Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Strive for the Narrow Door – Part 1 of 4

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In the lead up to the parable of the Narrow Door, Jesus gets away with something I almost never do. He doesn’t answer the man’s question. You can read the account in Luke 13:22-30 (CLICK HERE to read it)
The man asks Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” What do you think was behind that question? I wonder if he is thinking about his odds of being saved.

Monday, August 22, 2016

3 Ways Pokemon GO Provides a Good Example for Christian Life

I will start this blog post with a confession: I have played Pokemon GO. I am not a hardcore hunter of Pokemon by any means, but I have a few in my Pokedex. I will also admit to you that my son and I have specifically gone out driving for no other reason than to hunt Pokemon.

Unless you completely ignore all popular culture and never go to a popular park in your city, you have undoubtedly encountered Pokemon players — people walking through often beautiful spaces such as parks or cities with their faces firmly directed at the screens of their smart phones. These people (the ones playing Pokemon GO, at least) are engaged in three main activities:
  1. Hunting Pokemon
  2. Battling in Pokegyms
  3. Replenishing or gaining new supplies at Pokestops
I think there are some striking parallels between Pokemon GO play and the practice of the Christian faith.

1. Christians Look for Opportunities for Good Works

Real Pokemon GO players have their phones on all the time. Kelly and I were at Cooper’s Hawk doing a wine tasting. I looked at the counter in front of the couple next to us and what do I see? Then gentleman in his late 50s or early 60s has his Pokemon GO app running on his phone.

The scriptures tell us that we are re-created in Christ Jesus for to be a positive and redemptive presence in the world.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” — Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
I think that the way Pokemon GO players keep their phones on all the time can be a good model for Christians to go through each day with our feelers out, looking for opportunities to do good works.

2. Christians Are Prepared for Spiritual Battle

Part of Pokemon GO entails going into Pokegyms and battling other Pokemon. Part of the Christian life is battling evil, a battle that takes place both in the world and inside ourselves. But just as a Pokemon who is unprepared for battle will not do well, so a Christian who doesn’t develop the disciplines and attitudes to engage spiritual battle will likely not do well. Responding to hate with love is not easy! 
Paul writes, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” — Ephesians 6:11 (ESV)

3. Christians Need to Stay Spiritually Charged

Pokestops are the places where Pokemon GO players can get more Pokeballs, along with a host of other things that help them play the game. Christians, too, have spiritual habits that feed the spirit. You could even call them “Godstops” in our lives.\

We pray.
“Pray without ceasing,” — 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)
We study the scriptures.
“Rightly handling the word of truth.” — 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)
We gather for worship and encouragement.
“Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other…” — Hebrews 10:25 (CEV)

Pokemon GO is just a game. But the structure and focus of some people's Pokemon GO play offers a good example to those of us who practice the Christian faith. Imagine going for a walk or drive for no other reason that hoping to find a good work you could do!

What other games, video or otherwise, might offer good examples or parallels to the life of faith?

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Don't Chase the Wind (sermon audio and video from Sunday, July 31, 2016)

In this message, Pastor John ties together lessons for life from Solomon, Jesus and Paul. Solomon, who achieved basically every earthly dream -- money, sex, power, property, security, reputation -- found it empty. Jesus warned us that life does not consist of possessions. And Paul points us the right way by reminding us to set our minds on heavenly things.

VIDEO - "Don't Chase the Wind"

Monday, July 25, 2016

Let God Crack Your Brain Open... Regarding Racism (Audio, Video)

This is the audio and video of the sermon I preached about spiritual growth and letting God crack our brains open. I used racism in our country as an example because my brain has been being cracked open. After the Dallas shooting deaths of five policemen, I overheard a hotel worker saying to her coworker, "Too bad he didn't get more." I was floored. My mind was cracked open.

I encourage you to listen to or watch this sermon. I also encourage you to listen to the podcast linked below. It is an excellent and grace-filled conversation about the racial divide we face. You will not be disappointed that you invested the time in this podcast... and you just might have your brain cracked open a little bit.

VIDEO - click on the picture for YouTube video

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

How to Not Accidentally Teach Your Kids to Lie

Every parent wants to raise his or her children well. When I have explained the possibility of accidentally teaching children to lie, I have seen parent's face light up with recognition. I have seen people place their palms on their cheeks and say, "Oh, my..."

So, how can you accidentally teach your child to lie? Here's a scenario. It may be a little dated for the age of caller ID, but it makes the principle clear.

Mom is in the middle of doing something that mom wants to do when the phone rings. Eight-year-old son picks up the phone and answers it politely. "Hi, Mrs. Jones." Mom's head jerks around and she waves to get son's attention. Then she silently mouths the words, "Tell her I am not home," while waving her hands in front of her to indicate to her son that he should pretend she is not home. This is because, of course, mom does not want to talk to Mrs. Jones for some reason. 

Is this a harmless lie? For mom and Mrs. Jones, it likely will have zero repercussions in the long run. But is it harmless for her son? Not remotely. Let's dig into this a little deeper.

Mom thinks this is a harmless white lie. She doesn't want to talk to Mrs. Jones right now. If son does this, it would not bother mom too much. After all, she does it.

But son has learned a different lesson. Son has learned a broader lesson because son is watching mom for principles for life. Son has learned from mom that small lies are acceptable when the truth is inconvenient or difficult. Son will later on apply this lesson to his communication with mom. Son will ask mom if he can go to the movies with his friends. Mom will say OK and ask what movie son is going to see. Son wants to see an R-rated movie that mom doesn't want him to see. The truth is difficult and why should mom get to decide what movie son gets to see? After all, son is 15 years old and should be able to decide for himself what movies he sees! So son tells mom he is seeing a PG-rated movie that is playing at about the same time in the same movie theater. Son reasons that it's not a big deal because he is not killing anyone or stealing anything. It's a harmless lie because the truth would be inconvenient or difficult... for him.

By telling small lies for her convenience, mom has taught son that this is an ok way to handle life. The problem is that mom only considered her values and priorities about what's ok to lie about but son picked up the principle of lying for convenience. Now that son is older, mom's "petty rules" are quite inconvenient to son's sense of fun so son lies to mom. Son's priorities are different so son applies mom's principle of lying for convenience to his own priorities and values. Mom finds out son lied, punishes him and then in her private time wonders how she raised a son that would lie to his mother's face. But the truth is that she unwittingly taught him to lie to her.

This principle also extends to other leadership relationships. A supervisor who asks his employee to fudge data on a report to a manager has unwittingly taught that employee to lie to him. A mayor who asks her assistant to lie for her has taught her assistant to lie to her.

So what's the solution? The solution is to not lie. "Tell her I'm busy right now and I will call her later" accomplishes the same thing as "Tell her I'm not home," and it has the benefit of being truthful. "I'm busy" is true even if you are busy relaxing on the couch and don't feel like talking. Why we feel compelled to tell "little white lies," and how they damage relationships is a topic for another blog post.

Alternatively, mom could ask son to lie for her and then explain why it's OK in this case but not OK to lie to mom. Good luck with that.

John Rallison blogs on life topics at

Saturday, June 25, 2016

What Are You Called to Do? (Dig Deeper Vidcast/Podcast Bible Study)

As we continue our series on life in ordinary time, one concept to bear in mind is the idea of "vocation." We all have callings in our life. The scriptures tell us we are made by God and re-made in Jesus Christ for God's good and creative work. Contemplate this for a few minutes in this edition of Dig Deeper. Pastor John ends with one three-levelled process for considering if you might be being called to do something or stop doing something.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Release - Letting Go of the Past and the Future to Live in the Present (sermon audio/video/printables)

Things we have done or things that have been done to us can feel like a weight we are dragging through time. Worries over the future can feel like breathing stuffy air under a blanket. True freedom in Christ is found by living in the present — letting the past go as forgiven and redeemed while entrusting the unknowable future to the hands of the loving creator of all.

Sermon Handout PDF
Audio (stream/download/podcast)

YouTube Video

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Want To Be Happier? Science Says Practice Gratitude

Alice Walker, author of "The Color Purple," once wrote, "'Thank you' is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, and understanding."

Just as science has been confirming the health benefits of forgiveness (see my blog post: A Simple Habit for a Longer, Healthier Life), research continues to support another practice long encouraged in my own Christian spiritual tradition: gratitude. Importantly, the research points to a practice of gratitude, not simply some amorphous attitude of gratitude. More on that shortly.

In one study by Dr. Robert A. Emmons (University of California, Davis) and Dr. Michael E McCullough (University of Miami), participants were asked to write a few sentences each week focusing on the following topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had happened. A second group wrote about irritations or things that had displeased them. A third group wrote about things that had affected them without emphasizing the positive or negative aspects. After 10 weeks, those who wrote about things they were thankful for reported feeling more optimistic and better about their lives. As an unexpected byproduct, they also reported exercising more and visiting their doctor less than those who had written about irritations and displeasing incidents. (See a more detailed summary here.)

In a study of couples reported in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but, surprisingly, also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship. See the referenced edition of The Harvard Mental Health Letter for more interesting research on gratitude. published an article listing seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude (see it here): 1) Gratitude opens the door to more relationships; 2) Gratitude improves physical health; 3) Gratitude improves psychological health; 4) Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression; 5) Grateful people sleep better; 6) Gratitude improves self-esteem; and 7) Gratitude increases mental strength.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, researcher Dr. Brene Brown writes, "When it comes to gratitude, the word that jumped out at me throughout this research process is practice." "Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice." "People were quick to point out the differences between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected."

Dr. Brown likens the difference between a gratitude attitude and practice to the difference between a yoga attitude and practice. One can have a yoga attitude (mindfulness, presence, body-mind-spirit interconnectedness, etc.) and even own yoga pants, but the difference comes when you put on the yoga pants and spend time doing yoga. Her research discovered gratitude practices such as keeping a gratitude journal, doing daily gratitude meditations or prayers, creating gratitude art, and even stopping during the day to say out loud, "I am grateful for..." Dr. Brown concludes, "It seems that gratitude without practice may be a little like faith without works — it's not alive."

Intuitively, one might think that happier and healthier people are more thankful. But it turns out that the reverse is true: thankful people are happier and healthier. This is good news because it means you have a choice you can make today that will lead to a happier healthier life. Choose to practice gratitude.

Here are 11 ways to include gratitude as a regular practice in your life. Choose one. Practice it for two weeks and see if you don't notice the difference.
  1. Keep a gratitude journal. (This seems to be a popular one, but I have never been able to successfully keep a journal about anything for very long!)
  2. Thank/compliment someone specifically every day.
  3. Use a gratitude jar. On slips of paper, write something every day that you are grateful for. When you are feeling a little bitter, open the jar and remind yourself of all you have to be thankful for. You can also make this into a relational game with family or friends. Fill the gratitude jar as a family. At the end of a week or two, read the slips of paper one at a time and try to guess who is thankful for what.
  4. Intentionally avoid starting any conversation with a complaint.
  5. When a complaining thought pops into your head, counter it with a grateful thought.
  6. Use “what can I learn?” when confronted with difficult situations or people. Most of our real learning comes through struggle and difficulty. So when that comes, ask, "What can I learn?" and be grateful for the opportunity.
  7. Take a gratitude walk, noticing things with amazement and beauty.
  8. Have intentional gratitude conversation (perhaps at meals?).
  9. Thank people in service jobs (e.g. cashiers, waiters, etc.).
  10. Make/display gratitude art.
  11. Pray or meditate, visualizing things for which you are thankful.
As for me? I'm thankful you read this far and I'm grateful for the opportunity to help other people through writing!
John Rallison is the pastor of Journey of Life Lutheran Church, celebrating 11 years in Lake Nona. You can hear or watch his recent sermon on gratitude by visiting

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Friday, May 27, 2016

To Live Longer Healthy Happier, Learn to Forgive

"Bitterness is a poison you swallow hoping someone else gets sick."

I don't know who said this, but it's true. When you hold onto hurt — when you refuse to forgive — you are the one you are hurting. This has been a spiritual truth for millennia. More recently it has become a scientifically demonstrated truth, as well.

A study entitled, "Forgive to Live," published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine involving 1,500 adults ages 66 or over demonstrated that those who practiced "conditional forgiveness" — meaning that they would not forgive others until they apologized or promised not to do it again — died earlier than those who scored low on the conditional forgiveness scale. This is consistent with a growing body of research demonstrating positive mental and physical health effects associated with forgiveness.

"But, what about...?"

Nope. No buts. "But" is a conditional forgiveness word that apparently can decrease your lifespan. Before you throw in the towel and resign yourself to an early death because of what someone said or did to you, let's tease apart the general idea of forgiveness into two components: forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation are often thought of together because they often happen together. But they are two different steps. 

Reconciliation is about restoring the broken relationship between the people involved. And, most importantly for our discussion, reconciliation depends on the willingness and ability of everyone involved. There's the rub. Sometimes reconciliation is not possible. The other person may need more time. The other person may neither desire nor care about reconciling. The other person may have died (this happens especially with parents). In many cases, reconciliation simply is not an option. That's why it is important to see forgiveness as a separate issue. 

The difference is this: reconciliation is about "us" while forgiveness is about "me." Separating forgiveness and reconciliation in your mind will free you to forgive in ways and times you may never have thought possible.

Merriam-Webster's first definition of forgiveness is not so helpful: "to stop feeling anger toward someone." Have you ever tried to just stop being angry? How'd that work out? Not so hot, eh? Yeah, me, neither.

Here is the best definition of forgiveness I have ever read: "give up your right to get even." 

Retribution is so natural to the human condition. If you say something hurtful, I say something hurtful back. If you hit me, I hit you. If you break something of mine, I break something of yours. It even seems like justice. But the research indicates that retribution and withholding forgiveness until reconciliation can be achieved is bad for you.

The good news is that "give up your right to get even" is something you can do choose to do. If you've been hurt deeply, it will likely be a choice you have to make over and over. But, unlike "stop being angry," "give up your right to get even" is a choice you can make. 

It's also a general attitude you can cultivate that will significantly decrease negative emotions in your life. Imagine the day when someone wrongs you and your natural response is to wonder what is going on with them rather than thinking about how to get back at them. This may seem far-fetched, but the more you live into the notion that forgiveness is only about you and how you relate to others, the more natural it will become.

The Mayo Clinic, in an article entitled, "Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness," (jump to May Clinic article) asserts that forgiveness can lead to:
  • Healthier relationships
  • Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Higher self-esteem
WebMD also has a great article (jump to WebMD article).

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. Who could actually forget some of the really major hurts of their life?

Forgiving does not mean pretending nothing happened (nor does reconciling). Quite the opposite. When you make the decision to forgive, the underlying presupposition of that decision is that you have been hurt and need to consciously decide to forgive.

Forgiving does not necessarily mean no consequences for the other person. Full reconciliation often includes compensation for wrongs done. You might choose to release the other person from the consequences, but that is a separate issue from forgiveness.

Forgiving is simply giving up your right to get even. You can choose forgiveness with regard to individual situations. You can develop forgiveness as a life attitude that flows from you as a natural reaction. And forgiveness will even contribute to a healthier, longer life.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Dig Deeper into Jesus' Parables that End in Judgment

For the church I pastor, I do these weekly "Dig Deeper" Bible studies as a way for people to dig more deeply into the topic of the Sunday sermon.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Free, Scientifically Proven Way to Be Physically Healthier and Feel Better about Life

There is a scenario tossed around occasionally about scientists doggedly slugging their way up the mountain of reality by experimentation on testable hypotheses only to find, when they reach the top, the theologians are sitting up there having tea.

That's certainly not going to happen with every religious belief or practice. However, an increasing body of scientific evidence is pointing to the mental and physical health benefits of an ancient practice that is found in many of the world's religions: meditation.

Stop! Don't leave! I'm not suggesting you wear beads and sit cross-legged in the forest chanting, "Om." Give me another moment to present the evidence and explain the practice before you reject this blog as hazy unrealistic spiritualism.

Depending on your faith or worldview, there might be specific ways for you to practice meditation, but the basic practice of meditation is available to everyone from Atheists to Zoroastrians. At the end of this blog I will give you a link to a powerful, simple, free resource to help you get started if you are willing to at least give it a shot. Somewhat ironically, it is a cell phone app (they also have a web site version).

My personal experience is that when I have taken time to meditate, my outlook on my whole day... really my whole life... is subtly changed for the better. I find myself living with a calmer spirit, an increased sense of gratitude, greater hopefulness and a positive feeling of being able to handle the challenges life throws my way.

Setting the religious elements aside, meditation is essentially about practicing mental focus. Our minds are active travelers through time and space. We spend time reliving the past and rehearsing various possible futures. We think about what is going on in places we are not. The Mayo Clinic (might as well start with the big guns!) describes meditation as a time when "you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being." (This article on their web site is a good overview.)

Obviously there is a ton of information available in the internet so, beyond my personal testimony and the endorsement of the Mayo Clinic, I'm going to give you a short bullet list of the benefits of meditation with each item linked to its source. Note that these are all practical, evidence-based, non-religious/spiritual web sites.

  • physically changes your brain in positive ways, including reducing depression and anxiety. (Click here for article on
  • builds resilience, boosts emotional intelligence, enhances creativity, improves relationships, increases focus. (Click here for article in Harvard Business Review)
  • can help relieve the symptoms of chronic pain. (Click here for article in Massachusetts Institute of Technology News)
  • may reduce the degradation of our telomeres (the end caps of DNA) that happens with age and can be accelerated by chronic stress. (Click here for video on
  • boosts your health, happiness, social life, self-control, and productivity along with keeping you real and making you wiser. (Click here for article in Psychology Today, with links)
Wow! That's quite a list! And meditation can produce the great effects listed above without the side-effects of pharmaceuticals. (Drugs, of course, have their place. I won't be trying to meditate my way through a root canal!)

So, if you are game, here's the free app. It's called, "Calm." It is available for both Android and iOS. Their web site is and works just like their apps. They have a paid subscription that unlocks more content, but you don't need it.

In the most basic form of meditation, the meditator sits in a comfortable but alert posture (think sitting up straight in a chair with the hands resting in the lap), closes her eyes and breathes in a slow, steady, natural way. Then meditator focuses her mind simply on the sensations associated with the breathe moving in and out of her body. When the mind wanders, the meditator gently and nonjudgmentally returns the focus of the mind to the breath. It's important to use some kind of timer so you don't end up worrying about how much time you are spending meditating. :) 

The advantage of using the app/web site over simply trying to meditate on your own is that the app/web site offers background sounds and guided meditations of various types. This can be extraordinarily helpful for beginners. It was for me (and still is). The app/web site lets you to select from a variety of guided meditations (none oriented to a specific faith or worldview) and background audio (including nature sounds and soft music). You can also use just the background audio with the timer function without the peaceful voice guidance.

I sometimes repeat a short mantra that focuses me on life as I think God is calling me to live it according to my Christian faith: "I am here. I am now. I am loved. And I love." I say these phrases silently in slow rhythm as I breathe in and out, focusing on being just where I am at that moment in space and time.

I offer you both my personal testimony and the scientific evidence for the power of meditation to positively affect your life in both mind and body. I hope you'll try it.

NOTE: I am not affiliated with Calm in any way. I don't receive any compensation for recommending the app other than the intangible benefits of helping other people by recommending something that has made a difference in my life.

If this post is helpful be a good friend to your friends and share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter or whatever other social media you use.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Be Careful or You'll End Up Going to Abilene

My wife, Kelly, and I went to Abilene a couple of years ago when I drove to Sea World to pick up our daughter from camp one afternoon. Thinking that Kelly might like a break from this 90 minute drive, I suggested that I pick up our daughter that day. Just to make sure Kelly didn't feel guilty for my taking the trip, I told her that I had a new audio book I wanted to listen to. She said that sounded good to her.

Later that evening I was feeling a little grumpy because I didn't have the most productive day of my life. Looking for a place to land, the grumpy feeling landed on my "putting myself out" to go pick up our daughter from camp. In the process of conversation, I discovered that Kelly had actually wanted to go pick up our daughter that day but, given the way I talked about listening to a new audio book, she thought I really wanted to make the drive. So she had kindly put her wishes aside without telling me what she was really feeling.

I had interrupted my workday to do my wife a favor that she didn't want done. She lovingly put her desires aside to let me do something that I didn't really want to do in the first place.

That's a classic trip to Abilene.

The Abilene Paradox takes its name from an anecdote told by management expert Jerry B. Harvey about a family playing dominoes on the front porch. One person offers the suggestion that they drive to Abilene for dinner. He is not suggesting this because he wants to. He's just afraid other people might be bored. One by one, all four people agree. They make the trip to Abilene (53 miles, no A/C) which, it turns out, nobody actually wanted to do.

Wikipedia has a nice, concise definition of the Abilene Paradox:
The Abilene paradox is a paradox in which a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of any of the individuals in the group. It involves a common breakdown of group communication in which each member mistakenly believes that their own preferences are counter to the group's and, therefore, does not raise objections. A common phrase relating to the Abilene paradox is a desire to not "rock the boat". (Click here for the Wikipedia article.)
The Abilene Paradox is about managing agreement. A group of kind, generous, responsive people can end up doing something nobody wants or something nobody thinks is a good idea if they don't properly manage their agreement because they are all caring for each other without knowing each other's true thoughts and feelings. The members of the group are all agreeing with what they think the desires of the other members are.

People take trips to Abilene all the time. Kelly and I almost went to Abilene a second time that same day! I was planning on a walk late at night after everyone had gone to bed. I would rather walk earlier in the evening, but I thought I was doing Kelly a favor by going out after my help was no longer needed for children's bedtimes, etc. This time we talked. It turns out that my walking late at night was actually making her nervous. She doesn't like me going for late walks and she doesn't like going to sleep without me home. Whew! We avoided a second trip to Abilene... by talking.

Talking is the secret. Honest talking. When we agree with others because of what we think they want, we risk going to Abilene. You know the old adage about assuming: when you "assume" you make an "ass" out of "u" and "me." What could be more asinine than a couple or a group of people doing what nobody wants to do because nobody wants to say what they really think? Read the actual anecdote below and you will see how easy it is to go to Abilene – somewhere nobody actually wants to go! – if everyone is just trying to get along. 

The choice is yours: be courageous enough to share your actual thoughts and encourage others to do the same or hop in the car and head for Abilene. 

I did end up going for my late night walk. But Kelly and I had spoken kindly and honestly with each other, so we didn't go anywhere near Abilene.

(NOTE: This is an edited repost from 2013)

excerpted from Wikipedia: The Abilene Paradox

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, "Sounds like a great idea." The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, "Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go." The mother-in-law then says, "Of course I want to go. I haven't been to Abilene in a long time."

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, "It was a great trip, wasn't it?" The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, "I wasn't delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you." The wife says, "I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that." The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Jesus' Last Word: Tetelestai, "It Is Finished"

Our readings for this Good Friday service are drawn from the Gospel according to Luke. John, for some reason, records a word of Jesus that Luke did not record: tetelestai – It is finished.

John 19:28–30 (ESV) “28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

The word “Tetelestai,” “It is finished,” begs a question: “What is finished?”

The thing finished – the referent of the pronoun, “it,” for you grammarians – started a long time time ago,  moments after the world fell into sin. Two readings from Genesis will suffice to summarize the story for this meditation.

Genesis 2:16–17 (ESV) “16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.””

Genesis 3:6–7 (ESV) “6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

Everything that steals our joy entered into the world the moment mankind listened to Satan, the adversary, the accuser, and turned away from God’s instructions. It all comes down to death, the death of a right relationship with God, the source of life. We all know its symptoms: shame, fear, rage, sorrow, apathy, grief, cruelty, selfishness, depression, judgment, confusion, loneliness, anxiety. These were not meant to be part of the human experience but when death came it brought a whole host of pain in its wake.

Adam & Eve’s decision to distrust God calls to mind Proverbs 14:12 – “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

Jesus said, “Tetelestai” – It is finished. So what is finished? The crushing of Satan’s head. The adversary is undone.  The prophecy given immediately following Adam & Eve’s foolish decision told us that this disaster would be overturned:

Genesis 3:15 (ESV) “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Now, Jesus says the word from the cross that we contemplate this evening: “tetelestai” – It is finished. Satan was crushed. The power of Satan’s work was undone by God himself entering into death to break its bonds.

The book of Hebrews puts the whole story in a nutshell.

Hebrews 2:14–15 (ESV) “14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

The restoration has begun. It begins not in the power structures of the world, but in the hearts of people who are willing to trust Jesus. It begins when we accept God’s perspective on ourselves: that we are his dearly beloved and we are worth dying for. As we see Jesus die, know that he would do it again, for you, for me.

To think of the cross as primarily pointing to our sin is to miss the main point of the cross. The parables Jesus told describing the kingdom of God were not about heinous torture willingly endured. They were about fathers who love their children and long to see them home. They were about kings and nobles who want their feasting halls filled. They were about shepherds searching for lost sheep and people finding great treasure.

Jesus died to set us free from the natural consequences of sin, not to strangle us in chords of guilt and shame. While it may be appropriate to spend a moment contemplating the depth of our sin as displayed on the cross, it is crucial that we see the depth of God’s love and God’s desire for our redemption in the cross.

Tetelestai. It is finished. God has showed us his love for us. “Greater love has no man than that he gives up his life for his friends.” God cannot show love for us in any greater way. It is finished. Satan is conquered.

The question for those looking at the cross is, “Will you receive it?” Will you take for yourself God’s view of you, that you are worth dying for? All that needs doing for you to be reconciled to God has been done by Jesus Christ. Tetelestai. It is finished.

There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you could do that would make God love you less.

Will you trust that word of Jesus from the cross, tetelestai, when the attacks of the vanquished enemy, Satan, come upon you? Each time feel the onslaught of shame, fear, rage, sorrow, apathy, grief, cruelty, selfishness, depression, judgment, confusion, loneliness, anxiety and the like, will you look again at the cross to see your own infinite value to the creator of the universe?

Will you let Christ’s finished work do its work on you?

Paul describes the continuing task of our lives in this way to the Christians in Rome:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2)

Look at the cross. See the love. Let it move you. Let it transform how you think of yourself, how you think of others, how you think of the world, and how you think about how to love others as Christ has loved us.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Humble Alarm - A great tool for focus, productivity, creativity and joy

There are all sorts of wonderful time management systems and programs to help you organize your life and keep moving in the direction you want. But the humble alarm has, perhaps, the greatest value in helping you use your time in a focused and productive way.

We all have limited time available. Most of us have enough to do that we have to schedule our day. We have a certain amount of time for exercise, prayer, getting the kids off to school, before a particular appointment at work, before dinner, etc. The result is that while we are doing all the things we need to do our minds are subtly watching the clock. It's like a background process on your cell phone that is always running and using up your battery even though you never see it.

Setting an alarm will change all that. Of course you can keep track of the time, but why should you use up the tremendous creative and productive power of your brain for something so mundane? If you have ever checked the clock while you are working on a project, then your brain is running its time-keeping app in the background and sapping some of your creative energy. (This doesn't apply if you are working toward a hard deadline for completing a project, of course.) If you have noticed that you keep an eye on the clock when you are playing with your kids, then your brain is running its time-keeping app in the background and subtly distracting you from being fully engaged with your children. If you take time to read/pray/journal/meditate and check the clock in the middle of your time... well, you get the idea. Executives with personal secretaries do this all the time: "Don't disturb me for the next 90 minutes unless it's an emergency."

Setting an alarm frees your mind to focus on the task at hand. Setting an alarm frees you to fully give yourself to whatever you are doing. Setting an alarm can help you minimize distraction. Setting an alarm will help to maximize the focus and creativity you can direct at whatever you're are doing from playing to working to praying.

Setting an alarm frees you to be more fully in the moment if you have a schedule to keep.

Alarms aren't for every task. When you do use an alarm, it can either be setting aside a block of time (like the executive's 90 minutes mentioned above) or an alarm to make sure you stop in time for the next thing you have to do.

If you start setting alarms, I bet you will find yourself much more fully in the moment. You will be immersed in the task at hand, present for the energy, creativity and joy that come with undistracted engagement.

Instead of watching the clock, set an alarm and forget about the time altogether. Try it and see.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dig Deeper Audio/Video Bible Study - "Ecclesia - Church"

In this episode of Dig Deeper, we continue our series "7 Greek Words Every Christian Should Know" with the word "Ecclesia," which is the word translated as "church" in most English versions. By the end of this study you will see that "church" doesn't have to do with buildings at all, except insofar as they serve the needs and mission of the ecclesia.

CLICK HERE for the audio version of this Dig Deeper Bible study

Or click the image below for the YouTube video version of this Dig Deeper Bible study

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Dig Deeper Bible Study on "hagios/holy"

In this Dig Deeper Bible Study, we look into the Greek word, "Hagios," which means, "holy." This is part 3 of the 7 part series: Seven Greek Words Every Christian Should Know

CLICK HERE to listen to or download an MP3 audio only version

Click the image below to view the video version of this Dig Deeper Bible study on YouTube.

Which Pixar character is Donald Trump?

I have strong political feelings, but I rarely comment on them, especially when it concerns people. I like recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia's maxim: "I attack ideas not people." But people get elected and so occasionally commenting on a person is part of the process in our country. Here's my comment for today:

I think I found Donald Trump in the Pixar movie, "Up!" Tell me what you think.

I think a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for an unprincipled do-whatever-it-takes bully, a guy who admittedly has given lots of money to both political parties because it buys him access. Do you think someone who buys access isn't going to sell access? Do you think someone who uses eminent domain to force people off their property for the sake of his development efforts is going to be the champion of the little guy once he is elected?

I understand that there is a great deal of anger out there on the part of conservatives, libertarians, constitutional originalists and the like. It seems like no leader is fighting the socialist trends you fear. But do you think Donald Trump is really conservative or just tapping into that frustration? Do you think Donald Trump is really a champion of individual liberty or he is just tapping into that frustration. Do you think Donald Trump really respects and reveres the principles of our constitution or do you think he is just tapping into that anger? I think he is none of those things and just recognizes the opportunity that is presenting itself.

The developer in "Up!" saw the opportunity to get Carl's property for his building project by having Carl committed to an institution after Carl briefly lost his temper when the construction crew damaged a mailbox his deceased wife had painted. It was all an accident, but the circumstances were irrelevant to the developer. He found a way to get what he wanted, so he took it. He was a winner.

I, myself, lean to the conservative, libertarian, constitutional originalist side of politics, though I think there is a middle ground to be sought for a compassionate society.

But I think a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for the guy who took Carl's home.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Vidcast/Podcast Bible study on "Adiaphora: Things Neither Commanded Nor Forbidden."

In this Dig Deeper Bible Study, we look into the Greek word, "Adiaphora," which means, "things neither commanded nor forbidden. This is part 2 of the 7 part series: Seven Greek Words Every Christian Should Know.


YouTube Video:

Three Programs Every Non-techie Needs to Have and Use on their Computer

I am not a tech blogger. But I am technically proficient and get asked for help on a fairly regular basis. I was recently asked to help a friend who has ads beginning to appear on her computer. I wrote her an email describing three free programs that I think everyone should have and how to use them. It seemed useful enough that I decided to post it to my blog. Perhaps it will help you.

Dear <friend>,

First, install antivirus software on your computer. You don't need to pay for it unless you want extra bells and whistles (e.g. you can schedule a scan instead of always having to initiate it manually). I never pay for them because they work all the time in the background and and I don't need the extra stuff. There are several good programs out there. I have been using AVG Antivirus and it seems good to me. Follow this link to download and install AVG Antivirus. After you install the free version, it should ask if you want to run a complete scan. Do it. If it doesn't ask you, do it anyway. It should be fairly obvious how to do it. It may takes some time. After that, AVG will keep protecting you. Occasionally scanning your whole computer is a good idea, in case something sneaks in somehow.

Second, install a program called Malwarebytes. Follow this link to download and install the program: Again, the free one is fine unless you want the automated features (e.g. automatic upgrades instead of you having to click a couple of times when it tells you it needs an upgrade). Once installed, run the most thorough scan you can. It may take some time. After that, Malwarebytes will keep an eye on things.

The third program I am going to tell you about is simply to keep your computer running better. It's called CCleaner. Like the others, there is a free version and a paid version. You only need the free version. This program will do several things for you... and do them simply and well. When you install it, it may ask you if you want to add a CCleaner option to your trash can menu (or something like that). I suggest you do it because it makes it easy to find and use. Once it's installed, you can right-click on the trash can to bring up a contextual menu and CCleaner will be right there. There are two options: 1) Open CCleaner and 2) Run CCleaner. I don't ever use "Run CCleaner" because that is the automatic junk cleaning routine and I'm a control freak about what goes on in my computer. It may be the perfect thing for you. If you choose "Open CCleaner," you will see several options. This is what they do and how to use them:
  • Cleaner - this will clean out all your junk files which can use up hard drive space and really slow down your computer if you start to get a lot of them (things like pictures on web sites can get saved on your computer without you knowing it in a place called the 'cache.' That's why web sites often seem to open so much faster after the first time you visit them... because much of the web site is already on your hard drive. You can run this as is or you can customize what you want deleted and what you don't. I typically uncheck the 'cookies' box because cookie files are what web sites use to store your data about you. So if you like web sites remembering you, don't delete the cookies. That being said, many cookie files are ad and click tracking files to track what you've clicked on. (Ever notice that your FB ads change based on what you've been shopping for?)
  • Registry - Registry files are basically cross-reference files that your computer uses. Over time computers can build up a ton of extra registry files that it doesn't need. This, of course, can slow down your computer. You can safely use this module without any worry of causing harm to your computer. Just click 'analyze' and let it run. The first time you do it, it may take some time and find an awful lot of files. When it is done, click 'fix selected issues." Fix all the issues. It will as you if you want to save a registry backup. You probably should, just in case. But I've never had to use one. Make a folder called Registry Backups somewhere on your hard drive and put the backups in there each time you run the registry module on CCleaner. (every few months at random is fine... or whenever you feel like your computer is starting to act up a bit).
  • You can use "tools" and the other things, but I'm not going to explain how because you should learn yourself or you shouldn't mess with them. They are not complicated, but some options could cause problems (for instance, if you disable or delete a startup program that you need).

I hope this helps somebody. And if you are reading this and have commentary or better suggestions, by all means post 'em! I am proficient but no expert and am always willing to learn.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

30 Minute Video (or audio) Lesson on Jesus Rejected in his Hometown (Luke 4:11-30)

A 30 minute online Bible study on Jesus being rejected by the people of his home town, Nazareth. Grab a cup of coffee, relax, and learn something for the next 30 minutes.

YouTube video:

Audio Podcast:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

45 minute video lesson on the Wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11

This audio/video presentation is similar in content to the Bible study on John 2:1-11 except that it contains a great deal more info. If you prefer your information presented to you, this is the resource for you.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Commentary & Bible Study on JOHN 2:1-12 (Horrible typo in main Bible reference in blog. Sorry.)

  1. Do you like weddings? Why or why not?
  2. Read Luke John 2:1-12
  3. CANA: Cana is in the vicinity of Nazareth, Jesus’ home town. While the location of Cana is not definitively known, you can see from the map below that it is no more than about 7 miles from Nazareth, about 2.5 hours walk (close enough that visiting for one day is not unreasonable). 

  4. WEDDINGS: Weddings at this time were huge community affairs. The couple would be betrothed (a legally binding contract) while physical consummation was reserved for the wedding night. On the day/evening of the wedding, the groom would begin at his or his parents’ home and walk through the town to get his bride. Friends and family would be waiting along the way to join him. This would be a loud and joyful party with singing. The groom would get the bride from her home and they would walk back in a procession of ever growing numbers back to the groom’s (or groom’s parents’) home for the wedding ceremony. The couple would have a place of honor under a canopy during the wedding banquet after which they would depart physically consummate their marriage while the party went on. They would return and the party would continue. The wedding feast would last up to 7 days. More distant relatives and friends might leave early, but the close relatives and friends would stay for the entire 7 day feast. It was a great disgrace to not provide full and gracious hospitality during the wedding feast, in some writings likened to thievery.
  5. Read a prophecy about the restoration of Israel in Amos 9:11-15 and note how wine fits into this prophecy.
  6. “THEY HAVE NO WINE” Why does Jesus choose to intervene? Here are three possible forces at play. Which do you think was the strongest? 
    1. The host would be disgraced. 
    2. The feast would end early. 
    3. His mom asked him to.
  7. What do you think of Jesus’ reaction to his mother? (You might want to read Jesus’ Parable of the Two Sons recorded in Matthew 21:28-32).
  8. Mary seems to assume that Jesus will respect her wishes even though he is a 30 year old male rabbi with a cadre of disciples. What does this tell us about Jesus’ relationship with his mother? Does this tell us anything about the commandment to “Honor your father and mother.”?
  9. There may be some symbolism in the six stone jars to be filled with water. Recall that water is the substance over which the Spirit of God hovers in Genesis 1:2 before creation begins. Then, in six days, creation is complete. Wine could be considered a “completed creation” product because a) it requires human involvement in its production, b) it is for enjoyment of man, and c) it is a feast drink, when the work is done. This also fits in with verse 11 of our text, where John writes that this is the “first” of Jesus’ signs. John labels another miracle the “second sign” (see John 4:54). Scholars have speculated that John constructed his Gospel around seven signs to indicate Jesus’ divinity in a literary way. The seven signs (in one view) end with the resurrection of Lazarus. The signs are, in order:
    1. Changing water into wine in John 2:1-11
    2. Healing the royal official's son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54
    3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-18
    4. Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14
    5. Jesus' walk on water in John 6:16-24
    6. Healing the man born blind in John 9:1-7
    7. Raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45
  10. The text indicates that the wine Jesus made was consider by the master of the feast (who could certainly discern good wine from bad) to be excellent, the best wine of the feast. What might this teach us about God’s gifts and his desire for us?
  11. MANIFESTED HIS GLORY: “Manifest,” as a verb, means to “display or show (a quality or feeling) by one's acts or appearance; demonstrate.” What does this miracle show to you about Jesus?
  12. What else struck you?
  13. Close with prayer.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bible Study on Luke 3:15-22

  1. First (if you are doing this study soon after), how was your Christmas? Share a special moment, a surprise, or just something that you enjoyed.
  2. Do you have godparents and how, if at all, are they involved in your life today?
  3. Read Luke 3:15-22
  4. In verse 15, do the people know who they are looking for or understand what they are looking for when they are looking for the Christ?
    1. Note: The word, “Christ,” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word, “Messiah.” A “messiah” is an anointed one, “a person having sacred oil poured ceremonially on one’s head, and so become a person with special authority and function, with the implication of one having the choice and approval of God”[1] The pouring of oil is secondary to the being called of God for a special purpose. Look up the following verses to see uses of the word, “messiah,” in lower context than the ultimate messiah, Jesus of Nazareth:
    2. Leviticus 4:3, a priest is called the “anointed.” This is the Hebrew word, “messiah”
    3. Isaiah 45:1, the Assyrian king, Cyrus, is called the Lord’s anointed. Again, the Hebrew word here is “messiah.”
    4. Psalm 2:2, apparently a prophecy about the messiah who would rule the world.
    5. Acts 2:36, Christians see Jesus’ resurrection as proof that he is, indeed, the “anointed one,” the One set apart by God for special authority and function.
  5. In verse 16, how would you say John perceived the coming Christ? 
    1. For a more detailed account of Jesus’ baptism, including John’s understanding of his role and how he would identify the messiah, read John 1:19-34.
  6. In verse 16, John says the messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
    1. “Baptism” is a ritual cleansing (with water). What do you think John means by saying the messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire?
  7. What kind of activity is symbolized in verse 17?
    1. Verse 17 uses details that would be very familiar to an average person in Jesus’ day. A “winnowing fork” is basically a pitch fork. A “threshing floor” is “a surface of hard dirt or stone, for beating or trampling grain heads.”[2] Trampling the grain breaks the chaff loose. The chaff is the light outer husk of the grain, similar to the thin outer skin of a peanut. After threshing, the grain is tossed into the air with the winnowing fork. The heavier heads of grain fall back to the floor while the light chaff is blown away.
  8. Verse 18 calls John’s message “good news.” How do you understand baptism with fire and threshing to be good news?
    1. It may be helpful to remember that the Promised Land was, at this point, occupied by the Romans. Also, the central narrative of Jewish life is the Exodus, celebrated every year at Passover.
  9. Verses 19-20 are a flash-forward (as opposed to a “flashback”). The Gospel of Luke was probably composed around AD60. These verses are the Luke’s parenthetical comment about what Herod did later.
  10. In verse 21-22, who is Jesus baptized with? What unique thing happens to Jesus?
  11. What else strikes you in this passage?
  12. Close with prayer.
[1] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[2] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.