Same Old World

1 08 2015

In preparing for a sermon I read “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.  It was written in 1931 and published in 1932.  He attempted to capture a potential future if our primary focus was happiness.  He got a lot right.

Happiness is a tyrant that is never satisfied.  It tricks us into believing it is just around the corner.  If we can just make a little more money. get one more item. have a “new” experience.  Sure enough it visits us as we get a raise, open the box or play the latest “cool” game on our phone.  Then, it evaporates leaving a hunger so intense we blindly chase after it.  When it becomes our primary focus, we become addicted.

We know this.  So the only proper response to happiness is.suppress it.  We use rules or good old fashion guilt to conform ourselves into proper citizens.  Meanwhile, happiness whispers in our ear until we throw off the rules, justify our actions and the addiction is satisfied.but it never is.

What does it cost us?  A life of meaning and purpose.  Time marches on.  Relationships grow cold or even worse become something we use for our own satisfaction.  Our focus is divided.  It becomes harder to speak out against injustice because we waste our time being entertained.

If something is important, someone will tell us what to believe.  We will even support them as long as all we need to do is click a link or “share.”

We do an excellent job of complaining about it.  Scroll down any social media site and you will see a post or a re-post of dire warnings.  We “like” it then notice a fun distraction and get lost again in our own world of personal happiness.

Aldous Huxley warned us of just how easily we can fall into a trap that tells us, “just be happy.”

I have some great news.  All you have to do is clink on this link. not really.  The great news is the trap can be avoided with a simply shift in perspective.

Happiness is not bad.  It just has to be put in its proper place.  Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

What are you seeking first?  It is a simple question with huge ripple effects.

There is profound depth in what Jesus said.  I could tell you what it means.  You might “like” it or even “share” it.  I have too much faith in you and God created you with the capacity to grasp the depth.

So dive in and wrestle with Jesus’ statement.  Let it ripple through your life.  Hopefully I will see you on the other side and we will have shaken off the tyrant of happiness and be living a life of significance.





These are socks…Love

16 01 2015

This is my final devotional in this series.  It has been based on how Coach Wooden, the legendary basketball coach for UCLA, would begin his first practice.  He started off each season by teaching his team how to wear their socks.   He believed the basics are what wins the game.

What are the Christian’s socks?  What are the basics we have to remember to be effective?  I believe there are three; faith, hope and love. Today I want to focus on love.

Love is the most overused word in our vocabulary.  Everyone has their idea of what love means.  I think there are two distinctive for the unconditional love we need as socks.

First, it must come from a place of strength.  John 10:18 is a uniquely powerful verse.  Jesus says he has the authority to lay his life down and pick it back up.  In other words, he was the only one who could die sacrificially in place of humanity.  This is critical to understand.  There are a lot of people who would die for another person.  While that is admirable, it does not have the same power as what Jesus did.  When Jesus laid down his life, reality was fundamentally changed.  Our relationship with God was fully and completely restored.  God did this out of the purest form of unconditional love.  There were no strings attached and no other agenda except love.

As Christians we tap into that love.  This is why Jesus says the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others.  It is only in my relationship with God I have the understanding to unconditionally love anyone else.

As a pastor and a Chaplain I have often seen people who love from a place of weakness.  They do things because they need to feel accepted, they want to portray an image or they want to cover up an area of their life.  The majority of the time they are not doing it with evil intent.  They are doing it because they are longing for love.  They will join churches and even go into ministry all with the hope of being good enough or accomplishing something significantly enough that will let them feel loved.  Sadly they are missing the true depth of Christian love. They are missing their socks.

God’s unconditional love comes from a genuine place of strength.  When I accept this type of love, it transforms me.  I rely on God to show others love.  In other words I operate from God’s strength.  Will there be sacrifice?  Of course but it comes from pure motives and a right perspective.  It is truly powerful and transformational.

This is a deep concept so I encourage you to meditate on it and talk to God about it.  Once it clicks, I promise you will be amazed and in awe of God.

The second aspect of unconditional love is boundaries.  Healthy relationships have boundaries.  The very concept of love implies a relationship so it makes sense there would be boundaries.  A great example is the marriage relationship.  If I say I love my wife but hurt her or cheat on her you could legitimately question my love.  Because God has invited us to freely choose to enter a relationship with him, it is reasonable that we would live within the boundaries of that relationship.

We need three things to know God’s boundaries.  First, we have to have an active prayer life in which we are not just asking God to do things for us but we are slowing down to listen for God’s voice.  Second, we have to read the Bible.  This is the sacred text of Christianity.  We believe it is inspired by God and unique in both it’s power and authority.  Finally, we have to be connected to a healthy church.  In a healthy church we can have good relationships to keep us grounded and help us grow and mature.  I know I often sound like a broken record when it comes to the importance of being connected to a church but I see the difference in lives of people who are connected and those who aren’t.

So do you have your socks on? I hope this series has given you something to consider.  Let’s make sure we have our socks on and let’s get into the game.





God is Brilliant

15 08 2014

How would you paint a picture of yourself that could be understood across time and not be limited to one culture? What if it was critical for people to know who you are because…well you are God?

You would have to start with an anchor. You created the universe. You are sooo big that you cannot be confined and put into a box. However, you need to set some boundaries and create a shared understanding. So you begin with stories handed down generation to generation until they can be written down. Then, after you accomplished the greatest feat in human history by conquering sin and death through Jesus’ death and resurrection, you close out the written revelation and entrust it to your followers.

You don’t just let your followers fend for themselves. You give them your Spirit to lead and guide them. You also established the Church. The Church is global and has a diversity in understanding who you are to avoid people making you look like them and limiting yourself to one culture and one group of people. You can do this because you have provided an anchor…the Bible. In the midst of the diversity some core themes and understandings come to light. You are good. Jesus is amazing and the importance of his work is validated. Love, hope and grace come to life. Righteousness and justice take their proper place calling us to live for something bigger than ourselves. You make yourself known to each generation. They are able to draw upon your timeless truths. Your followers are able to make an impact in their communities and around the world.

It is an incredible balance. If we leave the boundaries of the Bible we miss the mark. If we try to limit God to just words on a page we also miss the mark.

It is amazing. People a thousand years ago could know and follow God and if Jesus does not return for another thousand years people in the future will also be able to know and follow God.

Let’s make sure we are reading our Bibles with a focus on understanding it. Let’s not do it alone. We need to have conversations. First with God and then with one another to keep us balanced and focused on who God truly is. Then, we will know God and be able to make an impact in our communities and around the world. I have to say God is brilliant.





Changing the question

23 06 2014

With all the discussion about faith in culture, we need to pause and make sure we are answering the right question.

It is not “How should Christians respond to [insert social issue]?” That answer is well documented on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to Google I can get over a hundred thousand “answers” (one topic gave me 1.2 million).

As I look across the last 2,000 years I notice cultures and social issues change. The one question that stays the same is: “Who do you say I am?”

Matthew (16:13-28), Mark (8:27-38) and Luke (9:18-27) all share the same story. First, Jesus asks his disciples who do people say he is and they give a variety of answers. Then, he asks who they think he is and Peter is given credit for getting it right calling him the Messiah (the Saviour promised by God). After Peter’s declaration Jesus talks about his death and resurrection. This alarms Peter. He got it right earlier but now tries to reason with Jesus and clearly gets it wrong. Jesus ends by telling them what it means to be his disciple and it will not be easy.

This captures a dynamic I see today. First, there are many opinions about who Jesus is. Christians believe he is our Saviour. We understand Jesus’ death and resurrection is central to our salvation and enables us to have a personal relationship with God. However, Christians can get off track and unintentionally minimize the significance of the cross and empty tomb. Hopefully we are in a place to hear Jesus, refocus on following him and accept it will not be easy.

My challenge for those who are Christians is to get Jesus back into the discussion. Not about what Jesus would say about [insert social issue] but about the importance of his death and resurrection. Social issues will come and go. We know the Church will be around until Jesus returns. Let’s sharpen our focus and have a serious conversation about who Jesus is. Everything flows out of our relationship with him.

For those who are not Christians, I invite you to seriously look at this person in history. Who do you say Jesus is? I invite you to consider he is who he claimed to be. I understand the Church can get off track because we are imperfect people. Thankfully we have a gracious God. How do I know God is gracious? His willingness to die for us (the cross). Why should we care? His power and authority (the empty tomb).





Agents of Grace

28 02 2014

Have you ever read something and did a double take. You reread it just to make sure it said what you think it said. That happened to me as I was reading Exodus. In Exodus 24:9-11 we are told about Moses, Aaron and his sons along with the seventy elders going up to see God. Verse 11 is what made me pause, “But God did not raise his hand against these leaders…”

The reason I did a double take is God was the one who invited them up. Why would he raise his hand against them? Here are my thoughts.

At the end of the day God is holy. He also has the true “big picture.” As he saw these men walking up, he would have known that Aaron would soon fail as a leader and make an idol for the Israelites to worship (Exodus 32). Aaron’s sons would choose to disregard the requirements laid out by God for proper worship and would put God in the position of maintaining the holiness of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 10). You could add to this the number of times the Israelites would complain and talk about how good life was when they were slaves. The seventy elders never seemed to help lead the people in a better direction. Instead they just went along with the crowd.

Have you ever had a meeting with someone you know is bad? Have you ever gone to a function where a person who makes really poor choices is placed at the same table as you? Thanks to the power of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other internet tools we can “raise our hand against them.” We can fire off that perfect poke in the eye. We can bash them and get “likes.” We can even text while we talk with them making sure people know what an idiot they are.

I am thankful God takes a different approach. God extends grace. At the core we see God’s desire to have a relationship with us. His desire will result in inviting guys like Aaron to eat with him. It also meant Jesus would get the reputation of being a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19).

Technology is allowing us to set our own borders. We can isolate ourselves with “friends” who are just like us. When we argue, we seem to be crueler and sharper in our attacks with those not in our circle. In an ocean of words we feel the only way we can be heard is if we get creatively ugly.

The world is in desperate need of the unique grace offered by God. I say unique because in our own circles we tend to be really good about sending encouraging and uplifting messages. There is never a shortage of inspirational stories or pictures on my Facebook news feed. What if we extended grace outside our circles? What if we did something kind for a person we despise? What if we took Jesus seriously and loved our enemies?

God never condones sin. There are plenty of examples where God steps in and demonstrates justice and holiness. God also extends grace. God does it perfectly. The rest of us do it a little less than perfectly. There will be times when we need to take a stand because something is immoral or harmful. I would offer there are plenty of times we can follow God’s example and extend grace.

Grace changes the world. Grace tears down walls, restores relationships and offers hope. Ultimately it was God’s grace that opened the door for our salvation.

Will it be hard? Yes. Will we be misunderstood? Likely. We will always get it right? If you are like me, no. However, if we focus on grace and extend it to others then I think we can have the opportunity to truly impact our world.

There is also a blessing that comes back to us. I wanted to write about grace. God is awesome in bringing things together. Where I ended up is different from my initial thoughts. I wanted to remind us that we live by grace. God tweaked my message to focus on offering grace outside our circle of friends. However, I believe as we offer grace the byproduct will be a reminder of the grace given to us. God loves you and me not because of what we do. As we meet with God, he knows how we will blow it next week. However, he loves us and desires to have a relationship with us. He doesn’t raise his hand against us. Instead, he extends grace and offers us a seat.

Our challenge for this upcoming week is to be an agent of grace. Some of you need to accept God’s grace. All of us need to be intentional about looking beyond our circle of friends and finding a way to show grace. I am going to trust God on this one. Say a prayer and ask God who you need to give grace to.
Warning: God is most likely going to bring up the one person you absolutely do not want to give any grace to. He does that to grow you. Trust me it will be worth it.

What will it look like? It may be going out to lunch with someone you normally would not eat with. It may be saying an encouraging word to someone you normally ignore. It may be asking forgiveness for your part in why a relationship has soured. It will be critical that there be no strings attached. You are simply following Jesus.

My prayer is we will be agents of grace in the weeks to come. It will give God an opportunity to work through us bring hope, peace and reconciliation. If you are like me you are very thankful and humbled by God’s grace. Those we give grace to will hopefully be grateful but no matter what you will have given them a snapshot of God’s heart.

PS. Yes God has prompted me on who I need to extend grace to. I am praying about how to do it well.





Lent -the opportunity to reflect

15 02 2013

Have you ever been in a one way relationship?  The person only calls when they need something from you.  Anytime you do something together you end up doing what they wanted to do regardless of what you wanted.  Anytime you succeed they make sure you know that they did something better.  Over time it gets frustrating and either you distance yourself from that person or you just accept that is how they are hoping they don’t call to ask  what you are doing this weekend.

You may be wondering what this has to do with Lent.  It struck me as I was thinking through what I would give up for Lent that our relationship with God can sometimes become one sided.  We become that person who only calls God when we need something.  We ask God to come along with what we are doing but don’t pause to see what God would want us to do.  Others put God as the bad guy in the relationship.  They assume God is always looking down on them and even when they do something good, they should have done more.

Lent is a part of Church tradition.  It is a time for people to repent and consider the sacrifice Jesus made.  Many fast from something.  Let’s face it if Jesus can give up heaven to come to earth maybe we can give up sweets for 40 days.

That’s when it hit me.  By pausing and focusing on what Jesus has done for me, I was naturally looking at my relationship.  I could see elements creeping in that were making me a one way kind of guy.  I got excited because by making some sacrifices for Lent it gave me an opportunity to re-invigorate my relationship with God.  There is also value for the person who puts God in the bad guy role.  For that person Lent is an opportunity to reflect on what Jesus did.  It is amazing to think about God giving up his position to be born in a stable and live a harsh life most likely often at the edge of poverty.  Then, he willingly faced death in order to bridge the relationship between God and humanity.  Bottom line: you can’t look at Jesus and not see just how much God loves us.  Hopefully that moves God from being the “bad guy” to the rightful place as a loving God who deeply desires a personal relationship with us.

My prayer for you is that this Lent will be a chance to pause and reflect on your relationship with God.  If you are like me and need to balance out your relationship then join me in giving something up.  If you need to reconnect with God because you have lost the perspective of how much God loves you then I hope this will encourage you to take a step towards God.  In either case I appreciate Lent and the opportunity it gives us to reflect.





Living beyond laws

8 08 2012

I am back!  I returned from deployment at the end of June and I was able to spend some down time with the family.  To be honest it can be hard to get going after a break.  The good news is that the need to write is pushing me to the point I had to get started again.  So here it goes…

Within the last several weeks we have had two terrible shootings that have rocked the nation.  After the grieving there are a couple of normal responses the community has.  First, we try to figure out who the person was and why he did it.  Second, we evaluate our laws to see if they need to be changed or new laws need to be added.  I want to focus on the second response.

Laws establish boundaries for what we believe is acceptable behavior in the community.  In reality laws only control some behavior some of the time for some of the people.  Want proof?  Did you break any speed limits this week?

As Christians we believe that God transforms our lives.  In Galatians Paul lists the byproduct of being in a healthy relationship with God (Galatians 5:22-23).  We call them the fruits of the Spirit.  He says something interesting at the end of the list, “Against such things there is no law.”  That makes sense.  How do you legislate gentleness?  Can you force a person to be joyful or have peace?  These things have to be byproducts of something deeper.  I would offer the discussion we need to have is not about laws or the one individual but our own personal growth and how to be a healthy community.

I am grateful we live in a country that gives us freedom.  We are able to have a “market place of ideas.”  The church brings Jesus to the market place.  We offer that a relationship with him will transform us.  It gives us new life.  It results in communities built on love that are good and faithful.  Has the church ever gotten it wrong?  Absolutely.  I offer we get it wrong when we shift our focus from Jesus.

Now what?  If you are not a Christian I would invite you to consider Jesus.  Talk with a Christian you respect and explore what it means to have a personal relationship.  For those who are in a relationship with Jesus, take a peace of paper and write the 9 fruits that are mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control).  Consider each one and ask yourself “Am I growing naturally in this area?”  If you are human you will have mixed results.  There will be areas you are growing and there will be areas you need to work on.  For those areas you need to work on avoid the easy answer which is to make a rule (or law) to try and change.  Instead pray and ask God to change you. Please be willing to listen.  God will open opportunities for you to grow.  It may be by talking with someone, reading your bible, getting plugged in with a church or looking for a way to get involved in your community.

The result will be transformed individuals living in communities that are vibrant and healthy.  Will we still have tragedies?  Sadly, until Jesus returns we will.  However, we will have given ourselves the best chance to avoid them and an effective way to respond.





Blessed by God

1 03 2012

What do you think when you hear “God bless you”…besides sneezing.  What does it mean to be blessed by God?  Does it mean you have an easy life or all your dreams come true?  Are you wealthy or happy?  I think it is safe to say we like the idea of God’s blessing but what does it really look like.

I was reflecting on the blessing God gave Aaron to use for the Nation of Israel.  It is found in Numbers 6:22-26.  It says:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (NIV)

It is an amazing blessing at a lot of levels.  Typically we think of a blessing as a gift.  We give gifts (hopefully) that are valuable and meaningful.  If God gives valuable and meaningful gifts, what does God find valuable and meaningful?  I believe God values relationships above everything else.  If that is true (and I think I can make a pretty good case for it) then those things that draw me closer to God and you would be a blessing.  We tend to see this naturally.  We look for meaningful relationships.  A good friend is better than all the money in the world.

When life is going good, if I were honest, I don’t focus on my relationship with God or you.  I tend to be selfish.  I tend to be more concerned with my comfort rather than how I treat people.  It is actually when life is difficult or I am facing a tough situation that I focus on my relationship with God and others.  It is when I am forced to decide what I truly value that I appreciate my relationships.  The result is my relationships become richer and more meaningful.

If that is the case, do I want to attribute bad situations to God?  If God is good then that doesn’t make sense.  As a Christian, I believe bad situations are a result of being in a fallen world.  This is not the way God intended things to be.  God has no desire to see us suffer.  God is not happy when we struggle.  Ultimately that is why Jesus comes and faces suffering and the cross.  God’s desire for a relationship with us drove him to face suffering so that we might have a full and meaningful relationship with him.  This unique perspective gives God the ability to work through times we are suffering and struggling and bless us by adding depth to the quality of our relationships.

This is why we can always be blessed by God regardless of our situation and in fact be even more blessed when things are hard.  In order to see this we have to have a perspective there is more to life than what we have here.  The Apostle Paul said it best when he said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)  Paul said this in the context of talking about a risen Jesus Christ.  If Jesus did conquer sin and death then we have a lot of reason to hope.  We also have a very different perspective on our current circumstances.  They are temporary but our relationship with God and the people around us are eternal.

How do we apply this to our life?  When life is going good, we need to be cautious.  We need to intentionally guard against being selfish or focusing on things that really don’t matter.  We need invest fully and completely in our relationship with God and each other.  When life is hard, we need to take a deep breath and grab a hold of our relationship with God and others.  We find who our true friends are during these moments.  We tend to experience God’s presence in powerful ways and appreciate the depth of God’s love and mercy.

I am not sure what your day will bring.  I am not sure what circumstance you will face.  I am confident I can ask God to bless you.  If at the end of the day you are closer to God and the people around you, you are blessed.





Is my love selfish?

14 12 2011

Have you ever noticed how quickly we can become dissatisfied with what we have? We could really want ice cream. Once we get it, we start wanting particular flavors. Once we have a variety of flavors we want a variety of toppings. Heaven forbid we ever go back to not having any ice cream and just have to hope for it. We have this tendency of having our desires fulfilled only to have them become expectations that need to be met. When they are not met, we become frustrated and angry even if we really don’t need it.

The real danger is when this perspective seeps into relationships with people we love. One danger is we only love the person if they do what we want. As long as they are meeting our needs, we will love them. What is more common is placing expectations on a relationship that should be unconditional. In either case, as my needs are met I slowly increase my expectations. Even if my needs are met I become dissatisfied and have more needs. Life is drained out of the relationship.

In Exodus 15:22-17:7 you see this happen in the relationship with the people of Israel and God. First, they have bad water; God makes the water drinkable. Then, they are worried about starving; God provides them bread called manna. Next, they want meat; God provides them quail. Back to needing water, God once again comes through and provides them water. This all happened after they watched God do incredible miracles to get them out slavery. They grumble and complain and damage their relationship with God.

It is easy to pick on them but I am guilty of having the same perspective in both my relationship with God and those around me. I can find myself asking, “What have you done for me lately?” As faithful as God has been, I can still forget when I am frustrated by a current situation. It is even worse in relationships with other people because they are humans which mean they make mistakes and sometimes don’t know what I need or expect from them. Either way I drain life out of the relationship. It makes me ask the question: do I really understand what unconditional love is suppose to look like?

What do I do?

It starts with my relationship with God. We see God’s incredible unconditional love for us. It makes us ask if we are giving it back. Do I only love God if he answers my prayers the way I want them to be answered? Am I willing to follow God no matter what my circumstances are? Can I see God’s faithfulness in my life and am I truly grateful? I hope there are even more questions that are coming to your mind. Take the time to pray about them and look to see what the Bible has to say. It may also be really good to talk with someone who is spiritual mature and you respect. I believe this is the foundation that helps us look at unconditional love in all our other relationships.

I will just briefly touch on three key relationships.

In marriage, we have it the easiest. (It is okay if you find yourself smiling because it may be the hardest.) In marriage we have one person we can focus on loving and making sure their needs are met regardless if our needs are being met. The reason it is easy is because if each of us is focused on the other person, then both of our needs can be met.

In parenting, we have the opportunity to freely give love. Let’s face it. A six month old child is going to be very needy and not be able to do anything about our needs, especially our need for sleep. Sadly, many parents place expectations on their children to meet needs they are not capable of meeting. When there is unconditional love, parents have a profound influence on their children and children have an opportunity to truly honor their parents.

In friendship, we have the opportunity to support and encourage one another that helps us grow. Ideally, our churches should be places where deep unconditional love for one another is nurtured and developed. In fact Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

I encourage you to take some time and really be honest about how you are showing love. If you find you are being selfish and are expecting the other person to meet more and more needs, then stop, ask for forgiveness if necessary, and learn how to be unselfish and unconditional in the relationship. You may need to have a serious talk about expectations and the health of the relationship. You may find that you need to talk with someone else to help you. It will cause you to be more transparent with who you are and what you need. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. As I learn more about unconditional love, I fall more in love with God and a foundation is laid for me to fall more in love with the people around me. Trust me, it is incredibly rewarding.