Had we just approved a job application, the sense of dependence on the Lord for each step and each provision would have been minimized if not lost altogether.  Had they just had the freedom to pack up and hit the road, our church would not have had to think about our responsibilities as a sending church.  Had we not walked this journey with them I would not be thinking right now more deeply about God’s role in each of our lives.

Long before we arrived at this point God was already aware of the changes in the landscape of our lives that would be taking place.  Like a divine architect he was involved each step of the process as he was connecting us with people who would advise and influence us.  He was tweaking his design for our lives as he was nudging our hearts and providing experiences that would prepare us for his work, and these releases.  He was showing us his great wisdom and guidance as expressed in Proverbs 16:9  In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.  Because the Lord has determined our steps and been gracious with our stumbles, we can celebrate the changes in the landscape of our lives and look forward to what he will build that will ultimately bring glory and honor to His name.  While change may be constant, I take great comfort in the constant reality of a God who never changes upon whom I can depend when the landscape of my life shifts.


Trust the Instructions

A friend recently purchased a home and some updates were needed.  Several of her friends including me and my wife have stepped up to help with some of the work.  I volunteered to install the cement board and the ceramic tile in the master bathroom.  It is a job I have done before, so why not?Tile

But to refresh my memory, I did some online research and even watched a few YouTube instructional videos so that I could go in with a bit of confidence.  Everything started out well. Along with the help of my friend’s youngest son, who really “enjoyed” the fact that I bust out singing when I work (classic rock songs to which I only know some of the words); we got the cement board down and the next day laid the tile.  With the help of a borrowed tile saw, I even made some pretty nifty cuts.  “Tile-man” was in the groove.

After letting the tile set up the appropriate time, it was ready for the grout.  I read the instructions on the can for the grout.  Six simple steps (illustrated even): 1) Apply the grout to a small section. 2) Spread it out with the float. 3) Work it into the joints with the float at a 45 degree angle.   4) Scrape off the excess grout with the float at 90 degrees.  5) Using a damp sponge wipe off the tiles. 6) Dry the tiles with a cotton cloth.

I just knew that the grout had to set up.  I just knew that using the damp sponge too soon would ruin the job.  I re-read the instructions, two more times.  They can’t be right.  So I decided that the instructions were incomplete and I did steps 1 to 4 ish.  The “ish” was step 4.  I left quite a bit of residual grout on the floor.  It would just dry and I would wipe it off.  No problem.  So I left to come back in the morning to do steps 5 and 6.  “It won’t take long at all, probably 30 minutes.” I confidently told my wife.

This morning I arrived to find the grout seriously stuck to the top of the tiles.  I kinda freaked.  Correction, I really freaked.  I had images of having to tear up the tile and start all over.  I would have to pay for this error.  What had I done?  The worst part of it all was it was not my house!  I began to scrape and scrub and sweat, and pray that no one showed up.  (At least God answered that prayer).  A 30 minute chore turned into a 90 minute ordeal leaving me at the point of exhaustion, and needing a second shower at 8:30 in the morning.  Eventually, I was able to get all the dry, encrusted grout up and clean the floor and in the middle of it all I learned a huge lesson with major spiritual implications.  The lesson simply stated  is: Trust the instructions.

Over the years I have talked to people who tell me they read their Bible.  But when they share a decision they have made, or are about to make, there is nothing remotely biblical about their logic.  “It feels right.”  “I have always wanted to do this.”  “It was on my bucket list.” etc.  Or the worst one in my opinion:  “I know what the Bible says, but….”   It is one thing to read the Bible, but when we read the Bible we need to trust the instructions.  In fact Satan’s oldest strategy is to try to get us to doubt the instructions:  “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1).  The simple answer is, “Yes He did.”

When I read my Bible and trust the instructions God gives I find the familiar words of the Psalmist to be ever true: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Life may still throw a few curve balls at me and I may not fully understand the circumstances but at least when I am trusting God’s instructions I am not making a huge mess that turns a simple 30 minute chore into a 90 minute ordeal.