Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Success is not about what you accomplish for others to see, but who you become that no one can see.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sheep in a world of tigers

एक भेड़ के रूप में एक हजार साल से 
एक बाघ के रूप में एक दिन जीने के बेहतर

Yesterday I ran to the store to get some things for family coming over for dinner.  As I checked out I saw a middle aged woman behind me with the above phrase tattooed on her forearm.  I couldn't help myself, so I asked her, "What does it say?"  She replied, "Better to live one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep." 

The quote comes from Tipu Sahib c 1750–99, sultan of Mysore in India.  It captivated my thoughts to wonder why a middle aged woman would have this saying tattooed on her forearm.  Why was it so important to her?  What inspired her to have this as her "life verse"?  It's quite a clear statement to the world that it's better to be the predator than the prey.  I wonder what kind of relationship she has with her husband?  

As I thought about this I realize we all, Christian or not, live by something.  We each adopt a motto, a world view to commentary our lives.  We each live by some written or unwritten philosophy of life.

A few months ago we had a waiter in a restaurant with "1 Corinthians 16:13" tattooed on his forearm.  Again I asked, "what does it say?"  He replied, "Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong."  Quite a different message.

Many I have known have a life verse they have adopted.  The rule of life is determined by the heart and desire of the one who chooses it.  For years my verse was Philippians 1:21 "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain."  That was my life verse for a long time, but as I grew I realized it really wasn't true of me.  I'm still trying to figure out where I am now, what would describe my life today.

Whether written or not we each have a view of life, a driving force that determines how we act, interact and navigate.  Whether it's a tattoo or a verse or quote we gravitate toward something to give us a compass, a direction.  It's often the reason for conflict in relationships.  We don't realize the other person is operating by a different rule of life and we collide as we try to interact.

Whatever drives  your life make sure it gives you clear direction for the course ahead and realize that others are often going in the other direction, operating by a different rule of law.  For the Christian, whatever the words that guide you, the goal is the glory of God.  Realize, as you encounter the world, that this will always make us sheep in a world of tigers.

Monday, May 28, 2012

An amazing artist!

Here is another work of art by the best artist I have ever known.  What I love about this artist is his love of color and contrast.  His work has inspired millions and does so every day.  This is one of my favorite works of his. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Normal Christian Life

I've been thinking a lot lately about the Christian life. Specifically MY Christian life. I've been trying to evaluate my route of recent years. Why has my odyssey gone this way? Why have I struggled at different times and why have other days been easy and inspired? It's clear that my walk with God has not been a progressively growing and increasingly happy life. I don't think anyone has that kind of walk with God.

Let me see if I can describe the Christian life from my own walk and perspective. For me, as I walk with God, it seems that my walk looks more like a long walk through the desert with an occasional stop at an oasis for refreshment and rest. An oasis is a strange place. In the middle of miles of sand, suddenly and for no reason, water, trees and life appear. It's at the oasis where a weary traveler can rest, get water and gain new strength.

It's my experience that my walk with God can best be described this way- There are many dry days as I continue to walk with God. All the way I know God is with me and caring for me, but days of joy, inspiration and great victory are rare. Then, suddenly and for no reason, I come to an oasis. It's wonderful! Refreshment, rest, water and revival of spirit. If I can, I linger at the oasis for a's such a wonderful place, but at some point I must continue my walk and so I head back into the desert to continue my walk with God.

The oasis is great. It's needed. I would get discouraged and might give up if it weren't for the occasional oasis, but life with God has to be a life of dependence. It must be a life in which I look to God and trust him. I won't find that relationship at the oasis. I have to go out into the desert to discover this kind of relationship. It's the dry days when I learn to trust God. It's the days in the desert when I look to him to help me and give me what I need for the day. It's the dry days in the desert when I grow in my faith the most.

Some pray for an eternal oasis. They never want to leave the cool springs, the wonderful shade of the fig trees, the comfort of the oasis. But if you depend on the oasis you will never learn to depend on God. So, off to the desert we are led. Led by God to meet with him there. Dry days when we will find our richest walk with God. As I've tried to think through my own walk with God I think this describes my odyssey so far. It's not glorious. It's not always full of great testimonies to share. It's often dry and difficult, but it's my time with God in the desert where I find an intimacy with God I can never find at the oasis.

This is what I would call the normal Christian life. I think it's the real life of every Christian. Many linger long at the oasis not wanting to leave the comfort there, but some find a hunger for God more powerful than the comfort of the oasis and so they head off into the desert. It's there we find an intimacy and relationship with God that will never be found at the oasis. It's this strange contrast between oasis and desert that describe the walk of the Christian. It's not always glorious, it's not always easy. It's not filled with wonderful stories although there are some. There are days when the best we can say is, with God's help, we got through the day, but between rest at the oasis and walking with God through the desert we grow in faith. The goal? A walk with God that is lived in dependence on him. As best as I can describe it, this is my walk with God.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Photo of the day

Photo of the hotel lobby ceiling last night as we waited for the Cirque du Soleil show to begin.

Hard hearts

My wife and I are in a place this week where hard hearts are the norm.  As we spend a week together in a different world it's clear that most people I meet (including me!) deal with hard hearts at one level or another.

Job wrote, “His heart is as hard as a stone, Even as hard as a lower millstone."  I think he was talking about me.  But being aware of my own heart and relationship with God I see it more clearly in others.  There is a hardening that must happen if we are to choose sin....especially if we are Christians!  The Holy Spirit will convict the Christian regarding sin and the only way we can choose the sin over obedience is to harden our hearts to God's voice, his conviction, his wooing of us.  And so we drag around this hard, cold heart that feels nothing for God or for anyone else.

Those in the world have a much easier time with the hard heart.  It's honestly their normal heart....hard to God, hard to conviction, hard to anything but what they want.  Sin's not a problem for a lost man because his hard heart has made it his normal way of life.  

In a number of places in the bible is this phrase, "Do not harden your hearts..."  Clearly it's a choice we make and one that we have a decision about.  It happens when we come to a decision of sin or obedience.  A choice between doing what we know is God's will and what we want to do.  At that point of decision something happens....we either obey God and walk with him or we have to harden our hearts to be able to disobey and sin.

The biggest problem in my life and I know in yours is the temptation and willingness to harden our hearts to God.  Hard hearts are miserable for the Christian, normal for the lost man, but never God's desire and so he invites us to this response....

"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart."  Today, as you face the choices to obey or sin know that a hard heart has lingering very difficult to break up that hardened heart once it's set, so in the choices you face make the decision now to respond in this way, "Yes Lord, I will do as you ask." 

You will find it's a much better way to live than to deal with a hard heart.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Welcome to "life?"

Here's a fascinating look at "life" after death.  I thought you would like it. 

The impact of our lives

We are in a place this week where thousands come for vacation.  It's an adult disneyland in many ways.  Games, food, shows, music....everything you could want for distraction and entertainment.  It is an amazing place.

Passing by us, as we enjoy the city, are thousands of others.  Old and young from dozens of countries all gathered to see this amazing place and rest or play for a few days.

It's early morning here and I'm thinking about the brevity of our lives, how quickly these few moments of earthly existence pass.  As we move through each day a bit of us is left behind in the lives of those we encounter.  We leave a smile or a frown on the face we encounter.  We find a new friend or someone who wishes we would just go away.  Moment by moment, day by day we leave bits of our lives in our wake as we encounter other lives.  What follows in our wake?  What memory did we leave?  How did we touch that life?  What did we leave behind?

As one who is part of a greater kingdom I often think about these things as I live in this kingdom.  Day by day, as an ambassador of my kingdom, the kingdom of God, I'm representing God as I leave bits of my life behind each encounter with another person.  I've either sweetened their day or made it harder.  I've drawn them closer to the kingdom of God or pushed them away.  My walk through life is leaving a trail of encounters that touch other lives.

I wonder, do we realize the impact we make in the lives of those we meet?  Do we walk as citizens of the kingdom of God in a way that draws others to Christ or pushes them away?  I we realize the impact of our lives?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

From him, through him and to him

Romans 11:36
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

I'm reading Karl Barth's book, God Here and Now, and as Barth describes the church he connects its life and reality to a living relationship with Jesus Christ.  I've known this truth, but leave it to a German theologian to put it in different words that capture my attention.  In his writing he doesn't refer to the verse in Romans specifically, but it's clear he's talking about this idea.

As I read, my mind wandered to the implications of this simple verse.  It's clear from the bible that all things come from Jesus.  He made it all.  All that is, all that exists, is here because he made it.  That very thought should change the way you read the gospels, the way you see Jesus living in the land of Israel.  The very creator of everything became part of the creation he made.  All that exists is from him....from Jesus.  To think about creation you have to think about Jesus, to know there is an intelligent designer you must know it's him, Jesus Christ.

And then he finishes with this- to him, to Jesus, are all things.  Everything will return to him.  Everyone will see him face to face.  Everything came from his creative hands and will finally return to him.  This also speaks of his eternity.  On either end of creation, the beginning and the end, is Jesus.....making it all and then finally receiving it all back into the hands that made it.

But in the middle is this amazing phrase, through Him are all things.  Through him, it's all sustained by Jesus, it all holds together and was meant to flow through and because of his power and life.  The great rebellion of the human race is the desire to not allow him to be part of our lives.  But Jesus is the beginning, the middle and the end of all things.  We cannot live rightly without him.  We are only pleasing God when we live through Christ.  The great rebellion says, "I will live my own life, I don't need you to be part of my life."  

This is the only portion of the rule of Christ in all of creation where our choice can be contrary to the very purpose we were made for.  We were designed to live through Jesus and when we refuse we deny the very design of Jesus for our lives.  We forfeit our specific purpose and design and declare we are gods of our own lives. In that declaration we deny the will of God for us because everything was meant to glorify Christ.  When we deny Christ's rule through us, we deny him the glory he is due and forsake the very purpose we were made for.

Jesus is the beginning, the middle and the end of all things.  The Lord of heaven and earth.  King of kings, Lord of lords.  Every knee will bow to him and confess he is Lord of all....forever and ever.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Talking about grace

I wish I had more time to read great books.  There are so many I haven't gotten to yet.  This is one I wish I had read decades ago, but just now am working through it.  It's Karl Barth's book, "God Here and Now".  What is fascinating about it are his thoughts on God.  He's a German theologian from the last generation, a neo-orthodox in thinking, but a wonderful writer.  

The chapter that has me thinking is his third chapter on grace.  It's probably one of the best writings on the topic of grace I have ever read.  I'm challenged and inspired and isn't that what the thoughts of others are supposed to do anyway?

Just wanted to share a bit of what I'm working on right now.

Forgetting to remember

I wish I could remember this every morning.  How do I forget this so easily?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A wonderful day

Tuesday I had the great joy of spending a day with Bill Burnside and Jim Walters. Both of these men started teaching at university the same year I began as a freshman...nearly 40 years ago. I asked for the day with them knowing their ages and how quickly the years pass. My goal was first to say "thank you" to two men who had a big influence on my life and second to ask them about choices they made to help them each finish well. Both men lost their wives in the last two years and my timing was intentional as they thought about choices, grief, and questions for the next generations. I'll be sharing with you some of their thoughts in the weeks ahead.

Happy Birthday!

Our sweet daughter, Lindsay, turns 35 today!  I can't believe time has passed so quickly.  Happy Birthday Lindsay,  you are still the sweet, beautiful and wonderful girl you have always been.  You are dearly loved!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The rebel within

I'm reading the book of Judges and reminded once more of something I already know about myself....there is a rebel inside just waiting to get out.

The book of Judges describes Israel in the land as they over and over demonstrate the heart of man when given its way.  The cycle repeats itself so many times that it would be funny if it weren't so sad....God saves them, they forget, they turn away from God and worship other gods, God gives them their way, they don't like it, they cry out to God to save them, he saves them.....over and over it's repeated.

As I read this book it reminds me of the rebel that lives in me, the rebel that turns away from God so easily.  I hate the fact that the rebel exists in me, but he does.  Without much help I turn away from God and find myself in sin, problems develop and I cry out to God for help. He saves me (which I'm so grateful for) and then the cycle begins all over again.

It's the same battle Paul describes in Romans 7, this vicious cycle of flesh and Spirit.  I so wish I could kill this rebel within, but he constantly reminds me of why I need a Savior, why I could never please God on my own....I would never try to please him if His spirit didn't help me.

The book of Judges is my constant reminder of my life and the battle of flesh and Spirit.  It's our reminder of the direction we all go without God's help because in each of us is this rebel who has no desire to follow God.

The last verse of Judges says it better than I could, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

Revisiting old friends

This morning we are off to Arkansas.  I plan to spend a day with two men who were very influential in my life at university.  Both of these men have been a major part of my Christian growth and I wanted to spend some time with them while they are still here among us.

Each of us have someone who has been key to our Christian life, men or women who have touched us, helped us on the way.  I'm looking forward to these hours with two men who have been key to my walk with God.  I can't wait to ask them about their odyssey and walk with God.

I'll tell you more when I return, but for today let me ask this one question:  Who has been influential in your walk with God?  Who has helped you along the way?  Who has discipled and mentored you and how has it changed your life?  Share your stories in the comments below.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pleasing Him

2 Corinthians 5:Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.

I've noticed, as I get older, that having things my way is less and less satisfying.  After more than 60 years on this little planet I am aware that to pursue my wants and desires, to please my appetites is shallow, hollow and unfulfilling.  

In the world I live in the core ambition of those around me is self-gratification, satisfying self, and it's empty.  As Paul writes to the Corinthians he writes these words that captivate me with their simplicity- whatever my circumstance my ambition should be to please Him, to please God.  In that ambition, in that quest, we find endless possibilities, endless joy as we pursue what pleases the one who made us.

I'm discovering that this ambition, this quest to please God is fulfilling because it's what we were made for, it's how we were designed.  God built us to find our greatest joy in bringing him joy.  Imagine that.  And yet, in the world around me I see people busy with ambition to satisfy themselves and they are utterly miserable, unfulfilled, unhappy....because self-gratification is endlessly empty.

Therefore, we have as our ambition to be pleasing to Him.  Pleasing the one who made us because in that quest we find our greatest joy.  It's what we were made to do.

Monday, May 07, 2012


My dad has been in a nursing home for several weeks recovering from a broken hip.  I've been here with them visiting for a few days and took this photo this morning.  Dad's doing his best to be a good patient, but I know it's hard.  I pray he gets well enough to go home soon.  It's been a great visit.

The fragrance of life

2 Cor. 2:15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16  to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?

"We are a fragrance of Christ."  What an amazing thought.  God has scented us as Christians to be a fragrance of Christ in the world around us.  You don't have to tell anyone you are a Christian, they can "smell" it.  We have an aroma.  It's the presence of God, of live in us that gives off a scent to everyone we meet.

I have often been with someone who didn't know I was a Christian and shortly in the visit they will ask, "You're a Christian, aren't you?"  They can "smell" us!  But what is it they smell?  What is the fragrance we give off?  It's the fragrance of life.  It's a scent that isn't common on our planet where everything dies.  The only smell we know is the stench of death, but when the perfume of life shows up it's a smell everyone knows.  It's a smell that reveals something the world is missing.

For the Christian, as they "smell" the presence of another believer, they smell the sweet fragrance of life.  Another person who has life living in them, the presence of God. It's a sweet fragrance and a wonderful reminder of the life we share.

For the world, as they "smell" the presence of a Christian, it highlights the reality to them that they don't have life, they live in death.  It's a fearful awaking for their senses.  It's a smell they don't like, a realization of their lack.  Often it's the reason those in the world disdain Christians....we remind them of the truth that they do not have life, but simply await the final death.  

Without a word the presence of a Christian communicates that life is available, that we have something the world lacks.  Without a word the world "smells" the presence of life in us.  This witness of the fragrance of life calls us to a Godly lifestyle because the world is watching, their noses know who we are, it's critical we live to the glory of God because we can't hide who we are.  The world around us, by the fragrance of life that comes from our very presence, knows we are Christians. 

Live your life well, your fragrance precedes you.....the world already knows who you are.  Live in a way that glorifies the one who gave you life. Know that the fragrance of life oozes from your very presence and witnesses to the life you have.  Live as a child of life that the world will be drawn to the one who gave us life.  And never forget.....the fragrance of life precedes you as walk through your days.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Grumpy old man

This morning I was surprised to find my dad taking on the role of the grumpy old man.  He was (understandably) unhappy with the nursing home.  It's a hard place to be.  Life is much like prison...go here....sit now....sit here...go to bed now.  It's a very structured setting, it has to be as just a few staff try to care for a hundred residents.  

But this morning, as dad complained about his morning,  I tried to do what I do best, encourage.  Quickly I'm interrupted and told he didn't want to hear it!  He was grumpy and wanted no encouragement from me!

Ok.  I get it.  I know it was time to be quiet and so I fall silent and honestly get a little irritated with my dear old dad as he took on the identity of grumpy old man.  I know it's hard for him.  For a man who has always made his own decisions it's hard to be told what to do and not able to do anything about it.  I know it's hard.  

As I write about this I pray I finish as one who is happy with the opportunity to be here each day looking for the good works the Lord has prepared for me.  It's easy to lose focus,  I pray this morning's example is one I never forget.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Last stop

The last two days I've been at a nursing home with my dad as he recovers from a broken hip.  Nursing homes are a sad place.  You can check in, but you can't check out.  It's often the last stop for many before the cemetery.  It's a sad place to be.

One of my dad's table mates is a wonderful liar.  He talks of his great exploits and adventures.  Yesterday he had just been at the race track driving his race car.  This morning he talked of his airplane.  The truth is he hasn't left this place in ages and no one ever visits him.  His stories are as much for his benefit and survival as they are for ours.

There are some who have long ago been lost to Alzheimer's, some are aware they at the beginning of this terrible disease with reminders of its outcome all around them.  Some are cheerful,  but most are sullen, depressed or resolved to their fate.  Many try to engage in conversation having no one else who will talk to them.  They are desperate for human contact as they live surrounded by others looking for the same thing.  They all have stories of lives lived, stories of grand adventures remembered.  It's a depressing place to visit because it is the last stop for so many.....

....but the truth is it's not the last stop, it's simply the way our culture has dealt with the elderly.  In many ways we try to put our problems out of sight, not knowing what to do with them, but these are people with stories of lives lived, choices made and eternity ahead.  As I spend this week in this nursing home with my dad I hope I can engage some of these people in a discussion about the God they soon will meet...because it's not their last stop as they move into eternity.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Back home

I'm back in my hometown in Iowa this morning to see my dad. He broke his hip recently and I came up as soon as I could to spend some time with him and my mom. It's strange to be here. I haven't been here in a while, but there's one thing I can count on...nothing ever changes. It's as if this town is stuck in time, it's always the same as I left it last. I think I like that aspect of small town doesn't change.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Sabbatical, day 1

It's strange to begin a time of rest, a time to work on my walk with God and get away from the busy life of a pastor.  Today was day one of that time away.  I spent this first day alone, in silence, reading.  Reading what you might ask?  I thought I would start the time away with a fiction and so today I read The Hunger Games, book 1.  I haven't read a fiction in years, but thoroughly enjoyed this one.  There is a lot to think about, but it was a great way to start a time of rest with a book that has nothing to do with my vocation!

Each one

As I read 1 Corinthians 12 this morning one thing that repeats is the idea that God's spirit has given to each one a gift, a special gift just for that person to use in the body of Christ.  As I thought about that I pictured Captain Hook, one hand lost to the croc.  So many among our body don't know their gift and are simply not using it if they do know and so the church limps along as best it can handicapped by those who don't want to be part of the body at work.  I wonder what we look like to God as he watched the church trying to function with only part of its members using their gifts?