Tag Archives: Jesus

Sometimes we really need a drink

DSC00667The other day I ran my first 5k race (for all those who have been reading my Facebook posts and listening to my sermons, I won’t keep harping on this forever, I promise!). It wasn’t too bad of a run. As a matter of fact, I think I may do it again some day. I was glad to learn a little about myself during that race. I was also glad God has used that run to help me remember something about His grace and love for me.

A 5k race is 3.1 miles long – so not even close to a long race. But, for the uninitiated runners like myself, it’s a fair distance. The organizers of the race did a great job. They had things set up and got us all moving along without any hiccups. One of the preparations they made included having drink stations at the 1 and 2 mile marks, as well as at the finish of the 5k (or the middle of the 10k for others). Honestly, I was not in need of the drink, though I took one at mile 2. What I did need was the reminder God gave me the next day. It was one that connected my every day life to that 30 minute run.

cup of waterThe reminder came on Sunday evening when I was visiting with a couple I consider to be spiritual mentors. They have logged many spiritual miles through their years and I appreciate their words of encouragement and their deeply felt prayers for me. It was in that conversation that it dawned on me, these folks were just one example of the people in my life who manned the “drink stations” along the way. On that 5k run, at mile 1 and 2, people held out cups of water that we could grab as we ran by. They were glad to help us run our race well and stay strong. And so it is with the people of God who are put in our lives and who man our drink stations. Like those friends who spoke words of encouragement to me and were glad to help me run the race of life with Jesus and to help me stay strong.

As that thought came to me that night I realized that there had been many other drink stations along the way in my life. There were many who held out a cup of cold water as I ran by. Cups of cold water that looked like an invitation to lunch, a hug and a smile, a word of encouragement or appreciation, sometimes even a prayer before worship.

Then it dawned on me that Jesus had one time mentioned these people. He knew how important they are. It’s in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 10:

And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded. (Matthew 10:42 NLT)

I was glad to remember that verse. I am glad to know God will reward those people, for they have done a great thing for me. Now, just like in that race, there are times the drink is life-enhancing but not life-saving. But, there are other times – life-on-the-edge times – when we really need a drink. So, I am grateful for those who make the offer, grateful for those who hold out a cup as I run by, grateful for the ones who offer a spiritual drink for at times I am weary and close to giving up. Those who man the drink stations have no way of knowing how badly it’s needed, but if it is, they are ready. And for that i give thanks to God.

I guess there are two questions to consider:

  1. Who are the people in your life who man the drink stations, and have you given thanks to God for them?
  2. Whose drink station is God asking you to tend to? Who is God asking you to bless with a word of encouragement, a hug, a prayer, a smile, or a lunch invitation?

Those are the questions I’m pondering today. Maybe you will as well.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

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A Fig Newton Christian – it’s what Jesus wants

Ooey, gooey, rich and chewy inside
Rich and golden, tender, flaky outside
Put the inside in the outside
Is it good?
Darn tootin’
It’s the big, fig newton.

fig newtonsIf you remember the commercial and the tune, there is a good chance that song will stay with you. If you keep reading, the song maybe become a reminder of life as a follower of Jesus. That remains to be seen.

Here’s the point – the outside of the Fig Newton is good, but it’s main purpose is not simply to be good. It’s main purpose is to hold the deliciousness of the fig filling so that you have a way to eat that sweet gooeyness. It’s the inside that matters the most, but if the outside isn’t up to decent standards, then the inside won’t really matter.

So it is in life. We spend a lot of time working on the outside wrapper of life. We find ways to excel at our jobs. We get our kids involved in activities where they can succeed. We spend time working on our skills and taking our children to special mentoring and coaching events to help them get better. And none of that is a bad thing.

But if the outside of the Fig Newton is really good and the inside isn’t really given as much thought, then the cookie just won’t be good. The same is true in life. Unless we find ways to connect our Spirit to the one who can make our life sweet and flavorful, then life will never be what we hope for. If we tend only to the outside things of life and not the inner spiritual things of life, then we’ll miss out.

Jesus saw religious people of his day spending more time worried about their outward appearance – they made sure everything they did was seen by others as righteous and good. They gave to their church, they went to worship, they took part in daily prayers. Jesus said they were spending too much time washing the outside of the cup and not paying attention to the inside. If Fig Newtons had been around back then, I’m thinking Jesus would have used that as his example. But that may be just me.

These days people in our churches aren’t as focused on religious practices (i.e., prayer, worship, reading and study of the Bible, service to others, etc.) as they are on cultural practices of activity overload. People are caught up in being involved in many things – caught up in the outside wrappings of life. Church attendance is dropping all around our country. The inner life, the spiritual connection with God, is less important these days. There is more value placed on having an activity that pleases me and my family than on time spent pleasing God and enjoying the blessing of God.

I get that. I still struggle with it myself. But really, the Fig Newton is really about the fig. Don’t let the Newton part get all the attention.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

Does God laugh?

It was the question of a young boy to his grandmother – “Does God laugh?” It’s a good question. His grandmother rightly replied, “certainly God laughs.” And the young boy proceeded to tell God some jokes and asked if his grandmother thought God laughed at each one.

As I heard this tale I was reminded of pictures I have seen of Jesus laughing, or at least smiling really big. I looked up “laughing Jesus” on Google and I found this artistic rendering of Jesus with a little child:

liftingchild

It’s a great picture and I think a valid rendering of what Jesus might look like in such a situation – not the exact “look” of Jesus, but the expression certainly.

I like this picture because it shows the emotion of joy in such a profoundly simple way. Laughter is joy expressed with great bravado and volume, is it not? Surely God knows joy like this.

I also have to believe God laughs because there is much to laugh at as he watches us. Oh, there is much to cry about as well, but God tells us that joy is part of life even as suffering is. So, when God sees me trying to take on a big task that only He could truly handle, I begin to wonder if it doesn’t look like a little one putting on an adult’s pair of shoes and trying to walk, or a child grabbing up adult-sized tools and trying to do the work they have seen their parents doing.

If it does look like that, then surely God laughs. It’s not a demeaning “laugh-at-you” kind of laugh, it’s a “you-are-just-too-much” kind of laugh. And I’m okay with that. It tells me God knows I mean well, that I’m trying. I may not get it right, I may take on more than makes sense, but it’s only because I have seen what God can do and I want to be part of what my heavenly Father is doing.

So, as you go about your day there may be times when God looks out at you, throws His head back, and lets out a mighty laugh. But remember, it’s just your Father who admires your effort, who loves your sense of humor, who applauds your performance – because He loves you like His own. And that’s because you are.

Let’s make it our challenge today. Let’s see if we can make God laugh. That little boy I mentioned, I have no doubt he did.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

Keys to Church Fitness

iron cross image copyFor those who know me, I have been on a weight-loss, health-improvement quest for the past 15 months. I am down a net of about 75 pounds and even running on a sporadic basis (one thing I have NEVER done). I have found myself struggling to lose the other 15 pounds I want to lose. I had been down a total of 83 pounds at one point but bounced back up a bit. It has been a real challenge to maintain my regular weight-loss progression.

At the same time I have been thinking about that issue, I have been pondering the work of the church. It seems that we run into the same cyclical issues in our life as the church. In my personal fitness I know there are certain keys to being as healthy as possible and making progress toward my goals. I may not always be attentive to them, but when I am change can happen. So, I thought, what might be the keys to “church fitness?” What are some things we can focus on that will help us make progress toward our goals?

Well, number one is just that – SET A CLEAR GOAL.

Stating that as number one on the list presents a bit of a dilemma for me. The problem is that while I see that as the first essential key, I am not certain I have helped make that happen well in the church I serve. Having made that confession, I still believe it is key.

So, what’s my struggle? Well, if I equate it to my health, the issue is this: Losing weight and looking trim is not the same as being healthy. Ask anyone who struggles with eating disorders. Ask your doctor. Ask me how healthy I was when I was younger and I lost 50 pounds due to methamphetamine usage. What appears to be healthy is not always healthy. My goals in personal fitness must be more about my internal systems working at their most effective and efficient. It’s why I don’t drink Diet Coke anymore – it inhibits my liver from being as effective as it can be because with Diet Coke it has to give too much attention to filtering out the artificial chemical stuff.

So, from a church fitness perspective, just having the appearance of being a “vibrant church” is not the best goal. There has to be something more, something deeper that makes the church healthier, not just better looking.

Our goal – the purpose that drives us at our church – is “Helping people experience the HOPE of Jesus Christ.” That is a great mission driver. However, it implies internal work and may not give us the greater clarity needed as a goal to pursue. In conversations with other leaders in our church I am coming around to the idea that we need to have some sense of outward goals – developing our church in regard to what people see when they look at us and developing a strategy for increasing the spiritual fitness of the community of faith.

I plan to do more praying about and wrestling with this aspect of our church. And again, it may seem odd to point this out as the number one key. But, just because I am working through this doesn’t mean it’s not true. Just as physical fitness truths are true even when told by someone who is not yet fully fit.

The second key to church fitness is CONVERSATION

I thought about naming the second key “communication.” But that is too broad a word for what I think is vital. What can often be lacking among the church (not IN the church because we are the church – we don’t GO to church) is real conversation. So often we tend to avoid real conversations – you know, the kind where we hash out our differences and yet remain close friends? I have been struck by the number of people I know who drift away from the church, from their small group, or even from their leadership position simply because they disagree with something that’s happening within the church community or leadership. Many times the issue only surfaces well after the relationship has grown apart. The problem with having a healthy church is that sometimes the unresolved issues remain just that, unresolved. People leave and don’t say anything because they don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings, or they say, “Well, if others wanted to go that way it’s fine, but it didn’t work for me.” The problem is they never said so.

It seems we fear conversations that are real and honest. We fear vulnerability. And I guess the reason for that is we don’t think others will understand? Maybe? Is it that we don’t feel safe having real conversations and trying to work through the challenges?

The downside to the issue is that when people drift off, those who remain are left to wonder what went wrong. And if they later find out they’re hurt because they never had a chance to try to resolve the problem.

In my opinion having honest, real, meaningful conversations are key to church fitness. But, it must have one last key ingredient.

LOVE – love is the real key to church fitness.

It begins with love of God and love for all things that are of God. It is having a love for God that we live into daily through acts of worship and prayer and service. It is having a love for the Kingdom of God and seeking to make that a reality in our world. It is having a love for the people who were created in God’s image – yes, that means all people.

How often is our love mostly for ourselves and what makes us happy? Or how often is our love first and foremost for our family and then beyond that we try to figure out how to make God a part of what we do?

Do our children know how much we love God and seek to live into the joy and peace of God? Do our parents? Our friends? When I fell in love with my wife, Jan, people knew it. Is it the same with my love for Jesus? My love for the Holy Spirit?

Love, deeply felt and urgently pursued, is the love we need as the people called to be the church. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to love God, the Kingdom of God, and the people of the world in the same way he did – with our whole being and even our very lives. Can we say that we, as the church, love this way?

Again, these are essential keys to a healthy church. We may be much like I am physically – healthier than we have been, but not yet where we could be. We may be like I was, not caring about our health and just living and enjoying life any way we want. Maybe as a Church we’re mostly busy “doing what feels good.” Well, eventually that will prove to be misguided. We will be out of shape, possibly sick, and even potentially dead. I, for one, would rather not see us go there.

So, let me know. Is your church “fit?” What might be the main essential key to focus on right now? Maybe the first question is this – do you want the church to be healthy? Each one of us will need to answer that one for ourselves.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

Religion vs Relationship

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????It’s become something of a catch-phrase these days, at least for some: “Christianity is about a relationship not a religion.” I like the way that sounds. Having come to a place in my life where I want to walk WITH Jesus and know him more and introduce others to him, I like to think of my faith as a relationship with God, not simply a religious way of living.

And yet, it can still be hard to figure out what the difference is. I still go to church – religiously. I have a time of prayer each morning using an order of common prayer – and I do that, well, religiously. We give our offering to the church every month – EVERY month. That’s just our custom in regard to our giving. It could be every week. The point is, it is regular, religious practice. So what is it that makes my faith more about relationship than religion?

It hit me the other day when I was in a conversation about living into our life in Christ. One of the persons I was talking to said that they had come to realize that their view of their Christian faith centered around what they preferred to do and how they wanted to live their life. For them, faith was about the measure of how proper a person’s life is. Faith was about how they could live their life and not offend God. In this line of thinking and living out our Christian faith we say things like, “Can I do this__________ and be okay with God?” At the far extreme of this thinking is a question asking a pastor or teacher this question – “Why can’t I _____________?”

The first question is seeking to figure out how much of my life I must surrender to God – how much I have to give up.
“Can I go out fishing/hunting/golfing with friends and drink a beer or two?”
“Can I watch R-rated movies and be okay with God?”
“Can I skip church sometimes to relax and enjoy the day and still be considered a good Christian?”

The second question is a bit more confrontational. The second question requires a pastor or teacher or supposedly “good” Christian to make a convincing argument about certain “religious” practices.
“Why can’t I worship God wherever I am? Why do I have to go to church?”
“Why can’t I enjoy the money I earned and make a good life for my family? Why do I have to give money to the church?”

Both ways of asking these questions has to do with what I need to do so God is pleased with me, or to be certain that God is, at least, not unhappy with me. How much is enough to please God AND let me live life in the way I like to live? What must I do, and why? These are questions about how to be properly, but minimally, religious as a Christian.

I used to ask questions like that as I explored my life as a Christian. At times I asked those questions with all sincerity wanting to do the right things. Then I read something like Paul’s words to the believers in the ancient city of Corinth:

 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
(1 Corinthians 10:23)

Paul is basically saying that grace abounds and you can do what you want. The question is, why are you doing what you do? In my life I began to realize that God wasn’t trying to control my actions, God was trying to capture my heart. God didn’t want me to figure out the best way to be a “good” Christian; God wanted me to spend my life with Him. I began to see it more like a marriage or a friendship. Instead of asking my wife: “what can I do to make certain you don’t divorce me?” I ask: “What can I do to honor you and love you?” Instead of asking my friend: “what can I do so you’re not mad at me when I call every few months?” I ask: “What can I do to make your life better or help you accomplish your goals?”

For me, the question had to change. If I wanted to have a relationship with God in Jesus Christ and through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, if I wanted to know the love and peace and strength of God in my life then the question had to change. Instead of “Why can’t I____?” or “Can I____?” My question has become: “What would you have me do?”

“What would you have me do?” That is a relationship question. That’s a question that opens my life up to new possibilities. That’s a question that says “I want to be close to you and honor you and show my loyalty to you.” That is a question that leads me to live my life religiously.

Why do I go to church? Because it is in the gathering of God’s people, in the time when the community joins hearts and voices in praise to God, it is there that God is powerfully present and God is properly honored.

Why do I spend time in prayer each morning? Because God has said, “I want to be with you, I want to connect with you, and I want to nurture your life in a purposeful way.” So I spend time opening up my life and heart to God so God can pour His heart into me – it is a mutual relationship.

Why do I give to the church religiously? Because God has let me know that in acts of generosity I honor the fact that he created me to bless others. God has shown me that grace and mercy and love are all ways of being generous, and when I am generous I open myself up to know God’s grace and mercy and love.

All things are lawful. God’s desire is not to control us. And yet, all things are not beneficial. God longs to pour himself into our lives. The more we open ourselves up to God, the more God can pour His grace and power and strength into our lives. And that is a life that is beyond anything I can manage to bring about on my own.

So, my encouragement today is this – ask God, at least once each day, “What would you have me do?” Then listen. Then do what you hear God calling you to do – and do it religiously.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

Living in Grace

There is much to be said about knowing we will be with God when we die. That’s our faith. Jesus died our death so we could live eternally in God’s Kingdom. Good news, no doubt.  But does that mean our days here on earth have no meaning?  Is being with God just a payoff for biding our time here on earth? Is heaven just a nice option to have when we die? What about life in this place? Does God matter much in our day-to-day in this world?

I guess the question is for me as much as it may be for anyone who reads this. I tend to live my life in the “if I can just get past…” mode. If I can just get past Charge Conference (United Methodist pastors know what I mean as this is a church’s annual meeting with our supervising elders known as District Superintendents). Ours just got done, so there should be relief and freedom. But, now I am on to, “Okay, if I can just get past the holidays…” The same thing happens in my faith, “If I can just hold on until Jesus comes or I get to heaven…” But is that any way to live? Is this what God intends – we manage as best we can and God will meet us on the other side?

The trouble with this “managing life” way of thinking is that I put life with God as a future event. It is so easy to get in a mindset where life with God begins when life in this world ends. As long as I have this life I need to make the best of it, on my own, working as diligently as I can to be a good person. It’s easy to live believing that ONE day, some day, things will be better, but for now I just need to hold on. For now I need to manage my life in this world so God will be proud of me when I get to HIS world.

Well, that’s where I need to remember – God wants me to have life NOW and later. Jesus came that I might have life and have it in great abundance. Today is the day to live in grace and enjoy life in Christ.

I just came from the memorial service for a young mom named Megan. She was 28 years old when she died of cancer. What I learned is that she lived in grace. She enjoyed knowing Jesus and doing what he wanted her to do. She lived ready to go be with him in heaven, but she also enjoyed as much of heaven as he would show her here on earth. And God showed her a lot of the joy of heaven during her short life. It’s not that she was special in that way, she was just ready to see it. She chose to live with Jesus every day. She chose to live in grace – not getting it all right, but knowing in Christ everything would be all right.

Living in grace is living in peace – no matter what life throws at you. I hope you choose grace today. I hope I do as well.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

This is not the blog I was looking for…

This is not the blog I was looking for because this is not the blog I wrote. Well, it is the blog I wrote NOW, but it is not the blog I wrote originally. I had a whole other post completely written and then some glitch on the computer took away all but the first 3 lines. I took it as a sign – the blog post I wrote originally may just have been God’s way of helping me say to me what needed to be said. Now I am here wondering what I say to you. And, I sit here bummed because I used the word “elucidate” in my first post. That is a high dollar word right there.

Let me try this, let me give you what may be a low-dollar word but it has immense value – RESPONSE. Response is a great word for followers of Jesus Christ to hold on to. It is a word that denotes three things – a call, a listening ear, and active engagement with said call.

I find it so very easy to be a Christian and so very hard to be a follower of Jesus Christ. I find it easy to think of good things to do, but so often I do good things just so I can avoid doing what God would call me to do. It’s easy to find ways to fit some good works into our busy schedules, but it is hard to give up control of the calendar in order to truly do what we are called to do.

But here’s what I know. Just being a nice person and doing good things won’t bring me into a greater life of joy and peace. Being seen as someone who is kind and courteous and helpful isn’t a bad thing, but it is not enough to truly bring the presence of God into the lives of others.

“Why?” You ask? Well, because being kind and doing good doesn’t take much more than making a choice. Lots of people are kind and good – and many of them don’t follow Jesus. Being kind and good in and of itself doesn’t open us up and doesn’t allow the Spirit to work in us and through us. And it is the power of the Spirit at work that will change the lives of others. It is the power of the Spirit at work in us and through us that will change us.

The reality is that God is calling each one of us. If we have ears to hear and a willingness to respond, then we will see the coming of God’s Kingdom.

And that, my friends, is the blog you get, no matter what you were looking for.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike