Posted in Life

Another child to hold

Photo by Jimmy Conover on Unsplash

This afternoon I got to meet number nine – my ninth grandchild – in person. We’ve got a baseball team now. It’s always a special moment to hold a newborn, but even more so when it’s family.

We need these moments to say, “Hello!” in a world where we too often speak a graveside “Goodbye” to those we’ve loved for so long. A birth interrupts the news of another shooting, disease, storm, or war to remind us it’s not over yet. Life happens, too.

Fast asleep in her swaddle, I didn’t get to hear her voice, look into her eyes, tickle her toes, or let her tiny fingers wrap around mine. I’m looking forward to those moments.

This small person, completely dependent upon the care of her parents, will get whatever she wants, day or night, at least in the beginning. She will exert control over her family’s schedule, priorities, and activities. She is the main event, the headliner, Miss Popularity, and the keynote speaker all rolled into one. At least for now.

And we love it. We love these moments. And we love her. We hardly know her but she has captured our hearts. We wonder, “Where have you been?” She reminds us of how precious life is. Not just hers, but ours. And “those” people, too. (You know who I’m talking about.)

Her dad said she started yelling right away, announcing, “I’m here!” We’re glad you are. Welcome, little one.

Posted in Devotions, Moments of grace

Each day is a gift

So if I am mortal, my life is finite and the time of my death has been predetermined, does it really matter how I live? While trying to figure out why he was suffering, Job said to God, “A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed” (Job 14:5). Is my life really that determined, so that the things I do or don’t do have little to do with my waking up each day?

If I truly believed that, I wouldn’t worry so much about eating healthy or exercising. I can’t add any years to my life, right? I wouldn’t call 911 when I felt chest pain. It’s either my time or it isn’t. I certainly wouldn’t worry about seat belts, speed limits and stop signs, either. Why own a gun? If a shooter’s bullet has my name on it, it’s a done deal. I would be just like Simeon, who had the promise from God that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Christ (Luke 2:25,26). Until that moment, Simeon was essentially immortal!

And yet, most of us don’t live that way, do we? We watch our weight, check our cholesterol, buckle our seatbelts, wash our hands and wear a mask, look both ways before we cross the street, vaccinate our babies, practice shooting at the range and call 911 when our chest tightens up and we (or our spouse) can’t breath. Why is that?

We also share our food with those who are hungry, rather than assuming it’s simply their time to go. We pass laws and commission police to enforce them and protect our lives. We learn CPR and hang defibrillators on the wall so we can save a life. We post signs that warn of high voltage, sharp turns and slippery floors. Why is that?

After forty hungry days in the desert, Jesus and Satan had an interesting conversation. Satan suggested to Jesus that he jump off the top of the temple, relying on the promise that the angels would take care of him and catch him. Jesus refused. Why? Because you don’t put God to the test. Challenging God isn’t trusting Him. He’ll very quickly remind you that He can’t be manipulated. (This is also a good reminder to always check your sources.)

James, a half-brother of Jesus, wisely pointed out that if you come across someone who doesn’t have clothes or food, you don’t simply say, “Have a nice day. Too bad your time is up.” A faith like that is worthless. James used a stronger word: dead. Trusting God means attending to the life-saving needs of others.

Paul wrote, “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32). If you have nothing to look forward to other than death, by all means do what ever you want. It doesn’t make any difference.

But, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20). We’ve been redeemed from an empty way of life by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18,19). Life, in both this life and the next, is precious and valuable. This truth moves us to provide food, drink, hospitality, clothing, healing and fellowship for the people around us as if we were giving it to Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:35, 36). That is what faith looks like.

I often remind people that we need not fear death, for our last breath in this world will be followed by our first breath in the next. Death has lost its sting because of the resurrection of Christ. We can live each day to its fullest in light of the life He gives us.

I often remind people that life is sacred, too. So from the womb to hospice, we provide the best care we can. Sometimes that means helping moms raise their kids alone. Sometimes it means triple-bypass open-heart surgery. Sometimes it means eating a little less fried chicken and donuts and more fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it means giving someone a room in my house to stay for a while. Sometimes it means washing my hands a few extra times and wearing a mask. Sometimes it means giving away my money so another church in another country can feed the children in a community on a Saturday.

Yes, my life is in His hands. From before my birth to my last breath and for eternity. I commend myself into His hands, my body and soul and all that I have. I remember that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. And I love Him with all my heart, mind, soul and strength by loving my neighbor as myself. It’s never about me. It’s always about Him and them.

My days may be numbered, but I cannot and will not take one of them for granted. Each one is a gift, a gift from Him.

Posted in Confirmation Class, Ministry

Taking the fifth

Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 2.30.11 PMLast night was fifth commandment night in confirmation class. “You shall not murder.” So we ran through the gamut of the best known killing sins, from murder to abortion to euthanasia to suicide to manslaughter.

I guess my lesson gets pretty gruesome as I describe each, because several of the students bemoaned, “Do we have to talk about this?” “That’s horrible!” “Why are we even discussing this?” Which I find very interesting, because they are all gamers to some extent. They spend time in virtual worlds shooting people, crashing cars, blowing up zombies, and waging war. But when you actually sit down to talk about real killing, they get uncomfortable.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. We spend a lot of time in a virtual world of sorts, where shootings, explosions, fires, storms and epidemics fill our news feeds. Most of them don’t directly touch our lives, so it doesn’t bother us too much. It’s not till you sit down and talk about real killing — on your street, in your family, at the school — that we start to pay attention.

Maybe we need to talk about that more. We need to talk about what it really means to take care of someone in hospice, or with an unexpected pregnancy, or who has killed in war or law enforcement. Perhaps then we would understand the depth of this commandment and the importance of life to our Creator. We would better understand what we think are the “lesser” killing sins: anger, hate, bullying and hurtful language. We would better grasp what it means to take care of our lives, exercising, eating right, and getting enough. And maybe – just maybe – we would be moved to take care of others’ lives.

But if the class was uncomfortable talking about death, just wait. The sixth commandment is up next. Time to talk about sex!

Posted in Life


img_7547.jpgA few months ago, I realized that almost everyday, I glance at a clock at exactly 7:22. Sometimes it’s am. Sometimes pm. It might be my watch, the clock in the car, the microwave in the kitchen, the cable box under the TV, to the lock screen on my phone. On a daily basis my eyes see the digits 7-2-2. By the way, that’s my birthday, July 22.

A coincidence? Maybe. A sign? I don’t know. Some inner prompting? Beats me. A little weird? Absolutely. A number to play? I haven’t tried.

At first it was, “Whoa.” Then, “Again?” Sometimes I wonder, “Does that happen to anyone else?” Mostly I just chuckle. Tonight, I’m trying to imagine some significance.

Maybe it will be a code I need someday to unlock a briefcase filled with cash.

Maybe it’s a message from the future, from another dimension, or from a parallel universe.

Maybe it’s a flight number. A locker number. A key number. A hotel room number. A parking space number. A cable channel. A radio frequency.

When I see it, I now consciously think, “Hey, I’m alive!” I never want to take that for granted. Life is too much of a miracle. Other times, I’ll just whisper a little “thank you.”



Posted in sermon

Solus Christus: Christ alone

Transcription of Sunday, October 8, 2017 sermon. 
Oct 8 cover pic

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Those words are as controversial now as they were when were first spoken. But when were those words first spoken?

Let’s go back and look at the whole story that begins in Acts 3 when Peter and John are going up to the temple at the hour of prayer. They come across a man who can’t walk. He’s got something wrong with his legs since his birth. He’s sitting there at the gates of the temple begging. Every day his friends bring him to the temple and they sit him there so he can beg for money. Peter and John approach the temple and see the man. He sees them. They know exactly what he wants. Peter says, “We don’t have any money, but we will give you what we have. I tell you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” He grabs him by the hand and immediately the man’s legs and ankles are strengthened, he’s up on his feet for the first time in his life. He walks into the temple praising God and worshiping him.

Everybody sees this man walking and they know him because he’s always been sitting outside the temple. A crowd gathers. They are just amazed. Peter stands up and says to them, “Don’t be amazed. Remember that Jesus you denied and asked to be killed? God brought him back to life. He is alive. He is active among us. That is why this man is walking.” Everyone is astounded at their message.

Everybody except the religious leaders. The religious leaders are annoyed at what they have to say. They are going around telling everybody that they killed Jesus, and now Jesus is alive again. They bring the apostles in and ask, “So how did you do this?”

Peter says, “We didn’t do anything. Remember that Jesus that you killed? God brought him back to life. He’s alive and active and among us. That’s why this happened here today. Nobody else could do this. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Nobody else can step into this world and do these things except our Lord alone.

What are the religious leaders going to do? They can’t deny that something happened. The healed guy is standing right there. They tell the disciples, “Alright, just keep this to yourselves. Don’t go walking around telling everybody what we did or that Jesus is alive.”

Of course, they didn’t. It just emboldens them to do even more.

We live in a world where many would like us to keep that message to ourselves as well. That whole idea of solus Christus or Christ alone doesn’t resonate very well in this world. Even in our country, we live in a nation where there is religious freedom, which demands tolerance of different religious thought and defends individual beliefs. The prevailing thought is, “You can do whatever you want, you can say whatever you want, you can believe whatever you want, just keep it within the walls of your church.” Don’t bring it out onto the streets.

The problem with that is that message of Christ alone doesn’t resonate well inside the church either. As soon as we say that, that we are saved through faith in Christ alone, we exclude people we know. It excludes people in our families who don’t believe. It excludes friends or people we work with who have other ways of believing or believe in different gods or have different systems of faith. It leaves out people who may never have heard of Jesus. What you’ll find is that inside the church when we talk about Christ alone we use our “inside” voices.

This is hard to do because throughout the pages of scripture the theme of Christ alone echoes from cover to cover.

The Lord says, “Besides me there is no other god, a righteous God and a Savior.  There is none beside me” (Isaiah 45:21).

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation” (Psalm 62:2).

“There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:9).

When Jesus has just lost a number in his congregation because his teachings are too hard to swallow, he turns to his disciples and says, “Are you going to leave too?” Peter says, “Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6).

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Even though there is a negative side to that, when the Bible speaks of Christ alone, it is a positive message. It is a message that is good news for God’s people. There is somebody who can give life. There is somebody who is a ransom. There is somebody who has come to rescue us. The negative is not the main part of the message. The main part is that there is one who loves you and cares for you and is your Savior.

Let’s look at how Jesus alone, how Christ alone is a positive message. First of all, Christ alone is our ransom. Paul talked about that when writing to Timothy. After he says, “There is one mediator between God and men the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”

You know what a ransom is. A ransom is what you pay to a kidnapper to make them release the person they have taken prisoner. A ransom is what you pay because a virus locked up the data on your computer and you need to get that data back. Jesus is the ransom that pays for our freedom.

Freedom from what? I would contend that we are held captive by any number of things. For instance, fear. We are held captive by so many fears. We are afraid of where the next shootings will be. We are afraid of where the next disaster will hit. We are afraid of the possibility of war. We are afraid of where the next cancer will be. Or when the next heart attack will be. Or will the next death will occur. There are so many things we’re afraid of that it limits us and we don’t want to do things and we just want to stay in our homes and be safe with our families.

We are held captive by deep mistrust of so many. We don’t trust the government. We don’t trust the police. We don’t trust pastors. We don’t trust our neighbors. We don’t trust the teachers in our schools or the coaches of our athletic teams. We don’t trust anybody. So we keep to ourselves and we don’t believe what they say and that keeps us shut up in a small place.

We are held captive, we’ve been kidnapped by despair in our lives. There’s nothing we can do to fix things. Things are not going to get better. We aren’t in control. We don’t know what to do. So we turn off the TV and close the books and we try to pretend its not there.

But there is somebody whose perfect love casts our our fear. Jesus, who’s perfect love is seen on the cross. That’s what love is, that he would give his life for us.

There is somebody you can trust. Jesus is the faithful one. When he says, “I am going to die and come back to life again,” he does it. He keeps his word. He is somebody we can trust.

Jesus doesn’t let us sit there in despair. He gives us hope. There is a resurrection. There is much more to this life than what we see going on around us. God has so much more in store for you. Despair gives way to hope because of that one, Jesus Christ, who ransoms us with his own life to buy us that freedom to live and have hope and to trust and to enjoy the blessings God has given us.

Number two, Jesus has words of life. Sometimes he’s the only one who speaks of life. All we seem to hear about is death. All we see on the news is the latest shooting, or the latest explosion, or the latest disaster that has taken countless lives. Sometimes all we can think about is those who have died and left us behind. Sometimes we get to the point where we’re thinking about our own lives and what that is going to be like.

But Jesus is the one who doesn’t come to us to speak about death but life. He says, “There is somebody in this world who want to kill, steal, and destroy you. But I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. If you believe in me you’re going to live even if you die and if you live and believe in me, it’s as if you’re never going to die at all.” Jesus comes with words of life from the one who can give life to the dead. He comes back to life after his awful death on the cross to show us that his words are words of life.

Jesus is the one who comes to rescue us. Nobody else comes to rescue us. People teach us the way to find enlightenment. Or the way to see things in a positive way. People come and give us tasks to complete so that our lives will be happier or we will be more successful. People come and they remind us that it’s up to us to make the right choices and do the right things. There’s only one who steps into this world, to get a hold of our lives and says, “Let’s get you out of here. Stick with me and you’ll discover what this life is really all about.” Jesus is the only one who does that, who steps in and take us by the hand and brings us back to life.

Jesus is the only one. And that’s what solus Christus, Christ alone, is all about.

That message of Christ alone is the good news. Yes, there is a negative connotation to that. Whoever does not believe in him is condemned. But that’s not the main message. The main message is that we have a Savior and his name is Jesus. He has died for us and he is alive and active in this world.

The whole idea of Christ alone reminds the church that when we go out into the world, that’s what we bring: Christ alone. We don’t just food for people who are hungry. We don’t just bring clothes for people who need something to wear. We don’t just bring justice for those oppressed or find a place to live for those who have no homes. We bring Christ. We bring Jesus. As his hands and feet and voices we are the body of Christ and that’s what we bring.

That’s all we can bring. We don’t have the power, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the knowhow, but we have Christ. We bring him in a very real way with our words and testimony, with our mercy and love, with our presence and our support.

There’s the real power of Christ alone.

Posted in Grace, Ministry

Inside and out

I spent a few hours inside and outside of a hospital today. Inside I spent some time with a woman whose husband had a serious stroke and was in critical condition. Outside, I got to visit with one of their daughters who had escaped the ICU, but not the concerns about her father. Moments like these are amazing and powerful ministry moments. How do you face what looks like the end of a loved one’s life? What do you talk about? How do you make good decisions? There are no specific guidelines; every situation is different. Every person, every family approaches it a little differently. I always like to imagine Jesus sitting there with us, listening, caring, hoping that we’ll remember at least some of the things he told us about life and death. While we may feel so helpless in that situation, Jesus has a very good handle on life and death. I am very thankful for both his input and his presence.

Posted in Ministry

Last minute sermon adjustments

Today I’m wondering how much I should adjust my sermon to address the event that is on everyone’s mind and constantly on the news: the devastating earthquake in Haiti last week. I’m already prepared to speak about life issues this week, as we often do the third Sunday of January. Yet I can’t pretend that people aren’t thinking about the suffering in Haiti, how they can help, earthquakes, and what this all might mean. I also can’t ignore the even greater tragedy of millions and millions of abortions over the last 36 years in America.

My plan is to still speak the truth about life, and use Haiti as an example of how sensitive we are to suffering and dying in this world. So is God. That is why His Word speaks so powerfully about the value of human life, from the view of both creation and redemption. We care about life because He does. Since I don’t write out my sermons, but do a kind of storyboarding, I think I can weave this together.

Another thing to consider when adjusting a sermon is how quickly we move from one crisis to another. After five days, there are already other stories in the news, and our focus is turned elsewhere. Jesus said that earthquakes are just the beginning of the birth pangs, just a sign that the world will be coming to an end, calling people to boldly testify of him and remain faithful (Matthew 24). It’s going to happen, and you are going to need some endurance, in other words, hang on for the ride and remain faithful by loving God and loving others (Revelation). For me, that’s about all you can say about an earthquake. But there is so much more to say about life.