Wednesday, December 21, 2011

God keeps his promises, but...

Last Sunday Pastor John completed a four-Sunday walk through the Old Testament, highlighting the lives and failings of several major characters and observing that God keeps his promises. We also observed, however, that God almost never intervenes in the earthly consequences of our actions. He promises to walk with us through them and to use them for our ultimate good, but he generally does not rescue us. This is important for several reasons.

First, it makes us take responsibility for what we think, say and do. Our lives are our own. While Jesus cancelled the eternal debt that stood against us, giving us the power to be children of God, he never promised to just "make it all ok" if we choose poorly. God will not change a cheese puff into a carrot stick on the way down your throat! The things you choose to think say and do — or not think, say or do — have real consequences for your life.

Second, this truth keeps our relationship with God right. Sometimes people get mad at God for not intervening in places where God never said he would intervene anyway. Some people walk away from faith because of a tragedy in their lives, even though God never said he would prevent tragedy in our lives. God keeps the promises he has made. He doesn't keep the promises that you and I wish he would have made.

Thirdly, assuming that when God doesn't intervene it is because of our lack of faith or praying incorrectly dishonors all those who have suffered — and in many cases died — for their faith. How can we question the faith of someone who boldly faces a martyr's death by saying they could have been released if only they had more faith or had prayed in the right way?

This may not sound like the most uplifting message, but it is the truth. The Bible says that the truth will set you free. If you are walking through life with the expectation that God is going to do things that he never promised to do, you are in bondage. You will be ever wondering if your faith is strong enough or trying to figure out if God really loves you.

Let me tell you: God loves you like crazy. God loves you to tears. He loves you so much that he, himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, absorbed the eternal consequences of your sin. You are forgiven, freed, adopted and loved. But just like good parents don’t rescue their children from the consequences of their actions, neither does God step in and rescue us. He pays us the honor of true choice in our lives and he allows us to experience the real growth that comes from real consequences.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

We — that is, all of humanity — basically live in the dark. We can see very little of what’s around us in the universe. Even in our own solar system there are who-knows-how-many rocks of various types and sizes whizzing around in what we think of as the emptiness of space. One astronomer said, regarding the asteroids, etc., that pass through the Earth’s orbit, that if we could flip on the lights in our solar system and see everything, it would be rather disconcerting.

But the physical universe isn’t the only dark in which we live.

We face the darkness every time we look into the future. Of course we make plans based on what probably will happen, but nobody knows for sure. Everyone has encountered the unknowableness of the future in ways both positive and negative.

We face the darkness when we look at the basic questions of our lives. Where did we come from? Is human life an accident or something more? Why are we here? Is there really a purpose to our lives? What happens when we die? Is that the end? Does all of what makes me me simply disintegrate into nothingness?

While there are many joys of Christmas — time with loved ones, the giving and receiving of gifts, decorating our homes, feasting on delicious food — the core joy of Christmas is that, out of love for His creation, the Creator of the universe has not left us in the dark.

The prophet Isaiah wrote the following about the Messiah several hundred years before Jesus was born:

The people who walked in darkness
      have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
      on them has light shone.
        Isaiah 9:2 (ESV)

God has shown his light on the impenetrable darkness of our lives. The message of Christmas is that the light of God is the light of love.

Christmas is the beginning of the end of the darkness. We cannot penetrate the darkness on our own, but on Christmas day we celebrate that Christ, the Savior — the light of the world — is born.

God has not left us to languish in the obscurity we face on a daily basis. He sent his Son into the world to rescue us from the land of deep darkness.

Where did we come from? God created us. We are not accidents. There may be accidental parents but there are no accidental children.

Why are we here? To live in love. God created us to live in harmony with Him and with one another. Even though that harmony has been shattered by sin, God has begun the process of restoration by sending his Son into the world. His reign begins in the hearts of those who trust and follow him. Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas day, is our:

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
        Isaiah 9:6b (ESV)

What happens when we die? I can’t tell you exactly, but I can tell you that it is going to be wonderful, amazing, fantastic, joyful beyond description. Those who have been given a glimpse of heaven struggle (and fail) to adequately describe it in human language (e.g. streets of gold, clear as glass).

Some who are reading this are feeling the darkness acutely right now. If that is you, remember that even in the worst moments, you are the object of God’s tenderest affection. It is precisely because of the brokenness in this world that God sent the Savior whose birth we celebrate.

The core celebration of Christmas is the celebration of God’s answering the most profound and disquieting questions of human existence with a resounding, “I love you!” God’s great love for us compelled him to action, shining the light of his love, forgiveness and new life on those who dwell in a land of deep darkness.

Amid all the wonderful things that the Christmas season brings to our lives, take some quiet time to contemplate the deepest gift of Christmas: light in a dark world. And be open to opportunities to share that light with others, letting God’s love compel you to action in loving others.

Oh, yeah! Merry Christmas, for sure!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Emotional Pain in My Left Big Toe

This week I nearly broke the big toe on my left foot and, in the process, was painfully reminded that pushing emotions inside you doesn’t make them go away. They are still there and may come out in unexpected ways. Here’s what happened:
I am the pastor of a church without a building. So we rent space from a local elementary school every Sunday. We rent the cafeteria for our worship service and the media center for our Sunday school and childcare
When I arrived on a recent Sunday morning, a group of people already was meeting in the media center which we had reserved and paid for. The maintenance worker, Bill (not his real name), approached me as I was looking in the media center wondering what was going on. Bill asked me if I would mind using other rooms this morning for our childcare and Sunday school. I was not inclined to since we had paid for and reserved the media center. The media center is the location our regular attenders expect and it is the most visible place for childcare, which is important for visitors.
Bill explained to me that this group had been meeting all weekend for some sort of continuing education. They had somehow come to believe that they had reserved this space and had a right to be there. The previous evening when one of Bill’s coworkers had asked them to move, a conversation had ensued that involved a considerable increase in volume and intensity but, in the end, did not result in the group's moving. I think you get the picture.
You need to know that I used to be the sort of person who could be intimidated into backing down in a situation like this. Having worked on that weakness over the years, I am not so any more. But at this point, friendship and expediency came into play. It was Sunday morning and our worship service started in less than 90 minutes, so I didn’t have time for a 20-minute conversation to work slowly through whatever was going on. Also, Bill asked me if, because there had already been a big “thing” the night before, I would mind just using a couple of other rooms this morning. Bill is a friend who is flexible with and supportive of our ministry.
So, between the timing involved and Bill’s request, I let it go and moved on. Or so I thought.
Because I snore, I often end up sleeping in a Murphy bed in my office. Such was the case Sunday night. The bed is very low to the ground and there is only a few inches of clearance between the bed and a very sturdy blanket chest to one side of it.
I had a dream early Monday morning that was more than likely my brain continuing to process Sunday morning’s incident — and very nearly resulted in a broken toe.
I was skiing on very short German skis. (Remember, dreams are weird, right?) One of the ski resort employees was on at the bottom of the slope next to me and told me I could not ski on those skis. It seemed quite clear to me that he was really just trying to get me out of their resort. But instead of giving in, I began to argue with him. “There are people on French skis. There are people on snowboards. Why is it just my skis that aren’t allowed on the slopes?” He was not backing down and expected me to do what he said simply because he was the authority. I was not interested in backing down simply because he was the authority so, in the middle of the lodge (we were now inside) packed with people, I yelled, “Who thinks I should be allowed to ski here on my German skis?” Every person raised their hand. That’s when the ski resort employee got so mad he tried to attack me physically.
I’m no fighter, but I have studied a bit of martial arts. When he tried to hit me, I defended myself by kicking him with my left foot. A slight side kick, knee up first then snap the lower leg. Perfectly executed, it did the job.
I don’t know if you have experienced this phenomenon, but sometimes there is a direct correspondence between dream actions and real actions. Many people have had dreams of falling only to wake up and realize they have rolled out of their beds.
In my case, evidently I was sleeping on my side because as I kicked my attacker in my dream, I kicked the blanket chest in real life… hard. I woke up instantly with excruciating pain in the big toe on my left foot. I am now writing on the fourth day from this episode and it still hurts. I feel quite fortunate that I didn’t break my toe.

The moral of the story is simply this: your feelings don’t go away just because you stuff them inside.
Certainly there are times when expediency may trump resolution in the short term. I would make the same decision if I could go back and do it again. And you don’t need to bring up everything with everybody. Often we can just overlook minor offenses. The Bible tells us that is a wonderful thing to do. (Proverbs 11:19)
But if you keep thinking about some incident or relationship, then you need to seek resolution in some way (and that’s a whole subject on its own) rather than just stuffing your feelings inside because, let me tell you, the feelings you have shoved down can surface later in painful ways!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Marriage and the Art of Water Heater Maintenance

I was sitting down this morning to figure out what to feed the blog-monster this week. It was like pulling teeth. I had even descended to the point where I was thinking about pulling out something old and just posting it.

Then my neighbor Peter (not his real name) knocked on the door.

Peter wanted me to help him drain and clean his water heater. Florida water is very hard and carries sediment, so it’s a good idea to drain your water heater every six months or so to clean out the sediment. Peter had seen me draining my water heater a few weeks ago. He asked me what I was doing and I explained it to him, offering to walk him through the process if he ever wanted some help.

Normally, this is an easy 20-minute deal.  Turn the power off. Turn the water supply off. Open the pressure release valve. Drain the tank using the spigot near the base of the water heater. Turn the water supply on and let the tank flush for a few minutes. Close everything up and refill the water heater, bleeding the air out of the tank by way of the pressure release valve.

As I mentioned, normally it’s pretty easy. So I said, “Let’s just do it now,” and walked over to his house.

My wife and I are friends with the couple that lived in the house before Peter. They hadn’t drained their water heater in the six years they lived there. Peter moved in with his wife three years ago and this is the first time he’d done it. So the water heater was neglected for nine years.

The procedure started off in the standard way. As we drained the water heater we saw quite a bit of sand and small calcium pebbles rolling out of the end of the hose. Then the flow stopped. It was totally blocked by silt, sand and calcium fragments. After two-and-a-half hours of digging in the drain with a wire, getting squirted several times as the pressure burst through each new dam, and seeing calcium chunks the size of human teeth coming out of his water heater, we finally got it to flow free and clear.

In the throes of our adventure, I had this thought: marriages are a little bit like water heaters. (For real. I’m not making this up. I even talked to Peter about it.)

Peter’s water heater was functioning fine from the standpoint of his family’s having hot water. There really wasn’t any easily discernable indication that necessary maintenance was being neglected and trouble was piling up unseen. But it was.

Marriages are like that. Two people are attracted to each other and get married. The initial marriage attraction can carry you forward for quite a while. The marriage can endure busy lives and some neglect. But the trouble builds up unseen in the quiet places inside each person.

When I do my six-month flush on my water heater, it is easy. I know what to expect. I know about how long it will take.

Marriages that have been tended experience the same relative ease when things get difficult… when the marriage needs a little “flush” so to speak. Both parties know they’ve hit a little bump to work through and it will be fine in a while and likely even better than it was before the bump was discovered.

In marriages with no maintenance — marriages where the husband and wife just let the crud build up inside rather than talking through it — when the time finally comes for some work, it is a major ordeal.

Let me tell you, there was more than once when I wanted to tell Peter that his water heater was a lost cause. Just close up the valve, use it ‘till it croaks, then buy a new one. Every time Peter and I thought we had the water heater cleared out, the drain clogged again with more silt or an even bigger chunk of calcium. “Will this ever end?” and “Is this really worth it?” crossed my mind more than once.

Neglected marriages can be like that. If your marriage has been neglected, it can be a daunting task to think about even getting things cleaned up so both of you are peaceful and happy in your marriage. Overwhelming, really, because by the time you realize that you have neglected your marriage, you often cannot conceive of things being happy and peaceful again. You either think, “This is just the way my life is going to be,” or, “Just let it die.”

But Peter and I persevered. Every time the drain got blocked, we took off the hose (and sometimes took the valve apart), cleared it, and started to flush again until we hit another block. Eventually the process was done and his water heater was clean.

Marriages absolutely can be fixed if both people want the marriage to work. Sometimes even if only one person wants the marriage to work as the cleaning starts. If your marriage has been long-neglected and you are sharing a house instead of a life, the sooner you start the process of digging out the crud, the less crud you will find. And the sooner you will have done all the major cleanup. The key is to start on the road of a healthy marriage and then just keep on keepin’ on. One day you may look back and say, “Holy cow, I’m actually happy in this marriage!”

If you think your marriage is doing fine, don’t neglect the periodic maintenance. You must talk. My wife and I have coffee together every morning. It’s only three to five minutes, and sometimes we talk while our 4-year-old is using one of us as a jungle gym, but even that daily maintenance time makes a huge difference. We have a short devotion. We talk about whatever is going on with each of us. We usually laugh about something. And we pray together. We rarely have to have “big” conversations because we have so many little conversations. And when it’s time for a “big” conversation, we are already in the habit of talking about “stuff” so the “big” conversations come easier.

Go out together. Talk about your own lives, not just your kids. You might even consider adding an annual appointment with a marriage counselor or a marriage retreat as part of your maintenance plan.

Verily, verily, I say unto thee: If you are married, the work will come whether you like it or not. You are two broken people trying to make a life together. Your choice is whether it’s going to be regular light maintenance, a major overhaul, or simply picking up the broken pieces.

As a pastor, I feel compelled to end this article with a reminder of God’s grace. Things crash. We make stupid decisions. We react out of fear. We are not in control of all the factors affecting our marriage, least of all our spouses. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works so that no one can boast.
When a woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus to be stoned according to the law, he lifted her up and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more.” If you are reading this and realizing that things need to change, know that you have God’s forgiveness and love. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, He is not counting your sins against you. While you often cannot avoid the earthly consequences of decisions you regret, you need to know that even in those times God looks on you as a loving father looks on his dear children, desiring the very best for you in every moment.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Have you seen the scene?

I ended up in quite a heated argument with my brother-in-law the other day. There is a great point at the end that has nothing to do with Lord of the Rings, so even if you aren’t a fan, wade through. It should be worth your time. Here’s what happened:
I am a great fan of the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien — both the books and the movies. One difference between the books and the movies, I think, creeps in from the worldview of the screenwriters for the movies. I don’t think screenwriters Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh  believe in nobility of character (or, at least, they don’t believe it plays well on screen).
Without getting taken up in an analysis of the entire movie, several characters who display what I would call a “noble character,” (they recognize their own limitations, sacrifice for greater good, won’t hurt people who aren’t an immediate threat to them, etc. Treebeard, Faramir and Aragorn, to name three for LOTR fans) are lowered so that their character is less noble.
My brother-in-law and I were arguing about this. He saw my point, but when I brought up the following scene, he said it wasn’t in the movie. I knew it was because it is so un-Aragorn that it sticks out like a sore thumb: Among the less-than-noble actions of the noble-in-the-book characters is a moment when after speaking for a few moments with an unarmed emissary from the dark lord, Sauron, Aragorn rides to the side of the emissary and lops off his head!
My brother-in-law said it never happened. I said it did. He said it didn’t. You get the picture.
There was only one solution: pull out the movie and check the scene. We did. He saw it. And he swore that he’d never seen it before. He’s got a great memory, so I believed him.
Then it dawned on us. We were watching the extended director’s cut and he had previously only seen the theatrical release. We were, in fact, both right!
Not all, but many of our disagreements can be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved if we are willing to take the time to be honest with others and respect their right to have a different viewpoint from ours.
We discovered how we were both right because we are each both honest about the truth as we saw it and also respected the other’s viewpoint. Instead of arguing or getting mad, we respectfully disagreed and continued to push the point until — lo and behold! — we found the source of the disagreement.
When you find yourself in a disagreement with someone, don’t just get in an argument with an eye toward winning, quickly swallow your opinion, or agree to disagree. Gently, lovingly push on the disagreement for a while. Why do you think that? How did you come to that conclusion? I really see things very differently from the way you do. I don’t think it happened that way at all. Ask the other person questions about how they came to their views rather than bringing up their parentage or questioning their standardized test scores. Speak for yourself about yourself.
The Bible gives us great wisdom for times of disagreement: “Speaking the truth in love we will grow up…” (Ephesians 4:15) No one has a corner on truth — it’s always to some degree “as we see it.” On the other hand, love is clearly defined in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous or boastful or rude or self-seeking…”
You may end up disagreeing still. But, speaking the truth in love, you might learn something. Speaking the truth in love, you both might come to a different opinion than the one with which you started. And, speaking the truth in love, you are much more likely to keep the relationship whole. And, who knows? You might both be right!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Avoid Spilling Metaphorical Coffee

It was a hectic morning trying to get our three kids off to school. I was carrying a cup of coffee as I walked into my office to get I-don't-even-remember-what. A slightly bulging box rested on top of the blanket chest that sits under some bookshelves. It was from these bookshelves that I needed to get something (not a book) that had to do with the morning. 

Being in too much of a hurry to walk across the room to set the coffee safely on my desk, I put my cup on the slightly bulging box. Can you guess what happened next? The box rocked a bit.

When I looked down and saw the box rocking gently, I reacted quickly. I reached down and grabbed the cup. In the process of grabbing the cup, I spilled the coffee.

I could — and probably should — draw the lesson from this event that I should just slow down enough to put the coffee in a safer place. But that's not what sticks in my mind.

What I remember is that the coffee cup, though teetering a bit, was still safely on the box when I grabbed it. When I reacted quickly, grabbing for the coffee mug, I spilled it. Looking back on the situation, the coffee probably wouldn't have spilled at all. I just got nervous. In my fear of spilling the coffee, I became anxious and reacted rapidly, causing the very thing of which I had been afraid.

Strange as it may seem, this caused me to think about relationships. How often have I, through rapid, anxious reaction, "spilled the coffee" in a relationship when a thoughtful and reflective pause would have brought about a better result? How often have I felt angry or hurt and, by reacting quickly and instinctually, "spilled the coffee"? How many times have I made things worse by my own reaction, perhaps even causing quarrels where none would have started?

There are all sorts of ways we "spill the coffee" in relationships. A quick retort. A hurtful word. A glaring silence. Stomping from the room. Dredging up old offenses and hurling them in the face of the one who is hurting us. Playing "eye-for-an-eye."

The lesson here is that if you are talking to someone and feel yourself getting anxious, uptight, nervous, angry, scared — whatever you call it, you know what I'm talking about — those feelings may be reasonable. But it's worth a pause, a moment of reflection, a deep breath before you react. It's true the coffee may be spilling anyway. Whoever you are talking to might even be spilling the coffee on purpose. But just a moment of consideration before you respond may make a great deal of difference in how your conversation and your relationship proceed from there.

Pause. Think about how you are going to respond. Remember that the other person is an object of God's love as much as you are. Remember that the other person is a person. A person with feelings. A person with a back story. Even if the hurt is intentional, why that person hurting you? You might be reaping a harvest someone else has sown. This may be a chance for you to bring love and peace into the other person's life. Might a healthy does of grace do more for the other person and be the best thing for yourself, too?

A moment of reflection before you speak won't fix everything. That's for sure! But it can be very helpful. I can tell you from experience (as, I'm sure, you can tell me, too), that it's much easier in the long run to avoid spilling rather than to clean up, whether you're talking about relationships or coffee.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wrestling with God

A few weeks (maybe months) ago I taught a lesson on prayer during our Sunday service. Using major biblical characters as examples, I encouraged people to approach God in prayer honestly and boldly.

Abraham bargained with the angels about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord. ("Let me go!" said the angel. "Not until you bless me!" said Jacob.) Moses tried to weasel out of God's call on his life. Later on, when God was going to destroy the Israelites and start a new people for himself, Moses pointed out that the Egyptians would say that the Israelite's god brought them out into the wilderness to kill them. "God relented.

I cannot fathom the mysteries of the ways of God. After all, even God's "foolishness" is wiser than our wisdom. I don't know in each instance why prayers are answered or not (at least in a discernible way). But I can clearly see the example set by people historically lifted up as "heroes of the faith." This is why I encourage people to pray honestly and opening. Make your case. Wrestle with God.

People who want to be good Christians can fall into the "thy will be done" trap. There's nothing wrong with the phrase, of course. It's straight from the Lord's Prayer. But sometimes saying, "your will be done" at the end of a prayer is really another way of saying, "Whatever. You're not going to do it anyway." Or sometimes people jump straight to "your will be done" because they lack real trust in God's loving listening.

After experimenting for a semester with schooling at home, Kelly and I wanted to send Anya to a small Christian middle school near our home but couldn't swing the tuition in cash. So Kelly, a stay-at-home mom, offered to work at the school to cover the tuition costs. She and the principal agreed that she could do reading pull-outs for students who were falling behind. When she arrived for the first day of work, the principal asked her if she could do math pull-outs that day instead reading pull-outs. Kelly ended up doing math pull-outs all year long! Not a single reading pull-out. (Kelly has many strengths, but math is not one of them. Kelly has many joys, but math is not one of them.) She persevered for the love of our daughter. As summer came to a close, anxiety began to grow in Kelly's spirit as she faced the prospect of another year doing math pull-outs. After hearing my sermon, she began wrestling with God over this situation. She was willing to do it for Anya's sake, but would really rather not if there was another way.

This is the pattern Jesus sets for us in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (I am not comparing the situations — only the pattern!) Be honest and pour your true desires out to the Father. Then trust him with the result.

If you have not found peace through prayer, it may be that you are not really being honest with God. God tells us that he is like a father — but better than any imperfect earthly father could be. Can you imagine your disappointment as a parent if every time your children came to talk to you they tried to say what they thought you wanted to hear instead of sharing what's really in their hearts and minds? Tell God what's really going on with you — what you really want, if that's what's going on — and then trust him with the result.

Honesty and openness are an integral part of finding peace in prayer. So, be honest.

Oh, and here's what happened to Kelly this week. She was going to start the math pull-outs last week, but that didn't work out for a variety of reasons. She went in this week to begin math pull-outs. The principal pulled her aside and asked if she would mind doing reading! Mind!?! Oh, yeah! Thanks, God! We don't always understand what you are doing, but we sure are grateful for this one!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Well, that week got away from me!

I spend this last week writing, but it wasn't a blog entry. I was applying for a grant to fund a 12-week sabbatical next year. Since we have been encouraged by the scriptures to be bold in our prayers to God, I would ask my friends who are of the praying type to pray that I am receive the sabbatical funding grant. The money will fund some travel with my family along with a variety of other expenses that go with putting aside my pastoral ministry for 12 weeks (including guest preachers).

Here's the short summary of my sabbatical proposal from my grant application, in case you are interested:
I have found many loves on this journey of life. I love my Savior. I love my family. I love my church. I love preaching and teaching. I love writing and other creative projects. I love hiking in the wilderness and exploring new environments, both urban and rural. I love fantasy stories, from children’s literature such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” to high fantasy epic journeys like “The Lord of the Rings.”

I propose a sabbatical of renewal in life and ministry that encompasses my many loves through relational connection, challenging journeys, and the chance to be creatively energized.

Fantasy fiction often resonates with my soul. The struggles, triumphs and failures of a well-written character mirror those of real life. The applicability of fantasy fiction to Gospel teaching has been part of my ministry for a long time. Fantasy stories from “Toy Story” to “The Hobbit” offer fertile ground for contemplating and illustrating our spiritual journey as Christians.

My sabbatical journey will include a variety of actual journeys — a road trip with my family, a solo hike on the Appalachian Trail, walking through various city and country environments — and the journey of writing fantasy fiction that wrestles with biblical teachings.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tension... Peace... Joy — Another Lesson from My Garbage

For the second time in as many weeks, my garbage has caused me reflection that led to gratitude. (See my blog post 2011AUG17 for the first one.) Why this is, I do not know. I won't start to worry about my sanity just yet.

Late last night, after finishing the bedtime routine with my oldest child, I was dragging my tired self to bed when I realized I hadn't taken out the garbage or the recyclables. <heavy sigh> I trudged toward the front of the house to do my job simply because it was the job I had agreed to do. I looked out the front door. Lo and behold, there were the recycle bins and the trash can out at the curb ready for the next day's pickup!

It turns out my wife had put them out in the afternoon while she was watching our 3-year-old son zooming up and down the sidewalk on his scooter. It was a little thing, I suppose. She was out there anyway. But to me it was a major gift. 

This caused me to remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine regarding his kitchen garbage and his spouse. He and his wife learned a lesson about their relationship after fighting for years about taking out the garbage. Here's the story:

In their house, taking out the garbage was not a job given to any particular person. Their idea was that everyone should simply act as a responsible member of the household. If the kitchen trash can was full, whoever put the last piece of garbage in ought to empty the garbage (just like the person who uses the last toilet paper on the roll ought to replace it with a fresh roll).

Perhaps you have already spotted the problem with this arrangement. Unlike the toilet paper roll which has a definite ending point, the idea of when the garbage can is full is a) open to interpretation and b) somewhat flexible based on how hard you are willing to push down on the garbage. The end result was that everyone in the house would cram their last piece of garbage into the can without emptying it. You can imagine the scene, I'm sure.

This led to accusations that, while sometimes reasonable, were hard to prove. When is a trash can really full? The end result was that the garbage was an ongoing source of conflict with no possible resolution within their current way of doing things..

They found their answer in choosing a new strategy instead of arguing more forcefully. The answer was simple. In the end, it didn't even change who took out the garbage all that much. But it brought peace to the household. Occasionally, it even brought joy.

The solution was this: they decided together that taking out the garbage would be the husband's responsibility. Here is how this solution brought peace — and even joy — to their household.

First, the peace came from clearly marked lines of responsibility. There was no weaseling around. It was his job, and if it wasn't done, there was no arguing about who should have done it. Voila! Most of the reason for the tension over the kitchen garbage vanished in a puff of new paradigm. The husband didn't even mind, because at least things were clear and simple. The temptation to cram garbage was gone because it didn't serve any purpose. It was also easier for him to do the job when he was tired because he knew it was his job and no one else's. It's amazing what a clearly defined job can do to a person's day.

But wait, there's more!

Joy unexpectedly was discovered as part of this clarified delineation of responsibilities. Sometimes the wife took out the garbage. In the long run, it was probably nearly as often as she used to. But now, because of the new way of looking at things, every time she took out the garbage it was a gift! The husband became the frequent recipient of a gift given in love, and the wife became the frequent giver of gifts to the husband with whom she was sharing her life.

Imagine! In deciding whose responsibility the garbage would be instead of simply arguing about it each time it started to overflow, this couple discovered three important truths about deciding who would be responsible for an unpleasant task. First, knowing it was his job allowed the husband to rustle up the strength to take out the garbage even when he was tired. Second, the husband could feel good instead of put upon when he took out the garbage because it was his responsibility. And the surprising third is that the new structure around kitchen garbage duty provided a whole new way for gifts to be given and received within their relationship.

I thought about my friends as I stared through tired eyes at the garbage can and recycle bins out at the curb under the streetlights. In the morning I made sure to thank my wife and tell her how much her little gift of taking out the garbage had meant to me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Garbage and Gratitude

Last Tuesday night my wife asked me to take out the recyclables. This was actually quite gracious because taking out the recyclables already is my job. She could have just reminded me to do it instead of asking me to do it.

The thing is, taking out the recyclables is one of my least favorite jobs. The reason? They stink. Though we rinse things before they get put in the bin, we are not of the type to run the recyclables through the dishwasher before we put them out to be melted down or whatever they do to them. So it is an unpleasant job.

Why am I writing about an unpleasant job, you ask. Because I found joy in it, and I thought that was worth sharing. My sense of gratitude grew as I took out the recyclables, and gratitude is good for all of us.

In order to take the recyclables out, I had to take them out of somewhere. In my case, I have a house that is quite comfortable, reasonably furnished, has heating and air conditioning, includes the fabulous luxury of indoor plumbing, and more. So though I don't enjoy taking the recyclables out, I am mighty glad to have some place to take them out from.

Much of what smells disgusting after sitting in the recyclables bin for several days smelled and tasted delicious a few days ago. In taking out the used food containers, I was reminded that I have consumed the food that came in the containers. I have food, which is a wonderful blessing. Some of the things that stank, did so because we don't refrigerate our recyclables. The perishable stuff spoils — which reminded me of how wonderful it is to have a refrigerator to keep fresh food fresh longer. What a blessing!

Then I thought of my family, which had consumed the food that came in the now-stinking recyclable containers. I have a wife and children that also have food — food that we share as we sit around the table and generally quite enjoy each other.

As I reached the curb, I also thought about the luxury of having someone else drive by in a truck to pick up my garbage. How wonderful is that?

I probably won't ever really look forward to taking out the recyclables, but I have found that thinking about what brought that stinking bin full of used containers into existence has given me a great opportunity to let gratitude overtake me in the middle of an unpleasant task. Thankfulness feels good.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm also thankful that I have to take out the recyclables only once per week.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Learning to Pray from a Foreign Woman

Last Sunday's Bible text and message (August 14, 2011) covered a very perplexing incident wherein Jesus first ignores someone who wants help and then tries to brush her off. The woman succeeds in persuading Jesus to do what she asks (free her daughter from a demon) and, in doing so, joins a long list of major Bible characters who were willing to push — even argue with — God. Some find it difficult to come to grips with Jesus' trying to ignore and brush off someone who needs help. But the woman teaches us a great lesson about prayer. Prayer is not a flaccid, wet-fish, passive encounter with God. You are a person with a will and a mind — as God created you to be! Kids don't just passively accept whatever their parents say (as much as parents might wish that sometimes!). As children grow, parents expect children to engage them and sometimes push back. Most parents would worry if their child quietly and passively followed every instruction without feedback.

Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is a model. He engages the Father, asking for anything other than what's about to be done to him. Then he concludes his prayer with, "Not my will but yours be done." We must be careful, however, because "Thy will be done" can come from either end of the faith spectrum. "Thy will be done" can be a statement of courageous and confident trust in our loving God. Or "Thy will be done" can be the prayer equivalent of the teenagers, "Whatever. God's going to do what God's going to do and I don't really see the point of praying."

The central lesson from Jesus' encounter is one we learn over and over in the scriptures. God is not an immovable wall of will any more than an earthly parent is. God is a compassionate Father who hears our prayers, is moved by our desires, and can even be won over.

Do you want peace in your heart? Learn to pray with vigor. Engage God in prayer over the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 proclaims, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." The twist on this verse, however, is that probably more often than not, it is the desires of our hearts that change rather than God's simply giving us what we want. Either way, in the end, God promises peace that passes all understanding.

An essential part of this process that brings peace to your spirit is engaging God with your true self. Of course you want to praise God for who He is when you pray. Of course you want to pray in the spirit of "Thy will be done." But that doesn't mean you turn into an invertebrate — a spiritual slug without desire or will. This foreign woman teaches us to pray: engage God!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why did Jesus rise up into the clouds?

Hey! I figured out (to my satisfaction) why Jesus ascended into the clouds. (Did I tell you this already?)

It was out of love for his disciples! (surprise!)

Jesus had already demonstrated that he could simply be wherever he wanted to be, so he could have simply gone to be with the Father. And we know that heaven isn't physically above the cloud canopy (we've been there). So what's with the levitation party trick? The answer is that the disciples needed a transitional moment. Jesus had appeared to them several times and now he needed to make it clear to them that this was different. They should not be waiting around for him to appear physically again. They didn't need an explanation of the universe, they simply needed to understand that he wouldn't physically appear to them again. So he did a little transitional thing that helped them understand within their perception of reality that he was 'leaving' for the time being. So, he physically moved his body toward where their idea of heaven was.

Which, of course, really shows us how loving Jesus is. He is willing to do something that is, in a way, kind of silly. But, this is what his disciples need. Just like parents sometimes do things they don't need to do just for the comfort of their children. If Jesus' pride had been operative, he would have said, "I'm not going to do this stupid little thing. I don't NEED to, and besides, it's only serving their ignorance." But he didn't. He humbled himself to create the transitional moment that they needed within their level of understanding.

Man, Jesus was cool!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Luke 6:46-49 reading and reflection

Consider, with Pastor John, Jesus' parable about the man who built his house upon the rock.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Luke 6:43-45 reading and reflection

Reflect with Pastor John on the implications of Jesus' words, "By their fruit you will know them."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Contemplating Ash Wednesday

Today begins the season of Lent. The truth at the base of the universe is love. The core characteristic of the Christian is love. God is love. But love is not always easy or fun. True love runs deep through the currents of life, on the murky bottom as well as the glistening surface. True love flows through the brokenness and pain as well as the victorious and pleasurable. Committed love calls forth not only the highest joys, but also the deepest sacrifice. While true love may run joyfully to the mountaintop, true love also walks open-eyed and purposefully into the valley. True love runs truest in the steady steps of the one who walks knowingly into the dark places for the sake of others, in the decisions of the one who contemplates pain and loss, and willfully embraces it for the sake of another.

Lent is the season wherein we contemplate the darker places where love flows. Lent is a season of unpleasant truth, of spiritual surgery. The valley. The murky bottom of our souls. Sin. Brokenness.

  • Lust: the desire to use people or things for our pleasure in ungodly ways
  • Gluttony: consumption without stewardship of ourselves or others
  • Greed: the desire to have wealth, status, power
  • Sloth: laziness or indifference
  • Rage: hatred or anger that leads us to hurt ourselves or others
  • Envy: desiring that which is anothers
  • Pride: the exalting of one’s self.

The Lenten journey is a journey into darkness but it is not a journey alone. The most amazing and unexpected thing awaits us in this journey: Jesus. As we look down into the sinful places, the broken places of our lives, the places where we ourselves fear to look, let alone let anyone else into, we see someone there. We are not alone. We see Jesus.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us… [2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)]

We look down into the grime and muck in our hidden places and see that God—our glorious, wonderful, perfect creator God—has, in Jesus Christ, voluntarily walked into both the darkness of the world and the personal, individual darkness of humanity.

“…He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…” [Isaiah 53:4 (ESV)]

And the full truth is yet more horrible and wonderful: Jesus died.

Pain is one thing, death is another. Pain comes and goes. Death just comes. The scriptures tell us that death is the result of sin. “The wages of sin is death.” Some people even get away without paying taxes, but nobody outruns death. “You are dust and to dust you shall return,” God told Adam and Eve after they had sinned in the Garden of Eden. That is the truth. “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

And the horrible, wonderful truth is that God, in Jesus Christ, became dust. God became dust and went through mortality. Oh, the scandalous sacrifices that love draws out of those who are willing to love—the unfathomable forfeiture of Jesus Christ who, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (or clung to), but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even deathon a cross.” [Philippians 2:6–8 (RSV)]

And the strangest thing… it is by going into the murk that we become clean.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [2 Corinthians 5:21 (RSV)]

By staring into the darkness, we find that light invades our deepest places.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world… to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1:5–14 (ESV)]

God is full of grace and truth.

Grace without truth would leave us wondering if we are really acceptable, because grace without truth would leave the hidden places hidden. We are left wondering about God’s love for use because we are left wondering if we are truly known.

Truth without grace might seem satisfactory on first glance, but truth without grace in the presence of the holiness of God would crush us utterly. To simply shine light into the cobwebby corners of our soul without hearing “I love you” would reduce us to ashes.

But Lent isn’t just about getting to the last dark and dusty corner of our soul. Who can even plumb the depths of their own thoughts, words and actions?

Lent is acknowledging our need, even the darkness we cannot or won’t see, knowing that the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus covers all our sin. When we do get into the dusty corners or the murky bottom, we may be surprised, but God never is. It is God’s all-probing love in Jesus Christ that gives us courage this Lent to be contemplative, to consider deeply the fullness of both the beauty and the brokenness in our souls, because God has looked into our souls, seen our need, sent a Savior, and now cries out in an ever louder chorus, “I love you, my child, I love you. Don’t hide from your brokenness. Search it with me at your side. Discover it with me at your side. Find healing with me at your side. And even discover, in my wild universe, how I can bring blessing out of it.”

Lent is the time to let the profound “I love you” of God illuminate the darkness so that you and I can grow in grace and truth and peace.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Prayer - an intimate relationship with God

In this message, which concludes the series on prayer, Pastor John connects prayer with the idea that the church is the bride of Christ. We have the ultimate call of love from God. Like any relationship, you can study about it, but you must also experience it and it develops over time in unforeseen ways. So it is with our relationship with God if we spend solitary time with God in prayer. During Lent, many people give up something as a spiritual exercise. Pastor John encourages you to give up your most important commodity this Lent: time. Spend daily solitary time with God. Choose an amount of time. Set a timer. You might want to use a guide for your prayer time, such as the Lord's Prayer (see previous message). You can download a prayer guide and daily checkoff sheet for Lent here:

PDF Lenten Prayer Checkoff List and Guide based on the Lord's Prayer

Audio (click the 'menu' button if you'd rather download the MP3 than stream the audio):


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lenten Prayer Commitment

People often choose to give up something for Lent. I am encouraging people to give up some of their most valuable possession: time. We've been doing a series on prayer. I am encouraging people to make a commitment to dedicated solitary prayer time every day during Lent. Follow the link to download the chart and guide.

Prayer check-off calendar and prayer guide based on the Lord's Prayer

Friday, March 4, 2011

Luke 6:37-38 reading and brief reflection

This famous passage begins with the phase, "Judge not and you wool not be judged."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Luke 6:27-36 reading and brief reflection

In this famous passage, Jesus encourages us to love our enemies pray for those who persecute us and be kind to others regardless of how they are treating us. If you are only kind to people who are kind to you, big deal! Everybody does that.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Luke 6:20-26 reading and brief reflection

In this passage Jesus basically says that the world has got it all wrong with respect to identifying the blessing and approval of God. This reading includes what is commonly referred to as the Beatitudes and also the less often read set of woes that immediately follow the list of blessings.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Message from Last Sunday, Feb 27, 2011 - The Lord's Prayer, a Recipe for Prayer

At one point in his teaching, Jesus gave clear and direct instructions on prayer. He said, "When you pray, pray like this..." Then he gave his disciples what we know today as, "The Lord's Prayer." But what does it mean? Why do we pray, "Thy kingdom come"? Can anyone stop God's kingdom from coming? Explore the Lord's Prayer with Pastor John from Journey of Life Lutheran Church in Orlando, Florida.



Friday, February 25, 2011

Luke 6:17-19 reading and brief reflection

In this passage, we see Jesus healing many people of all sorts of sicknesses. This shows us two things. First, Jesus verified that he was the messiah by fulfilling Old Testament prophecies of miraculous healings. He didn't just claim to be the messiah and speak eloquently. Second, God sometimes does choose to heal us in response to our prayers.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Luke 6:12-16 reading and brief reflection

In this reading Jesus spends a night in prayer and then designates twelve of his disciples to be apostles. From this account we learn to bath big decisions in prayer and to rejoice in diversity rather than seeking uniformity in the church.

Friday, February 18, 2011

In this reading, some religious leaders are looking for a way to accuse Jesus. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus openly heals a man on the Sabbath right before their eyes. In doing this, Jesus illustrates again the proper place of rules an traditions in the life of a person of faith.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Luke 6:1-5 reading and reflection

In this reading, Jesus' disciples are questioned by the pharisees for picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath. Jesus reminds us that he is Lord of the Sabbath (and, via another Gospel, that the Sabbath is there to serve us not master us)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Message: Foundation of Prayer - the Inescapable Presence of God

Awareness of God's presence — Christian mindfulness — is essential to a life that grows in living out the scripture's invitation to "pray without ceasing."

Streaming audio:

MP3 Download link


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Luke 5:1-11 reading and brief reflection

Reflect briefly with Pastor John on this episode in Jesus' life when he calls his first disciples to leave their fishing boats behind and follow him.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Audio - Prayer (first in a series) - from Feb 6, 2011

This sermon on prayer grows out of the observation that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray. Prayer is a vital part of the life of faith. We will be exploring prayer for the next few Sundays. In this lesson, Pastor John reads three back-to-back sections in Luke 18, two parables and an instance when the disciples tried to stop people from bringing children to him. Prayer lessons that can be derived from these three sections are: pray persistently, pray humbly and pray trustingly.

Links to message audio (video posted separately):

Video - Prayer (first in a series) - message from Feb 6, 2011

Saturday, February 5, 2011

New Message Series begins Sunday, Feb 6, 2011 - PRAYER

Last week's message (Jan 30, 2011) dealt with the inner peace in which Jesus lived, a peace so complete that he could sleep in the back of a boat during a storm that made seasoned sailors afraid for their lives. We looked at the habits of Jesus' life, one of which was solitary prayer.

I had decided that this Sunday we would explore solitary prayer a bit further. As I was preparing the message and praying about it, I decided that the subject of prayer was worth a series instead of a one-off message.

So, beginning this week and continuing for the next few weeks, the Sunday messages at Journey of Life Lutheran Church will focus on prayer. Some questions we will explore, not in any particular order, are:

  • Why should I pray?
  • What can I expect in and through my prayers?
  • What should I pray for?
  • Is there a right way to pray?
  • Is there a wrong way to pray?
  • Can I pray for whatever is important to me? Or will that make God mad at me?
  • Is there such a thing as "prayer techniques"?
This Sunday you will also have a chance to submit your own questions about prayer and have them addressed as part of this series.

Hope to see you Sunday. Or, if you aren't in the area, be sure to listen to or watch the digital recordings of the messages. They will be posted here for your convenience.

God bless! (and may you recognize it as such when God does!)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Jesus Stills the Storm –OR– How to Have a Good Night’s Sleep No Matter What’s Going on in Your Life

“Who is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?” That was the disciples’ question after Jesus commanded a storm to be still and the storm obeyed. Jesus had been sleeping in the back of the boat when a storm arose – a storm severe enough to make seasoned fishermen frightened for their lives. As the storm raged, Jesus continued to sleep. The terrified disciples woke Jesus, crying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” First Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith, and then he rebuked the storm. The disciples had seen Jesus heal people and cast out demons, but when the very Earth obeyed his command, a new sense of awe overcame the disciples. (Matthew 8:23-27)

While people draw many different lessons from this episode, the thing that strikes me is that Jesus was able to sleep in the middle of a storm. If you ever have difficulty going to sleep at night because of some turmoil in your life, you probably (like me) would like to know Jesus’ secret for sleeping right through storms.

The secret is in Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father. He knows that his ultimate safety always lies with the Father. “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8, NIV)

While we have a reconciled relationship to God the Father through Jesus Christ, while we intellectually know that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God looks on us as his own dear children, living in that peace that lets us sleep requires that we cultivate that relationship with God.

Jesus had at least five habits that we all need in order to live close to God and, therefore, be able to sleep peacefully even in difficult circumstances.

1.  Jesus kept a weekly Sabbath.  A Sabbath is a day in which we intentionally put aside temporal concerns such as work to focus on our relationships with God and other people. We need to remind ourselves regularly that earthly life is a temporary journey and our ultimate home lies with our heavenly Father.

2. Jesus often engaged in solitary prayer. While we benefit from participating in group prayer experiences such as worship services and small group Bible studies, we need to relate one-on-one with God for him to get into the deeper parts of our soul.

3. Jesus knew the scriptures. While Jesus had an edge, being the Word of God incarnate, knowing the promises of God helped him ward off temptation. Those same promises can bring peace to our hearts in the troubles of the world and our own life.

4. Jesus engaged in faith dialog. As young as twelve years old, Jesus was questioning the teachers in the temple. We all have questions buried inside of us, like little dark spots in the light of our souls. When unacknowledged and not shared, those little dark spots fester. Engaging in authentic faith dialog with others creates spaces for those little dark spots to percolate naturally to the surface. Once they are out, their power to power to steal our peace is diminished.

5. Jesus lived in obedience to the Father. If you know what God would have you do and you don’t do it, you can’t really expect God to give you his peace, can you?

For a Christian, these habits exist under the umbrella of Grace. We are saved by grace, not by works, so that no one can boast. But failure to live out habits that connect us with God can lead to a sleep-deprived Christian. When we look at Jesus in the boat, we see a man sleeping through a storm. Jesus sees a child asleep under the watchful eyes of a loving Father. As you cultivate these five habits, you, too, will more and more see yourself not as a human trying to make it in this world of changes and chances, but as a child of God, falling asleep under the loving eyes of a heavenly Father.

Friday, January 28, 2011

February is the "Love" month

Here comes February, the Hallmark… uh, I mean, “love” month, the month in which celebrate Valentine’s Day. For some time already I’ve been seeing ads encouraging people to get an early start ordering their flowers. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)

It’s a little bit odd that our season of sentiment started out as a commemoration of two (maybe three) Christian martyrs named “Valentine” who died around AD200-AD300. The feastday of Saint Valentine was placed on the official calendar of the Catholic church in AD500, but was removed by Pope Paul VI because, “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”

The migration of Saint Valentine’s Day from a feastday commemorating martyrs to a day designated for declarations of love is lost in the fog of history. It seems clear, however, that by the 1600’s Valentine’s Day was associated with love in the popular view. In Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet,” Ophelia speaks of her desire to be Hamlet’s valentine as Saint Valentine’s Day approaches. Nowadays, whether it’s due to the increasing interaction between cultures or just plain ol’ marketing, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in much of the world.

So what does this most Hallmark of holidays have to do with our Christian faith in 2011? Would God send you a mushy, sappy Valentine’s Day card, declaring his undying love for you? I think he would! I think he has! He calls us his bride. He tells us that nothing in all of creation can separate us from his love. Three words: “Song of Solomon.” Need I say more? Humanity is the ultimate ‘damsel in distress,’ so loved by Jesus that he confronted our captor, Satan, with a daring swap: his death for ours. Then he busted out of the prison of death, destroying forever death’s grip on us, his beloved bride. Our hero!

To offer oneself up to death in the place of another, now that’s true love! Perhaps the union of the martyrdom of Saint(s) Valentine with the modern day celebration of Valentine’s’ Day is at its core a more appropriate marriage than it would appear. Solomon wrote, “Love is as strong as death.” Jesus brings love and death together in a most intimate fashion, declaring that death is, in fact, the height of love: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 (ESV))

While laying down one’s physical life might be considered the ultimate test of love, living out love day by day—I’m thinking here of the “agape” type of love (a decision to treat someone lovingly) as opposed to mere affection or attraction—is a kind of daily death. When you choose to be patient, kind, not jealous, boastful, rude or self-seeking, it is a kind of dying to yourself and your ‘rights.’ But, this is the kind of death that brings life.

Jesus said, “…whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25 (NKJV))

In the narrow sense, this verse refers directly to our commitment to Jesus as Lord, but the scriptures teach us that love for our fellow man is inseperable from love for God. “…he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20 (ESV))

So the real question for Valentine’s Day is this: are you dying daily to yourself to live out Jesus’ love for those around you? If we put you on the scales to measure your love—remembering that “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–6 (ESV))—how would you measure up? Of course you wouldn’t measure up like Mary Poppins, “Practically Perfect in Every Way.” That’s why we need a savior! But still, as one who desires to follow Jesus, how are you doing? It’s a good question to reflect on this Valentine’s Day because it’s a question that leads you toward life, and Jesus came that we might have Life and have it abundantly!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Pastor John