Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It Was A Dark & Foggy Night.....

“If I had known the fog was this bad I would have chosen not to make the trip.” I uttered those words in frustration as I drove through a blinding fog and gale force winds on the journey home from a family gathering. Our pathway was completely obscured at times during the trip because of the dense fog. The adverse conditions made the drive challenging for me, and at times frightening for my family. Fortunately I was able to keep our vehicle in the center of the roadway for the duration of our journey, yet the inability to see the path ahead created such stress that I could not wait for the torturous travel to end.

In the midst of the fog I found myself pondering, how often do we find ourselves travelling through life, frustrated and anxious because of a foggy path? We can easily position ourselves in the middle of God’s will, yet are unable to enjoy the blessings around us because we don’t have clarity regarding the next step. One of the greatest needs of an individual or an organization is clarity.

Clarity of vision and process is invaluable if we are to accomplish our goals, maintain a healthy direction, or keep a proper perspective. A foggy path on an individual level creates a growing sense of uncertainty, but a lack of clear direction on a corporate level will inevitably lead to growing dysfunction and destroy unity. The ability to see the path ahead has to be a priority.
I have discovered that the key factor in providing clarity on a corporate level for the church I am called to pastor or the family that I am responsible to lead is directly affected by the sense of direction I have personally. At the risk of over simplifying, I have to be comfortable in my direction before I can guide others. We live in an increasingly foggy world. Principles and values that were clear just a few years ago are now cluttered and cloudy. So, how do see past the fog?

There is truly no one right answer. However, God has given us several invaluable tools to help us navigate during the fog of life that we will at times encounter. At times the appropriate response is patience, giving time for the clutter to clear. Other situations will require us to step forward in faith, trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide us through the murky moments. Invariably we will discover if we keep our focus on a very clear God, the gifts and fruit of the Spirit will enable us to move forward in the thickest fog.

As my family and I made our way through the mist on traverse through the fog, our challenging journey would have been much more difficult had it not been for clear road markers and strategically positioned reflectors along this otherwise desolate country road. The markings kept us centered and offered direction as made our way home.

We can be confident that God will, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit provide us the road markers and reflectors we need to stay in the center of the path and to make it safely home.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lessons Learned In The History of Economic Crisis

There was a chill in the air on that dreary morning of March 4, 1933. The weather was, in so many ways, a reflection of the state of our nation at the time. A wave of economic difficulty that started with the 1929 stock market crash, known notoriously as “Black Tuesday,” provided a downward spiral that saw our proud nation leave the prosperity of the 1920’s far behind. As our country anticipated the inauguration of its 32nd president, we found ourselves at the lowest point of the Great Depression. Over 13,000,000 were unemployed, few banks remained, and little hope of economic revitalization could be seen.

It was this backdrop that inspired President Roosevelt to offer a depressed nation the following words:

“ I AM certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”

Roosevelt’s inaugural words have endured far beyond the economic challenges of the great depression. They echo the timeless truth from God’s Word written centuries prior by the prophet Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

In the coming days our nation will witness the inauguration of our 44th president, and once again we find ourselves in a period of economic challenge and uncertainty. While it is certainly true that our current financial crisis is nowhere near the severity of that which our nation faced during the great depression, the pressures and anxiety are very real. A quick look at a dwindling 401K or the very real possibility of corporate “downsizing” bring a very natural response of fear. It is in this context that the words of FDR, and more important the truth of scripture ring true: do not be afraid, because there is nothing to fear.

Without proper context these can seem like mere words. And while the beginning of President Roosevelt’s inaugural address is that which is most quoted, it is the end of his speech that offers the lens through which a clear direction can be clearly seen:

In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us. May He guide me in the days to come.

We can be confident that as we seek the wisdom and blessing of God that He will both guide us and provide for us. History is replete with evidences of God’s continual hand upon those who place their trust in Him. Embracing the very real truth that God both keeps His promises and has promised that, as we trust in Him, He will meet our needs is the perfect prescription for the stress our current economy brings.

For most of us the Great Depression is something we know of only through history books and stories shared by loved ones many years our senior. The truth remains that our nation has endured far greater pain before, and God’s people have walked through much larger difficulties in the past. Yet the words of Isaiah have always been true….. and continue to be true today!

Many economists now predict that our economy should begin to improve during the 2nd quarter of 2009. Some would offer that the journey back to financial strength will require much more time. A few would have us believe that we can never recover. For the child of God there is the confidence that, regardless of the economists prediction, we can stand firm in the timeless truth of God’s enduring promises. We truly have nothing to fear.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

From the Inn Keepers Perspective

The story of Jesus' birth fascinates me. If you take the time to get beyond the familiar and truly consider the wonder of this significant moment in history there are so many truly remarkable aspects to God becoming man.

I'd love the opportunity to get beyond the typical church program images and see the Bethlehem miracle through the eyes of those who witnessed it first hand.  While we don't have an "official eyewitness report," a little investigation and a little imagination gives us a wonderful window into the eternity changing drama of the babe born in a manger.  Let's take a look at the story the inn keeper would share:

Bethlehem was in so many ways the typical small town.  We had our share of people born, but all too often they would move away from our small community in search of better jobs and a better life.  Those of us who remained in Bethlehem would occasionally comment that if everyone who was from here had stayed we could compete with some of the larger cities in Judea.  We honestly didn't realize how true that statement was until a decree was issued in Rome that all of Judea was to return to their city of origin for a "tax census."  Our little town was quickly overwhelmed with family, friends, and former neighbors arriving in anticipation of "counting day."

My family and I manage Bethlehem's one Inn.  I love working in hospitality and take great pride in our inn.  It might not be all that one would find in the larger inns in Jerusalem, but it has been a part of my family for several generations, and offers exceptional lodging for our small town.  I typically look forward to serving our guests.  This particular time was, unfortunately, not typical.  The Roman contingent arrived early in preparation of the census and overwhelmed our quaint little inn.  They were arrogant and demanding, constantly complaining about their assignment in Bethlehem, commenting that they wanted to finish quickly and return to the city.

Joseph & Mary arrived at the inn late in the day.  So many of the travelers were irritable from their journey and frustrated with the lack of accommodations in Bethlehem, but this young couple from Nazareth were gracious in their request for lodging, in spite of the fact that Mary was very much with child.  They had a grace about them that made it easy for me to make the extra effort to assure they had a place to rest.  The inn was filled beyond capacity with unruly Romans, but the stable was available and at least it would provide some shelter and a semisoft straw bed.

I helped the young Nazarenes get settled and returned to the inn to respond to any remaining requests, or demands from the  Romans before settling down for a much deserved rest.  It was not long before news came that the mother to be was about to become the mother and child.  I sent my wife to offer assistance in the stable while I finished up with our other guests.  By the time I arrived beside the manger the baby was already there, wrapped in swaddling clothes and sleeping peacefully in the feed trough.  

News of the birth spread quickly, even the shepherds of the temple flock came to see the baby!  The shepherds told of an angelic host who told them the good news of the child.  As the shepherds told the story, Joseph began to wipe away tears.  He then told us of his conversation with  a messenger from Heaven, confirming the Shepherd's story.

I must confess it was initially difficult to believe that the Son of God could be born in my stable.  Surely the coming of the messiah would be more dramatic, accompanied by a worldwide proclamation.  Why would God choose to have his Son born in a simple stable in a small town sharing the news with commoners?  The more I pondered the more I realized that God chose this time and place for the arrival of the Messiah to share the reality that His love includes all of us.  An uncommon birth in a common place to connect with even the most common of people.  The simplicity of it all spoke of the magnitude of God's wisdom, and filled me with a sense of value, knowing that God thought enough of me to include me in His plan.

Our little stable was transformed that night, through the birth of a baby, named Jesus.  The presence of God, the worship of the shepherds, and the hope that the Messiah brought offered common folks like us a moment with the King.

In fact, the Bethlehem miracle is evidence to us all of God's great love and the  lengths to which our Saviour will go to connect with us.  Jesus birth reminds us of the great privilege that is ours to each day have a moment with the King!

May the miracle of Christmas mark your days this Advent season!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Lights

I love Christmas lights~

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The New & Improved 10 Things I Think I Think!

  1. Technology has made our world much closer. Sending text messages on my Iphone in Ecuador while watching major league baseball on ESPN as I am uploading my latest blog entry on my Macbook, how cool is that?
  2. The sound of people genuinely seeking the face of God is the same around the world. God loves that sound.... and so do I.
  3. Smoothie King comes a very close second to Jamba Juice. Jamba Juice will be available in Heaven.
  4. The creativity of God is never more clearly seen than at this time of year. It is truly amazing how God paints the Autumn landscape in such wonderfully vivid colors.
  5. Walmart should not be allowed to put out Christmas displays until they make Christmas M&M's available.
  6. The current political campaign season reflects the great need for a return to common courtesy and mutual respect. The anger in the political commentary is tragic. Come on people, we can have a difference of opinion while maintaining our objectivity. I will still like you even in you vote for _____________ and the democratic/republican party is not demon possessed!
  7. The push to free our country from dependence on oil has far more reaching consequences than most people realize... Golf balls are 90% petroleum based. OPEC must not be allowed to limit production, we must protect Titleist at all costs!
  8. The church is coming into an exciting period. The uncertainty in our economy has people looking for answers that will stand the test of time, and only one answer truly endures... Jesus.
  9. Legislation is desperately needed to limit the lifespan of musical greeting cards. a seemingly harmless song that seems cute the first time the card is opened has the potential to inspire violence when heard for the forty-seventh time. Yes, I do speak from experience.
  10. Life affords me the opportunity to play numerous roles, but my favorite role is Dad. There is no happier time for me than the moments spend with my family and the incredible sense of fulfillment that comes from just one hug!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A View From the Ecuadorian Mountain Tops

A quick log at the clock revealed that it was unbelievably early.  Way too early to be awake.  A pounding headache and clogged sinuses caused my weary body to think otherwise, so there I was thinking how much easier it would be if I were facing sickness at home in my own bed rather than in a hotel in Southern Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil.  I pondered whether or not I could be ready for the full day ahead, wondering if I would have the energy to accomplish all that was on the agenda.  To be perfectly honest, I was feeling a little (well, maybe a lot) sorry for myself.  

The realization came that this was not simply a business trip or a vacation excursion.  My mission here in Ecuador is specific, to meet with the missionary and develop our strategy for a major advancement of Christ's Kingdom.  I was reminded that Kingdom warfare often involves struggle and I should not be surprised that the enemy was attempting to discourage me be throwing sickness at me.  So, if the enemy was going to have me awake at 2 AM, I was determined to "make the most of every opportunity."  A time of prayer and worship brought a sense of peace to both my spirit and body and, understandably, I slept well the rest of the night!

God's Word is true when it declares that all things work together for God for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  Never forget that Satan is a defeated foe!

The weather has turned markedly cooler as the sun sets over Quito.  We have just finished a day of touring the Ecuadorian capital, looking at potential lodging and projects for our 2009 missions trips.  Our prayerful expectation is that "Impact Ecuador '09" will truly impact this amazing South American country.  Please join with us in prayer for this missions initiative.... and let God impress upon your heart to be a part of this great outreach to Ecuador in '09.  I look forward to seeing you in Quito!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Embacing The Energy of Friendship

I am currently spending the week at a retreat center in Northern Minnesota, privileged to be the evening speaker for the Minnesota Special Touch Getaway. Let me offer you a window into my week... and a powerful observation available if you you are willing to take the time for a deeper look.

Even the most casual glance at the group assembled at Lake Geneva Christian Center this week would reveal that it is anything but typical. If one is not careful all that will be seen is the disproportionately large number of wheelchairs and walkers. A little closer observation reveals that in addition to the physical difficulties, a significant number of participants at this getaway face the daily challenge of a wide variety of special needs. It would be easy to stop there, and in so doing come to an incomplete conclusion. Echoing the words of the Apostle Paul, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be opened..." Come with me, let's take a closer look:

Jason and David are engaged in deep conversation, sharing with one another the wonders of God. The conversation is slow, due in large part to Jason's unstable hand as he points to letters on a board to spell each word of his thought. Yet, David is patient, focused on hearing what his friend has to say. He has positioned his wheelchair close to Jason, assuring that he clearly sees each word Jason painstakingly spells out. Sara is having a particularly difficult day. She is quickly offered a hug from Tammy, which leads to a large group hug and a wealth of smiles. A food tray is dropped in the dining hall, and amazingly there is no laughter which is typical of most mishaps at a camp cafeteria, instead individuals quickly rush to give aid.

Friends make their way from one activity to the next hand in hand, each one choosing not to focus on their own life challenges, encouraged by the common bond they share. Instead they find mutual acceptance, mutual support, and mutual strength from one another.

What we discover is a very real picture of God's intent when He declared, "bear one anothers burdens." We witness the power of "encourage one another and build each other up." We realize the impact of "accept one another." A true understanding of true friendship is revealed.

We live in our culture where it is generally unacceptable to reveal our weaknesses. We go to extraordinary lengths to masks our flaws and in so doing create a handicap in one of the key areas of life - relationships.

This amazing group gathered in northern Minnesota this week offers a great lesson to us in overcoming our friendship handicap, in conquering our relationship disabilities. The example they provide in unconditional acceptance and mutual support provides a clear picture of how life should be, could be, if we simply push past our struggles to true friendship.

The picture provided by this amazing group offers a compelling question: what would life be like if we all chose to follow their example and embrace the biblical directives regarding friendship. I think we should give it a try, don't you? :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beyond All Limits

A late night of bingo and bonfires made getting up this morning a challenge. The annoying beep of a cheap alarm clock offered a not so gentle reminder that the day was starting, and if I did not get out of bed it would start without me. My mind quickly cycled through a litany of excuses for staying in bed, and I must admit a few of them sounded pretty good... at least to me.

After a quick shower and a few cookies (the breakfast of champions), I was out the door just in time to see the parade of wheelchairs and walkers pass by. It was time for morning recreation at the Minnesota Special Touch Getaway. This morning's activities included an obstacle course and paintball art. I have been privileged to be a part of numerous getaways with Special Touch, but never cease to be amazed at the truly remarkable ministry.

I could not help but be filled with a sense of wonder as I watched the various guests make their way through the obstacle course constructed out of bales of straw and mattresses. The focus this morning was not on their disability, it was on maximizing their ability. The response of one Sam, one of the guests at the getaway perfectly illustrated the morning. Sam was initially tentative as he began to navigate the obstacle course. He asked for assistance a few times and thought of quitting part way through, but with a little encouragement he finished the course. His broad smile said it all as he raised his arms and exclaimed, "I did it." No Olympian in Beijing had a greater sense of accomplishment than what we witnessed in Sam today. Sam set his own world record this morning. What he initially thought was impossible became a possibility, an insurmountable obstacle was conquered, and a limitation became a liberty.

It makes me ponder, what impossibilities in my life can become possibilities if I simply listen to the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, welcome the help of those around me, and press forward in spite of the anxieties along the way. Scripture is indeed correct when it declares, "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


The national anthem is my musical backdrop as I write this post. Michael Phelps and the American men stand on the podium at the National Aquatic Center in Beijing as their flag is raised celebrating a world record breaking swim in the 400 meter relay.

Earlier today, French team captain Alain Bernard declared that there was no doubt that his team from France would defeat the Americans. He promised a clear cut victory, saying "we will smash the Americans." Bernard now stands beside Phelps on the podium.... although his place is a little lower as the silver medalist.

Shortly after the world record setting swim, Michael Phelps was asked about Bernard's comments. His response, "We determined that we would not respond with words, we would rather offer our answer to Bernard's statement with a statement of our own in the pool.

Proverbs 17 declares, "A man of knowledge uses words with restraint,and a man of under-standing is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

As I ponder these thoughts there is much I could say.... then again, it is probably best if I keep silent (isn't that wise!)


Tuesday, August 5, 2008


I love a good mystery. I grew up on the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and read every Encyclopedia brown book that has been printed. We live in a world that is full of mystery. For example, there is an elite group of men who hold what some would consider lofty positions who make it a point never to travel together because of security reasons. They always make separate arrangements, even if they are going to the same place. If disaster would strike their vehicle or aircraft, at least the others would be alive to carry on their mission, and to protect their secret.

Who are these men and what secret are they keeping? They are the company executives and the chief chemist of a company whose name is known around the world: Coca Cola. What they are protecting is the secret formula for the world’s most popular soft drink. Somewhere in a bank vault in Atlanta, Georgia is a slip of paper with eighteen mostly common ingredients that constitute the famous soda.

Elsewhere, in a heavily armored vault in Lexington, Kentucky is another closely guarded secret: the colonel’s eleven herbs and spices which make up the batter for Kentucky fried chicken, to ensure that vendors don’t know the formula for this celebrated mixture, the secret blend is mixed in two different locations and then combined at a third location with the aid of a sophisticated computer system.

While many are working rather diligently at keeping their secrets, God chooses to reveal His great mysteries to us:

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:2&3

You have a wonderful place to go when you need wisdom and knowledge. You can go to Jesus Christ! Remember that you have been made a co-heir with Christ:“Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” Romans 8:17.

We find great comfort in the truth that all believers can receive God’s wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5. God does not want His will and His wisdom to be inaccessible secrets, but wants to share all that He has with us through Jesus Christ. Most of all, God desires to share His wisdom with us so that we can know Him in a deep and intimate way.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth--in Him.” Ephesians 1:7-10

It is no mystery that God loves us! He has also made known His plan for us as a church. He desires to use us to reveal His wonderful mysteries to the people within our sphere of influence, and ultimately our entire world. Isn’t it great when a mystery is solved!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Staring At The Gas Station Marquis I began to think...

A busy day and evening meetings meant getting home late yesterday. As I pulled out of the church parking lot anxious to finally get home a startling discovery caught my attention, causing me to divert from intended destination. My discovery.... a gas station marquis that displayed a 36 cent rise in gasoline from that morning. My stop... an adjacent gas station who had yet to change their price.

Watching the ever changing prices at our local service stations has quickly become a new national pastime. My daily commute now includes monitoring the several convenience store signs indicating what the going rate is for fuel. As I have watched the pricing trends I have discovered that one gas station in my route is the initiator of the price increases, maintaining their price increase if the other stations follow, retreating if the competition does not join them at the higher price. Last night, this lead station attempted a 36 cent price increase. I was releaved this morning to discover that none of the other stations had followed, causing the rogue gas station to return to the going rate.

While not discounting the myriad of factors that impact the price you and I pay at the pump, watching the pricing patterns in my community has led me to the conclusion that opportunism and greed play a huge role in the meteoric rise of fuel. We've come a long way from those "Andy Griffith" days, when Goober would wash your windshield and offer to check your oil while filling your tank. The service station has been replaced by the convenience store, the friendly gas station attendant has become a computerized gas pump and store clerk behind bullet-proof glass. The price on the pump no longer reflects a fair price for a product, it instead is an attempt to extract the most money possible out of your wallet or bank account.

Which brings me to the heart of the matter. I am convinced that yesterday's attempt by this convenience store owner to raise his gasoline price by 36 cents is a pointed illustration of a character collapse in current culture. Concern for our fellow man (or driver, as the case may be) somehow has been lost in the relentless pursuit of higher profits. All too often the question of what is right is avoided, and replaced by what is tolerable. The answer for the oil crisis in America will not be found in hybrids, biofuels, or drilling in the wilderness of the Alaskan wildlife refuge. Be assured that I am fine with all of those options.... I simply state that a return to the Biblical principle that "honest scales are the Lord's delight" and "be kind and compassionate toward one another" is a critical factor.

Greater character will have greater impact than greater crude oil. Just a thought :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

10 Things I Think I Think!

  1. The people at Panera coat their cinnamon crunch bagel with a secret, yet highly addictive glaze, that should be outlawed. If you have yet to have one of these bagels be forewarned!
  2. Comparing pricing plans from cellphone providers is particularly painful...why does it have to be so difficult?
  3. This could be the year for my lovable losers, the Cubbies to go all the way. I don't know if my heart can take the drama. Why is it never easy with these guys????
  4. Intercessory prayer and fasting is a lost art in contemporary Christianity. Seeking the face of God is the key to the church reaching our potential in Christ.
  5. The Brett Favre story has been so overplayed!
  6. The presidential election this fall will most likely be painful to watch, irregardless of your political preference, the onslaught of campaign comercials and endless media rhetoric is sure to be overwhelming.
  7. The current questionable economy, political uneasiness, and general cultural malaise offers the church a unique, yet short term window to have significant influence if we simply choose to be relevant and active. Christ is the answer that fills the void. The key is to help people get beyond the ignorance and misconceptions of God and His church.
  8. I need to go to Ruth's Chris before there summer special is over... their steak is amazing!
  9. You can not overestimate the power of a hug, or the love of a dog!
  10. You have amazing potential.