Category Archives: Spiritual life

The Good Shepherd, Part 2 (John 11)

We’ve got to learn to live backwards. That is, we need to learn to live out of our future and not just out of our past. Most people are driven by the unalterable past into an unknowable future, but Jesus’s people can be pulled into the future by the call of the knowable – though always more than comprehensible – God.
People who are driven by the unalterable past are frequently filled with regrets over former days and fears over future ones. They are haunted by would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves and threatened by might-be and could-be possibilities. Only people who learn from Jesus how to live out of the future can be fully alive in the present.
That future can be summed up in a word. No, it’s not “heaven”; it’s “resurrection.” Continue reading

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I AM the Resurrection and the Life

I love books and libraries and bookstores – especially used book stores. I like the feel of uncoated paper against my fingertips and the smell of old leather covers that linger in the air.

I have been helped in my life as a disciple of Jesus more than I can say by books. A.W. Tozer was my guide, as was A. B. Simpson. The unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing, William Law, Brother Lawrence, Julian of Norwich, F. B Meyer, Andrew Murray – how they all helped me. C. S. Lewis rose through the clouds like the sun after a storm. Chesterton, Kreeft, Williams, Willard, Foster, Wright – the names go on and on.

I have learned much from these people – my debt to them is too great ever to repay. But all those who have helped me most have helped by bringing me into an encounter with Jesus, not just an idea. Books and authors, as much as I treasure them, are not and can never be a substitute for Jesus. At their best, they lead to an encounter with the real Jesus is real life.

Real life – our real life, with all its joys and sorrows – is where we meet Jesus. It is where Martha and Mary met him – in the midst of the biggest crisis of their lives – when Jesus introduced himself as the Resurrection and the Life. Read John 11 to get ready and come prepared for an encounter with Jesus.
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Invited to the Dance of Grace

In 2018, MarketWatch reported that the average Christmas shopper racked up $1054 of debt. If that average shopper made minimum payments on his or her credit card, it would take approximately six years to retire their Christmas debt.
It seems, according to statistics reported in Investopedia, that experts expect the average American to spend more this Christmas than the average American expects to spend. This means that millions of American who are still trying to pay off debts from previous Christmases will once again be adding to their debt load.
The old adage, “You can’t spend what you don’t have,” turns out to be less than the whole truth. Unless our payments are late, card is maxed, or credit is revoked, we can spend what we don’t have – for a while.
Is credit extended in other areas of life? For example, can a piano student play beyond what she has practiced – can she play on credit? If she has put in 50 hours of practice, can she play with 200 hours of experience? Can she borrow on what she does not yet have?
What about in the spiritual realm? Can I spend compassion that I don’t have? What about wisdom? Discernment? Will I have endurance that I have not bought through the testing of faith in times of trial? Is there any credit extended in the spiritual realm or is it strictly pay as you go?
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How to Give God a Five-Star Review

Most of us know someone who has almost ceased being a complainer and is now not much more than a complaint. Every word from their lips, every look on their face, is tinged with resentment: People have let them down; life isn’t fair; the future is bleak. When such a person professes faith in God, people who know him or her can only assume that a life of faith is a bad investment.
The complaining believer is a zero-star review for God. The grateful person, on the other hand, gives God five stars. The person “overflowing with thankfulness,” as St. Paul describes it, is the best publicity there is for God. Thanksgiving advertises God. It overflows, as Paul says, “to the glory of God.”
Sincere believers who understand this might regret the complaining they’ve done and decide to be more grateful. But this is getting the cart before the proverbial horse. The place to start is not with what one must do but with what one must know. Grateful people know two fundamental truths about God… Continue reading

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The Power of Idolatry and the Idolatry of Power

The last sentence in St. John’s first letter is: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” It’s placement as the apostle’s final word gives it substantial weight. He clearly regarded it as important.
We do not. The sentence hardly seems to fit our postmodern era. Idols were a part of their culture, not ours. Humanity has advanced beyond our ancestors’ crude worship, lavished as it was on lifeless, heartless symbols and images.
Think again. Consider the images that we have endowed with power: the apple with a bite taken out of it (Apple Corporation); the golden arches (McDonald’s); five yellow bars, radiating out like sunrays (Walmart); the smirky gold smile (Amazon). These images connote power, even world dominance.
One year out from the U.S. general election, I can think of two other symbols that connote power. The Donkey and the Elephant. Continue reading

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Is Time-Change a Real Thing?

Historians attribute the idea of Daylight Savings Time (DST) to a New Zealand entomologist named George Vernon Hudson. Near the end of the 19th century, Hudson presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society, recommending a two-hour time-shift in October, which would be reversed in March. Apparently, the entomologist wanted more daylight hours to search for insects.
The idea evoked interest but failed to get traction. Ten years later, an Englishman named William Willet lobbied to make twenty-minute time changes on four consecutive Sundays in April, then invert the process on four Sundays in September.
It was the Canadians who first tried the idea in 1908 and the Germans who went wholesale for the idea in 1916. The German rationale for the change was that longer daylight hours would mean less artificial lighting, thereby saving fuel that could be used by the military in the First World War. The idea soon caught on in England and France.
The U.S. was late to the game. Though the nation tried it briefly in 1918, they jumped off the bandwagon in 1919, and did not get back on until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act in 1966. But in 1967, the people of Arizona and Michigan rebelled, and returned to standard time and Indiana didn’t get on board as a state until 2006.
Does DST really help us? Continue reading

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What Happens in Vegas

I never thought I would go to Las Vegas. It is hard for me to imagine an intentional expenditure of money that is more wasteful than gambling. Then there is the glitz and glitter of Vegas. It doesn’t interest me. … Continue reading

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Can You Go a Day Without Comparing Yourself to Anyone?

Here’s a challenge. Try going a day without comparing yourself to anyone – not your height, your weight, your hair, your clothes, your car, your spouse, your golf score, or anything else. If you think it will be easy, you might be surprised. Just see how you do when you choose which checkout line to enter at the grocery store or the best lane to drive on the expressway. Those decisions are also based on comparisons.
Fastest, smartest, newest, biggest, safest, most – these are all words used in comparison. Our culture is formed on comparisons. So are our minds. We understand ourselves in relation to others; that is, through comparison. Those comparisons start in early childhood, before we are capable of articulating or even comprehending the meaning of comparison.
Are we smart? How would we know apart from comparing ourselves to others? Are we successful? How about attractive, or friendly, or wise?
While forming comparisons is a natural and necessary part of growing up, it is also a source of much of our dissatisfaction. If I lived in a Papuan village where I was the only person with a car, I would be happy with my car, even if it was rusty, the seats were lumpy, and the car could not accelerate past 35 miles per hour.
However, I might be very dissatisfied with that same car living in my Michigan town. Why? It’s not as if the car has changed. But the situation has changed. Other people’s cars are shiny, and comfortable, and fast and, compared to theirs, mine is a bucket of rust.
Comparisons can quickly lead to dissatisfaction. This is even more likely because comparisons are often rigged.
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What if You Were Going to Live Forever?

In the 1980s, the denomination I served encouraged me to attend a conference on evangelism presented by Evangelism Explosion (known familiarly as EE). This enormously popular approach to personal evangelism was pioneered in the 1960s by D. James Kennedy, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and was and is used throughout the world.
It was hard for a shy introvert like me to strike up conversations with people I didn’t know. It was even harder to strike up conversations about spiritual matters with people I assumed didn’t care. EE was designed to help people start and guide conversations to a particular end: the acceptance of receive Jesus Christ as one’s personal Savior.
At the EE conference, attendees were taught to ask people two questions, designed to coordinate with one another, and both including the prepositional phrase, “if you were to die tonight.” Both questions also included the idea of going to heaven.
There were things about the training I appreciated and things that made me uncomfortable. The discomfort came largely from the similarity between the EE program and programs that teach sales techniques. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea that I was selling Jesus the way the kid at the front door sells vacuum cleaners. It seemed to me that, in both cases, the immediate goal was to get the person on the other side of the door to say yes to something they might not really want and probably didn’t understand.
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You Aren’t From Around Here, Are You?

“How y’all doin?”
On a trip to Tennessee and North Carolina, my wife and I heard that line again and again. It reminded me of being in Boston, only there it was “How-ah-ya?” or “How-ya-doin?”
I love languages and dialects and so, while we were in Boston, I told my wife I just had to try “How-ah-ya?” on somebody. It took me awhile to work up the nerve – I was afraid of ruffling some New England feathers – but finally tried it out on a clerk in a store. “How-ah-ya?” I asked. My son, who was living in Boston, said I got it wrong. It sounded like I was from the Bronx.
In North Carolina I never did get up the nerve to try “How y’all doin?” I wasn’t sure what the penalty is for impersonating a Southerner and I didn’t want to find out. I certainly didn’t want people thinking I was making fun of them.
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